Monday, October 22, 2012

A Quintessential Brit

Classy ladies before the Races (Photo Credit: Courtney Cooper)
It's official: I have made the transformation into a true Londoner! The events of this past week or so have given me a genuine British experience, and the only distinguishing factor between me and a Brit is the accent. Maybe that's exaggerating a bit, but I really have been living the British life in every way. Last weekend, I went with a few friends to the Newmarket horse races near Cambridge, and it was certainly an adventure. No, we were not in our "smart" dresses and sun hats, but we did get a taste of the horse racing culture. Betting is completely legal here, so there were several stands to make wages, although I stayed far, far away for the sake of my bank account and my dignity. Although I was completely oblivious to the way the races worked, the atmosphere at the track was enough to keep my enthusiasm, and I ended up having a blast. The only problem was that I lost my beloved camera, which is why there are no pictures of the races on this post-I don't want to talk about it.

The architecture of Parliament is magnificent!
The transition doesn't stop there. I have been to the Houses of Parliament several times, either on class tours or on my own, but I had a very unique experience there last Friday. My British Politics class arrived at the House of Commons, dreading the same tour we had already been on with the same boring facts we had already heard, but we were proven wrong upon entrance into the House. We were able to sit in the viewing gallery while the House was in session to observe the members debate policies and bills. This might not seem like the most exciting thing in the world, and that's because you're thinking of stuffy old American politics. The English do things much differently, passionately shouting at one another in argument, with even the Speaker serving personal blows to various members, almost making fun of them. The experience was more entertainment than information, but I still learned a lot about the way the British political system functions.

Speaking of politics, I finally received my absentee ballot after several weeks of waiting, and I promptly filled it out and sent it to my local Board of Elections! I was so excited to have the chance to vote in a federal election, and may the best man win (I'll leave it at that). But just because I voted in an American election does not mean I am stepping away from becoming a true Brit!

Erin and Me getting into the Fulham v. Aston Villa game
(Photo Credit: Jen Mammel)
I am definitely not a huge soccer fan, but I figured I would have to attend a British "football" game just to say I went, so I went to the Fulham v. Aston Villa game this past weekend. Despite the fact that I had no idea what was going on (can you tell I am not into sports?), I still had a great time. As the passion and enthusiasm in the stadium was reminiscent of American football fans, and was completely infectious. I'm not even sure who I was supposed to be rooting for, but Fulham scored one point in the final minutes and ultimately came out as victor, so I'll just say I was rooting for them!

The Olympic Village-which room is Michael Phelps'?
Finally, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on an Olympic Walking Tour around London's Olympic Park. The Park was purposely placed in an area desperate for economic assistance, and it was quite obvious why they chose the location they did. We walked along several arenas, viewing the Aquatic Center, basketball stadium, Olympic Village and other structures built specifically for the Games. Our guide was focused on the sustainable features of the Olympics, which was quite impressive on London's part, as the city created collapsable structures that would make way for new residential areas to improve the economic status of that part of the city. Although we were unable to go inside any of the arenas, it was amazing being able to be in the middle of what was once bustling with Olympians and fans from all around the world.

Panoramic view from the Viewing Gallery at Westfields Mall
Westfields: the largest mall in Europe/Mall of Dreams

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

La Ciudad de mis Sueños: Barcelona

Barcelona: the most magical place on earth. I must have some sort of Spanish ancestry, because Barcelona seemed strangely familiar in a comforting way. I was enamored by the people, the sights and the FOOD, and I was deeply upset by our departure after a few short days. Everyone is always in a good mood, constantly talking and singing and just trying to experience life to the fullest. I admire the Barcelonians (is that what you call people from Barcelona?) and their spunk, and I hope to return as soon as possible. 
View from our hostel looking toward la Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia
Our travels went smoothly, and upon arrival, Erin and I split from Courtney and Allie to check into our hostel. Let me say a word about hostels: they are VERY basic and are not just “hotel” with a random “s” in the middle. We got one fitted sheet, one bed sheet, a pillow and a set of keys to stay in a room with four other girls. I was relieved that the other roommates weren’t too odd and I wouldn’t exactly say the hostel was the ideal living situation, but when you need to save money, that’s about the best you can do! The best part about the hostel was that it was just a short walk away from la Sagrada Familia, a beautiful museum that we absolutely could not get into because museum entrance is free on the first weekend of every month! It was a bummer that we couldn’t go inside, but we refused to spend a day in Barcelona waiting on a block-long line.

La Luna-so good!
On another note, on our first night, we went to dinner at La Luna with some Elon girls doing their semester abroad in Barcelona. The food was delicious, the atmosphere of the restaurant was great and the Sangria was out of this world. Continuing on in the night, we detached from the other Elon girls to go to a club called Opium, which was possibly the most fun I’ve had since being abroad. 
Street view of Catalunya from our bus tour

Our first full day consisted of a scrumptious brunch, shopping around and the longest bus tour you will ever encounter. We thought we would be able to go on all three routes around Barcelona within a few hours, but we only ended up taking one because it literally took up our entire afternoon!
One of the many streets we ventured down!

That night we went to dinner yet again, where the true cultivation of cultures occurred. We were a bunch of Americans traveling from London at an Irish pub, ordering British food (fish and chips-yum!), in Spain (hey, I think it’s funny). A man came up to our table just to chat, and I couldn’t help but think I knew him from somewhere, he just looked unbelievably familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then someone realized it was Tyler Hoechlin from “Teen Wolf” on MTV, so, we hung out with a celebrity all night as we went to several bars and clubs, which was the coolest. Let’s just say that the nightlife of Barcelona far surpasses that of London in terms of partying, although I can’t decide which I like better at this point.

Gaudi Park-no words!
Sunday in Barcelona was interesting, as we had to check out with our huge bags by 11 a.m. We carried them around with us to Gaudi Park, a gorgeous venue not far from the hostel. We trekked up the beautiful trails of the Park to the highest point, where we got a breathtaking sight of much of the city. Gaudi was the most uniquely beautiful place, and although the hike to the top was rough, it was well worth the view. Erin and I then went along the coast at Catalunya, taking in the port full of sailboats and yachts, exploring the obscure little alleyways and shops along them and adoring the beach. The day ended perfectly with churros and a performance by a street band, Made in Barcelona, with the most energetic vibe that was contagious and left us with a little bit of a beat as we sat on our plane to come back to good old London.  
The port at Catalunya

Officially my favorite band in the world

A Beautiful Day Discovering Bath and Stonehenge!

Stonehenge is so majestic birds fly out of it
On the same weekend my suitemates abandoned me, I decided to go to the city of Bath and Stonehenge on a trip facilitated by FIE. It was quite a trek to get to Stonehenge, our first stop, but our tour guide made it interesting enough. We were able to walk around Stonehenge at our own pace, and the sight was certainly breathtaking. There really isn’t much to it, as it’s merely a bunch of stones set up in a way that makes it seem symbolic in a way. The audio tour was informative and made me realize the significance of the structures, but I couldn’t help feeling as though I was just staring at rocks a bit too deeply. Regardless, it was nice to be able to say I went to Stonehenge!

A great view of the city of Bath
Bath was the next stop, and I absolutely fell in love. Coupled with the aesthetically-pleasing aspects of the city, the culture and history was rich enough to keep me occupied for days. The architecture was stunning, and supplemented the natural pieces of the city including rivers and plants and trees that spanned throughout the city. After touring around for a short period of time, even stopping at the massive Royal Crescent, we made our way to the Roman Baths Museum. 
The Royal Crescent: too massive to get in one shot!

It was so amazing being able to see how culturally diverse the city is as a result of Roman influence, and I even got to feel the warm Bath water, which was kind of gross but fun nonetheless. We had a great lunch in the city, and shopped around to get souvenirs and what not before hopping on the bus for the long ride home. 
The Roman Baths

I have to say, Bath was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, as it has the perfect combination of city and countryside. Although Jane Austen is noted in expressing her deep hatred for the city, I can’t say I agree with her because Bath is simply that impressive!
The stunning English countryside (Wales is far in the distance)

Did You Miss Me? Catching Up

It’s been quite a while since my last post, which has largely been due to the immense amounts of schoolwork I’ve had, as well as just staying busy in London! When I was planning on going abroad, most people told me this would be a laid-back, joke of a semester. I came in confident that I would be able to do well with little effort, but my confidence has been completely demolished. Since there is an internship component to the semester here in London, my teachers have been trying to cram in as many assignments as possible before the short semester ends. While I understand their urgency and of course I do the assignments, it is a bit frustrating knowing that I could be out exploring a foreign country, but instead I’m writing extensive reports and reading countless pages for hours on end. I do believe that everything my teachers assign is enhancing to the London experience, and I hope the workload lightens up a bit so I can be a true tourist!

A view including the London Eye from Parliament-no schoolwork involved!

Last weekend (September 28-29), every single one of my suitemates went out of town except for me! Erin, Liz and Jane were the second group off to Oktoberfest, and Courtney and Allie had to attend a class trip to Stratford-on-Avon, so I was left to my own devices. I filled up my lonely weekend first by helping my professor, Dr. Layne, as she hosted an Elon table at the USA College Day London at Kensington Town Hall. It was basically a huge college fair for Londoners looking to study in the United States. I was surprised to see how many students showed up, more at the volume of knowledge each possessed about American schools. I would never have gone to one of these fairs while searching for colleges simply because I could never imagine experiencing my entire college career that far from home! In any matter, I loved hearing all of the interesting things the students and their families had to say. They were all so eager to listen to what we had to say about our university, and I really enjoyed sharing everything I love about Elon. It definitely made me miss Elon, but I love London so much and I know I have a year-and-a-half left there once I return, so I’m certainly not rushing back! 
Mary Kate and me at College Day (Photo Credit: Dr. Prudence Layne)