Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Why Are You Speaking In a British Accent?" -Tom Sutherland

WARNING: This next post is a bit long due to the fact that three days is being covered in Devon detail. Feel free to skip, skim, or read in sections. I mean, come on, I won’t ever know the difference.

Ta da! I didn’t die on the plane, but at times, the people sitting next to me made me wish that I had. I was sitting on the aisle of the last row of the wing area, right before the wall. Perfect seat! Or, so I thought… Guess who the lucky individual who got to get up each time the happy couple decided they needed to get something from the overhead bin was? Let me just say after the man/husband/boyfriend lost his iphone, and after the girl/wife/girlfriend decided she wanted to wear her pants, and go to the bathroom, and put her jacket up, and then get food out of her bag, I got a bit annoyed. But nothing was better than when they pulled out three Tupperwares filled with gourmet cheeses, meats, crackers, pickles and olives and then denied dinner (but accepted wine several times over). There was, however, a very friendly British man who helped me with my bag. He told me (sounding very much like the dad from Bend It Like Beckham) I should put my bag behind my seat rather than in front to make it “more roomie” (which it was!) and he even placed it behind my seat for me. Those Brits, how polite!

Let me just tell you now, that I have never flown an international flight before. I’ve never even been out of the country, so for me, the huge airplane was a whole new kind of travel experience in which I felt like I was five years old again and this was my first plane ride. Not only do you have your own little pre-packaged pillow, blanket and headphone set, but you have our own personal TV screen as well! I sit down and they’re playing what I like to call “viva music” to extreme close-up shots of nature. For those of you who don’t know, ‘Viva Music’ is the type of music they play at Sea World before the Viva Show starts. It’s a kind of exotic elevator music if you will, that’s supposed to be soothing but really just sounds weird and abnormal. I faced a hard decision before dinner, what to watch on my own little TV; 30 Rock season 4 or Letters to Juliet? I am pleased to announce that Abby’s pills worked wonderfully and after a few episodes of Lemon fiascos, it was nap time, well ish. I felt pretty crappy after sitting in those seats and dosing for about 4 hours in uncomfortable positions, but a hot croissant for breakfast and some XX ipod action put me in a better mood. The only bad part after that was the poverty parade you get to take when you de-plane and see just what kind of goodies were being served on the other side of that first class curtain. Yay for economy seats! The next bit is a bit hazy. It was long maze of terminals, custom checks (they finger printed me! Thanks, visa), taking a train (in which there was more viva music. I think the Brits really like that), then a taxi and finally getting to the hotel. We did find out on the train though, that the Pope himself arrived in the U.K. at the same time as us! How’s that for a blessing?

The interesting thing about staying at The Sherlock Holmes Hotel was the lack of Sherlock Holmieness. There’s a large wooden statue located behind the bar of him smoking a pipe, and display case with a few pieces in it, but that’s about the extent of that. (In fact, I feel like there’s more Sherlock Holmes decoration at the Baker Street Tube stop than the hotel.) Laura and I got a little more than turned around trying to find our room. We were on the 'Mezzanine Floor' but you get in the elevator, and there is no button for that floor! The little plaque on the wall says that it should be between floors one and two, but there is no 'M' button. We got off at one and looked lost for a while until some staff person told us we'd have to take a completely different 'lift' (hee hee) on the other side of the building. Huh? A special floor that you can only get to using a certain elevator? Hmmmm... After everyone (but Tom) met up at the hotel, we walked down the street to Gourmet Burger Kitchen where, get this, I was able to find food I could eat! I am also pleased to announce that I have found several vegetarian options at every place we’ve eaten thus far! And everyone said I would starve to death. Win for London!

The first day we spent getting cell phones (Oh my lanta, that was the biggest communication problem I’ve had yet, it was awful! Somehow I got a phone, I don’t know how though) and learning the tube station. We went as a group down to South Bank and got on the London Eye. We saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and even the scaffolding on the side of the Houses of Parliament! We then went walking around Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and Dariya and I even wondered around Regent street for a bit. By the end of the evening, I was more excited than usual for bed.

Friday we met up as a group to go to breakfast. This was, by far, the weirdest experience we had yet. English Breakfast, something we all thought would be straight forward, filled with meat and tea and found at every restaurant in London, right? Wrong. We went to the one place that prided itself on ‘Great British Food’ and failed to deliver. Almost everything on that menu was weird. First off, never EVER have Marmite on toast. It is not some sort of marmalade as we thought on first impression, but in fact some of yeast extract that is 100% vegetarian and I’m not even sorry to say, equally as nasty. Secondly, what in the world is ‘bubble and squeak’ and why on earth would I want that with my bacon and eggs? (Turns out, it’s potato and ‘greens’, which is what they call cabbage, mixed together and fried.) If that wasn’t enough, my favorite part is how they describe the steak to you: “Grilled 250g ribeye, served with chips and roast tomatoes.” Ok, so far a description of the meal, perfectly ok, but look what they put directly following that, “Native breads kept in family groups, grazed on mineral-rich meadow grasses, leading long and natural lives. Free range, additive free and aged for 28 days.” WHATTT? Who needs to know about the mineral-rich meadows where the cow grazed? Or that it got to live with its family rather than its friends? They should really just tell you what the name of the cow you’re eating is; “Here’s your steak, sir. Her name was Bessie, she was a lovely cow who grew up in Devonshire with her two sisters, who coincidentally were slaughtered on the same day as her.” I mean WHAT?!? They also served lovely things such as ‘Pork Scratchings’, ‘Twiglets’ and ‘Mushy Peas’- because honestly, who doesn’t miss those days of eating baby food?

The rest of the day was spent at Windsor Castle, which was auuuhhhmazzunn! Definitely the coolest thing we have yet to do!! The Pope really wanted us to have a good time, so he made sure that the Queen was in when we went to visit. The town of Windsor, there’s no other word for it, is just so quaint. Little shops made of stone and wood and look more like cottages seen only in fairytales lined the street leading up to the gates. And there was even a woman in a cape guarding the entrance! (Yeah, we took pictures with her. She was also our ‘meeting point’ for when we finished looking at everything inside). They give you these headsets and a map with the route and these numbers and all you have to do is walk at your own pace, push a number on the little set corresponding to the number on your map in reference to where you’re standing and a proper Englishman tells you all about what exactly it is that you’re looking at. It’s brilliant!

St. George’s Chapel was so beautiful! My art history nerd senses were tingling, and I was soooo disappointed that they didn’t allow photography in the church (but shhh, I snuck a quick shot in anyway.) The intricacies of the stone and woodwork were simply breathtaking. The Queen’s Dolls’ House was also incredibly worthwhile. There was just soo much to see and take in, I think it took me a good 15 minutes to go through, easily. That evening, we went out to Covent Garden which is this funky little square filled with street vendors and shops. Interesting thing about London, is that everything likes to close relatively early. Boots closes at like 5, Shops at 8 or 9, Pubs at 11 or 12 if you’re lucky and the Tube at 12. It was definitely a cool little place I’d like to explore more, but at a time when everything wasn’t in the process of being closed (we got there at 9). Because we ate lunch so late, we decided to just meet up for dessert instead. Best. Decision. Ever. Mmmm cheesecake and coffee.

Today we went shopping for bedding. I think everyone was just incredibly ready to move in to their own place and decorate it and just start actually living. Getting on the tube with all those bags was a fun little experience though… We spent the last bit of the morning together riding the different stops to visit the different campuses of Westminster so that we’d have some idea of the buildings we’re looking for once classes actually start. Naturally, we didn’t go to the Communications site. It’s in a completely different tube zone and will probably be a good 15 to 20 minute tube ride for me every Monday. Joy. The things we do for film!

After lunch, it was time we parted ways: four of us were right around the corner at Marylebone and four at the IES house. The IES students were lucky and got to take a cab to their dorm, while us Marylebone kids got to walk ‘just around the corner’. Sure. You try walking just around the corner with suitcases and your arms full of bedding. It was even more fun than the tube ride. When we get to the building, it turns out the there are two elevators; one goes only to odd floors and one only to even. Pretty cool, accept when one of them is BROKEN! The ‘odd’ elevator was out, so the line for the one elevator was incredibly looooonnng since everyone had boxes, bags, or suitcases. Ironically, my room is on floor 7 (yes, it rhymes with Devon, haha, get it out of your system now.) so even if I took the one elevator that’s working, I’d have to go up to 8 and climb down a flight to reach level 7. Yeah, that’s right, I took the stairs to my room on the seventh floor, carrying all my bags full of bedding. Who’s gonna have great legs when she gets home? THIS GIRL! (I came back and took the elevator for my suitcases, I'm not that strong.) Another thing I've noticed about London is that the first floor is not really the first floor, it's the 'ground level'. You have to go up a level to be on the 'first level', which is really the second floor. It's weird, but it's everywhere. My room is incredibly tiny, but I’m so thrilled to be moved in! I’ve already met some people on my hall, though interestingly enough this seems to be where all the American’s are! I met my neighbor, Nick, and all his friends from Colorado, and another girl on my floor from Connecticut. I did however meet one international student, a girl named Caroline from Germany.

Here's a video of me moving into my dorm. Proof at how tiny it truly is!

I feel so fortunate that we got here early and had Susan and her daughter Sarah to show us around and get us orientated. These poor American students who flew in the night before or literally just came from the airport straight to the dorm had no idea how to do anything! They were cute, in a hopeless sad kind of way. I know that feeling of panic all to well. I mean, that was me three days ago. But don’t worry! I showed Nick and his friends my nice Texas manners and took them to a Tube station, explained to them about Oyster cards and how to read a map and even dropped them off at a cell phone store. I didn’t actually stay in the store to help them, I mean, I’m not that nice and I wanted to some shopping for myself, but they seemed grateful for a nudge in the right direction.

Tonight, the gang all met up at Piccadilly Circus (just us ‘kids’ though. Susan and Sarah said their goodbyes when they sent us to the dorms), a halfway point for the two groups now living in separate areas, for dinner and a little Pub action. It’s comforting to know that everyone wanted to still hang out together even when we didn’t really have to anymore. Susan and Sarah leave tomorrow, and Professor Hasket comes to town! A suggestion has been put on the table that he should take us to Harrod’s for the afternoon and I for one, couldn’t agree more! Who knows what’ll happen at Harrod’s!



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