STAIRS! I have climbed over 2,000 stairs this trip. This is not an exaggeration. My calves are definitely in shape now.
Today, I went with the Literary London class to Covent Gardens, Drury Theatre, St. Paul's Church and St. Paul's Cathedral.
First, we shopped at Covent Gardens because this was a setting in the play "The Country Wife" which the class was studying. I didn't do much journalistic work here because everyone split up and went shopping. Covent Gardens Market had a lot of quirky, unique booths and shops. In one area, there were booths with handmade jewelry and in another hand painted photographs. It was fun looking around at the variety of goods. Cheap souvenir booths lined the street back-to-back and side by side. It was like a maze of shops. I was shopping around with Lauren and we found this one place where the owners made wire gifts right in front of us.
Covent Gardens was an interesting place. It mixed the historical aspect of the market with the new high-end shops and booths. People were also performing on the street. Some were playing violins, one was singing opera and one was performing a magic show. It was a pretty vibrant place.
After shopping for an hour we met back up with the group for lunch. We first found this pizza place, but it didn’t open for another 30 minutes. So Dr. Guidry guided us to the Drury Lane Theatre.
We stood on the opposite side of the street from the theatre while Guidry explained the history behind the building. He told us how "The Country Wife" was first performed there in 1675. Also the theatre has burned down three different times so the one standing today is the fourth one. There are legends claiming ghosts haunt the theatre today. Next we visited St. Paul's Church that was built in 1633 and designed by Inigo Jones. This church became known as the actors' church and actors still attend services today. Christopher Wren, the designer of St. Paul's Cathedral was a student of Inigo. In contrasts to St. Paul's Cathedral, the church is simple in design. When it was built Inigo had a small budget which is reflected in the minimalism of the church. Inigo called the church the "Handsome Barn in England."
By the time we made it back to the pizza restaurant, they were open. Finding a seat outside, we all ordered our food and enjoyed a relaxing lunch. In the courtyard across from our table a man was performing an acrobatic street show. He had four people lay down on the ground and then he walked on his hands all the way over them. We had Dinner and a show!
Next, we made our way to St. Paul's Cathedral. As soon as we walked in we were handed an iPhone audio guide. It was pretty high tech with pictures and historical videos, plus the personal guide. Unfortunately, I couldn't take pictures inside, but it was breathtaking. St. Paul's Cathedral is famous for its domes and there is a good reason for that. Once I walked halfway down the nave, I found myself craning my neck staring in awe at the beautiful mosaic domes. Over 6 million pieces of painted glass made up the mosaics telling biblical stories. Murals reflecting St. Paul's life were painted above the dome by Sir James Thornhill. The detailed beauty was overwhelming. Finishing my tour of the cathedral’s main floor, I met up with Lauren and we began our suspension up 528 steps to the Golden Gallery- the highest dome in the cathedral with a 360 view of London.
I don't know why architects were fascinated with spiral stairs, but I sure have climbed up a ton on this trip. Climbing up to the Golden Gallery I found myself dizzy multiple times. I had to take a few breaks on the way up to make my head stop spinning, plus this climb was a little challenging.
Luckily, there were a few stops on the way up to the Golden Gallery. First, we visited the Whispering Gallery that sits on the dome’s interior. I am sometimes afraid of heights so I cautiously looked over the railing where I could see the congregation of tourists admiring the cathedral. In the Whispering Gallery someone can whisper and be heard 100 meters away; pretty neat if you ask me!
Our next detour point was the Stone Gallery. Here Lauren and I had a foggy 360 view of London. Our view was not only hindered by the clouds and fog but by the tall stone railing.
We climbed another 200 iron spiral stairs up to the Golden Gallery. I'm not a fan of stairs with gaps in them so I had a couple of mini panic attacks on the way up. I had to stop and pray and breath to calm myself down; however, I eventually made it to the top.
Again the view was incredible. Through the fog I could see the major London landmarks like Big Ben, Tower Bridge, the London Eye and Millennium Bridge. It was extremely cramped at the Golden Gallery. I felt like I was in a herd of cattle being shuffled along in a little circle. The only difference was that I was 365 feet above the ground! We slowly made our way around the Golden Gallery stopping to take pictures and admire the skyline. After about ten minutes we made our descent back down.
Before heading home, Lauren, Jennifer and I toured the Museum of London. Exhibits showcased the Roman London with a modern twist. Artists paired ancient artifacts like a Roman wine vase with a 2013 wine bottle. We also saw the remnants of buildings from the great fire of London in 1666.
Finally, I climbed my last staircase of the day as I walked up to my dorm room at about 7 p.m. And by this time, my calf muscles were mooing!
Lights, camera, action! Today my acting background came in handy as I became immersed in the live reenactment of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn as they plotted to marry in defiance of the Roman Catholic Church.
The stage? Hampton Court Palace. Yes, this was my second visit to the palace and instead of roaming around on my own I became one of the ladies of the court gossiping with King Henry's sister, Mary. As Lauren, Kayla and I sat on plush royal cushions we listed to Mary tell us the latest palace gossip. In the middle of her hilarious stories, Anne Boleyn walked in ranting. Boleyn wanted Henry to finally leave Catherine (his wife) and make her his queen; moreover, she had been waiting five years and was becoming impatient. Boleyn threatened to leave the palace which was forbidden because in that time period one needed the King's permission to leave. As she conspired with us, Boleyn sought our counsel on her decision. Ultimately, she decided to flee the palace. Moments after her departure her brother George walked in looking for her because the King requested her presence. Upon learning of his sister’s leave, George and Mary brought all of the ladies to King Henry's secret council room. I was a little confused at first because we were all standing in a corner surrounded by walls. Then George did a secret knock on the wall that opened the panel. King Henry marched out his room and questioned us about Boleyn. King Henry was not a man you wanted on your bad side! The king then demanded Mary to take a few ladies and find Boleyn while the rest of us joined him and his men in the chamber. Here Henry ranted about women and their moods. Soon we followed him out to the courtyard to find Boleyn. With a deep growl, Henry yelled for Boleyn outside her windows, but she didn't answer. Finally the chase for Boleyn ended when the king found her atop the staircase. In front of all of the visitors, King Henry placed the queen's jewels around Boleyn's neck to prove he intended to make her marry her and make her queen. The crowd cheered on the king as he left the courtyard with Boleyn. Being immersed in the story literally made history come alive. It was so much fun.
After the skit, Lauren, Kayla and I finished touring the palace. To give you an idea of how big the palace is just know I visited it two times for at least two hours each visit and I still didn't see all of it.
This time we viewed the kitchen which when in operation made over 1,200 meals a day. Now, I'm not one who is comfortable in a kitchen, but this place was massive. I'm not going to lie I was a little grossed out when we viewed the butcher area. Raw meat just isn’t my thing.
Next, we toured the royal gardens and found our way to the once largest maze in the world. As we walked through the maze we were surrounded by green hedges which blocked our view. The whole time the three of us were laughing, dancing and stopping to take pictures; clearly not paying attention to where we were going. I don't know how we did it, but we found the center of the maze. Getting back out was the hard part. It actually took us longer to get out than it did to find the center. I think we were over thinking it.
Before leaving the palace we saw the worlds largest grapevine and shopped around the gift shop, as is the custom of all our trips. Then it was back on the train bound for Northwick Park.
Today was proof that sometimes second is the best!
So far Sunday has been my designated catch-up day. Last Sunday, I chilled and finished work and I did the same today. However, today my roommate Kayla and I went into hibernation mode. We stayed in our pajamas and dorm room all day. I think we had a minor case of cabin fever because as the day went on we got progressively more hyper and crazy.
We needed today to sleep in since we were out all day yesterday. Needless to say we slept till 11 a.m. getting a total of 12 hours of sleep.
We both had a lot of work to do so after breakfast we turned on our computers and got busy. We actually accomplished a lot. I updated the blog, finished some videos and wrote some articles while Kayla read, wrote some articles and finished a video.
At around 5 p.m. we decided we needed a study break and watched a movie. Then we had a brave moment and ventured out of the dorm for dinner. So at 8 p.m. the normal time people are putting on their pajamas we were taking ours off and putting on real clothes.
As we searched for food it became obvious that maybe we weren't supposed to leave the college today. First we stopped at a pub to eat but as we were looking over the menu the bartender came and told us the kitchen was closed. Okay, time to find another restaurant. We spotted a Pizza Hut and tried our luck there. At the door there was a worker who told us they were all out of dough. Can you believe that? A pizza shop out of dough! Since everything else was failing we resorted to good old McDonalds. I felt like I was back in the U.S. eating here, but at least it was food.
By 9 p.m. we were back in our room and in our pajamas ready to finish working. Every now and then it is good to have a pajama day, even in London!
Croeso i Gymru! Welcome to Wales.
Six a.m. came early this morning as I got ready to travel to Wales. Since this was a daytrip, I wanted to make the most of it. So, the group I was going with left the dorms at 6:45 a.m. to make the earliest train to Wales. Also the tube has been a little sketchy these past few days so we needed extra time just in case the tube by our dorms wasn't operating and we needed to find another route. Luckily, the tube was working fine and we made it in time to the train station.
Being tourists we were a little confused on how our train passes worked. Lauren asked a station worker if our passes would get us all the way to Wales. He told her all we needed to do was buy an extension pass once on the train. Easy enough!
After we boarded the train, we settled in to our seats and prepared for the hour-long journey to Wales. We felt like VIPs because when the ticket checker came by and looked at our passes she let us ride without even buying an extension ticket. So we saved some money there; extra points!
A mixture of Welsh and English greeted us as we left the train station and began walking on Welsh soil. It was really neat being in a bilingual country. All of the signs were in both Welsh and English. Since we didn't really have an agenda, we just started exploring. All exploration leads to castles, right? At least for us it did.
After walking down the brick paved streets where Welsh flags hung on the light posts, we landed at the front door of Cardiff Castle.
Here we took the premium tour of the castle and got to see the "private" rooms. These rooms were highly decorative and the immense amount of detail was unbelievable. All of the rooms had a theme. For example, the "Gentlemen's Room" was designed to reflect time. This included hours, seasons, months and days of the week. All around the room sculptures and paintings illustrated the theme. In the corners of the walls there were depictions of each god that represents the days of the week. Also each of the four walls represented a different season. It was really amazing. I can't imagine how long it took to design each of these rooms. One of my favorite parts of the castle tour was going up to the garden tower. If I had been a princess living in this Welsh castle the garden would have definitely been where I would have spent my time. Although there aren't any plants growing there now, I could still imagine what it looked like with greenery hanging all around and mixing in with the marble fountains.
As soon as our tour was over the weather had gone from a sunny pleasant morning to a rainstorm. Great! So after our tour, we popped open our umbrellas and ran to the tower part of the castle where you could look out over Cardiff City. Despite the rain, the view was really nice.
We quickly climbed back down from the tower and left the castle in search of food and shelter. We found it in a little Italian restaurant. Yes, we were in Wales, but we didn't know what traditional Welsh food was so we settled for Italian food.
By the time we were finished with lunch, the sun was back out and we were ready for more exploring.
We had three Dr. Who fans in our group so we made our way to Cardiff Bay to the Dr. Who museum is.
Booths, singers, dancers and a giant robot flooded the streets of Cardiff Bay as the town celebrated some kind of festival. Lauren, Jennifer and I skipped the Dr. Who museum and walked around the town stopping at the little shops and watching the performers. We even took a tour of the Cardiff Bay Pierhead, which is known as Wales' own Big Ben. This historical landmark used to be a commerce focal point. After snapping a few pictures in front of the shoreline and Pierhead we walked around admiring the bay area. Our hair was basically strangling us because the wind was so crazy.
While walking, we spotted this group of older men and women dancing in patchwork shirts and traditional skirts. Naturally, we were intrigued. We timidly made our way over to them to see what all the dancing was about. As we inched our way closer to the men we realized the dancing was some form of traditional Welsh celebration. The reporter in me wanted to ask someone what they were celebrating; all I needed was an entry point. One of the older men soon smiled at me and immediately I knew he was friendly and that I had found my access point.
I struck up a conversation and he explained that he was part of the Forest of Dean Morris Men and the dance groups were celebrating 40 years of the Cardiff Ladies Morris (another dance group). These guys were so incredibly friendly and nice we stayed and talked for a while. We told them we were from Texas and were studying in London, but they were surprised we were Texans because we were missing that Texan drawl. So putting my acting years into practice, I gave them the stereotypical "Texas accent" and they were appeased. Before leaving we took a group picture with them. This made my day!
We decided to head back to the castle and look for souvenirs on the way. We did find some authentic Welsh food, Welsh cakes. These cakes looked like mini chocolate chip pancakes with sugar on top. They were really good.
Wales isn't really a top tourist destination so souvenir shops were rare. The only one we found was by the Cardiff Castle.
As Jennifer, Lauren and I walked to the castle we were acting ridiculous and laughing the whole time. I think the sugar and chocolate Welsh cakes were kicking in. We just kept looking for the castle!
At the souvenir shop we just happened to run into the other three members of our group. After buying our Welsh memorabilia we headed back to the castle.
We always seem to get really lucky on our trips because there just so happened to be a language festival going on at Cardiff Castle.
Tents consumed the castle courtyard and Welsh singers took the stage giving a concert performance to the crowd. The energy and vibes were awesome. People were walking around, kids were playing hula-hoops and walking on stilts and all was surrounded by castle walls. It was pretty great!
By 5 p.m. we were heading back to the train station with tired feet, full memory cards and souvenirs. It was a great daytrip and Wales did not disappoint. Next weekend we are off to Scotland!
One day I'm drinking hot chocolate and the next I'm on a beach! I may have been wearing a sweater and boots, but today I was standing on Brighton's pebbled beach soaking in the invisible summer. In front of me the waves of the English Channel swallowed the South Coast of Great Britain as I watched the seagulls fly above. I was with three other girls and we were basically the only ones on the beach because it was about 9 a.m. and I guess everyone else was still sleeping.
But we wanted to make the most of the day so we had left our dorms at 7 a.m. to take the train down south. On the train we witnessed an angry British man and let me just say that even when they are angry the British seem to be polite. Let me explain. On the train there was a food and drink cart that went by much like the ones on airplanes. Well, a man only wanted a package of sugar, but the cart guy wouldn't give it to him for free. He said it would cost 40 pence. Unfortunately, the customer had just gotten back from America so he only had 20 pence. The man tried to bargain with the cart guy, but he wouldn't budge. So finally, the man gave up and sarcastically told the guy how generous he was. A couple minutes later, a lady who had bought something gave the man a sugar package. So all was well with the world.
At about 9 a.m. we arrived in Brighton and immediately headed to the beach by basically following the seagulls till we found water. The shoreline was beautiful and because it was early the beach was empty. For a while it was our own private beach. We took tons of pictures and videos as we walked along the shoreline feeling the cool breeze across our faces and listening to the waves crash. At one point we asked three guys who didn't really speak any English to take a group photo of us and we ended up seeing them again later on in the day.
We made our way to the famous Brighton Pier, which had a mini amusement park at the end of it with rides and an arcade. Of course, we were too early so everything was closed, but we still walked all the way to the end of the pier. As we looked at all the rides, pop music was playing so we got a little groovy and danced on the pier. We saw a sign that said the rides opened at 11 a.m. so we decided to sit in the arcade and wait till the rides opened. As soon as the clock struck 11 a.m. we were out at the amusement park, but apparently in Brighton 11 a.m. doesn't really mean 11 a.m. because the rides were still closed. We decided not to waste anymore time and seek out another adventure.
As we came to the shore, we noticed a Ferris wheel that was actually operating. Quickly, we bought our tickets and were up in the air looking down at the Brighton skyline. This was really neat because inside the cart we got an audio tour that pointed out all the historical landmarks and told us stories of Brighton's history. I was more concerned about taking pictures the first time around so I missed some of the history, but I couldn't help it; the view was amazing.
Once back on land we walked toward the city for lunch. Before leaving London we had decided we wanted to ride a carousel on the beach. We found one on the pier but it was broken;however, we found one on the beach and quickly hopped on. This was my first time riding a carasouel in years. As we spun around and around I watched the English Channel appear and disappear. The whole ride the four of us were laughing at all the crazy looks we were getting. As we were riding we saw one of the guys who had taken our picture earlier so I waved at him each time the carousel went around. He was cracking up and so were we.
After we were done revisiting our childhood, we continued our search for food. We found this food festival in the middle of the town so we tried that for lunch. There were a lot of different ethnic foods to choose from, but I stuck with what I knew and had a chicken burrito. I did have freshly squeezed lemonade which was delicious. Our intention was to get food here and take it back to eat on the beach, but we were all so hungry we just found a patch of grass and had a picnic. After lunch, we went to a little bakery and had macaroons for dessert.
On the train the ticket man had advised us to go shopping at the Lanes so as we made our way back to the beach we took a detour through the shopping area.
Quirky independent shops spotted the Lanes and I found some unique souvenirs here.
Did you know there is a Taj Mahal in Brighton? Well maybe not "the" Taj Mahal but a palace that looks like it from the outside. Before we went back to the beach, we stopped at the Royal Pavilion, which has an exotic appearance. It was built for the later King George IV between 1787 and 1823, according to the Royal Pavilion, Museums and Libraries website. (http://www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk/RoyalPavilion/Pages/home.aspx)
Once back on the beach, we found some ice cream and just relaxed. The four of us all lay down with our bags around us and fell asleep listening to the people buzz about and the waves roll in. Kayla had slept only on one side of her face so when she woke up half of her face was sunburned. I never fully fell asleep so at one point I left the girls and walked down to the water to stick my feet in. The water was freezing, but I wanted to say I've been in the English Channel. Soon it was time to make our way back to the train station so we grabbed our bags and waved goodbye to the beach.
When I signed up for London I never thought I would be going to a beach. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the London Eye, yes, but not a beach. I'm so thankful I have been able to see and experience so many different places these past two weeks. I can't wait for the next two!
Overcast clouds mixed with the lush green countryside creating a gloomy yet mystical atmosphere. Here, buildings were non-existent. It was only humanity and nature standing together remembering history. I was at Stonehenge where towering bluestones and sarsens stood reflecting thousands years of history, mystery and ingenuity.
As I walked around this ancient Neolithic site listening to my audio guide, I oohed and awed over the story behind Stonehenge. I have always wanted to go to Stonehenge and finally I was here. It was freezing, raining and cloudy, but I felt like the weather only added to the mystical feel of the historic site.
Stonehenge was started in 3000 BC by people digging a circular bank and ditch for posts or stones. Originally, Stonehenge held 30 sarsen stones weighing about 25 tons each with seven bluestones capping them, according to the English Heritage website. The tallest stone weighs over 45 tons and stands at about 23.9 feet. There are many theories as to why Stonehenge was built. Some say it was used as a calendar while others say it was a place of religious rituals. Stonehenge has been an important research topic for over eight centuries.
Last year over a million people visited Stonehenge and today I became part of that number as I walked with hundreds of other visitors admiring the site. I was probably the last one out of my group to leave the stones because I was mesmerized by them despite the fact that I couldn't feel my fingers and I was shaking.
After a quick stop at the gift shop and a hot chocolate, I was back on the bus with my class ready to visit Glastonbury.
Today our class had a charter bus that drove us to each of our sites. The driver acted as our guide telling us fun facts about the area. On the road we learned about the history of highway robbers and how the hedges along the road measure all the way to the moon when added together. Our guide also related the area to our study of Arthurian Romance by telling us about King Arthur, the Celtic people and the landscape.
Unfortunately, there was one thing I forgot to pack for this trip: Dramamine. I was so extremely car sick by the time we got to Glastonbury I could barely lift my head. The driving wasn't bad it was just that the roads curved in and out, in and out and I was really hot. I was basically falling out of the bus to get fresh air once we parked at Glastonbury. Luckily, Glastonbury had a Boots pharmacy so my roommate Kayla and I got some motion sickness medicine before we left.
Glastonbury is known as the Island of the Apples or Avalon in Arthurian legends. Here we had an hour to eat lunch and visit Glastonbury Abbey, the alleged site of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere's grave.
First the group split up for lunch. I went with four students to a pub and had a jacket potato, which is a baked potato. It was just what I needed to feel better from the bus ride. Then with only about 30 minutes left, three of us quickly toured Glastonbury Abbey. We barely had time to look through the museum, but we made sure we visited King Arthur's gravesite. The abbey ruins were spaced around the land and gave an idea of what it used to look like. Surprisingly, there were massive chunks of the abbey left. This is just another abbey that suffered from the wrath and greed of King Henry VIII.
Rushing back to the bus, we met up with our group. We were supposed to meet at 3 p.m. so the bus could drive us up to Glastonbury Tor; however, Dr. Guidry misunderstood our driver so in an hour and a half he ate, viewed the abbey and climbed the Tor. This was no small feat because the Tor is 512 feet up and at least a mile from the town. Once we were reunited with Dr. Guidry, the bus took us to the Tor.
Walking up to the Glastonbury Tor was amazing. Words and photos cannot describe how beautiful the view was. At the top of the 512 ft hill we could see for miles as the green shades of the English countryside formed a patchwork of beauty. The wind was ridiculous on top of the Tor. My hair was going crazy! As usual we all took a ton of pictures before heading back down the hill.
The Tor is the remnants of the first church in England known as Glastonbury Abbey, according to the National Trust website. It has been a place of spiritual pilgrimage for many years. The National Trust website said, "Some believe that Jesus visited his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea," here. Also legend has it that "Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail with him after the crucifixion. He hid it in the cavern underneath Glastonbury Tor, which caused two springs to form," according to the National Trust website. The Tor is also the site where the abbot of the abbey, Richard Whiting was hung because he refused to pledge allegiance to King Henry VIII, according to the National Trust website. (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wra-1356292763044/view-page/item454457/)
Since we were running a little behind schedule, we had to rush through our next site, Avebury. Avebury may be the largest pre-historic stone circle in Europe. It was actually hilarious because as soon as we got to Avebury about six of us ran to the stones. We had 15 minutes here and we wanted to see as much as possible. I think being in such a hurry actually made the trip more fun. We all ran up to the stones, took photos, touched them and then ran across the road to the other stone circle. Across the road there were sheep in the field with the stones so we were extremely excited. After stopping for a bathroom break we ran back to the bus with no time to spare.
Thankfully, the two-hour ride home was much better due to the motion sickness medicine I took after lunch. I actually fell asleep only waking up when the guide pointed out a key landmark.
As I looked over my pictures from today of Stonehenge, Glastonbury, the Glastonbury Tor and Avebury, I couldn't help but think, "Man, London rocks!"
In America most things come with a price, but in London people love the "F word"- "Free" that is.
There are plenty of things to do in London for cheap college kids. Almost all of the national museums are free and parks are everywhere. Today, we took advantage of this and hit the museums.
After class, Lauren, Kayla and I took the Tube to the British Museum. The building itself is amazing with its towering columns and intricate carvings. Inside this multi-level museum, artifacts from all over the world are represented. In fact, each floor has a different theme. For example, one hall was dedicated to Africa and another to the history of jade in Asia. We hit the highlights because it would take days to go through the whole museum and really soak it all in. In the Greek section, we saw parts of the Parthenon, which I thought was extremely cool because I love the Greek and Roman cultures. Next, we toured the Egyptian room. Here I stood about 2 feet from the Rosetta Stone. It was awesome seeing the actual stone that helped crack the code for the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Also Egyptian pharaoh sculptures scattered about the room made me feel like I was standing in a desert in Egypt thousands of years ago. In one day, I had traveled to Greece, Africa, Mexico, Asia, Egypt and more just by going through these exhibits.
After making our rounds through the British Museum, we started heading to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Gallery. First, we tried to just walk there, but we got lost so we took the tube.
Today, Trafalgar Square was free of protestors, but full of performers. Right in front of the gallery there were two Spaniards break dancing. They roped off a little area and pumped up their music as a crowd gathered to watch. We stood right in front during their performance so we had a clear view of all their crazy handstands, spinning moves and flips.
This was my second time touring the National Gallery so I had already seen some of the paintings, but we stayed a lot longer this time, which allowed me to see new works. It is still mind boggling to think that someone created all these detailed paintings hundreds of years ago and they are still so beautifully preserved today. We stayed here for a couple of hours and then we headed home.
For all I did today, I sure saved a lot of money. Man, I'm glad the English love the "F-word!"
Our Texas weather has run out in London; it is now freezing. The first week we were here it was about 70 degrees and sunny. Recently, it has been chilly and rainy. And the good news is I have lost almost all the buttons on the one jacket I brought!
Today was a day of minor unfortunate events as I tagged along with the Literary London class to Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace. First, we hopped on the wrong train and had to backtrack. Then at Kew Gardens we were supposed to take a ferry down the Thames River to Hampton Court Palace, but the tide was too low so we had to stall for about an hour. Good thing Dr. Guidry scouted out this place before we took the class trip because he knew just where to take us to kill some time.
First, we went to the Parish Church of St. Anne. It was being remodeled on the inside so we couldn't go in, but we walked around while Dr. Guidry explained the architecture and how it related to the class reading. It was a nice little church that was designed in a Roman style that Dr. Guidry said reflects Alexander Pope's "Rape of the Lock." I stood in the background recording and taking pictures while the class soaked up Dr. Guidry's lesson.
For the next 30 minutes or so we had lunch at a little pub. We ate outside in a covered booth. Of course, I had the chicken for lunch and it was surprisingly good.
After we had successfully stalled an hour, we headed back to the pier to see if the boat was ready. It was. So the class boarded the ferry and began the voyage to Hampton Court Palace. This route was the same route that Belinda in "The Rape of the Lock" took to get to Hampton Court Palace.
Despite the wind blowing in my face and the raindrops sprinkling on my head, I enjoyed the three-hour ferry ride. I had my scarf tied around my ears to keep me warm. It was cool riding down the Thames River and listening to the ferry guide tell the history of the surrounding areas. We saw where Alexander Pope lived after he was exiled from London because he was Catholic. On the water there were tons of boathouses and beautiful homes overlooking the river. This past month I have ridden a plane, train, tube and now a ferry. Pretty cool stuff! By the end of the ferry ride, we were all sitting inside the boat and out of the cold.
Finally we docked at Hampton Court Palace. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect, but I as soon as I walked in the first room I was overwhelmed by the size of the place. It was massive! The rooms were exquisite and all the exhibitions were so interesting. Oil paintings and tapestries covered the walls. Unfortunately, I didn't know the history behind the palace so I couldn't appreciate it as much; however, after talking with some of the students and wandering through the palace I began to learn of the royalty that once lived here like Henry VIII, Edward VI and more royal families.
One exhibit called "The Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber" highlighted how Kings and Queens ruled from their highly extravagant beds. All these cushions were laid out so you could lay down and look at the ceiling to watch a movie explaining the role of the bed. Another room showcased what King Henry VII was like as a child and teen.
Outside, I ran into a little problem. I didn't have my ticket so I couldn't visit the Palace Gardens because without the ticket I couldn't get back in the palace. You see I had given Lauren my ticket earlier in the day because I didn't have any pockets. The problem was I lost Lauren somewhere during the tour and without cell phones it is pretty hard to communicate. Finally, Lauren called me and we were able to meet up.
Green round-headed holly trees and flowers lined the garden that used to be Henry VII's hunting grounds. I felt like I was in a different century. I needed to be walking around in an extravagant dress holding an umbrella instead of jeans and a scarf.
We stayed till the palace closed at 6 p.m. so we got a full two hours of touring in; however, we barely made a dent in the place. It was a long day, but well worth it.
Cell phones have changed us. We are so dependent on instant communication it is scary. Back home, I have my cell phone with me at all times. If I need to ask people a question or find out where they are all I have to do is send them a text. It's that easy. In London, it's a different story.
First, not everyone here as a phone with them. Most bought a pay-as-you-go phone with a United Kingdom number so those of us who brought our iPhone can't really call them without getting extra charges. My point to all of this? It has been challenging trying to coordinate with everyone.
Today a group of us went back to Camden to do some more shopping. We had this plan that if we got separated while shopping to meet at the end of the street till the whole group got there. Sounds easy enough, right? Well Kayla was a super speedy shopper. I mean she would be finished with the whole street before we were finished with one booth. At one point, Kayla hopped over to the other side of the street and we lost her. Normally, I would have just called her, but like I said she didn't have a phone. So mother Kasi was panicking a little, but I finally spotted Kayla and the group reunited.
I didn't do as much shopping today as I did the first time I went to Camden, but I still bought a few souvenirs. I felt a more comfortable with the bartering since it was my second time around.
For lunch, we went back to the food booths. I didn't have to translate this time, so that was nice. I actually branched out and tried something new. And for dessert I had these delicious Dutch pancakes with Nutella, powdered sugar and strawberries.
After lunch we continued shopping in the horse stalls area. This time we all decided to split up instead of trying to stay together. We gave ourselves an hour to shop and then said we would meet where we ate.
I walked around with Kayla and Lauren. We found this futuristic rave store with neon tube clothes, robots and more. I felt like I was at some disco in like 3013. We also met this magician. We walked into this one shop and there was this guy doing card tricks for two girls. He would make the card disappear and he was hilarious. Vintage stores are everywhere in London, so we made a couple of stops here and there checking out the timeless styles.
By 5 p.m. we were back on the Tube with bags in hand and sore feet. Our shopping wasn't over yet though. On our way back to the dorm we stopped to get groceries. It's never good to grocery shop when you are hungry or thirsty because you end up buying more than what you need. I was extremely thirsty so I ended up buying a lot of drinks. Finally, I went through my last checkout of the day and we all headed back to the dorms. It was another successful shopping day.
Ahh, Sunday...my day to relax and sleep in. Waking up at 10 a.m. felt great today. I was exhausted from the past week and just needed a little chill time. So, today Lauren and I hit the park.
People here love their parks. I have yet to see a park that is not bustling with people reading, playing soccer or riding bikes. And their parks are green!
Despite the chilly weather, Lauren and I brought our homework to study in Hyde Park. I felt like some kind of land surveyor because we walked around searching for that perfect spot to call ours and we eventually found it right by some trees. But first we walked through the rose garden where pink, blue, purple, red and yellow flowers bloomed in a beautiful array. Then we stumbled upon a huge weeping willow tree that created this hut-type fort. Of course, we went inside. I felt like I was in the little Keebler elf cookie house. Around me a circle of green leaves sheltered me from the outside creating a mystical environment.
Once we settled into our spot and began to study it was so peaceful. I would break from my work every now and then to just watch the people around me. I told you I love to people-watch!
Right in front of me I noticed this couple on the bench. The man was talking to the lady while she was sitting on the bench and he was on the ground. They were talking for a while and then I thought, "Is he proposing?" I got Lauren's attention so now we were both being creepers watching this couple. And sure enough, he pulled out a ring! I was almost crying. It was so adorable.
Soon my hands were numb from the cold, so we decided to try and find some hot chocolate. In June? Yes, we had hot chocolate in June!
Being in an unfamiliar area we had to walk awhile to find some place to eat. Plus we were in a ritzy part of town with all the high end shops so it was hard finding a cheap cafe. I think we walked about 10 blocks until we came to the Royal Albert Hall. This place was great. In the back, it had a little cafe with free Wi-Fi and amazing hot chocolate. Could it get any better?
I've never really been the kind to sit in a cafe and study, but today I really enjoyed it.