Thursday, December 27, 2007

The End of an Adventure

I know, I know, this final post was a long time coming. I actually had friends and relatives (and you know who you are) call me up and ask me where my last post was. I was busy readjusting to American life! :)

I've been home for about ten days now, and I can safely say I am back in the swing of old, well-known routines. There were a few days when I was disoriented by everything, including driving, local television programs, and seeing people I haven't seen in months. Providence even opened up a massive, new section of highway, and this made me feel as if I had been away forever, when in reality it was only a few months. After a few days I got used to being back in Rhode Island again, even though in my dreams I was still wandering around London and hanging out with my flatmates.

People keep asking my about London, and I am brimming with a thousand ridiculous stories (only the highlights were presented on this blog), but it is difficult to describe my experiences over there. No matter how articulate I am, no one can fully understand what it was like for me during those few exciting months living abroad. It was an amazing experience, and I think it had changed me for the better. I much more independent than I was before, and much more open to trying new things, even if they launch me outside my comfort zone. I also feel like I really got to know a different culture than my own, which is a very humbling experience. It makes you realize how big the world is.

On my last day in London I was leaving the Institute of Archaeology for the final time, and I breathed deeply, cold city air filling my lungs. I felt an enormous feeling of satisfaction wash over me, and I could only think of one thing: I had done it. I had traveled alone, across an ocean, with absolutely no idea what to expect, and I had survived. Not only had I survived, but I had a blast. It was quite an adventure. Sure, there were rocky moments, moments when I wanted to give up and go home back to comfort and familiarity, but I stuck it out. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to experience this, and I have to say I am proud of myself for taking the plunge.

I have been in touch with my roommates, and I know that we're going to visit each other and stay connected. We shared an experience that no one can fully understand except us. I am also grateful that they were such great kids; each of them came from different areas of the US and each of them taught me alot.

I can't believe my months in London are already over. Back here at home, where virtually nothing has changed, I alternately feel like I have been away forever, or never left in the first place. I know it will be even stranger when I get back to Fordham.

Speaking of good old FU, next semester is my final semester. The next year will be full of even more change and uncertainty; I will embark into the real world. I am both excited and frightened of this idea, but I know I am ready for whatever comes my way. I am determined to live it up at school for my final semester and wring every ounce of fun from the next few months. Who knows what will happen after that? I have been throwing around the idea of making a new blog about all my adventures at school and otherwise...let me know what you think.

So this concludes Annie's British blog. It has been quite a ride, and I hope you've enjoyed reading about my adventures. I want to give a shout out to my most loyal readers: Nana and Poppy (whose comments were always thoroughly enjoyable), Elizabeth (always ready to give me boy-advice), and my parents (who were with my every step of the way and supported this entire adventure). Thank you for visiting this blog and supporting my trips over in London, and I send you my love.

Signing off....
Annie xoxoxo

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Saying Goodbye

Today is my final day in London, and I can hardly believe my time here is drawing to a close. My other roommates have already left for home, and I am alone in the flat, packing and finishing up some last minute work. The past couple of days I have said goodbye to all of my new friends here, those from my classes, from choir, and otherwise. Saying goodbye is difficult for me, but it is the product of this period in my life. I am constantly moving and doing new things, meeting people and leaving people. Soon I will graduate from Fordham, and that will be the biggest goodbye of all, but let's not think about that now.

Even though I am sad that this adventure is drawing to a close, I have by no means sat on my rear and moped about it. My roommates and I threw on last get-together on Thursday, the last night we were all together. We exchanged secret santa/Hanukkah fairy gifts (two of my flat mates are Jewish), and I got a framed picture of the six of us. Very sweet.

On Saturday my roommate Natalie and I went to Westminster Abbey to tour it in earnest. Although I had been there for evensong, I had never taken the time to see all of the memorials and the tombs that Westminster is famous for. Many famous figures are buried at the Abbey, from Queen Elizabeth I to Chaucer to Charles Darwin and Issac Newton. It was amazing to be surrounded by so much history. It was very appropriate to spend my last sight-seeing day at Westminster Abbey, an icon of English heritage.

My guy roommates left on Friday, and the last of my girl roommates left this morning. Being girls, there was much embracing and shedding of tears. I have to say that I thought my flatmates were fantastic; we all got along and had alot of fun together. Living with someone, especially when you're away from home in a foreign country, forges a very strong bond. I have no doubt that I will maintain contacts with those girls back in the states. I miss them already.

I am also very excited to come home; I have missed my family and friends (and my dog) very much. I've also missed living in the USA; while London is fantastic, there is no place like home!

So my flight leaves tomorrow evening, and I get into Logan at about 9:45 pm, eastern time. This is not my last post; I want to finish this blog with my return home and my musings about the experience as a whole. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Some Last Minute Indulgences

So my last week in London has finally arrived...can you believe it? I've been juggling endless papers and trying to experience some last minute London venues. On Sunday, for instance, I went to Evensong at Westminster Abbey. It was at three o'clock (hardly what I'd call evening, but its gets completely dark here by about 3:45-4:00 pm) so it was a nice break from writing my papers. The evensong service was wonderful- their choir was made up of men and boys, very formal and traditional. They were dressed in red choir robes with white tunics and stiff lace collars. Their music selections were very English and very old; many of their songs had a haunting quality, which of course was wonderful to listen to in a place like Westminster Abbey. I thought it was very exciting to attend a service in a place so steeped in history (the abbey is over 1,000 years old).

My roommates and I also threw a holiday party on Monday, inviting all of our friends. We all got dressed up and drank cocktails and played loud music. It was really nice to see everybody and celebrate the end of our time here in London. I had a pretty good time, but I have to admit that I had the hangover from hell the next morning. That's what you get when you drink different types of alcohol in one night- rookie mistake. I won't go into detail lest I mortify my relatives.

It is with a heavy heart that I said good bye to one of my favorite things here in London- the British Museum. Today I went for the seventh (and final) time of the semester to check out my favorite things one more time. I also went to the exhibit that I had been meaning to go to all semester; this was the exhibit featuring the terracotta army of China's first emperor. The terracotta army is seriously interesting stuff- permit me to nerd out spectacularly and tell you about it.

So the First Emperor of China, a man named Ying Zheng, was born in 259 BC. At the age of 13 he became the king of a province called Qin, which was one of seven states in China at the time. All these states used to battle each other for power, but when the King grew up he conquered all of those other states, thus unifying China into an empire. The King of Qin declared himself the emperor of this new, unified China.

The Emperor wanted to rule over China forever; he was afraid of dying and tried alot of different remedies to prolong his life. He also spent over 30 years of his reign building a massive tomb complex, an underground empire which he could rule for all eternity. His tomb complex is gigantic and surrounds a huge artificial mound in which the emperor himself is buried (the emperor's tomb is yet to be excavated, although legend has it that it is filled with wonders). Anyway, in 3 of the rooms in these tomb complexes the emperor had over 7,000 life size terracotta warriors constructed; these were his warriors for the afterlife. The warriors are all unique and magnificently detailed. The British Museum's exhibition featured only about ten of these terracotta warriors, but was pretty cool to see them up close. The vast majority of them are still in China. Keep in mind that what I have described just now is a tiny fraction of the awesome story of the First Emperor and his tomb- you should look it up on Google!

Anway, when I finally tore myself away from the museum and started my walk back to my flat, I found myself to be quite depressed. The British Museum is such a fabulous museum, and after all my visits I feel like I know it inside and out like an old friend. Who knows when I will see it again? My only consolation is that when I return to New York I will have familiar places in which to nerd out: The Met and the American Museum of Natural History. I must admit that I have missed them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Caroling in the Quad

Last night UCL kicked off the Christmas season with a Christmas festival in the quad. It was rather cool- they decorated a big Christmas tree, and the huge marble pillars of the library were lit up with festive colors. There were a capella groups, fire jugglers, orchestral music, caroling, and authentic British food, like mince pies. The UCL choir took care of the caroling festivities, and it ended up being a rather strange experience. Let me explain...
So at around 7:45 pm, 15 minutes before we had to perform, we were required to meet in one of the academic buildings. One kid handed me a sheet of paper on which there were typed lyrics to some well known Christmas carols.
"Wait, aren't we going to get some sheet music so we can harmonize?" I asked.
The kid shrugged. "If you know some harmonies, sing 'em," he replied before moving away.

I stood there rather awkwardly and tried to mingle with my fellow choirsters; my default American alto buddy wasn't there. I started to talk to a friendly English girl with whom I had had a few conversations with; I am ashamed to say that I still haven't figured out her name, and she doesn't know mine. So I shall dub her Alto girl. Alto girl and I started talking about Christmas traditions.
"So do you have Christmas pudding?" she asked me.
"Umm, no," I replied. "At least I don't think so. What is Christmas pudding exactly?"
"Well, it's got this fruit in it, and its delicious."
"So is it in a bowl or something? You eat it with a spoon?"
"Well, no, it's like a cake, sort of, and you set it on fire and everything."
I frowned; Alto Girl was being extremely vague.
I started again. "Okay, so Christmas pudding is like a cake, a cake with fruit in it, and you set it on fire? Why?"
She laughed. "You pour brandy on it and then set it alight, and the brandy burns up, and it tastes really yummy."
"Oh okay. So what kind of fruit is in it again?"
"I don't know. I think Saltanos?"
I racked my brain for a translation. "Oh, you mean raisins?"
"I think so, yes. Anyway, Christmas pudding is my favorite. Its so sad they don't have it for you in America!" Alto girl also tried to explain to me what mince pie was; all I can tell you is that mince pie is made up of some unknown fruit (not meat, like I had originally assumed), and that it is 'really yummy'. I'll have to take her word on that.

So eight o'clock rolled around and we were all herded out to stand in front of the stage that was set up on the quad. The UCL band took the stage, and we launched into our set of carols. Keep in mind that we hadn't practiced, and neither had the band. We also had no conductor. The band would just launch into a song and the choir would jump in instinctively; we were flying by the seat of our pants.

The band was not very good, and some of them were even missing sheet music. They were also miked and we were not; this had the combined effect of highlighting their errors, as well as drowning out the choir. My roommate Natalie was there (god bless her) and she said she could barely hear us. Maybe that was a good thing.
Basically, it was not an amazing performance. I had expected the crowd (which was sizable) to leave in disgust, but to my amazement they stuck around, singing along with us. I realized afterwards that the vast majority of them were quite drunk; how else would they be able to stand the cold in the quad as well as our lackluster performance?

The worst part was, when we had finished our 15 minute set, someone yelled out: 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen!' It was the equivalent of someone shouting: 'Free Bird! Free Bird!' The band did not have music for this, and we did not have lyrics. Someone in the band started it anyway, and the rest of them trundled along. Us choir kids joined in reluctantly, not wanting to leave our band high and dry. When we got to the second verse (which NO ONE knows), we literally just started singing in nonsense words: "And when the da da da da da the blessed angel blah...and Jesus meh la la la la the blah de dah de mwah...." I exchanged mortified glances with my fellow altos. Fortunately the crowd of drunken English students didn't seem to notice. When the song was over the choir got the hell out of there, in case some other person demanded a random carol.

So with a few bumps in the road, I started the Christmas season, London style. Too bad I can't sit back and watch some Christmas movies, because I still have a ton of papers to write. In the meantime I will keep my eyes peeled for some mince pies.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Visit to a Royal Palace

I spent the entire weekend trying to recover from my illness, and I am pleased to report that yesterday I was almost back to normal. Today I woke up feeling pretty good and more than ready to get out of my room and back out into the world. I spent the whole morning in the library, catching up on work, and this afternoon I went to Kensington Palace to do some sight-seeing.

In case you don't know, Kensington Palace is one of the residences of the royal family. It is most famous for being the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria, and later as the home of Princess Diana. Remember when Diana passed away and the news showed those shots of the millions of flowers left at palace gates? Those were left at Kensington Palace.

At the palace you are free to walk around the rooms at your leisure. We saw Queen Victoria's bedroom, Queen Mary's dining room, and King George the I's sitting room. There were also displays of clothing that would be worn to court; the clothing for men and women looked equally uncomfortable. One dress worn during the 19th century featured a ludicrously huge hoop skirt made of whalebone. I guess practicality was not a factor in the construction of these clothes.

There was also an exhibit featuring Princess Diana. It consisted of several rooms; a few contained large pictures of her, another showcased her most iconic dresses, and a few rooms showed footage of her in different stages of her life. My roommate Natalie and I stood in front of a huge screen that showed Diana's wedding ceremony to Prince Charles on loop; we were mesmerized for over twenty minutes. Keep in mind that I had never seen that wedding footage before; it was all before my time.
"Look at that dress," Natalie said.
"Look at that tiara," I replied.
"I want to be a princess," Natalie sighed.
The whole exhibit was interesting, but rather sad. There were a few old English ladies in tears as they wandered through the rooms. I felt rather detached from the whole thing- I mean, I remember when Princess Diana died, but I was only ten years old. I hadn't really known who she was at the time. Over here in Britain she has become somewhat of an icon; this sentiment was apparent as one looked through the Kensington Palace galleries.

Afterwards Natalie and I walked to the large pond that is out in the Palace gardens; it was full of geese, loons, and the biggest swans I have ever seen (their heads could have come up to my shoulders). As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don't get to see animals very much, so I walked straight up to a huge congregation of these birds; they were being fed breadcrumbs by some man. Close up they were truly gargantuan beasts; they were fighting over bread and squawking and making all sorts of strange noises. Their sheer size and their bizarre vocalizations frightened me. Clearly these were not cute, approachable animals, and I quickly left the scene, dragging Natalie with me. I realize this is a strange thing to mention in my blog, but I couldn't get over the size of these things; they could have belonged in Jurassic Park.

So Natalie and I headed home and promptly got stuck in the tube for over an hour (it's only supposed to be a ten-minute ride back to our flat). The tube is the most unreliable form of mass transit during rush hour. It breaks down constantly. We finally made it home and now I'm supposed to be working on my paper about battle scenes depicted in Assyrian wall reliefs. Can you tell I'm procrastinating? Until next time...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

One Sick Chick

So I'm sick. Again.
I got up Wednesday morning and was so dizzy I almost fell over. The dizziness lasted throughout the day, combined with a high fever. I could barely walk down the street to go grocery shopping. People must have thought I was the local drunk college student, but no, I was completely sober. I thought I should go to the doctor, but I waited until Thursday to see if maybe it was some weird 24 hour thing. It wasn't.

I made it to the UCL health center on Thursday (they inexplicably didn't charge me the 60 pounds), and managed to see a doctor. He diagnosed me with: labyrinthitis.
Wait, labyrinth-what-sis?
Labyrinthitis. I'm having difficulty typing it out right now. "It's a virus in your inner ear," my doctor explained. "Causes alot of dizziness, queasiness, and fever." he paused. "So who do you think is going to win the presidency next fall? That's when you all vote, in the fall of 2008, right?"
I had to sit for a moment, digesting this bit of information. What the hell kind of illness was labyrinthitis anyway? Some made up British sickness? And why were we talking about the 2008 elections right now?
Since he was my doctor, I engaged him in some political discussion, offering my views on who might win. I really had no idea (who does?) but I offered him some of my views on Obama vs. Hillary and who might get the nomination. In return he gave me a prescription for anti-dizzy pills and sent me on my way. You have to work for your meal around here.

So as a result of my dizziness and fever I missed my classes on Thursday and my Brahms Requiem concert on Friday. I was quite disappointed about the Brahms- I worked really hard on learning that piece (it takes over 80 minutes to perform), and I went to rehearsals all week. So now I have this gigantic piece in my head and no way to perform it. Perhaps when I get back to Fordham I can ask my choir director if we can do that piece for our annual spring concert (which usually features a requiem).

Speaking of going back- I have only two weeks left here in London. I fly home into Logan on the 17th. The countdown is on. I still have a ridiculous amount of work to do, places to visit, and I have to recover my health before I can do any serious work.

Which makes me wonder....
I've only been ill once in my Fordham career. That's six semesters, and I've only been really sick once. I come to England, and I've been really sick twice in about three months! What is that about? Is it the British food/weather, or are there different germs here I'm just not used to? Whatever the case, I just hope I can get better soon. Until next time...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving and B-day: Double Whammy

I know I haven't posted in awhile; I've been swamped in work. Today is my birthday (21! Yay!) and so I have given myself the day off and am therefore free to blog. Here are a few of the things I have been up to this week:
-I went to mass at St. Paul's is a beautiful cathedral, and they had a choir made up of men and boys; they wore choir robes with stiff lace collars-very cool
-I got carded for buying a liter of generic red bull- apparently you have to be at least 18 to buy so much red bull at a time. "It's cool, I'm 20," I said importantly, flashing my id. "I can handle my energy drinks."
-I wrote a five page paper about the symbolism behind some of the architecture of ancient Babylon, and a ten page paper about whether or not culture in humans and culture in chimpanzees is different in kind or degree (glad THAT paper is over)...
-My choir is working on Brahm's requiem, and we have our performance next week. It's pretty difficult to sight sing in German...
-On Monday, one of my boy roommates announced that he was going to shave his head, so he went into the bathroom and did it. Then he got two of my girl roommates to pierce his ears (with a needle and an ice cube!), and he put in a pair of diamond studs. The whole ear piercing affair, which took place in the kitchen, was rather grisly, and I eventually had to excuse myself from watching. Not to mention that my roommate now looks like some kind of thug (boys really are silly)...

Thanksgiving was Thursday (I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, by the way) and it was a little strange to wake up and go to class. All I really wanted to do was sit in my PJ's and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, but instead I went to my Ancient Egypt class and my Roman Britain class. In my Roman Britain class we went on another field trip, investigating the remains of the Roman wharves and the Roman forum and basilica. The sole remaining piece of the Roman basilica in London was the brick base of a column, and it was down in the basement of a posh hair salon. My class of ten traipsed down there, irritating the hair stylists and the customers, but it was worth it. All of the ancient Roman remains that we have looked at have been in basements, either the basements of art galleries, car parks, or in this case, hair salons. People just build right over them.

At one point in the class one of my classmates pulled out a brownie and was munching on it while our professor was lecturing. He looked at the brownie and said: "Oooh! I want some of that! Look at me, I'm American! It's Thanksgiving and I want some pumpkin pie!"
"Hey!" I said, smiling a little but also somewhat irritated. Was he making fun of Thanksgiving? Maybe he was just jealous because he doesn't have a holiday that promotes unashamed, extreme food consumption. In either case, I felt a pang of homesickness. I wanted to be home watching football with my brothers, and I also wanted some pumpkin pie. For real.

My study abroad program sponsored a Thanksgiving buffet downtown at a nice hotel, so my roommates and I made the trip down. The dinner was quite good, and I had turkey and potatoes and some other nice, hot food. It was kind of interesting, all these displaced American kids coming together and making our own little Thanksgiving. While it wasn't the same as being home, it was nice to be with my friends and with other Americans on the holiday.

So now it's my 21st, which doesn't quite have the same significance over here as it does back in the states (after all, the drinking age is 18), but I'm prepared to go out and celebrate it anyway. My girl roommates and I are going to go out dancing, so I'm pretty excited. In the meantime I'm going to hit up a museum or two. I hope you all have an excellent Thanksgiving break, and until next time...