Saturday, April 14, 2012

The End!

On the top deck of the boat at our end-of-term river cruise
      Classes are done. End-of-term parties are done. Seemingly-endless evaluation forms are done. The first goodbyes have been said! I leave London on Monday morning and am quite literally counting down the hours (33, fyi). And as of this afternoon, all of the necessary arrangements for my trip have been checked off the list.
      I just spent 14 weeks in London, studying Monet and Turner by standing in front of original Monets and Turners, seeing more than 30 theatre and music shows, exploring an enormous city full of everything you can imagine, and living independently in a beautifully awkward flat with an amazing group of people. (And, and, and.) And now I'm going to spend three weeks traveling in Hungary, Croatia, and Italy with my boyfriend, before I go back home and have summer in Portland working a sweet part-time internship for the symphony.
      The only two coherent thoughts in my brain:
       1. How did I get this lucky??
       2. Helllllllllllll yes. :)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Travel Plans

I just confirmed my travel plans for when classes end! I have 18 days between when I have to move out of my flat and when I fly home on May 3rd. I'll be flying from London to meet up with Nik (who is currently in Germany and heading towards the Czech Republic and Poland) in Budapest on April 16th. We'll be spending a week (give or take) in eastern europe, ending up in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and then going to Italy for a little more than a week. I have about a million things I want to see in Italy, starting in northern Italy (Verona, Milan, the Lakes District, etc) and working my way down through Tuscany and ending in Rome. Now that I finally have a framework plan figured out, I'm so excited! I've got a rail pass that lets me go anywhere in 23 European countries and not nearly enough time (or money) to see them all, but it's going to be an amazing trip.
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Lake Como, Italy
Anyone who has traveled in Southeastern Europe or Italy! Where should I go and what should I see (on a very limited student budget)? Especially helpful would be specific suggestions, i.e. restaurants, attractions, museums, hiking trails, etc. Thank you!

And also starting a countdown to arrival in my beloved Portland: 27 days!

Friday, April 6, 2012


      Wales is now one of my favorite places on the planet. I had a list of about ten places I wanted to see and only two days to spend there - so instead of trying to pack things in, Nik and I chose to just go one place in the countryside and have a nice weekend absorbing some vitamin D and relaxing. And. It. Was. Blissful.
      I get so tired of constant big-city London, and breaks to places like St. Ives, Ireland, and Scotland have been really refreshing. But Wales was the antithesis of big city - green fields as far as you can see, tiny villages, friendly people, affordable costs, and at night more stars than I've ever seen in my life. It was such a welcome change, I wanted to buy a house right there and never leave.
      We took the train down from Liverpool to a little town called Chepstow near the Welsh-English border. We picked Chepstow because it was near Tintern, a spot I'd been wanting to visit for ages, and because I stumbled across the most adorable and charming B&B, the Willowbrook Guesthouse, online and desperately wanted to go there. That night when we arrived in Chepstow everything was closed, so we got some groceries and took a cab to our B&B, the Willowbrook Guesthouse, about 2 miles outside the town. We walked up to the B&B, met our host who was just as friendly and bubbly in person as she was on the phone, and went up to our room. The B&B was absolutely everything I had hoped it would be. Our room looked out towards a giant open field with a little brook running through it and all sorts of things growing. The room itself was big and comfy, it even smelled good. The little kitchenette in our room didn't have an oven, so we microwaved the chicken pot pie we'd bought, stirred in our frozen peas and corn, and turned it into an interesting sort of creamy chicken soup... ish. It was dinner if you didn't think too hard about it, and we sat eating it and staring out the window at the amazing number of bright stars (and Jupiter and Venus) we could see from our bed. And giggling at the perfection of it all (more me than Nik, admittedly. But he liked it too).
The view out our window

From our landing, looking down at the breakfast room
       The next morning we had a delicious breakfast, walked into town, and took a bus to Tintern. Tintern is a tiny town at the base of Tintern Abbey,  a ruined monastery which has foundations dating back to the early 12th century. I have wanted to go there for years because my favorite poem is William Wordsworth's Lines Written On A Hill Above Tintern Abbey. The poem tells of the beauty and serenity of the area and the view of the Abbey, and it had me completely captivated from the first time I read it. When the bus turned the corner around a hill and all of a sudden the Abbey was right there in front of me, I got all goosebumpy - the kind when you can't believe something is actually happening, it's all too perfect that it's overwhelming. Nik pulled out a copy of the poem and handed it to me right then and I just started crying and laughing because I was so happy. Boyfriend points to you, Nicholas!
       We spent the entire day basically just lounging in the sun and staring at the Abbey. The picnic tables of the Anchor Pub, right next to the Abbey, became home. We had a cider at the Anchor, walked along the Wye River for a bit, went back to the Anchor for another cider and then wandered through the Abbey itself. And then went back to the Anchor for another cider. Lots of liquid calories that day, but it was ok because we found that in the middle of nowhere, nobody takes cards except the Anchor, and therefore liquid plus the granola bars in my backpack were the only options.

      Walking around inside the Abbey was a completely surreal and beautiful experience. It's now entirely overrun by wildlife. They had removed the ivy from the stone to preserve it, but it was carpeted with grass and birds were roosting in the windows. The sky through the holes was perfectly blue and I couldn't help but think it was prettier than any stained glass. It was still a temple, but now like a temple to nature. Somehow the juxtaposition made a very profound statement for me. Sitting in the grass, leaning against the stone wall, and reading Wordsworth's poem now ranks among my top five most amazing moments of my life. Definitely the highlight of my semester abroad. I can't explain why or how, it just was everything I had imagined it to be and more and I'll never forget it. We took the last bus back to Chepstow, got some sandwiches, and went to catch our train back to London... and we missed it. I blame Wales for being so pretty, rather than us being stupid. But we misjudged by ten minutes and I cannot express how happy I was not to have to go back home. So we called to see if our room was still available and walked the two miles to the Willowbrook. On the way we stopped and sat in the middle of a field and watched shooting stars. You could not have written a script for this.
       The next day we wandered around Chepstow, taking a long walk through the field behind our B&B and discussing the merits of buying a bit of farm land and growing our own food. Screw a performance career, I'm gonna raise chickens instead. But, alas, we eventually got on a train and made our way back to London in time for my evening politics class. First things I heard when I walked into class: "You're alive!" and "Woah, you're a little bit tan!" Can you believe it???


      Nik and I went to Liverpool to see John Lennon's and Paul McCartney's childhood homes. We had a tour booked to spend an hour inside each house, and that was the only thing we knew about or had planned. Anyone who knows me may be surprised that I actually went into a situation willfully unprepared (not my usual style) - but discovering the cool things to see and do as we went turned out to be really fun. We basically spent two days exploring and visiting everything Beatles-related we could find.
      I grew up listening to my dad's music so I knew quite a few Beatles songs. I knew that they were a big deal in the 60s. But when I first started spending a lot of time with Nik two years ago, it became very clear very quickly that I needed to know more than that - especially after the first time I went with Nik to visit his parents in Boise. Nik and his dad could and do spend entire days in their (amazing, gorgeous) music shrine playing Beatles music together and every other conversation includes a Beatles reference or two. I almost needed notecards to keep up! (A great deal of the 8-hour drive to and from Boise is usually devoted to a Beatles album or two, so I get some serious study time.)
      Here in the UK, though, I've gotten the full story. For my politics class I wrote a paper on the Beatles, outlining their history and analyzing their socio-political influence. I visited Abbey Road Studios and took the infamous picture in the crosswalk. In Liverpool I visited John and Paul's homes, Penny Lane, the Cavern Club, and the John Lennon peace memorial. And the big finish - I saw Paul McCartney perform live at the Royal Albert Hall. So next time I visit Boise, I am all set!

      The train station in Liverpool is beautiful and the area surrounding it is the focal point of Liverpool nightlife - so arriving at 8:00 on a Saturday night, we instantly loved what we saw. We walked part-way to our B&B, just to see what we could see, and then took a cab the last couple miles. Along the way we stopped and talked to a hilarious group of guys outside a pub who were looking for a good baby name. They didn't like Nicholas or Leslie but they were fun to talk to! Once at the B&B I finally gave in and admitted that I was, in fact, really sick. I fell asleep in record time and Nik went out in search of interesting things (aka beer). About 2:30 in the morning our neighbors drunkenly buzzed our room a few times before figuring out they were in the wrong place and we also lost an hour of sleep for the UK's daylight savings that night, so we felt pretty awful the next morning. But we were off to see where the Beatles first began, so it was ok!
      The Beatles' Childhood Homes tour was pretty awesome. Both houses had been restored to how John and Paul would have known them, based on memories and pictures. At each one the caretaker took our pictures outside, took us through the rooms and told stories about what their lives were like, and then let us walk through on our own for a bit. I really enjoyed seeing what it was like - especially when the caretaker at Paul's house told me I was sitting in the very spot where the Beatles sat and sketched out Love Me Do in the back of a biology notebook. That gave me goosebumps. But I think my appreciation was nothing compared to Nik's. He could have died happy right there!

Mendips, childhood home of John Lennon
20 Forthlin Road, childhood home of Paul McCartney

Setliffe Park
      After the tour we got lunch and then went to check into our next B&B. It was an old Victorian house which, appropriately, used to be the childhood home of Stuart Sutcliffe, one of the original Beatles from the Hamburg days. It was a beautiful house right on the edge of a huge park a few miles outside the city center. We dumped our stuff, got ice cream cones, and spent the afternoon wandering through the park in the sunshine and walking along Penny Lane. Back at the B&B, we enjoyed a drink on the patio and then walked to Lark Lane (adorable little row of fun shops and restaurants) and splurged on a nice italian dinner and a bottle of wine. After dinner we went into town and went to the Cavern, the club where the Beatles first started playing shows. It turned out to be a hotspot for very drunk mid-life-crisis tourists, but we had a lot of fun singing along to the Beatles cover band guy. And I knew every single song, thank you very much.

      The next day we had the full english at the B&B (baked beans for breakfast is the best idea the Brits ever had), checked out, and went to the waterfront for a last morning in Liverpool. It was still sunny and summery, so we walked into town. We window shopped in Lark Lane on the way so it took us about three hours to get there. At the waterfront we sat on a patio in the sun (theme for the weekend) and shared a pizza - goat cheese, spinach, and sundried tomato, yum. And then went on the ferris wheel at the Albert Docks! It was huge and kind of terrifying, but also awesome. Then, sadly, we had to leave to go catch our train. I really didn't want to leave because we'd had such a great couple days and Liverpool was such a cool and beautiful city. There was a lot more I wanted to see and try out. But I couldn't be too sad because our next stop was an adorable little B&B in the-middle-of-nowhere Wales!
Byebye Liverpool!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Last week of classes

My class work in the last two days:
1. Heard a seminar on Sarah Kane, contemporary playwright whose work deals with violence and physical and psychological torture. I.E. eating babies.
2. Saw a stage production of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, a story of teenage ultra-violence, rape, and murder.
3. Heard a seminar on Punch and Judy, the traditional English puppet show which portrays brutality and domestic violence for the sake of humor (the early beginnings of slapstick humor).
4. Studied English atonal music, specifically an atonal opera setting of Punch and Judy, and Peter Maxwell Davies' 8 Songs for a Mad King which portray George III's decline into insanity.
5. Heard a lecture on the brutal Jack the Ripper killings in 1888.
6. Heard a lecture on the Kray Twins, the untouchable professional gangsters who ruled East London in the '60s through blackmail, political corruption, and blatant murder.

In the last two days I've also submitted 40 pages of writing for the end of the term and presented a seminar on avant-garde contemporary playwright Mark Ravenhill. Oh, and had a brief crisis over registering for next term's classes. First final exam tomorrow.
I can tell you that in the last two days I have NOT showered or eaten a regular meal. Ten days left in London and I have no idea what to make of it.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


      My laptop has been seriously grumpy in the last two weeks, not connecting to networks and often refusing to turn on at all. For some inexplicable reason, it's being friendly today, so here I am posting an update!
      The last two weeks have been crazy and wonderful. Nik was visiting and we got to do touristy London things and did some traveling as well (perhaps my computer is allergic to him, because it started working soon after he left this morning. Hmm). It's also the peak of the semester for school work, so I've been trying to juggle spending time with him with homework. Not having a computer hasn't helped. But he left this morning and I'm back to the real world.
      Only two weeks left in London. So much pressure wound up inside that sentence! All year I've been hearing and thinking that this semester is the opportunity of a lifetime, a life-changing experience, the best time of my life. And now it's almost over and I feel like I need to live up to that standard. London HAS been amazing. It's been fun and invigorating and overflowing, and I trust that I have been changed by it like I hoped. I'm definitely better at budgeting and spending, cooking, and traveling. I've got a nice little alcohol tolerance growing. And by golly I have finally learned to read analog clocks! Look out, world.
      I guess it's just hard to see the big life-altering differences while I'm still here, as if there's a lens to view it through but I can't reach it yet. Even harder to imagine is going back to school for another year. Living in London, having complete free reign  (and a weekly stipend) has made me want real life even more than before. I want a job and a house and a flower garden and a bicycle. Not the apron and lipstick kind, but the I'm-out-there-living-my life-however-I-want kind. I'm about to register for classes and I find myself unilaterally hating all my choices.  Hello senior project.
      I don't want to stay in London. I'm done with big city for a while, done with honking cars and cigarette butts. But, as much as I miss my friends and family (and food carts) neither am I ready to return home. The beautiful thing is that I have a 3 week trip through Europe planned in between the two!!! That should do the trick. :)

      But anyway. I was updating on the last two weeks, before I went off on a rant. So Nik arrived by train from Glasgow on Friday night. I met him at the station and we went directly to a concert at the Barbican by a group of 3 indie-rock musicians who all work heavily with string orchestration. One of the group was Owen Pallett, which is what drew us in. In the first half of the program, each of the three premiered a classical orchestral work. All very cool, very modern pieces. In the second half, the three and some others formed a strings/electronics/percussion band and basically jammed for two hours. It was incredible music and an amazing concert! We spent the rest of the weekend taking it easy, walking around London, celebrating St. Patrick's Day with my flatmates, and cooking delicious food. Nik got a random craving to make homemade bread, so he bought himself three different kinds of flour and an assortment of ingredients, and went to town making up his own recipe. I think we ate about five loaves of homemade bread in those first couple days.
      Monday-Thursday I had work, classes, and a big load of homework. We spent free time at my favorite pub, the Builders Arms. We also spent an afternoon at Abbey Road Studios, soaking in the aura of the Beatles and countless other recording artists. We took the picture in the crosswalk, of course, along with another 150 other awkward tourists. We ended up spending two hours just sitting nearby watching the parade of people posing and walking in funny ways, pigeon-toed or arms swinging unnaturally, or making ridiculous faces. And the long lines of angry cars honking at them. World-class people watching!

     We ended the week by celebrating my dear friend Irene's birthday with her. On Friday we power-toured Central London, hitting a long list of must-see spots. It was really fun to take Nik around and show him the city. That night we saw The Shins, which would have been really really awesome... except for that I got the flu about an hour before it started. Of course we went anyway, and the parts when I wasn't puking in the bathroom were great!
      On Saturday I pretended I wasn't sick and we set off on a long-weekend trip. First we took a train up to Liverpool and spent two days exploring the city and the Beatles highlights, and then came back down to a little town on the Welsh-English border called Chepstow for two days.
      I'm going to write separate posts for Liverpool and Wales, so this one doesn't get too unwieldy. There's too much to tell to fit it all in!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Catching Up

What a crazy week it has been! Gonna need the EU to bail me out of my sleep debt, please. Since my last post...
1. I saw the worst opera production in the world from the very highest back row of the Royal Opera House. That was three hours of my life I'll never get back.
2. I visited the little town of St. Ives on the Cornwall coast! I had an amazing and refreshing weekend of sun, fresh caught seafood, running around on the beach, and playing frisbee/flying a kite with friends. Something we really cannot do in London, and it was super nice to get away.

3. I saw the West End production of War Horse, which is now tied with Les Mis for the best theatre I've ever seen. The play is based off of a book and predates the movie. The special part of this WWII story is that the horses, main characters in the story, are lifesize puppets manned by three people each - one on the head, one in the shoulders, and one in the hind. They were unbelievably lifelike, I was astounded. Every movement and sound was flawless and it was a very moving and impressive performance.
4. I wrote a paper on The Beatles, comparing their influences in Britain and America, for my contemporary politics class.
5. I turned in a scholarship application (oh, right, senior year is happening soon...)
6. I studied pop art at the Tate Modern (Andy Warhol, Liechtenstein, and some crazy Italian satanists)
7. I went to a pub in the middle of nowhere to see my friend Shohei play a singer/songwriter gig and then went adventuring to return his rented sound equipment. For some reason we rewarded ourselves for making it onto the last train home in time by getting stale Krispy Kreme donuts from the corner convenience store. Hooray for odd, slightly inebriated shenanigans in the middle of the night!
8. Did laundry and cleaned my room. Something to be celebrated.

This morning I have been working on homework - they're trying to remind us that we're actually in school, not just on a sweet vacation. Very harsh of them. Although we did just hear that our last art history class will be a crawl alternating art gallery, pub, art gallery, pub, etc. So I guess 'school' is a relative term.

I am leaving in half an hour to go meet Nik at the train station! He is arriving in from London at 4:00 and staying with me for about 10 days, which I have been looking forward to all semester. I can't wait to see him and show him around my new home!