Actually Home

Long time, no… blog? Things got busy the last month of the trip, and my focus was really on seeing England/doing well in my classes/spending time with my friends during the little time I had left abroad. A few weeks ago, however, I got home. I unpacked, adjusted to being not-in-England and not-in-a-big-city, and went to training for my summer internship. Along the way, I was even able to venture out to New York City for a weekend–but more on that later.

Here are some of the final highlights of my time abroad/my weekend in NYC!

Liverpool

My class was lucky enough to spend the day in Liverpool in early April. We spent the morning on a private bus tour. As cool as it was to see the childhood homes of the Beatles/places the met/schools they attended, it did feel a little invasive from time to time. Still, the tour ended on a high note at the Cavern Club, where the Beatles regularly played in their early years.

My friends and I wandered around the rest of the afternoon. We ate lunch on the water, and we visited the International Slavery Museum and the Double Fantasy (John & Yoko) exhibit at the Museum of Liverpool. Our final stop was the Liverpool Cathedral, the largest religious building in Britain.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

The dome of this cathedral is one of the most recognizable parts of the London skyline–and has been for the past 300 years. My class explored the inside of the cathedral, and some of us climbed the 528 steps to the top in order to see views of London like the one above.

Oxford

My class took a day-trip to Oxford about a week after going to Liverpool. A fearless tourguide led us through the city’s various colleges and landmarks. Visiting the place didn’t dismantle the romantic and fantastical illusions of Oxford I had in my head; if anything, visiting gave even more fuel to those perceptions.

I enjoyed my visit, too, because–just like with Marseille–I have written a story that took place in Oxford. All the research I had done about the place came alive around me, and I was also able to understand the city in a way I only could by literally being there.

Stratford upon Avon

Going to Stratford upon Avon (or, Shakespeareland, as I decided to call it) was my final and favorite class trip. Before seeing a production of As You Like It from the Royal Shakespeare Company in the afternoon, my friends and I were able to visit the place Shakespeare was buried, cross the Avon on a 50p ferry, and eat some fish and chips near the water. After the performance, my friend and I bought a gigantic unicorn balloon. A small group of us walked along the River Avon for a while (balloon included, of course) until we found ourselves in the middle of a field of sheep. To say the least, it was a delightful day.

Parks & Gardens

It warmed up for the last two weeks of my time in London, which meant that I went outside as often as I could. I continued to do my homework in Russell Square. I fell prey to the ice cream truck. My friends and I had a picnic and then played some soccer at Regent’s Park.

The picture above is of the sun setting behind the Senate House Library during my last visit to Russell Square.

Abbey Road

I realized in a panic on my final day in London that I never went to see Abbey Road. So, I got on the Tube. 30 minutes later, I found myself staring at Abbey Road Studios and the famous crosswalk itself.

The Shard

For our very last class event, we all went to the Shard. From the top floor, it was the best view anyone could find of London. I watched the Thames wind into the horizon; I watched the trains come and go like little bugs at the station below. We were able to find a lot of the places we went during our stay–“See that big green roof? That’s the British Museum, so we’re right next door” and “Oh, the Barbican again” and “Is that Greenwich?”

It was wonderful seeing all the places I loved over those three months, and it was also wonderful going on one last excursion with the great people I had come to know and appreciate during our time studying abroad together.

New York City

For Christmas, my parents gave me tickets to see To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway. This meant that I was only home for about a week before I hopped on another flight for a quick trip out to New York City with my friend, Bella.

With a delayed flight leaving Columbus, we didn’t have a ton of time to explore on Friday. We walked around Columbia’s campus and went through Central Park. We accidentally went to Grand Central Station. Then, we left Manhattan to get to our Airbnb in Brooklyn.

Saturday was a full, incredible day. We started early with the TODAY show. While we didn’t interact with any of the hosts, we were able to be sneaky and get into some of their shots. Take, for example, this:

After this, we walked around what felt like most of Manhattan. (It wasn’t.) We walked through Koreatown, Soho, and Greenwich Village. Looking for a little rest, we then went shopping. I got to go to the big Macy’s! Then, we walked along the Highline and capped off our main exploring with a visit to Chelsea Market.

That night, we went to see To Kill a Mockingbird. This was a Very Big Deal for me. An adaptation of one of my favorite stories, written by one of my favorite screenwriters (Aaron Sorkin), and starring some actors I have loved for years (Jeff Daniels, Gideon Glick). It did not disappoint. I even went to the stagedoor after the show, where I was able to meet some of the actors and get my Playbill signed. I wish I could say it was a delightful experience, meeting Daniels and Glick, but the truth is that I don’t remember much of it. I was too busy feeling panicked (in the best of ways).

Sunday was a rainy, dreary day in the city but we made the best of it. We toured NBC Studios in the morning, getting to see the places where NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, Saturday Night Live, and the Tonight Show are filmed. There were still balloons all over the place from the previous night’s episode of SNL, thanks to the Jonas Brothers.

We spent a lot of that day at the Met. My favorite exhibit there was “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll”. They had everything from Buddy Holly’s guitar to Ringo’s drum set. The other highlight of the day was visiting the New York Public Library. They had a really cool exhibit about Walt Whitman.

It was an excellent weekend, but I’m happy to be home for a while now.

If you’re reading this, thank you so much for keeping up with me while I have studied abroad! The experience has just been so valuable to me; I am glad I have been able to chronicle it somewhere, especially in a way that others have been able to read and enjoy.

Cheers,

Anna

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Week 10: “Home” Again

It was a funny sensation last Sunday, returning to London from France and having the place feel like home. I had missed my morning routine (wake up first in the flat, make my tea, avoid doing actual work), missed the ritual of getting ready for class events, and missed hearing English. It was exhilarating being able to exchange kind words with the supermarket cashiers again and order food for myself at the cafe.

I had missed my classmates here in London, as well. It was great reuniting with them; we all had so many stories to share. It’s going to be a tough goodbye in a few weeks. I’ll just have to remind myself that most of us will be back in Athens this fall.

The British Library

Image result for the british library art of the book
the illuminated manuscripts

I tagged along with the art history class to the British Library on Monday. They were there to examine some illuminated manuscripts, the intricacy and artistry of which were stunning.

There, I was able to see the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, the earliest surviving printed copy of Hamlet, the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf, and a number of other things I could not believe I was actually seeing.

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Image result for ronnie scotts
not my picture, but this would be the view from the stage

Before I went, my professors warned us that this place was impossibly cool. They were right.

Established in 1959, it’s the only place we’ve been to with a real dress code. Incredibly famous people have taken the stage over the years, from Ella Fitzgerald to Jimi Hendrix to Prince. My classmates and I were there that night to hear music from the Avishai Cohen Trio. I’m practically without words when it comes to describing how great the performance was. I don’t think I’ve ever seen (or will see) anyone play upright bass quite as well as Avishai Cohen did.

Tate Britain

Image result for don mccullin
photograph from don mccullin

I returned to the Tate Britain on Friday to see an exhibition from photographer Don McCullin. He is known for his war photography and images of poverty. Walking through his exhibition was a pretty somber experience. In McCullin’s later years, he’s turned to photographing landscapes, though he still finds himself “in the field” from time to time at the age of 80.

National Gallery

On Saturday, I finally made it out to the National Gallery, the one main museum here in London that I had not seen yet. Now that I’ve been there, I can’t believe I waited so long. Each of its 2,300 paintings seemed more beautiful or strange or interesting than the one before it, and I also got incredibly lost in the museum’s twisting halls. It was worth fighting the crowds of Trafalgar Square to just bask in the history of the place for a little while.

The following images are a couple of my favorite paintings from the Gallery.

claude monet’s “the water lily pond”
hans holbein the younger’s “the ambassadors”

Buckingham Palace

fancy fancy

After visiting the National Gallery, I made my way over to Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, there were no sightings of royals for me. I don’t think the Queen was even home. But it was still cool to see a modern relic of the British monarchy.

That has been my week! Thanks for keeping up with me, and I can’t wait to see what I have to share with you next week.

PS: happy birthday, Mom!!

Weeks 8 & 9

It’s been a crazy, wonderful couple of weeks since I last wrote! I spent a week in London attending class and events, and then spring break hit… I spent it in Southern France and the whole week was absolutely delightful.

My week in London was filled with homework, errands, and general prep for spring break. I experienced a hip hop rendition of Frankenstein at the Battersea Arts Centre, and later in the week I returned to the Barbican Performing Arts Centre to watch “I is a strange loop,” a play infused with math and logic in a way that only hurt my head a little bit.

Saturday also meant witnessing a huge protest against Brexit. A couple friends and I found ourselves in Trafalgar Square and (around Westminster Abbey), where over a million people had gathered with signs and pro-EU gear. The crowds were more subdued and polite than the protest crowds I’ve known in America, even though their request was big and vital: another vote.

After getting caught up in the protest for a little while, my friends and I stumbled upon Chinatown. We hadn’t tried any food there yet during this trip, so we seized the opportunity. I ate a great dinner and radically improved my chopstick skills.

And then… spring break.

My friend and I flew out of London early Sunday morning. Just over an hour later, we would land in Marseille, a historic French port city. It was a bit of a bumpy road at the beginning—the bus line we should have used to reach our Airbnb was shut down because of a marathon. It was so unlucky that we kind of just had to laugh. A little later than anticipated because we had to walk, we reached the place we were staying. It was ridiculously pretty and well-equipped; it felt like I was living in a Pinterest board or stock photo. Here are a couple glimpses of where I got to stay for the first few nights.

view from my balcony
sunset out the kitchen window
panorama of my apartment

The best part of the apartment may have even been its location. I had a stunning view of the ocean out one window and a stunning view of the city out the other window; the walk down to the Old Port (Vieux Port) where most of the restaurants and shops were followed the shoreline the entire way.

Marseille was perfect, if not without a few surprises. I lounged around on the beach quite a bit—70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky is a lot different from what I’ve been getting in London. One of the days, my friend and I tried to go to Les Calanques, the national park in the area. We kind of misunderstood the bus route, ending up not inside the national park but stuck just outside of it without really anywhere to go. Still, we were able to do some decent hiking from the obscure point we landed, battling “the mistral” (the infamous strong winds of Southern France) along the way. In addition to a good deal of relaxing and hiking, my friend and I took a boat out to Château d’If. It’s an old fort and political prison visible from the coast, and it’s also the setting upon which Alexandre Dumas based his novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”.

from the castle
the wind being cruel to my hair on the island
the water, feat. our feet

For food here, I enjoyed the very French breakfast of croissant and espresso. My friend and I cooked in a couple of nights, but the one night we did eat out at a restaurant was admittedly a memorable one. We went to a nicer restaurant on the waterfront and both ordered the scampi. It turns out neither of us fully comprehended what that would be. When the waiter came out with our food, and it had eyes, and it had legs… we were stressed. For one, cutting off the head of whatever you’re about to eat is always unpleasant, and on top of that, neither of us knew how to eat whatever we had just ordered. What ensued was a series of educated guesses and lots of hoping that none of the servers were watching us and our struggle too closely.

Come Tuesday afternoon, my friend and I boarded a train to L’Isle sur la Sorgue, the other place where we would be staying for the week. It was a quieter town, old and quaint and in the heart of the valley. We treated this town as “homebase,” each day taking daytrips by foot or bus to a few different places around the valley.

Wednesday, we walked to Fontaine de Vaucluse. The walk took us past vineyards and old aqueducts. Once there, we watched the “healing waters” drift by, hiked up to the actual fountain, and enjoyed a long leisurely lunch along the water. I had the best (and second) crêpe of my life. After that, we took another walk up to some castle ruins on a huge hill in town. The view of the valley was beautiful from up so high. I was able to write and think up there for quite a while.

what the walk looked like for a little bit
view from the top of the castle ruins (a special surprise at the end)

The next day, Thursday, took us by bus to Avignon. The main part of the town is encircled by an old, intricate stone wall. There, my friend and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch and dinner. I tried French ice cream for the first time—a definite force of good. We spent a lot of time touring around the Palais des Papes. It once functioned as a fortress and a palace; it also functioned as the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. We also visited the Pont d’Avignon, the ruins of a famous medieval bridge from the 12th century.

Friday, maybe my favorite day of break, meant making the trek out to Gordes. The bus was able to take us halfway, but after that, we walked quite a ways to a great hill and up it. The view from the top was worth the sweat. We enjoyed bakery sandwiches once we reached the town itself, but we could not wander around the town for long, constantly bearing waning daylight and bus schedules in mind. From Gordes, we knew we wanted to walk to the nearby Sénanque Abbey. The path Google Maps had us take was just lovely. It was a footpath, surrounded on either side either by walls-nearing-ancient, dense shrubbery, or trees that looked like they came from a fairytale. Eventually, the path became downhill instead of uphill. There was a break in the trees—suddenly, we could see down into the valley below. It’s a view I don’t think I’ll forget any time soon, of the harsh slopes and the abbey and the unbloomed fields of lavender.

gordes

Saturday was a little tamer in terms of walking. Sore feet meant we went somewhere by bus, and that somewhere was Aix en Provence. We toured a church and a cathedral; the cathedral took my breath away. Parts of it began construction in the 5th century.

Once back in L’Isle sur la Sorgue, we decided to have a bit of a spring break “last hurrah” and went to a wine/tapas place called 17 Place aux Vins. I had probably the best smoked salmon of my life. I also got to pretend to know what I was doing in tasting a couple of different types of wine. It didn’t help that I couldn’t read the menu or really understand anything the waiter was saying to me. Now feels like a good time to share that the friend I traveled with could read the menu and did understand what was going on. He’s fluent in French; it goes without saying that without him, I would have been very, very, very lost.

Sunday morning, we walked around the antiques market (what L’Isle sur la Sorgue is known for) for quite a while. I had my final croissant/espresso breakfast. If there’s one thing I learned about France, it’s that the glorification of their bread is completely warranted.

view out the window on my way back to marseille

After the market, we took a train back to Marseille, and after the train to Marseille, we took an airplane back to London. It’s been a week I’ll never forget. While I’m sad to have left, I’m eager to ease back into my London routine and see some of my peers again. It’s funny how quickly London has turned into a second home.

I only have four more weeks left studying abroad here, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me. Thanks for the read!

Week 7: I Believe

I really do think that this week’s energy is captured well by the blind faith and inexhaustible zeal of The Book of Mormon‘s Elder Price during “I Believe”: there was hardly enough time to breathe this week, what with homework and events and a surprise birthday party and St. Patrick’s Day, but I just somehow managed to keep on going. To be sure, even if the week was busy, it was also a ton of fun. I won’t forget it for a while.

Here are some of my favorite experiences from the past week.

Westminster Abbey

Tuesday afternoon after class, we took the Underground over to Westminster Abbey. I had seen the Abbey before during my time here, but this day marked the first time I was able to go inside. A rainy day outside (and a fun day to realize my umbrella was broken), the corridors were cool and dark. Photography was not allowed inside, so it may be a little hard to convey this, but: there was a ton of stuff in Westminster Abbey. The sheer amount of stuff was overwhelming. There was just room after room after room of relics from another era.

I loved seeing the coronation chair (a piece of furniture in-use for 700 years now) and the various royal tombs, but my favorite part of the Abbey was definitely Poet’s Corner. Writers interred in this one section of Westminster Abbey include Chaucer, Dickens, and Tennyson; there are also memorials in this section for many other writers, like Austen, the Bronte sisters, Keats, and Shakespeare.

After my visit at the Abbey, I walked home and started to prep for my flatmate’s surprise birthday party. We made dinner/a cake, decorated the living room with balloons and spilled confetti everywhere, and somehow managed to surprise her that night when she walked into the dark living room and we all jumped out from behind the couches.

The Book of Mormon

Man oh man. Wednesday night, we saw our first West End show–which just so happened to already be my favorite musical. It was just as hilarious and heartwarming as I remembered. I think I smiled for 2 hours straight.

Richard II

Thursday afternoon, I finally got to go inside Shakespeare’s Globe, the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre along the south back of the River Thames. The original theatre was built in 1599, burnt down in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and finally demolished in 1644. The space I went to on Thursday was opened in 1997 and built about 750 feet from the original site of the Globe Theatre. So–pretty cool.

The show itself was good. I think I prefer the first production of Richard II I saw here, but I did enjoy the experience of seeing Shakespeare on the stage the way it would have been seen long ago.

Afternoon Tea

Having “afternoon tea” seemed like an English rite of passage. On Friday, a friend and I went to The Swan (a restaurant attached to Shakespeare’s Globe that we had seen the day before) and ordered the “afternoon tea”. The decor and dishes were all A Midsummer Night’s Dream themed, which I adored. I fell in love with Earl Grey tea and couldn’t get over how pretty and delicious the food was.

After tea, my friend and I walked over to Borough Market in an attempt to avoid crossing Millennium Bridge. (The wind on the bridge didn’t mesh well earlier with our skirts.) We bumped into the Shakespeare mural again and couldn’t resist taking pictures with it.

This past week was an incredible amount of fun, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me this next week. Time’s flying by here. Thanks for the read, and I hope you come back again next week!

Week 6: On the Edge

I’ve had a bit of a slow week this week. More homework than usual. Quite a bit of rain. I’ve just constantly felt like I’m on the edge of something great–and I am! This upcoming week, I have plans to go to Westminster Abbey and to see The Book of Mormon. I was also literally on the edge of something great on Saturday. More on that a little later in this post.

Even with how much work I was focused on doing this week, I still managed to catch a couple cool performances and go on a good day-trip out of London.

A Couple Musical Evenings

my view of the stage at the jazz cafe

One night last week, my classmates and I went to the Jazz Cafe. It’s a cool little spot in Camden with live music every night. We got to see a performance from the Afro-Cuban All Stars. It was absolutely incredible. The room was packed, and the energy was unmatched by anything I have been to here so far. A couple nights later, a couple friends and I ventured out to Brixton to hear some jazz music at the Effra Hall Tavern. It was a little more mellow but exactly what we needed.

Dover

Saturday was the best day I’ve had in a while. A couple days previously, I had decided I needed to escape London for a day again and was combing through a list of potential places to visit. I stumbled upon Dover and couldn’t get it out of my head. Not only is the small coastal town home to the largest castle in England, but it’s also where you find the famous White Cliffs of Dover. One of the most important scenes from Shakespeare’s King Lear is set on these cliffs. The poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold is about the location as well.

In other words, I had to go, and I did.

It was about a two hour train ride to Dover. Once off the train, my friend and I walked in the vague direction of where the cliffs probably were.

“Not bad,” we said, seeing a cliff that was maybe supposed to be part of the white cliffs.

“That’s even better,” we said after climbing uphill for a little while and having a huge, white cliff-face come into view.

“Oh,” we said upon rounding a corner and realizing we had finally found the real cliffs. They were colossal and shimmering white in the sun. Light blue waves crashed at the bottom, so far down that we could only faintly hear it through the wind. The wind! I thought it would carry me away. The wind, coupled with a shared fear of heights, meant that to get close to the cliffs’ edge, my friend and I kind of crawled to the edge and crouched there. I felt like if either of us stood up, we would catch in the air and be whisked away like kites.

our view as we tried not to blow away

We walked the full length of the trail and then doubled back, taking a slightly different route that meant a) we didn’t have to walk as close to the cliffs and b) we saw some questionably wild horses. Around 3 p.m. at that point, we stopped for a quick lunch at La Salle Verte and then began our trek up to the castle.

Called Dover Castle, it was founded in the 11th century and known as the “Key to England” because of its location on the coast. Dover, after all, is literally the closest you can get to France without leaving England. Looking at the castle, I just couldn’t believe how big it is for how early it was built. It also notably is styled like a sandcastle (although I’m guessing the influence is the other way around).

one of the castle’s outer walls

After peeking around the castle for a while, we looked around at some of the town’s small shops and ended up finding ruins from World War II–there was a church which had been mostly bombed but left as a monument to what had happened to the town. As you can see below, too, we also found some interesting murals.

a mural I saw as we walked around

We then went to The White Horse for dinner. There, I had the best meal I’ve had since arriving in England. My friend and I lingered there until we had to catch the train back to London at about 8. It was quite the sleepy train ride back. Walking 15 miles can do that to a person.

That was my week! Thanks from the read, and I hope you come back again next week. It’ll be a busy one for me; I’ll have a ton to report back about!

Week 5: Castle & Knight

A turn in the weather, a crammed schedule, back-to-back-to-back performances over the weekend… Not that any of my weeks here aren’t crazy, but this one in particular has been a whirlwind. 

Here are the highlights of my week.

Russell Square

not a bad view

I have already mentioned this park a couple times in my blog, but I actually remembered to take a picture of it this week. (I was very proud to have remembered to do that.) The picture above is my view of the park from my spot at the cafe where I sipped my mocha, wrote (a little creatively, a little for school), and easily got distracted time after time talking to one of my friends. I tend to feel like I’m in some sort of novel or movie when I work here. There’s a certain element of magic to the place, like something is always about to happen. Plus, it’s the best spot to see pigeon-like dogs and dog-like pigeons.

Spring Break

I officially booked spring break with one of my friends! It’s not for another couple of weeks, but I cannot wait until I get to travel out of the country. I think I’ll keep the exact details of my travels on lock-down for the fun of it until I actually go–but maybe I’ll include a couple of unhelpful hints…

  1. Customer support was in French when my friend called about train tickets.
  2. I wrote a novel a couple years ago set in one of the towns we’re visiting.

Good. I think those really are some perfectly unhelpful hints.

Performances at the Barbican

The Barbican is one of the venues my classmates and I keep going back to during our time here. This past week alone, we went there three different times for various performances. I think I have the walk there memorized.

The first time was for a showing of the movie The Piano with a live orchestra. While the artistry was all there and I adored the live score, the movie itself was just a little too problematic for me to enjoy. The second performance was modern dance and called Tesseract. The budget was through-the-roof, with the first part of the performance being a 3D movie (hence, the 3D glasses) and the second part involving a man with a steady-cam flitting around the stage and projecting live recordings of the dancers onto a screen covering the front of the stage. It was kind of crazy, but it also took itself way too seriously for me to love it. I did, however, really enjoy the third performance we attended at the Barbican this week, which was called Total Immersion: Ligeti. The music was wonderfully different from the music I’ve been listening to so far during my time here. I also got to see Augustin Hadelich perform, a violinist I’ve listened to but never heard in-person before. 

our snazzy look for the 3D part of Tesseract

Hever Castle

Text Exchange with Friend, Abridged:

“want to go to a castle?”

“sure!”

“meet outside your flat, 15 mins? the train leaves soon.”

I had just gotten out of the shower. My hair was soaked and I wore dark circles under my eyes. Still, I typed, “OK!”

Never in my life have I gotten ready that quickly. I burst out into the frigid air, found my friend (who kindly brought me crackers, as there was no time for lunch), and dashed to the train station. We had to switch trains a couple times to get to the main one that would take us out of the city. This required we master the Goldilocks of paces: fast enough that we didn’t miss the train, but slow enough that nobody thought anything was wrong. There’s a fine line.

We stepped off the train in Hever. When it pulled away and we looked around, we realized we really were in the middle of nowhere in the English countryside. Not another soul was around–that is, if you don’t count sheep. We walked for a while to reach the castle.

the road we took to the castle

Things got a little more touristy once we got to the castle–lots of kids running around, plus an ice cream vendor on the castle grounds that we definitely stopped at. We peeked around the gardens for a little bit and even took a quick tour through one of the mazes.

the castle grounds had plenty of ducks to spare

The castle itself was beautiful. It was built in the 13th century and between 1462 and 1539 was the seat of the Boleyn family. Yes, Anne Boleyn. We actually got to go into the rooms which once were the bedrooms of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII. All in all, the trip was definitely worth the rush.

Sir Ian McKellen

?????

On Sunday, I got to see Sir Ian McKellen! My class went to see his show, Ian McKellen on Stage: Tolkien, Shakespeare and You!, and it was a lot of fun. He talked about his childhood, his decision to become an actor, and his experiences in some of his better-known roles. He performed excerpts from Tolkien works, and even more from Shakespeare. In fact, the second half of the show was literally him going through each of Shakespeare’s 37 works and sharing a brief anecdote or performing a monologue from every single one. It was a lot. But it was fantastic.

Another week down. Time’s flying by; there’s hardly enough time to write about it. Thanks for the read!

Week Six: Sail Cars and Syria

As the readers of this blog may or may not know, a group of physics majors including myself (self-declared the “Physics Physiques”) meets up regularly over the week to work out together. On Friday we decided to hike to Witch’s Peak in lieu of lifting weights, given the beautiful weather. Later, we regrouped to attend the movie night hosted by the Society of Physics Students in Clippinger. Up until then I had forgotten how long (and how sad) Interstellar was. If you’ve never seen it, it’s definitely worth the watch.

turkey tail fungus from the Friday hike

I spent most of Saturday volunteering at the ARC for Dr. Lucas, one of the physics professors in our department. STEM outreach is fun, even though assembling and disassembling sail cars for six hours isn’t—being around so many energetic kids makes it more than worth it (I won’t complain about the free pizza either). I kept a leaderboard of record distances travelled and it was very entertaining to watch not only the children but also parents become invested in building the best car and sailing the farthest.

baked macaroni and cheese – a Rice family staple for dinner on Sunday nights

On Sunday I went to the Arabic lunch hosted by the OU Arabic Language Student Association. I’ve always been interested by Middle Eastern culture and I enjoyed the event. We had an Arabic-style meal, watched a poetry and dance performance, and listened to Basil Masri Zada, an OU graduate student, as he talked about the situation in his home country Syria. I’ll admit I didn’t know very much about it beforehand, and I still don’t understand much—it’s very complicated and confusing, exacerbated by the fact that news outlets inundate the public with news about the war-torn country until we don’t care anymore. Even in the so-called age of information, staying informed about events outside our bubble is difficult. I want to learn more, to care more about the people experiencing the day-to-day violence in Syria. I can’t imagine being so accustomed to the sounds of explosions that I fall asleep to them. I don’t know how I could possibly help, but I want to.

-Emma

Week 4: A Month in London

It’s been a month. I can’t believe I just typed that. A month! A month of immersing myself in the arts, of long rides on the Tube, of spending lazy days in museums, of searching for the best cafes, of converting between dollars and pounds and Fahrenheit and Celsius, of jockeying for the best seats on the bus, and of making great friends.

I do miss home sometimes, but if I had to be anywhere else, I’m incredibly glad and grateful and amazed it’s here.

Here are some of my favorite experiences from this past week.

The Vaults

a family portrait in The Vaults

My class went to see a show called Call Me Fury last week, and every part of it was magical, from the venue to the show itself. The venue is known as The Vaults; it’s beneath the Waterloo Station and literally within the converted railway arches and tunnels. The walls are covered in graffiti (as you can see), and it’s kind of a a musty maze once you get down there. It suited the show perfectly: a tense play about witches. It centered around the Salem Witch Trials but also told the stories of other persecuted women from different places and eras.

I felt, almost immediately, that the venue enhanced the show by accentuating its themes of unease. A certain degree of claustrophobia went along with the venue being off of a tunnel in a converted railway station, the room itself was small, the seats were all close together, and the air felt hot, heavy, and sticky. The show would have still probably “worked” in a more traditional venue, but it “worked” especially well within the Vaults.

Victoria & Albert Museum

a room so very full of stuff

My class traveled to the Victoria & Albert Museum the other day. We wandered around and found stunning rooms like the one pictured above, and some more modern things I remember seeing include Edward’s Scissorhands from Edward Scissorhands and the costume design for Elphaba from Wicked.

Still, my favorite part of the visit was seeing the photography of Ivan Kyncl. During his career, he photographed over 500 plays, operas, and musicals. We even got to see his well-known photograph of Alan Rickman on Rickman’s birthday.

alan rickman photographed by ivan kyncl

The Albert Memorial

There’s a TV show I used to be a pretty big fan of called Victoria. It’s all about Victoria’s rise to power and reign as queen, as well as her meeting and eventual marriage to Prince Albert. I found another Victoria fan on this trip, and the two of us banded together to go see The Albert Memorial the other day.

Poor researchers, my friend and I expected a small statue. When we rounded the corner and found this huge, shiny behemoth of a memorial, we were shocked (to say the least).

Russell Square

Surprised by a lot of down-time this week but also by a lot of sunshine, a friend and I ended up frequenting the park near our flats. It’s called Russell Square. We would sit at the cafe there and ended up playing cards or reading or writing or thinking for hours. It seemed like a different language was being spoken at every other table; people-watching could fill an afternoon. So, I think, could dog-watching. A lot of people bring their dogs to the park, which is always good.

I learned after spending a lot of time at the park that many scenes of the TV show Sherlock were filmed in or around this park. It kind of blew my mind. Little did I know as I watched the show years ago that I’d someday stumble upon some of its filming locations.

just john watson (martin freeman) in my park

Fairport Convention

my excellent view of the stage

Saturday night took my class to the Union Chapel to hear music from Fairport Convention. The band is a British folk rock group formed in 1967, and although I had not heard much from them before that night, I emerged from the Union Chapel a fan.

Glancing around the venue before the show started was fun, too, because we quickly realized we were the youngest people there by a number of decades. People in the audience actually asked us on a couple occasions what we were doing there. I can only imagine what was going through their minds–likely what are all these young, noisy Americans possibly doing here?

A note on that: I’ve decided that one of the main, correct American stereotypes abroad has to be that we’re loud. Maybe that doesn’t hold true for my introverted self, but I feel like my classmates are always the last to still be talking in a quiet space. (Not in a bad way! Just in… a way.)

I hope you enjoyed my post about this week! Surprise surprise, there will be another one next week… and the week after that… and the week after that. Thanks for sticking with me.

Valentine’s Week

I love my physics major. But oftentimes I get buried in the coursework or find myself being snagged by my lack of prowess in math or concepts that I can’t quite grasp in the week I am afforded to learn the contents of each chapter.

a trainwreck.

I am so thankful to the people surrounding me, those that remind me that I’m not a failure, I’m not that bad at math or physicsI’m not going to have to drop out and become an apiarist.

honestly, if you bring your Valentine’s date to USD, maybe you deserve this.

My favorite moment from the past few days was on Valentine’s day. A few other physics majors and I were crammed into a booth at Union Street Diner and watched with fear and wonder in our eyes as one of us broke from our ranks and stepped up to the jukebox with a dollar in hand. He scrolled through the beginning and middle of the alphabet and slowed when he got to the W’s, invoking from us gasps and pleas for mercy on the other patrons. And yet, he continued. He selected Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussycat?” from the list triumphantly. His work was done.

Besides the ever-present struggle with physics, this past week was one of writing bad code, feeling bittersweet as my friends receive acceptances from grad schools, and watching Call Me By Your Name for the first time with my friends.

There’s not much happening at the moment. But there are many things to come. I’ve been checking the price of plane tickets from Columbus to Madrid, and if I went for the duration of spring break I would only have to fork over $700. Usually round-trip flights cost more than a thousand. Seeing my host family again would be worth it. However, the current plan is a road trip to the East Coast, which is significantly less expensive. In either case, I’m excited to get through midterms and have a week off to spend with people I love.