23 December, 2010

I've always wanted to run an advice column...

From Meg: emilyyy! i finally saw your blogpost and it helps sooo incredibly much. i have a question for you about packing--what's essential, what's not? should i bring things like toiletries, school supplies, etc? i need your advice oh great london traveler!!

Thought I'd post this up here for all to see!

My advice for packing would be to pack as light as possible: Bring some really versatile outfits that you can layer and make look different without actually having a large quantity of clothing. Same with shoes. Bring a pair of GOOD walking shoes, some cute boots (flat heel is best), and a pair of heels or dress shoes for going out. If you're anything like me, you WILL buy an entirely new wardrobe in London (not to mention all the souvenirs), so make sure you leave room for coming home, unless you're planning on buying another suitcase. (I sent some things home with my mum when she came to visit me, so I had some extra space.)

Right. Toiletries. It's really up to you. If you have room, I'd say go ahead and pack them. They're things you don't need to bring home with you, so putting it in your luggage on the way there is like saving room for souvenirs you'll bring back. You can find most American brands of shampoos, conditioners, body wash, toothpaste, etc at Boots, so don't worry about having to pack enough for the whole semester. 

As for school supplies I would DEFINITELY suggest bringing some if you've got room. Notebooks, binders, paper, pens, it's all ridiculously expensive in London. I've no idea why, but stationery stores feel the need to rob you blind. Also, for a few of my classes we had to do journals as our final projects, and they were more like scrapbooks. Don't underestimate the need for crayons and markers and glue sticks. So if you've got room, throw in your trusty old box of 64 Crayolas. :)

Oh! Here's an important one. DO NOT BRING ELECTRONIC TOILETRIES (like blow dryers or straighteners) EVEN IF YOU HAVE A VOLTAGE/OUTLES CONVERTER. One of our roommates almost set our flat on fire (and ruined her expensive straightener) because she couldn't bear to leave it at home. Bad, bad idea. We pitched in money with all the girls in our flat and bought a nice straightener (his name was Remy) and we shared him. It worked out really well. Also, the London Centre has got some extra hair dryers and straighteners and such that other students have left behind, you can ask when you get there if there are any up for grabs.

I'm so excited for you guys, you've no idea. And by excited I mean I am moping about my house wishing I was going again. Feel free to ask me any more last minute packing questions as you come up with them. Most of you have got my number and/or know me on Facebook. And you had better keep in touch once you're in London!

Love you all,

EDIT: Another thing. I'm a HUGE overpacker. If you're like me, and you're sitting on your suitcase to try to get it closed, do what I did. I packed my suitcase about a week or two before I left, and every day, I would repack it, taking EVERYTHING out and putting it back in. I'd find all sorts of things I didn't actually need, and eventually got it all to fit. Beware of weight limits, too!

13 December, 2010

Traveling Tips

Places to buy cheap airline tickets:

Train tickets:
If you're planning on doing a lot of traveling in a short period of time, buy a EUrail pass. You can choose how many countries it works for and how many trips you can use it for. You still need to pay a reservation fee for train trips but you save so much money.

14 November, 2010

THE ITHACA COLLEGE STUDENT'S GUIDE TO A SEMESTER IN LONDON, or Everything I Wish I Knew Before I Went But Had No One to Ask

-       Buy Oyster Card (travel card for Tube, Bus, etc.) BEFORE you leave so it is waiting for you when you get there.
-       DO NOT USE TRAVELER'S CHECKS. I REPEAT, DO NOT USE TRAVELER'S CHECKS. Convert about £50-100 before you leave, so you have some cash for the first few days. When you are in need of cash, try and find a Barclay's ATM or HSBC. They have the cheapest ATM fees, and are free for some American banks.
-       Try to walk and explore as much as you can. The tube is really convenient, but it's really easy to get dependent on it, and before you know it, you'll realize you know very little about London aboveground. Take the bus, which takes longer, but has a view, or walk to ICLC in the morning if you can. I highly suggest bus surfing, aka hopping on the first bus you find, getting off at a random stop, and exploring. It's a really good way to get to know the city, and you will see things you would never have seen otherwise.
-       London is one of the safest cities I have ever been in. I felt perfectly comfortable walking around by myself in the middle of the night. Moreso than I do in Ithaca, actually. Obviously, don't be stupid. Don't go out alone if you've been drinking, don't flash your cash or wear ridiculously skanky clothing if you're by yourself in an unfamiliar part of the city. But if you're smart and alert, it's a really safe city, and one that has a lot of cool details you would never notice if you weren't by yourself.
-       Forget the iPod. Listening to the people around you as you walk/are on the train is one of the best parts of London. If you don't want people to bother you though, wear your headphones but don't turn on your music. But just a tip, it's sometimes really fun to let people interact with you. You'll meet a lot of really cool people that way.
-       Be conscious on the sidewalks. People walk fast. There's not really a specific side of the sidewalk that people walk on. I think the British prefer to walk on the left, like cars do in the roads, but they are so used to tourists, they just weave. Watch for what everyone else is doing, and do that too.
-       DO NOT BE A WEIRDO TOURIST. Try your best not to be obnoxious or stick out as an annoying American. It's the #1 way to piss people off. What worked for me was to imagine I belonged there. I was not a student staying there, I was living there. It makes a difference when you try to become part of the city rather than someone visiting it.
-       Keep a camera with you whenever possible, but don't spend your time in London looking at it through a camera lens. While I do wish I had some more pictures of my everyday life in London, I'm really glad I didn't spend my whole semester glued to my camera. You miss so much when you're taking pictures of everything. Just put the camera down and experience the place, God dammit!
-       Get your mobile phone from Carphone Warehouse. There are locations everywhere. Get the cheapest phone for £5, and get a pay as you go plan. Put about £20-30 on it, and you'll be set for most of the semester, depending on how often you use it. Try not to call your family and friends back home. Skype is your friend. And it's free!
-       If you ever find yourself in need of Wifi, McDonald's has it for free, so do a few cafes. But most places in London charge for wifi, which sucks, and the Internet there is kind of bad. But you'll get used to it, and you'll figure out loopholes in how to make it work best for you. Be patient though, because it will most likely get frustrating.
-       Washing machines in Britain are usually Washer/Dryer combos. But the dryers usually suck. They just make your clothes really hot, but just as wet. I suggest buying/bringing/improvising some sort of drying rack.

-       Boots – a pharmacy, like CVS or Rite Aid. (Fun fact: pharmacies are sometimes called "chemists")
-       Tesco – Your basic grocery store. Tesco Express is like a tiny convenience store with sandwiches, milk, eggs, etc. The basic stuff. Tesco Metro is a decent sized grocery store, and Tesco Superstore is a GIANT one. There is a Tesco Express near ICLC, which sells a lot of good sandwiches and pastries and such that are good if you forget to pack a lunch that day.
-       Sainsbury's – another grocery store, with a lot of different options. A lot of things are pricier here, but if you shop around you can find deals.
-       Primark – Picture every one of your favorite clothing stores. Now roll them all into one and knock off half the price. Welcome to Primark. There are several locations, but the best one (though always SUPER crowded) is on Oxford Street. Take the tube to Marble Arch (District/Red Line.) and it's right near the exit onto the street.
-       Ella's – a cupcake shop in Covent Garden. They sell the best cupcakes you will ever eat in your life. Kind of pricey (about £2,50 each), but you HAVE to have at least one during your time in London. They are life-changing cupcakes. AND THEY SPARKLE.
-       Ryman's – a stationary shop. They sell school supplies, etc. and they offer a student discount. HOWEVER, BE FOREWARNED. School supplies (notebooks, glue sticks, binders, etc.) are SUPER expensive in England. If you have room in your suitcase, try to bring some notebooks and school stuff with you.
-       Waterstone's – The UK's biggest bookshop chain. Kind of like Borders or Barnes and Noble, only much cooler and more British. Go here for your schoolbooks if you're taking a literature class, they usually have a 3 for 2 deal. The Charing Cross location is GINORMOUS.

-       Lyle's Golden Syrup – a really delicious sweet, honeyish syrup that is absolutely FAB on tea biscuits, toast, pancakes, bread, etc. Really yummy.
-       McVities Tea Biscuits – plain shortbread biscuits (not cookies. They're called BISCUITS.) that taste fabulous dipped in tea. Also taste really good smeared with peanut butter and nutella and made into a sandwich.
-       All the candy! Cadbury chocolate beats Hershey's by a landslide. My personal favorite are Crunchy bars and Lion bars. A lot of people really like Cadbury Flake bars. There's also these ridiculous candy bars called Yorkies, and on the package it advertises that it is NOT for girls. They're gross. They really are not meant for human consumption at all, but especially not girls. On a related note, near St Paul's Cathedral is a place called Mr. Simm's Sweet Shop. GO TO IT. IT'S FABULOUS. BUY ME TOFFEE. I WILL REPAY YOU.
-       Yo!Sushi – Located in Whiteley's, a big shopping center in Bayswater. There are a few other locations, but I don't know where. Basically, you sit at a bar, and bowls of food go past you on a CONVEYOR BELT. You choose what you want, everything is priced by different coloured bowls, and at the end of your meal, the server charges you based on the bowls you have accumulated. SOOOO GOOD. Such a fun experience. I don't even like sushi and I LOVED this place.
-       Frog – a frozen yoghurt shop in Bayswater. So good, it yog-hurts. Right across from the entrance of the Bayswater Underground Station. Fro-yo in the UK is very different from the US, but sooo good. Frog has a 50% off student discount during the colder months. (Also, if you have time, order me a medium natural fro-yo with raspberries. I will eat it vicariously through you.)
-       Walker's Crisps (Potato Chips) – the label on the packet looks just like Lay's chips. They come in flavors like roast beef, prawn, and bacon.

-       Skins
-       Take Me Out – A HILARIOUS game show in which a man tries to impress a group of 30 women in an effort to get one to want to go out with him. It's like The Bachelor, but in thirty minutes. AND IT IS HILARIOUS.
-       Doctor Who – Yes, Monica, I know you are all over this one already. But seriously, everyone watches it.
-       Scrubs and Friends – Yeah, I know they're American shows, but they are literally on tv ALL THE TIME. Get used to it.
-       X-Factor – Basically American Idol, British people are pretty much obsessed with it. If you hear mentions of Jedward, Leona Lewis, or Alexandra Burke, they are X-Factor winners.
-       Music video countdowns – it's really funny hearing British pop music, although British people basically listen to most of the same things we do. They do some really fun DJ mixes that are good to listen to while making dinner and doing chores and such. Good background music, almost constantly on E4.

THINGS PEOPLE IN LONDON LIKE TO WEAR (Or at least, things they wore when I was there):
-       Boots
-       Leggings/tights (they like coloured/patterned tights)
-       Scarves. Everyone wears scarves.


-       Gloucester is pronounced GLOSSTER
-       Leicester is pronounced LESTER.
-       Malls are called shopping centers. To British people, a mall is a patch of grass in front of a building. They will know what you mean if you say "mall," but they will judge you.
-       Stores are called shops, usually. No one really uses the word "store"
-       Packaged food does not come in "bags," it comes in "packets." For example, a bag of chips is "a packet of crisps." A package of cookies is "a packet of biscuits."
o      Likewise, "fanny" means "vagina." Do NOT, under any circumstance, use the phrase "fanny pack." If you must speak about these things, they are called "bum bags."
-       Bathrooms are referred to as the loo, the lavatory, or the toilet. Brits will make fun of you for saying bathroom, because most of them don't have bathtubs! Go ahead, try to argue with them. It will last for hours. Seriously, I tried.
-       It is prohibited by law to put a light switch of electrical outlet in a bathroom toilet. Light switches for these are on the outside, which makes it easy for roommates/passerby to be jerks and turn the lights off whilst you are in the shower. Anyone wishing to use a blow dryer or hair straightener in the bathroom are SOL.

-       Camden Town (on the Northern/Black Line) – a really cool market town that looks like it's still stuck in the 70s punk-era. GREAT place to explore.
-       Portobello Market – sells antiques, fresh produce, crafts, clothing, souvenirs, etc. Fun to explore. (Near the Notting Hill tube stop, on the District/Red Line) Fun fact! Location of the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie, Notting Hill! Woohoo!
-       Hyde Park – Hyde Park is HUGE. And beautiful. Take a whole day and just explore it. Trees, swans, geese, sculptures, squirrels, fountains, cute guys walking their dogs, beautiful scenery, etc. You could walk in it for days and never see it all. It's a good place to bring a blanket and a book and relax for awhile.
-       Covent Garden – another markety area, with lots of street performers, etc.
-       The South Bank Book Market – Right near the National Theatre, underneath Waterloo Bridge, the market is open air, all year round, underneath this giant bridge. They're all used books, and most of them are cheap. I bought my British HP books here for like £3 each.
-       Angel – on the Northern/Black Line, this is a good place for nightlife. Kind of far, and you have to get back home by bus usually, but there's a lot of clubs and bars that students hang out at.

Got questions? Ask me! I will add more as I think of it or if you guys have a question... I'm so jealous you all get to go!

01 November, 2010

The Lovers

Writing poems about famous images has been an interesting experiment for me. It's an exercise in imagination to build a story behind a single frame, that one moment captured on canvas or film.

This poem is based on a painting by Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte called The Lovers. I wanted to convey a sense of blindly loving someone without actually knowing them, but the initial feedback I got was that my message didn't come through. It was described as "adorable," which wasn't quite what I was going for. Anyway, I've tweaked it a bit, so let me know what you think.

The Lovers

This thin barrier of fabric, rough and crude,
Tastes far bitterer than the sweet lips behind it.
Yet they feel their way,
These lovers,
Ignoring cruel obstacles, and so their passion triumphs.
It thrives in the fight
Against this sad, mean attempt to separate them.

This Pyramus has no moon to light his way,
This Thisbe no crack through which to speak.
Yet this wall has been erected between them
Hoping absence will make the heart grow indifferent.

"One day," he tells her, holding her close.
"We shall lift this veil, you and I."
One day they will finally see each other,
He thinks as he leans in, blindly searching
For those sweet mulberry lips.
The ones he is certain lie beneath.

19 October, 2010

There are days when I hate how quickly horses can wriggle their way into your heart. Today is one of them.

For those of you who don't know this, I'm really into horseback riding. Besides the exercise it provides both me and my equine partner (because yes folks, horseback riding is a sport.), it never ceases to fascinate me how close a bond a rider can form with his/her horse.

There's a horse at my barn named Bates. He's the sweetest thing on four legs. He loves people, and he loves to snuggle. He's not too old, maybe about sixteen or so, but he looks it. Bates is very skinny, despite eating nearly half a bag of senior feed every day, and no one can figure out what's wrong with him. Beth, his owner, got him from someone who was going to euthanize him four years ago, and she's worked hard to make him get better since. But in the past month or so, Bates' kidneys have been starting to fail him, and he hasn't been able to go outside with the other horses at all because he gets too cold, even with a big warm blanket over him. Bates is being put down today, and as I finished chores for the morning, I saw a few cars pull up at the lower barn. Some girls from Beth's high school riding team had skipped school to come and say goodbye to their friend. One in particular has been his only consistent rider since he's been at Stoney Brook. She loves him so much, though he's not pretty, though he's out of shape, though he's a mess in the ring. And he loves her too.

So here's to Bates, the cuddliest horse I have ever met. I'll miss you, buddy.

17 October, 2010

A Shakespearean Tragedy Under Waterloo Bridge

A prose poem I wrote a few weeks ago in my Creative Writing class, it's about an open-air used book market under a bridge in London. It was right next to the National Theatre, and whenever I went to see a show for class, I always stopped by and pored over the rows of tables, full of old books. Old books are my favorites, because I feel like they tell a story that's not written in the pages.

A Shakespearean Tragedy Under Waterloo Bridge

The thick, leatherbound cover is scuffed in places, and a long diagonal rip along the spine cuts William Shakespeare's name neatly into two halves, like the peanut butter and banana sandwiches I ate for lunch when I was a kid. The gold gilded edges of the pages have faded in places, and when opened the book lets off an earthy, musky smell, like wet dust or an old shirt that's been hiding in the corner of a damp basement for a year. Inside, the tissue-thin pages are speckled with mildew, creating unsightly freckles on the illustrations of Juliet, and chicken pox on the handsome royal visage of Oberon. I spot a muddy brown stain on a page near the middle, and idly wonder if it might be blood, if this book has borne witness to crime or adventure. The thought excites me for a moment, and only the accidental nudge of another customer, the polite, accented "sorry," breaks me from my reverie. The stain is likely just dirt, or perhaps tea. The book has not seen adventure or excitement; likely it hasn't seen anything other than the bottom of a closet or the inside of a trunk in decades. Still, I love old books, and this one is amazing. I look at the small, handwritten £10 on the inside front cover, and dig around in my pockets for a moment. I find a few receipts from Waterstone's and Tesco, a crumpled £5 note, and a few coins, both American and British. With a sigh, I place the book back on the table and venture out from under the safety of the bridge into the cold rain. The next day, before class, I hop on the tube, hurriedly weaving myself between the bundled bodies, and all but run to the market. £10 note in hand, I approach the table and search anxiously for the collection of Shakespeare comedies I found yesterday. But it's gone, taken, sold. It's having its grand adventures... without me.

14 October, 2010

Scrapbook of my Summer

I've decided to start posting some of my writing on here. As a nice segue from my travels to my writing is some writing about my Eurotrip. This poem was an assignment for my creative writing class. We aren't allowed to rhyme in any of our poems, which is frustrating for me, because I love rhyming and rhythm. But it's a nice way to practice descriptive writing. Anyway, let me know what you think.

Scrapbook of my Summer 

London England – cloudy, foggy grey, some half finished buildings surround Heathrow Airport. Ugly as hell, but the cool, clipped accent of the woman on the loudspeaker makes me feel almost as giddy as The Clash, conveniently blasting through my headphones. London is calling. 
Athens, Greece – modern, ugly buildings rise high, the graffiti no less ugly for being in symbols I don't understand, and suddenly before me, rising above the spray- painted concrete, is a cliff, and on top, the Acropolis, lit gold by lights against the blue-grey dusk. A stray dog scampers across Monastiraki Square. He uses the crosswalk.
On a train through Wales – a massive forest green lump of earth stretches into the low- slung blanket of clouds. Sheep dot the grass and the scraggly trees look fluid as we race by. The towns have names too long for us to pronounce, and we don't try.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Berlin, Germany – the empty gas chambers were nothing compared to this building, a squat concrete cube which still houses the sad stench of death even after decades. The ghosts of the bodies once piled in the cellar squeeze my throat, and I all but run outside to the sunlight and barbed wire.
Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italia – climbing the steep hill and rounding the sharp corner, the rainbow of houses are a pile of colorful pebbles, lacquered to the side of the mountain, rising ever higher as though growing from solid rock. A padlock attached to the fence reads Amore Eterno.
Oxford, England – the canal extends before us like a long, muddy ribbon, edges lined with weeds, reeds, and houseboats. Painstakingly painted in now-tired yellows and blues, the gypsy vessels bob lazily, idly stretching against their bonds. We pass the sign of a pub serving green beer, the pub where Middle Earth and Narnia were born.
Buffalo, NY, USA - the plane touches down, six hours behind schedule. Half dead feet, still trapped in the red satin wedges that were much cuter at the beginning of the day, drag my exhausted body into the terminal, where I find parents, friends, a sister, waiting with open arms. On the way to the car, I walk headlong into the cold, hard glass of the revolving door. They laugh at me most of the ride home.

05 October, 2010

Just writing to check in.

I'm back in boring old Ithaca. It's much less exciting than London, but I thought I'd update this blog from time to time for anyone who still pays attention to it. Just for old times' sake, or something like that.

After getting home from my fabulous Euro-adventures, I spent my summer waitressing at a restaurant in East Aurora. I moved into a house on Ithaca's South Hill in mid-August, and now it's back to school with me. My junior year has begun!

Ithaca's been awfully cold and rainy lately, with the exception of this weekend, which was beautiful and allowed my family to come visit me for the day. We went to Applefest, an annual Ithacan festival, and I showed them my house and the barn where I've been working.

School itself has been rough, especially after the completely different format of classes I got used to in London. It's a lot of work, and I'm getting far less sleep than I should be, but that's all part of the college experience, right?

In my spare time, I've been doing a lot of writing. I'm taking a creative writing course, and we have to write a poem every day. It's a lot harder than it sounds! Besides that, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is coming up in November. Basically, the idea is for you to try and write a 50,000+ word novel in thirty days. This will be my second year doing it, although last year school got to be too much for me and I gave up at about 20,000 words! Hopefully this year will be better. We shall see.

I'm also co-president of my school's chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance, a group that works for social justice and charity in the name of the boy wizard. It takes the messages and themes from the Harry Potter books, like love and equality, and brings them into the real world to make a difference. We've got a lot of really great things planned for our chapter, like a book drive (Accio Books!), some movie screenings before Deathly Hallows premieres in November, and possibly even a Yule Ball. We're also going to do work for literacy and LGBT, as well as some other really great causes. We're having a meeting tonight, and playing Harry Potter related games so everyone in the club can get to know each other a little better.

Anyway, I'm about to leave for class for the day, but I wanted to stop by and assure my poor blog I haven't forgotten about it, I'm just looking for a new use for it now that I'm not off having grand European adventures.

30 April, 2010

Two weeks left in London... :(

Well, I accidentally had my last day at Discovered Authors. I was supposed to go in this Monday, but it's a bank holiday, which I didn't know til just the other day. So I've had my last day as an official publishing intern, which is horrendously sad. I'm going to pop in sometime next week to say official goodbyes to everyone, and of course I will still be working for them over the summer via email, which is very exciting, but I'm so sad that I'm done and didn't even know it!

As for right now, I'm waiting for Ranu, one of my friends from Ithaca and one of my future roommates next year at our house, The Bronze. She's flying into London tonight, in fact her flight probably landed about ten minutes ago, and she's staying with me for a few days in London. It will be wonderful to see her again, and I am anxiously awaiting her phone call to tell me she is here.

Final exams are looming above us now, but I don't actually have exams. I have three papers. Meh. So that's on the agenda for the next week...

I think I would like some ice cream.

27 April, 2010

I have officially said the first of my goodbyes

to one of the girls I work with at Discovered Authors who won't be there for my last day next week.

I'm a little bit in denial.

It's kind of how I felt before I left to come to London. A bit like it's not real.

But it is. I've only got two weeks left in this city I've come to love. And I'm still coming to grips with that.

25 April, 2010

Spring has descended upon London

The park is full of flowers and leaves and that wonderful springy smell. I swear it wasn't like that yesterday! And I am stuck in the Centre, writing papers and working on final portfolios. It's not okay.

I wish they would just recognise that we are not here for much longer, and let us slack off for our last few weeks instead of loading us with work. Pfft.

24 April, 2010

Some Amusing Things I Saw Yesterday

Yesterday was St. George's day, which is a national holiday here that means basically, as far as I can tell, that everyone goes out and gets drunk all day. This seems to be a general theme of most national holidays here, I think. Anyway, I took it upon myself to take a walk in the beautiful weather yesterday, and it ended up being a four-hour long extravaganza. Lots of funny sights, and it made for some very interesting people-watching. Later that night, Paloma, Carrie and I went to a pub and the people-watching continued. I thought I'd share with you a short list of some of the more interesting things I saw during my adventures.
  • A group of footballers, faces painted and wearing their Manchester United jerseys, walking about and singing, who stopped in their tracks at the sight of a two-year-old boy wearing a Manchester United shirt. They chanted and cheered at the kid, congratulated the father on bringing up the child correctly, and then promptly resumed singing and disrupting the general public.
  • A man with FANGS. Like, real fangs. They were pointy and extremely prominent. He was standing outside a Starbucks, and he was out of the sun, so he very well could have been a vampire. I didn't ask.
  • The most phallic area in London. I swear, in this one area of London, there were so many suggestive street names and company names, or really interestingly shaped buildings... it made me giggle a little.
  • A guy dressed like a knight. He had a silver, faux chain mail hood, with a cape that had England's flag (the red cross) on it, and carried a sword and a shield. We're assuming he was St. George, since he had a friend dressed as a dragon. Or rather, carried a huge stuffed dragon draped around his neck. Less understandable was the guy at the pub dressed in a full adult Scooby Doo costume, or the guy wearing a deer mask.
  • A group of about twenty people or so dressed in 1920's themed costumes. Apparently there was a party somewhere? Did they forget to invite us?

21 April, 2010

A Scary Thought

I've only got a few weeks left here! In one of my classes today, we were discussing what to prepare for next week, and realized it will be our final class besides exam week. This is not an okay thought.

Airports are up and running here in London again, after almost a week of a flight ban. It's so funny how I never noticed the sounds of airplanes in the sky in this city before, but now, after a week of not hearing it, I am hyper aware of all the planes in the sky. I unintentionally disrupted class today when I looked out the window and thought out loud (emphasis on the loud) to myself, 'Oh hey, there's a plane out there!' It was silly.

I have a show tonight for my Drama class, so I'm just hanging out at ICLC until it's time to leave for the theatre, attempting to watch some of my US shows, like LOST and Glee. Currently attempting Chuck, but the computer is not cooperating, so I thought I would say hello to all you lovely people.

Hello, lovely people!

19 April, 2010

A nice Monday? Is that an oxymoron?

Today was one of those days where I was in the best of moods for no apparent reason. I woke up on time for work, for once, without laying in bed for half an hour gathering the will to actually move. Was obnoxiously smiley on the tube, which likely unnerved people (and made one poor confused French guy think I was flirting with him...) and stopped in at Starbucks on the way to the office. Had a ten minute chat with the barista about how wonderful the weekend weather was, and went off to the office. Found Mitesh, one of my coworkers, waiting there. He'd forgotten his keys, and no one else was coming in to work for another hour. So it was back to Starbucks with us, where we basically hung out for an hour or so until Hannah showed up to unlock the office. Read some really good manuscripts today, which was a splendid breath of fresh air after last week, and spent the time in between chit chatting about life at home, Marea, Hannah's horse, Amazon Kindle, and basically anything that we felt like. My left foot has been aching something awful lately, which makes walking difficult, but it decided to behave today, so I decided I would take the forty minute walk home in the dying sunlight. IPod in hand (or ear, rather) and smile still plastered to my face, I began the trek home.

And now here is a really exciting Google map of my walk home. A is my flat, and B is the office. Pretty easy walk. 2.8 miles according to Google maps. Takes about forty five minutes to an hour. The walk takes me down Oxford St, which is full of really awesome shops and exciting people (currently the road is mostly under construction to prepare for the Olympics, but that's typical of most of Central London right now.) and the second half of the walk takes me along Hyde Park, which is just beautiful this time of year. I spent all weekend there, reading, soaking up the sun, writing in my journal, or just people (and dog!) watching. My  idea of bliss, pretty much. So the walk was lovely. I could smell flowers, watch people, feel the sunshine... it was nothing special, my day, but it was wonderful all the same. So I just wanted to share a bit of it with you. If the weather is nice tomorrow, maybe I'll walk home again and take some photos for you.

Conclusion? Warm, sunny weather = a very happy Emily.

08 April, 2010

Greece Photo Post! (Part One...)

Our hotel in Athens, Hotel Pergamos, was small, but really nice. The guys at the front desk were sweet and very helpful, and the rooms were great. It was in a slightly sketchy part of the city, but we felt very safe in our hotel. It had a huge balcony, and Emily and I spent several hours the first night laying on it and looking up at the regrettably cloudy sky. Our hotel room had an extra bed which we basically used to dump all of our things on, and I slept REALLY well every night we were there. The bathrooms were a little funky though. I think I mentioned it before, but toilets in Greece are pretty weak, plumbing-wise, so you're supposed to throw your toilet paper in the rubbish bin, not flush it. That was interesting to try and get used to. The shower was also very weird. It was open on 3 sides (all except the side where the shower head was) and the shower curtain barely reached the floor of the shower, so water spilled EVERYWHERE when you tried to take a shower. It also was so teeny tiny that it was completely impossible to move while in the shower, and the curtain stuck to you. So it was really uncomfortable and awkward.

Yeah, here's the awkward shower do you can see what I'm talking about. Take my word for it, you don't want to try it.

Our hotel had a really nice feel to it though, as though we weren't really staying in a hotel but more of a bed and breakfast. I really enjoyed it.

This is a really awful picture because it was getting dark out and my camera doesn't like low-light situations, but I had to post this, because it's the only image I have that can even attempt to bring back the feeling I had when I saw this. Imagine walking through a very urban area, and not even a particularly nice one. There's graffiti everywhere, gangs of rowdy people standing on corners, shops closed for the night, their windows barred... very downtown city-like. All you can see is buildings. Big, ugly, modern buildings. Suddenly, you turn a corner. And this is what you see. The feeling was indescribable. We just happened to stumble upon the Acropolis, no big deal or anything, right? Just the fact that this beautifully old piece of architecture overlooks the city like this, that something so massive and unlike anything I've ever known before can be part of someone's daily scenery amazes me. It's the first thing I saw in Athens that I truly loved, and I hope I never forget the way it made me feel.

Here's the Roman Agora. Again, sorry for the low-quality photos, but any I took at night are pretty much going to look like this. This was taken on the walk Emily and I took on our first night in Athens. We were climbing the hill you can see in the previous picture, trying to see if we could get up to the Acropolis. (the gates were shut, we couldn't.) But it was still a really cool walk. Again, just another assertion that Athens is a really really cool city.

For those of you who don't know, Greece is in the midst of some pretty serious labour strikes right now. We happened to stumble upon a protest on our walk, complete with chanting, yelling, air horns, and police standing shoulder to shoulder with their riot shields, forming a wall to keep them out of the street. There were pamphlets strewn all over the ground (I picked up a few, but can't read them!) passerby cheering, shaking their heads or just plain gawking like us, men with megaphones trying to rile up the crowd... It was really exciting. This is not the protest that turned into a window-smashing riot, that was the next day, and we weren't there for that one. But it was really cool to see this happening. I got a video on my FlipCam even, (Because I carry it around with me practically everywhere. Vadim would be proud...) and maybe will post it soon so you can hear the chanting and get a better idea of what it was like.

Our next big find on our walk was The Olympic Stadium. Emphasis on the capitalization of the word "The." I know I've mentioned it before, but being the only two people at that stadium at the time was such a cool feeling. It's pretty massive, and extremely impressive.

Here's just a funny sign we encountered, about what to do with your dog's poop. As you can see, they really didn't want the language barrier to be a problem here, so they were as descriptive as possible with the images. I do wonder, though, how on earth they enforce this in Athens. There are hundreds of stray dogs in the city, and none of those dogs have anyone to walk about with a bag to pick up after them...

Next day. We climbed the hill to the Acropolis again. (only this time it was open!) This is just a photo of one of the adorable little hillside streets we encountered, with a view of Athens behind it. The day this photo was taken was extremely beautiful. The air was a bit smoggy, but the sun was shining (we all got a little sunburned!) and the air was warm. It was great.

Another view of Athens, from further up the hill we were climbing.

Geoff, being a delicate flower and protecting himself from the sun. Or being ironic and protecting himself from the nonexistent rain. I can't remember which.

The Parthenon, which is currently being restored. I gotta say, if there's one thing I dislike about Europe, it's that nearly everything we see is in the midst of being restored. It's all covered in scaffolding and not very photogenic... Oh well, it was still really cool! All the stray dogs kept walking in and out of it, I thought it must be nice to be one of them, they get such intimate tours. They get to do so much more exploring, and they don't have to feel restrained by a tiny rope and a plaque that says "DO NOT TOUCH" in eight different languages...

So my computer won't let me upload any more pictures right now, but considering I took over 800 in Greece, be assured I have more and will upload them when I get the chance. As for what I'm up to now, it's getting frighteningly close to the end of term. We just received an email about the ICLC End of Term Dinner Party, which was terrifying. My mum and Amy will be here in exactly one month, and Julie and I embark on our grand Eurotrip just a week or so afterward. I'll be back in the US in under two months... it's a frightening thought. Before I got to England, I thought I would be here for such a long time! But it's flying by. And yeah, I've been getting a bit homesick lately, but I still can safely say I've been having the time of my life here.

Tomorrow, Emily Marshall and I head out to Oxford for two days -- the city of Tolkien, of snobby rich smart uni students, of Harry Potter's Great Hall, and of Rupert Giles! We went for a few hours or so after our Stratford-upon-Avon trip with school, but we loved it and wanted to go back for a longer period of time. We found dirt cheap train tickets to and from the city (and by dirt cheap I mean DIRT CHEAP. £4.50 round trip!) and equally cheap lodgings for the night. Totally spontaneous, and I'm looking forward to having some adventures. I promise to try and write more often, since apparently the wait between updates is making people antsy? My bad, I'm a busy girl! I'll try and be more regular.

Til then, I love you all.


28 March, 2010

Things I Have Learned in Greece

  1. Even if your purse is zipped, you're holding onto it tightly, and you have two coats draped over the opening of it, it's very possible for pickpockets to get in there. Pay attention, and if you're lucky you will catch them before they grab your wallet, and if you're like me, you will be able to kick them and they will leave you alone and hide from your burning glares the rest of the time you are on the subway together.
  2. If a man with a pink mohawk is serenading everyone at your restaurant and tries to make eye contact with you, do not look back, or else he will come over and harrass you with weird music and lewd suggestions. He will then proceed to tell you that because you are not Jewish, you couldn't possibly understand. And tell you that his people laugh at people like you. He might leave after that, but he'll be around still, playing loud weird music and eating other peoples' desserts.
  3. The Greeks use a different alphabet... it's really problematic when you can't even sound out the name of the place you're trying to get to.
  4. Ancient, giant rocks are a perfect place to look out at the Athens cityscape and discuss deep, philosophical life issues.
  5. Greek plumbing doesn't like toilet paper. When you use a Greek bathroom, you have to throw it out, not flush it, or you'll wreck the plumbing.
  6. Just because the weather feels warm to you, doesn't mean it feels warm to the natives. While you're walking about in a skirt and a short-sleeved top, they're looking at you like you're insane and clutching their puffy winter jackets closer to them.
  7. Not all beaches are public. Some are reserved just for, say, old men in Speedos. But the kindly man who tells you where the beach is will neglect to mention that little fact to you, and you will find yourself on a sandy beach, empty but for some very scantily clad old men playing badminton and sunbathing.
  8. If Italian waiters are the most hilarious, Greek waiters are the most adorable. We had one who tried so hard to get past the language barrier, but his explanations of dishes and drinks kept falling a little bit short. For example, when we asked about meal choices on the menu, he would tell us things like, "It says traditional Greek, but it's not really traditional Greek." Or "Well, it's made of bread, and inside it has, well, you know!" And when they gave us Ouzo at the end of the meal, he explained, "This is a drink that comes from a tree." He was so cute, we loved him.
  9. There is no saying no to some of the men selling souvenirs on the streets. The best thing to do is ignore them and walk away without making eye contact. DO NOT STAY STILL. Emily and I made this mistake while waiting to meet up with Lauren and Geoff one night. A man came along and tried to sell us a light up bouncy ball. We politely declined, and remained seated. But he didn't leave. He spent the next ten minutes using the three English words he knew how to say, (Yes? No?  Gift?) and patting poor Emily on the head. He kept trying to place them into our laps, or thrust them into our hands, and he wouldn't take them back! We kept telling him, "no money!" but he wouldn't stop. He kept laughing at us and trying to say things to us in a different language, and we just didn't understand him. All sorts of other street hawkers and tourists alike were laughing at us the entire time, and finally we just said, "Sorry. No." and high-tailed it out of there!
  10. It's entirely possible for dogs to learn to function as humans. Athens is FULL of stray dogs and cats, who wander the streets, eat [outside of] restaurants, and visit the sites, like the Acropolis or the Agora, just like humans do. They use crosswalks, and only travel when the pedestrian light turns green, they sleep in the sun, and they're allowed behind the rope at places like the Parthenon! Most of them are really friendly, too. Probably because they know that if they're friendly they're more likely to get a scratch behind the ears or something to eat. But still, it was fun to see so many dogs just roaming the streets like that.
  11. When there is a labour strike going on, anything can happen. Big protests that take up an entie street, with lines of white-helmeted policemen holding them back with their giant plexiglass riot shields. Men with megaphones and big banners, shouting chants that the group begins to follow til there's a rousing chorus of words I couldn't repeat to you if I tried. Even a riot occurred while we were there. We weren't in the area at the time, but we know a few people from Ithaca who were. They were told to run and get out of a shop they'd been in as quickly as possible, and moments after they left, they could smell the tear gas. When we walked through the area later, a normally bustling and affluent part of the city, we found smashed windows, broken glass, and weary-looking policemen in all directions.
  12. Greek food chains, like Everest, are delicious and cheap and not at all like what Americans think of as a fast food chain. They're a good, cheap way to grab breakfast in the morning (and the apple pie Is delicious.)
  13. Apparently it is frowned upon to take rocks from the Acropolis/Parthenon as souvenirs. And by frowned upon, I mean they yell at you and make you throw it on the ground. Luckily, I'm sneakier than that. Yes, that means one of you lucky readers could soon be the proud owner of your very own piece of the Parthenon! Perhaps I will hold a contest! (Probably not.)
  14. Athens is a small city. It is entirely possible to walk through all of Athens. Emily and I did this on our first night, and we saw so many things. Athens is great because while there are some things you need tickets to get into, you can still see so much just by walking around. Like Rome, there's a million old ruins and historical sites, just amidst the modern city. Emily and I walked over a big grate in the sidewalk, thinking nothing of it, and then I looked down. We were walking on the remains of an ancient village. We could see specific rooms in houses, with fireplaces, tables, even a few pots and bowls. And we were just walking over it! We also saw the Olympic stadium. Like, THE Olympic Stadium. The original one. We saw it at night, and it was all lit up, and we were the only people there. To be the only ones standing in such a huge space was really indescribable. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was such a cool feeling.

Sorry this took so long to post! I'll have pictures up soon, I swear! I have so many from Greece. I'll get them up next time I have some free time to get to school and snag some decent internet. 

19 March, 2010

Rome Picture Post!

I'm at school, so the Internet is a tad bit better than at home, and therefore I can hopefully get some of these to work.

Here we have the lovely Miss Emily Marshall in our hotel room in Rome. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Fleming, which is actually a four star hotel with continental breakfast, and it was just as cheap as staying in a hostel. So fun travel tip: hostels are not always the cheapest option for traveling on a budget. This one was a really big, beautiful, nice place to stay. The hotel staff was brilliant, very helpful and sweet to us, and the rooms themselves were great. It wasn't in the centre of Rome, but that was fine for our purposes. It was just a half hour bus ride away from the walls of Vatican city, and the bus ride was gorgeous, it passed by all sorts of beautiful scenery, as well as the Olympic stadiums from when the Olympics were held in Rome.

Our hotel also had a bidet.

St. Peter's Square was amazing. Luckily, most of the time we were in Rome, the weather was very cooperative, and so standing in line to get into St. Peter's was not a miserable experience, but in fact kind of fun. There was a little boy chasing pigeons while we were in the massive, massive line (of which I have a video that I will upload later, because it was too long to show in a single photo.) and he was fun to watch. Also, for obvious reasons, the Vatican is where groups of priests and nuns go on field trips, and it was so funny at first to see nuns all over the place.

Drivers in Italy are worse than those at Ithaca College. We saw so many cars parked on the curb, some parked perpendicular to it, rather than parallel. Also, on that note, Italian drivers parallel park by ramming into the cars in front of and behind them until they can make themselves fit. There are a lot of really nice cars in Italy, but most of them are really dinged up in the bumper area, and we saw more than a few with smashed headlights. Had my dad been there, he would have been appalled.

This guy needed to be featured in here. He managed to trick us into paying him 2 euro... EACH... for a few photos with him. Big rip off. And I don't even have my 2 euros worth on my own camera. Hmph. Oh well. It was a learning experience! Too bad it cost us collectively 8 euros and Geoff's life...

One of the really cool things about Rome is that amidst the typical city buildings and streets are ancient ruins. Seriously. They just chill out in the city like this. It's amazing. And thanks to Greg Robbins and my Georgian Styles class, I can no longer see these things and think, "Oh, that's pretty." Nope. I see them and go, "Oh hey look! Corinthian fluted columns! With an egg and dart motif!" Thanks Greg. You've ruined me.

The Colosseum is really cool. Before I came to Rome, I read online that it's not as exciting as everyone makes it out to be, and it's overpriced and there are huge lines and it's just not worth it. False. The colosseum is awesome. Also, the lines were huge, but that was only if you wanted to go in and explore by yourself. It cost about 12 euros to get in that way. BUT we found a tour that took us to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum, without even having to go through the lines, all for what would usually cost us 28 euro with that tour, but since we happened to be there on ladies' day, only cost 10 euro! For a guided tour, too! (But since Geoff isn't a lady, his price was still 28 euro. So we all had to chip in for his. Which sucked, but we still only paid 15 instead of 28.

This was just really cool. Our tour guide was a tiny little Italian lady who looked like she should have been on a safari rather than leading tours in Rome. She was adorable.

The basement has always been my favorite part of the Colosseum, even when I've just seen it in pictures. I wish we could have walked around down there, but alas, it was roped off. The entire Colosseum was just amazing though. Fun fact: back when it had a roof, it was made of fabric, and they hired sailors to tie it in place because they were the only ones who knew how to tie the knots. Another fun fact: the Colosseum is built with bricks and stone, but used to be covered in marble. But they took down the marble facade and actually used it to cover the exterior of St. Peter's Basilica. So a lot of the marble on St. Peter's actually used to be part of the Colosseum.

History lesson COMPLETE!

The trees in Rome all looked like this, it was really cool and kind of reminded me of the Lion King a little. But this tree was by far our favorite, for no reason other than that it was just really awesome. It's  on Palatine Hill, which was basically the Beverly Hills of ancient Rome.

The Trevi Fountain is really big, and really awesome. The sculpture in the centre is of the god Ocean, and the others are all his seahorses and cronies. And by seahorses, the ancient Romans mean a horse with a mermaid-like tail, not what we call seahorses today. We all threw coins in the fountain and made a wish, which is supposed to ensure you will someday return to Rome. 

Emily and I with our "sexy wine" at one of the restaurants we were at, when the lights went out. I had the BEST pizza of my life at this restaurant. Topped with slices of fresh mozzarella. It was AMAZING.

The four of us with our waiter at that same restaurant. From left to right, it's Emily Marshall, me, our waiter, Lauren DeCicca, and Geoff Pictor. He (our regrettably nameless waiter) was really funny. And made fun of me for not knowing what anything on the menu meant. Oops! 

This photo is from inside St. Peter's basilica. The place was monstrously huge, and really beautiful. I remember thinking how much I would have loved to sing in there.
The inside of the big dome in St. Peter's. It was so hard to get any good photos in here because it was so dark, but I love this one. I wish I could let you all see this place as I saw it though, because it's impossible to understand how epically huge and gorgeous it is without seeing it for yourself. A lot of the things I saw were like that. Kind of a "you had to be there" moment, I guess. I wish it could communicate better through photos.
Here's a photo of that metal structure you see in the bottom left of the previous photo. There are some people milling about at the bottom of it, so it give you an idea of how big the place is. The dome from the last photo begins just above the frame of this photo. This is the best indication I have of how huge the place really is.

A sculpture by Michaelangelo of Mary holding Jesus. Fun fact: the figure of Mary is very out of proportion, although she looks correct here. It's because she's sitting down. But if she were to come to life and stand up, she would be over ten feet tall, almost twice the size of the stone Jesus. Silly Michaelangelo!

And speaking of whom, here is the Sistine Chapel. We wren't supposed to be taking photos in here, a fact which was constantly reminded to us by the security personnel repeating over and over and over again the words, "No photo. No photo. No photo." But they weren't really enforcing it, and I couldn't resist. I don't think I've ever realized how humongous it is. When I think of the Sistine Chapel, I always just think of the Creation painting of God and Adam, which you can see in the centre of the photo, but it's a very sizable space, and the entire ceiling and all the walls are covered in paintings. Fun fact about this place, via Lauren: Michaelangelo did NOT want to paint this. He preferred sculpture and hated to paint. But he did it as a favour, and it's become arguably his most famous piece of art. It's absolutely beautiful. 

So, that's Rome, or some of it, anyway. It was an amazing time. I'll be sure to let you know about Greece as soon as my fingers heal from all the typing I've done on this blog in the past few days! I hope you enjoy some of the photos. For those of you who use Facebook, these and more will be up there very soon.


Get it? Hehehe.