Friday, May 21, 2010

How is this over already?!

Tonight is my final night in London... and I simply can't wrap my head around it. This trip has absolutely flown by. Simply put, this study abroad has constituted the twelve- thirteen, I suppose, if you include today- best days of my life. I have learned so much in so many different ways. Not only have my horizons been expanded in terms of educational knowledge (and let me tell you, they have most certainly been expanded) , but I have learned so much about others, and about myself. I have truly grown as a person on this adventure. It may sound cliche (I do realize that I am chock full of them), but it's entirely true. I'm not sure what exactly I expected going in. I knew I would learn, I knew I would have fun, I knew I would grow, but the degree to which I have was entirely unexpected. I have made some incredible friends on this journey (Let me tell you, 1500 miles on coach with 13 other people, 2 professors, 1 fabulous coordinator from ISA and Brian the generally cranky busdriver makes for some intense bonding. Please note that the 1500 miles does not include the countless miles trekked on foot (fourteen miles to Bristol, anyone?) as we explored our adopted home). I miss my Dragon Crew/War Party/Tea Bunch immensely... London just isn't the same without you guys. Hope your flights are going well- and I can't wait until we are reunited in August!

So what have I been up to since this was last updated? I have to think for this. The days have started to blend together, goodness gracious. Tintagel, that's right. We left late (11! oh man!) to head back to London so that way we would have some time to burn off some energy before our very lengthy bus ride back. Kate and I ventured out on the cliffs together, and boy were we in for a surprise- PONIES. Yes, we found a herd of six adorable ponies clinging to those rocky slopes. Obviously, I was in love at first sight, and risked life and climb to go say hello. There wasn't much of a path, and we had to venture through mud and thorns to visit them, but visit we did. Nothing starts your morning off right quite like the sound of the waves crashing against cliffs combined with kisses from a cuddly wet pony. It was glorious. Words cannot describe how happy I was- and still am! Sadly, there is not a pony in my suitcase right now... If only.

We eventually had to bid Tintagel farewell, which was sad, because it is just an incredibly place. Stunningly beautiful. But back to London we went! Took a brief stop in Wells, an adorable little town. There was just enough time to grab tea and lunch, run a few errands, see the outside of the cathedral, and grab a pasty for the road (that's pah-stee, not pay-stee, for the record. not something you want to mix up.) which turned out to be a great decision because Kate and I shortly became very hungry again. I love making good decisions. Once in London, we bought the necessary rail tickets for the next day's adventure: Canterbury or Cambridge. After much deliberation, I selected Cambridge, and it was a blast. As we were purchasing tickets, the lady behind the window cracked a joke about Americans being behind the times, but I didn't get it at the time, so I just laughed along. After we left Waterloo, we found dinner: kebabs in a sketchy part of town. Obviously, this means that the food was delicious. It was very spicy, and absolutely fantastic. All of us more or less fell into bed, which was good, because the next morning came early.

Breakfast began at six thirty, and we were out the door by six forty five. It was a little rough, but that's life when you catch the early train. We took the tube to King's Cross/St. Pancras, and left for Cambridge out of King's Cross. Yes, I went to Platform 9 3/4! How could you go to King's Cross and not stop by?! It's not actually located in that area, but it was still very fun to see. We then proceeded to the slightly more mundane Platform 1 like well behaved Muggles and sallied forth. It was a small group, and we had a terrific time together. We got to go to visit Corpus Christi College, and we were able to head upstairs to their library. The Parker Library is quite probably the most beautiful library I have ever been in. I am undoubtedly a sucker for old books, and this library was filled from floor to ceiling. Over six hundred rare books and ancient manuscripts, the most valuable of which live in vault downstairs- but they came out for us. Nearly a quarter of all known existing Anglo-Saxon manuscripts are in this library. The earliest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (from about 890 AD), a book owned by King Alfred- this being Alfred the Great, again, late 800s: 870-890ish, some of the oldest Bibles, Bede, the first Bible with paintings, one of the oldest bound books, a collection of letters from people such as Anne Boleyn, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles V, millions of dollars in books right before our very eyes. I don't know that I said a coherent sentence the entire time I was in there- much less a meaningful word. I was simply in awe. I could barely bring myself to touch these books. A few of them, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, for example, stayed in their cases in the library, but the ones from the vault were out on a table for us to look through. I simply didn't want to breathe wrong! It was a little nerve-wracking. I mean, nobody wants to be the one who inadvertently destroys a precious bit of history and is lamented by academia for millenia (like who ever it was who ruined the first eight pages of the Exeter Book of Poetry... grr...). Fortunately, that was not me, and I was safely torn from the library, books intact. We proceeded to this lovely little restaurant and indulged in tea and Fitzbillie's buns, which are apparently quite famous- as well they should be. They were delicious. Along the lines of a glorified cinnamon roll, I suppose. Regardless, I tend not to ask too many questions while eating tasty food. We proceeded to explore Cambridge, visiting various churches (Saxon towers, climbing the tower at St. Mary's (maybe?) to see the whole city, a baptismal, the King's College Chapel- mind you, they only call it a chapel- it's anything but) and getting a feel for the town. Then, we went punting on the River Cam. Props to Jim and Anna for doing a spectacular job, while Reid, Dr. Gwara, and I enjoyed the views and offered our (very helpful) advice. Lunch afterwards consisted of glorious baguette sandwiches that, sadly, don't seem to be nearly as popular at home. I don't understand why. Delicious bread with delicious food on it, that you can sit down and eat, or eat on the run. How do you say no?! I guess it's hard to explain, but they aren't mere sandwiches. Maybe it's the bread? I can't say what makes them special. But America, you are missing out. We wandered through the market with our sandwiches, then visited a spectacular bookstore, caught a taxi, and headed back. We walked to the South Bank area- Jubilee Park, where the Eye is- to catch a boat tour of London down the Thames to Greenwich. Very cool area, and it's a shame we weren't there very long. Dinner was at a Mediterranean restaurant, and it was absolutely fantastic. Quite authentic, and the baklava was wonderful. It was the ISA farewell dinner, so we were able to meet some of the ISA kids who had been studying in London for a whole semester. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, distributed gifts for our amazing professors, and just hung out for one last night. Exhaustion kicked in pretty quickly though, and we weren't up late.

Before long, morning arrived, and the crew was off to the airport. I stayed with the group until everyone was checked in and headed to security, and then I went to find the hotel. Now that was an adventure. First, I had to get to Terminal 4 from Terminal 1 via train. Not too bad. Then, I had to locate the hotel itself within the terminal. Signage was a bit confusing and I accidently ended up at the Yotel, which is apparently a Japanese-style capsule hotel where you can pay by the hour, and it was no Hilton. No thank you! But I did ask them for directions to the Hilton ("Up the escalator and straight ahead, you'll come right to it"). Well, straight ahead lead to check in, so I had to choose right or left. Left was wrong, but I did make it to the toilets, which was a plus. Then back down the hallowed halls of Heathrow to- you guessed it- the Hilton hotel. Sorry... got a little carried away with the alliteration there. Anyway, I was able to check in early and settle into the room. But I was not about to sit around all day! I decided I would go explore. I almost chickened out, but then it sort of hit me: this free day of mine was a sort of final exam for me. Part of this course was about becoming comfortable in a foreign country, right? Learning to be independent? So I set forth. The Underground does indeed leave from Terminal 4 (it actually leaves from every terminal) but the signs made me think I had to go to Terminal 5 first, so that's where I went. Then I became confused, and went to Terminal 2. At this point, I was under the impression that I might need to take a train to Paddington and catch the Underground there, which seemed utterly ridiculous, because I was positive I had seen a sign for the tube somewhere in the airport. I was right- the train map was misleading me. Upon asking for directions, I was given a funny look, and told that I just needed to head up the escalator and follow the signs, which I did, quite successfully. I purchased my Zones 1-6 off-peak pass all by myself, and caught the Picadilly line. Once out of the airport, I was golden. Originally, I had thought about going to the Natural History Museum (free admission, ooh), or Regent's Park to go to the zoo. But Hyde Park was easier to get to, and I really wanted to see the Speaker's Corner. It was a bit underwhelming, but I was glad I went. It came up in an interview awhile ago, and it's something that has stuck in my mind since. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon: enjoying people-watching in beautiful park. I finished my book, wrote a little, and just enjoyed the truly spectacular weather. Afterwards, I explored the Knightsbridge area (translation: where Harrod's is). I ended up having tea at a cute little bakery (tea and strawberry gateau, yum!), which was very nice, although slightly less fun when you are by yourself. I picked up a duffle-ish bag that will be my second carry-on tomorrow and thus will (ideally) make my life a smidge easier in terms of packing and dealing with weight. We'll see about that... Grabbed dinner from Marks and Spencer, a grocery in the area. Opted for a cranberry and brie sandwich, mango slices, and limeade (still, not sparkling, and it was nice to find a juice drink that wasn't carbonated!). I safely navigated back to the hotel (far fewer issues this time around) and have been relaxing here. I got to Skype with my mom today, which was awesome! We haven't talked in what feels like forever, and spent nearly an hour catching up (it didn't feel that long...).

I'm going to need to crash soon... I'll need to be functional for Prague tomorrow. I've just spent such a long time reflecting on this trip, and what it's done for me. It's intangible, really, and I know I've just begun. But I feel like as a group, we have come so far from the kids in the cafe who were terrified of that shouting Romanian waitress in the cafe that first night. Somehow, we began to feel comfortable and at home... almost as if we belonged. Sure we got lost along the way, but that's all part of the adventure. Sometimes we chose to get lost simply because we didn't want to follow the same path we had already taken. Sometimes we risked life and limb simply because we could. Sometimes we struck out on our own. Sometimes we tried new things, and sometimes we found new places. Many things new to us were, in fact, very old, and perhaps that made them all the more special. Somewhere along the way, we became far more confident in who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. It's not like I'm an entirely different person now, because that's not right. I'm still me. I'm just more me, if that makes any sense. I'm not exactly sure what I'm trying to convey here. It's just not something that can be readily explained.

Something that can be readily explained? My need to sleep! Good night, world.

Making friends

Pony kisses! This one looks like he was built a little funny, but it's just the angles.
Even before we found ponies, I was excited to be out on the cliffs, despite the rain!
For some reason, Blogger won't let me upload the rest of my photos... they'll be along soon, I promise!


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