Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nostalgia

I've been feeling pretty nostalgic lately, for several reasons.

At the Mayan ruins of Tulum 
The first, and probably most immediate, is that I'm having a hard time believing that it's now been more than a year since I left for my study abroad experience in England. It was a wonderful period of time, where I met new people and saw amazing sights. I frequently consider the merits of buying a plane ticket to go back, despite the great expense.

Going on a cruise in the Carribean over winter break has helped with the desire to travel a least a little, especially considering that it was warm and beautiful while it was cold back home, but I definitely still want to travel so many other places in the future. I've been to Europe a couple of times (and still seen only some of the many sights available) and, as of this December, I've touched on a very small part of South America; however, I've never been to so many other places, and I hope to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way in the future to see a bit more of the world.

Another piece of nostalgia is the fact that this is my final semester at William & Mary. It's hard to think that it has already been almost four years since I began as a freshman and had no idea what a wonderful community I would build here. I love being a student here because of my friends, and because of the opportunities for new experiences (in classes, in clubs, and even studying abroad). I don't yet know what will come when I graduate in May, but I'm sure it will also be amazing if my time at William & Mary is any indication. However, I'm don't know where I'm going to find a group of friends as awesome as my friends in Spotlight Show Choir...so I suppose I'll just have to come back to visit everyone as frequently as possible (potentially to the point where they're a little sick of me, but such is life).

Not only does the idea of graduating make me feel nostalgic for my freshman year, I also feel
nostalgic for my childhood, because graduating from college seems like a landmark for growing up
and taking on new responsibilities. I don't know if I'm ready to think of myself as an adult quite yet, luckily I have quite a few months to get used to the idea.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Top 10 Looks from the 2014 Emmys



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So…it’s been awhile. I have to admit I meant to continue blogging over the summer, but I kept putting it off. Mostly because there was not much happening. (I enjoyed my summer internship, especially setting up and maintaining a variety of social media accounts, and I made a few trips to some of the local wineries on the CT Wine Trail—who knew that was actually a thing?) Generally though, I just spent the majority of my summer relaxing and being a bit lazy.

Regardless, I’m back at William & Mary now, for the first time in what feels like forever. (Forever, nine months, same thing really). I’ve moved in and had all of my classes, and I could write about that, or I could write about fancy dresses from the recent Emmys. Anyone who knows me at all, or I guess anyone who actually read the title of this blog, knows which one I’m choosing. So, you’ll just have to wait for the riveting (I’m sure, this is me we’re talking about) account of the first week of my senior year.
Therefore here are, in no particular order, my choices for the top 10 looks at the Emmys this year:

Keke Palmer in Rubin Singer
I absolutely adore the dramatic look donned by the star from Masters of Sex, which admittedly I do not watch (but I remember her from her Disney Channel days, I’m sure that counts). The bold sapphire color is seriously eye-catching, though the plunging neckline and exaggerated mermaid cut certainly help with that. The rest of her look was fairly understated, so the focus was definitely all on the dress itself.

Claire Danes in Givenchy Haute Couture
Admittedly Claire Danes makes this list in part due to my enduring love of her from watching her in Stardust (although I generally find Homeland enjoyable, if a bit intense). However, I do love the color and silhouette of her Givenchy Haute Couture dress, and the interesting styling choice of adding a belt along with a cutout waistline. I am somewhat ambivalent on the subject of the statement collar necklace, but otherwise I like the look.

Cat Deeley in Burberry
I love this soft, feminine look. The dark blush color is especially flattering, and doesn’t wash her out like a lighter shade might. A paler rose is incorporated by the ombre touch to the gown’s skirt, which keeps the look from being too traditional.

Michelle Dockery in Rosie Assoulin


I had never heard of Rosie Assoulin before seeing this dress, but as soon as I saw this unusual dress on the Downton Abbey star I had to check out the rest of the collection, with which I am now seriously in love. I love the color-blocking, the draping, and the subtle cutout. Basically, I love everything about it.

Alison Williams in Giambattista Valli
Honestly I think this gown looks like a lot of fun. I love the full, billowy skirt and the general princess-y (is that actually a word?) feeling of the dress. More importantly, I love the modern pop of color in the sash, which definitely makes the look.

Lizzy Caplin in Donna Karan Atelier
This is the first time I’ve seen a dress like this. The silhouette from the front seems like a very classic black, halter-necked gown, but gorgeous white train made the whole look something completely new and new. It was still classy if not really classic.

Sarah Hyland in Christian Siriano
At first this look seems like a classic ball-gown, but it’s got a bit of a twist. By pairing this adorable white crop top with the amazing coral skirt, a completely modern take on the ball-gown was born. Color-blocking and separates all in one outfit. Even better, I can’t help but imagine that both pieces can be combined in a multitude of ways with other pieces, and the crop top could even be made into a casual piece with a pair of jeans.

Lucy Liu in Zac Posen
Lucy Liu is another actress that may have gotten a bit of a boost from my adoration of her. I love her as the reimagined female version of Dr. Watson in CBS’s Elementary, but the original source of my love was the frankly terrible Charlies’ Angels movies, which I absolutely loved when I was younger. Regardless, I love her look at this year’s Emmys, despite the more subdued color and silhoueet. The off-white is very flattering and the draping is beautiful and vaguely Grecian.

Julie Bowen in Peter Som
I remember seeing this dress in pictures from the Fall/Winter 2014 Peter Som Collection on the runway, and I fell in love with it right then. Standout prints are not really the norm at major awards ceremonies, but when paired with the simple, and flattering, silhouette, this look became particularly amazing.

Taylor Schilling in Zuhair Murad
The angelic look of this champagne-colored gown is made infinitely more interesting by the intricate beading that covered it. The statement ear cuff was a cool, on-trend addition to the look was striking without distracting from the beautiful dress. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Road Trip: At the Ballet



Last night I headed into New York City with my mom for an evening of fun. We headed out in the early afternoon, after working from home for a little while (one of the benefits of being a PR and Social Media intern is that pretty much all of my work can be done from anywhere).

We arrived a little earlier than we'd planned, so while waiting for our dinner reservation to roll around we walked around inside one of the shops. Unfortunately when we decided to head over to the restaurant, still a half an hour early, it was pouring outside. We bought an umbrella and headed over, by which time we were no longer early for our reservation at the Atlantic Grill across from Lincoln Center.

The restaurant was absolutely wonderful, I enjoyed a particularly good Gazpacho and Red Miso Atlantic Cod. We planned to have dessert, but luck was not on our side. The restaurant somehow got the impression that our show began at 8, rather than 7:30; so when, at 7:25, we still didn't have our dessert or our bill, I started to get a little nervous. I headed across the street to the Metropolitan Opera while Mom waited behind to pay.

Crossing the street was a somewhat terrifying experience however. When we'd been finishing our main courses I had heard the flood alert for the city, and though little of it, but when I walked outside I saw that it had been very much justified. The rain was torrential, and the streets were a bit like rivers. I ended up wet up to my knees (which is a more significant measurement than usual, as my heels added at least four inches to my height) before I had gotten even halfway across.

A misleading picture from before the rain
I made it into the show by the barest measure, the ushers were hurrying me along as I practically ran up the stairs and I made it to my seat just as the lights went out and the orchestra began to play. Mom didn't quite make the first act, and ended up having to watch on a closed-circuit screen in a room outside the theater itself and then joined me after intermission.

The show I was frantically trying to make was the American Ballet Theatre's Shakespeare Celebration, the first act of which was a performance of Frederick Ashton's The Dreama ballet interpretation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dreamand the second was Alexei Ratmansky's The Tempest. The double bill was perfectly timed in several ways, echoing both the recent occurence of Midsummer itself and a celebration of Shakespeare's 450th birthday, but more coincidentally appropriate was the performance of a ballet dealing with a storm during an actual storm.

Both ballet's were spectacular.

I particularly enjoyed The Dream, not because it was superior, but because it is based on a play with which I am more familiar. The costuming was beautiful, with the fairies clothed in glittering tulle and flowers and the more staid costuming for the mortals who become tangled in their affairs, and so was the dancing. I had never imagined that a ballet could make me laugh, but because they didn't speak all their emotions were exaggerated, sometimes to the point that even somewhat serious moments struck me as a little silly. The funniest scenes were those involving Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius, whose love lives are mucked up by the mischevious Puck. Watching Helena dance/chase Demetrius around the stage, and then having that chase mirrored later on when Lysander and Demetrius end up fighting each other for her attention, was surprisingly hilarious. Honestly any scene involving Puck was enjoyable, whenever he appeared he would seem to leap effortlessly in and out of other dancer's paths, and wherever he went chaos was sure to follow. Craig Salstein's performance as the sprite was full of merriment and a restless energy which was incredible to watch.



However, my favorite scene was the Pas de Deux between Oberon and Titania to Mendelssohn's Nocturne. Not only was the dancing beautiful, but it featured one of my very favorite pieces of classical music. Oberon, danced by James Whiteside, was particularly enjoyable to watch, and gave a clear impression of regality and strength. Xiomara Reyes as Titania was also a wonderful character, flirtatious and defiant, but most particularly in her interactions with Oberon.


The Tempest was beautiful as well, but the feelings it evoked were very different, darker and more dramatic. The sense of importance was helped along by the music, which contrasted dissonance and harmony, while combining the harp and harmonium with the occasional sounds of a choir or the flute and muted strings. Unfortunately, The Tempest is a play that I do not know particularly well, and I did not follow the plot as well as I might have. So while it was a wonderful ballet, and I was often awestruck by the abilities of the dancers, the story was not nearly as clear as in The Dream. However, the choreography between the lovestruck Miranda and Ferdinand was particularly lovely, Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews respectively, and Cory Stearns as Prospero was a powerful presence.


While I was greatly anticipating this performance, I found myself enjoying it so much more than I expected. Watching a ballet in person is so inspiring and absolutely breathtaking, and I found myself swept up in the story and the music.




Saturday, June 14, 2014

Homeward Bound

So: This is it.

I'm sitting in the airport, waiting for our gate to be listed, and trying to find the words to sum up this experience. I will admit to having felt some apprehension before leaving about how well I would manage being away from home for so long a period. I do not generally tend towards homesickness, but I've never been so far away before. 

However, everyone is always saying that a study abroad is a life-changing and wonderful experience, and they are certainly not wrong. I do not regret for a moment my decision to come here, even if it does mean that I have had one less semester to spend at William & Mary. I loved living in Exeter almost as much as I have loved Williamsburg, and I am as sad to leave it behind as I will be come next spring and graduation.

I made so many new friends: students from the University of Exeter, other exchange students from around the world, and even some from back at William & Mary whom I might never have met otherwise. I saw new places, both in the British Isles and in continental Europe. Although I certainly hope that I will have more opportunities to travel in the future; I still have a very long list to get through, and quite a few continents that I haven't even begun to explore.

I think that being here has taught me so many things about myself that I never knew. 

I can survive on my own in an unfamiliar place, helpful knowledge, considering my looming graduation and entry into the real world. When traveling, and probably just in general, you will get lost and things will not work out the way you had planned, but if you just relax, things do work out. People are nicer than you expect. 

There's also the little lessons: learn some of the language (be it an entirely new language or just some changes in slang), don't overpack (you need less than you think), take advantage of the opportunities you are given, and above all, don't panic.

After this, I am no longer so worried about how my life will change after I graduate; I know I can handle what comes my way.

I am a bit sad to be leaving, but I also think that I am ready to go home. I plan to put my new life lessons to good use and to be much braver than I was before. Over the past few months I have realized how much there is to see back home, and how little of it I have seen.

Hopefully it won't be too long before I get another chance to travel abroad; but if it is, I will simply have to find some new adventures closer to home!


Friday, June 13, 2014

The Last of My Days in England

The day we traveled back to England from Ireland was the day that felt like it might never end.

We woke up at around 3:00 that morning and loaded the car up, before making the three-ish hour drive down to Dublin to meet our 8:30 ferry to Holyhead, Wales. We made good time and arrived with nearly an hour to spare before boarding, an hour we filled with caffeine and blank stares. The ferry itself was all right, if a bit rougher than ithe way over had been. Once again we had booked premium tickets, so I interspersed cups of tea with naps curled up in my little armchair.

Upon arrival in Holyhead, we made our way across Anglesey Isle and up the coast a little, to Conwy Castle. We parked on the far side of the city from the castle itself and walked most of the way on the old city walls. The castle was really interesting, although mostly an empty shell of stone at this point. The views of the sea from the towers were beautiful, plus I found some remaining stained glass in the chapel!

After leaving Conwy, we drove back down the coast a bit and made another stop at a castle. This one was Caernarfon Castle, and it looked to be in slightly better shape than Conwy, at least from the outside, and we did not actually end up going in. Instead, we took a few nice pictures of the outside, and of the surrounding town, before finding someplace to eat. We all know that, no matter how beautiful, historic buildings must be found wanting when compared to food (especially considering that we were all absolutely starving). We ate at the Black Boy Inn, just down the street from the castle; I'm not sure if the lamb shank (my second of the trip) was actually a delicious as I thought it was, or if I was just so hungry that anything would have tasted amazing.

After those two stops, we pretty much just drove continuously on our way down to Exeter (which our handy GPS estimated would take us at least another five and a half hours). On the way we did drive through both the Snowdonia National Park (Doesn't that just sound like thename of a made-up kingdom for Barbies?) the Brecon Beacons National Park, which were both beautiful. 

I was thrilled when we finally made it to Exeter. We parked the car, dumped our bags in my flat, and walked down to our hotel. Michael spent the night in my flat, as our hotel would only sleep two, while Mom and I spent the night at the Royal Clarence Hotel out on the Cathedral Yard (we had a view of the Cathedral from our window). That night was the best sleep I have had in ages, bar none.

The next day I introduced my mom to the wonders of the Exeter Cathedral, which I think is the most beautiful we visited (not that I'm biased or anything), before grabbing breakfast and heading out on our trip for the day.

We decided to head out, driving through Dartmoor on the way, to Tintagel, on the coast of Cornwall. Tintagel is the legendary birthplace of King Arthur and the town definitely banks on that connection. Everything that possibly could had a name that referenced some aspect of the Arthurian legends (in fact we had lunch at the King Arthur's Arms after we walked back from the castle).

The castle itself, mostly ruins, was on a rocky outcropping into the ocean and the views were spectacular. First we walked down to the beach and into Merlin's Cave. We chose wisely, because when we came back from our adventures on the higher ground of the castle, the tide had come in and the cave was inaccessible. But my favorite part was the rocky cliffs jutting out above the ocean. I was glad to get some gorgeous pictures in, but mostly I just enjoyed sitting there.

The uphill trek back into town was a little unpleasant; it was a fairly hot day and we were probably still a little tired from our long journey the day before. Once we got back in town, we found the first place that looked appealing and sat down to lunch. I had my last fish and chips of my study abroad.

We left Exeter the next morning; it was sad to say goodbye to the town that had been my home for e last five months, but luckily I had gotten the chance to say some last goodbyes already (I had run into Jen, Lucy and Simon the night before).

Our first stop of the day was Bath. It was just as beautiful the second time around, although we walked around a different part of  the city this time. We saw the Jane Austen Centre, the Circus (large town houses arranged in circular around a little park, and apparently inspired by the Colosseum), and some generally good examples of the beautiful architecture in Bath. Our one real stop was in the Fashion Museum, which Michael suffered through admirably. I loved looking at the clothes, but the best part was definitely trying them on. We were given the opportunity to try on a few different Victorian gowns and bonnets, as well as corsets and crinolines. I think I tried on all of the gowns that would possibly fit me, and the corset made my waist look amazing (although I will admit to some, by which I mean so so much, difficulty breathing while wearing it).

We continued our journey towards London and, on the way, visited Stonehenge (the second time for Michael and me) was still rather awe-inspiring, and once again the weather was perfect for the visit.

Although that was our last real stop, the day was certainly not over. Once we arrived at our hotel, a Jury's Inn near Heathrow, we unpacked the car and headed out to the rental lot to return it. I think we were all glad to be done driving on the opposite side of the road, and it was kind of relaxing taking the tube back to the hotel.

This morning we headed into the city, heading first to see the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Mom was especially excited to see the Tower Bridge because on her first (and only before now) trip to London there had been scaffolding covering it.

After that we headed over to St Paul's, which Michael was particularly interested in seeing. We walked around the church, enjoying the amazing mosaics and the neoclassical architecture for a while. We also climbed up the many stairs to the Whispering Gallery and the Stone Gallery, although we did not continue all the way up to the Golden Gallery, a decision my legs much appreciated. We had lunch at a nearby Pizza Express, before Michael left to grab his bags from the hotel and make his way to the airport for his flight back home.

Mom and I continued on to Westminster, where we saw the Houses of Parliament, as well as Westminster Abbey. The abbey was beautiful as well, although I will admit to a preference for St. Paul's versus the gothic architecture of Westminster (Mom had exactly the opposite preference, but to each their own). However it is still a close call, and I absolutely adore the stained glass windows, the detailing in the stonework, and the arches of Westminster.

The last thing on our agenda was to pay a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, although first we stopped into their cafe for afternoon tea (or coffee in my mom's case). The gallery was a wonderful as ever, and I could have spent at least twice the amount of time there than we were able to.

For dinner I introduced my mom to one of my favorite chains here, Wagamamas; then we headed back to the hotel, where I proceeded to pack frantically (this is always how I would characterize my packing, no matter how much time I spend at it, because I loathe it so very much) and then to write this very blog post. See: I can write posts in a timely manner. 

Tomorrow morning I will be leaving the UK and returning to the US, for the first time in more than five months. 



Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Week in Ireland

On Tuesday morning we began the three hour drive down to the port for our ferry to Belfast. The drive itself was lovely, despite intermittent rain (although that certainly wasn't unsual). On the way we actually got a good look at Stirling Castle, and some pretty good pictures I think. We also got to see some amazing views as we drove through all the coastal towns on our way to Cairnryan.

The ferry ride itself was nice as well, especially since we got premium tickets and spent the trip in the Stena Plus Lounge. In any case, the trip was only about two hours, and before we knew it, we were on the road again, this time in Northern Ireland.

After arriving in Belfast, we went directly to the Titanic Belfast Museum, the exterior of which is intended to simultaneously evoke the iceberg and the prow of the Titanic. The museum left me feeling a bit drained, especially when you consider how much of that tragedy could have been avoided.

In need of a pick-me-up, we headed over to the Mount Stewart house and gardens. The house wasn't particularly impressive, partly because it was under restoration (lots of scaffolding); but the gardens were spectacular, and surprisingly Mediterranean feeling. In addition, the location of the house afforded some wonderful views of Strangford Lough.

To get to our flat in Belcoo, we actually had to head back through Belfast, which was lucky because this time we managed to stumble across some of the Unionist murals (those who supported Northern Ireland remaining with Britain), as well as one of the "peace walls" containing the Catholic neighborhood.

The flat in Belcoo was my favorite yet, not least because it provided a good Wifi signal (finally). It was actually located just across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, so all of our phones decided we had already crossed the border. Luckily the pub owner next door was willing to call our host so he could come meet us with the keys to the flat.

The next day we took advantage of the location and the sun, and walked around the park that could be seen from the windows of our flat. We even walked across the bridge and into the Republic of Ireland (which marks the first occasion on which I can say I walked into a different country). Later on, we drove into Enniskillen, where we saw the castle and cathedral, although we didn't actually stop at either.

On Thursday we got up fairly early, so that we could head up to the Causeway coast. We made our first stop at Mussenden Temple and Bishops Gate. The temple was originally built as library and is modelled after the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. Located right on the cliff's edge, the temple provides an amazing view of the ocean. The grounds of Downhill Estate, on which the temple is located, were full of rolling hills (there were definitely some "the hills are alive" pictures taken).

Next we headed further along the coast to Dunluce Castle, which was mostly ruins, located on an outcropping of cliffs above the ocean. What was cool was that you could walk down, almost to the water at the bottom of the cliff, and see a little cave running under the castle and into the ocean.

The final, and best, stop along the coast was obviously the Giant's Causeway, which was absolutely breathtaking. We also had enormous fun climbing around the various formations, which made me think of honeycombs. I picked up a necklace which imitated the pattern. This was probably my favorite stop of the trip thus far.

After that we decided to head home, because it was already past four, and the drive back would take at least another three hours. On the way back we drove through the Sparrin mountains, which were admittedly a bit more like giant hills, but still amazing to look at (not so amazing to drive through - hello motion sickness).

The next day we had a bit of a late start driving up to Derry (or Londonderry, depending on your perspective on the whole "Northern Ireland being a part of the UK" thing). Our first stop in the city was the Guildhall, which was the location of the Saville Inquiry after the events of Bloody Sunday.

After a quick lunch at a cafe near the Shipquay Gate of the wall around the city, we walked up onto the wall itself. The wall is the only completely intact city wall remaining in Ireland, as well as being the last city wall to be built in Europe. We walked along the wall for a bit, making a stop in St. Columb's Cathedral (the stones of the original cathedral are actually a part of the wall). We also walked down towards the Peace Bridge (which looks a bit like ship's sails passing each other) before getting back in the car.

We drove around the city for a bit, seeing several of the murals in the Nationalist (those who supported Northern Ireland becoming a part of "free Ireland") neighborhoods of Derry, the Diamond War Memorial, and the "Hands Across the Divide" Sculpture.

After leaving Derry, we drove up to the Inishowen peninsula, which was beautiful. We made a stop at Grianan of Aileach, a ring fort located at the top of one of the tall hills in the area. The height definitely allowed for some amazing views of the surrounding area, and the ring fort itself was pretty interesting.

The next day Michael wasn't feeling particularly well, so Mom and I headed out on our own. We drove all the way down to Galway and wandered around the town for awhile. We stopped in at the Thomas Dillon shop, the original makers of the Claddagh Ring, and I found a Claddagh necklace to bring home (I already wear two rings regularly and I don't really want to add another). We also walked down to the river and saw the Spanish Arch, which was originally a part of the city's walls and protected the quays. We had lunch at a pub in town before leaving the city.

On our way through the countryside we drove through Athenry, which is partly known because of an Irish folk ballad "The Fields of Athenry." We stopped to look around at Athenry Castle, as well as seeing remains of a stone gate.

Our next stop was Clonmacnoise, a collection of ruined temples, round towers, and (best of all) high crosses. Clonmacnoise is near the river Shannon and houses three high crosses. The best preserved is probably the Cross of the Scriptures, although I preferred the more abstract South Cross. One of the round towers is the only remaining tower in Ireland whose roof is unaltered.

As we headed back up to Belcoo, we made a quick stop at Boyle Abbey, which was pretty, but not quite as interesting as Jedburgh Abbey back in Scotland.

The day after that we took it embarrassingly easy, by which I mean we didn't do anything at all. Sometimes, even when you're traveling and want to make the most of everything, you have to take a break and just relax.

On Monday, our final day in Ireland, we decided to take it easy. We took the comparitively short drive of about an hour down towards Sligo to see Drumcliff, where Yeats is buried and the home of another round tower and high cross. This high cross was pretty interesting too, featuring carvings of Cain and Abel and the Fall of Man.

After Drumcliff we drove out to Rosses Point, which is the tip of one of the nearby peninsulas and which is home to a lighthouse and a monument called "Waiting on Shore" of a woman holding her arms out towards the sea.

We made a quick stop at the Creevykeel Court Cairn, before heading out to Carrowmore. Carrowmore has several examples of passage tombs and dolmans, and is the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland, as well as one of the oldest (ranging from five and half thousand to six and a half thousand years old).

We tried to make a stop at Knocknarea, the tomb of Queen Maeve (or Queen Mab as she is better known), but the weather, and our footwear, did not really permit a hike uphill. On our drive back to Belcoo, we also saw the Glencar waterfall, which we had passed on our way down that morning but hadn't really noticed.

Overall, Ireland was spectacularly beautiful, even during the few rainstorms we experienced, and I will be sad to leave it behind. However, there is still almost another week in England left ahead.



Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Heading North to Scotland

The morning of the 29th I headed out of the hostel and began my hour-long trek to Heathrow airport; it was made wonderfully simple (although still quite long) by the fact that the tube makes stops at each of the terminals.

I met Michael at around 9:40, and together we took a shuttle out to the car rental lot where Mom was waiting. After that, we were pretty much immediately on the move, and I was definitely impressed by how quickly Mom got used to driving on the wrong side of the road, as well as the incredible number of roundabouts. I mean, we survived, so all in all, she was amazing.

Our first stop was Bletchley Park, home to top-secret code-breaking endeavors during World War II. The military aspect wasn't all that interesting to me, but learning about the day-to-day lives of the people who worked there certainly was. Especially cool was the way the bunkers were laid out as if the workers had just stepped out for a break. In every room there were knick-knacks strewn about: a lipstick and compact on top of a filing cabinet, a jacket hung on the back of a chair, a chess set mid-game.

Our trek continued up through the Peak District, which is beautiful, until we came upon Chatsworth House. It was breathtaking; you come up around a bend and suddenly the house just there across the river. I was pretty excited; not only are the house and grounds gorgeous, but they play Pemberley in several adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice (including my favorite, the 2005 edition starring Matthew Macfayden and Keira Knightley). It was a little rainy when we arrived, but that hardly detracted from the beauty. After that stop we continued our drive up to our hotel up near Leeds.

The next day we drove around Leeds for a bit, before making a stop at the Royal Armouries Museum. The best part of the museum was the case of swords from the Lord of the Rings movies, although the Japanese archery gear was pretty cool too.

The next stop was more my speed, another of those glamorous English manors, Harewood House. The first sight of it is not quite so impressive as Chatsworth, but the grounds more than made up for it. Most enjoyable were the Himalayan gardens, with a waterfall and river whose stepping-stone path you could cross (if confident enough in your sense of balance) and a variety of unfamilar flowers. They also had a bird garden, which featured snowy owls, a kookaburra, flamingos, and even penguins. On a side note, this house too played Pemberley.



We continued on to Durham, where we met up with Emily (whose family had also been stationed in Monterey, California when I was born). We saw the Cathedral and Castle, plus a bit of the university. Although Emily is attending university in England for the entirety of her degree, it was still interesting to get another person's perspective as an American studying in the UK.


 We spent the night up across the border of Scotland, in Hawick. To get there, we had to drive through the Northumberland National Park (the southern half of which is moorland and the northern half of which is a range of rolling hills known as the Cheviots) during twilight. The natural light lingered incredibly late, by which I mean it was still somewhat light out even at 11 pm.


That Saturday morning we spent some time in the nearby town of Jedburgh, where we enjoyed a full Scottish breakfast - no haggis, though - and saw the abbey with its absent roof and empty window frames.


After that we headed back through Northumberland and down to Hadrian's Wall. Our first stop was at the Chesters Roman Fort, which once housed cavalry. The ruins were interesting, particularly some of the fragmentary inscriptions housed in the indoor museum, as well as the remains of a Roman bath.

Next we headed over to Housesteads Fort, which afforded a much better view of the wall itself, although this did require a bit of a walk uphill to reach the fort itself, as the fort was strategically placed on high ground. We then headed back across the border, enjoying the Northumberland National Park for a third time, to spend another night in Hawick.



Check it out! I have a cupcake store!
 The next day we continued our drive north. Our only stop for the day was in Edinburgh, so we spent a significant amount of time walking around. However our first stop was at a Vodafone, so that Mom and Michael could get UK plans, mostly to take advantage of the data.


 In town we focused on the Royal Mile. We actually started somewhere in the middle, so we headed down to one end at Holyrood Palace, which is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland. By the palace is the Queen's Gallery, which is currently home to a painting by Sir Peter Lely of Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and also the model for the idealized allegory of Britannia.
St. Giles Cathedral

He's pointing because we're awesome
We continued along the Royal Mile, making a quick stop at St. Giles Cathedral, which has a particularly distinctive crown steeple, before continuing onwards. At the other end of the mile is Edinburgh Castle, which was an impressive prospect at the top of the hill and which we had seen from several different angles as we walked around town.

After leaving Edinburgh, we continued our journey north to our flat just outside Blairgowrie. This flat was even nicer than the last, although still sadly lacking in a good Wifi connection. (But really, what can you expect when you're out in the middle of nowhere?) We ate dinner at the nearby Dalmore Inn, which had the most amazing lamb shank I had ever tasted.

Monday was our last full day in Scotland, and our last day heading north. We made our first stop up at Blair Castle. The best part was definitely the exterior of the castle itself, and the walled-in Hercules Garden. However the interior was certainly interesting as well, despite a design tendency towards covering the walls in deer skulls and antlers (creepy, right?). There were some great paintings (even a couple of Mary, of William & Mary fame) and lots of artifacts related to Queen Victoria, because shewas close friends with one of the duchesses who lived there.

We continued up to Inverness so that we could drive alongside Loch Ness. It was incredibly gorgeous, and we pulled off the road to take a couple of pictures. We even got to walk down to the edge of the loch. Our next stop, Urquhart Castle, was located on the banks of Loch Ness and was once one of the largest castles in Scotland, although it is now in ruins.




On our way back down towards Blairgowrie, we made a stop in Dunkeld to take a quick look at the cathedral there, part of which is in ruins, and part of which is still in use as the parish church.

That was our last evening in Scotland, and our last in Britain for a while. The next morning we would be driving down to Cairnryan to take the ferry into Northern Ireland.





Monday, June 9, 2014

Weekend in London

This entry is coming a bit late, and a couple more will follow, but it's been a busy couple of weeks so cut me some slack, kay?

Way back, on the 26th of May, I finally got around to packing up my room at the Printworks. I had been putting it off for as long as possible, meaning that I finally did pack on the day before I would be leaving for London. So basically I put it off for as long as I could possibly get away with. As anyone who knows me knows, I can't stand packing (or unpacking really).

It was weird going through all of the odds and ends I had collected over the course of the last five months, and deciding whether any of it was worth taking home, things like: museum tickets, magazines, and the incredible number of brochures and visitor guides I had brought back from my travels. I settled for keeping as few of these things as possible, but took pictures of the rest.

That evening, I had a goodbye roast with Jen, Lucy, Welmoed, Laura, Lina and Liv (Simon dropped by during the prep work, but didn't stay for the actual meal...although he did tolerate a hug goodbye). The roast itself was delicious and it was really great that we were able to get together again before I had to leave. I was a bit worried that I might not get the chance to see anyone when I come back through Exeter to actually check out of the Printworks (especially since I won't be sleeping there). It's been a really wonderful term with everyone, and it was sad to say goodbye, but I'm sure we'll keep in touch.

The next morning I left Exter at around 8:30, I slept very little the night before and didn't do much better on the actual trip to London. Worse, when I arrived it was absolutely pouring. By the time I picked up an Oyster card, took the tube to London Bridge, and walked to my hostel from there, I looked a bit like a wet cat. The hostel itself, Destinations at the Rose & Crown (based above the Rose & Crown pub), was lovely. I spent some time drying off in the comfort of my room, before heading out for the evening.

I walked down towards the Thames and dropped by the Globe Theatre to pick up my tickets for the show, before heading to the Tate Modern. Some of the paintings and sculptures were beautiful, particular the Monet (who remains my uncontested favorite artist), but some of them were just weird. There was one in particular that was literally just a mirror (although the philsophical reasoning behind this decision, as noted in the sign's blurb, made it sound like less of a cop-out than it actually was).

I decided to eat at the Swan at the Globe for dinner so that I wouldn't have to worry about running late, it turned out to be a good choice because it was already getting crowded when I eventually made my way into the theatre.

The play was absolutely amazing.

By the time it actually started it was pouring again, to the dismay of those who had purchased standing tickets, but the actors seemed hardly to notice (there were a couple of close calls and slips on the wet edges of the stage, but the actors were pretty well able to disguise these and keep the show on
track). The atmosphere of the Globe certainly seemed more casual, but also more energetic, than the typical thatre. In part, I think, to the fact that it is outdoors/open to the air. During the play people entered and exited as need be, had discussions about the play (and about their own lives), and every now and then the actors interacted with the audience (the actress playing Cleopatra actually kissed one of the audience members on the cheek). The costumes were well-rendered and interesting (particularly, and unsurprising so, Cleopatra's) and were able to clearing distinguish the sensual, passionate world of Egypt, with the more rigid world of Rome.


Cleopatra was certainly the most interesting character, mercurial by nature (plying an unfortunate messenger with promises of gold only to threaten his life moments later, and on their next meeting proclaiming him to be an excellent judge of character) and yet still a beloved and charismatic ruler. Antony and Caesar were also both interesting, and each lacking in different ways. Antony, while a strong leader, seemed unwise and more easily led by Cleopatra than he ought to be and Caesar, while he ultimately triumphs, is ruthless and unbending.

The atmosphere added to my enjoyment of the play. The scent of incense as the play opened lent a sense of the exotic and of authenticity almost, the glitter thrown at the close of the first act seemed to hang suspended in the air, and the music was absolutely perfect. As Antony lay dying the musicians played with so light a touch that I almost didn't notice the sound until it suddenly died, with Antony, and the building tensions dropped away with no warning.

When the play ended, at around 11:30, I made my way back to the hostel. The play was an amazing experience. I've always loved Shakespeare, we used to attend the Shakespeare Festival in Williamsburg in the summers when I was younger, and it was incredible to see a Shakespeare play as it would have been performed when he was alive (in the replica of the theatre in which Antony & Cleopatra is supposed to have opened no less).

The next morning I was up and out of the hostel by nine. I headed directly to the Victoria & Albert Museum. It was absolutely wonderful, and absolutely enormous. It didn't help that you couldn't get a map of the museum without paying for one, so I got turned around several times.


My favorite exhibit was probably the one on fashion, you know how I am about my clothes, followed closely by the scupltures. However, despite these exhibits being my favorites, most breathtaking was the room full of plaster casts of architectural and sculptural wonders. When I walked into the room and saw the plaster cast of the Column of Trajan, I was absolutely awestruck.

Along with these, there were also beautiful paintings, ceramics, jewelry, a couple of ornate harpsichords, and exhibit on architecture (which was particularly interesting when viewed in comparison to the Islamic architectural drawings I had seen in an earlier room). I think I managed to see most of the museum, although i went more quickly than I might have otherwise, and certainly skipped some rooms entirely. Despite my fast pace, I still spent about three hours in the museum.

After I finally left, I found a tapas restaurant in which to have lunch, before walking around the area for a bit. I found a bookstore around the corner and, not so shockingly, spent longer inside than I had intended. About forty minutes later, I finally headed to my next destination, the British Museum.

I was way less systematic than I had been in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and consequently probably saw much less, I think by this point I might have spent a little too much time in museums (they can be really exhausting after a point). However, I still managed to spend about two hours there.

The best part was definitely the pieces of the Parthenon, since I still haven't managed a trip to Greece, despite their suspect ownership (one of the relief plaques noted that the heads of those particularly figures were still intact, but were also still in Greece, so they could be complete if the sections were reunited!). There were also some amazing sculptures, I adore Greco-Roman sculpture in general and it was particularly interesting to see some of the busts that I had studied in class. Another flashback to my art history classes of freshman and sophomore year was the exhibit on Chinese watercolors (a topic on which I remember writing an essay).

Interestingly, I saw very little of the actual British stuff in the British Museums, but the Greek, Roman, Chinese, and Egyptian (hello Rosetta Stone) artifacts were so interesting!

After this I stopped into a Starbucks to take advantage both of their free Wifi and the outlets, for my much exhausted camera, before taking the tube over to the Roundhouse for the Paloma Faith concert.

The concert was also absolutely amazing, so clearly I did really well with my choices for my two day London adventure. King Holiday, who opened the show, was pretty good. The lead singer was an energetic Michael Jackson-esque sort of dancer, and the band in general was a lot of fun. Obviously, however, Paloma Faith was the best part of the show. Not only is she one of the those singers who is equally good, if not better, live than she is on her tracks, but she's pretty funny too.

She opened the show with a few quips at the Evening Standard's expense. Apparently they had quoted her joking comment she had made at the previous evening's show that "all her best songs weren't written by her," but they had taken it seriously. So for this show she instead said,"I am probably the songwriter of my generation," before following the laughter with, "I'm just kind of hoping they'll print it, I'm also the Annie Lennox of our time...that was for the Evening Standard, for everyone else, I'm deeply insecure."


In between songs she talked a bit about her inspirations for the new album, her life, and even about how awesome the rest of her band is and that the only reason she's famous is that she's pushier than they are (so the takeaway is, be pushy?).

She sang some of my favorite songs, both from her old album and the new one, as well as a pretty large number of covers. She prefaced one of these covers with, "I'm good at finding old music that noone's every heard of...I didn't write this one either."

She closed the show with Can't Rely On You, and the energy in the Roundhouse was amazing. It was certainly the best concert I have ever attended, even if I did have to remain standing for the entire four hours I was there, but I am so glad I decided to go.

I finally made my way back to the hostel for my last night in London, the next morning I could look forward the start of my two-week, last hurrah, road trip around the British Isles with my mom and Michael, so there's certainly more excitement to come.