BIRTHDAY WEEK

30 11 2010

Emma and I were in London for the week and we had both my 20th birthday and Thanksgiving to look forward to. Unfortunately for the majority of the week I had work (except for my birthday on Wednesday that I took off for the day to celebrate!). Regardless, we had a lot of cool things planned for the week. As my birthday approached, I started thinking about everything that has happened in the past decade. Ten years ago my biggest concerns were the new Spice Girls CD and how to throw a change-up and now I’m thinking about law school and falling in love. I wonder what the next decade will hold, but for now being with my best friend in Europe will have to do.

1. Queen’s Arms– I took Emma to this cozy pub her first night in London. It’s literally just around the corner from my flat and my friends and I go there on the reg for its delicious pub food and Strongbow cider. By far my favorite dish is the bangers and mash, with the fish and chips coming in a close second. It’s always so packed because of its quaintness and proximity to Hyde Park, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The other day I was looking for restaurants on Urbanspoon and what do you know, Queen’s Arms was listed as “best cheap eats”. So true.

the roomies and me at Queen's Arms

CIDER

2.  O’Neill’s & Chinatown- London’s Chinatown is only a few streets right in the middle of Soho and a place called Covent Garden. However, when you’re in Chinatown you know you’re in Chinatown because of all of the Asians running around, the Chinese characters, and the restaurants emitting savory scents every which way. Even though it only consists of a few streets, one of our favorite bars was located smack dab the middle, ironically an Irish pub called O’Neill’s. I took Emma here for a few beers after Queen’s Arms even though it wasn’t its usual rowdy self since it was a Monday night. There are four floors to O’Neill’s and on the weekends a live cover band plays on the top, definitely the craziest floor of them all. My memories abound from my time here: a gigantic Wake Forest union, bloody fist fight (not between me of course), creepy old men groping me as I walk by, dance sessions with my girls. While O’Neill’s wasn’t the most unique or authentic pub in town, it was a guaranteed good (or at the very least interesting) time, so we frequented it throughout the semester. On our way home, Emma and I tried some Chinese from one of the restaurants…bad idea.

3. London Eye- The eye is one of London’s most famous landmarks, an almost 500 feet tall Ferris wheel that (according to Wikipedia) is the UK’s most popular tourist attraction. Did you know that the eye was supposed to be a temporary attraction (built in 1999), but because of how popular and lucrative it is has been made a permanent structure. Atlanta is thinking of building one like it… intriguing. I wanted to save the £17 “flight” for a special occasion and so decided to take Emma for a nighttime ride. The London skyline is one of the most magnificent sights to see, especially at night. Funny enough we rode with a group of senior British citizens who pointed us out all of the major landmarks of the city. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral… the works. It was also really cool to hear the elderly British perspective of how the city has changed, I just love old people. I know it was really touristy, but the London Eye still is one of my favorite things I did there. There’s just so much to see, and you can see it all from above.

on the bank outside of the eye

Parliament at night!

inside the London eye

4.  Harry Potter 7- The weekend Emma and I were in Amsterdam was the Harry Potter premiere weekend so we made Tuesday night our own

ain't she gowwgeous?? if you're wondering what the red poppy signifies, British people wear them around veterans day to remember fallen soldiers

little Harry Potter night. While England made a big deal out of the premiere, it actually wasn’t AS publicized as you would think, London being the birthplace of the series. It was basically the same Harry Potter craze found in the states. My friend Sydney has some awesome connections and actually got to go to the premiere and boy oh boy was she lucky. The day after I got a play by play, and of course she got up close and personal with the likes of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson (who is absolutely stunning), and JK Rowling among others. All of Leicester Square was transformed into Hogwarts and looking back I probably should’ve made more of an effort to join the mob scene at the premiere because it sounded epic. Emma, my friend Mattie, and I went to the Westfield London (the coolest mall EVER with every store and restaurant you could possibly imagine) to go see Harry Potter “Xtreme” as the theater put it… apparently it had some special sound and visual effects to enhance the experience? Obviously I loved the movie and cannot wait for the last one! I must say that Ron was looking buff… I can’t wait for him and Hermione to get it on.

5. Camden Market- Yet another market in London! Except for this one is open every day of the week, so I had to take Emma so she could get an idea of the market scene in London. Camden Town is in the northern part of London and has a reputation for having a sort of grungy, seedy crowd that hangs out there at night. Caroline and I when she visited met up with her friend in Camden Town at an all you can eat sushi restaurant, it was fabulous. However during the day it is full of eccentric clothes, exotic foods, and interesting people. The market covers a lot of area, both indoor and outdoor, and we shopped for hours finding trinkets and gifts for family back home. I picked out some cool vintage sweaters and a neat black and white painting of London. I also bought PJ a hand painted England shirt as a Christmas present. We could’ve literally stayed there all day going in and out of the stores, but after our Chinese lunch we were ready to do some real damage shopping.

6. TopShop- TopShop is hands down THE best store in London. I had been in there probably a dozen times, but hadn’t actually bought anything (it’s a little pricey). I decided though that for my birthday I was going to treat myself to some true British fashion. We went to the flagship store on Oxford Street after Camden Market, which is (according to Wikipedia) is “the world’s largest flagship store”. Kate Moss has her own TopShop line and Emma and I spent hours looking through all of the glitzy garments and quintessentially British fashion. I left the store with a Vintage sequence top and outrageous platform boots.

7. Les Miserables- I really wanted to go see a West End show on my birthday, and since Les Mis has always been one of my favorites I forced Emma (thanks again, babayy) to go with me to the matinee show in Soho. Our shopping gallivants took longer than expected and so we ended up literally sprinting through central London and getting to the Queen’s Theatre about fifteen minutes late. Turns out we had the best seats in the house; smack dab in the middle second row balcony. I hadn’t seen Les Miserables since the 8th grade when North Springs put on the show, my sister being cast as a prostitute and the one and only Andrew Durand cast as Jean Val jean. I swear when I heard him sing I knew he was bound for greatness—turns out he’s now in Spring Awakening on Broadway. The London production was fabulous, I especially loved Javert, played by Norman Lewis (apparently he’s famous? Sarah says so) and Eponine, I think I’d want to be her if I was in Les Mis. I must say however that no one could live up to Andrew Durand, him singing “Bring Him Home” is just simply sublime. Turns out that my alma mater is putting on Les Mis this spring… I wouldn’t miss it for the world! My dad says that out of all the musicals ever created Les Mis would be a 10 and none other would even come close to a 5. Now that’s a stretch, but… can’t say I disagree. It’s such a classic.

the cast at curtain call!

a little blurry but got the sign and our shopping bags!

8. Punjab & Indian Food- One of the best things about London is its abundance of exotic food and, because of the whole Indian imperialist thing, Indian food is especially profuse. Ever since I had my first taste of curry with my family I have been absolutely addicted to the flavors of Indian cuisine. Not only are Indian restaurants easy to find, but market food alongside streets and frozen foods found in the grocery aisle also make Indian food that much more accessible to the British consumer. For my birthday, we decided to go to Punjab, an Indian restaurant in Covent Garden recommended by my boss (who also happens to be British-Indian). It was so delicious. We ordered an array of chicken, lamb, and vegetable curries and of course topped it off with delicious warm naan. Chicken tikka masala is always a crowd pleaser so ordered two of those, but I like to be a little more adventurous and opted for the acchari murgha along with the butter chicken. It was mouthwatering. Punjab, the name of the restaurant, is named after the Northern Indian province Punjab, where one of my best friends Rupal just happens to be born. We had a grand time eating ethnic cuisine and of course I fancied myself to a few Indian Cobra beers which were smooth and light. It was a great way to start off my birthday festivities.

Mattie, Susan, and I enjoying our dinner!

9. Mahiki- Mahiki is the one truly swanky up-scale bar that we frequented whilst in London. The drinks cost well over $20 each, you had to have your name on the list or “know someone” to get in, and most club-goers were children of business moguls, bratty uni students, or rich creepy old guys. I like Mahiki because it has a cool Hawaiian vibe, very attractive men, and good dancing music in the basement. However, the one time I went before my birthday I ended up a high-end strip club with the Royal Guard (aka the men who guard Buckhingham Palace in those ridiculous furry hats and red suits)…it was an interesting night to say the least. Probably the downfall (or perhaps the best part?) of Mahiki is what they call their “treasure chest”—a chest full of some sort of mix drink, costing over $200 and meant for over 8 people to guzzle. Now there was no way in hell that I or any of my friends would buy one of those, but the millionaires that go to Mahiki gladly dish out chests for pretty girls to drink. And so essentially the drinks were free and endless. So per usual my birthday night was fuzzy at best. It also just happened to by the 4th anniversary of Mahiki and so there was free cotton candy, many famous socialites, and every wannabe was standing outside in the cold trying to get in to the “it” place for the night. Haha I sound like such a Gossip Girl. Anyways, I got my birthday kiss. Emma got a taste of London nightlife. And unfortunately I was off to work the next morning.

drankin the "treasure chest"

birthday night...oh god

10. Thanksgiving- There is no Thanksgiving in London. I had to go on with my day like any other, got up for work (extremely hungover), sat at a desk for eight hours, took the tube back to South Kensington, and then dinner time. Now in the Jones/Basnett household, Thanksgiving is a big deal. The entire family gets together at our house with a huge feast— two turkeys (baked and fried), ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, corn pudding, and my personal favorite broccoli casserole. This was the first time I was going to miss Thanksgiving which made me sad and a little homesick, and so the whole clan Skyped me from my kitchen computer. It was so nice to see and talk to everyone, giving me a little sense of home. I also got to meet our new doggy Yager! The whole London crew wanted to do a little something for Thanksgiving and decided to go to the Whole Foods Thanksgiving buffet. I spent £12 on a tub full of mashed potatoes, turkey, and stuffing and I must say it sufficed for a non-home cooked meal. You could tell that everyone in the cafeteria was American, attempting to at least in a small way recreate the feeling of Thanksgiving. I was glad that I could be with good friends who were going through the same thing I was, a feeling of absence but also so much thankfulness at where we were and the places we’d been. We all went around the table and said what we were thankful for. It was nice. I think that Thanksgiving might just be my favorite holiday of the year. I do not intend on missing one ever again. Next year my 21st birthday is on Thanksgiving… oh boy.

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ARTY HARD

14 11 2010

The United Kingdom is full of art—art through architecture, visual arts, performance, music, fashion, and pretty much every aspect of life in London. Each person is a blank canvas and their style, demeanour, and choices create what genre of art they embody. There are the hipsters (or as they’re called in Britain, the “dickheads”), the business-men, the chic socialites, the athletes, and for all of them, art plays an integral role in their life. I guess you could say this about pretty much every place and person, but London especially has a unique appreciation for the arts. All the museums are free, shows to the West End are highly subsidized so that anyone can go see them, there are festivals and markets every day all over the city, and literally every building or landmark has a story behind it. And so, these ten places and events are devoted to the arts. I am officially an “arty”.

1. Brighton– The one “beach-town” I’ve visited in England, on the Southern coast of the United Kingdom. It is known as a gay-friendly, granola-y, college town with beautiful pebble beaches and striking oriental architecture. I took Caroline here when she came to visit London and it is definitely a worthwhile daytrip, only about an hour away from the city. Although it was quite chilly at the start of November, the sun shone warmly on the Brighton Pier and reflected off the calm ocean. Just a few minute walk from the train station were the famous palaces, which are unlike any buildings i’ve seem before. I never got the full story behind the palaces, but their oriental lines and spired roofs left me feeling like I was in Istanbul or Bombay… definitely the closest I got to either of those places this semester! Maybe I can see the real deal sometime soon…
I had never been on a pebble beach before, but one of the pluses is no sand between your toes! I think I gave Caroline quite the hoot when I tried to play with the waves without actually getting wet (water rolls completely differently on pebbles than it does sand, so I kept falling, thinking that the water was coming closer than it actually was). Caroline and I explored the Brighton Pier, which was basically the epitome of a tacky beach pier that you’d find at Panama City or Daytona– extreme thrill/ sketchy rides, game and candy booths, fortune tellers, and ofcourse a wedding package if you so choose to do so. Since it was a Monday in late fall however, it reminded us more of haunted fair grounds it was so deserted. Apart from the pier though, Brighton was quite artsy and unique… I could picture during summertime it being swarmed with retro college kids and lots of fun. I hope to return bikini and sunscreen in hand!!

2. Frieze Art Fair– An annual art festival that is held each year in London’s Regent’s Park which showcases “over 150 of the most exciting contemporary art galleries in the world”. My friends Celeste and Mattie (as well as myself) were really looking forward to the show since there had been a lot of talk about it among the “art-world” and we wanted to experience a new, more sophisticated crowd. Along with the art being provocative and highly stimulating (ranging from nude mixed-media sculptures to minimalist paintings to recycled bottle art), I also felt so cool just to be around the people that were there… they were just so hip. You could tell that there were art enthusiasts from all over the world in attendance, each with their signature style and gorgeous-yet-effortless vibe that these types so easily master. The fair was set up under a huge white tent, and so we navigated through each exhibit like a wondrous maze, in awe of both the art and the viewers.

At the end of fair was the intriguing Sculpture Park in the English Garden of Regent’s Park. The garden alone rivals Hyde Park in its beauty and classic feel, but mixed with the contemporary nature of the sculptures it really was a sight to be seen. We were able to touch and walk right up to any of the artworks which I loved, really brings an entertaining quality to the often delicate world of art. After the fair, my girlfriends and I headed to a nearby pub for a rest and relaxing bottle of wine. I felt so adult getting lost in conversation and wine with great friends, losing track of time and talking for hours about everything under the sun. Could it be? I’m all grown up? Oh geesh…

3. London Film Festival– The First Grader- In the beginning of the semester, I received a booklet from BU of hundreds of different movies that would be showing at the London Film Festival in October. There was a special section of “Premieres” which basically meant they would have a red carpet, celebrities, glitz and glamour… the works. After carefully reading the synopsis for all of the different premieres, my friend Mattie and I decided on one entitled The First Grader. Set in Kenya in 2003, the movie was based on a true story about an 84 year old ex-Mau Mau freedom fighter  who fights for his right to go to school for the first time to get the education he could never afford. I am a sucker for tear jerkers and foreign films, so naturally this movie sounded right up my alley. The only semi-celebrity in the film was Naomie Harris, whose famous role is in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 as Tia Dalma, the magical voo doo witch who steals Jack Sparrow’s enchanted compass. In Pirates she was quite scary looking, but at the actual premiere in London she was stunning, possibly one of the prettiest people I’ve ever seen.

I had never been to anything like this before, but even with a not so well known film, I felt like a celebrity. And we happened to have literally the best seats in the house, front row center with complimentary water bottles and dark chocolate to treat us during the movie.  The movie turned out to be wonderful… funny, sweet, sad, and uplifting. Go see it! At the end of the screening, the cast and director (Justin Chadwick known for directing The Other Boleyn Girl) came up for a question and answer session. Naomie’s dress and heels were UNREAL. I’m not gonna lie, I stared at her the whole time because I couldn’t keep my eyes away. She has that milky caramel skin and skinny, but not TOO skinny body that I envy so much. Oh to be famous. One of the coolest things about the film was that the students were from a real school in the mountains of Kenya. I loved hearing the director talk about how it was all of the children’s first time seeing a camera or van or crew of white people. He spoke of how after weeks the children finally adjusted to being films, and how by the end of it they were truly connected to the characters, their emotions and reactions being absolutely authentic and real. I hope to go to another premiere soon; it really was a neat, London-y experience that I’ll never forget.

4. Tate Modern– According to Wikipedia, the Tate Modern is the most-visited modern art museum in the world with over 4.7 million visitors per year. It is absolutely great that all of London’s museums are free… and fabulous. My friend Celeste and I decided to make a day out of visiting the Modern and took a long walk along the Thames, crossing the London Bridge and entering into Southwark, London. We strolled by the Shakespeare Globe Theatre and admired the choppy waters of the Thames, snapping “artsy” photos every chance we got.

view along the Thames!

The reason I really wanted to visit the Tate Modern was because of the new Ai Wei Wei sunflower seed exhibit in the Turbine Hall—a five-story tall hall that’s exhibit changes every few months with a different contemporary artist’s exhibition. From the Tate website “Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain. Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape. Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.” Of course the millions of sunflowers seeds were out of this world, but the story behind it was just as interesting. Ai Wei Wei grew up under Mao Ze Dong and harsh Chinese rule and during that time, Mao believed he was the sun and his people, the sunflowers.

We also went to see the Paul Gauguin exhibit, a French Post-Impressionist painter known for his paintings and drawings from around the world. He loved to travel and depicted different places like Peru and Martinique and was especially fond of the women of Tahiti, frequently painting their portraits and bodies in provocative ways. Along with this show, we enjoyed surveying the different themed rooms with gems from Monet, Picasso, Duchamp, and Pollack among others. I love art. In the office a few days ago a colleague asked me “If you could have one piece of art in the whole world what would it be?” I’m still trying to decide… just some food for thought. When we were all arted out we went to the top of the Tate for a nice cup of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows. Perfect ending to a great day.

Gauguin

5. Bath– A charming little city an hour and a half outside of London, named for its hot springs that the Romans discovered in 43AD named Aquae Sulis. Although these baths have become a sort of tourist trap for visitors, it was cool to see the ruins from millennia past. A lot of the original Roman architecture has been restored so we could get a real feel for what it looked like back in the day. The baths are no longer in use, but steam and heat bubbles emerged from the water in the cold November air. The town itself is also quite delightful, with a small river running through and Georgian architecture every which way. The bridge reminded me of the British version of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, with small shops on each side, when you cross it you’re hardly aware it’s a bridge at all! Bath is also famous as the place Jane Austen wrote (and set) many of her books such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma.


6. Avebury– As an addition to our Bath trip, we (everyone who signed up for the BU-sponsored day trip) were able to visit Avebury, England, the site of an ancient monument consisting of huge rocks (or like they call it, “henges”) in circular formations, aka a ghetto, less famous version of Stonehenge. However, Avebury is way cooler than Stonehenge because you can actually touch and interact with the rocks (Stonehenge is roped off, lame…). We hugged them, climbed them, kissed them, it was great. There are a bunch of crazy theories about what the rocks mean like aliens put them there, or they are an ancient sexual innuendo; frankly I just think they’re sweet and don’t really care how they go there. But the really cool part of Avebury was the scenery. This was the first time I really saw and walked along the English countryside and it was gorgeous. So gorgeous even that I found myself wondering if I could afford a second (or third?) home in the English countryside when I grow up… I decided I indeed could. It reminded me of the little cottage farm that Cameron Diaz spends her Christmas in The Holiday. It snowed a few days ago in London and it would’ve been pretty neat to see the countryside blanketed in white dust… next time, next time. As the sun set, the sky was splashed in a variety of warm colors and I couldn’t have been happier.

rooms in the countryside...

henges...

7. London’s Fashion Night Out– At the very beginning of the semester, my girlfriends and I put on our most stylish outfits and headed to Regent Street for London’s Fashion Night Out, the one night in the year where designers open their stores, offer 30% discounts to everyone, and most importantly free drinks. While I had no real intention of purchasing anything, I felt super glamorous walking into Miu Miu, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton without people staring wondering what the hell are you doing here? I could tell there were celebrities in some of the stores we were in, like in Burberry where an at least 6’3” gorgeous chocolate-skinned assumed-to-be model sipped gin and tonic with 5 inch heels and a shaved head. We stopped by Armani for a look-see because he was reportedly making an appearance, but it was roped off and only real celebrities were allowed inside. Darn. My favorite spot was Chanel, where we were offered champagne and fancy cheese sticks as well as free makeovers and a little photo shoot in their customized, wind-blown photo booths. It was awesome. They dressed us up in all of these fabulous Chanel accessories and then got four prints, Suse and I had a ball. After we decided we had adequately pregamed with the drinks provided by Fashion Night Out, we were off to Notting Hill Arts Club, where the official after party took place. We danced the night away with our new British male companions and I’m pretty positive I ended the night with a goodnight kiss…

Notting Hill Arts Club

8. Dubstep @ Fabric– Dubstep is an interesting phenomenon. It has just gained massive popularity in Europe and the states and I still don’t quite understand what it is. However, when I heard the Upsetters (a famous reggae band) were mixing with Dubstep deejays I was all in. According to Wikipedia, which is definitely a better definition than I could give it, Dubstep is “a genre of electronic dance music originating from London in the early 2000s. Its overall sound has been described as tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals”. The show was also at Fabric, London’s most well-known dance club and supposedly rated the best club in the entire world? Don’t know about that… I had a blast dancing to the mix of reggae and bass, something entirely different from I’ve ever heard before. This past weekend I revisited Fabric for an entirely Dubstep show and boy was it a night. I think my ears are still ringing from the blaring speakers and bass so strong that it made my entire body shake. All in all good fun, but I’m not sure Dubstep is something I would choose to listen to in my spare time… I guess you could call me a recreational user.

Upsetters

9. South Kensington– Although perhaps not the liveliest part of town, the buildings in South Kensington still amaze me as I walk the streets to class, work, and go about my day to day business. I love the white columns in front of each numbered flat and the alternating brick patterned apartments on top of the retail stores on Gloucester Road, which I now call home.

what I witness every sunset 🙂

10. Primark– The craziest store I have ever set foot in. It is in a huge warehouse full Forever 21 style clothes, but even cuter and cheaper and more abundant. I would describe Primark like this: Costco with only clothes and accessories and you have to be sprinting and sweating and touching someone else at all times. You can’t half-ass a trip to Primark… you’re either in or you’re out. I’ve been twice since being here because it is so overwhelming and busy and crowded and it’s just SO much. But when I say cheap, I mean CHEAP. I got a purse for £3, nice shirts for £4, sweaters for £5, and a pair of sassy pumps for £10. I am truly surprised that this phenomenon has not found its way to America. That’d be a sight.

 





Life in Londontown

9 11 2010

I realize that in the past two months my blogs have been devoted to trips through Europe, even though I do in fact spend the vast majority of my time in lively London. So I decided it is high time I start revealing my life here, from friends to school to work to nightlife and to all of the fabulous things I find myself doing in between. Thus for the remaining weeks I will be listing ten experiences/observations/anything really (in no particular order) about London life, ultimately producing my London Top 50 on my departure date of December 11. I can’t believe I only have a month left. It has truly flown by and been incredible, but I must admit that I definitely miss America. But for my last days here I am going to make the best of it, seize the moment. One of my best friends Emma flies in on Friday for ten days and it should be great fun. Can’t wait to tell all yall about it! For now, here is my first London Top 10 list.

1. The Mayor’s River Thames Festival– This festival happened roughly two months ago on the embankment of the River Thames. It is a spectacular celebration of London and its river through a mixture of street arts, performance, illuminations, art installations, exhibitions, clothing vendors, music and dance, food and feasting… and the best part is it’s completely FREE. Except for you end up buying so much cool stuff at the food and clothes sellers that I don’t think you can really consider it free, but I suppose if you had enough will power you could spend zero cash. I however seized the moment. On Saturday night we had such a great time that I decided to come back not once but TWICE on Sunday. Probably the biggest reason I returned was for the amazing and exotic food. Any type of cuisine you wanted, you could find here— Indian, Mexican, Thai, Ghanan, American, Italian, Moroccan, Brazilian, Spanish, Greek, the list goes on and on. Let me see, I tried falafel, curry, crepes, churros, a burrito, and ended my Sunday night with a nice frozen yogurt. Nom nom nom…

the river!

During the day on Sunday I was signed up for a bike tour of London and it met at the River Thames Festival. I won’t elaborate on this tour that much because while it did give me a great view of London and basically all of the best sites you can see, I was preoccupied with my burning thighs and wheezing lungs. I thought I was just ridiculously out of shape, but turns out I had a flat the entire tour. Needless to say, I got a great workout and would recommend it had it not been for the bike malfunction. That night, we all returned for the finale of the festival, the Night Procession. This includes a huge parade, live music, great food (obvi) and ends with a spectacular firework show. Munching on my sugary crepe watching the fireworks was fabulous. Big Ben, Parliament, the London Eye and all the buildings along the river were lit up… beautiful!

2. Ministry of Sound- One of the most popular clubs in London devoted solely to the purpose of sound and “house music”. My girlfriends and I decided to go on a whim one Friday night and didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into. It was pretty much just room upon room of crazy lights and smoke combined with trance and electronic/techno music in a huge crowd of sweaty people. For a one time experience it sufficed, but I must admit that I will not be returning. I’m much more of a bar and fun dancing kind of girl, and since that night have strayed from the true London “club” scene, partly because of my taste and partly because they are freakin expensive to get into. I will however say that in the next month I do want to try out one or two of London’s most famous clubs solely so “I can say I’ve been”. I know. I’m a hypocrite.

outside ministry of sound!

3. Class- Yes, I actually go to class while abroad… crazy right?! The first six weeks of my semester I took two classes from Monday-Thursdays. My Mon/Tues class met from 2:45-6:45 and was entitled The Foreign Correspondent: International Reporting. I have never taken a reporting class, but ended up learning a lot about the media, war reporters, interviewing, and general knowledge about global issues that will prove valuable down the road. I’m glad I took it, especially because my professor was a baller and has worked as a foreign correspondent for BBC news for over thirty years; he had some really interesting personal anecdotes about his job, including interviews Princess Diana and working in the Middle East.

My other two classes deal with British politics/law and are taught by two lively, old men. One is tall and skinny and the other is short and fat, it’s quite funny especially because they are also opposites in the academic sense. Cousins, the skinny one, focuses on fact and institutions while Sullivan discusses the philosophy and the theory behind law. Both are great, but I prefer Sullivan because I like to think; he makes me think. The two classes have made me realize that I do not really want to go into politics and am much more interested in law—in practice and theory. I already told my mom this, but I am going to graduate (after I get in haha) from Columbia Law School and then go on to be the United States representatives for the United Nations. I want to work in international law. We’ll see how this plan works out…

4. Comedy Store- One of London’s most famous comedy clubs located right outside of Piccadilly Circus in the heart of Soho. I took my friend Stephanie here when she visited on “King Dong” night, which happens the last Monday of every month. Oh and by the way, Monday night is the night for comedy in London so I was hopin this would be good. The premise of “King Dong” is that any brave soul can try their hand at stand-up comedy and if they last five minutes without three judges nixing them, then they make it to the final round. Some of the acts were actually quite good, relaying everyday life anecdotes and making them funny. With a bar in the back and eccentric sometimes amusing participants, it was the perfect Monday night out. On other more professional nights, the Comedy Store hosts musical comedy, French comedy (which Caroline and I stumbled upon when we tried to get in one Monday), and is home to the Comedy Store Players, who laid the groundwork for probably one of the funniest/addictive shows EVER, Whose Line Is It Anyway? Another fun fact: I once was in an elevator with Wayne Brady in Honolulu, Hawaii. If you don’t know who that is, shame on you.

5. Churchill Arms- A really cool pub in Notting Hill; about a thirty minute walk from my humble abode in South Kensington. It is cozy and vibrant, decorated with the coolest things like assorted chamber pots hanging all over the ceiling and historical relics from London and the Churchill period (get it, Churchill Arms?) Oh and if you ever see a restaurant that ends in “Arms” it means it’s a pub, not sure why. The best part about Churchill Arms is its food, which is what for it… THAI. That’s right, a good ole English pub that serves such delicacies as pad see ew, panang curry, pad thai, and masaman duck. And not just any Thai, but rivaling my favorite Thai place in Atlanta “Annie’s Thai Castle”. Definitely, definitely cheaper than Annie’s. My favorite curry at Churchill Arms is just £6! Cheap and tasty? I’ll take it any day.

Sippin on some London Pride with Sydney and Mika

6. England vs. Montenegro football match- Football aka soccer. It was quite the trek to Wembley Stadium, in Zone 5 of 6 on the tube (I live in Zone 1 and hardly ever leave). However, we were excited to experience a national football game, even though it was with Montenegro and sadly ended up being terribly boring. England didn’t even win, they tied 0-0. It only reinforced my belief that soccer is not fun to watch, especially from the nosebleeds. That being said, I am really glad I went. I got to experience Wayne Rooney (the most famous/controversial/talented football player in England) in action and also got to be inside one of the coolest stadiums in Europe and probably the world. It will be used for the London 2012 Olympics, so that’s neat. In the next few weeks I hope to go to a club match, maybe Liverpool vs. Manchester because my boss is a HUGE Liverpool fan. The British really do take their football serious like everyone says; it’s no myth.

Mattie and I at the football match... Roll Tide!!

Wembley and the huge storm of people after the game

7. Imperial College Student Union- About a two minute walk from my room is the Imperial College bar, which we have frequented literally every Wednesday without fail since they started fall term in the beginning of October. Imperial is a university in South Ken that specializes in engineering, technology, science, and medicine, which means that there are SO many boys; and they’re all smart!! It’s kind of like Georgia Tech, except all of the boys have British accents and there aren’t as many Asians. And Wednesday night is when all of the athletes come out to celebrate so the girls have gotten to know the rugby team quite well. All of the “freshers” (first years) on the rugby team dress up every week in ridiculous costumes including leotards, tutus, makeup, and anything funny you can think of as part of their sort of ‘initiation’. And they are all smashed of course. Pretty much the British version of fraternity pledging, brings me a little taste of home. Scotty from Scotland is my favorite and has a crush on my roommate Susan. I think she was into him too until she realized that he is indeed 18. Could be worse.

8. Oxford- As in the university (and the city). One of the prettiest, historic places I’ve been in the UK because of its charm and frankly impressiveness. Pretty much anyone who’s anyone graduates from what the British like to call “Oxbridge”, which technically is a combination between Oxford and Cambridge, but is the American equivalent to Ivy League. Known as the “city of dreaming spires”, Oxford is the oldest university in the British-speaking world, founded in 1096. I really liked Oxford because of the way it’s set up. Instead of declaring a major or something like in the US, you have to apply to a specific college and that’s where you live, eat, and study for all four years of your time in Oxford. Each college (all 36 of them) consists of a hall for dining, a chapel, a library, a college bar, rooms for 200-400 undergraduates as well as lodgings for the head of the college and other dons. College buildings range from the medieval to very modern buildings, but most are made up of interlinked courtyards with a lodge controlling entry from the outside. These quads are unlike American quads, but instead are small and quaint, with little gardens and the student dorm windows looking into the center. Pretty  much all day we wandered around all the different colleges, each with their own unique character and vibe.

quad in Oxford

Fun fact: the dining hall in Hogwarts is modeled after the Christ Church College dining hall in Oxford. We searched for this ‘Great Hall’ sadly, to no avail, but there’s a picture below to compare! The last hour of our daytrip we spent in the Eagle and Child, a famous pub in Oxford best known for its past frequenters— C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. These writers (and professors at Oxford) used to spend long nights in the pub discussing and sharing various literary ideas; who knows, maybe these chats led to The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. Cool stuff, great day.

look familiar?

9. Portobello Market- I took Caroline here when she visited a few weeks ago and it has been one of the coolest things I’ve done so far in London. In Notting Hill and on Portobello Road, the market opens every Saturday and stretches about a mile, full of antique vendors, vintage clothing, and yummy food. I bought a really cool headband/ear warmer thingy with a sparkly accent and Caroline found a bright purple sequined top. We also couldn’t resist the falafel, one of many options at Portobello Market. Had it not been raining, I could have easily stayed the entire day uncovering hidden gems. Unfortunately, rain seems to be a running theme in London so I’m not sure I can work this out…

pretty buildings, sign for portobello market

oh heyy

10. Blood Brothers- In the one day my mom and Susan were in London, we went to see my first show at the West End: the classic British musical Blood Brothers. It’s about two twin brothers in London separated at birth and their lives on the opposite sides of the social spectrum. They end up forging a lasting bond (unbeknownst that they were brothers) and fall in love with the same woman, causing a tear in their friendship and leading to a tragic ending. I will admit that the plot, songs, acting, and the whole thing was ridiculously melodramatic (my mom and Susan thought it was silly), but I loved it. The acting and singing was phenomenal, I laughed, I cried and I am so happy I saw it. Probably the coolest and most original aspect of the show was that full grown men played small boys and then transformed into adult characters. It was cool and different to see men actingl like silly kids, and they executed the roles with perfection. I don’t know if the other girls would agree, but if you want something you can’t find in America and a taste of British drama, go see it. I will say it’s unlike any musical I’ve ever seen! I mean the show has been running since 1988 so there’s gotta be something to appreciate!

Mickey and Eddie!





The Art of Being British

9 09 2010

I am in love with this city… From the people to the history to the architecture to the politics to the music to the night life to the men, I truly don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll start with my living situation. I am living in South Kensington, London. It is the richest (and therefore nicest) area of not only London, but all of the United Kingdom. A few blocks away resides the Prime Minister along with other millionaires in their ridiculously beautiful townhomes equipped with well- mannered children and of course a British dog. British people LOVE dogs. You can actually get a passport for your dog or buy one at Harrod’s. Every portrait of royalty dating back from as early as the 1500s has their dog in it, a sure sign that the person is British. In my politics class the other day, I learned that Animal Rights is the #1 most discussed issue in British politics. Right now, there is a huge controversy over the ruffian who had the nerve to actually put a cat in a trashcan. Anyways, I’ve got it made. Our neighbors must be quite annoyed that poor college kids live right next to them, but hey! fine by me. And my street, Queen’s Gate, has the most beautiful white Victorian style buildings. Everywhere in Kensington (and London) is magnificent, but I especially like my building, pictured below:

The building I am living in, named The Crofton, houses roughly 150 students who are all in the Boston University: London program. I have two roommates, one from Wake Forest who is probably the sweetest/peppy person I’ve ever met (which I love) and the other is from Seattle and she has bravely decided to be the first person from her college (Seattle U.) to go on this program. I on the other hand, have over 30 Wake Forest students on the program. This is both a bonus and a drawback, because since I’ve been in London I have basically only been hanging out with fellow Deacons, but for the most part they are people I didn’t know that well before so I like it. Literally 500 feet away from The Crofton is Hyde Park, currently my favorite area in London (although this could change as I keep discovering new people and places). I am not a runner (I actually despise jogging), but I have already on multiple occasions gone for a run in Hyde Park because it is truly magical, and I find a new area or cool landmark every time I go. There are multiple ponds/lakes, monuments, fountains, flower gardens, cafes, trails, etc. all throughout the park, and I love the breath of fresh air in the middle of the city. Although slightly smaller than New York’s Central Park, I enjoy Hyde Park even more because somehow it seems more authentic. Some areas of the park resemble countryside pastures and other parts you can find ducks and swans wandering around, and of course the cutest English dogs. The other day I even stumbled upon the Peter Pan statue that is “famously” in the popular Olsen twins’ movie Winning London.

The first few days in London were spent in hours upon hours of orientation lectures and presentations. The lectures were actually quite interesting and very different from the usual freshman orientation meetings that you find at Wake Forest (you know about classes and absolutely NO drinking). The main theme of all the lectures was British culture, British politics, British history, British social scene, and British study abroad— basically everything British. I had absolutely no idea that there were so many distinct differences between Americans and British people. I mean I know the stereotypical things: British people have bad teeth; they drive on the wrong side of the road; they have a Queen; they enjoy teatime and fish and chips. However, I continue to learn interesting characteristics that distinguish the British people. First of all, they do not understand the concept of the right to bear arms. Most policeman don’t even carry guns; they hate them and are deathly afraid of them. On that note, British people also cannot comprehend the concept of a constitutional right (they don’t even have a constitution). The only legitimizing authority for human rights and law in the United Kingdom is parliament, not a written document. I’m not going to go into so much detail on politics and government and such because unfortunately everyone doesn’t think it’s as interesting as I think it is. Haha oh well. Another point I thought was intriguing was the British notion of religion. Basically British people are among the least religious people in the world. Only 8% attend church regularly and less than 20% do so during Christmas or Easter. However, 80% of Brits consider themselves “spiritual” rather than religious. I went to a really cool, contemporary church service yesterday and almost the entire sermon had to do with the British anti-Jesus culture and how it is their duty to revive Christian values in Great Britain. I myself am not sure if I am Christian, but for the most part I believe in a Christian way of life and I definitely think that Jesus was a cool dude. I think regardless of your specific beliefs, that a Jesus mindset is a good one. I just don’t understand how a society so linked between church and government can have a so anti-church sentiment. It intrigues me. I want to learn more!

Just for clarification: England is the country of England. Great Britain is England, Wales, and Scotland. The United Kingdom is England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and they are a political entity sharing the same monarch (although have separate parliaments and rulers). The British Isles includes everything: England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland and functions merely as a geographical entity. Most people show pride for their nation rather than their political unit. This nationalism transcends locality and is another difference between America and the United Kingdom: sport. Obviously different sports in England are popular than sports in America. Brits enjoy football (aka soccer), cricket, squash, rugby, and polo. Americans three major sports are football (aka football), baseball, and basketball, definitely NOT soccer. However, the major difference isn’t in the type of sport, but rather the team you’re rooting for. In Great Britain, the national team is by far the most important and significant team to show pride for. In America as most everyone knows, it is usually a city or state or college that you are faithful to. The English cannot grasp that an athlete would prefer to play for the Red Sox than the USA baseball team, or that Kobe Bryant would play for the Lakers of the US basketball team. However, I believe that this difference is for the most part because the level of competition and talent in America is the best. American athletes want to play the best of the best, and sorry Greece or Spain or China, but your basketball team isn’t THAT good. When it comes to the Olympics however, I think that Americans are exceptionally proud (especially because we dominate). This brings me to the conclusion that the size of the United Kingdom compared to the size of the United States really does make a huge difference. Everything is smaller and cuter here.

Like I noticed even in the London Heathrow Airport, London is the most international city I have ever been to. Any type of person (Mexican, African, Chinese, Indian, Australian, American, Eastern European, Russian, Vietnamese) you can find here, along with their scrumptious food. I absolutely love it. Not only is it full of culture and different types of people, but there isn’t quite such a big socioeconomic divide between all of these people. Black people and Indian people are largely culturally British; they were raised here, have a British accent, celebrate British holidays, etc and they are fully integrated and accepted in society. Racism hardly exists, so much that it is basically a non-issue. Of course certain areas of town draw different ethnic groups that mainly work in industry and are considered lower class, but that’s a problem in every big city. My first night out I went to the Notting Hill Carnival, the second largest street festival in the world that celebrates the British African-Caribbean Community. It was so much fun and London-ers of all different backgrounds and ages were out celebrating heritage and pride in their city and nation. Racial issues are not the only issues that are considered minor in British society. Gay people and gay marriage is accepted, as well as gays in politics and government. Abortion is not a topic that politicians even discuss because to Brits it’s unimportant and should not be decided through legal matters. Although the United Kingdom is a society that directly links government to the church, they firmly believe that religion should be completely separate from politics. So many aspects of life are so rational in Great Britain, including the art of drinking.

Notting Hill Carnival

British people love to drink. On various occasions throughout the orientation lectures, the professors and administration stressed the importance of socializing, beer drinking, and club going. They believe it is a vital aspect of the study abroad experience; I have to agree. Unlike the rest of Europe, British people start their drinking early, at a pub after work around 6pm. All pubs close at 11pm, but if you’re looking for a little crazier night, most bars and clubs are open until around 5am. I love pubs. They are a cooler, more historic and cultural version of sports bars. There is a pub directly behind my building and on multiple occasions we go there to test out a different beer or English plate and mingle. It’s so much fun! I had an interview for my internship the other day (it was more of a hang out then an interview however) and my boss said that typically they have a few drinks of lunch and then after work they head to the pub. He actually said “it’s a work hard, play hard mentality”. I like it. I feel like pretty much all of Great Britain has this mentality. A long night of drinking does not mean you don’t show up for work or go sight-seeing or go to Scotland, it’s just part of life. The Head of Student Affairs for BU Michael Oliver is a funny man (tall, black and gay). As he puts it, “you just have to wake up the next morning even if there is still a beer in your hand and get on with it”. But just because you have something the next morning, it is no excuse not to go out. I have been trying for the past two years to make my Wake Forest understand this concept!! I have finally found my match. Oh my goodness and British men are sooo gorgeous. I am a sucker for blondies and lucky for me, everyone here is blonde, and has an accent, and has manners, and is well dressed. Chachingg!!

One of the coolest places we went during orientation was Greenwich, London. We started off on a Thames boat tour of London which was suhweeet. We saw all the sites: Westminster Castle, Big Ben, the London Eye, the Shakespeare Globe Theater, and pretty much all of the London buildings along the river. The weather has been exceptionally good (considering its London) usually in the high 60s and sunny, which make our trips that much better. If you didn’t know, Greenwich is where time was invented. I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s true. Greenwich is where the prime meridian is at 0° and splits the hemispheres into East and West. Pretty much I was in two hemispheres at the same time, no big deal. There are museums and planetariums which explain how it actually was invented, and this is my condensed version. Some guy realized from the Greenwich Observatory that one could measure time through the different areas of the world (aka time zones) and came up with longitude—must’ve been a smart guy. The observatory is on the top of a tall hill and so from its peak you can see all of London; it’s magnificent. Another cool thing about Greenwich is the market and the Palace, where many of the Tudors were born (including Henry the Eighth and Elizabeth the First). I would definitely recommend Greenwich for its history and scenery. Our one task at the end of the day was that we had to find our way back by ourselves. Since then I have mastered the tube, but at that time I was so lost. Thank goodness one of the guys led the way and we were back at The Crofton in no time.

Susan and I infront of the Greenwich clock!

view from Greenwich

A few days later we decided to check out the “changing of the guard” at Buckingham Palace. This is one of the quintessential touristy things to do in London, but we figured we should get it out of the way while we still had vague interest in it. On our way, we stopped by a waterfront café overlooking the lake where paddle boats and row boats lined the shore. I tried Eggs Benedict for the first time and I loved it! Yet another part of Hyde Park that I love. We were planning on going to Buckingham Palace about twenty minutes early so we could get a good view. However when we got there, literally thousands of people had already gathered around the entrance and square. I suppose the fact that it was a Saturday and summer made the crowd even bigger, but we were set on seeing it, so we forged ahead. At 11am a group of around fifty guards and royal band members marched down the street to typical regal music. I couldn’t see a thing, all I saw were the policemen on horse keeping the crowd calm. The guards then entered the gate and acted out a lengthy ceremonial changing of the guard which I could get glimpses of now and then. I’m sure you all have seen the funny uniforms they are forced to wear, but what I found particularly shocking was how young the guards were; they couldn’t have been older than seventeen or eighteen. There seriousness and precision aged them decades, crazy. What happened next was something I did not expect AT ALL. The band gathered and started playing Mamma Mia’s Dancing Queen. The British guy next to me said “they really know their crowd pleasers” and apparently this is an instance of British humor, another aspect of British culture that often is misunderstood by Americans. Brits are ironic, and Americans are sarcastic. My professors often make jokes that I loosely understand and so chuckle to myself, but the rest of the class stares blankly back, silent and confused. I think for the changing of the guards though, the irony was both surprising and entertaining. The next song was the theme song from James Bond. Talk about ironic.

Changing of the Guards and the huge crowd

The rest of the day I spent with my roommate Susan as we roamed the streets of London. This is one of the coolest things to do in London because of what you end up stumbling upon. On our exploration, we found the West End (the British version of Broadway), Chinatown, Traflagar Square, Piccadilly Circus (the British version of Times Square), and the neatest festival called “The Art of Being British”. The Royal Academy of Music had various groups performing along the street while book readings, car shows, wine tastings, and vending took place all around us. My favorite part of the festival was The Ritz Carlton’s cocktail making presentation. The head bartender for the Ritz taught the crowd how to make the Ritz Centennial Cocktail: vodka, schnapps, champagne, a sugar cube, and of course flakes of pure gold. Now I surely know how to be British. Another vital aspect of at least London culture is the fabulous shopping. Susan and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Oxford Street (the British version of 5th Ave) and admiring all of the expensive designers and gorgeous clothing. The only things I ended up buying were from Primark: the cheapest store I’ve ever set foot in… sort of like a Forever 21 in terms of style, but WAY cheaper and WAY bigger. I bought a cute shirt for 3 pounds, a purse for 2 pounds, and a sweater for 4 pounds. Not too shabby. I must learn to adapt to the Art of Being Frugal while somehow also mastering the Art of Being British… hmm contradiction?

Ritz bartender

While I’m on the topic of being British, I might as well talk about Harrod’s. Oh my goodness I think I could go on a vacation to Harrod’s and spend well over a week in there. Everything you can possibly imagine is in Harrod’s… a grocery store, every type of clothes you can imagine (obviously high end), restaurants, Christmas store, interior decorating, accessories, make-up, even a pet store with puppies! There are five levels each of at least one thousand square miles. The day I actually go into Harrod’s with the intent of purchasing something other than gelato is the day I know I have made it. Even the workers don’t know how to get around or where anything is because it’s so ginormous. I was skeptical about going at first, but boy am I glad I did because I swear there is nothing else like this in the whole world.

Harrod's!

Another tourist destination I have gone to is the Tower of London, where the notorious tyrant Henry the VIII so famously executed his wives, most legendary Ann Boleyn. I enjoyed learning the history of everything and the aged architecture, but I had been there before in 4th grade and it was pretty much the same as I remembered. The part I enjoyed the most was seeing the Crown Jewels as well as multiple coronation videos of the Queen. It is SO crazy to me that Winston Churchill was Prime Minister when the Queen first took the throne. I also love the idea of a monarchy and how much the British people truly love the Queen. I actually started tearing up when I saw footage of the Queen at only twenty five years of age being crowned. Did you know that the Queen of England is the only royalty in the entire world that still wears a crown? (The only time she does this is when she opens Parliament every year). There is talk of the United Kingdom abolishing the monarchy and establishing a republic with a traditional Constitution. I really hope this doesn’t happen, merely for the fact that I think the Queen is cool. And the supposed next king, now Prince William, is drop dead sexy. Okay I think I have sufficiently bored/ enlightened you about Great Britain, but have no fear more intriguing personal stories are still to come! Until next time yall… GO BRAVES!! (I may have to revise this farewell message in the next few weeks depending on how the Braves do in the playoffs, if they even make it there!) Come on boys, let’s win one more pennant for Bobby!!

Some girlfriends and me where the wives were beheaded!