Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stratford Upon Avon a.k.a "The Epic Roadtrip"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011, 6:45 am: we got on a coach (private bus) and began our journey.  Everyone wanted to just sleep in the bus, it had nice reclining seats and it was 6:45 after all but that was not to be, because our coach driver named Tony was a wanna-be tour guide.  He talked long and loud about who knows what, but it all sounded very knowledgeable and accurate and I'm sure if I hadn't been delirious I would have really appreciated it.  The idea of taking this road trip was so that we could hit multiple sites on our way to and from Stratford.  The first place we stopped at 10:30 am was Coventry Cathedral.  For those of you who don't know what that is it is a very historic site because it was a medevil cathedral that was bombed during WWII and basically turned into a ruin in one shot.  Normally it would have been cleared away and a new cathedral build where the old one had been destroyed but in this case they decided to keep what was left of it as a memorial.  The new cathedral was instead built right next to the ruin and connected by an annex.  The old cathedral has all the outside walls standing and it is beautiful in a haunting kind of way with its gothic arches gaping windowless and bare.  The new cathedral by it is built in an extremely modernist way and almost the exact opposite of the old one.   It has modern art huge paintings of Jesus and different saints and the stained glass windows are more angular and patternistic.
We went back to the coach after taking our fill of pictures and continued on our journey.  The next stop we made was Kennilworth Castle.  This is one of the most intriguing castles I have ever been to.  It is a ruin now, but its most famous owner was Sir Robert Dudley the favorite and alleged lover of Queen Elizabeth the 1st also known as the "Virgin Queen."  The Castle has all these crumbling walls and arches and is surrounding in a panoramic countryside of bliss.  Again I lack the vocabulary to express exactly what it looked/felt like but luckily I also have pictures (thanks Facebook!)  to help me convey at least some of the experience.  Let me just say this images and passages from the books and movies of: I Capture The Castle, The Princess Bride, The Court Jester, A Knights's Tale, Ever After, Monty Python and The Holy Grail and Robin Hood are all true.  That medevil magic, that unearthly beauty, the feasting and the splendor was all real.  True that was all fettered with no indoor plumbing, illness, and vermin but that isn't the point, the point is that I stood amidst those walls made of ancient stone and my senses went wild.
Next on the Agenda was Anne Hathaway's Cottage.  Anne Hathaway was of course Shakespeare's wife, and it is where she grew up. It is the cutest little thatched cottage, white Tudor style with a flower and vegetable garden.  Very picturesque and quaint.  The cottage is in the village of Shottery and it is pretty near Stratford.  She was 26 when she married William Shakespeare.... he was 18, and their daughter Susana was born six months later! Interesting coincidence? Haha.
Mary Arden's Farm was next... Mary Arden was Shakespeare's mom. We got to see a falconry show there and all the animals that are present on a working farm, because it IS a working farm.  Complete with staff in time period attire, it has sheep shearing, mild cows, chickens for the eggs, pigs for the pork, a garden and orchard.  It was cool but not as cute as Anne Hathatway's cottage.  The house was made out of waddle and daub... yeah look that up I don't want to explain it. haha.  The house was severely crooked though, and I found out this wasn't just because of their primitive carpentry skills it was also because they built with green wood, they didn't let it dry out first so as it dried and warped it totally wonked out the house.  Inside it was hard to walk because the whole room would be tilted like a room in a fun house.
We got to Stratford finally at about 5 pm and checked into our different bed and breakfasts.  The program had us split into three different b&bs.  I and my normal roomates stayed in one called Green Haven Guest House and it was very comfortable and quaint.  After checking in we went to go find some dinner quickly before we had to go to The Merchant of Venice that night done by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  We decided to eat at David Garrick's Inn.  Why he is significant is because he was an actor that told the world that Stratford Upon Avon was important.  He is the one that made it significant as the birthplace of the Bard.  The food there was delicious, I had a Beef and Ale Pie and it tasted like a huge delicious pot pie.  Then we went to the play.  It was Merchant of Venice.... set in Vegas, in present day.  It was a creative concept.... but pretty much a flop.  They made the search for Portia's husband a reality TV show reminiscent of The Bachelorette, and they had lots of evidence for Antonio and Bassanio being in a gay relationship... which totally killed the vibe with Portia at all.  The only good part was Patrick Stuart as Shylock the Jew.  He gave a good performance.  The rest was very forgettable.
The next day we woke up in our extremely comfortable beds with the sun shining in our bay window and we smelled our breakfast being cooked.  We had a lovely cooked English breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans, fried tomatoes, toast, and cereal.  And on that full stomach we were off to Shakespeare's birthplace.  It was the home and workshop of Shakespeare's father John Shakespeare who was a glover, and rather well to do at one time... although he lost it.  Anyway the coolest thing about this place was the fact that many, many, MANY famous people have been there and lots of them have scratched their names into the windows of the supposed "birthroom."  We then went to the location of New Place, Shakespeare's big fancy house that he bought in Stratford after making it rich in London.  It isn't even there anymore it got torn down hundreds of years ago but it is an archeological dig now.  Kind of boring honsetly.
We went to Hall's Croft next.  John Hall married Shakespeare's daughter Susana, he was a doctor and evidently a super good one for the day.  His meticulous medical notes are the reason we know so much about medical practices of the day.
Me and Ellen and Katie went to dinner at this little Indian Resturant in Stratford and I had the best Chicken Balti I have ever eaten.  Stratford, by the way, is quite the small village.  Everything except the theater closes at about 5pm.  After we ate we went to the Holy Trinity Church.... and (drum roll please) that is where Shakespeare was BURRIED.  That's right.  I saw his grave! I saw the place wherein the hand is laid that held the quill.  I was in awe.  There is a bust of him above his stone crypt in the church and it is said to be one of the few likeneses of him made by someone who actually knew him.
After more exploring of Stratford and a brief naptime we went back to the Royal Shakespeare Company to see their production of Macbeth.  SO INCREDIBLY AMAZING.  It freaked me out, creeped me out, shocked me, showcased acting in a much higher sphere, and forced me to love it.  I have never seen a production of Shakespeare that I so admired.  They took a lot of liberties and changed some stuff up, super risky, but it worked. Instead of opening with the witches they opened on the Captain reporting on the battle.  And the witches weren't even women... they were creepy little ethereal CHILDREN who were lowered into the scene on ropes and at first I thought they were dummies... until they twitched! The killing scenes were done so skillfully with so much power and suspense, and LADY MACBETH WAS SOOOO GOOD.  Her eyes alone conveyed cruel ambition and slight insanity all the while looking uncertain and scared, it gave me chills.
After the show we all wanted to talk more about it so we walked down to the river Avon and sat on the dock looking at all the twinkle lights on the water and talked. To be perfectly blunt it was a truly romantic setting, and very peaceful.
The next morning we got on the coach, and headed to Blenheim Palace... a living, working palace, and home to The Duke of Marlbourough.  It was exorbitantly wealthy looking and historic.  We got to go on a tour of the inside and most of the intricately carved ceilings were covered in 22 carat gold leaf.  That and the portraits and the gardens were the very best part of the palace.  And the fact that the Duke still lives there with his Duchess as his private residence just adds to the splendor.
There is more to tell, much more, but it is late and my wrists are cramping.  I'm going to eat some pineapple and go to bed, but you get the gist of the trip.  Right? It was a road trip in England... how could it be bad? I loved it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Markets galore!

One thing I really love about this city are all the different things there are to do for free, museums and parks but most of all the markets!  This Saturday I went to Portabello Road and Bourough Markets and they were so much fun! I intend to go back every Saturday I'm here.  There are just such interesting things to see and bargain for and eat.  Portabello is mainly merchandise, vintage stuff, imported things, and near the end it gets like a quirky garage sale with "everything and anything a chap can unload." And if you get that reference I'll love you forever.  Bourough Market is an all food market! Talk about a dream come true!  They have produce, and cheeses, and all kinds of meat including ostrich and wild boar, there are whole booths devoted to different flavored olive oils and gourmet vinegars.  They give out samples of nearly everything, and one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted is apricot balsamic vinegar with a little mellow extra virgin olive oil.... dip some crusty-delicious bread in that and you won't know what hit you.  They also had stalls with all sorts of confections like baklava and chocolate covered fruit and Turkish delight, they also had every kind of pastry imaginable from croissants to tangerine cheesecake.  I wandered around these markets all day.  For part of my time at Portabello I was with this girl Amberly from my group and we had a good get-to-know-you hang out and I felt like we were actually friends instead of just acquaintances by the end.  Oh and there was this amazing sale on peaches 8 for a pound and so Amberly and I each paid 50 pence and each got four peaches, they were delish!  I love just wandering the city alone, is that weird? I have learned something very important about myself, if I spend too much time with the same people I start getting annoyed and cranky, but if I spend too much time alone I disappear into my melancholy thoughts.  Not to get too philosophical on you guys but I've realized there must be balance in all things.
On Sunday, after Stake Conference where President Monson spoke to us, I went to Evensong at Westminster Abbey number one because I was curious, and number two because you can get into the Abbey for free if you go to a service on a Sunday.  So we went and it was a very interesting experience.  Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or "mormon") myself it was cool to see how a different church service is conducted.  When we first walked into the ancient Abbey there was organ music playing, but it was in a minor key so it gave more of a haunted-mansion feel than a church feel.  Everything in that place is so old!! I could just picture monks shuffling about the halls and lighting the candles.  The service included a lot of singing from the men and boys choir and it was beautiful, the acoustics in the Abbey are ridiculously good.  The rich deep tones of the men and the clear bell-like voices of the boys blended into a gorgeous mixture that bounced off all the stone walls and vaulted ceilings until you didn't know where the sound was coming from.  Who needs surround sound?  There was a lot of standing and sitting involved with the service and they had a handout to tell us when and what we were supposed to say/sing.  After we got done with the service we decided to go over to St. Paul's because there was an organ recital going on there.  St. Paul's is VERY different inside than Westminster, first off it is HUGE,  easily three or four times the size of the Abbey, and it is much more modern inside.  It has a black and white marble tiles on the floor and everything is done in marble and gold and the ceilings are higher and there are hardly any stained glass windows (All the windows at the Abbey were stained glass) but it has a lot more paintings, the whole ceiling is covered with paintings of Christ's life and the apostles.  I wasn't supposed to take pictures in either the Abbey or St. Paul's but I was very sneaky and got a couple anyway. It was just too beautiful, I couldn't resist.  All in all a wonderful, peaceful day full of beautiful music and beautiful architecture.

Friday, May 27, 2011

España pt. 3 and then back to life in London.

Sorry these have been so long in coming but I have been doing so much lately and trying to fit in homework, sleep and blogging is hard when your days are already full! So on the morning of the third day the first thing we did after having breakfast was check out of our second hostel an into our third one, which was just down the street and still in the same neighborhood.  This third hostel was the nicest one we had stayed in yet, it was like a nice Hotel not some cheap hostel, but it was cheap!  We each had our own beds, not even bunk beds, and we were the only ones in the room and we had a super nice bathroom, and a big flat screen TV and it was just wonderful!  So after we checked into that hostel and left our stuff there we went on a free walking tour of the city with this guy named Pedro.  He could speak English pretty well and he spoke it the whole time so I actually got something out of the tour, which made me happy.  One of the first places we went on the walking tour was the Plaza del Sol and there was this huge political rally/protest going on.  Our tour guide explained a little bit of what was going on, and basically the people protesting didn't even know what they wanted they just wanted change.  The unemployment rate was the highest its ever been and they don't feel like their two party voting system serves them very well, so they were trying to convince everyone not to vote in protest of the current system.  This was on Friday and elections were to be held on Sunday so it was kind of intense.  There were thousands of people in that square and they all had signs and were giving speeches and there were tents set up and it was kind of crazy.  After we were done at the plaza del sol we walked by the Royal theater, which actually didn't look very royal on the outside, and Pedro said the reason for that was at the time it was built no building could compete with the royal palace, they all had to look worse than the palace.  Also in front of the royal theater was a stature of Queen Isabella and he told us a funny story about herr. So it seems that Isabella was a very powerful queen but she wasn't married and so every eligible man in Europe with any royal blood  at all wanted to marry her so he could become the King of Spain.  She had lots of suitors but she didn't want to marry any of them because she was in love with her cousin.  So of course when she told her cousin that she loved him and  wanted to marry him he said yes, because he would have to be stupid to turn down being the King of Spain.  Here is the problem though, her cousin was gay.  So on their wedding night.... yeah she found out... and she threw him out of the palace... and out of Madrid! There was no divorce at that point in history so they stayed married, but the King always had to ask the Queen's permission to be able to enter the city.  The even funnier thing is that Queen Isabella had 12 children, and the entire time she never lived with the King. Ha! So I just thought that was an interesting tid bit from history.  After the Theater we went to the Royal Palace and we got a bunch of history on why it was built where it was and the events leading up to its being built, but I won't tell all of that.  So it was a big group of us from several different hostels all going on this free walking tour and we met these super cool guys from New York that were travelling around the world and we had a lot of fun talking to them while all this was going on.  Next we went to this vantage point where you could look out over the valley and seen the mountains in the far distance, and he told us all about the old Islamic rule before the kings took over and for centuries the mountains served as the boundary between the Christians and the Muslims.  Then he took us to the oldest part of town, and we got to learn some interesting things about the buildings there.  When Madrid became the capital the city was only about five blocks by five blocks, really small.  And supposedly the Madridians were kind of losers back then, behind the times etc.  So Pedro told us all about how Madridians have had an inferiority complex forever, and they are always trying to be "European" but they never think they are and all this stuff.  Then he took us down the Grande Via and told us all about that, and by this time we were pooped, and starving so as soon as the tour was over we headed over to this place where we heard the food was cheap and good. It was a beautiful little spot and I ordered Paella and Gazpacho and we ate it outside and took our time and relaxed.  It was delicious, and it is a good think I am adventurous because there were some sea creatures in that Paella that I had no idea what they were.  After that we just walked around and explored, we went to a few more shops and talked to some random people it was really fun.. That night we went back to the Gelato place because we just couldn't stop thinking about it it was that good, and then we wandered around listening to all the live music being played in the streets and then we went back to our nice hostel ad went to sleep.  The next day we all took showers and that was WONDERFUL, when you are travelling so light, a shower is the best thing that can happen to you. After we were dressed we found this little bakery call the Peter Panederia and it had so many unique pastries.  I ended up getting a triangulo which is kind of like a stuffed croissant and I had an apple custard tart, both were delicious. After that we had to go back to this one shop so that Ari could return something and we ran into the guys from New York that we talked to on the walking tour... they were very good looking by the way, and we talked to them for a minute.  then we went back to our hostel, packed up our things, and checked out.  Then we went to the park to relax until we had to catch a bus back to the airport, it was a beautiful sunny day, very warm, and we all took naps on the grass.  The trees in the park were so interesting because there was a mix of conifers and palm trees.  There would be a pine tree growing and then there would be palm trees right by it and it would be surrounded by deciduous trees of all kinds and it was just odd to see that mix of trees growing together.  Well the time came and we caught our bus to the airport and got on our flight without any trouble.  When I stepped off the plane into England again my first thoughts were, "Yay, I'm back!" and "Brr!" haha.  I love London and it feels like my reality now.  To get back to my flat and sleep in "my" bed again was nice, and to be able to shower whenever I want is a definite plus.  And everyday this week I have gone to a show and that is just to my liking! On Monday night I went to the ballet Manon done by the Royal Ballet Company and performed in the Royal Opera House.  It was so beautiful! For anyone who knows anything about Ballet This was the cream of the crop, the talent was incredible and the choreography was innovative while still staying true to the classical motif.  On Tuesday we went to Much Ado About Nothing in the Globe Theater, and it was definitely the BEST SHAKESPEARE play I have ever seen.  I know I am being effusively positive right now, but believe me... it deserved it.  The Beatrice and Benedick pulled you in immediately and I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.  They were perfectly witty while retaining the sexual tension, and keeping the audience in the loop.  Extremely well done production.  On Wednesday we went to a show at The National Theater called One Man Two Governors, it was based on an old commedia del arte play titled Servant of Two Masters that was originally in Italian.  It was one of the most effective comedies I have ever seen! It was meant to make you roll around in your seat laughing and it did!! IT DID!! One girl literally fell out of her seat! I can't explain the whole plot that would be useless but look it up online sometime. So funny.  So finally we get to yesterday, Thursday, we went to Kew Gardens yesterday! Kew Gardens are the Royal Botanical Gardens here and they have plants from all over the world!  We arrived at 10 o'clock in the morning and didn't leave until about 4 in the afternoon there was so much to see and do!  They had huge Victorian glasshouses with plants from Africa and South America and Asia.  There was a waterlily house with all different varieties of water plants.  There was a Japanese serenity garden that was very specifically crafted, and there were ponds and little groves of trees and a road called Rhododendron Dell.  Kew Gardens is huge, there are about 300 square miles. So that was lovely and i enjoyed it probably more than I should have, I just love gardens ok? And even though the whole time we were there there was on and off torrential rain I brought an umbrella and it added to the experience.  One part that was a little scary though was when were were walking around the tree-top walkway and the wind was blowing hard the the walkway (about 50 ft off the ground) started swaying, my friend Amber started freaking out.  That night we went to go see the experimental play Silence at the Hampstead theater, and it was filled with sound. It was basically a sound designer's dream come true! It is about a woman who has constant ringing in her ears, and her love affair with this Russian guy who has to go into the military and so she gets married in England... and yeah I'm not going to give it away but it was lots better than I thought it was going to be... I have developed an aversion to any plays with Russian things in them, we have already seen three of them and they have been very depressing, but this one wasn't so.... I liked it a lot better. haha. Well, now we are all caught up and I will do a lot better about keeping on track! Thank for reading!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

España pt. 2!

Hey Hey! So You have only heard about the first day I was in Spain... there is more... lots more!  So in my journal it starts with an entry about the atmosphere of the neighborhood we were in so here is a little description. The colors there are very vibrant with houses that are rose colored, tan, orange, or sunshine yellow.  And there is lots of graffiti, also in vibrant colors  If you get up on the roof and look out all you can see for miles is the reddish tiled roofs sloping out in all directions.  I didn't see one building that didn't have tiles on the roof except for the palace and museums.  Everyone's windows are always open, and most of the time their doors are too, and everyone just sits in their doorways or on their terraces.  Ok, so on the second day we woke up in our nice hostel and got up and dressed and went down and had breakfast (just cereal and fruit) and then we went out to find some shops and brows around.  We shopped forever and I really didn't buy anything but this super cute pair of sandals because I didn't have any and they were a really good deal. Then we walked over to the Atocha train station which was just down the main road a ways and we got really confused trying to figure out which train to take to get out to Alcala de Heneres.  Alcala is a smaller town outside Madrid, and it is where Desi's cousin Ricky is living with her study abroad group.  We wanted to go out there and see her one more time and explore Alcala a little.  We finally got the ticket situation figured out and by the time we got to the right terminal and bought our tickets we had to sprint all out to catch the train in time because it was starting to leave, but we did make it.  Then we all sat on the train and watched the scenery go by for about 40 minutes.  The scenery was a strange mixture of different kinds of foliage on rolling hills and massive amounts of graffiti on everything that had a flat surface.  You would think that would kind of ruin it... but it didn't it was still pretty and still pleasant to look at, Spanish graffiti is more artisit and colorful than graffiti back home I think.  When the train finally pulled into Alcala we got off and found Ricky and we all  started exploring this cool little town, which coincidentally was the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, you know... the author of Don Quixote. Yeah! That guy!  We got to see the church where he was baptized in and his house.  Also in the town square which was lined with perfectly pruned trees and filled with the most beautiful rose garden, there was a big statue of Cervantes himself.  We stayed and sat in the courtyard for a while and people watched and then Ariatna (the girl from Mexico with us) started a conversation with these three old ladies sitting near us.  Pretty soon we were all trying to talk to them and we had a fun little interaction, they kept calling us "so young and beautiful" in Spanish.  Their names were Victoria, Carmen and Josefa and two of the three didn't have basically any teeth. They were adorable and I wish I had gotten a picture of them.... but I didn't.... so moving on... we next went to this little cafe where Ricky said we HAD to try their churros and chocolate.  Churros in Spain are not like churros in the US or in Mexico, they are loops of fried dough with no sugar or cinnamon or anything on them and then they serve them with a teacup full of the richest, thickest chocolate in the world.  You dip the churros in the chocolate and eat it.  IT WAS LIKE HEART ATTACK HEAVEN.  Yes I ate it.  Sue me.  It was worth it.  Have you ever seen the movie Chocolat?  Well that is the kind of chocolate they served you in the tea cups.... yep... absolutely amazing.  After we were all full of saturated fat and sugar and feeling very happy we decided to go back to the main street and go to a park we saw but on the way we saw a music shop and decided to go in.  We were all looking at guitar picks and stuff and then some of the other girls decided to buy some of them and the guy was  SO NICE he gave them to us for free! All of us! It was a wonderful surprise he was so generous.  Afterwards we found the park and explored that a little and then it was time to go back to Madrid.  We caught the train and rode back and then walked back to our hostel to change because we wanted to go out for the evening and see a flamenco show.  Problem was, all the flamenco shows around were really expensive, so we heard about this show that was going on in a bar and would be cheap but we couldn't find it so we stopped to ask this guy sweeping the sidewalk near us.  Ariatna talked to him for a while and then translated that he had never heard of the bar we were looking for but he offered to sneak us into the flamenco show going on in the theater he worked at right at that moment.  We were shocked and didn't know what to expect.  He told us to be really quiet and follow him up the back stairs, and Ariatna was freaking out and kept saying she had a bad feeling, but none of the rest of us did so we kept going.  And lo and behold we were sneakily ushered into this big beautiful old theater with ornate carvings and about 200 people already in there. On the stage was the most intense woman I have ever seen surrounded by fog with a spotlight right on her.  In the background there were guitarist and singers, clappers, and drummers providing music and she was dancing her feet off.  She exuded anger and passion and focus, and I have never been so entranced by someone in my life.  We thought it would just be her the entire time but after she was done there was a number by some different dancers and then a solo by this Spanish guitarist and then there was this man who it seemed was the whole focus of the show.  He came out and danced with incredible energy. He wasn't as intense as the girl but he was more skilled with his footwork, and he would stop and talk to the crowd at different times.  All the older Spanish women in the audience were yelling things at him like, "Vamos aqui!"  "Guapo, guapo!" and "Quite la ropa!  And would laugh and shake his finger at the audience and say something that would make everyone laugh.  I don't know exactly all of what he said, because he said it all in Spanish but he seemed very at ease and conversational.  after it was all over and we were walking away we realized he was on all these huge signs with flashing lights all around the city and we got into his show!!! FOR FREE!! We felt pretty lucky, but we also felt hungry so we went to a tapas bar for a snack and we got fresh mozerella and tomato with basil on toast and it was muy delicioso! After that it was again almost two in the morning and so we all headed back to our hostel, which was really close actually.  Oh one note about the night life in Madrid, everyone comes out at night.  Literally the streets are teaming with people, and not just young people either there are old people and even families with kids! Everyone just stays up really late and like to go out at night! It is kind of cool actually, especially because the nights are so comfortable and nice.  So that was the end of the second day!  More to follow stay tuned! :)

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I just got back from a four day trip to Spain and THERE IS SO MUCH TO TELL!!! Let's start at the very beginning.... a very good place to start... It was a Tuesday, Tuesday the 17th of May in fact when the journey began.  We packed our back packs with everything we could fit and we took the Tube to Victoria station, where we caught the Gatwick Express to Gatwick Airport.  Our flight left at 8:40pm and so we actually got into Madrid at about 1 am because we lost an hour and the flight was about three hours long.  When we got off the plane and through customs we all got euros out of the ATM in the airport and we hailed a taxi.  We showed him the address and he just put it into his dashboard GPS and we were set.  Driving on the highway towards the heart of Madrid my first thought was, "This looks a lot like California!" my second thought was "AH!!! He is driving on the wrong side of the road!!!"  Which was actually the same side of the road they drive on in America weirdly enough. Well the driver took us to this sketchy looking part of town, and when he dropped us off he even told us that it was a bad part of town, so we got out and into our hostel really quick.  Reception was on the third floor and we could smell the incense burning way before we got there.  The man at reception looked like a doppleganger of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, no joke, complete with shoulder length black wavy hair, short beard and leather bracelets.  And he only spoke Spanish.  Luckily one of the girls on the trip is from Mexico and speaks both Spanish and English so she was able to be a BIG help.  We got settled into our hostel room which was the perfect amount of beds for just our group so we didn't have to share with anyone else.  We got our own bathroom too, and it was fairly clean so it wasn't that bad, but I still felt a lot better when the door was locked.  After a fairly restful nights sleep we got up and had breakfast at the hostel which was free at least.  Then we got our stuff and split.  Oh, P.S, we flew to Spain with 8 girls but 4 of them were going to Barcelona after the first day, and the rest of us were staying in Madrid  for the whole time.  So we said goodbye to our other girls and Desi, Ariatna, Megan and myself struck out on foot to get a feel of the neighborhood.  But remember it wasn't a GOOD neighborhood.... so mostly what we saw was graffiti and people whizzing by on scooters.  We were basically just trying to kill time until 12 when we were supposed to meet Desi's cousin Ricky who was there in Spain doing a study abroad, and she was going to show us around.  We did find a really cool leather shop in our wanderings in that part of town.  It had the most ornately crafted leather bags I've ever seen, absolutely beautiful.  The guy who worked there was really interesting he was actually Greek, and we had a fun little chat with him.  We also found what looked like a ruin of some sort of old castle or fortress right in the middle of a neighborhood, but it was actually a functioning Bibliotecca underneath, so that was a neat discovery.  We made our way back to meet Desi's cousin and after we met up we all decided to go to our second hostel and drop our stuff so we wouldn't have to lug it around Madrid all day.  Our second hostel was in a totally different part of town.  It was in a really central location in a cute street with all these shops and restaurants.  It felt very safe and very fun.  The inside of the hostel was very brightly colored with oranges and reds and pinks and purples and had lots of woodwork and modern paintings, it felt very homey and young and active.  There were tons of kids our age there and the staff was so nice and helpful.  We got electronic keys to the front door, our room door, and lockers to keep our stuff in.  They were able to be strapped to our wrists and we would just beep them against a door or our lockers to open them, it was super high tech and actually a really brilliant idea.  After we dumped our stuff we set out to get lunch first of all so we got tortillas espanas which is actually just like an omlette with big chunks of patatoe in it and it is served like a sandwich on some crusty bread.  It was a little bland, but otherwise ok.  Then we went to the Reina Sofia which is a modern art museum and we saw all these original Picasso paintings and lots of others by equally magnificent artists.  I'm not going to lie at this point and say that I love modern art.... because I have discovered that I do not.  I'm much more of a classical art girl, so our next stop The Prado was much more my style, they had Raphael and El Greco and just gorgeous depictions of greek myths and historic battles and great love stories and my eyes nearly exploded from all the beauty I forced them to digest at the Prado.  The Prado is actually the second biggest museum after the Louvre, so that's cool.  We could have spent days at The Prado but alas there was a whole city calling our name outside so eventually we had to leave.  While we were walking to our next destination, which was an Archeology Museum, it started to POUR.  I have never been in such a violent rain, and remember I'm from Oregon, so I know something about rain.  In a matter of seconds we were drenched.  So we ran under cover and waited it out, but it was actually rather refreshing.  It was hot in Spain.  Shorts and a T shirt still felt like too much clothing.  It wasn't disgustingly hot, in fact it was pleasant but it was much warmer than London has typically been.  One thing I noticed right away about Spain was that it has a culture that is centered very much around the out of doors.  There are all these courtyards and plazas where everyone will just go to sit and talk and just be outside.  Also every window of every house has little terraces and most of the terraces have vines and plants galore growing on them.  These little terraces often have some Spaniard leaning on the ornately sculpted iron railings surrounded by foliage and smoking a cigarette while watching all the people below.  Everybody smokes there, all the time, while they eat, drink, ride their scooters, and probably while they sleep. They are pretty easygoing and friendly, and the night life is ridiculous... but I will tell you more about that later.  After we went to the archeology museum which had artifacts from Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt we all went to a Tapas bar, and let me just say that going out for tapas is the THING TO DO IN MADRID.  Everyone does it, every day, possibly multiple times.  Tapas are just like a light meal, usually people have them with their drinks, and they can range from a snack to an actual dinner like meal.  At this particular tapas bar we had one of the most delicious and unhealthy things I've ever eaten it was called papas rotos and it was thin slices of potatoes fried with fried eggs on top and chunks of ham and cheese and some kind of sauce.  SO YUM.  We also got gazpacho which is a cold tomato herby soup type of thing and that was exquisite.  I'm totally going to make that when I come home, it is an explosion of flavor in your mouth.  After that tapas bar, we decided a treat was in order so we all went out for gelato, and Desi's counsin knew of the COOLEST PLACE. It was very elegant with tall tables and white slender stools and drapings all around and it was completely lit by candlelight.  Each table had multiple tea candles in glass containers.  I knew that I was going to indulge so I wanted it to be good, I therefore tasted a bunch of flavors before I chose Straciatella.  I am convinced that Straciatella is the Lord's gift to the righteous in this world.  It is honestly the most delicious thing I have ever tasted.  It is like a light coconutty vanilla, but with fruity undertones and the most amazing consistency and creaminess, then add to that whole raspberries and flakes of chocolate and it was celestial pleasure to savor.  I'm not usually a fruit-with-chocolate kind of girl but all the flavors were so mild they melded into one flavor that had different layers within the one flavor, and I don't have the words to tell you exactly how delicious it was.  After that it was about 1:30 in the morning and we were exhausted so we went back to our hostel and crashed.  This story will continue with Espana Part 2 tomorrow! Be excited!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hamlet the Hobbit among other Adventures.

So here is the deal, on Thursday I went on a boat tour of the Thames with Katie and Ellen, we got to see all the famous sites from the river.  The boat let us off at Greenwich which is where the Prime Meridian is, and we went to Greenwich Market, which is like a mix of a vintage sale and a flea market. I got three pairs of vintage earrings there for 3 pounds!  It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining and we walked along the river bank and took in the scenery.  Interesting fact, people think the Thames is a dirty river because it appears brown, but that is because it is a muddy river, not because it is polluted.  It is actually one of the cleanest rivers in Europe.  Well, Thursday night after our day on the river we went to go see Hamlet in the Globe Theater.  It was being put on by a travelling troupe so it was a little bit different than most shows we have seen in the Globe so far.  The used eight people for the cast of Hamlet, only 8! Each person had three or four different roles, except for Hamlet he only had one.... and good thing too, I don't think his tiny frame could have supported the strain of more than one character.  Imagine Pippen from Lord of the Rings.... that was our Hamlet.  He was TINY! It was actually rather off-putting, and Ophelia was about a head taller than him.  He also ran around in his underwear for the majority of the play... so that was interesting.  I guess he IS supposed to go crazy by the end...  Anyway so on Friday a group of girls, and Patrick, decided to go to the sea-side town of Brighton.  So we got up and went at about 10o'clock.  We went to Victoria Station and bought our round trip tickets (called a return ticket here) to Brighton and then we hopped on the train and we were off!  When we got off the train we had no idea where we were going but we saw the ocean and just started walking towards it.  When we got to the beach, which was full of rocks rather than sand, we all just started prancing and running and jumping we were so happy.  I can now say that I have touched the Atlantic Ocean from the other side of the world.  So we wandered around and there were lots of shops along the beach so we got fish and chips at one of them and it was pretty good.  I smothered mine in malt vinegar and salt and just enjoyed eating fish and chips on the beach.  After that we took a nap on the beach, lying in the sun.  After our rest we went to Brighton Pier which is like a little amusement park and we wandered around there for a while.  Then we went to the Royal Palace in Brighton, it was built by Charles the IV I think and it looks like a palace from India.  Evidently that architecture was "the thing" back then, very fashionable and all that.  Then we went and wandered around down town Brighton and they are having this music festival thing going on right now so we got to listen to this girl perform songs she had written and she was really good! She played guitar and sang and her voice was so unique, it had a rough and rich quality but then when she went up higher it was clear as a bell.  So after that Katie said she would die unless she could have a crepe, so we searched high and low and finally found a little creperie and Ellen and Katie got hot fresh crepes.  We got to watch the lady make them and she was so skilled, crepes are tricky and I've never quite been able to do them right.  So then we went back down to the water's edge and walked some more, then we went back to the train station and got on a train back to London.  I got really red, and everybody thought I was going to be extremely sunburned, but by the next day it had turned into a little tan and that made me happy.
Saturday Ellen, Katie and I went to Portabello Rd market.  It is HUGE, probably 10 blocks long, and it took us forever to see everything but I got a scarf for 50pence so I was happy.  When we got home from Portabello which was at about 4 I hunkered down to do homework.  I read the whole play Much Ado About Nothing, and wrote a paper.  Super exciting Saturday night right? haha
So on Sunday I went to our ward way out in White Chapel and I worked in the Nursery.  It was actually really easy and fun, there were only two little kids in there this time.  That evening we had a fireside from single adults that are LDS and doing theater stuff here in London, and they brought up some really interesting points, and shared their testimonies.  I loved it.  It proved that it is possible to be in theater and be successful and still have standards.
So yesterday, Monday, we had class, and that night we went to this Anton Checkov play at the National Theater called The Cherry Orchard and I thought it was SO GOOOD.  Their set was amazing and they used light to make it seem like natural lighting from outside and the acting was amazing.  Zoe Wanamaker was the lead role, look her up and I'm sure you will recognize her from several movies.
We are now up to date and I'm sorry to say that I won't be bloggin for a couple days because I'm going to Spain in about ten minutes and I will be there for a couple days, but I'll write all about it when I come back! Adios!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The entry in which I see a lot of things and get kissed by a Frenchman.

Let's get down to the nitty gritty right away.  Monday I had class in the morning and Phil (my Shakespeare teacher) was in FINE form.  I think he got over excited and shouted at least three times.  He just really loves Hamlet I guess.  All the while Rodger(my theater teacher) sat in the corner and chuckled at him.  After class our whole group went to the tower of London, which as most of you know is actually more of a castle with lots of towers rather than just one tower.  Also the Tower Bridge, which is SUPER famous and everyone thinks is London Bridge, is right there and looked beautiful in the sunlight.  In the Tower of London there are several different things of interest, mainly the large museum of Armour and weaponry of past monarchs (and may I say that King Henry the VIII was a very large man...) the exhibit of the crown jewels used for coronations (HUGE GEMS!) and the Beauchamps Tower where the walls are covered in ancient graffiti from famous prisoners. I just couldn't believe that so many ancient and tragic figures walked the same halls, and touched the same walls as I did, Anne Boleyn was killed there, the two young princes were murdered there, and kings roamed the grounds.  One thing that is legendary are the Tower crows.  There are these extremely large crows that are always in the grassy courtyards of the Tower of London and according to legend if they ever leave the British Empire will fall.  As we were leaving the Tower there were two Knights in full Armour that were preparing to do battle out on the front lawn area of the Tower so I decided to stay and watch.  They first fought with broadswords and then with these spear things.  In between rounds they would rag on each other and shout things out to the crowd, I loved it!  That night I went to go see the Agatha Christie play Moustrap, and I felt that it was ok, but I already knew the end so there was no suspense in it for me.
Tuesday morning we all woke up bright and early and left for the Victoria Station at about 8:30.  From the Victoria Station we took a train out to Linfield which is on the country outskirts of London.  It was about an hour train ride, and we accidentally left one of our classmates behind because she was in the bathroom when the train left.  When we got to the Linfield station we all took taxis to the Temple Grounds.  They were so beautiful! They had fountains and lots of flowers and little walkways.  After we finished at the Temple, (which was so refreshing) we caught taxis back to the train station and rode the train back.  It was a very pleasant train ride we all sat together and laughed and talked and I wrote letters and looked out the windows at the stunning countryside we were riding through. When we got home we all got ready to go to our play that night. The play was at the New London Theater and it was called War Horse, SPECTACULAR! Literally filled with visual spectacle.  This was a play about WWI but the main character in it is a horse named Joey and the boy who raises him named Albert.  The horses in the play were done by large and intricate puppets operated by three men, they were so life-like in their movement and sounds that by the end of the play I forgot that they weren't real horses! There were explosions and music and gun-fire and a tank.  It was touching and frightening and exciting all at the same time.  Look it up on YouTube sometime and check out the crazy cool puppets.
That brings us to today.  Whew! What a day.  First of all I had class this morning until about 12.  After that a small group of us decided to go do the Big Bus Tour, which our program issued us tickets for.  It runs all around London and points out the important sights.  It was very enjoyable/educational.  We sat on the top of the bus in open air and listened to our tour guide Joe tell us funny and informative things.  We were probably on there for a good four hours. After getting off and grabbing a quick sandwich at Pret A Manger we decided to do one of the many walking tours offered here in London.  We settled on the Ghost Tour, which took you around to different sites and pubs and told you the ghost stories associated with them.  Something interesting happened while waiting for the tour.  We were standing in line and this Frenchman (who was evidently a tour guide with the buses) comes up to us and starts talking to some of my friends saying, "You can all go on this tour, but SHE is coming on a different tour with ME."  He grabbed my hand and held it for a good ten minutes after that while haggling with my friend Lauren about how much she would sell me for.  He was like 45 years old and all over me! It was hilarious and awkward and I didn't know how to react!  He asked me if I liked it over here and if I would like to stay forever... with him! He was very complimentary and funny.  Then he asked my friend Patrick to take a picture of us together so we could always remember when we fell in love, and right before Patrick was going to take the picture he wrapped his arms around me and planted a huge smooch on my cheek and wouldn't let go! I'VE NEVER LAUGHED SO HARD IN MY LIFE! I was freaking out! There are pictures on Facebook, and oh my word.... It was so unexpected and crazy.
After that whole drama, we actually did go on the ghost tour which was fascinating.  We went around to all these odd little alley ways and spots and heard a lot of cool old ghost stories.  One place she took us was where Benjamin Franklin lived while he was in London and she told us that years later 10 dead bodies were found buried in the back yard of the Franklin house.  What they think happened was that the Landlord-lady's daughter was involved with this medical student, and in those days the medical field was changing in leaps and bounds and dissecting dead bodies was all the rage.  Problem was, only criminals who were executed were allowed to be dissected because they felt it was disrespectful.  So medical students would hire grave robbers to dig up fresh bodies for them to experiment with.  They think they were using Benjamin Franklin's house as a kind of trading house for these bodies.  Gross but intriguing huh? Another story was about an artist that used to paint nudes, and back in the Victorian days that was quite looked down on.  Any way story is that he fell in love with one of his models, but she met a tragic end.  People say they see her running down the stairs at his house often. The tour guide also took us to a spot in this weird little courtyard down a very skinny alley off of fleet street that was supposedly where Sweeny Todd the demon Barber of Fleet Street would commit his murders.
After the tour I was exhausted but I had to grab a few items at the grocery store because I was seriously low on food, but now I am good for a while. So now you know all about my recent adventures.