Monthly Archives: September 2009

A WEEKEND IN

Well, sort of. Most people in Reid Hall and beyond had gone off to either Dublin (to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the creation of Guinness) or Munich (to celebrate Oktoberfest) last weekend, while me and my budget stayed here in London. Most of the weekend I spent in my room, though Saturday I went to Stratford-Upon-Avon and Warwick Castle, both of which were relatively fun. A tour of Shakespeare’s birthplace would have been more interesting to me than a tour of Warwick Castle, medieval fortress/victorian estate-turned-capitalist venture, but perhaps that’s just because I’ve seen better castles. Yes, since you ask, I am excited to visit Ireland again.

I’ve been putting this post of for more than a week; I can’t seem to gather thoughts in a structure comprehensive enough for a single long post on one or two subjects. So here are a bunch of short subjects, in the interest of putting off something else. At least I’m writing while I procrastinate on my latest story.

Chocolate wrappers in the hallway. I guess I’m not eating that much chocolate. Had a sausage roll today. “Meat sweats” are a real thing. Got sick on Friday from the seafood casserole I had Thursday night. Note: stay away from octopus tentacles in a casserole. Just thinking about it makes me queasy.

I’m drinking tea right now from my new mug of Shakespearean insults (by far the best thing to come out of the weekend). Tesco tea, which, surprisingly, is quite good. At least compared to what we drink in the states. For 80p (about $1.50), I get eighty tea bags. At least something is cheap in London. That and curry chicken slices. Mmmm.

Know what’s relatively cheap, and absoutely delicious? Lamb Kebab. Döner. Shawerma. Whatever. Lamb on a stick, carved off the spit and served in pitta with lettuce and what have you. Everything I dreamed of and more. For once, I felt like I was living one of the culinary fantasies I regularly experience when watching Anthony Bourdain.

Got a pedestal fan near Camden Town for drying the clothes. Now, what would take a day (maybe longer) takes at most a night to line dry. Well worth the £12 I paid.

Got some new shoes. They were horrible. Sending them back and going to a shoe store on Friday. A London shoe store… fancy that. More after I go.

I have decided I love the way pictures taken with my old Minolta look. I’m going to buy a new, updated body (I can get an X-700 on ebay for around $50) once I get back from this place. Maybe this time I can load the damn film right.

what am i doing it is 11:10pm and i have to hand in a story tomorrow if i don’t quit this now i will be handing in a half done story here is a poster what do you think

mockup for next semester's film festival, not final
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CHAPTER TWO: SETTLING IN

My walking speed is inversely proportional to the volume of tea I am carrying.

I might have begun this chapter last week, but this seemed a more appropriate time. I went out–really went out, to where the party was–two nights ago, and I spent most of yesterday in my room recovering. I realized that I’m developing a routine. Three packets of sugar in my tea. Three pounds per meal on my dining card. Three shirts per laundry load. Go into the hallway when wireless reception drops. Stall on homework by reading comics. Stall on blogging by eating chocolate. Stall on sleep by blogging and playing with Photoshop. Pinch pennies. Save up for trips. Read in the bathroom. Open the windows at night. Every habit, whether brought from home or newly formed, is a way to feel like I have a starting point.

I even like my bed now that we have all those extra comforters. My roommate and I are slowly rebuilding our immune systems’ strength–at different rates, but it’s happening. He had to sleep on an iron mattress much longer than I did.

And good god, I almost forgot. Lord help me, I spent three-hundred and fifteen pounds yesterday. One-ninety on the awesome pony trekking trip in November, and another one-twenty five on the weekend trip to Edinburgh. It’s okay, though. I’ve come to accept the parting of money (no heart attacks here–you can’t take it with you). And the budget still stands. Besides how can I put a price on riding for two whole days in the beautiful Welsh countryside of my ancestors?

Some of my readers have expressed an interest in my studies. Well: in Writers In Exile, we read Joyce, and now we’re reading horny old D. H. Lawrence. In Art History, I fall frequently fall asleep and my professor calls me out on it. In Roman Britain, I sometimes fall asleep and mostly take notes about the Romans’ conquest of Britannia. In Drawing class, I sketch big round scribbly sketches of statues in museums. And in Writing Fiction, I read and write. A lot. Lots of notes in the journal, every day, lots of procrastination on the actual assignments, lots of reading on how to go about it when I do write.

THERE YOU GO MOM

Most study abroad students are off to Leeds Castle and Canterbury today, to look at the castle, hang out and watch some dudes joust. I am on my bed looking up Irish members of the CouchSurfing network.

Time to make a cup of tea, sit down at my desk, and get to the work of writing!

TAKING A BATH

Great news today! The staff of my dorm, Reid Hall, left bags of duvets and pillows sitting around the main desk while emptying out a storage room. My bed is now comfortable.

Before.

Before.

After.

After.

(edit, two hours later) I walked into my room and my roommate pointed to his bed, proudly shouting, “Four duvets! I am now sleeping like a king!” So I grabbed another bag of comforters. Truly, we are sleeping on the beds of royalty. The colors clash like it’s their destiny, but at least now my top comforter matches the curtains. And ah! the four-layered comfort supreme!

What an eventful weekend. During my tour of the Roman baths on Saturday, I was struck by the smoothness and warmth of the ruins, the longevity of  life I felt underneath everything around me. Looking into the frigidarium, I saw more coins than I’ve ever seen in a fountain before, like I could jump in and grab an armful rich enough to fund the rest of my semester. Later on, I stopped at a small café and bought my first proper Cornish pasty. Lots of butter, lots of potatoes, lots of unidentifiable, slightly spongy meat. Delicious at the time and very filling, but I don’t think I’ll be having another very soon, unless I’m very strapped for cash.

So, like, tomorrow.

The short: it was a great trip, in spite of the three-hour bus ride there and four-hour bus ride back.

Unfortunately, my camera had only enough battery for one picture.

Unfortunately, my camera had only enough battery for one picture.

On Monday, during art class, I learned the nuts and bolts of sketching (finally) at the British Museum. Afterward a couple of us went on a little tour of the Egyptian/Mesoptamian exhibits. Here’s a little gallery of a sketch and the walk we took…

Please excuse the first three. I could not figure out how to exclude them from the gallery. I’ll have to try later when I’m not falling asleep.

Tuesday and Wednesday were sort of a wash, besides the very exciting (and overly complicated) booking of plane tickets on Ryanair.com. Oh? I didn’t tell you–

I’m spending a week in Ireland next month! Backpacking the Cliffs of Moher, and then exploring around wherever the wind takes us. Well, sort of.

Not much else new, that I can remember. Tuckered out. Tried some new candy bars. Should have those up soon.

Time for bed! Yeah!

-C

EVERY DAY IS LAUNDRY DAY

It’s been nearly a week, and the bathroom still smells strongly of radishes. It must be the cleaning solution… or… or something?

At any rate, my jeans are drying on the line in the warmest, breeziest spot. I’m very pleased, as I expected them to take about three days to dry, and it looks like I just have to wait until tomorrow morning for them to be ready. Washing them was a beast.

But I should explain. Here in London, everything is expensive and all the students are about 40% poorer than they are in the states–needless to say, tight budgets all around. My budget seems to be tighter than most (about £1,500), so to save a little money, I’m washing all my laundry by hand using the powdered soap I found at the nifty little 99p Store.

Almost every day, I take my dirty laundry into the shower. I tried asking about using the kitchen sink, but the security guard was mortified.

“No,” he said. “You must use the laundry. You can’t use the kitchen sink to wash your clothes! People need to use that!”

A shirt, a t-shirt, and my jeans.

A shirt, a t-shirt, and my jeans.

Him saying nothing about the bathroom and me not wanting to force the matter, I decided to just roll my things up into a little bundle and take them there. After a couple days, I usually only have a few things to wash, and nothing very soiled.

The shower actually seems like it was made for me to do laundry in. I step up a few steps, and the stall itself is actually set into the floor about four inches, plenty of depth for soaking clothes.

I wear my underwear into the shower to wash it, and for the rest I wrap this nifty little kit together (to hide the soap from the cameras in the hallway; no need to push it with security!):

Soap, a regular towel I got for free from my advisor, and my shammy, for drying clothes.

Soap, a regular towel I got for free from my advisor, and my shammy, for drying clothes.

I stop the plug using whatever is at hand–socks, clothes I’m not scrubbing, or my favorite, a used Pringles cap. Once everything is done washing, I rinse and then wring everything out in the shammy.

This usually all takes place during the evening, when people are going out and not using the showers. I suppose it must sound strange for someone to walk in and hear clothes being kneaded in a basin of water behind the shower door, but no one has complained yet!

Once everything has been wrung, I hang it all on the clothesline by my window.

Voilà! Clean clothes for free!

I'm glad I only have to wash my jeans once every week or two. I don't think I could take it if they needed more.

I'm glad I only have to wash my jeans once every week or two. I don't think I could take it if they needed more.

THE STORY IN PICTURES

You can hover over the pictures with your mouse for a little extra information.

charles de gaulle terminal, paris.

charles de gaulle terminal, paris.

baker street station exit.

baker street station exit.

my lovely room.

my lovely room.

lost on the way to camden I

lost on the way to camden I

lost on the way to camden II

lost on the way to camden II

lost on the way to camden III

lost on the way to camden III

a walk in regent's park I

a walk in regent's park I

a walk in regent's park II

a walk in regent's park II

imperial war museum I

imperial war museum I

imperial war museum II

imperial war museum II

imperial war museum III

imperial war museum III

I’ll have pictures as actual parts of posts from now on, so this doesn’t happen again.

CAMDEN, CARLSBERG AND CHARITY

Where to begin?

Thursday turned out to be more fun than I thought it would be… the pub was quite crowded with about fifty Americans coming in at once, so I went out to a quiet place on a distant corner and got a doener kebab (finally!), and it was delicious. Everything I dreamed of and more. So there’s your ending for last post’s cliffhanger. Now,

let’s see… lots of things can happen in a weekend, so I’ll try and include just the interesting bits.

This Weekend

is when I got most of my touristy impulses out of the way. I went on the ‘Jack The Ripper’ tour of the City and the East End, which turned out to be fun but a little disappointing, because it was right at sunset and there was no fog. The chap was a great storyteller, though. I thought I heard a far-off actress screaming in agony, and expected to find a made-up corpse and for the guide to look all surprised, but it turned out to just be some people at a bar.

Saturday, I took a free (paid-for by our kind adviser, Eleanor Hight) bus tour of London with some other UNHers. A recorded narration was followed by a kind of annoying live narrator, a stop at the pub, a boat ride, and then a different, more calm narrator.

Sunday

was especially an adventure. The day began with a walk to the art store, and a pair of much sexier sunglasses purchased from an Asian knock-off vendor. Tortoise-shell. Better-fitting. Eight pounds. Oh yeah.

An outing to Camden Market became a grand adventure when I got cut off from my group–I rode two or three tube stops in the wrong direction, and ended up walking about an hour through some residential neighborhoods until finally finding my way to the road that leads there. The benefit is that I saw some lovely buildings…

AND the English equivalent to the Dollar Tree: the 99p store! More like the $1.60 store, but there you have it. Got me some laundry powder.

Camden Market itself was massive and warren-like. New Englanders: imagine the biggest flea market you’ve ever been to, and multiply by a bajillion. Tunnels and tunnels of cramped-together stands selling knock-off bags, fashionable jackets, costume jewelery, music, t-shirts, shoes, electronics, carpets, hand-crafted goods, antiques, massages… and every so often, a large clearing would appear with twenty similarly-priced food stalls to choose from, each with its own wonderful smell to tease my poor cheap stomach and at least six vendors shouting at me to try some of their food. Every time I turned a corner, expecting the labyrinth to end, I found another endless line of shops and curios ahead of me. All I bought was a juice, but it was still an amazing place to explore. I felt like I was in the pilot episode to Firefly, only more cramped. If this is anything like the Portobello Street and Notting Hill markets, then fella, sign me up. I hear one of them has cheap fruit and veg, too, so more the better.

That night

I went out drinking with some new friends from back home. It’s strange; a lot of my new friends would have otherwise been far out of my social sphere, but here we are, stuck at Regent’s, lonely and homesick.

I warmed up once someone offered to buy me drinks.

We went down the pub and had some Pimm’s. I felt like I needed to give some return to others’ charity (I’m no sponge!), so I tried my best to make good conversation, and surprisingly, it worked. Good people, all. Later, we smoked shisha (flavored tobacco in a hookah) with a Lebanese man–who my friends called Moe, short for Mohammed–running a food shop next door.

It was odd to accept so much for which we would usually pay, but my friends had hung out with him before, and Moe, being poor and lonely, didn’t mind serving us free tea and shisha, merely in exchange for our company.

I can honestly say I was out of my comfort zone all night. It was a good day. Am I finally starting to become an intrepid traveler, like I’ve always dreamed?

Finally, Today

classes began. Fiction Writing seems like standard writing workshop stuff, and Drawing lasted all of twenty minutes before he let us go. Both classes seem exciting. After art class, Michael from New Jersey invited me to go to the Imperial War Museum with Horatio from Dubai. It was a long walk, but an interesting place (and free!). Michael turned out to be a world war II/tank/history buff. Man was like a kid in a candy shop around all those tanks and machine guns.

After that, my feet hurt too much to do much else but eat dinner and get ready for bed. Four hours later, here I am.

CHAPTER ONE: TWO DAYS WITHOUT SLEEP

I-93, 1:30pm. Wednesday.

As the wizard said to the adventurer in the middle of the night: it is time. Boston is in sight as I’m writing this entry on my tiny little netbook (thank you, Dad), and my family and I are sitting in a traffic jam on the way. Don’t know why I should be writing about traveling when many more people have gone to much more interesting places than England, but then again, I have never taken a trip like this before. And my family wants to keep informed.

With luck I’ll have something interesting to say.

Interesting thing number one (for those of you interested in ultralight travel): I managed to pack everything in one bag (more or less), as I hoped, and even keep it under 22 pounds (if not ultralight, at least very very light, considering the amount of things I managed to pack, and under the 12 kg limit imposed by Air France at any rate). Still scared that they won’t take it on the plane, but that is likely paranoia caused by an entire summer spent listening almost exclusively to Radiohead. I’m willing to cooperate with anything, as long as I don’t have to check (lose) my bag.

Boston, 4:00pm

Again, for those interested, here is what I brought (including things I wore):

4 shirts

5 t-shirts

2 pairs trousers

cashmere sweater—lightweight and warm; perfect! Also, can’t beat five bucks at Goodwill.

Rain Jacket

7 (!) pairs socks

6 pairs underwear

necktie scarf, bandanna

belt

knit cap, mitten-gloves

cedar chips (for the sweater)

fleece sleeping bag

toiletries

car shammy disguised as an expensive innovative personal camping towel

umbrella

clothesline

medicines

stationery

identification and paperwork

cell phone, camera, netbook, mp3 player, flash drive

electronic odds and ends

All packed in my WUNH messenger bag and MEI Voyageur backpack. Pictures later, kiddies.

Boston, 4:18pm

Twentyseven minutes until boarding. I swear, I just saw an Indian version of Chris Liquori walk by.

Paris, 8:22am. Thursday.

Charles de Gaulle is a pretty airport, well-designed like the rest of this place. The food was quite excellent during the flight, which was a good change from the usual molded protein and mystery meat found in airlines. I would expect nothing less from the french. I am glad I flew Air France; it was a good flight and I even made a single-serving friend. I only wish I could have slept more—I ended up strolling up to the terminal at Charles de Gaulle and taking a very pleasant nap on one of these stylish recliners they put right in front of a big window facing the airfield. Airbus boards in an hour. Think I’ll watch a movie before my netbook dies. 

London, 7:16pm

I made it here, all in one piece. Jumped on the Tube just as the doors were closing; my backpack got caught in the doors and I had to squeeze my way in. It was pretty much like a movie. The Tube is a very smooth ride, and very clean and neat, especially compared to the Subway in New York or the T in Boston. I am extremely jet-lagged tonight, and almost totally surrounded by strangers—if not for the girl in the program who I happened to meet over the summer in a class I was taping, I would feel very isolated right now.

But I am in London. I must remind myself of that… in London, and about to spend three and a half months here. I just need to be more awake to enjoy it. I tried sitting on these excellent lawn chairs during a walk I took in the park to take it all in, but after about fifteen minutes I discovered that I had to pay the grumpy man in the yellow vest four quid or else get lost.

So I took in the Queen’s Gardens instead. Now I am running in zombie mode until going to not-really-required-but-strongly-encouraged trip to the pub at eight to meet the hall staff.

Can’t… keep…

eyes…