Friday, June 8, 2012

Cheers, London!

Most of the girls in my group either left yesterday or took off this morning. I'm staying the night in Kyla's flat, then finally heading home tomorrow. I'm excited to go home. I really am. I can't wait to see my family and dear friends, but I already know how much I'm going to miss Europe after a few days of being home. Saying goodbye will always be bittersweet, won't it? It's hard to leave what you love. But I've done everything I wanted to here. I've crossed off my bucket list items and so much more. I've been culturally enlightened, more than I thought was possible. I've grown a great deal here.

London has really become my home, and I'll think about it often. I'll miss the city, and I never ever thought I'd be able to say that. Success. I'm gonna miss these girls I've grown so close to. I'm going to miss constant excitement all around me. I'm going to miss running through big colorful parks flooding with people. I'm going to miss European treats. Who knows, I might even miss the underground system after a while. I might just miss the bums on the street, the druggies running around, the smell of smoke... alright, maybe not the latter few, but you get the picture. I'll miss London. But it's time to go home. I'm going to the home where the heart is; to open fields and backyards and mountains. To little roads and a single stoplight. To my favorite weather. To STARS in the sky! To friendly neighbors and a happy cat. To my favorite people in the world.

Goodbye, London. You've been good to me. Somehow you've managed to help a small girl find a few more pieces of herself in the midst of your big city. Thank you for that! I'll be back again; I'm not sure how long I can stay away from my European roots. See you again... when I find a rich husband. Until then........


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew).

Wednesday, 7 June 2012:

This was a very packed day. First, I took my Shakespeare final in class. 96%, baby! Good enough for me. I wrote about the journey of becoming an appreciator of Shakespeare... it's been a journey, alright. But I really can say that I enjoy it now. I understand it so much better than I did six weeks ago.

Taylor and I tried to go to the orangery near Kensington Palace after class, but it's closed till Saturday, dang it. Instead, we walked around Kensington Gardens and had a nice chat. We'll hit up the orangery next time we're in town here. :) I'm excited to room with Taylor this Fall. It's gonna be one big party.

The Orangery.
Kensington Gardens. Lucky Kate Middleton.
Next, I went with Caroline, Taylor, and Hadley to Evensong, which ended up being Evenprayer because they don't have Evensong on Wednesdays. It was still really good... I love attending different religions' services. Afterwards, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at the Med Kitchen on our own Gloucester Road. Although the name wasn't too enticing, the food may have been the best I've had here. Chicken with rosemary and lemon and a side of fresh fries. Oh, except the side was enough to feed a small country... check this out:

Fries, anyone?
Outside of Westminister Abbey.
We'd been hearing that Liverpool Street was a fun one to explore at night, so we decided to give that a go once it got dark. We made the trip there on the tube, only to find out that it was totally closed off due to construction! It was the dullest, most silent street in all of London. So, instead of finding a party somewhere else, we brought the party to the flat. We rounded up all the girls that were home, dragged them downstairs, and had ourselves a dance party. I love these girls.

Thursday, 8 June 2012:

Today was one of my favorite days. Period.

It started out slow, because it took a while to get most of my things packed away. I still don't know how I'm going to fit everything, but I'll find a way. I decided that my guilty conscience would be too heavy if I didn't make it to Kew Gardens (AKA Royal Botanic Gardens) like I promised Grandpa Tobler I would, so I spent the majority of the day doing that. This whole trip I've been begging the other girls to come with me, but no one seemed to want to. So I finally went on my own today, and I can't believe that I ever even hesitated for a second. It was AMAZING.

I walked through forests and glasshouses and gardens in the pouring rain for over three hours, and I loved every second of it. Really, it was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. One of my favorite parts was the waterlily house with enormous waterlilies floating in a pot filled with one ton of water. I also loved the rose gardens, and the Princess of Wales' Conservatory, which was split into ten different "habitats" with ten different climates. It was so neat! I'd walk in one room and get hit with a wave of humidity, then the next room would be a dry desert. There were gorgeous ponds with swans and ducks roaming like sheep in an open field. There was a place where I climbed eighteen meters for a birdseye view of Kew from several different locations. There were Japanese and Australian and Chinese sections. Banana trees and henna plants and bamboo gardens. Acres upon acres of quiet forest with dozens of paths to choose from. Because it was raining so hard and most of the paths had turned into puddles, the majority of the visitors left so I felt like I had the place to myself. I had such a great time walking and admiring and thinking. It was the perfect place to think; I was able to do so more clearly than I have in a long time. Thanks for the suggestion, Gramps! I loved it!


The Chinese Pagoda.

Evidence of the pouring rain. I was soaked from head to toe, even with an umbrella.

"Minka" bamboo hut.

I went to the symphony tonight with Caroline; the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. I've decided that a symphony is another great place to think. A silent audience and live classical music to think to... I definitely did a lot of thinking today. I really wish there were more symphonies and plays and musical performances at home. They're there, but they're often an hour away and cost a fortune. I went to this incredible symphony for 5 pounds! At home it'd be at least $40 or 50 for the nice seats we had. It's been so great to have a student discount here, on top of the already decent prices for shows and such. I would have only been able to go to one broadway show near home (in SLC or Vegas) for the price that I paid to go to four or five here. That's insane. It's going to be strange to have to turn to things like movies for entertainment once I'm home. No live entertainment on every street corner? I don't like the thought.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Before the city wakes...

Monday, 4 June 2012:

After class, I finally made it to the Churchill War Rooms, like I promised Grandpa Tobler I would. I've enjoyed reading about WWII, but visiting the actual sights does something that no amount of studying can do. Call me cliche, but it brings the history to life. It's really exciting for me to be enjoying history, you see, because it hasn't been a subject that I've been extremely passionate about in the past. I'm embarrassed by that now. Everything I was exploring at the museum hit home when an elderly man pointed to the date on the description of an artifact and, leaning over to me, told me that he had been born six days prior to that day. June 13th, 1937. Sometimes I forget how close history is to my own day, and when it comes to war, that can be a scary thought.

Mr. Churchill himself.
Monday night was a night of Jubilee celebration. Abby and Brittany and I grabbed some dinner then went to Hyde Park to watch the live broadcast of the Jubilee concert on a big screen. It was such a fun atmosphere! People and British flag decor and booths everywhere. On the program were Paul McCartney, Jessie J, Elton John, Sissel, and others. We saw a few strange things during the evening: drunkards in a human chain running around us in circles, a man begging every girl in sight for "just one  kiss on the cheek", two gay men enjoying themselves far too much directly in front of us, a lady to the right of us who seemed to be aiming her cigarettes straight into our mouths, and a giant pair of eyes in a tree. I'm sure there was more that I've forgotten by now, but it was quite the variety. It was one of my favorite evenings in London!

Sunset in Hyde Park. Pretty good shot, eh?

Abby and Brittany.
This tree wanted to watch the Jubilee concert too. 

Elton John, Paul McCartney, the Queen of England, and others.
Tuesday, 5 June 2012:

Ry, this story's especially for you.

My dear brother Ryan, being as wise as he is, suggested several weeks ago that I try exploring the city of London before it wakes up in the morning. Because of so many late nights, I didn't actually try it until Tuesday morning; I woke up at 5, and set off on my own little adventure by 5:15. Because the tube hadn't quite started running by that time, I took a bus to get to St. James' Park. I ended up just enjoying a nice long bus ride and getting off at the end of its route, but then I had no idea how to get to the park from there... because of the Queen's Jubilee, all sorts of roads are closed and cluttered and it's difficult to get anywhere. It's a long story, but I ended up heading to the park, changing my mind about where I wanted to go, and wandering till I reached the Westminister area. By this time, there were dozens of policemen on every street preparing for Jubilee festivities, so I wasn't exactly alone in the city like I had planned. I walked along the pier of the Thames Rivers and found the perfect bench near Westminister Bridge and directly across the river from the London Eye. A beautiful view of the city from every angle. I brought with me a poem by William Wordsworth that Ryan introduced to me, which was written right on Westminister Bridge. I sat there for a long time, reading and rereading it and pausing every few moments to admire my surroundings. It was actually quite the spiritual experience. I began to write and write in my journal, reflecting on my London experience as a whole.

The beautiful morning view from my favorite bench.
During the time I was writing, a homely Italian fellow had taken a seat on the bench about ten yards to the right of my bench. He didn't bother me until he started smoking, because up until then I had been enjoying the rare smokeless air. He walked over to me after a while, asking for a "letter" or "paper." At first I couldn't understand him, so I just shook my head "no" and tried to focus on the perfect morning I was having. To be honest, I actually thought he wanted something to roll his drugs up in. When he came over again and asked a second time, I understood, and (even though I'm OCD about never ripping out my journal paper) I shared a piece of the precious paper with him, and he thanked me and walked away. Not five minutes later, he returned yet again and said "you write letter."
"You want me to write you a letter?" I asked.
"Yes, yes! Please! Sign paper. It doesn't have to be your name, just something to remember this morning!"

I didn't know what he was up to, so I declined, but finally gave in when he wouldn't stop pestering me. I quickly signed a non-legible signature and handed it back. He looked at it as if it wasn't exactly what he wanted (he was looking for a full "letter"), but was happy nonetheless. He thanked me profusely and finally left. Or so I thought. He sat back on his bench. Soon, he stood up, put on his backpack, and began walking in the other direction. Three times he walked a few feet, stopped, and looked back dramatically as if to bid me goodbye. He finally disappeared, but then he'd suddenly reappeared, sat on his bench in the same place, and stared out into the Thames. He repeated this dramatic process several times, until he finally left and didn't return; for that I was grateful! What a crazy crazy man. 

After what seemed like a four hour adventure, I went to Abbey Road with some friends. We took the traditional Beatles pictures as all annoying tourists must do, and we sang to all our favorite Beatles songs as we walked. No shame.

Caroline and I had a really enjoyable afternoon. First we went to Covent Gardens; listened to the musicians, dilly-dallied around the shops, got a cookie from the heavenly Ben's Cookies, and just soaked up the fun environment. As is usually the case, we spent more money than we meant to. Oops.

Covent Gardens. :)
Next, we wanted to find a little cafe to sit in, out of the rain and cold, and finish reading Twelfth Night for our Shakespeare class since we would be seeing the production in the evening. We got a little distracted by M&S, then H&M, then Stanford's bookstore (triple oops), but eventually we stopped in at Paul cafe and enjoyed an hour or so of reading. We actually ended up going to Nero cafe for dinner, and ended up lingering there almost an hour as well. We had time to kill before the play. Although we hardly had a motive during the entire day, we had such a great time. I think Caroline is the greatest. She's very quiet and reserved, but she's hilarious when she opens up! She has her head screwed on straight and is one of the sweetest, most sincere people I know. Thanks for such a fun day, Caroline!

Paul Cafe.

Like I mentioned, we went to Twelfth Night in the evening, which was surprisingly well-done. It was especially fun to watch because I was in the play in middle school with all my friends, so it brought back a flood of funny memories! Mike White as a drunkard, Heather and Jakes' behind the scene fling, Allysa and Amity as the leads, Annie Willie who moved to Wyoming... I can still remember the smell of the auditorium where we rehearsed. Wasn't that just yesterday? 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

God Save the Queen!

This has been a great Sunday.

At church, I attended what I'd consider to be one of the best fast and testimony meetings I've ever participated in. I loved it. It's been a really great experience to attend a ward consistently in a different country; it's proved to me that the Church is the same everywhere in the world. The members may appear different, and they surely come from dramatically different backgrounds, but we all believe the same thing in the end. After growing up in Utah and attending very few fast and testimony meetings outside of the beehive state, it was refreshing to hear the testimonies of so many converts. There's something special about the London North ward, and although I still hardly know many of them, I feel really close to its members.

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee has been continuing today. 60 years of ruling England... that's pretty amazing. She's so charismatic! I have to admit, I didn't know much about her before I came, but I've definitely come to respect and admire her. In sacrament meeting, the congregation even sang "God Save the Queen" instead of the king. I'm not sure if that's allowed, but we did it. She is so loved by these people.

Because it was cold and wet and miserable outside today, we stayed in and watched the Flotilla on the telly. The Thames carried over a thousand boats down the river, with the Royal Family's float leading the way. Although I'm glad I wasn't out suffocating in the crowds, it was sure fun to watch on TV. It's been neat to be here in the midst of all these Jubilee festivities! And they'll just keep rolling for the next couple of days.

Pretty good seats, eh?

Ok, so we may or may not have taken pictures of the TV, but memories are memories. Enjoy!

Home stretch.

Friday, 1 June 2012:

Caroline and I woke up early to visit Camden market. We window shopped quite a bit, then I picked up a few little souvenirs for people. I also bought a case of baby strawberries to snack on. The fruit here is awesome. Maybe it's not really that good... maybe I just really like it because most of it is really small and I like miniatures of things. :) Mini bananas, apples, strawberries, etc. Maybe it just tastes good 'cause it's cute.

I continued the small shopping spree at Lillywhites--a five-story sports store in London just a few tube stops away, then stopped at Poundland on the way back to the flat. We college students have really taken a liking to Poundland.

We attended Comedy of Errors at the Roundhouse Theatre in the evening. It was...... strange. That director made some very very strange choices. He/she somehow played up both the tragedy and the comedy of the play, and although there were some funny moments, it didn't quite work out so well. I think I'll stick to my happy musicals.

Saturday, 2 June 2012:

Because I'm obsessed with Portobello, I had to visit one more time before I left. I slept in for the first time since I've been here (till a whoppin' 8:30), then Caroline and Hadley and I made our way over to the market. I got my favorite frozen yogurt again, and spent more time inside the shops on Portobello Road than usual. I pestered the man at the CD stand for too long, but ended up getting my way so it was well worth it. When I got too cold to keep browsing (the last few days have been rainy and bitter again), I headed home, stopping at Tesco Metro on my way for a whole lot of chocolate. My souvenir suitcase is going to be heavy loaded with all these sweets... hope you've got a sweet tooth, family.

I finally broke down and paid to see Top Hat in the afternoon, and I'm so glad I did. It's an Irving Berlin production with beautiful music and dancing! We sat about six rows back and close to the middle, and it was perfect. Even though the lead's voice wasn't my favorite, and some of the acting was a bit unprofessional, it was more my kind of show than almost anything we've seen and I loved it. I was really wishing that Grandma Tobler could have been there to see it with me, because I think she would have appreciated it more than anyone else. If you happen to be coming to London in the near future, I would recommend it.

I know it's boring, but I don't really have any pictures to include this time. More to come soon!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Stratford: Shakespeare Capital.

I spent this past Tuesday-Thursday in Stratford with the group. It was such fun to road trip on the coach, even if our driver friend was a little crazy and got us lost on occasion. Thank you, Fred. I enjoyed getting to know several of the girls even better, and brushing up on my Shakespeare history. Stratford is a very quaint little town, with very old buildings and many small shops, a beautiful stream running through the place, and lots of pubs with great food. Loved it all.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012:

We boarded the coach around 7am. Good ol' Fred was supposed to take us to Stratford by way of the Cotswolds, but he took the wrong highway so it didn't work out so well. That's ok, we ended up seeing the Cotswolds on the way home. When we arrived in Stratford, we were dropped off in small groups at several different B&Bs--the cutest little B&Bs I've ever seen. Mine was decked out with British flags in front, and I had a great view of Stratford from my bedroom window. Oh, and a dreamy bed. (Once again, no pun intended.) After we got settled, we headed to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for a private tour of the place. We learned about all the behind the scenes work and the bells and whistles of both the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre, both of which were amazing. We explored the town a little after the tour; I shared a ham baguette with Taylor at the Baguette Barge, rowed boats down the stream with Hillary, Tay, and Caroline, and walked around several of the little shops. We met up with everyone for dinner at the Windmill Inn pub, which was my first ever pub experience. It was fun, but I'll take my Cafe Rio over pub food any day. :) In the evening, we saw an interesting production of Julius Caesar at the RST. It was an all African-American cast, and had some cool ideas, but for the most part it was slow-moving and a little boring. I think I'm getting more and more picky when it comes to critiquing shows, and I was picky to begin with. Uh-oh. Time to lower the expectations, especially now that I'm going home to community and university theatre again!

The gang!

Our cute little B&B.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

The Baguette Barge!

Let's just say the rowing took a minute for us to figure out.

Future roommates!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012:

The day began with an authentic English Breakfast, the must-try that everyone in the country talks about. It was an interesting combination, but really good! Baked beans, bacon (which is really just ham here), sausage, and tomatoes. I didn't touch the last two things, but what I ate was great. It was the first hot breakfast I'd eaten since I left home, and it made me really excited for Gregg's specialty pumpkin pancakes. Hope you're getting your ingredients ready, Dad!

My dear friend, Kyla Threlfall.
The rest of the day consisted of Shakespeare sites--lots and lots of Shakespeare sites. We went to the house of Mary Arden (Shakespeare's mother), Anne Hathaway's cottage (she was his wife; he got her pregnant and they had a shotgun wedding when he was only eighteen), Shakespeare's birthplace, his grave in the Holy Trinity Church, his "home", the home of Thomas Nash (his grandson-in-law), and the home of Susannah Hall (his oldest daughter). What a day, eh? They were interesting places. It was just funny because almost everything about Shakespeare is ambiguous and uncertain, so we'd hear things like "this was the ring that Shakespeare may have worn" or "Shakespeare may or may not have sat on this chair..." which made it a little less exciting knowing that it was mostly fake. But, of course, still very fun.

Mary's Farm

Falcon Show!

Anne Hathaway's house.

Susannah's home.

Holy Trinity Church.

Shakespeare's grave.

Hadley bo Badley.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre (again). 
For dinner, we hit up the Old Thatch Tavern pub, where I ordered an awesome chicken burger. And a very nice waiter man delivered it. After walking around a little more, then chatting in the park near the theatre for a bit, we attended Richard III in the Swan Theatre. If you've ever read or seen the play, it's extremely dark and tragic and gruesome. However, this particular rendition was a bit like a slapstick comedy, and I LOVED it. Richard had me laughing during the whole thing, and he's supposed to be the nasty murderer. Funny story about him, actually.... Phil (my program director) told me that when I fell asleep for a minute during the second act (oopsies... I was trying SO hard not to!), Richard was standing right by me waiting to walk onstage and glared at me for several seconds because I was snoozing, then looked at Andrea who was sitting next to me with a face that said "why on earth did you let her fall asleep!?" Having been in shows, I felt super bad about that, but it was really funny. Even funnier, Andrea completely fell in love with the actor during those two seconds of eye contact, and woke me up freaking out that her heart had jumped out of her chest. Oh man.... it was just one of those nights. After the play, about ten of us girls walked the streets of Stratford laughing our heads off about the silliest things, no doubt being mocked by everyone who passed us. Yes, we are the crazy Americans, thank you.

Thursday, 1 June 2012:

After another great breakfast, we boarded the coach to start the journey home. We went by way of the Cotswolds this time. The Cotswolds are a huge range of the greenest hills I've ever seen. It's an area of England that was untouched by the Industrial Revolution, so it's all very old-fashioned and natural. We drove to the tallest hill, where we found a random tower and a gorgeous view outlooking the area. We were only able to stay for a few minutes, but I think most of us would agree that it was our favorite part of the trip!

Fighting on a cliff... kind of. 

Next stop, Oxford University. For about two hours, we explored the unique campus of Oxford. For time's sake, we only stopped at Christ Church college and admired the pretty cathedral inside. That entire university is amazing. I'd love to go back someday and visit several other colleges. If I was a genius, I'd choose to be educated there.

Remember the Harry Potter scene where Ron "eats slugs?" Yes, that was here.

When we got back to the flat in London, I wrote my paper on Julius Caesar and relaxed for the remainder of the evening. Stratford was a great little getaway, but every time I leave for even a day trip, I love coming home to this little flat. Yes, the same one that I was so skeptical of at first. I love it now, because it really has become home. It's crazy to think that I'll be leaving in a week, and that this whole experience will be in the past. I'm sure I'll think of London often when I get back to Utah. I never knew that such a short amount of time would become such a big part of me.