Monday, January 29, 2007

Fighting the Monday Blues

Welcome to the start of my fifth to last week in London. Ahh! Time has absolutely flown by and September seems like years ago. More reflective posts coming later, to be sure, so I'll hold off for now.

This weekend was slow and un-eventful, for the most part. We had our end-of-month work party on Friday night. It was Australia Day so we had a beach partyish. Someone, I believe it was Karey, asked what the occasion was for a party. It's the end of the month, and over here, that's occasion enough. Thank goodness! But the party was a lot of fun and so was hanging out with people from the bar afterwards.

Saturday I recovered from Friday, slept a bit and then stayed and watched entirely too many episodes of the "Band of Brothers" miniseries. But sometimes, even in London, you need days like that so it wasn't too bad.

Sunday I slept late again, have been really tired lately, and it felt nice. I finally got up and got going, had lunch at McDonald's at Marble Arch because sometimes you just need McDonald's. Afterward I set out for the City, Aldgate East tube to be specific, in search of Spitalfields Market. I hate going to the City on the weekends because it is absolutely dead. I got all turned around while coming out of Aldgate, which has to the most confusing tube and subway system I've ever been on. I ende dup wondering around the City for a bit, where there was no one, which is not cool. I ended up really close to the Swiss Re building, or "The Gherkin" as it's known here. (Thought I prefer to call it the Faberge Egg, as that's what it looks like to me.) It's a skyscraper, and the closest I'd been to it. It was weird, because I don't really like skyscrapers, and I don't like seeing them in London. I like my London buildings to have a history, with white stucco, Georgian or Regency window frames, layers of paint, no more than five or six floors. But I can appreciate the building for its unique design, even though being so close to it is completely intimidating.

After this I decided to give up and followed the signs to the Liverpool Street Station. While doing so I found much better signage for the market, and made my way towards it. The Market is one of the oldest in London, and cleaner, with a better set-up than most. But it was only alright. For one thing I thought the crowd was kind of yuppie-ish, pretentious even. I did look through all the clothes stalls though, bought a great juice drink, and then bought a cool matted photograph.

After this I was of course cold, hungry, and tired, so I went back toward home and the Cafe Nero at Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road, where I always seem to find myself on Sunday afternoons. I chilled here for the remainder of the afternoon, had a tea and muffin and wrote for awhile.

Now the weekend is up and I'm back at work scrounging for things to do. See a play this week, maybe heading to Windsor Castle on Saturday, trying to make up my mind about Ireland and tours in all that. Will be updating again later this week as I am bored, so watch out!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Today I woke up to SNOW outside my window.

Sure, it was but a light layer, didn't stick to the roads, and will probably be all melted by the time I go out for lunch, but it SNOWED.

My heart still skips a beat when I wake up to see snow on the ground and ice on the tree branches. Even though I'll probably never have the exact same excitement as snow days brought when I was younger, they still can make me a little giddy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

On the 23rd day of my 23rd year...

It’s cold here. Really cold here. And windy. The kind of wind that pierces your body, making it hard to move, which is unfortunate as all you want to do is move to anyplace that is warm.

Yesterday was back to work as normal after a busy but good weekend. I’m hoping that the way Monday morning went is not an omen for the rest of the week. I fell up the stairs at work, spilled hot tea on my foot, ripped my panty hose, and smashed part-ways into a wall. In my partial defense, however, I would like to say that this is only the fifth time I have fallen at work. This is HUGE, as there are four flights of stairs and I run up them, easily, 20 or 25 times a day, and in four and a half months I’ve only fallen five times.

As to the weekend, Saturday I took the train to Cardiff for the day. I love taking the train as it provides amazing scenery and makes me appreciate all of Great Britain. To be honest the scenery this time wasn’t that great until after we passed Bristol, but there was one scene in particular that will stay with me a long time. Passing through the countryside, which was a beautiful shade of green that I didn’t expect in January, there was a solitary hill, with one, perfect tree at the center. I’m not good with tree names and types, but it was one where you could see all the branches and leaves, appreciating the structure and shape. The way it stood at the center of the mound, and the way the mound stood alone, overlooking everything around it, it was strength and protection manifested in the landscape in a way I’ve never really seen before. I started to take a picture, but the train moved too fast, and I’m kind of glad, because a picture never would have captured how perfect I found the scene to be.

As for Cardiff, it is a nice city, small but nice. I started at Cardiff Castle, located very near the city centre. It’s small, but the grounds are beautiful, and very green as well. Though it was cold and windy, the sky was clear and blue and made walking around the grounds nice. I took a tour of the inside, where the architecture was amazing. So many intricate details, murals on the walls and ceilings, delicately carved woodwork everywhere you looked. There was little furniture, which was nice because it’s always the furniture that deters me as it always seems so unwelcoming. The tour guide was great because he had a perfect, dramatic British voice. He would take pauses when describing the room, that weren’t too short or too long, but gave a sense of anticipation to whatever he said in only a way that British people can do. My favorite room was the library, an incredibly long room full of shelves of books, with the names of different great writers painted on the walls. And it was the warmest room of the house (the tour guide called it a house) as it still used the original heating method to heat it. (Or well, maybe not the original, having trouble remembering the exact date of the radiator, but at the latest it was from the 19th century.)

Oh, almost forgot the peacocks. Peacocks freely roam the castle grounds. My hatred of birds is no secret, but there are certain birds I can tolerate, at a safe distance of course. Penguins, flamingoes, swans – but only in an appreciation of the fact that they mate for life – and peacocks, the latter simply because their feathers are pretty. So the fact that there were peacocks just walking around didn’t bother me as much as you might think – until I came out of the house after the tour and had one on the railing by my head, so close that when it jumped away the tail grazed my hat. I froze, cursed, and then hightailed it out of there. And of course the whole time there I never saw them with their feathers out, which I think is a good thing because I think that means they are going to attack, doesn’t it?

After the tour of the inside I climbed to the top of the Keep to get a good view of the grounds and Cardiff. I didn’t stay long, however, as the wind was too strong and I was having trouble keeping my balance. And flying off the top of a castle keep in Wales, while a great story, is not how I’d like to die.

By this point I was quite frozen, so after warming up in the gift shop, and buying a few things of course, I walked around town a bit, passed City Hall and other municipal buildings, and finally ended up at the National Museum, where I went to unthaw for awhile. I also looked at some of the exhibits too. They had some great artifacts, and some beautiful, and massive, Celtic crosses made of stone.

After the museum I headed back toward the city centre to eat and shop and absorb Welsh culture…in their malls. Yes, malls abounded in the city centre to the point that I kept getting lost and couldn’t tell if I was in St. David’s mall or Queen Anne’s arcade. I bought some really good mixed nuts, spent less than 10 pounds at their three-story Primark, quite a feat, and then spent my last hours warming up, yet again, in a Café Nero with a cup of tea and my book.

The first half hour of the train ride home was miserable thanks to two incredibly drunk, vulgar men in the same car as me. I waited it out hoping they would pass out, but when they didn’t, wisely switched cars, where I was later yelled at by another drunken man coming out of the toilet for my “bad manners.” Apparently he being in my way and refusing to budge, forcing me to move around him, constituted bad manners. Whatever.

Sunday I slept late, then slept some more later in the afternoon. Just was very exhausted. In between all the sleeping I ran in Hyde Park, and then went to the Imperial War Museum, easily one of my favorite museums in London, and I've seen them all. I only went through two of the exhibits, my favorites, the one on the Holocaust, and the one on post-1945 conflicts.

Nothing too big looming on the horizon. Hope to see another play this week, and then will probably just stay in London this weekend. I want to take another trip out of the city, maybe an overnight one, and then think about where I want to go for a few days my last week here. Any ideas throw them my way. For a weekend trip I’m leaning toward Liverpool, and for my last week I’m still leaning toward Ireland, but just for a few days.

Friday, January 19, 2007

"You're easier to believe in with the lights off." - Bean, Love Song

Friday, Friday, Friday. This week was one of the longest in awhile. Not sure if that's good, since my time here is rapidly dwindling away, or bad, since it made the work days go so much slower.

But it wasn't a bad week, in fact, I've been in a surprisingly good mood. Maybe because all of last week I was sick, and did not work on Thursday as a result. But for the record, lying in bed all day only made me feel worse, not better. But I am mostly better now. I still have slightly runny nose and a cough, and that sick taste in my mouth, but I'll be fine.

Also last week, I got paid to shop. No, really. On Tuesday I get to work to discover half the office on the pavement, as everyone who had keys to get in was away. So a few girls and I went shopping while we waited for keys, and I found a great scard for £2 at Top Shop. I mean, when else am I literally going to get paid to shop?! The keys arrived at 10:30 - I normally start at 9 - and we were all free to go about our days. Though, to be honest, I don't think anyone did any work until after lunch.

Last weekend I re-discovered why I love it here so much, and I really do love it here. I am not ready to go home and leave all of this. I'm looking forward to seeing my family and friends, and getting on with my life, but I am going to miss it terribly.

Anyway, on Saturday I went to the Russian Winter Festival in Trafalgar Square. There were tons of people - more people than birds I'd say, which is hard to do. The festival was only alright, and I didn't stay that long. I picked up some free brochures on Moscow, listened to all the different accents and languages around me, watched some folk dancing, and then bought an over-priced hot dog and chips. But it was nice to experience a different culture.

Afterward I headed for Westminster, as I had not seen Big Ben since November! Gasp! I walked all around Parliament, through some parks, across the Hungerford Foot Bridge, and then along the river to the National Theatre, where I sat at a cafe. I wrote for a bit, and then browsed through the book stalls in front of the National Film Theatre, one of my favorite London activities, even though I've never bought a book.

Sunday I went to church and then sat at the Cafe Nero in Paperchase and wrote. I went to the British Museum for a bit as well, but just wasn't in a museum mood. I did sit in the Great Court and people watch though, which I thought a perfect Sunday activity.

This week has been work as usual, for the most part. It's slow around here so some days I have to hunt for things to do.

Wednesday I went and saw my first play in months, "Love Song" at the New Ambassador's, where I saw one of my favorite plays - "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me" - the first time I was here. It starred Neve Campbell, Kristen Johnston, Cillian Murphy, and Michael McKean. Neve Campbell's acting disappointed me, but everyone else was wonderful. Kristen and Michael had great chemistry and played off each other well. And Cillian was very good at his role, which had comical and easy-going parts, as well as some more intense scenes. I've only seen him in Batman Begins, where he creeped me out supremely, so to see him in this role was nice. And he didn't creep me out. I knew nothing about the play before going, only that I got cheap student tickets and who was in it, but according to the program I read before the show, it was all about love. Love love love. I wasn't really in the mood for that, but it ended up being ok. It was about different types of love and was interesting and different, weird but in a good way, that makes you think, not makes you disturbed.

Tomorrow I am headed for Cardiff, Wales. If I end up going to Ireland in March I will have been to all parts of the UK. I am hoping that the weather holds out and doesn't disrupt my trains, or prevent from doing everything I want to do.

Lovely weekend wishes to all and will write again soon.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Right back where I started from

Apologies as usual for not writing sooner/more often. I’ll be better this year, promise.

I’ve been back in London for a week now. It was great to get away, but it’s also nice to be back.

Christmas at home was AMAZING. Nothing spectacular or exciting, just home. Which in itself can be pretty spectacular and exciting when you’ve been away for four months. Christmas was like it always is, which is exactly what I expected and wanted. Same traditions, same food, same feelings. I knew as soon as I walked into my house that I had made the right decision, that the number on the credit card statement pales in comparison to everything else. In addition to all of the wonderful aspects of being with my family in my house, I also got Bojangles biscuits, Pizza Inn, and El Rodeo. I got to spend a perfect night in Chapel Hill with my friends, and got to re-connect with an old friend at home. I got to see Anderson and CNN and part of a “My Super Sweet Sixteen” marathon on MTV. (I think they knew I was coming home.) I shopped at Target and got a caramel apple cider from Starbucks – in Goldsboro. I soaked up the Southern accent to the point that I am still drawling. (And being teased mercilessly at work for it.) I got to sleep in my bed, which truly is the softest place on Earth – at least compared to the bed here. (I felt like I slept on air my first night.) I got to watch 1 ½ Carolina basketball games. I got hugs. But most of all, after a month of not being that happy, of being exhausted and frustrated and confused, I got to re-charge, got to get back to a part of myself that I didn’t realize I was missing.

And that was my Christmas.

I got back on the 30th, and spent New Year’s Eve at a flat party in Bayswater with my flatmates. No watching fireworks at Big Ben or any other tourist things, does this make me a real Londoner? No, probably just made me smart and warm. I’ve never really been out on New Year’s before and it was a lot of fun. Free drinks made by someone who actually knows how to make drinks, lots of picture taking by the roommate and I while waiting for the clock to strike midnight, lots of being ignored by the people at the party, as they were all older and married. (Not as bad as it sounds – we made our own fun. And it was interesting and a learning experience to say the least.) At midnight I got my New Year’s kisses from several people – all of the European kiss-kiss kind. And then, in a very nice and embarrassing gesture, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me. It was nice of Marissa to tell the guy throwing the party, and nice of him to make everyone sing to me, but embarrassing because I just don’t like attention like that. But mostly it was a nice thing. J So 23 started with kisses on the cheek, champagne, a little dancing, and French fries at 2 a.m. at a Halal restaurant on the way to the tube. What this means in ways of prediction for 2007, not sure. But I look forward to finding out.

And that was my New Year’s.

The first day of my 23rd year was uneventful. Seriously. Finally letting the jet lag get to me, I stayed in out of the cold and rain, watched “The Little Mermaid” with the roommate, and then had birthday cupcakes, courtesy of Marissa, and then birthday Nutella and Pandora, courtesy of the flatmate Angelo. It was a good birthday and I have no regrets about how my year has started. It was weird not being home for my birthday, watching the Rose Parade, taking lots of calls from family, but it was still nice. And I did get my family birthday before I left, complete with “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” themed décor and yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I always seem to end up with more birthday cakes then I know what to do with, and this year was no different. I’m still not happy about turning 23, for starters I don’t like odd numbers, and I just am not ready to be another year older. But I guess all in all 22 wasn’t a bad year, lots of changes, that’s for sure, but a lot of good things as well. So hopefully 23 will be alright as well.

And that was my birthday.

Life started again on the 2nd, or at least the semblance of a life I have here. Back to work, though work, and pretty much all of London this week, has been pretty dead. Apparently they’ve had a record number of office workers taking holiday or calling in sick. Work still managed to be stressful at times, but still a little too slow for my taste and I’m hoping things will be closer to normal this week.

This week was perhaps my most trying week here, however, as the SALES have started. Every store window declares, in hot pink, green, and of course, RED, 50% off, 75% off, LAST CHANCE. Every store I pass on Oxford Street – to and from work and on my lunch break – pulls at my self-control, and debit card. So far I think I have done very well. I’ve only bought stuff I will really wear, and got some really good deals in the process.

This weekend I was out and about in London in a way I haven’t done in awhile. I went to Hammersmith on Saturday morning, and then Canary Wharf in the afternoon. I went to the Docklands Museum first, and then sat at a Starbucks in Jubilee Place and wrote.

The Docklands Museum covered the history of the Docklands of London – bet you couldn’t have guessed that – from when it was the Roman port of Londinium to now, with the DLR and rejuvenation of Canary Wharf. It was very well put-together with lots of interesting pictures and artifacts. The artifacts were especially amazing, as they were real objects, no replicas. I love seeing a Viking axe that they just happened upon while excavating in Covent Garden in 1984! They had a jawbone from a whale – twice my height! I think I started at it for five minutes.

The exhibit that I liked the most, however, and the reason for journeying to the museum in the first place, was on Jamestown. It was actually smaller than I had expected, but had lots of artifacts from Jamestown and interesting facts I did not know. For instance, I never knew that orphaned children from England were sent to the colony as servants. They had real tobacco in a barrel at one part of the exhibit. Mom made fun of me when I told her it made me think of home. She’s right, we may live in the country but it’s not like I’m around cured tobacco – ever. But for some reason the smell sent me instantly back home.

My favorite part of the museum was a map labeled “the Southern part of Virginia.” In actuality, it’s North Carolina, turned on its side, so the Outer Banks are at the bottom, but still, it was North Carolina. Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras, as well as Roanoke Island were labeled. There were drawings of animals along the Eastern part of the state – apparently lions roamed wild around the Wilmington area! J Instead of the Atlantic Ocean – it was called the “Southern Virginia Sea.” And the area around Beaufort was simply described with “this is a swampy wilderness.” I think I studied the map for 10 minutes, and then came back two more times before leaving it. It was very well drawn, in colored pencil, and very detailed in its rendering of the Outer Banks and various inlets. The map made it worth the long tube ride to Canary Wharf, and the even longer walk, in the cold, bitter, wind and rain from the tube station to the museum.

Sunday I went to church and then sat in a coffee shop and read. I think I may have finally found a coffee shop that I can read in and feel at ease, relaxed, and just good. It’s the Café Nero on the second floor of Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road. It’s close to church, work, and only about a 30 minute walk from my flat, and it only took me four months to find a place to chill and read and write in!

And that was my weekend. As usual it was too short, but I feel good about the week ahead, and that hasn’t happened in awhile.