Where to begin? I half-composed so many blog entries in my head whilst pounding the cold gray streets of the UK, that I can't remember them all anymore.
Okay: begin at the beginning. Even if some of it is redundant.
18 Oct 2005: Got up at an insane hour of the morning - it felt like working for Runways all over again - threw the last few things into my bag, and walked to the station, bumping into several UCUers (returning from a night out) on the way. Caught the 5:25 train to Eindhoven, took a bus to the airport, flew to London Stansted, then continued on to Cork. Got to Cork Airport, disembarked onto the tarmac in the rain and the wind, was greeted by the aforementioned open fireplace (in an airport?), then got onto yet another bus to the city center. Went and found my hostel, taking a few pictures on the way, dumped my stuff, and went exploring. Discovered that (a) there are hills, (b) the houses are old, but brightly colored, (c) there's a river running through town, which I never found out the name of, (c) Pride and Prejudice was playing (yes, I went to see it), (d) they had my Belle de Jour book at Waterstone's, (e) the grocery store is a heaven of fried potatoes and salad buffets, and (f) getting used to everything being left-sided - including people passing on the street - is effing annoying.
19 Oct 2005: Got up and ate the hostel's 'continental breakfast' of toast, toast, and toast, then headed back to the bus station to figure out how to get to Blarney Castle. Wasn't sure I was standing in the right place - despite the large BLARNEY-CORK timetable in front of me - so asked the red-haired, green-school-uniform-clad, leprechaun-looking girl next to me if she was going there too. She was, and eventually more and more people gathered, including a Polish girl who'd been working in Ireland for a year and an Australian named Brenna who, like me, was just on vacation. The problem was that the bus apparently thought it was okay to pull into the shelter without alerting the people huddling in the drizzle next to the actual stop, therefore we missed the bus. Brenna, the Pole, and I opted to share a taxi rather than wait 90 minutes for the next bus, so we got there that way. Despite the weather, it was still beautiful, and yes, we did kiss the stone. As if I needed any help in the 'gab' department! Anyway, we ducked into a wool market and admired clothes and hats, debated the merits of getting soup at a neon-yellow pub, wandered through a jewelry shop, then caught the bus back and went our separate ways. I did some shopping, took a few more pictures, picked up some food, and went back to the hostel to use the Internet and read Belle de Jour. (Meaning I spent my entire time in London wondering if that girl was her, or that girl, or that girl.)
20 Oct 2005: My last day, and, go figure, the sun came out. So I didn't go to the pool/sauna/whole-shebang at the hotel next door, but instead decided to go to Kinsale, a coastal town not too far from Cork. I figured it would be nice to take some pictures of the water, and it was. The drive was nice too - we bumped along rural roads the whole way, winding through sunny rolling hills. Once in Kinsale I walked up and down the cliff road for a long time, taking pictures and trying not to get blown away - the wind was strong! I clambered down to the shore at one point (falling on my bum on a concrete brick in the process) and collected a small rock for Mom; the whole 'beach' was covered in gray slate-like rocks and I thought it might make her think of Roan Inish. :) When I went to catch the 14:15 bus back, however, it turns out that Thursday is an exception to the normal schedule, and that I had to wait until 15:30. Good thing I'd allowed myself plenty of time to get to the airport. So I sat down, and the elderly gentleman beside me started to make small talk (in the thickest brogue I've ever heard), then noted, "You're not from around here."
"No, I'm American," I said.
"Oh, American." He paused for a few seconds, then said, "Well. That Bush certainly is a failure, isn't he?"
I burst out laughing. Finally, someone who's not afraid to offend! Needless to say, I liked him immediately and we had a nice conversation to fill that hour with. He was a really interesting guy; he'd worked as a hotel construction worker in all different countries around the world, and had even met Osama bin Ladin's father in person.
Anyway, the bus came, I did catch my plane after all, and after some orange juice, a Mexican-style wrap, and some initial confusion as to how the British rail system works, I caught the Stansted Express out of the airport into central London. I plopped down in the first empty seat I saw, then noticed that the woman next to me was reading a book in Dutch. "Ben je Nederlands?" I asked, and we struck up a conversation which easily filled the whole 45 minutes. She got off a stop before I did, but after realizing that the TRAIN system and the UNDERGROUND system are two entirely different animals, I found my hostel without a hitch. (It turned out to be absolutely wonderful, FAR better than the one in Cork.) And I fell in love with the Underground. Another reason to choose Georgetown over Yale: the DC Metro! :)
21 Oct 2005: Am I touristy? You bet. It took a while to figure out how to get to the Thames, but once I got there I realized that there's a Thames Walk on both sides, kind of like the Riverwalk in Jacksonville, and that makes it really easy to get around. I went to the Tower Bridge first, then marched along the river all the way up to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament. Click, click, click. I was dodging tourists and their cameras everywhere I went. Oh, wait, I was one too.
Anyway, I stood in line for the London Eye, then gave myself a reality check: I already had great pictures, my camera battery was close to dead, and was it worth paying $25 for what was essentially a giant Ferris wheel? I decided it wasn't, so I ducked into a souvenir shop, then realized I was right next to Waterloo station (which connects to the National Rail service) and so decided to check out the times to Stonehenge (which is in Salisbury). And luck must have been with me, because I was right on time for the 13:20 train. Ticket purchased (around $50) and off I went - to the wrong platform. (It wasn't my fault; it was the silly little timetable booklet!) I was told to go double-check the monitors. It was 13:18.
"I guess I've missed this one in two minutes, then," I said, sighing, pointing to the times, seeing my plans for the day go down the tubes because I'd bought an expensive day ticket that I obviously had to use but now wasn't going to be back in London in time for my 19:30 Jack the Ripper tour.
"You've missed that one, yes," the conductor said in tones of finality, turning away.
And just like that, I thought, Oh, have I, now? And I managed to dash back to the central area, double-check the platform number, race across the station to the correct platform, and dive through the doors literally right as the whistle blew. Go me!
And after all that, I arrived eleven minutes after the last bus to Stonehenge departed. Luckily, I was able to snag two Greek girls who were also trying to get there, and we split a taxi. Getting there was a lot like getting to Kinsale - a rural road through sun-dappled rolling hills, full of sheep and the occasional rainbow (from the misty rain). And Stonehenge itself was just beautiful; I can't seem to find a sufficient adjective. Most things like that, that you see all over the place (even on Windows backgrounds) seem a bit diminished when you finally see them in person, like 'oh, that's not really so special'. Well, that was definitely not true of Stonehenge (nor, I might add, of Big Ben - it's absolutely gorgeous; the postcards don't do it justice!). Every picture I took came out looking professional, just because the subject was so good. (Yes, they will shortly be added to the photo gallery, as soon as I finish typing this ridiculously long entry.) How, and why, did our ancestors ever manage to build such a thing? It would be a job and a half today, let alone in 10,000 BC.
Anyhow, I did make it back to London in time for the Jack the Ripper tour - at least, I was on my way on time, but had a delay on the Underground. So as I came skidding out of the Tower Hill tube station at 19:32, certain I'd missed the group, I was greeted by an absolute mass of people, probably around two hundred. And that was the group! In my head, it had been around 15. Apparently Donald (the tour guide) really is world famous. When Johnny Depp made the movie From Hell (which, according to Donald, "is about ninety-eight percent fiction"), he came to London and took a long private tour with Donald, to get into the role. ("My daughter was simply incandescent with envy when she heard," he laughed, to which I called, "So are all the females in tonight's group, I think!")
But the tour was amazing; it was one of the few things I did which I truly felt to be worth the money. Four pounds fifty pence (around eight or nine dollars) for a two-hour tour. And Donald told everything as if it were a story, describing the characters, pointing out the places where the victims (five East End prostitutes) had been found, describing exactly what the killer had been up to, right down to his last action. I was impressed. At the end, instead of tipping him, I bought a copy of his book (ten pounds) and he autographed it. He doesn't agree with Patricia Cornwell's so-called 'case closed' Ripper book, maintaining that she handles essentially no new material and that her theory (that artist Walter Sickert (sp?) was the Ripper) is an old one which has several flaws. I was rather glad to hear that, considering I got bored with the Cornwell book halfway through and never even finished it. "The case is certainly not closed, as she's maintaining," he said, sounding a bit irritated. He doesn't know himself who did it, but his speciality is in paring through the outrageous speculations (i.e. that Lewis Carroll was the Ripper) and reporting the hard facts. I haven't read more than a few pages of the book yet, but it should be good.
22 Oct 2005: I walked up to Oxford Street and did a whole lotta shopping. I bought stuff for all three members of my immediate family, but I'm not telling what! Then I hit the SLOWEST Starbucks in the entire world, then took the tube to the London Dungeon, which happens to be very close to my hostel. It's basically a glorified haunted house with a basis in history - the London Fire, stuff about Jack the Ripper, the Black Plague, etc. You're shepherded from place to place by actors - a doctor from Plague times, a torture chamber guru, etc. The student entry was 12 pounds something, so around $25, and it definitely wasn't worth that much, but it was still an amusing day out. At one point, we were in a 'courtroom' being tried for our crimes, and three criminals were called up. 'First criminal is... you.' The bailiff pointed. A black girl walked up to the stand. 'What's your name?'
'Where are you from?'
(to judge) 'She's been dancing naked - around fires - singing 'Beelzebub, Beelzebub, bring me a man, bring me a man as fast as you can!' - so I think she's a witch.' The judge entered into 'negotiations' with the criminal, finally deciding that she was insane and therefore must be released, 'but I'll need to see a demonstration of that naked dancing.'
'The second criminal is... you.' A twenty-something guy walked up.
'What's your name?'
'Where are you from?'
(to judge) 'He's been weeing in the wells! Poisoning our water supply!...'
'That was you? I've been sick all these weeks because of you?'
'Afraid so, your honor.'
(gavel) 'Guilty! You'll be drowned in the Thames.'
'And the third criminal is... YOU.'
That was, of course, me.
'What's your name?'
'Where are you from?'
(judge leans over) 'Oh, you're an American, are you?'
'Yes, Your Honor.'
Of course this was followed by wild laughter, me more than anyone. Although I did wonder what my crime would have been?...
23 Oct 2005: Didn't do a whole lot of city stuff today because there was the possibility of seeing Joanne, which didn't pan out. I spent a lot of time hanging out with the people in my hostel - there was a group of really nice Americans who were studying at Lancaster University and traveling around during their weekends, a chatty Canadian girl (coincidentally also named Jessica) who was a hair stylist, a Mexican guy whose Spanish I could understand perfectly (finally, someone who speaks MY Spanish, not Spain-Spanish!), a really hot Canadian guy who I might have gone for if he didn't smoke, and the requisite Dutch guy, Coen. He gave me a big ego boost - just like with the woman on the train, I saw that he was lying on his bed reading something in Dutch, so I asked, 'Ben je Nederlands?' and we started talking. About fifteen minutes into the conversation, he started listing all the places he'd been, "Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand -"
"America?" I interrupted with a grin and a pointing finger. It was meant to be a joke.
"No, not yet. You been there?"
Hah. The look on his face when he found out I was American... he kept on repeating that he'd never met any foreigner who could speak so well and that he hadn't heard me make even one single mistake. He was completely amazed, which made me feel good. The Dutch UCU students are the 'cream of the crop' when it comes to academics, so a lot of them can hear that I'm not native (when I ask them, at least), but your run-of-the-mill Dutchie tends not to realize, which I'd sort of forgotten. I love that. Love it. Anyway, Coen spoke (extremely broken) Spanish as well, so we got into a conversation with the Mexican guy which continually jumped back and forth between all three languages, depending on who was speaking to whom, and it was so much fun. And, oddly enough, I didn't have any trouble swapping on the fly like that. (Taking Spanish again this semester, even though it's a kick in the ego, was the right choice after all, I think.)
24 Oct 2005: Basically? Got up, got dressed, got out. There was a supermarket right across the street, so I got a bagel and a cheese croissant for breakfast and then went to Dover, which is the city where Channel swimmers start from and where they stay while they're training. The train ride in was gorgeous - first, valley houses as far as the eye could see, then through a tunnel and along the shoreline: white cliffs on one side, churning gray-green water on the other. The weather was terrible, but I was still glad to be there. I walked along the water for about an hour, and climbed down a rusty stairway at one point to collect a rock (the whole beach is made up of orangey stones). I couldn't figure out why the steps were so rusty until I almost slipped and crashed down them - at high tide, the water apparently covers those stairs. Wow. And I felt the water too, of course, and it strangely did not feel cold. Hope I think the same thing in two years. Anyway, it started to rain harder, so I used the last picture on my card with a shot of Dover Castle, high on the hillside, then (finally!) got my 'authentic' fish-n-chips - doused with salt and vinegar and wrapped in newspaper. Then: back to London and off to the airport.
25 Oct 2005 (today): This day actually begins at 20:00 on the 24th, when I got to the airport. I decided that if I had to sit there until 6:00, that I'd just sit in the bookstore and read. So I plopped down on the floor and polished off a Glamour, then started rereading Harry Potter VI. I say 'started' because I suddenly became aware that the shiny garage-style metal door was lowering - with me still inside the store! There was no one behind the counter controlling the door, as I'd hoped, and no one answered when I knocked on the metal door, calling "Hello?" I had about two seconds of, "Hah, I'm locked in a BOOKSTORE, and there's ice cream here, and magazines, and Harry Potter books, and the lights are on, and it's quieter than out there, and I could so just stay in here! Or take some books!" Then the rational part took over and said, "Do you really think there's not a security camera somewhere, watching you? And even if there's not, do you truly think it's a good idea to steal food and books? Just because you have the opportunity? No. You get out of here." So I did, clambering over and around tightly packed displays (normally outside, moved inside for the night), and found my way out of the employee entrance. Even stranger, I did not see an employee the entire time, and when I passed by a few hours later, the lights were still on (not so unusual) and the employee door was still unlocked (highly unusual). Odd.
Anyway, I spent the rest of the night (a) trying to sleep under the Departures screen, (b) freezing my butt off on the marble floor and giving up, (c) playing Hangman with a Dutch girl and Bahama-ian boy (how do you say that? I mean a boy from the Bahamas) who were in art school together, (d) chatting with a girl who turns out to attend Dia's old school (and knows her!), (e) eating, and (f) finding another - open - bookstore and reading more Harry Potter. Sleep was not in the cards.
It is now midnight and I have officially been awake - with the exception of a few cat naps - for 39 hours. Time to go remedy that situation.
But first, three notes:
(1) I got my schedule. Sign language isn't available for some reason - whether it's reserved for certain students or they're changing the times or something I don't know - but I'm unable to register for it, which made my job a lot easier. So now my schedule looks like this:
9:30 every day: Wolof
10:40 MWF: Latin
10:40 TR: advanced conversational Spanish
11:50 every day: French
12:20 MW: weight training
15:00 every day: Dutch
Of course, I'm not technically registered for Dutch, since I've already had it, but I like to keep that period free so I can drop in sometimes and keep in practice. The weight training thing works out well because it gets out halfway through seventh period, while Dutch is eighth, so Mondays and Wednesdays will probably be my 'Dutch days' in the spring. Anyway, I'm reasonably satisfied with this schedule. Hopefully I can take sign language, Swahili, and Arabic in grad school.
(2) You must check out these laptops. I love, love, love Sony. It's like they heard me complaining about the new T-series models - "Needs more processor speed, and what happened to the built-in webcam?" - and also heard the little voice inside me whispering, "Wow, I really like having color options!" Of course, it's five pounds, but that'll change by summer '06, when I can actually shop to buy.
(3) I am currently downloading Elizabethtown to feed my Orlando Bloom obsession, although I hear the movie's not actually that great. Ah, well, thus the joys of DLing - you don't pay! Something to look forward to for the morning. (Now if only I could find A Christmas Story. Nobody on this side of the ocean knows that movie and I fully intend to enlighten them.)