14 Days and Counting ’till Departure

London Underground

I leave for London in less than 14 days and I could not be more excited! However, like most tourists, I’m nervous. I’ve never really been in a large city on my own before.  Sure, I’m a frequent visitor to the Portland area, but with my folks and I’ve been to New York City twice, but the first time I almost lost my eye to an umbrella wielding New Yorker and the second time I was almost hit by a taxi. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m a little weary of the large crowds that I’ll encounter in London.  I’m also worried about finding my way around and the large possibility that I’ll get lost.  Luckily, my parents have equipped me with enough maps and travel books for a small tour group, so hopefully misdirection won’t be a major problem.  Besides, if it does happen, I’ll just roll with it.  Personally, I really don’t know what to expect in London, but I know that I will encounter several different cultures living together in one space and centuries of history, both of which I am eagerly anticipating.  Overall, I believe this will be a great experience for me; on a personal and a cultural level.

This is really happening!!

Well, I’ve finally come down from all the stress that was spring term and I figured it was about time that I did my introductory post. Anyway, I’m Kallan and I picked merry old London, England as my destination for studying abroad. I chose London for two reasons.1) I’ve wanted to visit the UK since I was five and 2) I’m avoiding a bad professor. I leave in less than a couple weeks and I can’t wait!!

“Mind The Gap”

I have been in London for a little over a week now. My first day was not ideal, as I went to the wrong orientation. I found myself waiting in a Starbucks in the heart of London using their wifi trying to communicate with someone from my program. I was scared and felt hopeless. Finally, someone from my program came to find me. From there on out, everything has been great!

I feel like I have seen so much but I also feel like there is so much to do and see. The culture here is very similar to any big city back in the states. There are obviously differences, the main one being the means of transportation here in London. I have almost been hit by cars and bikes multiple times because I can’t seem to remember that the vehicles are coming from the opposite direction than they do at home. The steering wheel being on the right side of the car makes everything more confusing. I catch myself looking into cars and being confused because it looks as if no one is driving!

I have become much more comfortable with riding the tube (London’s underground transportation system) and have ridden it alone multiple times now. Everyone is very quiet on the tube and I feel like an outsider eating my breakfast on my way to class… no one eats on the go here, very different than in the states! All of the different underground lines are color coded so it makes it easy to navigate. I have memorized my route to class and have becoming great at “minding the gap”

I have had quite a bit of fish and chips since I have been here and have started exploring different food options. My flat is equipped with a kitchen so I have been eating at home at times to save money. Also, getting “take-out”  or “to-go” means nothing to the locals… it is called “take-away” here and they will look at you blankly unless you use their terms.

I have met people from California to New York and everywhere in between who are studying here as well! Everyone has gotten along so far which has been great. My flat mates are really nice and most of us have similar interests.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” -Ernest Hemingway

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Tower Bridge!

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The London EyeIMG_2265

At the gates of Buckingham PalaceIMG_2191

Bridget

Arrival

After missing a connecting flight in Calgary, Canada, I was left to wait in the airport in Calgary for six hours. After a few tears, some phone calls, a free burger, and a drink I was more determined than ever to get to London. Although it took much longer than expected, I finally made it to Heathrow Airport in London at 10:00 pm (I was supposed to arrive at 10:00 am) on Saturday, June 14.

After clearing customs and showing my University of Westminster acceptance letter, I got my bag and was left to find a taxi. The “black cabs” here in London are very pricy so an airport worker gave me a number to call to get a discount taxi service to come get me. As I wandered around trying to find the place where I was instructed to wait, I was getting nervous. I just wanted to get to my flat.

It seemed like everyone at the airport knew exactly what they were doing and where to do. To say that I felt lost would be an understatement! Finally I saw a man coming towards me with a sign that said “Bridget Rayburn”. I don’t think I have ever been more excited to see anyone in my life! After a long taxi ride into the city, I arrived at my flat and was greeted by security and my flatmates. After traveling for more than 24 hours and successfully making it to my flat all by my self, I felt like I could conquer the world!!

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Here is a picture of the sun rising as I was on my way to London.

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Waiting with my things (for what seemed like forever)!

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Free food courtesy of Air Canada for messing up my travel plans!

“Everything you desire is always just outside your comfort zone” – Chris Murray

Bridget

Pre-Departure

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Here is a recent picture of me in Eugene, Oregon a few weeks prior to my travels.

I leave for London in five short days. I can not believe that a trip that I have been planning for months is nearly here! I am getting more and more anxious as the time of my departure gets closer. I am thrilled to have this opportunity and feel so blessed to be able to go on such an amazing adventure.

Having never been to London, I am not quite sure what to expect. I am thankful that English will be spoken but I am also aware of the strong accents that I will be coming across. I know that there will be cultural differences between London and my hometown (Portland, Oregon) and I am excited to discover them along the way. I am excited to meet people from all over the world, as I have heard London is a culturally diverse city. I’m hoping to drink lots of tea while I am abroad and try some new food as well. I can’t wait to see different historical sites and learn more about the English culture.

“The world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page.” -St. Augustine

-Bridget

Week 11: Trafalgar Square, or I Wish I Could Title This Post Without Making Innappropiate Jokes

Let’s face it, we’re only discussing Trafalgar Square because how else do you fit the words “blue cock” into legitimate conversation?

There’s a lot going on in Trafalgar Square: the National Gallery, Nelson’s Column, and the plinths are the usual suspects.  Nelson’s Column is really cool, but you can’t spit in London without hitting a monument of one kind or another, so the focus here is on the National Gallery and the Fourth Plinth.

The National Gallery is one of those few places that frown upon picture taking, etc., so I got nothin’ to show you.  But it is a super cool gallery if you’re into the whole “art” thing.  Monet, Degas, van Gogh,  Da Vinci…  Best field trip ever!

I used to go to art school, and I’ve always really liked the arts of all mediums, so the Gallery wouldn’t have been a total bust for me no matter what, but what really made me happy was getting to see this:

Don't ask why, because I don't know.

Don’t ask why, because I don’t know.

For whatever reason, this has always been my favourite piece by Da Vinci.  It’s a cartoon: a drawing on several sheets of paper that was to be eventually used as a template for a later piece.  Da Vinci never actually moved beyond the half-finished cartoon, though.

But this was supposed to be about cocks, not Jesus, so…

The Fourth Plinth.

The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar square is used as a centerpiece for modern art, as opposed to the other three plinths, which all have other, “normal” things on them—namely statues of actual people who did actual things.  What exactly is on the Plinth changes in a revolving cycle—artists submit their pieces in a contest and the winner gets their design on the Plinth.  The last cycle began last July, when Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock was selected.  Everyone just calls it “the blue cock,” though.  Because…well…  That’s what it is.

See?

See?

The next two installments have already been selected, and while the giant thumbs-up is…well…it’s a giant thumb, the skeletal horse of DOOM (and…economics…?) looks pretty fab.

Okay, fine, we’ll talk about the Column…

It was built in 1840-43 and commemorates Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died in 1805 in the Napoleonic Wars during the Battle of Trafalgar.  The lions around the base were constructed twenty-odd years later.   The end.

I'll admit--it is pretty impressive.

I’ll admit–it is pretty impressive.

The blue cock from across the fountain from over the lion.

The blue cock from across the fountain from over the lion.

The National Gallery all lit up at night.

The National Gallery all lit up at night.

Emma, Ellicia, Miguel, Tom, and I all went traipsing around Central London one evening and eventually ended up sitting on the base of Nelson's Column.  We're not going to talk about how hard it was for me to get up there....

Emma, Ellicia, Miguel, Tom, and I all went traipsing around Central London one evening and eventually ended up sitting on the base of Nelson’s Column. We’re not going to talk about how hard it was for me to get up there….

 

Week 2: Charles I Was Here

“WAS THAT A PARROT?!” is not really something I was expecting to hear while driving around London.

But for the record, yes, yes it was.

Every once in a while, you have to stop and remind yourself where you are, and brightly coloured birds in a park in London is one of the most disorienting things imaginable.  Never mind the herd of deer crossing the road in front of your car—it’s the birds that are confusing.

I have never been so perplexed by a parakeet.

Which I apparently don't have any photos of, so here's one with Ellie and Emma with Tobias (we decided he needed a name).

Which I apparently don’t have any photos of, so here’s one with Ellie and Emma with Tobias (we decided he needed a name).

And here's one with Tom and a bumble bee.

And here’s one with Tom and a bumble bee.

Richmond Park is less than a mile’s walk from uni, and it’s quite easy to forget where you are once you get there.  It’s ridiculous.  While London is all concrete and cobblestones, Richmond Park is all grass, trees, and deer.  Lots of deer.

Seriously, just don't.

Don’t think I’m kidding.

"Er....  Where are we again?" --Everyone

“Er…. Where are we again?” –Everyone

Richmond Park was originally a commons for the locals to use as field and pasture, but in 1625 one of many plagues hit London, and Charles I escaped to Richmond Palace, rather than stick around and die like everyone else.

It was Charles I that decided the commons needed to be put to better use as a hunting park, and so in 1637, he walled it in and brought in 2000 deer.  This did not make anyone happy.  The people around the park didn’t just use it for farming purposes—they needed the timber from the trees for firewood, etc.  Obviously, you can’t take down a wall and expect 2000 deer to stay put, so a ladder was erected instead, allowing people to cross the wall and gather timber (and people continued to gather firewood from Richmond Park all the way up through the 1800s, when the practice was finally prohibited).  When Charles II was king, he had ponds added to the park for the deer, including the Pen Ponds near the centre of the park.

I think...

Jubilee Pond

Okay, history lesson’s over.  Now it’s ambiguous story time:

There’s a telescope on King Henry’s Mound (a high point in the park named for Henry VIII) through which you can see Saint Paul’s Cathedral (well, you can see it without the telescope, but the telescope just makes it easier).  Well, at one point my flat decided that it would be a good idea to go on a night walk to Richmond Park and walk all the way across the park to King Henry’s Mound to the telescope—at night.  And if you think that a group of people living in the famously haunted dorm would be perfectly okay taking an extremely long walk through a forest at night, you couldn’t be more wrong.  We were all quite glad to get back to our ghost.

 

And get a Chinese.

And get a Chinese.

 

Week 4: The Apathy Subsides

I said before that nothing had really happened to make me feel like my trip abroad was anything less than normal, but that’s because I hadn’t gone to the Tower of London yet.

I’d seen the Tower, of course, but I never went until it was time to go for my history class.  And to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I spent very much actually paying attention to the lecture my profs were giving—part of that was because they weren’t telling me anything that I hadn’t already learned from my history classes at Western, but it was also because I spent most of the time thinking, “Holy hell, this is awesome!”

I honestly can't tell you what they were talking about while i was off staring at this thing...  (Yes, this is a dragon.  Yes, it is made out of swords and guns.  And it MADE SOUNDS.)

I honestly can’t tell you what they were talking about while I was off staring at this thing…
(Yes, this is a dragon. Yes, it is made out of swords and guns. And it MADE SOUNDS.)

These are not just windows.  These are THE windows.  They came with the Tower.

These are not just windows. These are THE windows. They came with the Tower.

The Tower dates back to the eleventh century, when William the Conqueror invaded England with the goal of taking the throne from then-king Harold.  Edward the Confessor had died without an heir, and Harold was his next of kin.  Unfortunately for Harold, William insisted that Edward had promised him the throne upon the king’s death (I can’t help but imagine this playing out as some kind of playground quarrel with two boys fighting over a toy, complete with the “IT’S MINE—HE SAID I COULD HAVE IT” mantra being thrown back and forth).  After defeating Harold in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William started construction on the White Tower.

And what a lovely tower it was.

And what a lovely tower it was.

Flint Tower

Devereux Tower and Legge's Mount (and metal archer dude).

Devereux Tower and Legge’s Mount (and metal archer dude).

One of the cool things about the Tower of London is that it was built up against the London Wall, built by the Romans in the second and third centuries—the old Roman wall was used as part of the defense for the Tower, and not only that, but parts of the London Wall are still standing throughout the City of London, including around the Tower.

A statue of Emperor Trajan in front of the portion of the London Wall at the Tower of London.

A statue of Emperor Trajan in front of the portion of the London Wall at the Tower of London.

Remains of part of the Roman settlement at the Tower.

Remains of part of the Roman settlement at the Tower.

Other cool things about the Tower include the ravens, the fact that it was once the Royal Menagerie (complete with lions and grizzly bears), and Anne Boleyn was beheaded on Tower Green, and is buried in the Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula, next to the White Tower.

"If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall..."

“If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall…”

The memorial outside the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, listing the names and dates of everyone executed at the Tower, including Robert Devereux, Lady Jane Grey, and Anne Boleyn.

The memorial outside the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, listing the names and dates of everyone executed at the Tower, including Robert Devereux, Lady Jane Grey, and Anne Boleyn.

And Beefeaters, of course.

And Beefeaters, of course.

Week 7: Hey, Jude

You would think that Halloween would be the interesting part here, but it really wasn’t.  No, the interesting thing that happened this week was winter storm St Jude.

St Jude is a bit of a mystery to us.  In fact, I am convinced that in the case of a zombie apocalypse or other catastrophe, Roehampton is going to be the place you’ll want to be.  Why?

Because St Jude never happened.

Roehampton's greatest casualty to winter storm St Jude

Roehampton’s worst casualty from winter storm St Jude

My flatmates and I spent a good portion of our evening browsing our Twitter feeds for information on the storm, and we were constantly checking to see when the storm was going to be at its peak, but…  Nothing ever happened.  Around the time it was supposed to get bad, a few of us threw on the lightest, least rain-worthy clothes we had and went out to play in the rain.

That’s what we’d been waiting for: the perfect time to go play in the rain.

And play we did.

Nothing here--just shenanigans.

Nothing to see here–just shenanigans.

Car park turned water park.

Car park turned water park.

The residents on Southlands probably thought we were insane.

The residents of Southlands probably thought we were insane.

Tom and Charlie being Tom and Charlie.

Tom and Charlie being Tom and Charlie.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

Hellie has the right idea...

Hellie has the right idea…

...but Charlie wins.

…but Charlie wins.

Now, the thing about St Jude never happening…  I am a nocturnal person—there is simply no other way to say that.  I was awake all night.  My curtains were open all night.  I did not see any rain—at least no more than there had been when we’d gone outside.  And yet…

And yet, things like this happened...

And yet, things like this happened…

That’s really it.  I mean, according to the news, around 5:00am was the when most of the damage occurred.  All across London, trees were uprooted, bridges collapsed, and construction projects fell apart.  But I was awake at 5:00am—I’m telling ya, Roehampton is magical.

There was one thing that happened on Halloween that was pretty fantastic though:

This is why my flatmates are brilliant.

This is why my flatmates are brilliant.

 

 

Week 8: Subculture Tangent, or It’s a Bad Idea to Let Me Loose In Camden

This is a bit of a combination post because there are two separate incidents that more or less rely on each other for discussion.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I love goth music, and the awesome thing about England is that this is where the goth subculture got started.  Out of the mess that was punk rock grew goth, led by Siouxie and the Banshees, Peter Murphy, and many others.

In the US (especially over here in the west) goth isn’t nearly what it is in Europe.  I mentioned to a German professor that I use German music to practice my listening skills, and when the exchange of

“What kind of music do you like to listen to?”

“Eh…  Goth rock.”

happened, the prof’s response was “Well, you won’t have any problem finding music then!”

While the comment was specific to Germany, it’s true throughout Europe, and London is no different—as anyone who has set foot in Camden would know.  (Camden is well known for it’s alternative subcultures, especially goth and punk.)

Throughout my time in London, there were several bands that I listen to regularly who were playing in or around London, and while I missed quite a few of them, I did manage to hit two.  Back in week four, a couple of us from the flat went into Camden to the Underworld nightclub to catch Voltaire’s London gig, and then almost a month later, I took a trip out to Bristol with my friend Maggie to catch VNV Nation at the Fleece, a popular club for alternative rock gigs.

If you had told my fifteen-year-old self that I would be seeing Voltaire live, I wouldn’t have believed you.  First of all, I lived in Idaho, where there is no goth scene to any degree, and I’ve never been one for concerts.  And VNV Nation doesn’t tend to tour America very often, which is really the case for most goth musicians—when they do, they stick to the east coast where the scene is quite a bit bigger (ironically enough, it’s pretty big in Florida…).

So, there was that…

The real reason I want to bring it up, though, is because between the two concerts, the variety within the goth subculture itself was amazing.  A lot of people don’t realise that there is more than one type of goth, and between the two concerts, I saw almost every single one of them (I can’t imagine what I would have seen if I’d made it to either Diary of Dreams or Combichrist!).

Background:  Voltaire is certainly goth, but he’s also filk.  That is, quite a bit of his music would appeal to science fiction/fantasy fans, and he uses a lot of folk music techniques.  He’s not gloomy, he’s not aggressive, but he is hilarious.  He monologues, and it’s great.  He makes snide comments in the middle of a song.  He also drinks a bottle of Captain Morgan while onstage, and he can be a bit offensive (if you’re the type to be offended).

Exhibit A.

Exhibit A.

The eye-patch makes it.

The eye-patch makes it.

VNV Nation is on the opposite side of the scale.  They’re serious.  They’re more than a man on a stage with only a guitar and his voice.  They’re big.  But you’d never guess they were goth by listening to them, or by looking at them.  But they are.  Ronan formed the group in the early ‘90s, so they’re part of the original movement.  They are, for lack of a better word, inspiring.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit B.

Ronan has a lot more energy than people expect him to (so he says).

Ronan has a lot more energy than people expect him to (so he says).

So, two different types of goth music: acoustic, dark, and funny; electronic, light, and energetic.

With that, you would think that you would get two completely different groups of goths attending the concerts, but the funny thing is, you really don’t.  It’s true that VNV didn’t draw much, if any, from the Renaissance/vampire crowd, and Voltaire didn’t pull too many cybergoths, but otherwise, there was quite a bit of cross-pollination between the two.

I find that to be a lovely thing.  I love how the culture thrives in London, and I love how you can go to two completely different concerts and see quite a few of the same types of people, but the diversity of the crowd is anything but small.  If anything, I just liked to see what kinds of people listened to the same music I do, and the variety was surprising.  Both gigs ranged from “I just got off work” to “You don’t know this, but I sleep in a coffin every night,” and that’s amazing.  If nothing else, I’m glad I got to go to London if only to see and experience this subculture in its natural habitat.

My fifteen-year-old self would have died.

My fifteen-year-old self would have died.

For the last song of the night, Voltaire invited everyone up on stage to sing with him.

For the last song of the night, Voltaire invited everyone up on stage to sing with him.

Ronan is so much fun.

Ronan is so much fun.

My friend Maggie went with me to Bristol to see VNV Nation, which was awesome.

My friend Maggie went with me to Bristol to see VNV Nation, which was awesome.