A Quick Update Before I Jet Off from the UK

Ello from a 21-year-old!

As you know, I had such a great birthday. It all started with my epic adventure to Jane Austen’s house, which was one of the best days of my life. I had quite the “adult” birthday on the actual day because I spent it at work.

Luckily I got to leave for a bit to go pick up another surprise that my mom sent me, which was a look-alike Snickers made by Jane Robinson from the UK. My mom sent her a picture of my beloved dog and she knitted a stuffed animal to look just like Snickers, complete with her completely white front leg. She’s adorable! I’m getting quite the collection of stuffed animals over here, but I’m not complaining.

If I can't have the real Snickers, this is a close second!

If I can’t have the real Snickers, this is a close second!

Then I had another amazing surprise when I found out that the Jane Austen House Museum shared my blog on its Facebook page. I got the nicest comments from people all over the world who shared the stories of their own pilgrimages to Jane’s house. The Jane world might be small, but it’s a wonderful one to be part of.

Yet another surprise from my sneaky mom came when Jessica brought home cupcakes that my mom ordered from Hummingbird bakery. We’re still finishing them up and I never want them to end! They’re amazing.

So. Good.

So. Good.

I then went out to dinner with some friends. We had Spanish tapas (small plates) and they were incredible. It was nice to be able to celebrate my birthday with friends, even if it fell on an inconvenient Monday. We then went out for a pint at the pub, because when in London, you must celebrate in the English way!

On Tuesday I visited Conde Nast, which was one of the highlights of my journalism class thus far. We got to hear from the assistant publisher of Vanity Fair, the overall marketing director for the brand and the editorial rights director for the brand. It was very cool to be at the place that publishes VogueGQ and Vanity Fair, among others. The speakers were all very optimistic for the future of magazine journalism, and I am too!

In the afternoon I got a free facial courtesy of my internship. I had to write a short review in exchange for 30 minutes of relaxation! Seems like a fair trade-off to me.

On Wednesday night I watched the Brit awards, which are the British version of the Grammys. My sister would be thrilled at the major role 1D played in the ceremony. I think the MC mentioned them every five minutes. Their world tour starts this weekend, and I think Britain is very proud to have such a popular band representing its country. I was most excited to see Mumford and Sons perform and they didn’t let me down. (Taylor Swift did, but that’s no surprise to anyone).

Brits (and me) love these goofy guys

Brits (and me) love these goofy guys

Believe it or not my spring break starts this Friday! In less than 36 hours I’ll be in Venice, Italy for the start of my weeklong Italian adventure. I’m going with three other friends and couldn’t be more excited. We’re traveling to Venice, Milan, Florence and Rome. You can be sure that there will be endless pictures of architecture, fountains and of course, food to come in the next blog post.

I won’t be posting until I return next weekend, so I hope you don’t miss me too much! I promise to make the next blog post worth it.

Until next time,

Allison, the soon-to-be Italian adventurer

 

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Dreams Do Come True: One of the Happiest Days of My Life

When there were rumors that the world was going to end on December 21st, I jokingly told people, “It can’t end yet! I haven’t been to Jane Austen’s house!”

But there was truth behind that statement. Visiting Jane Austen’s house has been the Number 1 item on my bucket list for many years.

Today I crossed it off.

I decided to do something special for my 21st birthday (well, the day before, but it’s close enough). I had always known that I’d be celebrating my entrance into adulthood in London, but I was never exactly sure how I would celebrate it. The typical American 21st birthday involves quite a lot of alcohol, a shot book full of embarrassing pictures from friends, lots of laughs and crazy antics and maybe, if you’re lucky, coherent memories of that night.

You can't go wrong if you go in this direction

You can’t go wrong if you go in this direction

I’ve never wanted that. Luckily, going to England gave me a chance to celebrate this milestone birthday my way. I decided to make this birthday one to remember by visiting the home of a woman who was more accomplished at 21 than anyone I can think of : Jane Austen. 

Jane Austen is so much more than my favorite author. Although she is not living, she has had a monumental influence on the way I approach the world. Jane drew from her own life experiences to write about what she knew, which was a world where marriage was the end goal of all female life. But Jane, unlike other women, saw through this superficiality and was able to critique it with a maturity beyond her years.

Jane taught me that the everyday happenings in life give us meaning and make us who we are. That little things do matter. And in my darkest days, it has always comforted me to know that little things do make a difference. That although life seems “but a quick succession of busy nothings,” it can be gone too soon.

You're right, Jane. Why not?

You’re right, Jane. Why not?

At the age of 21, Jane had already written the first drafts of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey. (So yes, what am I doing with my life?) She is known for constructing the first great novels with plot development, well-rounded characters and her trademark cynicism and wit. With her maturity, snarkiness and insightful observations into life, Jane has become my literary hero. It’s only fitting that I mark a milestone birthday with a visit to her house. 

Today was everything I ever hoped it would be and more. 

I woke up with feelings of both excitement and sadness. Before I left for my first ever concert when I was in elementary school (yes, it was Britney Spears), I remember telling my mom that I felt really sad. Knowing that something I had been looking forward to for so long would soon be over caused a pang in my heart. That’s how I felt today. Of course, all of the excitement surpassed these feelings and I couldn’t wait to finally step foot into my own personal Mecca.

Chawton aka the most beautiful place in the world

Chawton aka the most beautiful place in the world

Jessica and I started the day off early and took the train to Alton, which is the town neighboring Chawton, where Jane’s house is. The train journey took about an hour and 45 minutes.

If you think the path to her house is clearly marked, you’re unfortunately mistaken. The walk from the train station to her house takes about 40 min at a solid pace and is along unpaved grassy roads next to a busy highway.

En route to Jane's house

En route to Jane’s house

Our journey was very true to Elizabeth Bennett’s trek across the countryside to visit her sick sister Jane in Pride and Prejudice. It was then that Elizabeth arrived with her hair “so untidy and blowsy” and her hem “six inches deep in mud.” Of course, I was wearing a dress and my favorite cameo jewelry for the occasion, so I knew exactly how Elizabeth felt.

Sheep grazing and enjoying the February sun

Sheep grazing and enjoying the February sun

We walked past grazing cows, street signs for roundabouts and wild flowers. The same unmarked paths Jane once walked on during her long afternoon walks with her beloved sister Cassandra. Although the trek was far and muddy and we weren’t always certain that we were headed the right way, we did manage to find our way without any wrong turns.

Finally, Chawton. It is more pastoral than any place in England I’ve visited thus far, and it is the most beautiful place I have been in all of my life. It is the place that will forever hold my heart.

It’s very surreal to stand in front of the very thing that has been your desktop background, screensaver and/or Facebook cover photo for years. All of a sudden, Jane’s house was right in front of me. My heart swelled up and I couldn’t help but smile bigger than I have in a long, long time.

And there it is!

And there it is!

It was finally time.

We first had a mini photo shoot in the gardens of her house, which were not yet in bloom, but still shining brightly in the sunlight. We then made our way inside of her house. The first thing I did was practice my quill writing with ink, which is so much harder than it looks. The ink blots very quickly. Jane must’ve been a very patient woman!

No wonder Jane loved it here!

No wonder Jane loved it here!

Infinite amounts of happiness.

Infinite amounts of happiness.

I then signed the first of many guest books in the house. I was the only person who wasn’t from England to sign the page that was opened. In the comments section, I wrote: “I’ve been waiting years to come here. I’m so happy to finally meet you, Jane.” The elderly woman who was attending the book gave me a kind smile and pat on the back. I think she knew what this meant to me.

Notes from previous Austenites and visitors

Notes from previous Austenites and visitors

Of course I left my mark!

Of course I left my mark!

Jane, you could've never known how many people would come to see your house.

Jane, you could’ve never known how many people would come to see your house.

Any Janeite would be proud of the museum. I was amazed at the extent of the collection. It was filled with many of her clothing items, jewelry and letters. This was also the perfect year for me to come because it is the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, which means the museum showcased original manuscripts and illustrations from the novel. 

Illustrated version of my favorite novel of all time

Illustrated version of my favorite novel of all time

First editions!!

First editions!!

Letter from Jane to Cassandra when Pride and Prejudice was published. She described it as her "own darling child." How sweet is that?

Letter from Jane to Cassandra when Pride and Prejudice was published. She described it as her “own darling child.” How sweet is that?

The ultimate highlight was when I touched Jane’s writing desk (even though I wasn’t supposed to). It was smaller than I thought it would be. Every morning, Jane woke up and hunched over that very desk to make my favorite worlds come to life. As her ink stained the pages, Mr. Darcy professed his love to Elizabeth, Emma flattered herself and Fanny Price timidly watched the world pass her by. Centuries later, I stood at the desk where this magic was written down and experienced what is sure to be one of the happiest moments of my life. The feeling of being connected to a woman I so deeply admire.

I don't have words to describe what this felt like.

I don’t have words to describe what this felt like.

I took my time and read every detail on every placard and appreciated every insight provided by the historians. I pretended to churn water, wrote with ink and a quill and touched the walls where Jane spent her days. My heart hurt when I read about her final moments on earth before she died at the age of 41. But the museum was incredibly uplifting and positive. It was simply magic.

In Jane's bedroom

In Jane’s bedroom

Near the replica bed

Near the replica bed

Where can I get one?

Where can I get one?

She left almost everything to her beloved sister, Cassandra.

She left almost everything to her beloved sister, Cassandra.

I must say that Jessica was the perfect person to go with. She was patient, took endless pictures of me (and Mr. Darcy) and pointed out highlights she thought I would appreciate before I got to them (because I was moving pretty slowly). She also treated me to tea and cake for my birthday at Cassandra’s Cup, which was a teashop directly across the street from Jane’s house!

So fitting!

So fitting!

The feelings of sadness began to creep up as I knew the end of my visit to Chawton was approaching. After all, how do you voluntarily end a day that you’ve looked forward to for years?

Luckily, I am taking Jane’s best legacy back with me: the minute particulars. Today was full of monumental particulars, and every moment will remain with me. Many people have commented on my pictures saying how happy I look. It’s true, I have rarely felt happier than I did today and I guess it shows.

J21

Jane’s house was everything I hoped it would be and more. It gave me more insight into a woman I love and admire, and more hope for my future as a writer. I know that there are many minute particulars to come in my life and I will make meaning out of all of them. (Hopefully to mass audiences like Jane did!)

And a day to always remember.

And a day to always remember.

"Such art as hers can never grow old."

“Such art as hers can never grow old.”

As we left, we returned to the muddied path, this time knowing the way, and this time a little sadder. I have checked an item off my bucket list and it feels incredibly satisfying to know that I made it to England and to my top destination. This visit made me love Jane even more (if that’s possible).

So maybe this off the bucket list. Now, it’ll just read: “visit Jane Austen’s house (again).” 

J24

The Jane Austen Museum claims to be home of England’s Jane. This is true, but it’s also home of my Jane, too. 

Here’s to turning 21 and a birthday I’ll never forget.

Until next time,

Allison the eternal Austenite 

Sitting on the Bard’s Bed and Other Countryside Adventures

Who says you can’t be your own Valentine? In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve spent this week doing things that I love.

This week I spent a few very busy days at my internship filling in for editors who were out on “holiday.” I got to write multiple magazine articles and web stories, including an article about everyone’s favorite boy band, 1D! (And everyone can be quiet about Niall. He’s definitely the cutest).

On Tuesday our class got to tour the BBC! I was incredibly excited to get the chance to go to one of the world’s foremost news organizations. The tour was more focused on the TV shows the BBC produces rather than the journalism work it does, but it was still very informative and fun.

Journalists at work in front of the BBC

Journalists at work in front of the BBC

I toured with four other Mizzou students, but the rest of the kids in our group were actually from a high school in Norway. They spoke decent English, but were obviously not interested in being on this tour, which I’m sure they were required to go on with their school. Our tour guides kept addressing us as if we were from Norway, so I got to be Norwegian for the afternoon!

BBC Fountain that no longer flows because it caused workers to have too much flow elsewhere, if you know what I mean.

BBC Fountain that no longer flows because it caused workers to have too much flow elsewhere, if you know what I mean.

My Norwegian classmates and I saw a rehearsal for the British taping of Who Wants to be a Millionaire (yes, it’s still on), a taping for a quiz show and we walked on the set of a football talk show. Unfortunately, the Norwegian kids monopolized the football set, so I could only snap a picture of it when we left instead of take a picture behind the desk. We also got to see the dressing room where Lady Gaga, Coldplay and J-Lo have gotten ready for their shows.

Kickin' it at the football talk show set.

Kickin’ it at the football talk show set.

Hanging out at the BBC!

Hanging out at the BBC!

At the end of the tour, our guides asked for volunteers for a game show. No one volunteered, but once a prize was offered, I decided to give it a go. Two other Mizzou classmates joined me. The quiz show turned out to be “The Weakest Link.” I lost because my buzzer wasn’t working properly (really, the guide even told me it wasn’t!) so I didn’t get the grand prize, which was … a BBC pen. Maybe I was better off being the weakest link after all.

There was only one part of the tour that really bothered me. When discussing the journalism aspect, our tour guide said how BBC radio hosts are a lot more casual, which is true. He then showed us the live feed of a BBC radiobroadcast and commented how the host had no makeup on. He then said, “In radio you can be ugly and still do your job! You don’t have to be all pretty like you do in TV.”

Oh no. No, no, no. Appearance has nothing to do with the quality of journalistic work, good sir. I cannot name a single BBC reporter who is known for looks over reporting. I respect BBC reporters for their dedication to fairness, hard facts and “living the story,” not their appearance. I wish the tour guide could see this, too.

Nonetheless, it was very exciting to be at the BBC and I’m very grateful for the chance to tour, even if I ended up being the weakest link for a short time.

On Thursday, the day of love, I walked along the entirety of the South Bank with my fellow Mizzou students and soaked in the sights of couples waiting in line for a romantic spin around the London Eye. I also saw many men buying flowers at the tube station and carrying bags of Hummingbird cupcakes onto the train. Nothing got me like the cupcakes did. They are my favorite food of all time!

Be mine?

Be mine?

On Friday, I got up earlier than I do for work to continue my literary tour of England. This time, my travels brought me to Stratford upon Avon, the Cotswolds and Oxford. My roommates and I booked this tour about a month ago and have been looking forward to it ever since. The sun was shining (yes, really!) and we were the only ones on our tour!

Anne's cottage!

Anne’s cottage!

I fit right in with the Hathaways, don't you think?

I fit right in with the Hathaways, don’t you think?

Our first stop was Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford. This Anne is not the famed Princess Diaries actress, but was Shakespeare’s wife. I was shocked to learn that Anne was 26 when she married 18-year-old William Shakespeare. Why did this cougar commit to such a younger man, you ask? Because she got pregnant! Shakespeare and his bride had a shotgun wedding and their daughter was born 6 months later. Can you say oops?

Kitchen set-up

Kitchen set-up

Despite the rushed nuptials, Shakespeare and Anne did have a happy marriage. Anne inherited a lot of money from her father’s death, which she was able to share with the penniless bard. Anne was the oldest of her father’s seven children. Her mother died when she was 8, so she was in charge of taking care of her three younger siblings until her father remarried when she was 11. Anne grew up to be an independent, strong-willed and witty woman who was entirely capable of keeping up with Shakespeare’s antics and of course, inspiring his sonnets.

Let me just say, I was so happy to be back in the English countryside. Maybe my heart belongs more in the open air of England than in the city, even though I do love London. Or maybe I had just been looking forward to visiting Stratford for so long that I couldn’t believe the day had actually come. I saw quintessential England at its finest: rolling green hills, grazing sheep, small cottages and budding flowers. I was (read: am) in love.

The Hathaway house initially had only two rooms: a living room and a kitchen. Anne’s brother added a second story onto the house after their father’s death. I visited each room and even sat on a bed that Anne and Shakespeare had sat on (even though I wasn’t supposed to. I know, I’m so bad).

Yes, I did it.

Yes, I did it.

One day I'll have a story to put here!

One day I’ll have a story to put here!

We spent a few hours walking around Stratford. We saw Shakespeare’s grave, which is marked with an ominous message for those who outlived him: “cursed be he who moves my bones.” We also saw his birthplace, the river Avon, the theater where the Royal Shakespeare Company performs and one of Shakespeare’s favorite pubs. It’s incredible to think that all of these buildings have lasted from the 1500s into the 21st century.

Shakespeare's birthplace

Shakespeare’s birthplace

I love Stratford!

I love Stratford!

The bard's final resting place.

The bard’s final resting place.

I was sad to leave Stratford, but so happy to stop in the Cotswolds, which are some of England’s only surviving medieval villages. The houses in the Cotswolds were built in the 1300s and still stand today! Real, ordinary (but very wealthy, I’m sure) people live in them now. It was so quaint and beautiful. Aside from the occasional car passing on the left-hand side of the road, there was only the sound of chirping birds and rustling wind. So…when can I move in?

Cotswolds church

Cotswolds church

For sale? Maybe?

For sale? Maybe?

So quaint!

So quaint!

On our way to Oxford, we made a quick stop in Woodstock. I snapped a picture of Chaucer’s house and tried to get a picture of the castle where Churchill was born, but the guard wanted us to pay 21 pounds to take a picture. No thanks.

Chaucer's house

Chaucer’s house

Our last stop for the day was Oxford, the famous university town. Did you know that Oxford is actually 39 separate colleges, not just one university? Now you do. It’s the oldest university in the English-speaking world with an acceptance rate of only 20.5%. About 21,000 students attend Oxford and they come from all over the globe to do so!

We walked around as much of the town as we could. We saw beautiful buildings built from limestone, streets filled with cute bookstores and coffee shops and many smart students walking around. Our tour guide brought us to a secret pub that provides an “education in intoxication,” which proves that Oxford students are educated in many areas during their collegiate years.
Ok, as if Oxford wasn't already awesome.

Ok, as if Oxford wasn’t already awesome.

Who said Oxford is all work and no play?

Who said Oxford is all work and no play?

Beautiful campus!

Beautiful campus!

College where Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien went

College where Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien went

I can’t imagine going to an ancient and prestigious school where the likes of John Locke, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, J R R Tolkien, Margaret Thatcher and so many others have gone. Then again, I go to the same school that Brad Pitt and Jon Hamm went to, so it’s pretty much the same thing.

All in all, I had a great day in the English countryside fulfilling some of my literary dreams. Luckily, my literature-themed days are not quite over. This weekend, I’ll get to experience one of the most exciting days I’m sure to have in England.

Can anyone guess where I’m going?

Until next time,

Allison, the rebel who sat on Shakespeare’s bed

Charles Dickens, Chinatown and Chewing on Some Wild Boar

And so my week continued into the weekend (you can read about the first part of what I did here).

My roommates said au revoir to London and left for Paris, which I will see in less than two months with my parents and sister when they come to visit!

I decided to spend my Friday afternoon doing something I had wanted to do since I got here: visit the Charles Dickens museum. The museum is actually his only surviving home in London, where he lived from 1837 to 1839.

An afternoon with Dickens

An afternoon with Dickens

It recently underwent a £3.1 million restoration to become more handicap accessible and to incorporate multimedia elements like the tape of an actor reading Dickens’ books out loud. It just reopened in December. The museum was also the site of the bicentennial party for Dickens’ 200th birthday on February 7, which was the day before I went. (I wasn’t invited. I’m still not sure why).

Thanks for the visit, Dickens!

Thanks for the visit, Dickens!

Dickens lived in the house when he was a pretty happy person, which sadly wasn’t for much of his life. He had just married his wife, Catherine Hogarth, and they had one child together when they moved in. The museum reflects the bright Georgian colors they used to decorate, so it doesn’t look too “Dickensian” and morose.

Shadow Dickens, lead the way

Shadow Dickens, lead the way

Don't worry, be happy!

Don’t worry, be happy!

I haven’t read all of his books, but I do like many of those I have read. A Tale of Two Cities is my absolute favorite work of his. He didn’t write the book while living in this house, but the desk where he sat at when he dreamed up Sydney Carton, Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette was sitting in his study in the museum!

My absolute favorite!

My absolute favorite!

As I said before, Dickens lived a pretty miserable life. While his family was in debtor’s prison because of his father’s reckless spending, 12-year-old Charles worked at a blacking factory. He never forgave his parents for the emotional and physical abuse he suffered while working there, which is why he includes prisons in many of his books.

Oliver! Oliver! Or just some servants outfits?

Oliver! Oliver! Or just some servants outfits?

Fake writing scraps. Half-formed haikus, if you will

Fake writing scraps. Half-formed haikus, if you will

Later on, he divorced Catherine, who suffered post-partum depression from losing so many children. Dickens was also a changed man after his 17-year-old sister-in-law died unexpectedly in his arms in his house. The incident inspired many deathbed scenes in his novels, and also inspired Dickens to include the recurring death theme in his novels.

The ring Catherine gave to her sister when she continued to work for Dickens after Catherine and Dickens were divorced. It's a snake for betrayal!

The ring Catherine gave to her sister when she continued to work for Dickens after Catherine and Dickens were divorced. It’s a snake for betrayal!

As a writer, there’s something incredibly cool about being in the environment where classic novels were written. It’s the closest I will ever be to Charles Dickens and his vivid imagination (though given how he turned out, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

What great ideas were formed here?

What great ideas were formed here?

And as a reader, there’s something very special about being in the place where some of my favorite characters were born. It was inside those walls that life Dickens drank his tea and sat by the fire while Oliver Twist was just a fleeting idea. I know Dickens isn’t everyone’s favorite, but I’m really glad I got a chance to glimpse inside his life for a few hours.

Dickens first edition books!

Dickens first edition books!

On Saturday I went to Borough Market with some friends. We made sure to go hungry so we could try all of the samples that the market is famous for. Surprisingly enough, I tried wild boar tortellini at one of the food stands. I didn’t think I would like it, but I figured I might as well have a little taste. After all, when else would I ever eat wild boar (never)?

It was surprisingly really good! So good, that I decided to order a wild boar sandwich for lunch. (I’m still shocked at myself, too). The line at the stand was really long, which is always a good indicator of quality. I got mine with tomato and pepper sauces. It was delicious! I’m glad I once again went out of my food comfort zone to live on the “wild” side.

Yes, this really happened.

Yes, this really happened.

That night I went to the movies! I saw “I Give it a Year,” which stars Rose Byrne (you know her from Bridesmaids) and Simon Baker (The Mentalist)! It sounds girly: a couple get married 7 months after meeting and everyone thinks they’re going to break up because they aren’t suited for each other.

It was rated 15+, which is the British equivalent of Rated R (even though it had multiple f-bombs and full nudity). The British do have an 18+ rating, but I don’t think it’s used very often. It was very funny overall, but it was interesting to see how much more racy British films are. I don’t think it could ever show in American theaters because it might be considered somewhat pornographic by our standards.

I was going to say that the best thing I can compare it to is Borat, and then I saw that the writers from Borat contributed to this movie, so that makes sense. If you’ve seen those movies, you know that the jokes start off very funny, witty and crude. Then they progressively get taken so far that your jaw drops and you become a little uncomfortable. These jokes didn’t make the movie bad, just different. And very British!

 

Ana Faris is in it too! I don't know who the other guy is.

Ana Faris is in it too! I don’t know who the other guy is.

On Saturday, I once again praised the technology Gods for inventing Skype. I got to sing “Happy Birthday” to my dad in the middle of a crowded Starbucks. I missed out on his big birthday. My mom planned a surprise trip for my dad, his best friends from college and our family to go back to their alma mater to celebrate at a hockey game. I wish I could’ve been there! Luckily, I do get to “see” my family when I Skype them each weekend.

Skype will always be there for me.

Skype will always be there for me.

Sunday was 35 degrees and rainy. This is a constant occurrence in London. The weather is terrible, but there’s something you want to do, so you suck it up and go do it anyways. I woke up bright and early to go to the Chinese New Year celebration in Trafalgar Square. I trudged out in my rain boots and carried my umbrella in one hand while I snapped pictures of the parade with my free hand.

 

Dragon dance kicks off the parade

Dragon dance kicks off the parade

The parade was supposed to last an hour, but was only 15 minutes. Most of the people watching weren’t Asian, and the parade itself reflected that we were in fact in England rather than Asia. There were dragons, kids doing martial arts and women in traditional dress, but the volunteer drum band from the Olympics and a local dance studio were also present. The parade ended abruptly with some polka dancers, so I gathered that Chinese New Year in London is an excuse for people of all ethnicities to celebrate.

My favorite!

My favorite!

Traditional dress

Traditional dress

Remember these guys? They still don't know what they're doing in those outfits

Remember these guys? They still don’t know what they’re doing in those outfits

Not happy they had to put this stuff on again

Not happy they had to put this stuff on again

Just as the parade was ending, the rain picked up. We ventured inside for a while before taking a deep breath, bundling up and heading back out to Trafalgar Square to hear some of the speakers. It was incredibly cool to see the area decked out in lanterns and all of the vendors selling their custom-made New Year merchandise.

There were dance shows scheduled on stage throughout the day, but I made up a dance of my own. It was called the “umbrella weave.” The whole side-step affair involves bobbing up and down so your umbrella doesn’t latch onto someone else’s or poke someone’s eye out. Eventually, the dance became less entertaining and more frustrating because the rest of London decided to participate and make it a solo performance. It became impossible to see anything in Trafalgar Square because of all of the umbrellas blocking the stage and video screens. Not to mention all of the passersby who came dangerously close to my face with their umbrella spikes.

So we went to Chinatown. This year is the year of the snake, which is the year to spend a lot of money (how fitting). There were many plush snakes for sale in Chinatown, as well as other merchandise such as fans and ornaments. The streets looked beautiful with the lantern decorations, and there were many more Asian people out in the streets celebrating than in Trafalgar Square. Every restaurant in Chinatown had a line stretching far out the door and the aroma of noodles and fried rice overpowered the smell of the falling rain. I think everyone wanted to get some dim sum to warm up.

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

London Chinese New Year: Umbrellas and Lanterns

London Chinese New Year: Umbrellas and Lanterns

We saw the dragon make its way through Chinatown to scare off all of the evil spirits before we got stuck in a wall of people as long as the Great Wall of China (I was trapped for so long it doesn’t feel like I’m exaggerating). We happened to be in the area where the dragon started to make his dance through Chinatown, but everyone else in London wanted to get a glimpse of him. The combination of the smell of Chinese food, the crowd and the lanterns made me feel like I was really on a street in Asia. It was chaos, so we decided it was probably a good time to leave.

Ringing in the New Year in the rain

Ringing in the New Year in the rain

I’m really glad I got the chance to celebrate my first Chinese New Year! It was very exciting to see so many people come out to celebrate a tradition that isn’t even a part of their own culture. Let’s hope the year of the snake is a lucky one for everyone!

Until Next Time,

Allison, the wild-boar eater

When Being A Little Lonely in London is Cured by the Best Package of All Time

Guess what?

I’ve officially been here more than one month! It hasn’t always been easy, but this month alone has helped me to become a better person who is more aware of herself and others.

How do I know? A lot of that awareness happened this past week. I actually spent the day by myself last Sunday.

Disclaimer: This is the first blog post about my week. There’s too much to include without making it super long (which no one wants to read) so part two will be coming soon!

Warning, I’m about to get a little philosophical. When you’re alone in a big city, you become really aware of yourself and how small you really are. It can be kind of overwhelming. You’re just one person being pushed to the side as tourists run into you with maps, just one person vendors can sell a dress to and just one person trying to get on the tube. It’s weird when your singular life, that seems to be all consuming because it is in fact yours, intersects with everyone else’s singular life that is also equally as important.

When you’re alone, you become aware that there really are 96 steps to get to the tube. When you’re alone, you share an uncomfortable smirk with a girl in a knit green hat because you’re both irritated by the couple making out loudly in public. And when you’re alone, a woman might run you over on the street because she “didn’t even see you.”

But when you’re alone, you can smile to yourself at the British accents you dreamed of hearing your whole life. You can enjoy the rare London sunshine as you wait in line for a massive brownie that the person behind you described as “the Mecca of desserts.”

The fact that bagel is spelled weird might make you skeptical, but don't be fooled.

The fact that bagel is spelled weird might make you skeptical, but don’t be fooled.

When you’re alone, it’s easy to realize how lucky you are to be here, in London, at this very moment.

And I am.

On Sunday night my roommates and I went to dinner with Claire’s old neighbors who now live in London. We went to Wagamama (funny name), which is a chain Asian restaurant with noodle and rice dishes. The mom ordered duck, so my exotic food eating continued (I don’t know about you, but duck is exotic for me). It wasn’t as bad as I thought, but it was pretty chewy. Hmm.

My internship was pretty consistent again this week. I wrote more articles for online and print, and got especially faster at writing online articles. I’m also starting to use British spellings without thinking about them too much!

On Tuesday our journalism class went to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit at the Natural History Museum. There were only about 100 photographs, but they were sorted into categories from mammals to reptiles to environmental to natural landscapes. I posted a few of my favorites below.

Living on Thin Ice, Ole Jørgen Liodden

Living on Thin Ice, Ole Jørgen Liodden

Frozen Moment, Paul Nicklen

Frozen Moment, Paul Nicklen

Fairy Lake Fir, Adam Gibbs

Fairy Lake Fir, Adam Gibbs

Woodland Magic, Andres Miguel

Woodland Magic, Andres Miguel

After the exhibit, my roommates and I went back to the “mecca” that is the cheap Jewish deli and stocked up on bagels, brownies and other treats all for mere pence! Thanks to Bethany for telling me about it in advance!

 That night we saw Singin’ in the Rain. You can read alllll about it here! (Side note: it was great!)

On Wednesday, I started to feel really homesick. It was a slow day at work and I realized that there were 45 days until my family comes to visit, which just seemed so long. My roommates were getting ready to leave for Paris for the weekend so I would be sleeping in the flat by myself. And I knew my brother was going home that weekend to surprise my dad for his 50th birthday. I felt very anxious at the thought of being alone and away from my family for so much longer.

Then, something amazing happened.

LOOK AT HIM

LOOK AT HIM

My wonderful mother arranged a surprise birthday present for me and it happened to be delivered on Wednesday. It was essentially a gift full of love. She sent my favorite gum, brownie mix (that can be used without eggs!), icing, candles, necklaces, a birthday tiara, two books and … MY PLUSH MR. DARCY! I have waited for that adorable little man to be delivered ever since I found him online. No matter what happens in the rest of my time here, it’s good to know that I’ve finally found Mr. Darcy! I was so excited, I screamed when I opened him.

My mom also made a photo scrapbook with highlights of my 21 years thus far. Needless to say, I was in tears looking through it. I couldn’t believe the amount of time and detail she spent on it.

But the absolute best part was the secret project my mom had been working on with the help of my high school friend Bethany. They arranged for 21st birthday letters and cards from my family members and friends to be included. I was shocked. I had absolutely no idea this was going on, and normally I’m very in tune to secret happenings.

As lame as this may sound, any feelings of emptiness and sadness vanished as I read the heartfelt notes from these important people in my life. My support system stretches across oceans and continents. Gosh, who could ask for more than that?

You are pretty great, London. Even in February.

You are pretty great, London. Even in February.

A big city might make you feel lonely. Everyone is tired and cold and has somewhere to be. Smiles between strangers are few and far between in London, and everyone’s head is down and hidden behind a scarf or a newspaper.

But I know I’m never really alone. In addition to all of the wonderful people I have around the world, I’m joined by millions of others who, like me, had dreamed of living in London. We walk 96 steps to ride in the same tube carriage, breathe the same smoggy air and look up at Big Ben at the end of the day and think, “I made it.”

With love,

Allison, who is lucky to be in London

“What a Glorious Feeling!” My First West End Show

Dare I admit that I’ve never seen the movie version of Singin’ in the Rain?

Well, I guess I just did.

It’s true. I’ve never seen it.

Luckily, I did get to see the stage version, and it was everything I could’ve hoped for in my first West End show.

Wild, Wild West End

Wild, Wild West End

The West End is America’s equivalent of Broadway. The term “West End” actually refers to a lot of different things, from the theatre area in and around London’s Leicester Square to the expensive shopping district on Oxford Street. For this blog post’s purposes, it refers to the entertainment region, or where the really good shows are.

Luckily, I accidentally discovered that February is “Get London to the theatre” month, meaning that West End theatres offer discounted tickets to big shows. Now some of them, like Shrek, I had no interest in seeing (sorry, Donkey). Although Singin’ in the Rain is an American movie, the musical is only playing in England, so I did technically see something British.

Our cheap seats were located up approximately five flights of stairs, which the ushers reminded us after every flight. “Your seats are quite high up. You can upgrade for just 10 pounds!” They cheerfully told me. No thanks. The entire reason why I came is because the seats were discounted!

So up to the riff-raff area we went, where the seats are rigid and straight-backed with no legroom. They were terrible. The stage was very small from our point of view, but I was so excited to be seeing a West End show no one could rain on my parade (Sorry. I couldn’t help myself).

 

I was probably sitting in the dark area where the circular window is

I was probably sitting in the dark area where the circular window is

Fortunately, when the lights went out, the riff raff in the balcony made a mass migration to fill in the empty seats in front of them. Naturally, we joined in and moved down. Our seats were somewhat better and I could actually make out the facial expressions of the actors.

For those of you who, like myself, have never seen the film, I’ll give a short synopsis. It’s 1927 in Hollywood and Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are famous movie stars who always play opposite each other in silent films. Lina, a ditzy girl with an annoying nasally voice, thinks that she and Don are lovers in real life. Don, however, has his eyes on Kathy Selden, an aspiring “serious” actress who is unimpressed with the “mock acting” Don does in his silent movies. She also happens to have an amazing singing voice and witty personality, because why wouldn’t she?

You can stand under my umbrella, ella, ella

You can stand under my umbrella, ella, ella

Suddenly, the invention of the “talkies,” turns the movie world upside down. How will Lina and Don continue their on-screen romance when her voice is so darn annoying and she can’t sing? What about Kathy’s career? What about all of that rain? Oh the agony! (Except there isn’t any because this is the 1920s. Everything always works out ok in the end in musicals from this time period).

Overall, the set was sparse compared to American shows I’ve seen. The production used a number of backdrops to change the setting, but mostly set scenes against brick buildings and street lamps. The focus was on the actors, all of whom did a remarkable job.

It was weird to travel all the way to London to see a show where the actors spoke in American accents. Scarlett Strallen’s (Kathy) British accent tended to pop out quite a bit. She also wasn’t the strongest dancer of the group, as her kicks weren’t as high and her toes weren’t always pointed.

What she lacked in footwork she made up for in her vocals.  Her voice was crystal clear and perfectly in pitch, even to those of us in the highest of balcony seats.

The star of the show was undoubtedly Adam Cooper as Don Lockwood. Cooper did Gene Kelly proud. I could tell right away that Cooper was a skilled dancer, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that he’d been schooled at the Royal Ballet School. It was hard to tell his age from the rafters, but Cooper is actually 41. He danced with the grace and fluidity of a ballerino half his age. His tapping was also impeccable, as every wing, flap and shuffle was done with precision.

Just singin' (and dancin') in the rain

Just singin’ (and dancin’) in the rain

He also proved the theory I have about tap dancing, which is that no matter how difficult the move you’re doing is, people will always clap the hardest when you tap very quickly. For me, Cooper’s dancing was the best part of the show. His voice was excellent and his acting was superb, but his dancing set him apart from every other actor.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the story itself is a little boring. It’s a love story and nothing monumental happens. Lina becomes a bit of a villain when Kathy replaces her for a musical role, but nothing really comes of the drama. Lina humiliates herself and Don and Kathy live happily ever after. Some parts of the show were quite slow, especially when Don and Kathy stood in one spot and delivered endless love lines to one another. Luckily, these didn’t occur too frequently and were overshadowed by the dance numbers.

"I love you more!" "No, I love YOU more!"

“I love you more!” “No, I love YOU more!”

I was a little confused why the show is called Singin’ in the Rain. The number is iconic and has had an enormous impact on pop culture, but no one could’ve known that at the time the movie was released. Apparently, when the film was made, the producer told the screenwriters to write a movie called “Singin’ in the Rain.” The song is just one small part of the show, which otherwise focuses on the role of actors transitioning from silent films to musical productions. You would never get that from the title of the film. Then again, Million Dollar Baby is a misleading movie title, too.

So what about that rain? Well, it was another one of the best parts. 14,000 litres (that’s about 3,700 gallons) of water are used in each show. Cooper was soaked through while doing the number. He also enjoyed kicking puddles into the front row of the audience, which I dubbed the “splash zone.” The audience seemed to like it though; because they squealed with delight each time he did it. I suppose Londoners are used to rain.

Splish Splash you'll all be takin' a bath

Splish Splash you’ll all be takin’ a bath

The stage crew came out and squeegeed the stage at intermission. They resembled the grounds crew at a baseball game. They stayed in perfectly straight lines when using their mops so that every drop was picked up.

Rain is just so much fun when you live in a musical world

Rain is just so much fun when you live in a musical world

The closing number was another big splash (I had to) because the entire cast wore raincoats and twirled colored umbrellas while dancing to the iconic song. I thoroughly enjoyed it and left the show humming Singin’ in the Rain on an endless loop.

This show is not for people looking for underlying symbolism and hidden metaphors. (It was raining when I left the show, so I guess that counts as some symbolism. Or just London being London). It is lighthearted, enjoyable and fun, which was perfect for a night out, even if I did have to hunch over to watch it from five stories up.

High Tea, Cupcakes and … A Call from Jesus?

Happy Groundhog Day!

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I hate them. So many beady eyes.

We don’t have a national groundhog in London. We do have a lot of squirrels and pigeons. They’re quite friendly. The pigeons are a bit too friendly because they often walk right up to me and stare at me with their beady eyes. Other people in my program have pictures petting squirrels, but because I’m not hoping to get rabies while I’m here, I think I’ll just look at them from a distance. Nonetheless, I hope spring does come early this year!

This week in London wasn’t about tourist sites or cramming multiple activities into every day. This week was about the little moments that define life. The minute particulars, which this blog was founded on. After all, my life is here for the next few months and these little moments will define the person I am during my adventures and who I am when I leave.

Let me explain.

But first, the Jesus call.

In all of the hubbub of last week’s post I completely forgot to mention my call from Jesus. I was getting ready to go the Guardian tour when I realized I forgot my British cell phone in my backpack. Just as I reached in to pull it out, it started vibrating. When I looked at the display, it said “Jesus.”

I don’t have the phone number for a “Jesus.” I don’t have Caller ID, so I’m not sure why the name showed up. I started panicking and showed my roommate Jessica to make sure that I wasn’t crazy. I answered the call and there was silence. It only ended because I hung up 45 seconds later.

Then, the most disturbing part: when I went into my answered calls to check the phone number, it was empty. There was no record of the call!

I was freaked out. I told all my friends in my program that Jesus had called me and spent the evening trying to interpret some otherworldly meaning from the phone call. Everyone who heard thought it was hilarious, but I couldn’t help buy wonder why Jesus was calling me if he didn’t have anything to say.

A few days later, I asked my friend Bethany about it because she so kindly gave me her British cell phone to use while I’m here. It turns out this cheap 5 pound phone has a “prank call” setting that lets you prank call your own cell phone. Bethany, being the jokester that she is, had set it this past summer to make Jesus call her as a joke, but apparently no one fell for it when she did it.

The joke didn’t get wasted because the prank-phone Jesus called me last week. I’m still not sure why it went off the exact second I touched my phone. Some things can’t be explained, I guess. Special shout-out to Bethany for giving me a mini heart attack with one of the best pranks of all time. (Miss you!)

This week started off with another Monday at work, where I worked on more web stories and print articles. I’m settling into a TNT routine (including at least two cups of tea a day).

On Tuesday, we went to tour Bloomberg, which is owned by NYC’s own mayor Bloomberg. It’s set up kind of how I imagine Google would be with “thinking space” for employees, a TV room and a HUGE kitchen stocked with snacks, coffee machines and pop machines. We got to take food with us! Thank you Bloomberg for supplying my snacks for the week.

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Bloomberg has a great business model. Most of its profit comes from special computers that update stock information. These computers are sold to companies who track the information. Because of this source of income, Bloomberg has more freedom to take chances with its publications. It doesn’t really rely on ad revenue so its content is based on the company values. I also appreciate how Bloomberg takes care of its journalists by giving them food, thinking space and a lot of creative freedom.

Then we got some bad news. Claire’s parents unexpectedly had to put down her 14-year-old Maltese, Flurry, because he had lung cancer. Anyone who has a lost a pet knows that it means losing a member of the family. Losing Flurry was made harder because Claire couldn’t be there with her family.

Life happens, even while you’re in London. That’s why I believe God invented cupcakes. Cupcakes are my solution to every problem, so Jessica, Claire and I went to Hummingbird cupcakes to make sure that the day had something good in it. I got the “black bottom,” which is a marble and chocolate chip cupcake with cheesecake frosting. YUM! It was excellent.

It's love

It’s love

Wednesday was another day at TNT full of snarky web articles. I also learned that I wasn’t making my tea properly because I’m not putting enough milk in it. Brits put a ton of whole milk into their tea and no sugar. It looks like I need some more practice before I become a true Englishwoman.

Wednesday night my roommates and I had the treat of going out to dinner with Jenny’s dad, who was in London for business. It was a food adventure, especially for me. I hate the idea of what I call “man meals,” which are what I classify as dinners of meat, potatoes and hardly any veggies. England is full of these by the way, but I digress. This was not a man meal, but it was one of the most exotic meals I’ve had in my life.

Jenny’s dad ordered five “small plates” for appetizers. Among them were chicken liver and bone marrow (WHAT?!) Everyone tried a sample from each of the plates, so I did too. It was interesting to say the least, and I still don’t want to know what animal the bone marrow was from.

 

This is what bone marrow looks like

This is what bone marrow looks like

For dinner I had pasta, which was really good. Then I had tiramisu and coffee for dessert. Excellent!

I think I might’ve reached my chicken liver and bone marrow quota for my lifetime, but I am glad I went out of my comfort zone to try something new.

On Thursday we headed back to Greenwich. To change things up I visited the Queen’s house, which is full of nautical paintings of sailboats throughout England’s maritime history. I also stood in both hemispheres again!

Afterwards I went to work, but it was on my way home that I experienced another minute particular. I was riding the tube and noticed a blind woman standing with a cane. She was in her early 60s and the tube was really crowded because it was rush hour. I felt bad that she was standing and no one was giving up his or her seat. At the next stop someone left and everyone in our area helped the woman to sit down. She was so appreciative. It made me really happy to be helping her, and it was one of those moments where you have a lot of faith in the inner goodness of people.

After she sat down she kept saying, “I’m just as tired as anyone else, but it was nice of you to help me.” It made me feel really lucky to be in a position where I can experience life with all of my senses. Sometimes you just need those little reminders.

On Friday, I used my sense of taste to explore London. We went to tea at The Muffin Man, which was a small, but cute tearoom. The tea was excellent. For less than $10 I got two cups of tea, cucumber and tomato sandwiches and a slice of cheesecake. Yum! I looked like a total tourist when I took pictures of everything because there were a lot of locals there.

 

High tea

High tea

Delicious!

Delicious!

The quintessential tea sandwiches

The quintessential tea sandwiches

Pinky up, of course!

Pinky up, of course!

Afterwards we walked around Kensington High Street and stopped in a bookstore. I got a book written by a former Guardian columnist called “Londoners.” He interviewed the woman whose voice announces the tube stops, currency exchange booth attendants, bus drivers and hundreds of others about why they love living in London. I thought it would be a great thing to read while I’m here. I have a lot of downtime to do some reading and a journalist wrote it about the little things in the city that make it great. Right up my alley!

I spent Thursday and Friday nights in local pubs talking to people from all over the world. It never ceases to amaze me that I always run into Americans when I’m in pubs. I have also confirmed once again that British people struggle in the dancing department because they move awkwardly. It might explain why 1D doesn’t dance much.

Today I went to Hyde Park to visit the Princess Diana memorial playground, which is Peter-Pan themed, and the Peter Pan statue. I shamelessly took pictures of myself with all of the playthings, rode on a tire swing and jumped on some bouncy logs. I was the oldest “kid” by about 15 years, but I had a blast! I also witnessed two swans fall meet and fall in love. ‘Twas swanderful!

Look at them!

Look at them!

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Lost in the lost boy tent

Lost in the lost boy tent

Pretending to be Wendy

Pretending to be Wendy

That’s all for now,

Allison, who is awaiting another Jesus call and also would like another cupcake