A Travellerspoint blog

Good Day Sunshine

Day tripping it to Stonehenge and Bath

sunny 19 °C

Today (pretend you’re reading this on September 20th) was a fabulous day. The weather was absolutely gorgeous – warm and sunny but not too hot … perfect for sightseeing, of which I did a lot! I made it to the coach at 8:00am with my hot chocolate in tow, and got on the bus for an hour and a half ride to Stonehenge. Our tour guide had a Scottish accent which made the random stories and facts he told us even more entertaining.

When we got to Stonehenge we had about an hour to look around. Our guide told us beforehand that a lot of tourists are disappointed because they expect it to be bigger, but the real awe-inspiring part about Stonehenge, according to him, is the mystery surrounding it. People can only speculate about it because there were no written records when it was built. The Romans came to Stonehenge when they invaded England, and not only were they impressed by it (which is apparently worth something since they weren’t impressed by much), but Stonehenge was as old to them (even though they didn’t know it) as the Romans are to us! Which basically means those are some seriously old rocks.

I remember first learning about Stonehenge in my lit book in grade school, and I thought it was the most boring entry in that entire book because I just could not figure out what was so interesting about a pile of rocks in England. Actually getting to see them in person, however, made Stonehenge pretty cool. Even though some people aren’t impressed, I thought the stones were very large and I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to move them hundreds of miles via river and rolling logs. We had an audio guide as part of the tour, but it really wasn’t that interesting since our guide had already told us the same information back on the bus. I was really more interested in taking pictures of it from pretty much every angle. I got a few of me in front of it too, of course, but I had the most fun zooming in and out with my new lens!

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Apparently people used to be able to go right up and touch the stones, but they roped them off about twenty years ago - I guess because people had been taking bits of the stone home or carving their initials into it, etc. Having to stay back was fine by me though because I was able to get some nice shots without having a bunch of tourists in the way.

After Stonehenge we had a shorter drive to Bath! And as our guide had us practice, it’s pronounced Bah-th, not Baaaaath. This town’s architecture is from the Georgian, or Neoclassical period in England, and it was especially cool to be there because we were just studying this period in my art history class last week. I was a little disappointed by how small King’s Circus was because it looked larger in all of my textbook’s pictures, but other than that everything was amazing! We drove around the city first to get a feel for everything’s location, and I was impressed by how large the area was. For some reason I had the impression that it wasn’t a very big town at all, and even though you can walk to all the touristy areas within ten minutes or so, there were still a lot more buildings than I expected there to be.

We drove by Jane Austen’s house, and later on we saw that the annual Jane Austen festival was this weekend! I thought it was funny because I had just been reading in my Rick Steves book that the festival happens in late September, and it was perfect timing that it coincided with our trip! I was trying to take a lot of photos from inside the bus because all the people were in period costumes, and the buildings we drove by were beautiful. By the time we stopped, however, I was getting a little carsick from looking through the viewfinder so much, so it was good to get out and breathe some fresh air.

Our first order of business was to go see the Roman baths. There was another audio guide to go with this tour, and you just had to type in the number on the little controller if you wanted to hear about a certain pool, statue, etc. I liked the beginning of the tour because when you first walk in you’re actually above the level of the pool since the Roman’s city was below the level of the current Bath. You could look down from above and see all the people who had made it through the museum and were just sitting by the water enjoying the sun. Apparently you’re allowed to stick your hand in the water, but they highly discourage it because it’s really dirty and our guide recommended sanitizing our hands afterward if we were going to eat. I didn’t feel the need to touch the water. I also didn’t pay 50p to drink the famous Bath water that’s chock-a-block full of minerals. According to both my guide and Rick Steves it tastes nasty, so I decided to save my money for something more appetizing.

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Speaking of which, once Lauren and I made it out of the bath house we went in search of food. I remembered our guide telling us about the really good pasties in Bath, and since I’d never had one, I decided that a pasty sounded like the perfect lunch. We didn’t really know where to find any though, so we just looked around for other people who had them and went in the direction they were coming from. We only had to follow two people before we found the Cornish Bakehouse which advertised its “award winning Cornish pasties.” I would just like to say that my traditional Cornish steak pasty was probably one of the most delicious things I’ve had since coming here! I will most definitely be on the lookout for them from now on and I plan to try every place I can find.

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We ate on the go since we had limited time and made our way back to the Jane Austen festival. We found people in costume and watched a little show where this captain was gathering troops (meaning four guys from the audience), and then he had a duel with his “brother” who lost the money entrusted to him by gambling it away instead of putting it in the bank. It wasn’t incredibly exciting, but I was still entertained since they were in costume and had British accents.

Oh yeah – one last thing. There were pigs everywhere! Not real ones, but painted like the ones all over Seattle. Apparently, long long ago before Bath was on the map, a king’s father had leprosy so he was sent away to the area that eventually became the city of Bath. He observed that when the pigs (where they came from I know not) got sores they would roll around in the mud in a certain spot and they’d be cured. He figured if the mud was good enough for the pigs it was good enough for him, so he rolled around in it and was cured too! He went back to court and had a city built around the area with the amazing mud, and it became Bath!

Cheers!

Posted by ecfong 17:55 Archived in England Comments (0)

A Day in the Life

sunny 16 °C

Wordy version of life in London over the past week:

Living conditions in London are different from those at Santa Clara in that I live in a “flat,” (aka – apartment) rather than a dorm, and I have to climb up many many stairs because there are no elevators. As I’ve mentioned before, my flat is on the top floor, which means ... we have the best view! From our dining/common room we can see the rooftops of the other buildings around, which may not sound very exciting, but I like it. The last few days especially have been nice because it hasn’t rained, and when the light hits the rooftops the red color comes out and it’s really pretty. With all the chimneys and steep, connected roofs, it looks like something straight out of Mary Poppins. Here’s a glimpse of what I get to see everyday:

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I love that taking classes here involves going to different sites to actually see whatever we discuss in class. For example, we went down the street to the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) to see actual Wedgwood pottery as well as items that had actually been in the Great Exhibition, which was much more interesting than looking at the same images on the projector screen. And next week I’ll be going with my British Life and Cultures class to take a tour of Parliament!

When I initially went shopping at the local grocery store, I managed to buy enough food to last me until right about now (which let me say was much longer than I expected it to last). My diet, therefore, has mainly consisted of pasta and pb&j, with the occasional apple to stave off scurvy. Once my food stores grew too low for comfort, I decided it was time for another trip to the supermarket, this time with my handy reusable bag in tow. I ended up just going up and down each aisle to grab anything that looked interesting, with my only goals being that each item would cover at least one of breakfast, lunch or dinner, and that the items were different from what I had been eating so far. And just a little fun fact - something that I discovered on my excursion is that if you’re going to be shopping for a while, bring your ipod along because even though you may look antisocial with your headphones in, having music is a lot of fun!

Tonight I finally made something that was more exciting than pasta: pizza! And no, it wasn’t frozen. I used round naan, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, and (surprise!) fresh tomatoes. I had the hardest time finding basil in the store though because it wasn’t with all of the other fresh herbs (which made no sense to me). When I finally did come across it (by accident I will admit) the packaged leaves looked kind of icky. Therefore, knowing I really wanted fresh basil on my pizza, I ended up buying one of the potted plants instead! It entertained me - at least until I had to carry it home in addition to my heavy bag, that is. Anyway, the point of my story is that I made fresh pizza and it turned out very well even though I had to guess what temperature Celsius I should turn the oven to and the length of time the pizza had to cook for.

And now for a random comment – there’s a large newspaper-reading culture here. Free papers are passed out on the street each day, so I finally grabbed one. Just walking down the street with it in my hand, even though I hadn’t even opened it yet, already made me feel smarter! It was great!

Actually, I have a second random thought too - In the tube stations I often see a poster of a swimmer and he’s some British hero, a world champion I think, but I keep getting confused because when I see a swimmer on a poster I expect it to be Michael Phelps!

Upcoming Events: Saturday – group trip to Bath and Stonehenge. Monday – class trip to Tate Britain. Tuesday – tour of Parliament. Friday – fly to Cork, Ireland for the weekend. (If you know anything about Cork and what there is to do there, please feel free to let me know because I have no idea!)

Picturesque version of life in London over the past week:

Hyde Park – much more fun when walking around with a camera than sitting and doing reading for class.

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We Will Rock You – West End show using Queen’s hits.

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Portobello Road Market – enormous flea market with antiques, clothes, food, books and other random things. Very fun – two thumbs up!

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The Mayor’s Thames Festival – lots to do from the Westminster Bridge along the South Bank all the way to Tower Bridge. Awesome parade and fireworks on day two!

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Buckingham Palace – no pictures allowed inside, and no picnicking allowed outside.

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Posted by ecfong 16:09 Archived in England Comments (0)

Here, There and Everywhere

rain 17 °C

I’ve been here only a week, but I already feel like I’ve seen so much! Maybe not in detail, but definitely in volume. We had a couple of tours scheduled as part of our orientation, and then there have been some optional trips and tours to attend as well as just venturing out on our own.

On my second full day here we had two official tours, the first by coach (aka tour bus) and the second by walking. On the coach tour we began by driving around the well-known parts of Kensington, which is where my flat is located, and then we went into the other well-known and touristy areas, going as far east as the Tower of London. We drove through Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, by Parliament and Big Ben, and across numerous bridges. Every time we went over a bridge I got disoriented because the buildings we had just been looking at kept moving back and forth! Our guide was probably the best part of the tour because he was absolutely hilarious, and I loved listening to his accent.

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At one point we drove by the London Eye, which is the city’s biggest Ferris wheel and is located on the edge of the Thames. It rotates slowly, I believe taking about half an hour for one full rotation. I’m sure the views from the top are breathtaking, and I can’t wait to see for myself one of these days. As our guide was telling us about the Eye, he mentioned that some people actually get married on it! (I think the cars are large enough to hold a group of up to about thirty or so people). The couples wait until they reach the top to exchange vows, “and it’s all downhill from there.” We were entertained.

We stopped at St. Paul’s for about half an hour so that everyone had the opportunity to run to the bathroom, stretch their legs, or get a snack at the Crypt Café (by the catacombs). Lauren and I went around and took a few photos before the rain started, and then we went to find the bathroom. We discovered that we weren’t using just any water closet, but in fact the “loo of the year!” (It actually wasn’t very nice at all, so I think the year must be drawing to a close.)

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That afternoon we went out on a walking tour of the Kensington area so that we would know more about the neighborhood we were living in. We took a brief walk through Imperial College to see what’s there and the different facilities we’ll be able to use once school’s in session. My favorite part of the tour was when we walked through Hyde Park. I hadn’t actually been there yet, just seen the big green area on my map. It’s very cool how big it is and there are all these pathways going to different sights like the Serpentine Gallery, Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, and Kensington Palace. Also, Hyde Park is where J.M. Barrie meets his inspiration for Peter Pan in Finding Neverland, for those of you who’ve seen it – and if you haven’t, you should because it’s “brilliant.” We also walked by Kensington Palace and saw flowers and cards tied to the gates commemorating the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death a week from last Sunday. Finally, we saw these lawn chairs sitting out on the grass, looking like they’re available for anyone to use, except apparently you have to pay even though there aren’t any signs to warn you before you take a seat. Then, once you’ve been lured into using the chair, someone comes up expecting payment! Therefore, I will most definitely be using benches or the ground in that park to sit on, and nothing else!

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Over the weekend there was an optional outing to Greenwich. It wasn’t really a tour because once we got there everyone split up and did their own thing, but we had a bit of a tour on the way. We all met at the tube station nearby and took the train together to a stop right by Parliament. We got tickets for a boat ride down (or up?) the river to Greenwich, and the captain gave a little commentary on the sights as we passed them so that we’d have some idea of what we were looking at. Even though he was not a certified tour guide, he was very informative and entertaining. We stopped about halfway through the ride to pick up some more passengers, and the captain made a quick safety announcement: “You are safe.” Once again, I love the accents in this place!

This was the first outing during which I really took a number of photos, and it was so much fun! (Shocking, I know.) We were sitting on the open deck of the boat, so I was able to take a lot of pictures during the ride, or at least until it started drizzling. By that point, fortunately, I didn’t really see anything else I wanted a photo of until we landed. Overall, we got a lot of touristy pictures of us by all the attractions. It was lots of fun, especially because I’m usually behind the camera instead of in front of it.

Once we arrived, everyone sort of split up, and Lauren and I went exploring. (I brought my Rick Steves guidebook with me, but we didn’t pull it out immediately.) We found the Village Market, walked through there and managed to escape with only a postcard or two each. Then we ended up behind the Queen’s House in Greenwich Park and walked up the big hill to the Royal Observatory. Up there we found a marker showing the Prime Meridian, the official measurements for a foot, yard and so on, and the clock that sets Greenwich Mean Time. We took pictures straddling the Prime Meridian and standing next to the official measurements, trying to rush in among all of the other tourists there. I actually thought it was a lot of fun being around all the other tourists because everyone wanted their picture taken and they’d ask anyone standing nearby to take it. The universal question was, “photo?” and a motion towards the camera.

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After that Lauren and I were hungry. So – we got fish and chips. We got the impression that if we were going to get them anywhere in England, Greenwich was the place to do it. I guess this is because of its location on the water as well as the presence of the Royal Naval Academy (or the old one anyway), the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark (an important ship that I had to buy a postcard of since it’s currently under renovation). We’d been keeping an eye out for fish and chips all day, comparing the prices and such. Once we were officially hungry, we approached a shop that looked a little sketchy to Lauren, but I saw that the fish and chips were served in cones of newsprint, which according to my mother was a sign of legitimacy. So we gave it a shot and it turned out quite tasty! The fish was a little different than what I’m used to at home, and it was definitely more food than I could eat, but overall I’d say the experience was a success.

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We took our food and went for a walk along the waterfront. According to Rick Steves, it’s called the Five Foot Walk because that’s exactly the width of the path. Now Lauren and I both thought that the distance looked shorter, so I measured it with my feet (which I had just previously measured against the standard) and determined that the walkway was indeed exactly five feet!

Finally, we walked under the Thames (in a tunnel – don’t worry, I didn’t have to hold my breath for an extended period of time or turn into a cursed CGI pirate), and although it was slightly creepy, we were proud for doing it because really, how many people can say that they walked under a river and lived to tell the tale? We decided the experience was a mix between walking through one of those giant aquariums where you’re actually under the tank and following Moses through the Red Sea. Fortunately for us, we weren’t being chased by anyone which made it a lot less stressful I’m sure.

Now, I realize this sounds like a lot of sightseeing, which it is, but by last night Lauren and I were ready for another adventure. After dinner we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus to take a closer look at some of the places we saw on our tour by coach. We decided to just walk around, and we ended up going into numerous souvenir shops and comparing the prices of the scarves and postcards and umbrellas. I want one of the umbrellas that look like the British flag, but since I already have a perfectly good “brolly,” I don’t think I’ll be getting another one. Besides, then I’d look more like a tourist than I already do. Anyway. We wandered into Chinatown, which probably had the most non-Asians in it in all the Chinatowns I’ve ever been in, which I guess have probably only been about two or three. But I loved the decorations! There were red lanterns above all the streets, and I took many many photos of them, trying to get at least a few good ones. It was Lauren, however, who looked at them more closely and realized that the image on some of them wasn’t something Chinese like a dragon but was actually Kung Fu Panda! It was great.

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Then we found ourselves in Leicester Square, which is where the TKTS Booth is – that’s where you can get half price tickets to many of the shows in London (like The Lion King, Les Miserables, and Mamma Mia! to name a very few). I’m so excited!!! It will probably become my second home. At that time of night, however, we didn’t see a whole lot going on, so we kept walking and found ourselves outside the National Gallery. I tried to take some pictures there, but they didn’t come out too well because it was so dark. I definitely want to go back during the day when it’s open though and take a look around. One of the things that I think is really cool about this city is that all the big museums are free! You can spend as much or as little time as you want in them without feeling like you have to get your money’s worth, and you can always go back for more.

We could see Big Ben in the distance so we decided to try and get a little closer. We found it easily since it was basically straight down the road we were already on, and we tried to take a bunch of pictures there too. It looks amazing at night because the clock tower is all lit up, as well as part of Parliament, but once again I wasn’t getting any really clean shots because it was so dark. I ended up pulling out my gorilla pod, which is a flexible tripod, and I mounted it to the street light beside me to see if I could stabilize the camera at all. I think it worked, and if nothing else it was fun to play with. We saw lots of other people trying to take pictures too, and the funny thing was that they kept trying to get pictures with people standing in front of the tower – but it’s too dark to get a good shot of both! Oh well. We also got some nice pictures of the London Eye which was all lit up as well.

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Finally we went across the bridge to see Parliament from a distance, and it was actually kind of disappointing because only half of the building was lit! It made for some funny looking pictures, if nothing else. While we were standing on the bridge, Lauren and I wondered what time it was so we looked down at our watches as one normally does when interested in the time. However, considering we had just been staring at Big Ben, we felt a little silly, especially because earlier we had been laughing at a postcard of two tourists doing the exact same thing! Now I have to go back and find it because it was so true!

Whew! And that concludes the adventures of Emily and Lauren thus far. If you managed to get through it then thank you, congratulations, and I hope you enjoyed it!

Posted by ecfong 16:19 Archived in England Comments (1)

Long, Long, Long

Junior year begins.

semi-overcast 21 °C

Part of studying abroad, as much as we students want to deny it, does indeed involve school. I have now gotten through my first two days of class, and I think they went pretty well considering I didn’t really know what to expect.

The Place: Foundation House. This is the building that houses both the administrative offices for the program as well as the classrooms and common area that the students use. It is an independent study abroad program rather than a college or university, and the staff works with numerous schools from the U.S. – not just Santa Clara.

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(The Image: Foundation House, courtesy of Jeffrey Fong Photography during a previous visit to London, scouting out the program’s houses in case I decided to apply.)

The Subjects: I’m currently taking three classes: History of Modern Design; Theology and Communication; and British Life and Cultures. Later, during the second half of the semester, I will be doing an internship instead of History of Modern Design. My first class, from what I can tell, is about the design of everyday items we use and are exposed to including everything from coca cola bottles to vacuum cleaners to buildings. In my second class, we will be studying how different ways of communicating have affected Christianity, as well as how Christianity has used different communication methods to expand and promote its teachings … I think. My last class is required for all students in the program (although some are taking British Life and Business because they are business majors). So far we have covered a very fast history of Britain so that we have a general background from which to begin studying the culture we now live in. I’m very excited because in all of these classes we will be going on tours (which is really the more sophisticated way of saying “field trips!”) around London to different museums and churches and even Parliament!

The Time: Somehow I managed to get a very nice schedule of having all of my classes in the afternoon. I enjoy being able to sleep in and take my time to get to class, especially since the walk to Foundation House is longer than anything at Santa Clara (now it’s usually a 15-20 minute walk rather than just 10). Unfortunately, each class is three hours long. This is considerably lengthier than what I’m used to at Santa Clara, and most definitely longer than anything I’ve had to sit through all summer. I know it’s necessary to have extended classes because we have to pack so much information into so little time, but it’s still difficult to sit for that long.

The Professors: I have both a visiting faculty member as well as London residents as my professors for these classes. My Comm class is taught by one of the professors from Santa Clara, and for most of it actually, he will be back in California and we will do our class through video conferencing. My other two professors are from London, and they both teach at other schools around the area as well as at Foundation House.

The Classmates: I assumed that I would just have Santa Clara students in my classes, but that was actually only true for one of them, Theology and Communication. The other two classes include other students from the program. Some of the schools they go to include Loyola Marymount University, Marymount University, and American University.

Hopefully this answers your questions a little about what I’m doing in terms of school. I love hearing from you so please keep sending me messages and emails and questions, and I’d like to finish with a shout out to my “Handsome, manly brother” – you know who you are! (And so does everybody else, really…)

Love,
Emily

Posted by ecfong 19:28 Archived in England Comments (0)

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