Friday, August 5, 2011

All Good Things Must Come To An End

I am now writing to you not from my London flat, but from my kitchen in Miami; I’m back in the States! And I’m definitely feeling the jetlag L Though my body is telling me its midnight (the current time in London), its only seven here in Florida.

I can’t help but feel the end to this journey is slightly bittersweet. Sure, I missed my family, my friends, my bed, and my shower, but on the other hand London was absolutely amazing, even the second time around; I almost felt like I was visiting an old friend.

The backyard at Buckingham Palace. Its a lot nicer than
 my backyard, that's for sure!
My last day in London our group visited the one iconic place left unchecked on our list: Buckingham Palace. I didn’t have a chance to tour the palace the first time I came to London, so this was definitely a new experience for me. We all set out at our own pace, with our own audio guides in hand. I’m sure some would see an audio guide as the poor man’s alternative to an actual real-life tour guide, but I would have to disagree. Sometimes using an audio guide is a more leisurely option, and the ones at Buckingham Palace certainly don’t lack in quality. I learned all about Queen Victoria (the first British monarch to live in the Palace), and Kate Middleton’s wedding dress (hand-stitched by the Royal Embroidery School located at Hampton Court Palace), and Will & Kate’s wedding cake (their entire cake is on display, looking as if it has never been touched). As you can see, there was a bit of Royal Wedding mania at Buckingham, but I’m certainly not complaining!
Never thought I'd be so happy to eat American food 

Afterwards, we had a farewell lunch at Hard Rock CafĂ©, where I was finally able to eat a hamburger with unlimited soda refills! And Dr. Everhart did me the honor of awarding the best superlative ever: Most Likely to Marry Prince Harry. If I’m going to fulfill this superlative, I will definitely need to go back to London sometime soon.

It seems absolutely unreal to me that my journey is over, that three weeks have already passed, that summer is over and I start the new school year in less than a week. But this was certainly one of the best experiences of my life. I will never forget the wonderful people in my group, all of the projects I worked so hard on, and all of the amazing places we visited. And hell, if I ever do forget, at least I’ll have this blog to remind me ;)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Anne Boleyn: A Life in Pictures & Sound

And so I present to you the culmination of my work over this past week: a special Glogster site (a sophisticated online poster of sorts) dedicated to that enigmatic figure of Tudor history, Anne Boleyn. This is a rather brief but stylish overview of Anne, highlighting the major points of her life through pictures. Don't forget to look towards the bottom of the page, where I have featured a YouTube video on her downfall and execution (created with love by yours truly), as well as some outside links to different modern interpretations of Anne. Be sure to click on the link "Full Size" to see everything.

Honestly, who doesn't love (or love to hate) Anne Boleyn? She's arguably the one who made Henry VIII the person he is known as today, the one who started it all! To quote Thomas Cromwell from Howard Brenton's play Anne Boleyn (playing at The Globe right now), "We were all in love with her."

Expect some more soon on the (unfortunate) end to my trip.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reliving The Tudors

Nothing makes me happier than a really good museum. And now that I’ve had the opportunity to go to so many different museums (all in a matter of weeks), I am happy to tell you that Hampton Court Palace is a really good museum.

In the beginning, Henry, Katherine,
and Wolsey were all on the same footing
Hampton Court was originally built by Cardinal Wolsey (and yes, I’ve mentioned him before in previous posts), but the newly built palace transferred to Henry VIII after Wolsey’s “fall from grace,” shall we say. It soon became the popular summer hangout for the Tudor Court. And so because of its origins, a lot of the exhibits center around Henry VIII and the typical workings of a Tudor royal palace. Which is great for me, since I seem to have an obsession with everything Tudor (as does most of London in general).

The exhibits, as well as the audio tour, are extremely well done. Some of their exhibits are organized so that they present the palace in the exact way it looked when Henry VIII lied there, with tapestries, paintings, and furniture all from the correct time period on display.

After so many miscarriages, Katherine's throne is
placed away from Henry's and Wolsey's, signifying a rift in their relationship
Yet there were other exhibits that told a story through strategically placed quotes, symbols, and illustrations. For example, there was a special exhibit on the early life of Henry VIII, with an emphasis on the three most important people in his life at the time, Katherine of Aragon (his first wife) and Cardinal Wolsey (his chief minister). Special wooden thrones were placed in each room to represent the three characters (with a description of them on the back of each), and as the story moved along through the different rooms the thrones changed positions in order to give a visual representation of their relationship towards each other as time passed. It was very well thought out, something new that I hadn’t seen before. It made me realize all of the thought that is put into a museum exhibit.

And of course, the royal impersonators wandering the Palace also made my day. Nothing beats Henry VIII flirting with you ;)

Henry VIII

Monday, August 1, 2011

The People's Princess

A cool teepee at the Memorial Playground

The only thing more popular in London than Will and Kate’s wedding seems to be Princess Diana. And why not? She was the beautiful, sweet kindergarten teacher who married a prince (though unfortunately not a prince charming), and then completely upended the royal family by announcing Charles’ infidelities, divorcing him, and running away with Dodi Al-Fayad, heir to the Harrod’s fortune.

Everyone has a soft spot for the people’s princess, including me. I’ll be the first to admit that while watching the royal wedding, I got choked up thinking how proud Diana would be of her son if she were there. And when we happened to pass by the tunnel where Diana passed away in Paris, a feeling of grief overwhelmed me; I had to turn away.

I like sheep. Can you tell?
So it was a really nice surprise to see how Londoners have kept her memory alive. The large expanse of greenery known as Kensington Gardens/ Hyde Park (two separate parks that really blend into one) is home to both the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground and the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain (redundant much?). The playground is a wonderland for little kids, with a pirate ship, teepees, cool musical instruments, tunnels, and even wooden animals. Exploring the playground made me wish that I was five again, just so I could truly appreciate the genius behind the Peter Pan inspired layout.

The Memorial Fountain is similar in that it caters to children and their parents. It is basically a permanent slip-and-slide in the park, except due to the fact that it’s made of hard stone, it is highly recommended you wade, not slide! Little kids in nothing but their underwear were running and screaming around in the cool water., with their parents joining in from time to time (in swimsuits, not underwear, thankfully).

A little girl at the Memorial Fountain, trying to
drink the water. Not the best idea ever.

I now want to move to London, marry a Brit, have cute little Brit babies, and take them to the Playground and Fountain everyday. Thanks Diana J

Je Parlez Tres Mal Francais

I spent three days in Paris this past weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and I think it is one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever visited. The lanes are wide and picturesque, magnificent buildings (works of art unto themselves) are everywhere you turn, the food is rich and intoxicating, and every Parisian is an amazing dresser. And yet there is something off, something wrong, about this city; I think it may be me.

Nothing is more breathtaking than the Eiffel Tower at night
I felt very out of place, and not speaking the language was only a part of it. But while we’re on that topic, it really is amazing how isolated you can feel if you don’t speak the language. In London I feel somewhat capable; I can read signs, order a meal, decipher the Tube map, etc. In Paris, I feel like half a person; I can barely pronounce signs, nonetheless understand them! I am often reduced to sign language to order a sandwich. And worst of all, I can’t even tell if someone’s insulting me…or if I’m insulting them.

In front of the Palais de Justice
Because lets face it, I am the worst insult to a Parisian—I am a tourist. An American tourist who speaks no French, with a huge backpack on my back, taking pictures at every corner. Sure they would love to have my Euros, especially if I have the audacity to visit their great monuments. Go to the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Conciergerie, Saint Chapelle, the Musee d’Orsay, the Arc de Triumph. And then leave. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The most beautiful church, the Saint Chapelle
Not every person I met in Paris was mean or unwelcoming. But it is a little disheartening when, at every major tourist site you go to, there are several people holding clipboards, pretending to be deaf, blind, etc. begging you to sign their sheet, all in the hopes that they can steal your money while you’re distracted. And believe me, they’re everywhere.

Channeling Quasimodo while standing next
to the bell of Notre Dame
And then there is the sketchy man you see walking by you on the street; suddenly, you notice he’s switched directions, and is now directly behind you. You grab your mammoth backpack, aware that he might be trying to pickpocket you. And the worst thing is, he notices. And so he sticks out his foot, in the attempt to trip you. Thankfully you don’t fall, just stumble a bit. And then he proceeds to berate you (in French, no less) on why you’re suspicious of him, why are you holding your backpack like that, and other various insults that you can’t understand because you never bothered to take French in high school or college. And then he walks away. And though you’re not physically harmed, you’re left wondering why you came to this city in the first place, this city that doesn’t seem to want you or your kind.

But I still got to see and do all I wanted to see and do. Believe it or not, I still enjoyed myself in this somewhat hostile city; I still had a great time! And nothing gives a bigger middle finger to those snooty Parisians than enjoying their city, despite all of their plans against me J

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Backpacking In Paris... Literally

I must first preface this post by giving due credit to Crystal Schmidt for the title (thanks to your super creative mind!).

Goofing it up at the Louvre
And so I will begin trying to chronicle my crazy busy weekend in Paris (though please forgive me if I fail miserably; it’s hard to remember so much three days later). Friday started with an early wake-up call of 3:30 am, to get on our 5:30 Eurostar train to Paris. And now I know where all of the air-conditioning in Europe is—it’s all on the Eurostar! I froze into an icicle, and had to be thawed out on the Metro. Not pleasant.

We arrived at 8:30 in Paris and began a crazy, hectic, all-over-the-place schedule. Two hours at the Louvre was followed by a quick lunch-on-the-go on top of a double-decker tour bus. A photo stop in front of the Eiffel Tower, and then a boat trip on the river Seine. Another photo stop, this time in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral, then some touristy shopping, and finally dinner. And all of this with our luggage (a.k.a. backpacks) on us the entire time. In other words, a hell of a first day in France!

Sante! on our river boat tour
Yet there are a lot of things we missed, things that seem to be essential in any person’s Paris list: for instance, we didn’t have enough time to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We also missed out on going inside Notre Dame. And yet it was the untypical events of the day that really made Paris special. Our FSU Multimedia group uncorked two bottles of peach champagne on the river boat, and made all the other tourists jealous as we sipped from our plastic wine glasses and yelled “SantĂ©” to each other. And our dinner was absolutely epic; delicious French cuisine coupled with feisty musicians (a guitarist and accordion player) and a never-ending pitcher of wine made for a great celebration.

Our party ended with me being dragged to the middle the restaurant and made to dance the Macarena; all in all, a terrific day J