Saturday, 21 August 2010

Getting ready to come back Stateside.

Well...Wednesday was my last day at work. It was a sad day, and I think I will miss all of my coworkers. I will definitely miss the British office banter that happened all around me. My coworkers ordered in lunch for everyone, and I had my first burrito. It was delicious, but I still think Chipotle may be better...

My supervisor and I talked for a while about my options after graduation. We discussed it for a while, and decided that I would be happy as a desk strategist in the investment banking industry. That way, I still get to do math, but I get to use my econ skills and talk to people too. It sounds like an interesting option, and I got some great advice.

I had to spend the night writing a paper, but after that, I was done with classes. On Thursday night, my program CAPA held a going away party. It was fun, but it was really sad to start saying our goodbyes.

Friday was my free day to get all my important sightseeing done, so it was a mini-marathon. First, I went to the London School of Economics (LSE). I did a walking tour and then stopped in the graduate recruiting office to talk about possibly getting a master's there. The campus is really awesome and the guy was so helpful. I got a ton of information on scholarships, some designed especially for women in math, so it may be possible to go there. Then, I stopped by The British Museum and the Natural History Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, some Egyptian mummies, and the Charles Darwin evolution exhibit.

Friday night a few of us went out to get a drink at our local Irish bar, and we said goodbye to our favorite bartender.

Today was a really long day. I had to be out of my flat by 10, so I was up early and packing. Taking 75lbs of stuff on the tube is no picnic. After getting off after a 40 min ride and lugging my bags up three flights of stairs, I had to walk another 10 minutes to my hotel. At least my room is amazing. It's clean, it has a huge comfy bed, and it's quiet.

I went and saw my second show at the Old Vic today. I saw The Tempest a few weeks back, and I liked it so much I wanted to see the second show, As You Like It, also directed by Sam Mendes. The cast was the same, and it was interesting seeing people play such different roles. The main character, Orlando, is played by Christian Carmargo, who played the Ice Truck Killer in season 1 of Dexter.

Here's a link to some pictures if you're interested. The set design and costumes were pretty cool. This was the last showing in London, and I got one of the last two programs for free. Lucky me! A show and a program for only $20.

After the show, I met some friends for dinner for some more goodbyes, and right now I'm sitting in my wonderful hotel room relaxing. I can't remember the last time I got a great night's sleep.

Tomorrow I'll probably head over to Wimbledon or Hampstead Heath if the weather holds up. Only a few more hours left in London!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Weekend in Dublin!

This weekend my roommates and I traveled to Dublin, Ireland. We got cheap train and ferry tickets, and left early Friday morning. Although we only had about 12 second to transfer between trains in Wales, we made it their safely. The ferry was a bit wobbly and someone got sick in the shop, but I felt fine. We headed over to our hotel and dropped off our bags.

After freshening up, we went straight to the Guinness Storehouse in the city. We learned the history behind the beer, how a stout got its name, and how they make in in the brewery. We had the change to pour our own pint with the specialized Guinness tapper. First you fill the cup 3/4 with the handle forward, let that settle, and then you pour pure Guinness by tilting the handle backwards to finish it off. After the factory, we went to get dinner and drinks at a traditional Irish pub.

On Saturday, we went on a bus tour to Wicklow and Glendalough. We left at around 9 in the morning and traveled to Wicklow Gap. It really was beautiful, and I wish that we would have had the opportunity to go hiking. Then we headed over to Glendalough, meaning “valley between two lakes.” There was an old monastery, house, and cemetery, and two beautiful lakes. Ireland is unbelievably green. They even told us that they had a water short because of the lack of rain, but everything was still so much greener than London. After Glendalough, we went to Avoca, a small town in the middle of nowhere. We had the chance to watch weavers at work and to walk around.

After Avoka, we headed back to Dublin. That night I went to the Temple Bar area for some drinks. At €6 a pint, I could only afford a couple. We listened to some street performers, traditional music, and a bunch of live local bands. It really was a fun place.

The next morning, we got up early to visit Trinity College and the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is an old copy of the four gospels of the new testament written in about 800. The books are fully illustrated with full color pictures that were made like tattoos on the calfskin pages. After Trinity, we went to Marrion Square to see the artists, the Oscar Wilde statue, and to have some lunch. We ended up eating lunch on a bed of shamrocks, and afterwards we collected our bags and took the ferry and train home again.

On the last train home, we connected with a train straight from Liverpool. Normally, this would have been fine, but Liverpool hosted a football match with Arsenal that day, and all of the fans were on our train. It was standing room only for the whole way back. The football fans eventually got tired of standing, and broke into the bar, which they quickly emptied. It was quite the experience, and we had fun meeting everyone on our car. I was very happy when we finally got home that night.

Today (Tuesday) is my last full day of work, and I only have a half day tomorrow. After my half day, I am two presentations and two papers away from a free weekend in London. I can’t believe the time has gone by so fast, but I am excited that I’m going home soon. Not looking forward to moving up to school though...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

More Museums and Theater

I forgot to mention this, I think, but a while back I went and toured the Tower of London, a famous fortress where many people were kept prisoner, executed, and where the crown jewels of England are stored. I saw the spot where Jane Grey and Henry VIII's wife Anne Boleyn was beheaded, where Walter Raleigh was kept prisoner, and where prisoners were brought in by ship to the tower. From the Tower Hill tube station, you can even see some remains of the ancient wall built around the City of London when the Romans occupied the area 2,000 years ago. My favorite part was the crown jewels...I only had to wait about 45 min to get in. We weren't allowed to take pictures of them, but I bought some postcards so you all can see the largest diamond in the world when I get back. After that, I walked across the Tower Bridge, a famous landmark right down the road.

Last Wednesday, between classes, I made a quick trip to the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar square. They had a neat exhibit on portraits done by young or unknown artists that I though was pretty cool.

This weekend I found Frederick Chopin's house where he stayed before he gave his last ever public performance. I realized that I walk past that music hall on my way to work everyday. After that, I toured Westminster Abbey, the church where many monarchs are married and buried. Princess Diana's funeral was held there in 1997. In addition, many famous writers and musicians like Handel, Chaucer, Dickens, Newton, Cromwell, Darwin, and many others are buried there.

After Westminster, I made my way over to Temple Church, located in the City. It was built in the 11oos and was the meeting point for the Templar Knights. If you've read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, he references this church in there somewhere. Although it was heavily bombed in 1940, restorations have brought the church back to it's former state. Marble effigies of Knights are scattered all over the floor. It was a pretty cool stop in my day of touring.

Next, I went to the Museum of London, another free museum in the middle of the city. They had a pretty nice exhibit on London throughout history. My favorite parts were the ones about the Plague in the 1300s and 1600s and the Fire of London in 1666. It was pretty crowded in there, so I didn't spend as much time there as I would have liked.

Also this weekend, my roommates and I went over to Soho to check out Carnaby Street where the Mod movement started in the 1960s. There are still a bunch of cute boutiques around there, and it still seemed to be a very fashionable district. We grabbed lunch and Chinatown and then made a quick trip over to Denmark Street. There, I found 4 Denmark Street where Regent Sound Studios is located. Here, the Rolling Stones recorded their first album. After that, we went over to Notting Hill to check out the Portabello Market.

After Portabello Market, I stopped in a little bookstore and bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Money well spent.

On Sunday, my roommates and I went over to Abbey Road to try to recreate the Beatles' album cover. We got some cool pictures of the graffiti there and added our own lines to the wall. After that, we walked to Regents Park, where we found the Royal Cricket stadium. Cricket is pretty big here, and I still don't understand it. Finally, we went to a communion service at St. Paul's cathedral, which was not as good as the Mattins service I went to earlier, but it was still enjoyable.

On Monday night, I bought a last minute ticket to see The Tempest directed by Sam Mendes (Mr. Kate Winslet) in the theater owned by Kevin Spacey. It was an amazing performance, especially for only £12. Last night, I went to go see Les Mis. Although the main performer hit his head during the first scene and had to be replaced, it was still a really good show.

That's what I've been up to in the last week. Next week all of my papers and projects are due, so it might get interesting time-wise, but I will try to update after my weekend in Dublin.

Sadly, my trip is coming to an end and I will be home in the morning on the 23rd.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Two Days of Theater

Well this week has been busy....besides working, I have seen two shows in two days.

Yesterday morning when I was at work, two of my friends went down to the discount theater ticket booth in Leicester Square and got tickets for Hair, and they were nice enough to get one for me too. Tickets were only £20, and they were in row AA, the front row. If you don't know what Hair is's about 1970's America during the Vietnam War protests. There is nudity, and cursing, and the whole thing is pretty vulgar. Because we sat in the front row, the cast members were crawling over us and standing on our armrests singing, and it was absolutely fantastic. The music was great, and the acting was even better. In the beginning of the musical, the main character, Burger, even had me hold his jeans while he danced around in some loin-cloth thing. Very interesting. At the end of the show, the three of us even got to dance onstage with the cast.

Tonight I went on a program-sponsored event to Shakespeare's Globe Theater to see Henry IV Part 1. Although it was a history, I did find it really funny. Of course it was filled with word play and puns that I would have easily missed if I had just read it on my own. We had standing seats right next to the stage, so although it was easy to see all of the action, it was hard to pay attention near the end when my feet were getting sore. The theater itself was very cool, and it was done up to look just like it would have when it premiered. The sets, trap doors, music, and costumes would all have been the same as what I saw tonight (it looked just like it did in Shakespeare in Love). Between scenes and acts, the cast sang and did little skits to distract the audience from the set changes. I wish we would have seen a whole story though. I may never know the ending, or Part 2, of Henry IV...

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Imperial War Museums

Last night I went on the Jack the Ripper tour with a few new friends. It was pretty cool to hear all of the gruesome stories where they actually took place, but it's a shame that most of the original buildings are gone from heavy bombing during WWII. Afterwards, I took my friends to Fleet Street (an area that I am now becoming quite familiar with) and returned to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese to have a pint. After the pubs closed, we made our way to the Thames embankment and walked towards Westminster. At night, most of the buildings are lit up and look really pretty.

Today was a marathon day for me. I spent the afternoon in two museums, both part of the Imperial War Museum.

First, I went through the Cabinet War Rooms used by Churchill during WWII and the Churchill Museum. They are in the basement of a building filled with offices right near Westminster, and have been well preserved. Throughout the war, the bunkers remained a secret to the Germans, and the phones ran 24 hours a day for the course of the war. In my favorite part, you see a door marked "lavatory" that was always locked, and all of the men (except for the PM) thought it was just Churchill's private bathroom. Turns out, it was a secret phone room that had a direct line from Churchill right to FDR. There was also a museum detailing Churchill's life and personality which was really interesting. I spent about 3 hours there, and I can easily say that this is my favorite museum so far in London. Upon leaving, I was handed a brochure for another Imperial War Museum not too far away that had a Holocaust exhibit and free admission, so I headed over there.

From the tube, I walked through some not so nice looking neighborhoods, and I found a small market run by some African nuns. They were dancing around and blasting music, and, this is for you Mikey P: I felt straight out of Sister Act.

After I found the other War Museum, I went in and saw some great exhibits on both world wars. The picture to the left is of the entrance to the war exhibits, and as you can see, it's a pretty modern museum. They also had exhibits on children in the war, a simulated trench from WWI, and a simulation about the 1940 Blitz on London. From there, I went to an exhibit on Secret Soldiers, which told me all about MI5 and MI6 operations during the wars. Eventually I made my way to the Holocaust exhibit, which was really well done. It was not too crowded for a free museum, and I would definitely go back again.

After I got back into Kensington, I went to Harrods for the first time. It was pretty crazy. I spent a little time in the De Beers diamond room and then went to the designer gallery. I tried to take a picture of a £5,000 Oscar de la Renta gown and got yelled at. I went on the Egyptian escalator and saw the Diana memorials. Finally, I found a Krispy Kreme stand in the basement, got a doughnut, and headed over to Hyde Park.

At Hyde Park, I saw the west end of the park, where the Serpentine and the Princess Diana memorial are. The Diana memorial (on the right) is a circular fountain which is also a wading pool. I ate my doughnut with my tired feet in the memorial, and then stayed there to read for a bit. When I was sufficiently rested, I went to Kensington Gardens across the street. Here, I saw the Peter Pan statue, Kensington Palace, and a few more memorials. Eventually I found a tube station and headed back home.

I feel like I am finally getting my bearings in the city. Today, several people stopped me for directions and I was actually able to help them. Although I was on my own again today (my flatmates did Buckingham...too crowded for me...), I feel like I see more that way, and I definitely am better oriented. I'm not ready to ditch my map anytime soon though...

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Soho, Westminster, and Belgravia

Wednesday I only worked a half day in the morning, and then I had a walking tour of Soho and the north West End for my British Pop Culture class. My teacher showed us some nice music clubs in the area, and took us to Denmark Street where the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Elton John recorded. Then, my teacher took us near Carnaby Street (where the Swinging Sixties started) and then to the Hare Krishna temple.

Yesterday was my day off, and I got up early to start walking around. I headed over to Baker Street and found the location of the Beatles' Apple Studios, which was unfortunately under scaffolding. Then I went over to the Beatles store to look at some memorabilia. After a while, I had to head over to Trafalgar Square to meet up with my Pop Culture class. We went in the National Gallery and saw some Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, and Seurat, among other artists.

After the class, I walked down Whitehall Road, where I ran into Scotland Yard, the museum of the guard horses, 10 Downing Street, and a bunch of WWII memorials. When I got to Westminster, I took the tube into central London, where I visited the Temple Church again but just missed the last entry. Then, I walked St. Paul's to the Millennium Bridge and the Old Bailey.

Today, I went to Soho again for breakfast at a French bakery, Maison Bertaux, for a croissant and coffee. Delicious. Then, I headed back to Chelsea for a walking tour of Sloane Square and the Chelsea hospital, which is a retirement village for widowed veterans. Afterwards, we got some gellato from a little stand.

Tonight I'm going on the Jack the Ripper walking tour with a few friends. Should see some spooky stuff!

Hope everyone is having a nice weekend!

Monday, 26 July 2010

Weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland

I had a fabulous weekend. In Scotland. In EdinBRAAAAA (as I was told to pronounce it by a coworker).

We took the train up on Friday morning from King's Cross, and during our 5 hour journey we got to see some English countryside and a bit of the blue North Sea. I had a short exchange with a little Scottish boy who had orange hair, and looked like a young version of Ron Weasley from Harry Potter. He asked me if I was an American, and he was pretty cute. We eventually got to Edinburgh at around 2, and walked out of the train station to the sound of bagpipes.

My two flatmates and I dropped our bags off at our B&B right near the city center. The room was about twice as big as our entire flat back in London, and it had a great view with comfortable beds. We set off exploring the city, and walked towards Princes St. and St. Andrew's square. Later we climbed to the top of Calton Hill, the site of an observatory and several national monuments. Here's a pic of me on the national monument at the top:

After that, we stopped for dinner in a small pub, where I met some interesting Scottish men. We were pretty exhausted from the early train ride and decided to have an easy night with the satellite (!) TV in our room. We got some Tennent's beer, which may be my new favorite, and some digestives (cookies meant for tea time) and went to bed early.

On Saturday, we were up early for a day tour of the Highlands, Stirling, and Loch Lomond. The highlands were beautiful, and none of the pictures I have do it any justice. Loch Lomond (the one from the song "you take the high road, I'll take the low road, and I'll be in Scotland afore ya") is the biggest freshwater lake in Britain where many Scots go to vacation. We took a boat tour around the lake, and saw all of the luxury hotels and a few castles. After that, we headed over to Aberfoyle for lunch at the base of the highlands. I had a steak pie with fresh grass-fed beef, and it was delicious.

On Sunday, our train didn't leave until 7PM so we had a full day to see the rest of Edinburgh. We started out at Edinburgh Castle, the inspiration for Hogwarts Castle from the Harry Potter series (there's a theme here...). The series was actually started by JK Rowlings in a little coffee shop in the city where she lived for several years. The castle was pretty touristy and didn't really have that much stuff inside it, but I did enjoy it. I probably wouldn't go back again, but it was worth it for one time.

After Edinburgh Castle, we walked the Royal Mile (High Street) where there was a large crafts market. After dropping a bunch of pounds (British Pounds, that is) we headed over to Holyrood Palace, the summer residence of the queen. We were able to walk through the apartments of Mary Queen of Scots and saw the ruins of the abbey. The abbey was destroyed by a group of Catholic-hating Protestants, and was the inspiration for Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, or, the Scottish symphony. After the palace, we headed up another crag in the area, Salisbury Craig, to get some views of the city.

After climbing back down the mountain, we had to head over to the train. I would love to see more of Scotland in the future.

I had to be to work early this morning, but at noon, everyone went over to the local football pitch (in central London, heart of the financial district) to play for an hour. During our "adult recess" I asked one of my coworkers if she had ever heard of Brett Favre, and she hadn't. Our two cultures are definitely different.

This week I have two papers due, so I will be busy until Wednesday, but afterwards I am free to explore the city again. I will hopefully update you with my findings later in the week. Until then!