Settling back in to life in Exeter

Friday I made the journey from Rome to Exeter- a much more difficult task than it sounds! The morning began with me standing in line to check in at the Easyjet counter, which contrary to its name was not easy or fast. Nearly two hours later and with the single bag I was allowed in hand, I set off for my gate.

Much to my chagrin I was in gate H12 at the other end of the airport! Hauling all of my stuff down the corridors of the airport I passed many expensive shops and cute boutiques. Though I had no room to carry more things–or money to buy them–it was nice scenery for the walk. After arriving at the gate I quickly got in line to “board” the plane. Just like the check in fiasco, this was neither easy or fast.

We got onto a bus that took us over to where the plane was sitting and then climbed up the stairs into the plane. The very irate Italian woman next to me could not understand why the bus was going so slow or why it took them so long to open the doors so we could leave the bus and get onto the plane–it made for a very interesting ride over! Once on the plane I was unfortunate lucky enough to have an adorable baby sitting behind me….who kicked my seat the entire way to England. Maybe it is a cultural difference but those parents were letting the child go wild!

Arriving in London I was greeted with a pleasant surprise: for the first time the line for “Other Passports” was shorter than the “UK/EU Passports” line. I felt bad for all of the EU residents but walked through quickly and easily to get my baggage and catch the next train to Victoria Station. In luck (with the train was leaving  ten minutes after I arrived) I boarded with my massive luggage. A cab to Paddington allowed me to view parts of London I’d never seen before; I made notes of all the pretty parks to visit next time I’m there.

Once at Paddington I revised my essays for 45 minutes until my train. British transport is problematic at best and this train ride was no different. About half-way to Exeter the rear engine broke down and we had to stop to detach it. Running on only one engine, the train got into Exeter St. David’s about an hour late but thankfully in one piece. Rather than try to climb the hill and walk the 1.5 miles to my dorm, I caught a taxi and ended my journey in comfort.

Now, two days later I am happy to be back but not so excited about my finals! I’ve spent the morning in the library with friends writing papers and soon it will be time to begin again.

Off to Costa for more paper-writing goodness,

A

London Trip 2

Friday:

Sam and I took the 8:40am train into London with hopes of getting some sightseeing in before tea time but that wasn’t in the cards. A journey that should’ve taken 2.5 hours took closer to 3.5 for no apparent reason other than the conductor not being very good with English (it was very funny listening to him explain the situation though!). When we finally reached London we hurried to drop our bags at the hotel before heading out on a marathon sight seeing expedition!

For two people who aren’t terribly fond of museums we managed to see quite a few! We started out wandering around London just to get a feel for it and ended up by the Victoria and Albert Museum. An impressive collection of art combined with free admission made it a crowded place. We ran into a group of school children who were split into teams to explore the museum (dressed as Superman or Sherlock Holmes). The students seemed to have a much better time than the two of us and we quickly left to investigate the outdoors.

Luckily, the beginning of November appears to be the unofficial time to put up Christmas decorations and we were greeted by many holiday displays over the weekend. The ice rink near the Natural History Museum had just opened when we arrived on Friday but we decided not to go as it was warm and rainy. After making plans to skate next time we were in town, we sought shelter from the drizzling within the Natural History Museum.

Looking through the dinosaur exhibit I realized how inadequate my education on the topic has been! I had no idea that so many fossils and bones came from the United States. Maybe if they had mentioned the archaeological digs occuring nearby I actually would have paid attention in middle school science!

Friday night the whole Kenyon group went to see a performance of Macbeth. I had been brimming with anticipation of this play ever since I heard we were going to see it. Macbeth is my favorite Shakespeare play and after the amazing rendition of Hamlet we saw in London last time I had very high hopes. This performance was terrible. The director took Macbeth to a whole other place adding samurai sword fights and Latin chants, characters playing dual roles and odd musical accompanyments. My friends and I dubbed the play “The Passion of the Samurai” because it was a weird cross between ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and ‘The Last Samurai’ but that is an insult to both films.

 

On Saturday morning we set off on more adventures after eating at the hotel’s massive breakfast spread. First we set out for Camden Road market and arrived only to find that we had arrived before any of the merchants! Since nothing else in London was open at that hour we walked along the river. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and we were fascinated by the snippets of British life that we encountered. There were many joggers down by the river, all of them seeming to be out running for the fun of it rather than for the fitness. There were also couples out for a leisurely Saturday morning stroll. I think that has been the hardest thing to adjust to over here: leisure time. At restaurants they give you tons of time just to sit and talk. I find myself getting frustrated often with their inefficiency until I remind myself that it is a different way of life.

 

After wandering for perhaps an hour we ended up in Regent’s Park. Despite not being a park person, or even a nature person for that matter, I loved the experience. There were little kids playing football and parents pushing their babies in strollers–the perfect morning!

(This beautiful fountain was at the center of the park and was donated by some obscure society. Just like everything else in England, whatever this was a monument to had quite a following! We found the Anaesthesia Museum later that day.)

This post is getting a little long, so I’ll add the rest later!

A

Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…

Okay, so on my trip to Topsham I didn’t ACTUALLY feed the birds but I did see a lot of them! There’s something about being here in England that makes Mary Poppins songs run through my mind at the oddest moments.

Boarding the train to Topsham on Friday, I was a bit worried about what the day had in store. I’m not the most outdoorsy person and Topsham is known as  a place to observe wildlife. The day was spent looking through charity shops and enjoying food with Kenyon friends–much better than looking at birds all day in my opinion!

The nine of us who decided to avoid work on Friday were met at the train station by Professor McAdams. She took us on the Goat Walk (pictured above) which goes around the coast of Topsham. The salty smell of the sea had us all longing for some time at a warm beach but instead we were greeted by gusts of wind and coarse waters. The beauty of the place is undeniable–even when a storm is brewing.

Our walk took us through the back alleys of the city and we found many families taking their daily strolls before the storms rolled in. Two little girls pretended to fly while racing down the paths, leaving their much smaller little brother stumbling to catch up. For some reason this moment struck me as very “fall-ish”. I guess I’m missing the middle school field trips to Jackson’s Orchard. A day away from school that allowed pumpkin picking? Count me in!

I did get a small taste of home on the trip. How cool is that?! Who would’ve thought that here in England I would find my own Bowling Green.

Professor McAdams showed us her house (“The Bungalow”) and then we headed of to lunch at The Cafe–creative name, no? The food was delicious, though it may have just been my delight at eating a meal other than eggs or a ham sandwich. I had a pork and apple burger with gooseberry chutney–yum yum! Completing the meal with a chocolate crumble (nuts and chocolate poured into a mold–best candy bar ever!) and a hot chocolate I couldn’t believe my luck that all of this was paid for by Kenyon! Ah the joys of being on a study abroad program 🙂

Blessed by my small feet I was able to find adorable short rain boots at a charity shop for next to nothing. The charity shops in Topsham are by far the best I’ve encountered yet in England–I can’t wait to see what they have next time I am there.

I am heading to London on Friday morning, returning Sunday night and with any luck I will have a post up next Wednesday about my travels.

Be sure to let me know if you want anything special from England!

A

Back from London Town!

This past weekend the KenExers made the first of many trips to London! Boarding the 8:50 train from Exeter St. David’s into London Paddington was an experience. None of us had ever really had railway training and finding the track and sorting through the tickets felt a bit chaotic.

Once we got into Paddington station, we quickly rushed to buy tickets for the Tube. Logan and I ended up in a different line than everyone else, and fortuitously were able to get our Oyster Cards early. For those who haven’t dealt with the London Underground an Oyster Card is a bit like a debit card that you swipe whenever you take a Tube trip. It saves a lot of money because you only get charged up to 5 pounds (the price of an unlimited ticket).

Oyster cards (or tickets) in hand, we proceeded to the National Theatre to see a performance of Prince of Denmark. Supposed to be a prequel to Hamlet, the play was a great concept but a terrible execution. I’m really glad that I got to see it; it gave me a lot of interesting jumping off points for my review!

Just after the play we all checked into the hotel. We stayed in a delightful little family-run hotel called the Harlingford. Situated in the heart of Bloomsbury, it struck me as the perfect place for literary-minded students to spend the weekend.

I was one of the lucky ones who had a room in the basement! There are no lifts in the hotel, which is perhaps its only drawback. The room was really beautiful and the bed was incredibly comfortable–a welcome change from the mattress in my dorm room!

After refreshing ourselves and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we went to a performance of War Horse. Despite my initial misgivings about a play with life-sized horse puppets I was blown away. The acting, for the most part, was phenomenal and the puppeteer stole the show. I forgot that the horses were not just well-trained animals at times–the mark of excellent puppeteering!

Because we got out of the play so late and none of the food places were open we were forced to grab dinner at the only two places open: the supermarket and McDonald’s! Now I’m not proud to admit I ate American fast food in London but we really had no other choice!

In the morning, I had several cups of tea before heading upstairs for breakfast. The meal that they serve in the morning could feed a small army! A spread is put out of cereal, porridge oats, various fruits and juices. THEN a very nice man comes over to take your order for which type of English breakfast you’d prefer. Heaven! (especially for someone on a student’s budget). Kidnapping some cheese sticks, Samantha and I got an early start to Portobello Road Market where we were quickly overwhelmed by the number of vendors setting up their wares.

As far as we could see there were stalls full of goodies! We managed to get out of there without doing too much damage to our pocketbooks and stumbled into a cute tea place for a chat and some time off of our feet.

We then made our way to the Tower of London to do a tour with friends. What started out as a simple journey with two tube changes very quickly turned into a “typical Londoner experience” of the Tube not working. Forced to abandon our train at an unknown station, Samantha and I attempted to find where we were on a map and continue our journey on foot.

I felt a little bit like Alice, lost in Wonderland. For those of you who’ve have never been in the car with me, my sense of direction is somewhat lacking….okay so that’s probably an understatement. I could probably get lost coming out of a paper bag. I did, however, manage to navigate Sam and I to another tube station–SUCCESS!

The Tower was wonderful but intensely sad. Seeing where Elizabeth I and Thomas More were locked up for so many years was very depressing. We had a beef-eater guide who took every chance he could to poke fun at the Americans–and his wife! The tour was very interesting and informative and we spent a few hours wandering around the Tower after, just exploring all the exhibits! It felt a bit like the Escher vault from Warehouse 13 (a great show on Syfy for those of you who’ve never heard of it); we kept going into buildings and being routed through unseen corridors before we could get out again!

A wonderful dinner at Grace’s Bar followed by a performance of Hamlet at the National Theatre finished off the night. I could go on forever about this Hamlet, it was spectacular, but I won’t bore you with the details. (Though, I’d love to talk to you on skype if you’re interested in the performance details!)

Sunday morning saw us exploring The Foundling museum in Bloomsbury. (The picture above is of the little park across the street from the museum). Oliver Twist was based on the orphanage/hospital that the museum commemorates. There were uniforms of the children as well as other artifacts from the original inhabitants but by far the most interesting was the “threads” exhibit. Most of the parents who left their children didn’t have any token to leave with their child–to claim them by later, if they so desired–so they left scraps of cloth. The fabrics showcased were truly amazing. Here’s a decoration in the museum to celebrate the opening of the exhibit:

The picture doesn’t do the art piece justice. It was like a massive chandelier made entirely out of ribbons!

After the museum, Sam and I meandered into the British Library! All the restraint that I’d show at Portobello Road Market was lost when I found the gift shop; I am now the proud owner of a poster, key-chain, set of notecards and a journal. I have no doubt that I will be returning to the library next time we are in London (and every time thereafter). There was an instant feeling of “home” when I set foot inside the BL and all of the anxiety I had been feeling about being abroad suddenly dissipated. I was overwhelmed by the sense of “rightness” I felt in being there; it quelled the fears I’ve had about whether librarianship is my calling. If those moments were any indication I am most certainly headed down the right path!

The perfect end to a weekend in London!

 

Ta for now, I must go read some more of Tess of the D’Ubervilles,

A

(Next time I will try to post several blogs about a trip, I just didn’t have time!)