argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
The photos from Paris are up here. You'll notice that, like the London ones, I've sub-divided them by location. Hopefully, even though they're still not annotated, that will give you a better idea of what you're looking at an increase the organization in general.

(It should be noted that the majority of photos from the Louvre are of Ancient Greek sculptures and vases.)

The Prague gallery has also been sub-divided by location, as has Athens', though the latter is still not fully uploaded; I've added approximately 200 new photos to the gallery, but there's over 500 left to go. All of the Athens photos with text were left large enough to still be legible.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
My mum wrote a summary of our time in Europe while I was in New Hampshire, which I've stolen borrowed and slightly altered for this post. So thank her and her insistence on writing down details for every single day. My own thoughts are at the end and scattered throughout the notes.

London, 20 December - 24 December
  • Thursday, 20 December -- Walked to Whiteley's Mall from the hotel and ate Italian.

  • Friday, 21 December -- Walked through Kensington Gardens to the Royal Albert Memorial; spent five hours at the National History Museum, which also had an ice rink and booths set up outside for Christmas; briefly visited the Science Museum; spent two hours at the Victoria and Albert Museum; walked to Harrod's and went up its 'Egyptian' escalator; ate fish and chips in Piccadilly Circus; walked through Chinatown.

  • Saturday, 22 December -- Spent a couple of hours at the British Museum; attended Evensong at Westminster Abbey; walked along the Thames River to Tower Bridge; ate at Wagamama's (a Japanese chain).

  • Sunday, 23 December -- Only in downtown London very briefly due to switching hotels to one closer to Heathrow for our early flight to Prague the next morning; my first London fog.

Prague, 24 December - 28 December
  • Monday, 24 December -- Left London at 7:35 AM; got lost trying to find the hotel; walked around Wenceslas Square; ate Italian for dinner.

  • Tuesday, 25 December -- Christmas, but everything was open; walked to Old
    Town to see the Astrological Clock and climb up the Clock Tower; had lunch at an amazing crêperie; took a guided walking tour of the Josefov (Jewish quarter); ate dinner at the U Golemu/The Golem restaurant (I had deer leg -- Thief reference).

  • Wednesday, 26 December -- Went up Petřín Hill to the Strahov Monastery; visited Prague
    Castle and Charles Bridge; went to a string concert at a church; dinner at a pub.

  • Thursday, 27 December -- Walked by myself past the Giant Metronome and Dancing House to Vyšehrad Castle; dinner at Pizzeria Venezia.

Athens, 28 December - 2 January
  • Friday, 28 December -- Left Prague at 11:25 AM; wandered around the hotel area and ate at a Greek restaurant.

  • Saturday, 29 December -- Went to the Acropolis, the Temple of Dionysus, the Areopagus (Mars Hill), the Agora, and the Athens Flea Market; had dinner at another Greek restaurant.

  • Sunday, 30 December -- Spent nearly four hours on the hills around the Pnyx; had lunch at a very pricey restaurant near the Acropolis called 'Dionysus'; stumbled upon a Greek rap concert and festival in the National Gardens; had baklava for the first time.

  • Monday, 31 December -- Visited the Keramikos (ancient burial ground), the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian's Library, Plato's Academy, and the National Archaeological Museum; walked past City Hall and saw the New Year's set-up; watched the midnight fireworks from the hotel windows.

  • Tuesday, 1 January -- Took the metro to Piraeus (Athens' main seaport); saw the 2004 Olympic Stadium; at lunch at the huge, 4-story Mall.

Paris, 2 January (sort of) - 6 January
  • Wednesday, 2 January -- Left Athens over an hour behind schedule; missed connecting flight in Prague; put up by Czech Airlines in local four-star hotel for the night.

  • Thursday, 3 January -- Left Prague at 10 AM; ate dinner at a Pizza Hut in Charles de Gualle Airport; walked around the Place des Vosges and Place de la Bastille to the Seine River, though failed to find Victor Hugo's exact house; had Chinese for dinner.

  • Friday, 4 January -- Took a one-hour boat tour on the Seine; ate crêpes for lunch; spent over five hours at the Louvre (which has a better Greek vase collection than all of Athens); ate Italian for dinner.

  • Saturday, 5 January -- Took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower and walked up to the first floor; ate lunch at an overpriced French restaurant near Notre Dame Cathedral with bad 1990's American pop music playing in the background; visited Notre Dame, thus walking into a wedding by accident (yes, they kept letting tourists in during the wedding).

  • Sunday, 6 Janaury -- Left Paris around 10:30 AM; Boston and on to New Hampshire!

My favourite place was London, though I'm not quite sure I'd want to live there. I adored wandering through the ancient and green areas of Athens, which also had barely any security, but the modern city was too much of a contrast for me. Prague was interesting, but not as old as I had imagined (the Jewish Quarter, for example, was completely rebuilt in the 1800s) and rather cold. Paris was my least favourite, though I suspect part of that reaction was from feeling like I had seen all the architecture before after having already visited London and Prague and having just come from Athens' completely different atmosphere; another part was from feeling homesick and longing for New Hampshire. Still, the Louvre was very impressive.

Prague, despite having the least favourable winter climate, easily had the best food; Paris and London had the worst, at least from what we tasted. Athens had the nicest public transportations, followed by London; Paris had the worst and was insanely crowded and complicated, though we didn't go on Prague's because we couldn't figure it out (everything was in Czech). Athens was also the easiest place to get around in general because almost everything was bilingual. (Most things in Prague were bilingual [or trilingual -- Czech, English, and German], too, except for the transportation systems and the non-tourist areas. I also omit London since I don't known how easy it is for foreigners to get around there seeing as English is my native language.)

Both London and Athens had wide areas of green space, whether they were hills, ancient areas, or parks. On the other hand, the modern side of Athens was somewhat cramped and appeared the most unpleasant of the four cities on the outside.

Our nicest hotel was in Athens, though the neighbourhood was the most seedy and the bathroom in our London hotel was probably better. Airport-wise, London had the worst, while Prague had the nicest. Prague also had the best airline -- Czech Air.

Interestingly, both Prague and Paris dub almost everything on the television except for opera and a few other music-related programmes. Athens is the exact opposite; everything foreign is shown with Greek subtitles except for children's cartoons and nature documentaries.

Overall, the only place I probably wouldn't go back to is Paris. Prague I'd only go to again if it wasn't in the winter. Even Athens is a question mark; I'd like to see more of Greece and Macedon. For the UK, too, I never really visited the country areas aside from our short trip to Avebury. That, and I never got up to Scotland.

Still, I'm about done with international flights and airport security for at least a few years, I think . . .

And Kim and Kun's mum were right; almost as soon as I arrived in the States, it was like waking up from a dream to a place I'd never left.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Seeing how smoothly everything has been going, it seems almost inevitable that there was going to be a breakdown somewhere.

In particular, our flight from Athens to Prague left over an hour behind schedule, which caused us to miss our connecting flight to Paris.

Czech Airlines was very helpful, though we still had a two-hour wait to pick up our luggage; all remaining flights to Paris were full, so the airline put us up at the local four-star hotel for the night free of charge and rescheduled our connecting flight from Prague to Paris to 10 AM tomorrow morning. (There was a 7 AM flight, but my dad thought it was better to get more rest.) Considering that a number of flights were canceled at Heathrow Airport the day before we left London because of fog and all the airlines appeared to do was hand out blankets for passengers to sleep under, it's quite possibly one of the best outcomes in regards to the circumstances.

On a lighter note, my dad kept trying to steal the cream puff that Czech Airlines gave me for dessert on our Athens flight and made me laugh so hard I cried.

I find it ironic that we're spending an extra night in Prague after all -- déjà vu in a very literal sense, though it's colder than when we left and there's a little more snow on the ground. This does, however, cut our time in Paris down from three days to two and a half, but as long as we can visit the Louvre and see Marianne, it's mission accomplished for me.

'Though the road is rough, the ends are good.' There's nothing to be done but to take it all in stride.

. . . and you I shall see in three days and counting . . .
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
We arrived in Athens yesterday; I took the photo above while in the metro going from the airport to our hotel. Even having seen the maps beforehand, I hadn't realized how mountainous Greece was.

We've had a few hang-ups, but overall everything has gone according to plan. I met up with my parents in London without any problems and we spent our time there going to the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, and a few other places.

Prague was very cold, at least based on the climate I had gotten used to in the UK. I don't think we had a single day above 0 Celsius. Still, it was interesting and I went through the Jewish Quarter, up Petrin Hill, and to Prague and Vysehrad Castles, among other places.

Today the plan is to visit the Akropolis and surrounding sites. This is the only hotel we're in with internet access, but I'll have to write more later.

Take care and I hope you all had a Happy Christmas!
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Gon turned round in his seat, pressing his face against the window. The city, with its rows of pointed houses and high green hills, looked back at him. Beyond, he could just barely see the grey-blue of the ocean.

From overhead, a seagull – larger than the ones at home – gave a long cry. Soft hair brushed his neck as Killua pressed his cheek against Gon’s shoulder.

He smiled, leaning back against his best friend, but eyes fixed on the land spread before him, drinking it in and turning sight into memory. In a gentle voice, he whispered, "Bye bye, Swansea."

If you open your ears you'd be able to hear
The rustle of the East Wind.
Something is about to happen.
There, the birds are flying off.

Living is for everyone to be free, like a wild animal.
Catch the wind wherever you go.
'I can go anywhere!'

Let's look upward at the wide skies!
The endless road continues on.
Can you feel it?
On this land, a new life is being born.

Living is to continually search for what you seek.
But very soon, you'll find it!
It's wonderful if you can open your eyes.

Talking together under the wide skies,
On the endless road we continue.
Let's depart across the land;
A new world is definitely waiting.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
I was thinking in the bus going back to campus what I would miss most about Swansea and the UK in general. Here's what I came up with:
  • Our Ancient Greek class.
    (I really enjoyed Professor Herrmann, my classmates, and, of course, the topic. I wish I could have continued next semester.)

  • Marianne.
    (It usually takes me at least a few months to grow attached to a person [like with Dorinda from Plato's Republic], but Marianne and I discovered a connection the first day we met, which also happened to be right after my orientation in the rush to register for classes. It was particularly welcome after not having connected with anyone during the London pre-sessional. She's leaving for Paris the same day I'm leaving for London and she's invited my family and I to have dinner at her mother's house when we're in France after New Years.)

  • 'Cheers!'
    (The seemingly-universal UK expression that means both 'thank you!' and 'you're welcome'. Plus, it's fun to say. You can say it when someone holds a door open for you, when you receive change after paying, when your friend thanks you for treating them to dinner, and in many other circumstances.)

  • A more flexible and individual-focused university system.
    (There are certainly aspects where I think US universities do better, but in general, I've come to greatly appreciate the UK university system. There's less focus on lectures and there aren't any general education requirements shoved down your throat. Instead, it's based on what you want to learn and it only takes three years. [Note that by 'flexible', I'm mainly referring to the class schedules and class structure; it's much harder to change your area of study in the UK than in the US.])

  • Good and (generally) reliable public transportation.
    (Perhaps I should say 'good in the sense that it's much better than in the US'?)

  • Bilingual signs!
    (This one's for Wales only, but even going back up into England for Stonehenge, I missed seeing everything written in both English and Welsh. I never did meet anyone who spoke Welsh, though . . .)

  • A warmer climate.
    (No snow in the winter! No freezing cold days! And, despite popular opinion, it doesn't rain that much.)

  • Cadbury chocolate!
    (So addictive! My taste for Hershey's has been forever ruined . . .)

  • A more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere.
    (This is more true of Swansea than London, but overall, British society seems to be less controversy-prone and on edge than American society, or at least typical northeastern society. [Even in the US, though, mid-western states tend to be more relaxed and trusting than northeastern states, though I realize that I am generalizing.])

There are, of course, things I missed about the US while over here. Aside from friends and family, they're mostly food-related. Like having a peanut butter sandwich with grape jelly and grape juice. And pancakes. And iHop/Bob Evan's/Cracker Barrel. And Mexican food.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
It was approximately a two and a half-hour bus ride to Avebury. The first thing that caught my attention when we crossed the bridge between Wales and England was that the signs weren't bilingual anymore.

Avebury is a very small village. Initially, I think all of the students were more excited by the sheep roaming the fields freely than the rock circles, despite the fact that Avebury is an older and larger site than Stonehenge. It was like a continuous game trying to avoid sheep droppings while navigating the site. On their part, the sheep seemed generally disinterested in the few humans wandering through their territory.

It's difficult to get a true sense of the size of the Avebury stone circle, partly because some of the stones were torn down by early Christians or otherwise removed, partly because there are roads that cut between the stones, and partly because it's so large that only an overhead view would give you a good representational image. Nevertheless, unlike Stonehenge, you can touch the stones and traverse the area to your heart's content. Also unlike Stonehenge, Avebury allows pagans and other spiritual groups to perform rituals at the site.

We spent two hours at Avebury, one touring the site and the other exploring the village. However, considering the size of the village, I finished that part quickly and spent the rest of the last hour experimenting with my camera's colour filters.

It was another hour from Avebury to Stonehenge. One of the notable things about the countryside around Avebury was that there are several white horses (like this) carved into hills around the area; the bedrock is white chalk.

Stonehenge was far most touristy than Avebury. Whereas you could pay extra for an audio tour at some of the places I visited in London, the audio tour was included in the admission fee at Stonehenge. (Avebury didn't have an admission fee, but did have a parking fee for non-buses.)

Stonehenge was rather disappointing, especially since I'd wanted to visit it on some level ever I saw Mighty Max's series finale during my elementary school years. It was much smaller than I had expected and the actual site is completely roped off from public access. I think I took more photos than necessary, most of which look the same, in the vain hope that it would suddenly come together and emulate all of the mystical and romantic notions that have been ascribed to it.

We had two hours at Stonehenge. The audio tour took about one hour if you listened to every bit of information. After than, I stood in line to buy some shortcake and hot chocolate and then caught up with some of the London pre-sessional students.

The three hour bus ride back was rather horrid; despite being a coach, it had some of the most uncomfortable seats I've ever sat in. Despite that, I accidentally ended up being one of the few students who didn't have to share a seat, which mean that I could at least spread out. It was also very warm in the bus, but considering that both Avebury and Stonehenge were cooler than I had expected, it was actually sort of nice.

Avebury photos are here, Stonehenge photos are here, and some photos from around campus are here. One photo has also been added to the Swansea Room gallery; I bought this poster on the last day of the university poster fair because I was amazed at how much it resembled Vampire: The Masquerade's artwork. Finally, all UK photos, including the London photos, have now been moved into one UK central gallery.
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Updated galleries [link goes to new photos]: Central London, Kensington

New galleries: Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes Museum, Regent's Park, Hyde Park, Greenwich

Note that only the Sherlock Holmes photos are some of the new Central London photos are currently tagged and annotated; annotating is the most time-consuming part and I wanted to get the others uploaded with this batch due to the way I saved them on my hard drive.
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After a strange network glitch not related to my laptop that required two IT assistants to fix, my wireless is finally working. It feels so good to have reliable wireless internet again; it's something I've not enjoyed since the beginning of September.

Between IT assistants - one was on lunch break - I went to the Waterstone's on campus and took a look at their Classics section. I immediately found the book for Beginning Greek - Introduction to Attic Greek by Donald J. Mastronarde - and decided to buy it then. The check-out clerk was very nice and told me about a 10% off student special they were currently hosting along with a Waterstone's loyalty card. At first, I was sceptical, though I think the fact that the loyalty card looked exactly like a credit card threw me more than anything. However, after assurances that it was completely free and worked exactly like my Borders Rewards card (which, incidentally, only works in the US; I've no idea why I didn't take it out of my wallet before leaving), I signed up for it; it saved me over £2.

Of course, the Republic was not one of the Plato books I brought with me, though I think I have at least two paperback copies of it at home. I also didn't bring my notebook from Ancient Philosophy, though I can't remember if there were any blank pages left. However, I do have the Gutenberg Project's version of the Republic; Waterstone's looked like it had one copy of the Republic for each of three different publishers.

There's one thing I have to say for Swansea -- almost all of the staff I've met has been very kind and incredibly helpful. It never feels like they're talking down to you, either, though I expect that as an exchange student, some of the questions I ask must be patiently obvious to others. Curiously, the few people who have asked about my nationality were rather happy to learn that I'm from the US and usually had connections there themselves. They also said that I don't sound American; I suppose my time in London affected me more than I realized.

That's all for right now; there's more information I have, but I left it in my room. (I brought my laptop to the library; the IT service is here and I didn't want to leave until I was sure everything worked.) Below is the post I typed up in notepad on Saturday evening; I think you'll find that the atmosphere is decidedly more morose than in this one:

[Originally typed my first evening at Swansea]
My first impression of Swansea was that it had Ohio's landscape with a weak Maine ocean scent, only with more hills.

The bus ride lasted about four and a half hours; we would have arrived earlier, but hit horrible traffic going into Swansea and there's a regulation that bus drivers can't drive over four hours without a half-hour break. However, the break did allow us time to buy some fish and chips for lunch/dinner, which was about half the price it would have been in London.

In the bus ride, I came up with my personal top ten places to visit in London:

1. Tower Bridge
(Even if you don't pay to climb the steps up the tower, just seeing it is amazing. I think it's the most beautiful architecture in all of London, clean arcs and blue highlights. If you hang around long enough, you'll probably see it raise, too; I happened to see it go up to let a large sailing boat through right after I finished the Tower of London.)

2. Natural History Museum
(The best museum in all of London, both in regards to setup and theme, though your milage will vary depending on your interests. In any case, it's free except for the one current special exhibit, so why not go? Remember, there are dinosaurs.)

3. Westminster Abbey
(Specifically, go for services. You can experience traditional Anglican religion, see the magnificent church, read the names of the buried on the floor, and perhaps hear their famous boys' choir. Of course, if you'd like to spend more time in the Abbey or have an adversion to Christianity [though I have the feeling that more tourists probably attend service than locals], you can pay to enter between services.)

4. Regent's Park
(This is probably the loveliest park of all of London, and there are a number to choose from. You're also only a stone's throw away from Baker Street down on the south end with the London Zoo on the north.)

5. The British Museum
(A huge museum with a wide selection, particularly in the ancient civilizations department -- Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Persian . . . Just make sure the Greek section is actually open first. [It probably was only a one-day project, but still disappointing.])

6. Charing Cross Road
(Again, your milage will vary, but if you like books at all, you should definitely wander around Leicester Square for an hour or more. There's also some cheap barber shops around [£5-6] and the official half-price tkts booth is less than a minute away, though I'd recommend buying your tickets directly from the theatres. Incidently, if you keep walking north on Charing Cross, you'll reach the British Museum.)

7. Hyde Park
(Hyde Park is another nice park, and it's huge. On the south-east corner stands a statue of Achilles, while on the north-east stands Speaker's Corner. If you keep walking south, you'll merge into Kensington Gardens.)

8. National Maritime Museum
(The Maritime Museum itself isn't especially impressive, but it's free and worth taking a look in. Even if you're not interested in the navy, visiting Greenwich is nice, but go early in the day to avoid the crowds of tourists.)

9. Sherlock Holmes Museum
(You might not want to pay the admission to see the actual museum unless you're a real Sherlock Holmes fan, but just weeding through the gift shop and seeing all the Sherlock Holmes memorabilia along Baker Street is fun. However, don't expect anything to be cheap.)

10. Old Royal Naval College
(I debated about this one, but the college is worth seeing. There's some beautiful architecture there, it's free, and when there aren't many other tourists around it a quiet that borders on sacrosanct hangs over the place. Also, it's another chance to visit Greenwich, to which I'd recommend taking a boat one way and a train the other.)

The list of places I wouldn't recommend seeing is shorter: TATE Modern, St. Paul's Cathedral, Clink Prison Museum, The Royal Observatory, The National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square.

Moving in to a new place is always the hardest part, I find. Only three of our group of thirteen from London, including myself, are living on campus; the rest are in the student village that's about twenty minutes away by foot. (Downtown Swansea is also about twenty minutes away by foot from campus.) After getting dropped off, we left our large luggage by the steps of . . . whatever building we got dropped off at and then tried to find our way to check-in.

Continue. )

[End of Saturday post]

Reading the above now, I'm reminded of a Garak line from A Stitch in Time: "It is so curious how we can learn to live with just about any condition or situation if we believe we have no choice." I've already found myself adjusting to the campus and even the bed, though I've still half a mind to go out and buy a new comforter and sheets; I've not been sleeping well since I arrived at Swansea, but I think that's as much to being woken up by drunk students pounding up the stairs at 3 AM - which will hopefully not carry oven into classes - as anything else.

One thing that I've found particularly ironic throughout all of this is my reaction to the environment around me. I came expecting to be immediately struck by differences in a foreign land; instead, the one thing that has been perceived most is how similar people are, no matter where they're living. As human animals, the internal divisions seem arbitrary and mostly insignificant, which leads to Marx and Spinoza, though perhaps not Aristotle.
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Almost the entire ancient Greece collection was closed off for the day.

Libations have been poured and the choicest part of the meat has been cut and made ready for the fire.

I spent half-an-hour browsing through the gift shop's collection of ancient Greece books. Specifically, the line of Alexander biographies, in which I looked 'Hephaistion' up in the index of every single book; it's a tradition, and it interests me how various authors and scholars treat him and his relationship to Alexander. One biography I found in Ohio made the interesting comment that even though Hephaistion was Alexander's closest friend, Alexander was very much a loner -- something which struck me as particularly odd considering Alexander was generally known for loving the signs of love and giving them in return. The most interesting comment I found today was an author who said that Hephaistion was 'delicate' . . . compared to Kleitus the Black.

I also found a book on Troy that didn't even mention Patroklos; that was sad.

In happier news, I almost finished my paper (it still has to be edited and printed) and I might have a confirmed place to stay at Swansea.
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Yesterday, I attended services at the local church, St. Augustine of Canterbury. It was an interesting experience and the first time I've actually seen an incense swinger in a church. As it happened, it was the priest's last Sunday after five years in this parish and he gave a fascinating sermon about change, using passages from the Bible to show how God changes his mind and that we shouldn't be afraid to change ours, too. Overall, I think I actually enjoyed it more than Evensong at Westminster Abbey, partly because it was less touristy, partly because the priest seemed friendly and intelligent, and partly because there were hymns for the congregation to sing in addition to a church choir.

After services, I worked on researching my paper until dinner. In the evening, almost all of us Swansea students went out to the Thames River Festival to catch the tail end of the parade and watch the spectacular fireworks. I was hoping to start my paper when we got back to the flats, but the wireless - which has been increasingly instable since last week - was down, so I read some of the 1953 The Charioteer instead.

Today, we visited St. Paul's Cathedral, which was actually less impressive than I thought it would be, though we did walk all the way up to the top -- around 400 steps each way, I think. Afterwards, we took a ride on the London Eye and ended our day out with most of us eating dinner at Wagamama, a Japanese restaurant; I ordered yaki udon.

Tomorrow is the British Museum, which I'm very excited about; among other things, it's supposed to have a good collection from ancient civilizations and a scene from Maurice took place there. However, I think I shall leave early and walk up Charing Cross Road; there are supposed to be some good used bookstores around there and I'd love to get a non-electronic copy of Renault's original 1953 The Charioteer.

Now for Dunkirk . . .

engines burn in glowing rage
high above the clouds
where bullets reign,
and metal bleeds
as smoke comes streaking out
now limping back sad victory
its wings are losing flight
& down it goes
this fireball
it's etched into my mind

look up now child
to the sky
and hear the titans'
fateful cry
for you, these mortals
now become
an offering to life
and all the men
who will not die
even though
they give their lives
return to us
and in our hearts and minds
as heroes will survive
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I arrived at the Apollo Victoria, Wicked's theatre, about forty minutes after the box office opened and bought a ticked for row T seat 1 at the price of £15, the cheapest offered.

Since I had a few hours until the matinée at 2:30 PM, I first went back to Westminster Abbey; I had attended Evensong there the day before, but when I decided after services that I'd like to buy a CD of the boys' choir, the store was already closed.

As it turned out, I didn't buy anything. The CD prices were reasonable when read in US dollars - 9.99 to 15, fairly average - except this was pounds and prices were actually more along the lines of 20 to 30 US dollars each, which is far too much for me; I had been hoping before I arrived in London that I'd be able to buy some of the German music I like to listen to cheaper here than in the US because of shipping costs, but CD prices seem more expensive here in general.

After Westminster Abbey, I went back to the Imperial War Museum, a suggestion from our professor on a place to get more information on the Dunkirk evacuation. I had actually seen all of the Dunkirk information - little that there was - during my first visit, but I asked at information just to be sure and took some additional photos. I also went through The Blitz Experience, a ten-minute simulation of a bombing raid during WWII that I hadn't wanted to wait in line for previously.

By 1:40 PM, I was back at the Apollo Victoria and I'm glad I got there early; the theatre was huge. My seat was on the extreme right-hand side and five rows away from the last row of seats - row Y - but it had a surprisingly good view, if a little far away to see facial expressions and the like. An American girl sitting behind me was studying abroad at Oxford University and we talked a little before the show started; she had already seen Wicked twice.

When asked during intermission how I would rank Wicked among all of the musicals I had seen, my response at the time was that it was better than The Phantom of the Opera, but not as good as Les Misérables. After seeing both acts, I decided that Wicked was more on the same level as Phantom; with both musicals, I liked them for one character (Elphaba and Erik/The Phantom, respectively) and one or two major songs ('Defying Gravity', which alone was worth the hype/'The Phantom of the Opera' and 'Music of the Night'). I also think that both musicals have stronger first acts than second acts, though Wicked's first act was much better than its second, which I found to be rather boring, somewhat clichéd, and very disappointing.

Strangely, the thing Wicked reminded me most of was Batman Begins, especially the way that both went back into the main character's past and examined how they came to be what they were, with little moments that introduced something familiar yet new - like the Batmobile or the Joker's calling card in Batman Begins, or the Wicked Witch of the East or the hat and broomstick in Wicked. The major difference is that Wicked also reinterpreted the motives of almost all of the characters along the way, though Batman Begins accomplished its aims more successfully, I think.

The actress who played Elphaba was very good, though neither myself nor the girl behind me liked the actress who played Galinda/Glinda; her singing was lacking, especially by what I'd imagine professional West End theatre standards to be. The girl behind me also said at the end of the performance that it was probably her least favourite of all the Wicked performances she'd seen, which was disappointing; the idea that Broadway/West End performances are better than tours and worth the extra price isn't always true.

Two things I've noticed about London theatre from Blood Brothers and Wicked: first, no one hands out free playbills, which means that you don't even get a list of songs or actors unless you pay for one of the full-colour booklets. And second, ice cream is a popular intermission treat.

After Wicked, I walked down to Buckingham Palace and then walked all the way back to the flats, which was a nice one-hour jaunt.

Tomorrow, I'd like to attend a church service at 11 AM, but I'm not sure where yet. I might also go down to the Thames River Festival for the fireworks, but I'm itching to get into research mode and plan on devoting most of the day to Dunkirk. And I will not start re-reading The Charioteer while doing it.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Last night, our Swansea London group went to see the musical Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre, which was a smaller building than I was expecting, but lovingly decorated.

Reaction behind cut for spoilers. )
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
I took the 11:50 AM boat down to Greenwich from St. Katharine's Pier near the Tower of London this morning; it was much more crowded than I was expecting. The shore scenery was mostly expensive flat complexes and wharfs that resembled each other -- nothing very exciting. I found that I greatly missed the scent of brine that I usually associate with ships.

My first impression of Greenwich was that it was a nice, quiet place away from the city, but still close enough to get to easily. Since the National Maritime Museum was the main attraction in Greenwich that I wanted to see and I only had limited time in order to catch the last ship back to St. Katharine's at 5 PM, I went there first after briefly taking some exterior photos of Old Royal Navy College on the way.

The National Maritime Museum was decently sized -- three floors filled with a variety of exhibits, including a gallery of artists' paintings of ships at sea, a room on the history of ocean exploration, an exhibit on British naval uniforms from the early 1700s up to the present, and a very popular interactive bridge simulation of a large modern naval vessel.

My favourite, however, was an exhibit called Nelson's Navy, which focused on the life and death of 1st Viscount Horatio Nelson, a famous 18th century British naval officer who later inspired C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels. Even though I don't think the exhibit did a sufficient job explaining exactly what Nelson did that was so important and why he became such a popular figure, it was still interesting to look at the period clothings and memorabilia. There was also a five-minute computer recreation of the Battle of Trafalgar that helped me understand the connection to Trafalgar Square in central London; not only was it one of Britain's most successful naval victories - planned and led by Nelson - but it was also the battle in which Nelson was killed.

I was half hoping that there would be authentic naval hats for sale in the museum shop, which I would actually be willing to pay £20 for; unlike a deerstalker cap, a high-quality late-18th century British midshipman's hat is harder to find. Unfortunately, the only hats they had were cheaply-made pirate hats. I did, however, buy two postcards that caught my eye -- one a WWI recruitment poster for the US Navy with a drawing of a young girl in naval clothes and the text: "Gee!! I wish I were a man; I'd join the navy. Be a man and do it -- United States Navy Recruiting Station, 34 East 23rd Street, New York," the other an artist's drawing of Horaito Nelson as a midshipman.

After the National Maritime Museum, I decided I still had time to walk up to the Royal Observatory, which wasn't as far as I thought it was. The Royal Observatory is where the Prime Meridian line is located and it was incredibly crowded, with narrow hallways in the buildings leading to and from the line. I went in just long enough to get a photo of the Prime Meridian and then left as quickly as possible; I was starting to feel claustrophobic.

Since I barely spent any time at the Royal Observatory, I went inside both the chapel and the Painted Hall of Old Royal Naval College on the way back to Greenwich Pier. The architecture and detail is quite impressive, though I was actually less awed than I thought I would be. I suppose most of the tourists must arrive in the mid-afternoon; it was certainly not the quiet, peaceful place I had first disembarked at.

The boat ride back was uneventful, noisy, and crowded, though it wasn't as bad in the enclosed back area. Before heading back to the flat, I decided to pursue the Nelson connection and visit Trafalgar Square, which I had wanted to do anyway. However, when I got there, they had most of the square closed off for a concert, so I just took a few photos of Nelson's statue and one of George Washington's statue near the National Gallery entrance.

Overall, it was a borderline disappointing day. The ship ride wasn't as relaxing as I thought it would be and the Royal Observatory was too small and crowded, but the National Maritime Museum was worth it, though it was disappointing in its own way -- no photography was allowed inside the museum. However, the extremely good tomato and mozzarella sandwich with Italian oil and herbs that I had in the museum's café for lunch and the nearby statue of Admiral Sir Edward Pellew helped brighten my mood.

I don't have any plans for next weekend yet, though I still want to visit All Hallows-By-The-Tower, an old church and crypt near the Tower of London with no admission charge. A visit to Westminster Abbey to hear their boys' choir sing is also something I'd like to do, though it seems that it might actually be better to go for Evensong this Tuesday or Friday at 5 PM than to attend Sunday service.

Other than that, I'll probably go back to Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square at some point, though those are things I can do during the weekday; I'm still not sure whether I want to pay the £10-£17 to get into either Madame Tussauds or the Tower of London.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Just one new gallery this time: Central London.

I've over 300 photos from yesterday and today that I haven't even edited yet, but more are coming. [If you look in the main gallery, you can see what ones still need to be resized and uploaded.]
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Instead of going to the Sherlock Holmes Museum first, I decided it would make more sense if I tried for theatre tickets as soon as the tkts discount booth opened at 10 AM.

As it turned out, it wouldn't have mattered what time I had shown up; the tkts staff said that they didn't sell any Wicked tickets (!), and that the cheapest seat they had for Les Misérables - my second choice - was 30 quid. 30 quid! [£30 is about $60.] And this from the official half-price ticket booth!

Well, that was enough of that. There were some unofficial, somewhat sketchy discount ticket booths around the area that were reportedly selling Wicked tickets for £18.25, but, well, they were unofficial and somewhat sketchy.

Feeling rather discouraged, I made my way up to Baker Street. Lots of Sherlock Holmes iconage here, though I've the feeling that most of the shop owner just put an image of Holmes on their door in hopes of attracting more shoppers.

I ordered a full English breakfast at an outdoor café just across the street from the Sherlock Holmes Museum for breakfast/lunch, which is: one sausage, one egg, bacon, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, beans, and two piece of buttered toast with tea. Right after I ordered it, I had a moment of panic when I realized that I probably couldn't finish it all and there was no one to offer the leftovers to. However, it was very good and I got through everything except for part of the sausage and part of the bacon. The fried mushrooms and tomatoes were surprisingly delicious, though I don't think I could ever get used to seeing baked beans as a breakfast food. Also, the bacon was strange -- it wasn't cut into strips, but served like a slice of ham, though it did taste like bacon.

After I paid for my meal, I walked across the street to the Sherlock Holmes Museum gift shop. I knew I would probably be spending quite a bit of money there, but I agonized over exactly what to buy for at least fifteen minutes. I rather wanted a deerstalker cap, but wasn't prepared to pay 20 quid for it [$40], so I bought a keychain, a Holmes figurine, and a magnet for my dad instead. I also bought my ticket to go into the actual museum.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum was larger than I thought it would be, and all of it was beautifully done. The first floor was a recreation of Holmes' and Watson's study and Holmes' bedroom, the second floor was Watson's bedroom and Mrs. Hudson's room, the third floor had life-size recreations of some of the people from various Holmes stories, and the fourth floor had a water closet and an attic area. You could sit on the chairs or beds and touch almost everything - I plucked Holmes' violin, which was actually mostly in tune - though I was too embarrassed to be geeky and ask someone to take my photo while wearing the deerstalker cap and using the pipe and magnifying glass they had in the study.

Instead of going straight back to the tube station after the museum, I decided to go up to Regent's Park and walk around for a little. I even splurged a little and bought some vanilla ice cream to eat on the way. Regent's Park was lovely - the loveliest I've been to so far, though it seems like there are parks scattered everywhere in London - and I even ran into a wedding reception while there. I thought of waking up to the London Zoo, but decided it was too far and headed back to the tube.

Before going back to the flats, I got off at Hyde Park Corner to take photos of the statue of Achilles they have there and walk up the east side of the park to Speakers' Corner, which was rater empty.

Tomorrow, I think I might stop in Trafalgar Square before taking the boat to Greenwich; it shouldn't take too long and it's fairly easy and quick to get where you need to go when the metro is running.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
The Natural History Museum was amazing. Gorgeous exterior, gorgeous interior, and a vast array of well-organized and informative exhibits. Unlike the Imperial War Museum, it was easy to navigate and there was just the right balance between displays and textual information, plus a few interactive panels in most exhibits. I know I still have a little over two weeks to go and much more to see, but it might quite possibly be my favourite place in London.

I began my museum experience in the Dinosaurs exhibit, which is probably one of the museum's most famous; it's quite good and very well set-up, neither too long nor too short. After that, I went through the Human Biology exhibit, followed by the Mammals exhibit. I was a bit disappointed by how much more space was dedicated to the mammals section compared to the other animal exhibits, but the others were still interesting and not too small.

A good number of the museums in London - including the Natural History Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and the Science Museum - are free. The catch is that there's usually one special exhibit that you have to pay for if you want to see it and the items in the gift shop and food courts are terribly expensive. Nevertheless, I bought a piece of shortbread and a cup of tea in the museum's café for lunch. While good, they weren't really worth the price, though it was the first cup of tea I've actually had here in England.

After lunch, I went through all the rest of the exhibits, except for those that were closed for renovation. This included displays on a vast array of topics, including ecology, volcanoes, birds, and human evolution. After finishing the free exhibits, I even paid for the special exhibit - called Ice Station Antarctica - because I was so impressed by the rest of the museum and spending a few minutes in a sub-zero room sounded very nice just then. The only thing I didn't do was sign up to take a tour through the Darwin Centre as I didn't think I'd have enough time left after I finished the museum.

As it turned out, I did finish before closing time, but it still took me over six hours. Unfortunately, this description doesn't do the museum justice at all, though it will probably take me a while to upload the 150+ photos I took, plus a few videos.

Since it was before 5 PM when I left the museum - the time when most of the free museums close - I decided to try and find the Science Museum. Once I got there, the first section I visited was the one on space exploration, which included a miniature model of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A. Surprisingly, the text that went along with the NCC-1701 didn't say anything about Star Trek, though I find it hard to believe that the museum staff would just assume that all of their visitors would be familiar with the show.

This Star Trek homage was the highlight of my Science Museum experience; I wandered around all of the other floors, but the Science Museum suffered from some of the same flaws of the Imperial War Museum - confusing navigation and displays scattered everywhere with too much text. Some of the exhibits were even similar to those in the Imperial War Museum. All and all, it was a great disappointment, especially compared to how incredible the Natural History Museum was.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Three new galleries have been uploaded to the main London gallery: Bus Tour, Globe Theatre, and Clink Prison Museum.

To briefly say a few things about the places I've been visiting, I'll start with the Imperial War Museum, which was much larger than I thought it would be. The basement area was particularly vast and focused almost exclusively on the first and second World Wars, though one would be stay there all day if one tried to read every single bit of text and it was somewhat confusing to navigate around.

My three favourite parts of the museum were a WWI trench life-size walkthrough simulation, an interactive submarine display, and a special exhibit about British spies and espionage. It's definitely something worth seeing, though I was disappointed that they hardly had anything about pre-20th century warfare and some of the areas were set up strangely; it seems that the museum was concentrated more on WWI than anything else.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre wasn't something I was initially looking forward to; I've never been particularly interested in Shakespeare or his works. However, the moment of stepping through the theatre doors and seeing the dazzling theatre in front of me was one of awe. A tour guide spent about an hour showing us how theatre worked in Elizabethan times. It was very informative and eye-opening; I'll have to download a copy of Hamlet sometime.

After leaving the Globe, I walked down along the south side of the Thames River with two other students. On our way, we came across the Clink Prison Museum, which was one of the places I had been meaning to visit. We got in at a discount price with our student IDs, though the actual museum was rather disappointing. Even though it was interesting to see some of the instruments used in old-style prisons up close, it was very small and there wasn't much to do; we finished easily within half an hour.

I've more places to visit this weekend; here are my current plans:

Friday: Natural History Museum from opening to closing (10 AM - 5:50 PM)

Saturday: First off, the Sherlock Holmes Museum and a walk down Baker Street. After that, a tube ride over to Leicester Square to try and get a ticket for the Saturday matinée of Wicked. Depending on Wicked, visits to Trafalgar Square, All Hallows-By-The-Tower, and Hyde Park might also happen.

Sunday: Greenwich day, starting with a boat ride from the docks near the Tower of London and including the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory.

I'm not sure about next weekend, but I'd like to spend a full day at the Tower of London and a day - or half-day - at the Science Museum.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Since the wireless is now working in the flats, I can probably update more frequently now and start uploading photos.

Yesterday, after orientation and lunch (I bought some really good salmon sushi and green tea at one of the local grocery stores), we had our first class. Our professor seems interesting - a Philosophy major in college, then a part-time writer, actor, and teacher - but I can't say that I enjoy being back in the classroom setting. However, we have Fridays through Sundays off and only a third of our classes are actually in a classroom, so at least there's a good balance between group and independent time.

Here's my class schedule:

Tuesday, 4 September [today] - Imperial War Museum, 2 PM

Wednesday, 5 September - Class in classroom, 9 AM - 12 PM

Thursday, 6 September - Tour of The Globe, 9 AM

Monday, 10 September - Class in classroom, 2 - 5 PM

Tuesday, 11 September - Tate Modern and National Portrait Museum, 2 PM

Wednesday, 12 September - Tour of Parliament, 10:15 AM

Thursday, 13 September - Class in classroom, 2 - 5 PM

Monday, 17 September - St Paul's, South Bank, and London Eye, 2 PM

Tuesday, 18 September - British Museum, 2 - 5 PM

Wednesday, 19 September - Tour of the East End, 10 AM

Thursday, 20 September - Final exam in classroom and six-page paper due, 2 - 5 PM

Even though there are more students in the program, our class has a total of thirteen, all of which are going on to Swansea after the pre-sessional. Also, everyone is from the US, mostly from the borderline south or mid-west; I'm the furthest east there is and the furthest west is a student from Utah. The most represented state in our class is Iowa, but don't ask me why. Still, Captain Kirk's birthplace!

After class, I went with two other students to the TSA Travel store at Imperial College since one of them wanted to go to France during a weekend and I wanted to tag along just to see what they offered. An hour an a half later, most of which was waiting time, we decided to walk back to our flats and then, after picking up a fourth student, walk down to Piccadilly Circus, which is near the center of London and a little bit like Times Square in New York City. Since most of the underground lines are currently closed until Friday due to industrial action [a strike], we wanted to see how long it would take us to get to central London by foot for class purposes.

It was a really nice walk and took about an hour, though I didn't have my camera on me. Once we were there, we explored the theatre district a little and also walked through part of London's Chinatown. We had dinner at a pub, at which I naturally got carded even though I don't drink; fortunately, the barkeeper - who reminded me of someone from Vampire: The Masquerade - took my New York State ID for proof of my age. As it turned out, another student in our group also didn't drink and three of the four of us had water.

There was a special deal where you could order two of the same dish for only £9, which was very good considering each dish on its own was around £8. I ordered fish and chips with one of the students, and the other pair ordered sweet and sour chicken. The fish and chips were extremely good and came with peas and a small salad, though I know now why they say that food service is different here; it's slower, but you can spend as much time in the pub as you want and the staff won't bother you unless you ask them.

When the default leader of our excursion asked the barkeeper if the underground strikes were normal, she said that they happened about twice a month, though I hope she was exaggerating a little. Instead of wanting more money, the workers strike mainly for better working conditions, she said; the British government won't spend enough money on it to properly maintain the system. Having taken one of the three remaining lines partly back to our flats and seeing the garbage strewn across the tracks and the mice running around, I can't say I blame them, at least on initial impressions.

We had to take a bus for the last part of our journey back after the metro route prematurely ended; once back - around 10 PM - I promptly went to sleep. I was glad I went with a group, though; not only was it easier to find our way around like that, but I don't think I would have ventured into a pub by myself or stayed out so late after dark on my own.

I've been planning out what I want to do on our free days; there's a list of at least fifteen places I'd like to visit, though I don't know if I'll get to all of them. Right now, I think I'll spend one day at the Natural History Museum (local), one day at the Science Museum (local), one day at the Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory (Greenwich), one day at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Leicester Square, and Trafalgar Square (central London), and one day at the Tower of London and All Hallows-by-the-Tower (central London). If I have time, I'd also like to visit the London Dungeon, the London Aquarium, and the Clink Prison Museum, as well as going back to Hyde Park (so far, I've only driven through it in a taxi) and Chinatown.

That's all for now; there's a walking tour leaving in an hour and I'll be bringing my camera this time.

Take care, everyone.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
I am both alive and arrived safely in London, which I suppose are the two most important things. However, the wireless in our flats isn't currently working (at least for me) and I'm having some computer issues, so I'm typing this short update from the computer lab.

The flight to JFK was smooth and short. JFK, on the other hand, was a lot bigger than I expected and it took me a little time plus a few inquiries to find my way to the proper gate.

I wasn't able to sleep at all on the Virgin Atlantic flight, partly because of the anxiousness, partly because the seats didn't allow you much movement room. However, other than the seats, the airplane was nice. The staff served us a full dinner; I had beef and mashed potatoes, brocoli and cheese, a small Greek-style salad with feta cheese, crackers, cheese, a slice of oreo cheesecake, a bun with butter, water, and an after dinner mint. They also gave us breakfast -- tea or coffee with a cereal bar or muffin.

The airline didn't allow the use of wireless or GPS devices on the plane, but they had a really cool built-in entertainment/information system; the screen was on the back of the seat of the person in front of you and the control was under the arm rest on the right side. I watched several movies and TV shows - including TMNT, an episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, an episode of Doctor Who, and a half-hour documentary on London - and was able to check the flight's status and ETA through a built-in GPS-type screen.

Once our plane landed, it took nearly an hour to get through customs. While waiting, I met a nice American couple, one of which had previously visited Swansea University.

Just getting to my flat was the hardest part; it took me two tries to find the proper platform for the Heathrow Express and then I turned down the wrong street after picking up my keys, all while dragging my bags - which by then felt like they weighed about 100 pounds each - behind me and having not drunken anything since breakfast.

Even though the weather in London was nice, it had felt like 90 degrees in the customs waiting area at the airport and even the air-conditioned Heathrow Express train wasn't enough to cool me off. Once I was in my flat, the first thing I did was change out of my sweat-soaked cloathes and take a shower, though it did take me a little to figure out how to use the toilet and shower.

I've already walked around our section of London a few times, each time venturing out a bit further. The thing that strikes me most, besides how much older the buildings are, is how much it doesn't feel like another country. It's more like visiting Boston, but without the comforts of home.

One thing I was not prepared for was how many security cameras there are around here. There's three in the area around our flat door alone. Another thing I wasn't prepared for was having seven flights of stairs to walk up to get to my flat with no elevator option, which isn't too bad and is a good way to get exercise, but there's not much air circulation in the building and it often feels warmer than outside.

On the other hand, I also didn't know that intersections were labeled with directions on which way pedestrians have to look for oncoming traffic ['look left', 'look right']; it's quite useful. Perhaps it's because I don't drive at home, but the whole 'driving on the opposite side of the road' hasn't fazed me at all. (Of course, I've only been on the roads in a vehicle once so far, and that was a licensed taxi to take me from Paddington Station to my flat. The taxis in London, by the way, are almost all black; I haven't decided whether they remind me more of friendly, non-leathal herses or cool, James Bond-type cars.)

Since I didn't sleep on the plane, I went to bed last night at 7 PM. Surprisingly, I ended up waking up at 10:20 PM and worked on a few things until around 1:00 AM, when I went back to bed. Woke up this morning around 6 AM and went to one of the few 24/7 stores around here for breakfast -- orange juice and an apple.

We have orientation today at 11 AM. Depending on how long it lasts, I might go to either the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum after; they're both within walking distance and I've heard that there's no admisson fee. Otherwise, I'll probably just find someplace to eat lunch/dinner and do some food shopping.

Hopefully, I'll be able to update more and post pictures soon.

Just in case I'm not able to get on again this week, here's the schedule I currently had/have:

Sunday, 2 September -- Local Amenities Walk, 6 PM

Monday, 3 September -- Studying in London and Student Life Orientations, 11 AM

Tuesday, 4 September -- Walking Tour of your Local Neighbourhood, 10 AM

Wednesday, 5 September -- Guided Tour of London by Coach, 2 PM

Thursday, 6 September -- Welcome Reception at Imperial College, 6 PM

Monday, 10 September -- Phoenix Theatre for the musical 'Blood Brothers', 7:45 PM

. . . for some reason, I keep thinking it's Tuesday.


argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)

March 2016



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