Sunday, May 27, 2007

Northern England and Scotland

(Note: I sort of wrote a book on this one. You might want to grab a snack, use the toilet, and make sure that your will is up to date before continuing.)

I got back yesterday from a four-day trip to northern England and Scotland. I loved it. We traveled by coach (chartered bus). Here are the places I visited (click links for pictures):

Wednesday:
  • King's College, Cambridge, including its beautiful chapel
  • York, including York Minster, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe
Thursday:
  • Fountains Abbey, a rare well-preserved 11th-century Cistercian monastary
  • Hadrian's Wall, a barrier erected across Great Britain by the Romans to keep northern tribes out of their empire
Friday:Saturday:
  • Castle Howard, a misnamed (but impressive) 300-year-old estate in England
It was an action-packed four days. We traveled on a Mercedes-Benz (ooh!) bus that has about 50 seats. The legroom is?well, it leaves something to be desired, but it's not a horrible way to travel. It was fun to see the countryside. England is amazingly green, and it becomes increasingly undulating as you travel further northward toward Scotland--unfortunately for my stomach. We passed several fields of wildflowers, and there were many bright-yellow canola fields in bloom. The coach also provided plenty of reading time. I finished King Lear on the way up and most of Freakonomics on the way back.

King's College

Our first stop on Wednesday was King's College, which is part of Cambridge University. We toured their chapel, which has an amazing stone and wood fan-vaulted ceiling. We also wandered around the town for a while, and I got a sweatshirt and some raspberries at the market there. I liked the atmosphere. There were people all over the place riding bikes, walking, and talking. There are tons of little shops right next to expansive, painstakingly manicured lawns and imposing, centuries-old stone buildings.

York

Next stop: York. York is much smaller than London. This became apparent when wandering its streets and noticing that the buildings were only two or three stories tall instead of six or seven. It was also apparent in the more laid back feeling. The streets weren't so crowded (and people didn't push), the city wasn't as noisy, and most of the businesses closed before 7pm. I really liked the city.

While we were there we visited York Minster, which is an amazingly huge Gothic cathedral. I was impressed by Westminster Abbey in London, but York Minster was even more impressive. Its stained glass windows are enormous?some bigger than a tennis court! The ceilings seem to reach the sky. I climbed 273 (if I remember right) stairs up a seemly-endless winding staircase to the top of the highest tower in the minster to enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city. I also attended the Evensong service, which is a mass sung by the choir. I really enjoyed it.

We stayed that night at a Travelodge hotel in Tadcaster, about five miles west of York. I went running the next morning along the motorway, which made me miss Hyde Park. The motorway's sidewalk and thick diesel fumes weren't quite as nice as the grassy trails in Hyde Park. I'm pretty fortunate to live so close to the park in London.

Fountains Abbey

We visited Fountains Abbey on Thursday morning. It's a beautiful ancient religious complex that was established by Cistercian monks. The Cistercians were an especially strict group of monks. They had meetings every?every?three hours (eight times a day) and ate gruel. They devoted their lives to work and study. They rarely spoke. The life sounds miserable, but I think I might have signed up anyway if I had seen the abbey. It's amazing.

What's more amazing is that the abbey is still around. Henry VIII decided that the monasteries were growing too powerful, so he had most of them destroyed. Fountains Abbey survived the period surprisingly unscathed. The buildings are enormous, and their architecture is inspiring. I walked through the buildings, found a hidden tunnel, and walked along the serpentine (a waterway).

Hadrian's Wall

After a while longer on the coach, we arrived at Housesteads, an ancient Roman fort along Hadrian's Wall. The Roman emperor Hadrian built the stone wall across the width of Great Britain about 2000 years ago to keep the northern tribes out of Roman territory. Housesteads was a fort along the wall that housed Roman soldiers. The fort was in ruins, but the outlines of the outer perimeter, barracks, a kitchen, officers' quarters, and other areas were clearly visible.

I hiked west along the wall with my group from the fort for 2-3 miles that afternoon. We walked on top of or beside the wall all of the way and enjoyed great views since it is built along the top of a hill. We passed a search and rescue team that was training at a crag near the wall, and we passed some cliffs and a lough (small lake).

Edinburgh

We drove from Hadrian's Wall north to Edinburgh, which is Scotland's capital. Edinburgh (pronounced ed-in-BUR-uh) is located on the Firth of Forth, a huge estuary that cuts into the eastern side of the isle of Great Britain. It has lots of beautiful old buildings, shops, and restaurants.

We stayed in a hostel (Smart City Hostel) for two nights in Edinburgh. I liked it much better than our hotel stay Tadcaster. The hostel is new, and the lower price there was accompanied by much better accommodations, such as free internet access and breakfast. It also doesn't hurt that the hostel is located right in the middle of the city. I'd definitely recommend it.

We arrived on Thursday night and just wandered around for a while. I ate with a few people at Garfunkel's, which was pretty much like Chili's in the U.S. Keith got a cheeseburger, I got pasta, and Amber got lasagna. I guess you can't always be cultured. :) I did have haggis for breakfast the next morning, though...

I made an amazing discovery on Thursday night: Sainsbury's grocery store in Edinburgh sells a pack of chocolate digestives (thin cookies coated with chocolate on one side) for 27p. 27p! That's amazing! You can buy pretty much nothing in London for under a pound, so 27p is a steal. I thought about buying 27 packs, but I settled for just one.

Arthur's Seat

On Friday morning I got up a little early to hike to the top of Arthur's Seat with a some of our group. Arthur's Seat is an 823-foot-tall "mountain" in Holyrood Park, which is an amazingly wild area in the middle of Edinburgh. I almost felt like I was back in Utah for a little while, except that everything was green, of course. I really liked the hike. The view from the top was great.

Scottish Parliament

We hiked back down to the city and met some BYU interns who are working at the Scottish Parliament this summer. They gave us a tour of the new parliament building. The building was recently finished at a cost of over £400 million, which is almost a billion dollars, and about seven times the projected cost. All of that money bought an amazing building, though. It looks a little weird from the outside, but the inside is incredible. An interesting mix of wood, concrete, and metal is shaped into an aesthetic pleasure that is flooded with natural light.

As we toured the building we got to go into the debating chamber, and I got to sit in the seat of an SMP (Scottish Member of Parliament). I also got a crash course in Scottish politics, which was spiced up by the fact that the Scottish National Party just gained control of the government for the first time in decades. They want to withdraw from the United Kingdom in 2010, like the Republic of Ireland. It's an interesting situation.

Edinburgh Castle

In the afternoon we visited Edinburgh Castle. It's built on a high point formed from volcanic rock. It was pretty interesting (and looks just like you'd expect a castle to), but castles are getting a little old. They all seem a lot the same: lots of old stones and history. This one was slightly more exciting than average because they shot off a cannon at 1pm. I was about 40 feet away, and my ears rang for a few minutes afterward. They apparently started shooting the cannon as an audible clock for sailors in the Firth of Forth, but now I think it's mostly just a tourist attraction.

I had dinner on Friday night at The Advocate, which is a pub about a block from our hostel in Edinburgh. Pubs have some of the best food at great prices, and The Advocate lived up to the trend. I had a really yummy chicken pot pie with mashed potatoes, gravy, and vegetables for about £6.

Castle Howard

Saturday was a day of sitting on the coach. We made a couple of rest stops, but the day still felt really long. The only thing that really broke it up was a tour of the Castle Howard in England. The Castle Howard isn't really a castle. It doesn't have lots of defenses, and a king didn't build it. Rather, it's the 300-year-old home of the aristocratic Howard family. Don't get me wrong: it's beautiful, and huge, and the gardens are quite nice, but it's not a castle or a royal palace.

The interior was pretty impressive, although we didn't get to see all of it since the staff were setting up for a birthday party that evening. The exterior had lots of gardens and ponds and the usual trappings of rich people's estates.

It's back to business as usual for a few days until we head to Stratford (you know, the Shakespeare place) for a couple of days this coming week.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Church, US Senators, Science Museum

I taught a lesson in Spanish at church again on Sunday. It went pretty well, but my Spanish definitely isn't as good as it used to be. There were a few times when I struggled to communicate what I was thinking.

On Sunday night there was a fireside (meeting where church members go listen to a speaker) where Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) spoke. They're both US senators and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's kind of funny that I'm here in another country all the way across the ocean, and yet I had the chance to listen to a couple of US senators. They were on their way back from a two-day tour of Iraq.

The two spoke on "Why I Believe". It was interesting to hear a couple of politicians speak in a church setting. They were still politicians, but it was clear that they also believed in the teachings of the Church.

Senator Smith (from my state) was a little more plump than the last time I saw him. He seemed pretty humble, and I enjoyed listening to him. He was very diplomatic and spent quite a bit of time building rapport with his British audience. At one point he said that some of his ancestors wore red coats during the American Revolutionary War–something that I doubt he says very often in the States. :) However, his remarks focused on his testimony and barely mentioned politics.

Senators Hatch was quite a different story. He talked for two or three times as long, and I was pretty anxious to get out of there by the end of it. Several times he looked at the clock and said that he would end his remarks; right after that he would launch into another story. His remarks were a series of stories from his legislative and ecclesiastical experiences. He was much more political than Senator Smith. He told about how he forced an opposing senate leader to "save the taxpayers $20 million" by pulling his "trump card" on them: a threat to send the Mormon missionaries to his door. He put in his (very) thinly veiled plug for Mitt Romney for President 2008. He told us about a series of miraculous priesthood blessings that he has given, which seemed far too personal to be sharing with an audience of hundreds. He told about an experience with someone who doubted that God spoke to men today that was almost an exact quote (not even a paraphrase) of Hugh B Brown's Profile of a Prophet. I was pretty unimpressed with him.

My favorite speaker was actually neither of the senators: it was a man who joined the Church a couple of weeks ago. This man had been searching–really searching–for the truth for many years. He had attended numerous churches and eventually become dissatisfied with each of them. A few weeks ago he met the missionaries and after three weeks of study, he decided to join the Church. He said that he has never felt such peace and such happiness, and that this will be his last church, for he has found the truth. This humble man spoke with more power than two members of what Senator Smith said some called "the most exclusive debating club in the world".

An area authority spoke at the very end of the fireside and told about an experience he recently had with Gordon Smith, Dieter F Uchtdorf (a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve), and some representatives of the Italian government. They were trying to get full official recognition for the Church in Italy, which has been an ongoing struggle. After making their case, a professor in the Italian group told about how he had gone to Salt Lake City recently and visited Temple Square. Two Italian sister missionaries had given him a tour of the site, and he was deeply touched. He told the church representatives, "I have one question for you: when are you going to build one of your temples in Rome?". Elder Uchtdorf responded, only half-jokingly, "when you sign the document". He did sign the document, and the recognition is in the final states of ratification in the Italian government.

Yesterday I went to the Science Museum, which is just across the street from the Hyde Park Chapel where the fireside was the night before. I have fond memories of going to OMSI when I was in elementary school, so I was excited to go. However, I was pretty disappointed. There were some cool things there, like parts of Babbage's original Analytical Engine, but the museum seemed pretty boring for the most part. I think that reason I was disappointed has more to do with me than with the museum: I'm not the curious little boy that I used to be. I'm still curious, but as with Christmas, the boyish wonder has faded a little from my eyes.

Today I went to the Tate Britain, another of London's free art galleries, to look at some paintings for my humanities class. It's a lot quieter than the bustling National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, so much so that I thought we were in the wrong place when we were walking toward it. However, I think I like the Tate better than the National Gallery.

Tomorrow morning we're heading out for a four-day trip to Northern England and Scotland. We'll be in a hotel the first night, and a youth hostel for the other two nights. We'll visit York and Edinburgh, among other places. I'll give a report when we get back.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tallis Scholars, Les Mis, Hampton Court, Portobello Market

On Thursday Dr. Baker let us out of English class a little early to go listen to a free Tallis Scholars performance at the British Library. They are perhaps the world's premiere Renaissance choral music ensemble. I heard them sing last summer in Seattle, and they were amazing. It enjoyed hearing them again here.

On Thursday afternoon I went to the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection to look at some paintings for my humanities class.

That evening I went to see Les Miserables. I had never seen the play or read the book before, so about all that I knew was that it was about a guy named Jean val Jean. I really enjoyed the performance. They used a revolving stage that was really cool, and the singing was great. The best part was that we got great seats for half price since we are students. Some of the other people in our group got seats right in the middle on the seventh row; we were right toward the front of the lowest balcony.

On Friday we went to Hampton Court Palace. Among others, it was home to Henry VIII and William III. The palace itself was pretty cool, but my favorite part was the gardens. There are amazing, expansive (I think around 60 acres), beautifully designed gardens surrounding the palace. I would love to be able to go there all the time just to read, think, and ponder. Make sure you check out the pictures.

Yesterday morning I went for a 10K run in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. I think that it would be fun to run a race while I'm here in London.

I spent most of yesterday reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles, which I finished around 9pm. I needed a break from reading for a while in the afternoon, so I went with Keith to Portobello Market, which was about a ten-minute walk from our flat. Hundreds of street vendors lined Portobello Road, selling everything from antiques to clothing to souvenirs to food. It was a fun experience. We were there from 4-5pm, and a lot of the vendors put things on sale since they were starting to close things down. Keith and I got two pretty big cartons of strawberries for £1.60, which was a really good deal. I also bought a bag of juicy dried apples for £1, two French chocolate pastries for £1.40, and a small carton of blueberries for £2. I almost didn't get the blueberries because they were pretty expensive, but they were amazingly good. They're huge and juicy and sweet—probably the best blueberries I've ever had.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Westminster, Kent, Wicked, Bath, Avebury, Stonehenge

I've been traveling up a storm recently. Last Friday we visited Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament meets. I attended a mass (Holy Communion) with Amber and Kelli and was blessed by the female priest.

On Saturday we took a train and went on a 10-mile hike through the countryside in Shoreham, Kent, which is south of London. It was beautiful, and we visited a Norman castle, among other things.

On Sunday I had to teach two lessons in Spanish at church since Jeff, who usually comes to the Spanish branch with me, was home sick.

I spent all of Monday finishing reading Jane Austen's Persuasion. It ended a lot better that it started, and I liked it better than I expected. However, I wish that I read a lot faster, because it's no fun being cooped up in my room all day when I'm in London.

Yesterday evening I saw Wicked (the musical) with several people in our program. It was amazing. My favorite part was right before intermission (or "interval", as they call it here) when Elphaba sang Defying Gravity.

Today we took a coach and visited Bath (about 100 miles west of London), which is a resort city that is the site of an ancient Roman public bath. Amazingly, it's still there, although it was buried for some time and rediscovered in the late 1800's. We also visited a Jane Austen museum in Bath. She lived there for a few years, and it's the setting for parts of several of her books, including Persuasion. It was fun to see a sign for Marlborough Buildings when I had just read about them in Persuasion yesterday.

After Bath we traveled to Avebury, which is the site of a neolithic stone formation. It was fun because we could get right up next to the rocks and touch them.

Our final visit today was Stonehenge. It's roped off so that you can't get very close to it, but it's still impressive from a distance. I have to admit that it's a little smaller than I had imagined, but it's still an amazing feat of 5000-year-old engineering.

As usual, pictures are available:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Isle of Wight

Classes started and I got busy, as shown by my sparse (ok, nonexistent) posts the last couple days.

For English this week we have read:
  • Genesis 1 and 2 from three different translations of the Bible
  • a few short pieces by Virginia Woolfe and Katherine Mansfield
  • the first 50 pages of Jane Austen's Persuasion
For humanities we have studied dozens of paintings, listened to a few pieces of music, and read Shakespeare's Macbeth. I visited the National Gallery a couple of days ago to look at paintings that I have to write papers on. I have about twelve pages of papers due each week for the two classes combined. Yuck.

I'm also sitting in on lectures for the English history class. They're very interesting. This week we have covered from Roman times just up to the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066. We've covered an amazing amount of history in a really short time.

On Tuesday morning we went to the British Library to see an exhibit called Sacred, which displayed an immense collection of sacred writings from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. It was one of the most awe-inspiring exhibits I have ever seen. They had documents from the fourth century. They had a 1611 King James Bible. They had beautiful "illuminated" (illustrated and embellished) manuscripts that were centuries or millenia old.

The preservation of several of the documents in the exhibit cost many people their lives. It was humbling to think about Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for his translation and publication of the English New Testament that was on exhibit.

Yesterday we took a coach (bus) from London to Portsmouth, the headquarters of the Royal Navy. From there we took a ferry out to the Isle of Wight, where Queen Victoria built a summer home. We went on a six-mile bike ride across the countryside from Ryde to the Osborne House. It was beautiful, with rolling green hills, country cottages, and a cool misty breeze.

The Osborne House was beautiful. The gardens especially were amazing. The inside seemed a bit self-absorbed--with Victoria's self, that is. There were huge paintings everywhere of the royal family, and large charts of royal lineage. It seemed to be a monument to the queen, which is guess is what you build when you're a queen.

The ceilings in the house are amazing. Check them out if you're ever there.

Half of our group rode bikes from Ryde out to the Osborne House, and the other half rode them back--except for me. Dr. Jacoby had me lead the second group back. I was glad, because it was nice to get some exercise, and it was a lot more fun to be on a bike in the beautiful countryside than cooped up in a stuffy bus.

Today we I had classes all morning. After lunch I went to the park and played Frisbee with Kendall, the Jacobys' youngest daughter. She's here kind of by herself, since she doesn't go to school and she doesn't have any friends here who are her age. I think she was glad to have someone to play with her.

Up tomorrow: Westminster Abbey and Houses of Parliament.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

First day of classes

Yesterday was the first day of classes. I’m taking humanities 202 and English 300. I’m also sitting in on Dr. Jacoby’s English history class. That’s almost four hours of class on Mondays and Thursdays. I really wish that Dr. Jacoby’s class would help me graduate so that I could take it instead of humanities. Not only does it seem more interesting, it also seems easier. And while I'm in London, easier means more time to explore London instead of sit in my room.

I went to the Imperial War Museum this afternoon. It was really cool—and really big. I saw only three exhibits: the display of large weapons (tanks, missiles, etc.) in the front, D-Day, and wars since WWII. I’ll have to go back a few more times to finish the museum.

This evening we went and saw Called to Account, a play where the prosecution and defense interview various witnesses (MPs, American officials, UN officials, etc.) in a discovery process to determine if a trial should be held for Tony Blair for the crime of aggression in entering the 2003 Iraq war. I really enjoyed it (much more than any Shakespeare I’ve been to), and I learned quite a bit about how the English view their own politics. It dragged on entirely too long (2-1/2 hours), but it was really good.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Kennington Branch

I went to church today. The people in our program are split up into groups of about six and sent to wards all over the Wandsworth Stake. My group is considerably smaller than the others', though: there are only two of us. Jeff and I attend the Kennington Branch, which the stake's Spanish/Portuguese unit. Apparently we're the only ones who speak Spanish. Jeff went on a mission to southern Mexico, and I learned it in school and got a lot of practice on my mission.

We have church from 2-5pm, which is a little unfortunate since everyone else has church in the morning. I slept in until about 10am, did some reading, and went to church. We didn't see anyone else all day.

I enjoyed church today. We took the Bakerloo line to its end at Elephant Castle station and then walked about ten minutes to the chapel. We met the missionaries--one from Norway, one from France--and a few members and then and went to elders quorum. My Spanish isn't as good as it once was (and I'm definitely glad that Jeff translated for Bro. Pemberton). Right after elders quorum the branch president cornered us and asked Jeff to teach priesthood next week and me to teach gospel principles.

I went to the gospel principles class today and really enjoyed it. There were a couple of new members there and some investigators, which was a refreshing change from my mission where it was often just the missionaries, ward missionaries, and ward mission leader in the class. Caral, who is here studying English, was baptized about a month ago, and Carlos, from Brazil, was baptized about two months ago. They both seem really happy. Michael and Osvaldo--both a bit less than 20 years old--are cousins and are investigating the church.

We're planning to go on exchanges with the missionaries sometime next week after we know a little better what our schedule will be. They seemed pretty excited about that since their Spanish isn't the greatest, and many the members that they usually go on exchanges with haven't been on missions.

Tonight we had a great dinner of potatoes with some sort of stew or soup or something on top. Maybe it just tasted so good because I was fasting.

After dinner Bro. Pemberton and a bishop from the stake came over to tell us a bit about the church in London. They're both lifelong Londoners, so it was interesting to get their perspectives. Most of the members here are immigrants, and most are converts since before the 1950's the Church encouraged converts to emigrate to Utah.

Classes start tomorrow. I'm cautiously excited for them. I'm excited to learn, but a bit nervous that my time to explore and enjoy London may be significantly reduced from now on. I hope that I stay relatively stress-free and enjoy my time here.

Market, roast duck, and a show

I went for a run by myself yesterday morning in Hyde Park. People take their dogs there to run around. I noticed a funny thing: English people have English dogs for the most part: English terriers, poodles, greyhounds. There were very few mutts.

Early yesterday afternoon I went to Borough Market, where people sell all kinds of food, most of it ready to eat. There were venison burgers, French and English cheeses, amazing English pastries, homemade jams, fresh fruits and vegetables, Iranian sweets, German sausages, Indian balsamic vinegars. Some of the vendors had samples that we could try, which I quite enjoyed, but they were much smaller than samples at Costco--usually about the size of a fingernail. I bought a "'Iccle Eccle"--a light, sugar-crystal-coated pastry filled with raisins, figs, currants, and other fruits--for 70p ($1.40). It was was amazingly good. Most of the food there was really expensive, so I didn't get a ton of stuff.

Yesterday evening I went with some of my friends to Leicester Square for dinner and a play. We were a group of seven, and we split up for dinner since we were in a hurry and nowhere had seating for all of us. Three of us went to a Chinese place. The ground level was packed, so they took us down to the basement where we were the only group for quite a while. We got a set dinner that included hot and sour soup; roast duck with green onions, cucumbers, and a sweet sauce rolled in a flour tortilla; fried rice with three "toppings" including sweet and sour chicken, beef, and vegetables; and egg rolls. We actually didn't even see the egg rolls because we had to leave early to go to the play. Our dinner cost about £15 per person, which was a little steep. It was a little sad that we had to leave half of our food since we wouldn't be able to take it into the theatre.

One interesting thing about London is that there is hardly any free water anywhere. At dinner we were served (and charged for) bottled water, with refills only at a charge. There are no drinking fountains in the Tube, and they are really hard to find in museums. A 750ml bottle of water at a grocery store costs about £1.50. I think I might be completely dehydrated before I get out of here.

We saw the 7:30 showing of Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre for £25 each--the student price. We sat on the balcony, but we could see pretty well. The leg room definitely left something to be desired (about on par with the Marriott Center at BYU), but at least the seats were cushioned. I really liked the show. There were lots of crowd-pleasing special effects, such as Mary pulling all kinds of things--a plant, a hat stand--out of her bag, Bert walking all the way around the border of the stage (up the side, upside down across the top, and back down the other side), and of course, Mary flying on her umbrella. The story was different than it was in the movie, but still definitely enjoyable.

After the play some of the others stopped for gelato, but Amber and I came straight back to the Centre and went to bed.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Tower of London

The Tower of London was the major excitement for today. It is the fortress surrounding the tower built by William the Conqueror soon after he invaded England in 1066 AD.

We were led on a tour by a beefeater--a military officer officially called a Yeoman Warder. He was pretty funny, and he told us stories and shared some of the history of the different towers, gates, and walls. Many of the stories focused on executions, which seems to have been quite popular back in the day. After the tour, I saw the crown jewels, looked at the armoury in the White Tower, and saw a replica of the rack and other torture devices.

In the afternoon we visited the British Museum again for a few hours. Today I looked at some of the Indian and Chinese exhibits. I was amazed at the intricacy of the craftsmanship many of the artifacts. I was also amazed at how expansive the former British Empire must have been for them to collect and bring back all of the items in the museum.

Tonight I went to a classical concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. A small group of us from the London Centre took the tube to the church to listen to one of the last concerts before the church is closed for a few months for remodeling. For £5 ($10) we got balcony seats where we couldn't really see the performers.

A small ensemble of violins, a harpsichord, a bass, and a flute performed pieces from Bach, Vivaldi, Pachelbel, and Handel. I really liked Pachelbel's Canon in D, and my favorite was Summer from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The music was amazing. The harpsichord added a lot to the performance.

I really liked that the lead violinist explained several musical symbols (storms, wind, complaining workers) before they played the piece from Four Seasons. It was fun (and educational) to have someone explain the music a bit.

The Tube was delayed all over the place today, so it took quite a while to make it around. After the concert a few of us stopped by the singles dance at the LDS Hyde Park Chapel (not many people). I quickly left after finding that my friends weren't there and I had to take three different trains to make it a few blocks because of delays. I eventually made it home, though. I'm starting to catch on a little bit finding my way around London.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The East End

Today we went on a walking tour of the East End--the heart of London's business district. We took the tube from the London Centre to begin at Leicester Square, where we ended yesterday. From there we walked east and south and passed several sites, including:
We had lunch in a beautiful garden at a church in the financial district. After lunch we split up into smaller groups. My group went to part of an organ recital at All Hallows-by-the-Tower (a seventh century Anglican church), passed by the Tower of London, crossed the Tower Bridge, and then visited the British Museum.

The British Museum one of the world's premiere museums of human history. Like many museums in London, it is free to enter. It is in an amazing, imposing building; I almost thought that the building was more interesting than many of the things that were in it. The museum is filled with world-class historical artifacts brought to England after many English conquests. Today we saw some of the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian exhibits, including the Rosetta Stone, several mummies, tons of Greek marble statues and friezes, part and the Nereid Monument.

We picked up some laundry detergent at a Tesco (grocery store) and then came home for dinner. Today we had pasta sauce and meatballs served over rice, along with the standard salad, bread, and vegetables. We also had crackers with excellent cheese. (I liked the Brie.)

After dinner a bunch of us got gelato (Italian ice cream) at a shop down the road from us. It cost £2 ($4) for a one-scoop cone. Then we went across the street to Hyde Park and played frisbee and soccer across the path from Kensington Palace. After playing a bit (and getting a grass stain on one of my two pairs of pants) Amber and I met some of our friends from BYU. Kim, Sarah, and Melissa are in BYU's London theatre study abroad program. They're staying just south of Hyde Park, and we're just north of it. We went and saw their flat, and then they came to ours. It was fun to see some familiar faces.

As usual, pictures are available.

Second day in London

Here's an excerpt from my journal entry from 2 May 2007--my second day in London:

I tried to stay awake all through yesterday to avoid making my jet lag worse, but it didn’t entirely work. I laid down on my bed for a second in the afternoon and woke up a couple hours later. However, I felt a lot better after that.

We had a great dinner (some kind of vegetable soup) at 5:30 yesterday. We all eat together at that time, and a third of us have dish duty each week. Tony and Tina, the couple who live here and take care of the Centre, prepare the food each evening. Last night we had soup, salad, baguettes, and a really good cake with warm custard. The cake was especially amazing. It looked like it might be a dense, rich, sweet cheesecake-type affair, but when I took the first bite I was pleasantly surprised. It was lighter than I expected, and it had apples in it. It was almost like a really thick, sturdy piece of apple pie, but the texture was a smoother and more uniform. The custard made it extra good.

After dinner last night I went on a walk with Kinsey and Jesi. Jesi and I got our Oyster Cards (month-long Tube passes). We also went to a few stores looking for phone cards for Jessie. We went to Boots (a “chemist”, a.k.a. drugstore) and Tesco (a grocery store). There are lots of interesting products to buy here, even in grocery stores. Tesco had a “family planning” section full of all kinds of birth control products, and there were stickers all over the inside of a phone booth advertising all kinds of questionable services.

After the stores, we walked over to Kensington Gardens and played Frisbee for a few minutes. It was nice to get away from the huge crowds for a few minutes.

I spent the rest of the night trying to get others’ computers to work with the wireless internet so that they can use Skype (an internet telephone program) to talk to people in the States.

* * *

Today I got up at around 7 a.m. and read my scriptures for a while. Today I read the book of Fourth Nephi. I was impressed by how much can change in a generation—for the better or for the worse.

I showered and had breakfast (help-yourself cereal and toast). Then a third of us went out on a walking tour of the West End with Roger Baker (my literature professor), his wife, and Taylor and Kenzie, two of Dr. Jacoby’s daughters.

On the tour we walked through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. We passed Kensington Palace and stopped in front of Buckingham Palace. We also saw the Marble Arch (a war memorial), the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Hyde Park (LDS) chapel, and probably some other things that I have forgotten We continued on to Leicester Square and sat down for a few minutes in the park there. The tour was officially over at that point, but a group of us went to several theatres around Leicester Square and checked on discount ticket prices.

Arriving in London

Here's an except from my journal from 1 May 2007, describing my travel to London:

Right now it’s 1:58 a.m. Utah time, which is 8:58 a.m. London time. I got up at 4:55 a.m. yesterday morning in Orem, and now I’m riding on the Gatwick Express train from the London Gatwick Airport to London Victoria Station. From there I will take the Tube to the BYU London Centre. I’m beginning a six-week study abroad program at the BYU London Centre, which is a building of living quarters and classrooms located at 27 Palace Court, London, very near Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

Traveling here has been a pretty smooth experience. Most of our group traveled together. We took Delta flight 3 from SLC yesterday morning at 8:30 a.m. and traveled to JFK airport in NYC, arriving at a little after 3 p.m. We had a layover of about three hours there and then took off for London at around 7 p.m., arriving at about 8 a.m. I’ve been up for about 20 hours, with a few brief naps sprinkled throughout the time.

That’s not to say that the travel was without incident. We had to make two passes when landing at JFK because the plane in front of us had not cleared the runway. That was a quite a ride since there was quite a bit of turbulence over the ocean as we approached. Then, when we took off from JFK somehow we had a passport on the plane without the corresponding person, so we had to wait a few minutes so that we could leave the passport with the ground crew in New York.

Another thing that made our flight from New York to London interesting was that there was a large group—perhaps 25—of Orthodox Jewish men from Brooklyn on the plane. They were all dressed the same, with white shirts and ties, dark slacks, and long suit coats. They all had long, untrimmed beards, Jewish head covers (yamikas?), and dark-color top hats. They all spoke English, and many—if not all—of them also spoke Yiddish. They talked and moved around the plane during the whole flight, which made it a little hard to sleep.

When we arrived at the airport we walked down a long terminal and then went through passport control. A somewhat austere English man grilled me pretty well on what I was doing, how long I was staying, what my return flight accommodations were, who I was staying with, what I was studying, what university I was with, if I had ever been to the UK before, etc. It took about five minutes of questioning before it seemed that I had satisfied him. I was very glad that BYU had given me a letter that explained my status. That seemed to ease things quite a bit.

One of the girls in our group is from England (about seven hours north of London), and her parents met us at the airport. It was nice to see a friendly face of someone who seemed to know was going on, since this was a pretty new experience for most of us. Most of the group had purchased a taxi ride together at a reduced rate to get from Gatwick to the London Centre. A few others of use weren’t in on that deal, so we are all taking public transit to the London Centre. We’re taking the Gatwick Express from the airport into London, and then we’ll take the Tube to near the London Centre.

* * *

We made it. I traveled from the airport with three others. One of the guys in our group asked people all along the way where were supposed to go, and we eventually got the right tickets and made it to the right places.

I have felt a little like I have been in a movie from the time that we approached the runway until I got to the London Centre. As we flew in, the fields below us were so green, with occasional roads crossing every which way—just as I had pictured England would look from the air. There were towns of dense brown housing sprinkled throughout the green velvet countryside. Gatwick airport is a 30-minute train ride outside of the city; it looked like we were going to land in a green field until the runway appeared about 300 meters before we touched down.

Luggage—which is aptly named—complicated our travel by rail from the airport to our centre. We had to lug our stuff up and down several flights of stairs and up and down several curbs. There wasn’t a lot of space for it on the Underground, so I had to stand by mine and shift from one side of the car to the other depending on which side the platform was on at each stop.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I'm in London


I arrived yesterday morning in London for a six-week study abroad program through BYU. I'm staying at the BYU London Centre. It's an old building in a pretty posh part of Westminster near Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens that has bedrooms, a kitchen, a library, and, of course, a classroom.

I'll be taking two courses while I'm here: European Civilization (a humanities class) and English Literature (you guess).

I'll be posting quite a bit about what I'm doing here over the next few weeks.

London pictures are online

My pictures from London (and many of my other pictures, for that matter) are available on my Picasa web gallery.