Saturday, June 23, 2007

I'm home

For all of you who have to have closure (you know who you are) you can sleep easy knowing that I made it home safely from my London adventure.

The week before I left we drove across England, through Wales, and took a ferry to Ireland. I loved Glendalough, which is an old village in the misty green hills of Ireland. It looked just like I pictured Ireland would. I didn't like Dublin very much. It may have just been the incessant rain, but I really didn't like the city much. It seemed like it was filled with drunk, rowdy Irish people. I witnessed three (yes, three) fights in one day: one bloody one between two women on the street (the police came), one in McDonalds (the security man threw them out), and one outside our hostel window in the middle of the night.

Life after Ireland was pretty crazy because there were final papers to write, tests to take, and things to be packed. Our schedule was way too tight, but I managed to finish everything with a couple of almost sleep-free nights.

My trip home was pretty uneventful. I flew on a 767 to Atlanta, and on a 757 from there to Portland. The trip took 25 hours from doorstep to doorstep, and I was pretty exhausted by the end of it. I've been waking up at unnaturally early hours of the morning for most of the week, but I think that I'm finally almost over the jet lag.

I drove up to Seattle tonight to begin the second phase of my summer: an internship at Google. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It's down to the wire

A lot has happened in the last week and a half. It's going to be a long entry today:
  • I had tea (herbal, of course) and scones at the Orangery at Kensington Palace.
  • I visited a mosque.
  • I sat in the Stranger's Gallery and watched question time in the House of Lords at the Houses of Parliament.
  • I went to Dover Castle and the White Cliffs of Dover.
  • I visited Canterbury, including Canterbury Cathedral, which is the home of the Archbishop (head) of the Church of England.
  • I ran a three-mile race (the 2007 Crisis Square Mile Run).
  • I visited Kew Gardens.
  • I went to Borough Market (again).
  • I saw The Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre.
The Orangery was beautiful, and I felt very sophisticated dressing up and going there for tea. I had peppermint, but I recommend blackcurrant, which one of the girls I went with got. I also got a fruit scone, which was superb.

We visited the London Central Mosque on Tuesday after I went to the Orangery. We were there for the afternoon prayers, which was interesting to watch. I also learned a lot listening to our host.

Right after the mosque a few of us hopped on the Tube and went to Parliament. We watched question time at the House of Lords. MPs can submit written questions for "Her Majesty's Government" (the ruling party) to answer orally. It was interesting to see the joviality and camaraderie that the Lords have among themselves.

Dover Castle was pretty cool, but I'm getting tired of castles.

It was fun to go to the White Cliffs, which you might know as the site of Gloucester's attempted suicide in Shakespeare's King Lear. We could see the Channel there, and I think I could barely make out France on the far side.

Canterbury Cathedral is beautiful, as you would expect. The stained glass there was amazing. It's amazing that it still exists at all, actually, because the Germans tried to bomb it during the war. Their flare markers got carried by the wind, though, so they ended up bombing another nearby site to smithereens and the cathedral made it through mostly unscathed.

The Square Mile Run was fun. I ran it with Amber and Kelli from my group. The race is fundraiser for Crisis, which is an organization that helps homeless people. There were a few more than 2000 runners. We met at Paternoster Square right by St. Paul's Cathedral. The race went south to the river, then east along the river, over London Bridge, further east to the end of Tower Bridge, then turned west along the river, past the Globe, and over the Millennium Bridge across from the Tate Modern.

The run was definitely correctly titled. Calling it a race would have been an overstatement. There were two or three places where I was stopped to a standstill while people filtered through bottlenecks in the course. I was passing people on the entire run. I'd get stuck behind a group, get an opening and sprint ahead a few meters, and then get stuck behind someone again. Consequently, my time of 29:35 wasn't so hot. It was a beautiful run along the Thames, though.

Kew Gardens was a bit of a disappointment. There were some amazing plants there (especially the huge water lilies!), but the grounds felt more like a city park when I expected a diverse, carefully-tended garden. They did have some clownfish and piranhas, though, so I can at least say that I saw Nemo and some killer fish.

On Saturday I went to Borough Market again, but this time I actually bought stuff. I got one of the most excellent brownies that they sell (£1.50), a bunch of strawberries (£1.50), some razcherries (cherries candied in sugar and raspberry juice) (£4), and some fresh cherries (£1).

After the market, our group saw The Merchant of Venice at the Globe. Shakespeare's company performed at the Globe when he was alive, but the original building burned down. The modern one was constructed relatively recently as closely as possible to the original design.

Seeing the play in the Globe was really fun. It's an open-air theater, and lucky for us, the weather was absolutely perfect. We had tickets to stand in the yard as groundlings, and we got there early enough to stand right next to the stage, so the actors were just a meter or two away from us sometimes.

There was one problem with the performance that we watched: the actress who plays the main part was missing. Since they don't have any understudies and they found out on short notice that the actress wouldn't be able to make it, the artistic director came out on the stage before the performance and explained what was going on. They had Nerissa play Portia, and Jessica played both Nerissa and Jessica, and both actresses had scripts in hand for the whole performance. The situation could have turned out horribly, but just the opposite happened. The actresses did an excellent job, and I didn't feel like it detracted from the play at all. The fact that they pulled it off really shows how talented the actors were.

After the play I went to dinner with Kelli and Amber and her roommates at Wagamama, a Japanese sort-of fast food restaurant. I really liked the food and only paid about £7 for it.

Sunday was the last day of church in the Spanish branch for Jeffrey and me since we'll be going to church at the Hyde Park Chapel next Sunday.

Today we visited an orthodox Jewish synagogue that's only a block away from here. It a beautiful building, and it was really interesting to have the caretaker show us around and explain about their religion.

School has been pretty crazy as the semester has been winding down. As of last Friday I had to write 20 pages of papers for my humanities class and two or three pages for English. I've been pretty unhappy with the workload that we have had in humanities, but the good news is that it's almost over.

Tomorrow morning (at 6:30a.m.!) we're leaving for Ireland. We're going to get on the coach and drive to Wales, where we will take a ferry to Ireland. I'm really looking forward to visiting there, but I'm really not looking forward to having to finish my papers while I'm there.

We'll return from Ireland on Saturday and have finals on Monday. Then, on Tuesday morning, I'm headed home. The time has flown by.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Speaker's Corner, Evensong at St. Paul's

We had stake conference on Sunday. The main chunk of the meeting was a broadcast from Salt Lake City. President Hinckley, Elder Eyring, Sister Dalton, and a couple members of the Seventy spoke. It was fun to hear President Hinckley talk about his time in London.

President Hinckley mentioned his days as a missionary preaching at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, and we were in the Hyde Park Chapel, so we walked over through Hyde Park after the meeting and listened to some people at Speaker's Corner. There were six or seven people speaking at any one time. A few were there the whole time, but others came and went. There was a crazy toothless guy who had a sign that said "open forum", a woman preaching about God (but against religion), a Muslim guy, a guy from the Socialist Party, a really judgmental "Christian" guy who told a bunch of Muslims that their god was a devil, an environmentalist guy (in short shorts), and a guy with a cowboy hat and a sign that said he would debate any of ten widely varying topics. Crowds around speakers fluctuated from between zero and 50 people. Some speakers stood on boxes or stools; others just stayed on the ground.

Jeffrey (one of the guys in our study abroad group) debated point #4 from the list of ten topics that the cowboy hat guy had. The point was that "faith is knowing that something isn't true and believing it anyway". Because the cowboy hat guy had control of the debate, Jeffrey had a hard time getting his point across and "lost". I thought it was interesting that the guy was actually arguing a different point than he had written on his sign: he was arguing that faith is not knowing that something isn't true and yet believing it; his sign said that faith is knowing that something is not true and yet believing it. Oh well. Contentious debates are pretty pointless.

Later in the afternoon we went to Evensong at St. Paul's Cathedral. The building, especially its famous dome, is pretty amazing. I really enjoyed the service there. The acoustics were really echoy, so it was a little hard to understand at at times, but it wasn't too bad since I had a printed program that spelled out the words to all of the songs. The choir at St. Paul's was better than the others I've heard.

The sermon that the (once again, woman) priest gave was very good--better than most sacrament meeting talks in my church. I guess that's what happens when you have a professional, trained clergy. She talked about how we in the world make up gods unto our own image instead of being humble and worshiping the true God.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, Greenwich

On Tuesday we went to Stratford-upon-Avon, which was Shakespeare's birthplace and home until he moved to London. On the way there we stopped at Warwick Castle.

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle was built on an ancient site on the River Avon over a period of about 200 years, starting around 1000 years ago. It's the most "castley" castle that I have yet visited. The grounds are beautiful, and there is lots to do there.

Some of the castles we have visited are just old, out-of-the-way structures that no one pays much attention to. Warwick Castle, in contrast, is quite a tourist attraction. Not long after we arrived the staff fired the castle's trebuchet, which is a huge medieval slingshot. The trebuchet at Warwick Castle is the largest working trebuchet of medieval design in the world. They shot a 30kg stone several hundred meters.

We also saw a birds of prey demonstration, where they had two kinds of eagles (including a bald eagle), a vulture, and a few other birds. It was amazing to see how much the handlers could control the huge birds.

Stratford-upon-Avon

We arrived in Stratford in the afternoon and checked into our hostel. That evening we got dinner at a pub. My whole table got hamburgers, and Kasey's was green in the middle. We weren't sure if that was standard operating procedure around here, so he asked a waiter. The waiter just apologized and brought him a huge bowl of chips (aka french fries). Seemed a little sketchy to me, but I got some of the chips, so I didn't mind too much.

That night we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance of King Lear. It's the first play that I've both read and watched, and I really enjoyed seeing the performers' interpretation of what I had read. Seeing it on stage was much more intense than reading it in a book. Ian McKellen played King Lear. (He's Magneto in X-Men and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.)

The next morning I went on a four-mile run from Alveston (where we were staying) to Stratford and back. Later we visited Shakespeare's birthplace, a 500-year-old building that's still standing. I'm not very versed in my Shakespeare history, so I learned quite a bit.

We had a few hours free, so six of us went down to the River Avon to rent some row boats for an hour. On the way there was a fountain that someone had put soap in, and it was brewing huge quantities of bubbles, which we played in for a few minutes.

There were three of us in each row boat: one on the oars, one on the rudder, and one to enjoy the ride. We had a good time going down the river, and we traded off jobs so that everyone got to row. On the way back, the people in the other boat rammed ours from the side. A canvas strap on their bow got caught over the metal loop that held one of our oars in, so our boats were stuck together. We had a hard time unhooking our boats, and we were pretty sure that the people at the rental (or "hire" as they call it here) place were laughing at us. Jeffrey eventually jumped into our boat to unload his enough that we could lift their bow and unhook it. We were under a bridge at this point, and we had trouble getting away because the oars would hit the bridge when we tried to row. We finally got away from the bridge, only to discover that a dinner boat was coming right through the bridge arch that we were now under. They blew their horn at us and looked pretty annoyed. We finally got out of the way and made it back to the dock. Whew!

That afternoon we went to the family home of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife. It wasn't super exciting except that some workers were re-thatching the roof.

On Thursday I had class and did homework. Woo hoo!

Greenwich

On Friday we went to Greenwich, home of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich Mean Time (called Universal Coordinated Time these days), and the prime meridian (0º longitude) that divides the western and eastern hemispheres. They also have a market, a university, and a maritime museum.

Almost more interesting than all of the things in Greenwich was how we got to Greenwich: by boat. We took the tube to Westminster and then got on a boat that took us east on the River Thames for about an hour. It was really fun to see the city from the river, especially since the captain gave us an audio tour as we floated along.

In Greenwich we visited an open market (just jewelry and stuff--boring!) and then got lunch at a bakery-type place. I got a tomato and mozzarella focaccia sandwich for less than £3, and it was really good.

I only had a couple of hours to spend in Greenwich since I had to get back to write some papers, so Jeffrey and I headed up to the Royal Observatory for a quick visit. We stood across the 0º line and took some pictures, saw some clocks, and looked at a few astronomical instruments. There's really not a ton to do there.

I was a little disappointed that my first steps into the eastern hemisphere were unmarked. I unknowingly crossed into it as I climbed the hill to the observatory, and I only realized it when I noticed that I was on the eastern side of the prime meridian at the Royal Observatory. They should have warned me!

I took the boat back to the Tower of London and then hopped on the Tube to get home a little quicker. I didn't finish my papers on time, but that's okay, because I decided before I came here that I was going to experience London first, and do schoolwork second. It wouldn't have been worth it to skip the boat and Greenwich to get a bit better grade on my papers.

Running

Today I finished up my papers and went for a run in Hyde Park. It was really warm (in the high 70s Fahrenheit), but I hadn't been running for a while so I decided to go anyway. I ran almost 8 miles in about 1:15--not really fast, but I took it slow on purpose since I had never run that far in my life. I'm thinking about entering a half marathon race later this year, so I'm trying to get in better shape. I'm also going to run a 3.5-mile race this Thursday in London.

Tonight I'm going to Hard Rock Cafe for some American food (and free refills!). Tomorrow is stake conference, and I'm planning to go to evensong at St. Paul's in the afternoon.