Saturday, February 7, 2009

Oxford Video Blog

Originally Written Feb. 7th

Last weekend, the girls and I decided to go on the first of (hopefully) many trips! Nicole and Nathalie did all the planning, and for less then 50 quid, we took the Megabus two hours north, and stayed in one of the cleanest and most comfortable hostels I've seen since I've been there.

Here is the highlight reel from my weekend in Oxford with Jac, Nathalie, and Nicole :-)

Here are more photos if you'd like to see more.


A Quiet Day in the Country

Originally written January 23

Sometimes a girl needs a break from the big city to go see the country. One of the most common things that Brits have told me is that London is not England. Its like people talking about New York, and assuming you're talking about the City. There are so many other parts to the country, and deserve exploration. With that in mind, earlier this week, I went online, looked up places that weren't too far, and decided to take a little trip.

Saturday night I had a city night. My friends and I had talked about getting together, but everyone ended up being too wiped out, but I had spent about 45 minutes curling my hair (more cuz I was bored then anything else) and decided I would take myself out. I took the Picadilly Line into Leicester Square, and was trying to decide what I wanted to do. When it came down to it, I wanted to spend time with people, so first I looked for theatre tickets, but as it was 7:30, I was a little late. Instead, I bought myself a slice of pizza from a vendor, and went to the sold out show of Slumdog Millionaire. This was a great movie, but it also showed all the poverty in India. I understand its a big cultural influence, and there are aspects that are beautiful about it. But it still made me sad to see children bathing in the same water that cows defecate in, and so much prejudice. If anything, it makes me want to work harder to learn and understand about other cultures. I feel very lucky that I am experiencing that in this time in my life, even if its still a 'Western style' culture.

Sunday morning, I got up early and headed to the train station at Waterloo. I took a 35 minute long train out of London to Woking. From there, a REALLY overpriced cab took me to the RHS Gardens to see the Butterfly Exhibit. Basically, this is the Royal Horticultural Society's garden that is open year round. During January and February, they have one of their tropic greenhouses filled with hundreds of butterflies from a farm in South America. They all fly around you and even land on you. The rest of the gardens are beautiful, and I got a great day with lots of sun. Here are just a few of my favorite pictures from the day:

Ok, so Blogspot will only let me load so many pictures, but I have a ton more. Please take a look at them here and here. They are so amazing. The day was just about me walking around in the peace and quiet, surrounded by all this natural beauty. It made me homesick, but was so refreshing. Everyone should do this for themselves. For my first spontaneous, relatively cheap trip, it was perfect.


Clubbin' at KoKo

Originally written January 13

Ahh, London nightlife. Its pretty sweet.

This past weekend, I think I did all my girly-girl friends and relatives proud. I got a hot new style haircut (parted on the side, choppy bangs across forehead, kind of punk rock layers – I think he actually made my hair thinner, but that’s cool) I wish I had taken a picture right off the bat – I think I tried, but I was rushing to get ready.

Random picture interjection: I am trying to take as many as I can whenever I go out and about, or even if its just a nice day. However, when I’m getting into the swing of things, I tend to forget about taking pictures and just want to enjoy the moments as they come. New Year’s Resolution: Live in the moment, and be content with it. So, sorry for the lack of pictures, but you are all creative people, I think you can work it out.

Anywho, so I went after work on Friday to SoHo to get my hair cut. It was fantastic. This really nice Spanish guy did it, and when I came in and told him I needed something new, he totally got me. He took a nice long time to shampoo and condition my hair, gave me a killer neck rub, then sat me in the chair and made me feel really great about this new look. I gave him a tip (they don’t really do that here, so he was hyped) and I got European cheek kisses and instructions to come back in 6 weeks for a bang trim. I went home, did the whole smokey eyed red lip thing, and headed off to Camden Town.

Camden is a really cool part of London. Its hip and goth and cool and chill all rolled together. You can see any type of people here, but the more outrageous the better. There are a lot of Goths, but also people that wear pearls with pink hair, or Doc Martins, or Chucks. The bars are all trying to show each other up with music and random drink combos (tho the smoothie/tonic/mixed drink I had was AMAZING). I was going to Camden to meet Jac to go to Hollie’s birthday party at the Fifty Five Bar & Lounge. Hollie is the girl that we met in our first week who showed us around London. We got to the bar, and she was already Drunkie McDrunk, but had a lot of friends there. The bar was hot – the bartenders were showing off like they were in Coyote Ugly, the music was good, and there were a lot of interesting people. I ended up talking to this guy Scott for 20 minutes. He was from the States, but here for break from studying in Germany. I told him some good places to go. He was so sweet—before he and his friends left, he came over and gave me a hug. Too cute. We sat with Hollie’s friends, had a few drinks; Chris showed up about a half hour after us, and we got to talk for a while while guys were hitting on Jac. It was a good time—I really like him, and it’s nice that Jac found someone so great.

So we left early-ish, because we were all going out the next night as well. There is this club called KoKo; it is a nightclub in an old theater where they ripped all the seats out, and you just party everywhere. ButtonDown Disco was spinning, and they play all kinds of stuff, but specialize in British pop/indie rock. The plan was to meet up around 9ish, and get into the club before 10 so we wouldn’t have to pay the cover charge. Saturday morning, I slept in, got up, and realized I have no idea what the hell to wear to a London nightclub. I then did the next shockingly girly thing, and took myself shopping.

They do a lot of huge sales here after Christmas, so I knew I had options. I decided to stick with Oxford Street. I knew it was going to be a zoo, which I hate, but I had to go to the Apple store to get new headphones anyway, and I knew there were at least 2 Evans (plus size fashion store) within a 15 minute walk of each other. To make a long story short, I found out that I kind of actually like shopping, but I think it had a lot to do because I was alone. I felt less pressure and was able to make decisions without worrying too much. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have a friend there to chat with, or give opinions, but it was nice to just go with my own flow. I ended up getting 2 different tops: one with pink sparkle straps, then it was off the shoulder with this ruffle sleeve thing, and a black top that was really loose and flowy, but came in a band around my hips and slits in the sleeves. I’ve sure you’ll see pictures of both. I also got a cool long chunky necklace, a small black bag so I’m not loosing Bambi everywhere, and some hair clips. All and all, I was pretty stoked.

I went back to my place to get ready, and got a call from Nicole and Nathalie seeing if I wanted to come to their place for dinner before going to the club. It sounded great, so I stopped at Tesco to get a bottle of wine, and headed over. I ended up having to take the bus from Notting Hill, and for some reason I was the only one on it. I asked the driver if he was going to the stop I wanted, and he said yes. Then he starts driving like a maniac, skipping stops and all this, and always looking back at me and winking and smiling. I’m just sitting there with my headphones in, and waiting til I see my stop. About 15 minutes later, we cross the river. That is REALLY not good as the girls live in the same neighborhood as me. I went to ask the guy why he’d blown past my stop, and he said ‘Oh! I thought you didn’t get off because you wanted to stay on the bus with me *sleazy wink*’. Chya, got outta there right quick, I’m tellin’ you. At this point, it was too late to go to dinner, so I took the tube and met up with Jac, her flatmates, and some friends of Chris’s. We went to this pub across from the club for a few drinks before heading in. Luckily the que wasn't too long, nor was the coat check, so we were able to grab some drinks and go right into dance mode.

View of the dance floor from the balcony

Some of Chris' London friends

Not my fav. picture, but the only one I got of me all night--Jac is sadden by this

KoKo was amazing. It had good areas to sit and then to dance, and others just to hang out and watch everyone. I was really into the music, and it was great to just dance with a big group of people. Everyone looked London hot, and we were there until the club closed at 4am. Then it was off to the night bus, grabbed a bottle of water and some crispes at the Tesco, and home in bed right when the sun was thinking to come up. Definitely going to have to be done again.


My Very Own Studio....I think it was the mudroom...

Originally written January 7th.

So I started out in a posh neighborhood in a nice hostel. Then I moved to the sticks into a kinda crappy hostel. That kind of crappy hostel became home, with friends who became family, and all those old problems most people my age encounter in their first place: bad water, limited space, millions of roommates so you can afford the rent, not the most comfortable bed, etc, etc. But now, I’ve upgraded to the best of both worlds. I’m living in one of the richest neighborhoods in all of London, but living in a small humble room to keep my humility. Or something.

I’ve officially moved into my new place in Kensington. When I told the only true Londoner I know – aka Jac’s boyfriend Chris – this, his response was ‘You lucky sod.’ Apparently, this is the neighborhood to be in. Chris said it was where all the rich kids lived and went to school, and he dreamed of living there when he grew up and made millions. It is really beautiful. If you want to Google Earth it, I’m in postcode SW7 4JZ, about a five minute walk from Glouster Road tube station. The buildings are these old white ones with columns and old brick churches. One of the selling points for me were the gardens. I have access to one of the private gardens in the center of my block. Go watch Notting Hill, and see the garden that Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant climb into when they play ‘When You Say Nothing At All’. That’s what my garden is like—down to the towering trees and the gazebo. It has lined paths all around it, and is always lush and green due to the gardeners who come 3 times a week. It blocks out all the light in the area, enough so that you can even see the stars on those rarely clear England nights. I love it so much. Within a 10 minute walk are other smaller public gardens, and Hyde Park. Notting Hill is a 10 minute tube ride, and the center of the city is maybe 15 minutes. Sure as hell beats the 45 it was taking me to get into town from Hendon Central.

As for the place itself, it’s a good thing I grew up living in small spaces. My room use to be the mudroom for the flat. No lie. It has a door that goes out into an alleyway where people use to come in after being in the garden. It has a sink, and where the shower is I think was the area to wash off their Wellington boats. The shelves that hold my clothes are the right size for shoe racks, and my closet is….well, fine for me, but Breanne would cry ;-). I had to shove, but I got my luggage under the bed, and cut out some pictures and such. The girl before me left gold and pink curtains, and the duvet and pillowcases that I got from my landlord are pink, orange, and yellow. Oh, and the walls are yellow. All in all, it’s pretty cozy and comfortable. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have guests, since my bed is my bed, couch, and kitchen table, but we could make it work. Honestly, for those who have seen my little room at home, it’s about that size. With a sink, closet, and shower. Yea. Grammy is scared of my heater due to the fact that its really a pipe being supported on old VHS tapes. But it does the job alright. I leave it on all day, so the room stays comfortable.

Right now, there is one girl living in the room next to me, and that’s about it. There are 3 double rooms, then a single room way in the back behind my landlord’s ‘office’ (which is really the full size kitchen that use to be used when it was all one flat). My landlord turned all of the rooms into studios, so its like we have mini-flats in this big one. The girl next to me is moving out on Tuesday, so it’ll be just me. Oh, and Matt and his wife aka my landlords. He owns a bunch of properties like this, and he and his wife just move from place to place where there are empty rooms. This is kind of weird since Matt doesn’t sleep. Seriously. He told me he sleeps maybe 3 hours a night. They aren’t loud or anything, but its still weird to see the light on all night.

The neighborhood is nice. Jac and I went to one of the pubs and had Sunday roast this week. There is a laundry matte, a huge Sainsbury’s (grocery store), a 24 hour Tesco, some cafes, a bank, a post office, and the Tube all within a 5 minute walk from my flat. The nice thing is that the buildings are so huge that all of this is in a noisier part of the area, but you turn on to my street and you can’t hear a sound. I’m going out late with Jac next week, so we’ll see how far the night bus is *note: its maybe 10 minutes walk. In very well lit and monitored areas*. I feel doubly safe because the dorms for Ithaca and Boston University’s study abroad programs are on my block, as well as 3 hotels with security cameras.

I’ve only been there a few days, and I’m LOVING being unpacked and settled, but I miss my hostelmates. I miss walking into my room, dropping my stuff, then going into the hang out room and being greeted with calls and kisses. I miss talking to Todd while we’re making dinner, or bantering with Andy, or talking with Jason or Darren or Mathason while we’re all just relaxing, or chilling with the girls while Harry and Stephen dance around to some random YouTube video. We’re all on facebook, and I’ve heard from a few of them, but it was hard to say goodbye. I hope I get to see them again. I’ll make sure I do.

London Backpackers: Have you heard the word? ;-)


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Happy Belated New Years

New Years resolution: remember to update more ;-)

Ahhh, 2009. I feel like you’re going to be a hellova year.

The week building up to New Years and the week after prove this to me.

So I was working up until New Years Eve. At the time, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to join the millions of throngs of people out in the city, or hang back at the hostel. I decided the most important thing was to be with my friends. My boss was really great and let me out early. I had been working the week alone as everyone was out on vacation, but I feel really comfortable in my job. Maybe not very challenged, but this is a means to an end, aka money for travelling, more then the career move. I swung by Bunac to pick up some mail, and then made my way to the hostel (thanks again for the Christmas cookies, Brushaka!! They were amazing!)

I got back fairly early, and took a nap for a while. When I got up, I met up with the guys and went down to the shops to stock up. We went back to the hostel, and all broke into food and drinks. The difference tonight was really interesting: People were drinking a lot, but no one was being crazy. It was more about people talking, and listening, and sharing. The hostel was fairly busy, but only the regulars were staying in, at least for a while. I talked with Jason, Todd, Darren and Steven, and they let me in on something. They think I’m clairvoyant. One night, when I was a little less then sober, I started grabbing people’s hands and reading palms. I do know how to read them, but never really thought anything of it. Its more like reading the person, and knowing the lore behind what bumps and lines stand for. But the more people I read, the more they were blown away by how much I got right. I scared the crap out of Jason because I told him he was going to have a kid in his twenties, and that it would be a girl. Apparently, he got a girl pregnant before he left New Zealand; 2 days after I read his palm, she called to say she had found out it was a girl. Andrew said I made him cry—he just didn’t think anyone could see what I saw. So now, whenever someone new comes in, especially girls, they guys bring her straight to me. I usually don’t know anything other then their names when their hands are thrust out to me. But I’ve blown them away; I knew about a bad relationship a girl was getting out of, that another had a sister die of breast cancer, and other random stuff that I have no idea where it came from. I mean, I'm good at reading people, but this is just random.

So after my chat with the guys about my Powers That Be, I decided that I would take a night off from that, and try to not creep anyone out. Most of the crew was going down to Trafalgar Square to watch the fireworks, then to the Walkabout in Shepard's Bush to dance. I wasn't feeling the going out vibe--I just knew that I'd get mixed in with the crowd, lose my friends, and have to fight to get home. More importantly, two of my favorite people, Heather and Todd, where sticking around, so I stayed with them. It was really nice when everyone was taking off: we'd all become like family, so there were a lot of hugs, kisses, and Happy New Years exchanged. Afterwards, Heather, Todd, myself, and these two really nice French girls sat around and talked. There were family stories shared, life stories, death stories, home stories. I love those kind of talks. And yes, when midnight hit, I may have been wrapped up in some smoochies with a fantastically skilled kisser and Aussie (think about the only people left there, and I think you can figure out who ;-))The night kind of slowed down after that. I went to bed around 2am, and got to hear everyone else trickle in until sun up. New Years day was spent lazing and nibbling food, taking a walk, and doing a lot of thinking.

**A/N: I'm going to go ahead and post this since I have so many others to catch up on. After New Years, I stayed at the hostel for 4 more days, then moved into my new place. My last nights there were great. The guys took me to a pub to play darts, and on my last night there, all 22 of the long termers took me out to dinner and then we came back to drink some more and hang out. The great thing was that for once, we didn't hang out in the TV room but went downstairs and talked all night. Todd got me vodka slushies and Stephen was so happy to have someone who knew how to play Circle of Fire. But more importantly, they were all so sweet saying goodbye. I love these people so much, and miss them dearly. Here are some pictures of my last few nights:

Happy New Year,