Since I’ve been AWOL for the better part of October and now feel as if I’ve left my poor blog like a baby in a hot car, I’ll sum up the past three weeks with two words: life happens. These past few weeks have kept me as busy as Grand Central Station at Christmas. Also midterms. Those happen, too. Which is probably why writing and processing my own thoughts and happenings after so many hours spent writing and processing fancy academic things was just so not in the cards for me for awhile. The aftermath left my mind reduced to goo. Fortunately, my good friends Jess, Nick, Winston, and Schmidt from the hit television comedy series New Girl have recently brought me back from the dead with their incomparable wit and comic genius. After a few hours spent in front of my computer with those great people, I suppose it is time to communicate with the rest of you real people.
One of the best things that happened this month was that one of my oldest and best friends on God’s green earth got to join me in London for a week. How many people get to say that?? To put my excitement for Maddy’s arrival in perspective, I confess that I burst into tears the moment she walked through the gate at Heathrow. And these were not pretty tears that would make Brooke Davis proud. They were tears of the gaspy, snorty, quick-blow-your-nose variety. (In my defense, I had just witnessed some sweet teenage boy’s reunion with his mother, and it was very moving, let me tell you.) Long story short, that same week just so happened to be the week that everyone’s family planned a visit. Since my parents won’t be making the trek this semester, having Maddy here during unofficial parents’ week truly could not have been better timing. I mean she was listed as my mother on Facebook for a while in the tenth grade, back when it was cool and clever to list all your friends as your family members on Facebook. That definitely counts for something.
Quickly sensing our week of fun was about to fly right by, Maddy and I set out to take advantage of each day and crammed in as much activity as we could manage. We made the absolutely necessary first stop in Westminster to visit Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the House of Parliament, and a series of red telephone booths. Confession: this was my first time actually going to Big Ben since being here. Shameful, I know. We also didn’t realize we were standing literally right beneath it for a good five minutes until the bells started ringing. (I think it’s time to come to grips with the fact that I am more “book smart” than “street smart.”) Needless to say, this spot, surrounded by a few of the most well recognized landmarks in all of London, is also, in my humble opinion, one of the most captivating views in the city.
What’s funny is that probably 80% of the things Maddy and I did when she visited were new experiences for both of us. We saluted the Queen’s men at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. We taste-tested our way through the Borough Market, one of the many delightful markets that dot the map of the city (and one of my personal favorites at that). We wandered aimlessly through the department store of all department stores, Harrods, absolutely awestruck and trying our best to keep our eyeballs inside our heads at all times. We even made friends with the night manager at a local convenience store who gave us free candy. I remain unsure as to whether I should be proud or ashamed that we made candy runs so often that week that he knows each of us by name.
|The Queen's Guards. Doin' their thang.|
One day while I was in class, I gave my guest her own homework. I had her dig through my super cute and nifty London guidebook from Anthropologie (which I regret to say I had barely been using to its full potential) and pick a neighborhood for us to go explore. And so, we hopped on the tube and ventured to an area called Shoreditch (which is pronounced more like shortage and less like shore-ditch… because in England pronouncing a word the way it’s actually spelled would be too easy). Our intention was to find some hole-in-the-wall vintage shop we saw in the book, but instead we stumbled upon a million other things that made us want to jump up and down with glee. Things like darling shops with window displays decorated to perfection (and a blessed sign on the door declaring, “SALE”), an indoor/outdoor marketplace, and a series of cheap and healthy restaurants that were making us drool. We perused the shops, found a couple gems to take home, and eventually settled on a lunch place called Leon. The food was so tasty and the atmosphere so charming that we simply had to return for Round Two just three days later.
|Welcome to Shoreditch.|
|Nothing says "cutest dang shops" like exposed brick|
|All smiles for the gluten-free goodness.|
In between the new things, I did get the chance to show Maddy a few of my favorite routine things, namely Hillsong Church, my regular Starbucks on High Street, and a cozy pub down the road from my dorm. It’s like they always say: sometimes the simple things are the absolute best things. Things like thousands of voices belting out praises to God or a warm cup of coffee on a chilly afternoon or late night pub chats over strawberry ice cream. Nothing beats a longtime friend with whom you can simply sit and talk and be. When you find a friend like that, hold them as tight as you can. Remember when you were little and you got to hold your brand spankin’ new baby sister in the hospital and your mom said, “Be gentle, sweetie, don’t squeeze,” but all you really wanted to do to that sweet little baby was squeeze her tight? Well in this case, all bets are off. This is your permission to squeeze. These are those rare people who have seen you at your worst and wouldn’t dare hold that against you. They have also seen you at your best and will remind you who you are and what you are capable of when you need it most. They are not afraid to deliver a little bit of tough love or a healthy dose of reality when needed. These are the friendships that keep us sane. So squeeze ‘em tight.
Sadly, the day came when I had to send Maddy on her way back to the land of the free and the home of the brave, and this left me feeling just a teensy bit homesick. This was, after all, the exact halfway point on my big, exciting, sometimes scary semester away. Halfway. A bit more than halfway now, actually. Even as I type that I think it must be a typo. Sometimes I look at the next seven weeks and think, That’s it?? That’s all the time I have left here? Then on other days, when I am a bit less enchanted by the glamorousness of being “abroad” and a bit more enticed by the comfortableness of being, say, in my own bed at home, I scroll through my iCal aghast, and think, That’s it?? I’m only halfway through? Then I put down my phone and eat my own words. “Be here now.” Right-o, mate. I’ll get right on that.
It’s almost as if those words transcended upon us all at the same time. And by us I mean my group of friends here and I. (Shameless plug that I do, indeed, have friends here besides fictional television characters.) After all of our friends and family left and each of us had our own sad, sulky, Celine Dion “All By Myself” moment, we looked at each other with conviction and said, “It’s go time.” (Those were actually the words spoken, yes.) Enough with the funny business. It is time to take advantage of time before time takes advantage of us. After an inspiring conversation with a woman in Starbucks, who is harnessing her inner Julia Roberts and going all Eat, Pray, Love on Europe, and her London-native friend, we made a London Bucket List. It’s a list we’ve been promising ourselves we would make for awhile. Now that it’s actually a thing, we have no excuse but to absolutely exhaust every item on it. That is because it really is go time, and in every sense of the word. It’s go time with school, because now comes the actual writing papers and taking tests part we’ve all been squeezing our eyes shut to in hopes that it might go away. It’s go time at the gym, because those gym memberships were not free and our personal trainer friend Adrian is probably hardcore judging us for being seemingly more committed to our Lulu ensembles than to the workouts themselves. (Adrian, if you’re reading this, I am sorry for missing abs class again, and I promise I will come back.)
Most importantly, though, it’s go time in London. Talking to the two women in Starbucks gave us about a million and one ideas of things to do in London. And with the vast pool of knowledge from the many different guidebooks each of us brought to London, collectively we could probably rule the world. (Knowledge is power. I love books.) Yes, we live in a lovely area that has so much to offer, but there are so many more neighborhoods with so much more to offer all over London. Way more than you can count on all of your fingers and toes. Wouldn’t it be a pity if we missed out on them?
Fueled by newfound enthusiasm, we packed this last weekend to the gills with Bucket List items and other productive things. For our Modern Popular Music class, Abby and I went to a blues concert at a bar in Soho called Ain’t Nothing But the Blues on Thursday night. If you’ve ever met me, you know that “edgy” and “hipster” are not among the most commonly used adjectives to describe my persona. So yes, we did feel a tad bit out of place. Also, I think the guy next to me was smoking a joint. I think. This did not, however, keep us from having a fantastic time in a very new environment. The singer reminded me of a Caucasian, slightly edgier female version of Little Richard. (For those of you who are not currently enrolled in COM5105 Modern Popular Music and/or proficient in your knowledge of R&B artists of the sixties, you may recognize Little Richard as the guy with wild hair who sings the Rubber Ducky song on Sesame Street.) To say this lady knew her way around an electric keyboard would be an understatement. Yes, Abs and I were engaging in local culture and tapping our toes with the best of ‘em at the blues bar, sans drugs/tobacco.
It doesn’t hurt that the weather has been uncharacteristically glorious this week. The sun shined so bright and the air was so full of fall that it would be a crime not to spend as much time outside as possible. On Friday, we went back to the Borough Market, because nothing says “October” like an outdoor market and freshly baked apple crisp. On Saturday, we took the tube to a sweet little suburb called Hampstead and wandered through Hampstead Heath. Hampstead Heath is a huge nature area that makes you feel like you’re deep in the English countryside when in reality you’re only about forty-five minutes outside of Central London. The Heath was the most perfect fix for our autumn appetites. The winding paths take you through hills and valleys, near ponds and trees, and (the best part) to a vast overlooking field that presents the most stunning view of the town, sprinkled with colorful treetops. Not even a spendy, trendy DSLR camera can do this view justice. I think I said, “You guys, this is SO beautiful,” approximately eighteen times in the time we were there.
|October and London markets make a great pair.|
|Hampstead Heath. Doesn't this just scream Pride & Prejudice?|
The next morning, we set our alarm clocks early again and took a trip to Vauxhall City Farm for Halloween Opening Day. We were told this is the closest thing we’ll get to a pumpkin patch experience here in London. There weren’t really any pumpkins, but there were babies and animals and baby animals, so we were happy. I got up close and personal with an alpaca, and I also saw a rabbit that rivaled the size of my dog. Deciding we had made enough farmyard friends for the day, we strolled along the Thames River from Vauxhall toward the London Eye, where we had a nice lunch before heading back to Kensington. Riding high on a successful weekend and feeling rather ambitious, Abby and I went home and booked a trip to Ireland! Just another day in the life, huh? In other news, I had a chocolate chip cookie that changed my life. I’d chock that up to a successful day.
|Man of the coop.|
|In another life, this guy would have made a great Emperor Kuzco.|
|This miniature pony is riding high at the top of my Christmas List.|
Oh, London, could I ever be finished with you? Even if I spent a lifetime here, I doubt I would ever say I did all there was to do, saw all there was to see, and went everywhere there was to go. Having lived here for weeks now, I’ve become quite accustomed to the city, but it somehow still feels just as new as when we first became acquainted. I’m still uncovering new places and learning the ropes, and I think I still will be up until the day I leave. London’s like this. Right when you think you’ve got her all figured out, she does something to surprise you. She refuses to be put in a box and she never fails to throw something new at you when you least expect it. A new restaurant when you thought all the good food was too expensive. A new view that leaves you speechless just when you thought the city was just tall buildings and busy streets. A new experience when you so ignorantly thought you’d done it all. This general understanding that you will never figure London out keeps you on your feet. And it keeps you hungry for more.
I am over halfway done with my semester abroad. Eight weeks down, seven more to go. And you know what I’ve learned these past few weeks? I have only scratched the surface. They say when you’re in the middle of something rarely do you truly understand the magnitude of it. Or, in another sense, rarely do you understand that it is truly a blip on the radar of life. So here I sit, in the middle, and I think I can finally say I am starting to understand that concept. There is so much more to be done here. And if the past three weeks have taught me anything, it is to start now, do it now, and do it all.