Monday, March 28, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
I'm not saying the weather's been so nice that last weekend I went to the same park twice in three days but... that happened. I also saw Buckingham Palace in the daylight for the first time, and it was just as unimpressive and simply-rectangular as it was at night. But we also saw flags, MANY ducks, and pelicans (sidenote: Pelicans? WTF is that, England?) so overall it was a quality excursion.
I have been wearing a rubber band on my wrist that I stole from work for probably about 36 hours now. Is that weird? Probably.
But the nice weather didn't stop with the weekend though, and having to stay inside ALL DAY on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday was mild torture. Especially when my friend texted me asking if I could leave work at 3 and go to the park with her. My heart literally broke when I had to say no. My co-workers might have heard it. But they already think of me as the odd American intern who tries to laminate papers without plastic and asks if addressing packages is the same as in the states. Altogether, an accurate picture.
Also, I didn't realize quite how pale I was until I was skyping with my friend who just spent his spring break in Costa Rica. Even on webcam the difference was extremely noticeable. One week in Latin America turned him about seven shades darker than a semester in England has made me. Whatever. I rock pale.
Except I miss my freckles. Freckles are cute, right? I like them. Plus, in German they're called "Sommersprossen." SO ADORABLE. Whoa, I also miss German. Why must I miss things?
Of course it was nice again today, so I adventured with some friends to find a library I need for a paper I have to write. After a little stint of almost getting lost, I tried to ask the middle-aged guy at the front desk a question, only to have him tell me, "Before you even start, your answer is: Sorry, I'm married."
So that happened.
And then we saw a very attractive boy on the tube. I thought that was a detail that deserved to be included.
Sorry this post had no organization. Plots and outlines are not my thing. Ranting is though, and I excel at it. GO BIG OR GO HOME.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I think I'll just rant for a while. OH I KNOW I'll split it into parts. Parts=GOOD TIMES.
Last week, a friend of mine in the program and I threw our English friends (you know, the ones who are better than you? Yeah, those) a party/dinner with American food and stuff. The menu consisted of cream soda (which we totally DID NOT attain from Sainsbury's or anything), green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce (kind of?), chicken, and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Both of us rocked out the cooking skills, and it was actually really good (no jokes about his happening on Internation Women's Day, please). Nothing went wrong if you don't count the power going out for some reason right when I was trying to cut the chicken. Which is really the ideal time for the lights to go out, when you're weilding large knives. Luckily, my friend had candles in her flat from the last time the power went out. Yeah, there was a last time. Unluckily, she didn't have any matches to light these candles. So instead we used phones and whatever for light because we are technologically aware. Until about halfway through the meal, when Josh finally says,
"Has anyone checked the fuse?"
So then it was Greg to the rescue, as light was returned to the flat promptly. But then they were swiftly turned off again because for some reason Josh liked eating in the dark. Memories.
While a bunch of my friends jetted off to Ireland last weekend, I tried to save money by staying in the city. But to assuage the jealous depression, I went with some friends to Bromley, a random suburb/town/something maybe 15-20 minutes from London. It was actually pretty lovely. Nothing like OMG SO GREAT LOVE IT but just nice. We spent some time walking around the "shopping center" (read: mall) there. That I actually found pretty ironic, because that's all I ever did on weekends in high school because.... Minnesota. And obviously I came all the way to England for such a new, rich cultural experience. But it was fun and I got Quizno's so ALL GOOD. We then strolled around this park set a bit away from the stores, and it was really cute and great and other words. I would be totally fine living there forever if I could teach American history in a high school there. If they had American history classes. Or high schools. *sighs forever*
And then we went to Spoons. I feel like this is how all my London stories end.
This morning I had to go on a field study to Canary Wharf along the Thames for my history class here, and it was kind of weird. It was like a different London, or not even London at all. Everything was new and business-y, I felt very out of place. There were tons of banks and whatnot, and we even saw a Bank of America, leading us to think, "Just how LONG was that tube ride?!" because we hadn't seen one of those anywhere on this side of the Atlantic. But I decided I will take old, gorgeous architcture over modern skyscrapers any day of the week. Which, in all honesty, I already knew. But whatever.
On Friday night, I went to a gig of this one guy who posts songs and does things on youtube. And while this might lead some to be skeptical of talent, that some is stupid, because it was a fantastic show. Besides one of the earlier bands, with a lead singer who screamed into the mic like a freaking baby bird. Calm down, man. You're fine. But it was super exciting because the guy, Eddplant, was backed up by two other youtubers I know of, and while I wasn't obviously fangirling, inside there was some squealing and jumping happening. Especially after I figured out another famous vlogger had been literally RIGHT behind me taking pictures.
London's just the best decision I have ever made in my entire life. And I decided to try using cake mix to make pancakes instead of pancake mix. Cake pancakes = ALWAYS a good decision.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
So before we get to the day of EPIC TRANSPORTATION I have a little leftover Normandy ranting to get out. Sorry! Well our tour was only three hours and it started at about 8:30, so we had the entire rest of the day to find things to do. We ended up just walking to the other side of town, where the British cemetary was built. Now I don't know who chose the location, but for some reason this place that deserves all the respect and lovliness of the American cemetary is set next to a soccer field and a loud major road. It just seems very off. But walking around the graves, I was struck by the alarming frequency with which I saw ages of just 19, 20, or 21. These were just kids, my age or even younger. Seeing this just reinforced one of my greatest fears- of finally finding someone who wants to be with me and I love, and then having them be deployed. I always joke that men in uniform are incredibly attractive (which is a FACT) but I can only imagine the pride mixed with terror I would feel if I was actually forced to deal with that. I already just have a friend in the Marines, and that worry is more than enough for me.
All the gravestones in the British cemetary had quotes on them, mostly picked by family members back home, and one really stood out to me. I'm paraphrasing, but it went something like,
"Forever there will be a part of the world that will always be England."
I wish I had pictures to share of this place, because I feel just as much respect and reverance toward the British sacrifices as I do American. However, I used up all the space on my disposable cameras being *that girl* in Normandy. Oh, you know *that girl*, the tourist with the loud disposable camera. You can hear her from far away, as her camera goes CLICK! then WINDWINDWIND as she turns her film. Because, yes, it is in fact 1997. Isn't Boy Meets World the best show EVAR? Ok, that joke doesn't work because Boy Meets World still is the best show ever.
But anyway. The day of travel. It started with us walking out of Bayeux to the train station. Incidentally, as we were walking, I figured out the spot where a picture from 1900 I had gotten on a postcard the day before had been taken way back when. That was pretty cool. So we waited a bit for our train, where once we got on they again did not check our tickets. Sweet. We got off the train in Caen, then figured out using our adult brains (ok mostly just my one friend's brain... but the rest of us followed him like CHAMPS) where the bus station was and what bus we had to take. We catch the bus and thank goodness I didn't grab a snack because I sat in a seat facing backwards and it's very difficult to appreciate adorable french towns, not to mention hold down food, when your body is rocked by nausea. We eventually arrived at our stop, and I peaced out of that scene so quickly you wouldn't even believe it. We then walked to the port for Brittany Ferries, and the ocean was like, right there. Which I guess is exciting to people who aren't me. Then it was time to wait for our boat. Because we were taking a boat over the Channel. I don't think I've mentioned that yet. But yeah, that happened. When we went through security and customs, our passports were stamped with a little boat symbol, which I'd joked about when they were stamped with trains before, but then it became reality because OBVIOUSLY I'M MAGIC.
The ferry was so massive and ridiculously cool, probably because I've never been on anything like it before. It took all my restraint not to spread my arms in the front of the boat in dedication to one of my favorite movies of all time, but I didn't because there were people around. Embarassment always trumps self-expression. Always. We also really wanted to listen to "I'm On a Boat" because that's just what you do on a boat, but it mysteriously disappeared from my Ipod. Disappointment. So we just boated around for another six hours.
We landed in Portsmouth around 9pm, then caught a taxi to the train station. Whereas we thought our train into London was just half an hour in length, we quickly realized 0030 means arriving at 12:30 and our train was two hours. So that was fun. Back in Waterloo (HOME AGAIN GOD I LOVE WATERLOO), we waited too long for a bus, but eventually made it back to the flats. So if we're keeping track, that's a train to a bus to a boat to a taxi to a train to a bus.
Well, I hope you enjoyed BEDFORT. I sure hope nothing exciting happens in the next few days. I need a break. I only have so much clever, and this pretty much drained it. I AM OUT OF FUNNY.
Just kidding. I can never run out of funny. I'M HILARIOUS.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
So just a warning: this is not going to be a normal post. I'm going to be recounting our day in Normandy, and it's really going to be less "Omg I fell down in front of some foreign people and they laughed at me LAWL" (even though that did happen) and more thoughtful reflection. If there's one thing I refuse to joke about, it's the sacrifice of soldiers. So if that's not your thing or you don't find it interesting, you probably shouldn't even read this. Just saving you from boredom.
Taking the tour of Normandy was probably the best decision I've made in a very long time. Our guide picked us up at the Bayeux train station and proceeded to drive us to the beaches, all the while giving us background information on the area and D-Day. For example, as we were leaving town we got on this road that apparently was built by the British right after they arrived to make travel around Bayeux easier. On this street are a few roundabouts, but in the area they don't call them that or the French word for roundabout either. Instead they still call them by the British term "bypass", or, as our guide said, with their accent, a "beepass." Driving through the rural area to get to the beaches was just as you'd imagine the french countryside to be. Certain areas seemed to be right out of Band of Brothers, with hedges and trees, while there were also tiny, adorable towns with livestock right off the side of the road. Another anecdote- every one of these tiny towns had its own church, predictably. But when the Allies were bombing the area, they would first drop flyers over the towns warning the citizens of what was coming. They knew the Germans often set up guards or even mines outside the towns to keep the people in the town, and many took refuge en masse in the churches. So when they were bombing, they avoided hitting churches or cathedrals. I'm not sure how good their aim was or what their success rate was, but I'd like to believe this was effective.
Our first stop on the tour was Pointe du Hoc, a German artillery point where the Rangers scaled a cliff face before the invasion. This land was actually given to the United States, so while we were there we were technically in America. I didn't know anything about this place before the tour, but it was incredible. The ground is still covered for yards with craters and some German bunkers still stand with enough stability that you can go into them. There is also a bunch of barbed wire still lying around and giant blocks of cement are strewn all over, from when the Germans blew up one of their bunkers with a grenade. When you see the cliff face and think of the Rangers climbing up there using just rope, it's truly terrifying. While there was something like 250 when the mission began, I think something like 90 of them were left after only a few days. On the edge of the cliff, there stands a memorial in the shape of a dagger, which is the Rangers' symbol.
Our next stop was Omaha beach, which is what most people think of when they think of Normandy and the invasion. And actually seeing this place and knowing what took place there was extraordinary. What I didn't know and what really struck me was that the first lines on D-Day were not made up of members of the Army or the Marines, but were of the national guard. I was pretty confused when our guide told us this but he explained it this way: When you are implementing such a grand invasion and movement, you can't or shouldn't put your most trained or skilled men on the front lines. They'll be needed later as the mission continues inland. So these men of the national guard made this sacrifice on Omaha, and the soldiers of the other branches were preserved in greater part thanks to them. However, while there on the beach, our tour guide did let us know one of the major inconceptions about the beach invasion. Thanks to movies like "Saving Private Ryan" (one of my personal favorites), most people think the vast majority of casualties from D-Day occurred on the beach. But in reality, only about 8% of the casualties occurred on the beaches. Also, the start of SPR shows soldiers getting off the duck boats and being taken down by machine gun fire. But this was impossible, because only cannons could have reached that far into the water, and as we already learned, the Germans moved their cannons away from Pointe du Hoc and the beach earlier. Our tour guide also told us that what is now Omaha beach was a popular tourist area before the war, and after it was over, the locals tried their best to return it to its former status. They have since been successful in this, and he told us a story of a veteran returning to the beach and seeing young children playing in the water. The man starts crying as he watches and says to his companions, "This is why I fought."
Our last stop on the tour was the American cemetary over Omaha beach. Like Pointe du Hoc, this area was American territory. Since its creation in the 50's, this place has been preserved and kept in pristine condition. Whoever it was who designed this cemetary completely hit the mark. It is absolutely gorgeous and completely respectful and reverant of the sacrifice the hundreds laid to rest there made. Now, I am by no means an especially patriotic person, I am much more likely to critique America than praise it (unless the Olympics are happening- oops I said no jokes). However, being in this place of national loss and seeing those sacrifices laid out in perfectly alligned rows that stretched on and on... it affected me. I'm really struggling to actually put how I felt into words here. All those men buried so far from home, they had mothers and fathers who had to continue living without their child. They had girlfriends and wives whose greatest fears were realized. They had children who would grow up without stories and sad expressions instead of their own fathers. Walking around the cemetary, I could not help from feeling incredibly guilty, and while it doesn't really make sense, I found myself saying "I'm so sorry" over and over to occassional graves. But this is why we need to preserve and visit these places: to feel something and better understand the reality and humanity behind the past.
Friday, March 4, 2011
You know how hard it is to draw a little French town using Paint? Very hard. ^See above ^
So we woke up on Wednesday needing to waste a little time in Paris before leaving for the train station at abour 1:30. We decided to do this by going to futz around on the Champs Elysees, and wow doesn't "futz" look really weird written down? Huh. We were able to leave our bags at the hostel after checking out because hostels are great. Why don't we have them in the States? And I know people are thinking, "Well we do. But people get hacked to pieces in them." But I haven't seen that movie so your argument is invalid. Wait, where was the movie even set? Probably in Europe, actually. All the terrifying things happen in Europe. Jack the Ripper. Mass public transportation. Kilts.
So we get to the street and of course nothing is open because it's 9am and Europe is ridiculous. So we just find a coffee shop and stare at each other tiredly until the stores start opening. The first place we go to is Sephora, but I'm pretty sure I was just as uncomfortable in there as our guy friend, because my make-up never costs more than $5, and those employees looked like they were about to pounce at any second. I wanted to gtfo asap. After Sephora we split from our poor male friend (who of course went to Adidas, Nike, and all the car stores because he's a MAN), and did the girl thing at a few random places. At H&M I looked like a first-rate creep because my friends were trying stuff on for a long ass time, and I was just standing, staring at the merchandise for about twenty minutes. Any longer and I probably would have been thrown out on the street with my purse dumped out. An important stop for me was this media store place that I forget the name of, where I was determined to find a new memory card. Unfortunately for me, even though my camera is only three years old, it is apparently obsolete, and none of the cards were compatible. Fricken technology.
So we went back to our hostel to get our stuff, but while there I had the time to check my email and do internet things. Now, English keyboards are different from American, but those were pretty easy to get used to. French keyboards are not like that. They're all completely screwed up and I had to actually go upstairs and ask my friends how to find and press @. Now @ is a very important key. I shouldn't have to fight the computer to try to figure it out and how would I even know that pressing alt and then the key gets it to show up? How would I ever figure that out? That's completely mental. HARRY POTTER ALWAYS RELEVANT. We then hopped on another train to a train, where we had paid for our tickets weeks ago, but they were never checked. So glad I spent 30 euro on a trip that could have been free. Awesome.
We arrived in Bayeux and one of the first things we saw was a sign on a cafe saying "Welcome to our liberators." Not a joke. We were able to make our way to our hotel with the aid of a very helpful car dealership worker and her highlighted map of the town. Speaking of the town, it was adorable. I didn't learn this until the next day, but whatever- what makes Bayeux so unique in the area is everything looks how it did before the war. Before and on D-Day, the Germans occupying the town split to go to Caen, a nearby bigger town. So Bayeux was the first town liberated and had no destruction at all. And you can tell walking around the village. SO MANY BAKERIES. That doesn't really have anything to do with anything, but it's still a fact. Pretty much all I had to eat while there were baguette sandwiches and pain au chocolats (pains au chocolat?). Once again, NO REGRETS.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
So it's late again, and I really don't want to write this right now. But I'm pushing through it because I'm a freaking trooper and I am commited. YOU ARE WELCOME.
Versailles was history-tastic, despite the fact that we fought for a discount on tickets, but didn't get any. Psh. France. Right off the bat on the outside, you can just tell it's a big deal. Gilded stuff everywhere. Then inside, that gilding is complemented by chandaliers. Seriously, going through my pictures of France, a pattern emerged and that pattern was bunches of crystal and lights hanging from ceilings.
We did get an audio tour to go along with our tickets, but mine unfortunately died in the second or third room. So nerdy me didn't get to learn quite as much as I would have liked to. Some of my friends did offer theirs to me though, and I declined, so I don't really have anyone to blame but me. Still, let's just blame the French, k?
Overall, it was pretty awesome to walk around a place so integral to the history of its country, and honestly, if I had been a French peasant in 1792, I would have been pissed about how the royals lived too. They had it nice up there. After strolling around the gardens for a while, we hit up the gift shop (duh) for some postcards then went to McDonald's (DUH OF COURSE MCDONALD'S AT VERSAILLES) for lunch. This McDonald's was awesome though- they had theese booths with touchscreens where you could put in your order and just pick it up at the counter. I tried it and it was fantastic, mostly because I am a total fan of not interacting with other people.
Back in Paris, we went to the Musee D'Orsay, basically just to see some Van Gogh's, which we did, along with this guy who was literally wearing a black and white striped shirt, a man scarf, and a red beret. He was American. While there though, I remembered my deep love for Monet, even though as I've already stated, I have a very limited amount of patience for art. However, I can now be all pretentious and say, "Oh don't you just LOVE Monet?" and point to the print of water lillies I got there.
The rest of the day consisted of: -a crepe with chocolate -randomly bumping into one of our friends but almost missing her because of all the attention being given to said crepe -walking around the Sacre Coure (another cathedral) -drinking a 2 euro plastic glass of white wine from a local grocery store, which was 12.7% -going out at night to see the Eiffel Tower lit up, while the effects of said disgusting wine were not completely out of my system -realizing after one too many pictures that my memory card was completely full. OH WHAT WILL SHE DO NOW? What a cliffhanger.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011