Back in America

Well, I’m back! I returned to the United States of America on Sunday via U.S. Airways (motto: “We hate you, passengers!”) and have already been to New York City and back, been to Rita’s and WaWa, and generally enjoyed the company of my family and friends.

The last event of my time abroad, which I’m not going to cover in much detail, was a three-day trip to Barcelona to visit my friend Nate. It was great! The city is very relaxed and nothing costs very much money; I got to visit the Sagrada Familia and practice my Spanish. Also Nate made me eat octopus which I did not like quite so much.

The interior of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. The greatest work of religious architecture in the world.

The interior of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia: the greatest work of religious architecture in the world.

I want to thank all of you who’ve been reading and commenting on the blog all semester. You might be interested in some statistics about “Lion in London” — you also might not be, in which case I suggest you skip the next four bullet points.

  • 1,760 page views
  • 51 comments 
  • Top commenter was Aunt Laura with 16, followed by Aunt Diane with 5
  • 28 posts

I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of my time abroad and what I’ve learned. And the simplest answer is also the most complicated: I don’t know, entirely. But what I do know is that I will never again underrate the effect that family and friends have on a person’s happiness. Studying abroad, as much as I might have made it seem, wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I’m really appreciative of all of you who took some interest in my travels, and I hope I’ve repaid you in turn with some moderately entertaining blogs. (For the record: I think this Browbeat piece makes a fairly stupid argument.)

What’s going to happen to this space going forward? I don’t really know. But I do have a lot of thoughts about things, and it’s possible I’ll be writing about them here. It is my belief that far too many people, twenty-somethings included, feel that they have interesting thoughts which are in reality self-absorbed drivel. The only way to avoid that trap, though, is to practice a bit. So let’s see where this goes.

That’s all for now. Good night, and good luck.

Back in Britain and Trip Photos (Part I)

Hello there! Rome and Paris were fantastic but I have not the energy to do a blog on them at the moment. This morning I hopped on the Eurostar and was back in London before I knew it, where the weather has been… spastic. But everyone speaks English so that is a step in the right direction.

And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

“And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

I’ve put pictures from the first half of the trip up on facebook — even if you’re not a member, you should be able to view the pictures by clicking on this link. Please alert me if it doesn’t work for you! Rest assured that these photos have been curated and captionized so you get the highlights.

I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss...

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss…”

Over the weekend I’ll throw up a post on Rome and Paris and post pictures from the rest of the trip. But now it is time to relax a bit.

The last few days, Memento-style

Hi — quick update time!

Working backwards: I made it to Rome today via a hyper fast train from Florence. Loved Florence. The David sculpture is incredible and well worth the price of admission. Visited the uffizi gallery and cathedral as well, randomly met some other UCL folks in my hostel which was a nice surprise.

Highlight of Venice (the previous two nights) was a Vivaldi concert though the whole city is very unique if a bit of a tourist trap. Train via Munich was quite long but worth it for the view of the alps and the chance to say that I have been to Austria. Edelweiss!

Didn’t mention in the last blog but Munich highlight (if you can call it that) was Dachau — the most haunting and painful place I have ever visited. Took me a while to recover.

Now, four nights in Rome and two in Paris before England calls me back on Friday in the morning. Any Rome tips or suggestions from the peanut gallery?

20130407-005821.jpg
Venice

20130407-005836.jpg
Florence

The defenestration of Prague

Guten tag! I made it to Munich in southern Germany yesterday afternoon after a trip on the “Expressbus” from Prague. Much more comfortable than the Megabus — plus, there’s a stewardess on board who sells you snacks and things. New modes of travel abound; in Prague, it was an extensive tram network that took Nate and I around. (Low-quality wifi in the hostel delayed this post from coming online.)

So, about Prague. An extremely beautiful and picturesque city, Prague is defined by a river that bends like a lower-case r — most of the old and new towns are on the southern portion, while the north and west banks hold the castle and numerous excellent vantage points.

The journey was uneventful if you don’t count me battling food poisoning in the morning, a shortage of seats on the train for the first two hours, and Nate slicing his thumb open on the razor in his bag as we got off the train. As a result, Friday night was a rest night — collectively we probably slept for 25 hours or so. I was pleased to learn that Prague I an incredibly inexpensive city. One dollar buys you 21ish koruna, and I was able to get through three days on 2000 koruna (or crowns).

We explored most of the city on Saturday, walking along the northern park where we were staying towards the Prague Castle, which houses both the Czech seat of government and the ancient St. Vitus Cathedral. On the way in, we ran into a guy who was in my 12-person writing class freshman year. Small, small world.

Afterwards, we headed over the Charles Bridge towards the Old Town (see the video in previous post for a sense of it). This is also where Nate and I sampled a variety of Czech street delicacies on Sunday, most of which can be described as “meat and/or fat.” Prague is really a great walking city and we were able to cover most of the highlights in the two days (including the Jewish Quarter and the lengthy Wenceslas Square — yes, of “good king” fame).

As for the language… we were not so good at it. The only word or phrase I figured out was (roughly) “mluvlite unglitsky” — do you speak English?

That’s about all for now. Train to Venice tomorrow via Austria…

Prague Old Town Square

Hi all — leaving Prague in the morning via a bus to Munich, Prague is a really neat city and I enjoyed my time there. Full write up tomorrow when I have a chance to scribble down some thoughts. In the meantime, though, enjoy this video of Easter celebrations in the Old Town Square on Saturday!

Berlin: or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the wall

Ahoy citizens of the Internet! Leaving Berlin tomorrow morning after a very exciting 2.5 days with Nate.

The highlights: walking along the path of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, watching die Mannshaft take on Kazakhstan in a bar, the Neues Museum on Museum Island including the bust of Nefertiti, meeting Britons in our hostel, the Berlin Zoo and their impressive collection of big cats, and the DDR (East Germany) Museum.

20130329-015937.jpg
Berlin Wall

The lowlights: basically nothing.

20130329-020107.jpg
Bust of Pericles in the Altes Museum

Berlin turned out to be a really fascinating city, full of history — much of it quite sad but nonetheless offering possibilities for the future. The city is quite sprawling and somewhat empty, much of it having been destroyed in the war and reconstructed over the last few decades. Our hostel is in a great location in a Turkish/ethnic district in the south of the city — lots of food in the area including “doner kebab.” Did you know that kebab was actually invented in Berlin? Lots more good, cheap food than there was in Amsterdam, including some baklava and traditional German sausage and curry wurst. Tonight we actually has Mexican food for the first time in Europe, which was fantastic (particularly the margaritas).

20130329-020227.jpg
So much chocolate…

Our hostel was also really nice, and we spent some time hanging out with a large group of British university students who had been biking to Berlin. All in all I have no complaints at all about this city. Very excited to see Prague tomorrow after a four hour train ride!

20130329-020330.jpg
Me after eight days of traveling.

Paris and Amsterdam

Hello there – it is nearly 2 am in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, but I wanted to quickly update the world. Paris was fantastic — after an eight hour bus trip I arrived on Thursday evening and spent a pleasant 2.5 days there. Our apartment near chatelet was very central and much ground was covered on foot. Local delicacies were consumed (wine, cheese, baguette, crepes, mussels, fries etc) and a good time was had.

20130325-020623.jpg
Last night the night bus took us through Belgium and an absurd snowstorm to Amsterdam, where we were thrown out into the freezing cold at 7 am. So a long day here. Red light district quite a surreal sight to behold but the city is very beautiful (lots of canals). If only it weren’t freezing!

20130325-020644.jpg
More exploring in store for tomorrow then Berlin on Tuesday!

Trip time

Ahoy hoy! Tomorrow morning, after I have finished a fascinating paper on architecture, I’ll be taking the Megabus to Paris, France.

I’ll be in mainland Europe until the 13th of April — Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Paris again. I’ll post pictures every few days here on the internet so everyone can be jealous follow my trip!

My last act before traveling was to get a very thorough haircut at the UCL Union haircuttery. Don’t want to have my absurd hair weight slowing me down.

As the French say, bonjourmercifromage au revoir! 

Cardiff, the Borough Market, and Sutton United

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve already been in England for a month! What better way to celebrate then by leaving it? The highlight of the last week was my day trip to Cardiff, Wales on Friday — but let’s take things in chronological order.

  • On Wednesday afternoon I went to the National Portrait Gallery, which was excellent. Have you ever looked at a history textbook? Well, if there’s a picture of a historic figure from England, the source is almost certainly a painting that hangs in this Gallery. It’s a fascinating collection of five hundred years of changes in government and, perhaps more importantly, fashion. (Ruffs have gone out of style, I think, which is too bad for Queen Elizabeth I.) I also attended a UCL basketball game in the evening, which is the topic of my Columbia Spectator column today.

The Brits are totally on top of this "Super Bowl."

The Brits are totally on top of this “Super Bowl.”

  • Thursday saw a trip to the “Borough Market” on the recommendation of my Aunt Diane. Located south of the Thames, near the London Bridge and the brand-new Shard tower, the market is a collection of all different types of butchers (dead animals hanging everywhere), bakers, jam-makers (elderflower and gooseberry, anyone?), fresh produce, cookies and candy, wine (incl. chocolate wine which was odd), and much more. I had a lamb-burger and mulled cider for lunch, but really just enjoyed the atmosphere — this is clearly a popular spot among Londoners. 

oooooh jam

oooooh jam

  • I rose early on Friday to head to Cardiff, an easy two-hour journey west by train from London’s Paddington Station. It was a beautiful day in Wales, which it must be said looks exactly like England only with marginally more sun. At least, that was my impression of Cardiff. The most jarring difference is that there is a bunch of gibberish written below all of the usual English signs in the town, which I take it is Welsh. Welsh looks like nonsense words and sounds like it also — I didn’t hear anyone speaking it on the street, but some of the videos in museums were bilingual, and Welsh sounded like someone hacking up a lung. 

what is this nonsense

what is this nonsense

  • The primary destinations on the day were three museums. The first was the National Museum of Wales, which featured some Welsh painting (underwhelming) and artifacts (fascinating) — there were also some paintings by Monet which were quite beautiful. I visited “The Cardiff Story,” a small museum tracing the history of Cardiff from a relatively small and worthless city to the capital of Wales. Very modern and interactive. But the best was Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd) where I spent over two hours. Audioguides are a great invention — I slowly paced around the grounds, which include walls reconstructed on the site of old Roman fortifications, a Norman “keep” dating back to the 12th century, and a Victorian manor house constructed by one of the rich owners of the property. There was also a museum of the history of the Welsh soldier, where the Welsh guide deduced I was from “the States” and subsequently proudly pointed to a regimental banner the Welsh stole captured during the War of 1812. 

Steep hill + moat + archers = this would be difficult to capture, I reckon

Steep hill + moat + archers = this would be difficult to capture, I reckon

  • By this point, it was 5:30 and getting dark, and I decided to walk about thirty minutes from the city center to Cardiff Bay. This was a bad idea, as it almost immediately started raining and made me an extremely unhappy camper. I checked out the Senedd (the seat of the Welsh National Assembly), the “Dr. Who” experience (expensive and closed), and the new Millennium Centre concert hall (grand). I walked back to town, rain thankfully completed, and enjoyed a wild boar burger at a British joint called Gourmet Burger Kitchen (like Shake Shack, sort of). I ambled about for a little while longer — lots of people were out and about, as the next day would be the kick-off match of the rugby union “Six Nations” tournament and the streets were filled with pregaming Welsh and Irish. (One bonus point if you can name the other four nations!) I was back in my room in London by 12:30 am, exhausted but glad to have made the effort.

Cultural understanding

Cultural understanding

Facade of the Millennium Centre

Facade of the Millennium Centre

  • The next morning I headed back out to Sutton to get lunch with my Aunt Joan. We were joined by her friend Elizabeth — despite the distinct age gap between me and the rest of the party, it was quite a fun time. We went to a restaurant at Epsom Downs (a racetrack) which I had been to with Joan and my family in 2010. The food remained tasty and I tried a “shandy,” a drink that is about half beer and half carbonated lemonade.

Joan and I

Joan and I

  • Following lunch, I went to watch Sutton United F.C. play some soccer football. Sutton plays in the sixth division of the English league system; they are the approximate equivalent of a low-A or fall league baseball team. The pitch was little more than a muddy field — I was told that they had had several games postponed due to the field quality — with a stand on one side and something resembling a long dugout on the other side. The advantage, of course, is that I could hear literally everything going on on the field, and it was interesting to watch a real neighborhood team in action. I bought a yellow-and-brown scarf in the club shop; in the course of the exchange it was again deduced that I was “not from this country” but this and the minor faux pas of wearing an Arsenal hat while talking to a Tottenham supporter did not diminish their hospitality. And despite the cold I stuck it out until the end, Sutton scoring from a penalty kick (42′) and from a corner (85′?) to outlast Eastleigh (who scored a pointless goal in the 90+5′) – 2 to 1.

Sunset over the main stand

Sunset over the main stand

That’s more or less all for now. I had my first coursework due today and was up late writing it. Only two more days of class this week and then, somehow, I’m halfway done with my courses here?! I don’t have any class next week for reading week so Wednesday commences an eleven-day break. A good time to explore. I’m thinking of all of you back at home.

Milan: big cathedrals and learning Italian in 48 hours

After a busy weekend of travel I have returned to the UK — with the sole purpose, of course, of updating the blog. I was in Milan, Italy, visiting my friends Mallory and Haley (who is in Strasbourg, France, for the entire school year but came to Italy for the weekend). I have a whole album of pictures, which I put up on Facebook — you can view them without having Facebook yourself, just click on this here link. If there’s a problem let me know; now, on to the blag.

  • I left London to go to Gatwick Airport at 4 am, which was simply an absurd time of the morning. Getting to Milan required every form of transportation imaginable — a train to Gatwick, a plane to Milan Malpensa Airport, a bus to Centrale train station, a subway to Duomo metro stop, and finally a ten minute walk to my hostel. I flew on easyJet, a budget European airline which I commend for its lack of classes (no PriorityFirstAdvantage PlusUltra Business Gold Class) but which I condemn for its lack of leg room, seats that recline at all, or drinks on board. (In other words, an ideal budget airline!) In total I was in transit for about six and a half hours, even though the actual flight was about an hour and a half. It was worth it, though, to come up from the metro in the heart of downtown Milan, right in front of the Duomo — the world’s third-largest cathedral which took nearly six hundred years to construct.

Notice the presence of blue skies! A nice change of pace

Notice the presence of blue skies! A nice change of pace

  • I met up with Mallory and we got some lunch. Food, of course, is a recurring theme in Italy because it is all so tasty. Among the things I ate: panzerotti (like calzones but lighter dough), spaghetti, red wine (technically not food but cheap and full of tannins, or lacking in tannins? whichever one makes wine taste better), focaccia con proscuitto (which I somehow ordered for myself entirely in Italian using the words “si” and “ciao”), gelato (dark chocolate…), and of course pizza with tuscan sausage. Food was definitely a trip highlight.

Here is a tasty pizza which somehow only cost seven euros

Here is a tasty pizza which somehow only cost seven euros

  • History-wise, the neatest building I saw was the Castle Sforza. On Friday morning, I woke up and walked west past the Duomo towards the castle, a pleasant half-hour stroll in the gorgeous weather. The castle dates into the 1500s, but parts of it have been rebuilt since then — I can’t tell you the exact details because the English translations tended to be… inexact. Interestingly, much of its history was spent being occupied by various foreigners of the Spanish, Austrian, and French persuasion before its inclusion in the (future) Kingdom of Italy in the late 1850s. The castle (and much of the city) was undergoing renovations as the result of “EXPO 2015” which is coming to Milan in two years, requiring new coats of paint across the city (Mallory and I couldn’t get into the the enormous Monumental Cemetery because of construction). Inside the castle are a series of art museums, which I entered after the desk lady consented to let me use legal currency to enter. (I tried to pay with a 20 euro note for a 1.50 ticket, and she said she wouldn’t take it, but thankfully I had a 2 euro coin in my pocket.) Cool stuff including the Michelangelo I posted here over the weekend — he was working on this unfinished sculpture up to the day he died.

Different style of castle, certainly, than the older ones in England

Different style of castle, certainly, than the older ones in England

  • On the last day, Saturday morning, we went inside the Duomo, which is big but not particularly beautiful inside. Lots of memorials to dead cardinals (Catholics, not birds) whose corpses are lying around being generally creepy. There’s a really big organ and lots of painting and sculpture, but the overwhelming impression inside is dark and gloomy. The roof, however, is another story — the architecture is spectacular and the views only slightly less so. It was a good way to spend a morning, the weather peaceful and pleasant at around 45 degrees.

Spires everywhere

Spires everywhere

Haley and I in front of the Duomo.

Haley and I in front of the Duomo.

  • Some assorted observations about Italy. The Euro is stupid — the bills are weird and feel like cheapo Monopoly money, and the coins make no sense at all. There is graffiti everywhere, which prompted the sudden realization that Italians must have invented the word graffiti. I was very proud of myself for this. There were, indeed, lots of fashionable stores (though fewer fashionable people), with the balance being about 20% clothes, 10% bags, 10% shoes, and 60% underwear, which makes perfect sense. In Italy, they drive on the right which felt like the United States, though many of the roads are really old and made out of cobblestones. And on the way out we flew over the Alps, which were quite spectacular and which I hope I’ll get to see again sometime soon. (Delaware is not a particularly mountainous state, with the highest point a mere 447 feet above sea level, so I’m always fascinated by them.)

Now I understand why mountains slow down your armies in Civilization.

Now I understand why mountains slow down your armies in Civilization.

I arrived safely back in the UK around 4 local time here yesterday, and back at my room around 5:30. The evening was spent recuperating, as three long days and nights without much sleep had taken a bit of a toll. I woke up and explored a bit to the west of my residence for the first time, stopping in a pub to enjoy a Sunday roast with all the trimmings (roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, radishes?, and Yorkshire pudding). Back to classes tomorrow!

All the food I am intending on eating today. Plus, Chiswick beer!

All the food I am intending on eating today. Plus, Chiswick beer!