Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Travel writing, a market, a banquet, and Parliament talk

It’s been a while since I’ve updated, I owe you guys something. But first, here’s a little summary of each day:

Friday: Travel Writing Workshop, and Gloucester Arms

Saturday: Portobello Market and Medieval Banquet

Sunday: 7:30 PM Mass, and really nothing very exciting

Monday: Class meeting with Member of Parliament—election talk

We’ll start with Friday. In the afternoon I had signed up for this Travel Writing Workshop, as part of the Travelers’ Tales Festival. It was a whole weekend event, with talks about photography and travel writing for the two days. I just signed up for a workshop. It was located at the building, right down the road from me, of the Royal Geographical Society. So, I took the bus down two or three stops, got off, and headed to the building. It was in a pretty plain, run of the mill room, but the rest of the place looked pretty interesting. In between talks I walked around, and saw some of the maps and paintings they had hung up. Anyways, the workshop started off with a talk by Jonathon Lorie (who ran the event) and Matthew Teller and Sarah Monaghan. Probably three people you have never heard of, but the last two are travel writers, I’ll let you look them up. Now, I should say that most of the people there were pretty serious about travel writing, a solid chunk of them looking to make that their living. So I was sort of the odd man out in that sense. But moving on. The second part was what they called a “masterclass,” really a talk, by Chris Steward, who wrote a book called “Driving Over Lemons.” Now, apparently this guy was the drummer for Genesis when they started playing, but they, or he, moved on relatively early. He was very funny, and interesting, and listed a bunch of books to read, most of which sounded interesting. And then the last part was titled “Meet the Editors,” where they had Sarah Miller, who is the editor of Conde Nast Traveler, and Ed Grenby, the editor of the Sunday Times Travel magazine. It was interesting, I learned that magazine editors have to plan wayyy ahead to make sure they get articles published at the right time. Overall, it was a good experience, and I learned a thing or two from it.

That night, we’re still on Friday here, I went out with some friends to the local pub, Gloucester Arms (pronounced like it’s spelled Gloster). I had a beer and played some cards with those friends, and then we went back and chatted for a little while in a girl’s room. I have to say, so far I’ve found that wine isn’t all that great, and beer is alright, but nothing for me to get too excited about, which is probably a good thing.

Saturday, I slept in, a surprisingly rare occurrence for me here. That afternoon, I went to the Portobello Market. It was reallllyyy crowded. Which is fun in a way. My problem was that the group I was with took their time going through the area, and there was a lot of waiting for 15 minutes for people to get food. We ended up spending something like 2 ½ hours there, a little long for me. I plan to go back, they had some interesting stuff there, but will probably go by myself to get in and out faster. I’m glad I went, I just would’ve gone through faster.

Saturday night I went to the Medieval Banquet. It was a little on the pricey side, but worth going. And of course there were a lot of obnoxious people there, but you have to bet on that when you go to something like this. I feel like I’ve spent the last two paragraphs complaining about different things, so let’s get to the positive stuff. I went with two of my friends, Cameron and Leah. We sat next to some interesting people: a group from Holland on a vacation, a couple from Southampton celebrating their wedding anniversary, and an older couple (the wife seemed like she had had a glass of wine or two before getting there, and they didn’t seem to have such a great night). There were something like 350 people there, but it was in a solid sized basement room.

Sunday was more relaxing. I slept in again, couldn’t really fall asleep the night before. Didn’t do nearly as much, mainly because I had an earache to figure out. I went to 7:30 Mass at the local church with a friend, and then came back and hung out here. The homily was good at Mass, I do remember that.

Yesterday was another day of classes. But, for one of my classes we meet in 1 Parliament Street (the least fancy of the Parliament buildings) with a Member of Parliament (MP). We have people presenting on different topics each week, which he then analyzes, and corrects if need be. Our MP is Mr. John Hayes, the Shadow Minister for Education and Skills, or something like that. He’s a very nice guy, and like any politician can talk for ages. This week we didn’t start till 6:15, and by start I mean we got into the room then. He then talked about what is currently happening in Parliament, as they are about to come back into session in the next week or two (they’ve been in recess recently). I’m actually glad I took this class, especially at this time. There has to be a general election called here in the UK by June, and the Prime Minister gets to decide when the election will be. He has to give a certain amount of notice, and of course technically he has to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament, but in reality this is a huge tool for him. The current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is a few points behind the Conservative (sometimes referred to as the Tory) Party leader David Cameron. Our MP is a member of the Conservative Party, hence being a Shadow Minister (technically this Shadow Government is Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition) currently. So this is an interesting time for him, and for the Conservative party. The lead the Conservative’s had has narrowed, which will probably cause Brown to wait longer to call for an election. Of course, there is talk that even if the Conservative’s win, aka get the most people elected into the House of Commons, they won’t have a large enough majority in the Commons to create a government (a poll recently showed them getting something like %40 of the votes). Their electoral system is different from ours, and so is the way the government is run. But for now, suffice to say, there could be what is called a “hung Parliament” if the Conservatives have a numerical majority, but cannot get enough other parties to side with them in creating a government. This brings the Queen into play, and all sorts of interesting things could happen. I’ll leave you with that, though, hopefully it isn’t all too much to swallow. We had two presentations that day, and we are technically supposed to get out at 7, but we got out at 11:30, not bad considering we didn’t start the presentations until at least 6:30, maybe more like 6:45. Politicians can talk and talllkkk and taalllkkk. I had fun passing notes back and forth with a friend, though. I’ve found that I’ve done more note passing in college than I did in the rest of my life combined. And yes mom and dad, I’m paying attention, for the most part. But on a serious not, I’m hoping that something crazy happens with the government while I’m here, so I’m also hoping an election is called sooner rather than later…

That’s it for now, if I can say that’s it and not sound hypocritical (I feel like that’s not the right word to use there). I need to work on this putting out shorter blog posts idea…

Friday, February 12, 2010


I know, I know, another blog post, and a pretty long one at that. But, I hope it’s a good story. In the end, that’s what I would like these posts to be, stories; not just a boring statement of what I did and when, but a coherent narrative (yes, fancy words) of what I found interesting about my trips. That will come with time…

I had been looking to go somewhere, on a short day trip, for the past week or so. I figured since I wasn’t doing anything on Friday, I might as well go somewhere. So I looked on a map, and chose a random place. Well, relatively random. On my first try I ended up with Brighton. The train tickets didn’t look too bad, it was by the water, and there was outlet shopping. Some neighbors here said that they wanted to join me, and so we were figuring out tickets. But then, one of them pointed out that it was going to be cold, and that if we went in the spring it would be better. I realized that they were right, so I had to find new plans. After a little looking at the National Rail map and googleing, I landed on Colchester. Now, who in the world has heard of Colchester? I hadn’t before I started looking. Turns out that it’s the earliest settlement in England, and according to Wikipedia “it was mentioned by Pliny the Elder in AD 77,” and the Castle is older than that. I looked up the train and tours and all that fun stuff, and figured I’d just get the tickets the day of, in case I couldn’t get myself up or changed my mind at the last minute and went somewhere else.

This morning I got up at 7:30 (pretty early for me, although I was helped by the people going to Amsterdam talking outside), showered, had breakfast, and headed out around 8:30. I took the Tube from the Gloucester Road station to the Holborn station on the Piccadilly Line; then I went over to the Liverpool Street station from Holborn on the Central Line. From there, I went and got my ticket, one way for 22.70. Turns out I probably should’ve gotten a return ticket (meaning you get one trip there and back in a day) but I’ll remember that next time. Turns out when you buy your ticket, you can use it anytime that day, I thought they were just for a specific time. Anyways, I got my ticket, hopped on the train, and was off. It was nice, I got my own seat, the train wasn’t crowded at all. As you’ll read about it wasn’t that way coming back.

The train up was a pleasant experience. I saw where the Olympics are going to be held, there’s a lot of construction going on in the area, and saw what I would guess is the main stadium. I also saw some of what I assumed were the less well off parts of London, providing at least some perspective for me. Most of the trip was though fields and farms. I listened to some music and a podcast. When I got to Colchester, I transferred to another train for the short trip to Colchester Town (I didn’t want to walk, and turns out it was a solid distance).

Olympic area:

The town is a reasonable size, and I liked it. On the way walking up to the Castle (the main thing I wanted to see when I was there) I ran into some Mormons, who asked me a few questions and gave me a pamphlet. I kept walking up Queen Street, until I got to the park that the Castle is in. The Castle isn’t a big building, but it’s in a relatively big park. So, I stopped into the Castle, got my spot on the noon tour, and found that I had about 45 minutes to walk around. The park turned out to be nice, even during the winter, and as I was walking down along one of the paths, the sun came out. To be honest, I wouldn’t have been shocked if I met some amazing girl while walking around, it was just one of those odd, almost cliché, moments. Although it was chilly so even if I had met a girl I wouldn’t have been able to communicate very well, by the time I got back to the castle my lips were a little stuck. I took a bunch of pictures, including one of a squirrel that came about 6 inches from me, stopped, looked up, and went along on his business, obviously not caring about me.

The park:

The squirrel:

The castle:

Eventually I turned around and headed back. I grabbed a coffee at a local coffee shop, and the woman there was telling me she had just been on a trip to the US: Miami, Orlando, and Las Vegas. So we chatted while she got my coffee, then I went and drank it outside before heading to the tour.

The tour was good. A lot of bending over to go through small tunnels in the basement. On the tour was with a bunch of what I think were middle school kids. I had known they were gonna be there, but I wanted to do the noon tour; overall, they weren’t all that bad. The tour lady we had was interesting, and she took us down to the dungeons, and then up to the roof, talked about the different designs of the building and its various uses. At one point Colchester Castle was a Roman temple, and then it was transformed by the Normans into a fort. I’ll let you look up the information on Wikipedia. I will say that it was cool touching a wall (part of the base) that had been there since at least the 60s AD. Crazy.


View from the roof of the town:

When I was done with the tour, I made the decision to just head back “home,” well really just to London. I did wander around a little bit, and saw a local market and a few shops. But eventually I made it back to the train station. I got a ticket, went to the next stop, got a little lost, and eventually made it onto the train that was going to London’s Liverpool Street. This time the train was crowded, much more than it was leaving London. So that wasn’t as exciting. But when I got back to the London station, I had a thought. I was already reasonably close to the Canary Wharf area, which is where a lot of the modern buildings are. So, I took the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), which is an aboveground train similar to the Tube, to the Canary Wharf Station. The DLR like to bounce back and forth a good bit. But, Canary Wharf was interesting. It’s a very impressive area, and it reminded me a lot of New York City. Citi, HSBC, and Barclays (all huge banks) have big buildings there. I walked around a bit, got cold, and then found the Canary Wharf Tube Station. I got on the Jubilee Line, which has relatively modern/fancy stations compared to most of the other lines, took that to Westminster, and then headed back to Gloucester Road. Overall, I think I accomplished something today. I am pretty tired though, 7:30 is the earliest I’ve been up in a while.


DLR around Canary Wharf:

A few of the buildings:

Walked around a little here, and the Underground station is on the left:

Entrance to the Underground station:

Who knew I could write so much about a short little trip? Hopefully these aren’t too long for you, I don’t want to have people getting backlogged on them. Although, if nothing else, this process is good for my memory.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I just decided to leave this as one big blog post, but I've separated out the days. So, here goes:

Paris Day 1:

I AM IN PARIS! Crazy words, right?

The first part of this trip was taking the Eurostar train from St. Pancras Station to Paris. We took a bus to the station, and then hopped on the train. It was awesome. I got a backward facing seat, at a table with three other people. Half the seats face in one direction, half in the other, and in the middle they meet and there’s the table. The beginning part is interesting, because there are a lot of small tunnels on the England side of the trip, and going through them you get these crazy pressure changes, that completely mess with your ears. The English side is very pretty, a lot of rolling green hills. Then you go through the Chunnel, which was surprisingly fast. We weren’t sure whether we were in France or not for a while. The French side is equally beautiful, with wind farms scattered here and there plus the occasional small town. And we got to see the sun set over the French countryside. It was an unforgettable experience, probably one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.

The sunset:

Of course then you arrive in Paris. Really I could’ve gone on for longer, the train was pretty smooth for the speed it traveled. Plus I was obsessed with the train. I’m definitely taking it again (not counting the trip back). Anyways, then we took a charter bus from the station to the hotel, seeing a Paris Fried Chicken along the route. The hotel is nice. The room is small, but I found out I have no roommate! It’s great, a whole room to myself. I went out and ran into some people taking a walk. I joined them, and they decided to stop and get some wine. Turns out the place also has sandwiches, or whatever you call them here in Paris. It was a good dinner.

After that, they offered a boat trip and tour of the Eiffel Tower (one part today one part tomorrow) for 22 Euros. Most people did that, so we met up with the tour guides and headed off on the metro to our stop. The metro here has two decks, so that was cool, but the stations and most of the system were not nearly as nice as the London Underground. The city is also much dirtier it seems. Now, our guides had told us to rip our tickets when we were done with the trip there, because we’d get new ones on the way back. Of course, me being a genius, I ripped mine after getting into the system, not thinking about the whole exit part. So my ticket didn’t get me out. I ended up getting out (after standing to the side in embarrassment) by squeezing in with someone and sneaking through. This was at the Tour Eiffel station. So I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when I turned the corner a few yards out of the station and there’s the Eiffel Tower. We walked right by it, got onto the boat, and took a boat tour of some of Paris. The buildings are cool around the Seine. We passed Notre Dame Cathedral, which seems so much bigger from one side than it does the other. We’re going to try and go there for Church on Sunday.

After the boat tour I ended up hanging with some people who decided to get crepes. Figuring it was something one should do when in Paris, I got one. It was good, but I couldn’t get through the whole thing. I think it was too much chocolate and banana.

We passed a group of soldiers at the Eiffel Tower that were just standing there with rifles hanging down, right by a group of people trying to sell the flashing Eiffel Towers (you just have to ignore them). I felt a little safer knowing they had that visible security in the area.

Now I’m back in my room, and when I first got in and was typing this, I felt very overwhelmed. There’s so much to take in such a short period of time. I’ve enjoyed my time here so far. But I think London is still my favorite city. Probably followed by DC, and then Paris. Then comes New York City.

Day 2:

Today started out early. As in I woke up about 7:45, showered, had breakfast, and then we met for the bus tour at 8:45. The tour was cool, we got to see the major sights of Paris, which was nice. We stopped to go into the Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s huge, absolutely massive. And I’m excited to go to church there tomorrow morning.

The bus tour dropped us off at the Eiffel Tower. That was cool, but I’m not a fan of heights. Thankfully, we only went halfway up, as the top was closed. And it was a rainy day, so it wasn’t the best view, but I still was going crazy being that far up. I was ready to get down pretty quickly.

After that we went to the Louvre, which is massive. But, it’s also not all that interesting to me. I enjoyed it, it was cool to see the Mona Lisa and one of the famous statues, but really it just wasn’t all that interesting to me. I’m more of a landscape painting type of guy, and I didn’t see many there. Although I will say the quality/detail of most of the paintings there is unbelievable.

The Louvre:

Now I went through the Louvre with two girls, Jen and Tanya. After the Louvre, Tanya was meeting her best friend who was studying in Paris for the semester. Me and Jen felt like we didn’t want to interrupt and figured we’d let them have their own time to hang out. I was hoping I’d meet up with them later to get some food, but that never worked out. I ended up not accomplishing all that much the rest of the day.

So overall opinion on the second day: Paris is pretty, that’s true. But, there are definitely things I don’t like.

Day 3

Day three started early. Me and this girl Andrea (there were supposed to be other people joining us, never really got things worked out) went over to Notre Dame Cathedral and caught the 10 Mass. It was good, although they let people walk around the cathedral while Mass was going on, which I found odd. Also, the whole Mass in French part made it hard to understand.

After that I was going to go on a bike ride with these older guys Dom and Thomas, they work at the school. Paris has this system where you can rent a bike for one euro a day, but you have to switch out the bikes every 30 minutes. If you don’t return the bike they charge you 150 Euros for it. The problem was my debit card doesn’t have a chip on it. Most credit/debit cards here in Europe have a little chip, so you just slide the card in and the machine reads it. Mine don’t have that, so they didn’t work. That meant I couldn’t use a bike (Thomas tried some other cards he had, but even those didn’t work). Oh well. I decided to go down to the Louvre and hang out. I walked along the Seine, and the Louvre wasn’t a bad walk at all. When I went in, I just wandered around and found places to sit and watch. There were some big rooms that had statues, and provided a good place to hang out.

After the Louvre, I wandered some more, went into the Apple store right next to it, then headed to the Metro. While waiting in line to get a ticket (it took a while) I talked to a guy from London who was heading back home later. He was annoyed the lack of service in the Paris metro. In London, there are people in the Underground stations that help you, and really it’s just a whole lot better. The system is cleaner, better, all those good things.

When I got back to Gare de Lyon, I sat down in the station (which our hotel is right next to) and watch the TGV trains come and go. I saw three of soldiers walk through. They have these at the major sights, and I guess at some of the transportation hubs. This time two of them had rifles, and the other one was just looking around. I then went back to the hotel and sat down with people to wait for the Eurostar train back. I got bored a few times and walked back to the train station (the hotel is practically connected to the station), looked around, got some food, and watched the very serious looking soldiers walk through occasionally.

Gare de Lyon:

The soldiers:

The Eurostar back was fun, I rode backwards again (it really wasn’t too bad). I was at another table seat. So I talked to the people at both tables, took a short nap, and tried to work on some of my presentation. We stopped randomly in a small tunnel on the England side of the trip, and when the man came on the speakers, he said he was just told to stop and wasn’t sure why. But we got rolling again, and got in a few minutes late. After that we took the bus back to the school, and we were back. Oh and I went to get some Indian food (I think my mom will be happy I’m “expanding my horizons”), and got some chicken. The food was good, and it was definitely a different way of eating. They had fantastic bread, called naan. A good meal overall. I think my roommates gonna try and get me to have all sorts of different foods, which is good.

Overall, Paris really isn’t my favorite city. I think it might rank a little ahead of New York City, but it just isn’t all that great. Of course, I’m glad I saw it, it’s definitely a place you should see at some point in your life. I miss London, there’s really stuff that’s so much better there. The Tube is bright, clean, and has people there to help you if something isn’t working. It’s so much better than the metro/DLR system in Paris. It might be the weather, or that knowing someone who knows Paris and speaks French would make it better, and maybe I’ll go back some time, but the first impression wasn’t that great. Heck, maybe if I was in a different part of London (not as nice) I would have a different impression, someone was pointing out today that we’re lucky to be where we are. And, I should add that I can’t complain that much, I’m lucky I got to go to Paris in the first place.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Ok, so this has nothing to do with studying abroad, but it was funny to read this morning. Read through the comments, it really is funny how people can get so into ketchup: Ketchup

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Trying to find the library

Today, I went to the library. Or really I should say I tried to go. I wanted to get this book for a presentation I'm working on. The book wasn't at the library closest to me, it was at one a solid distance away. Now, I looked up where this library was on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea website. It had a map, showing the location of the library: Supposedly where the library is. Now, you have to scroll down a little. Of course, I assumed was correct. Bad decision. I remember the first week of classes my freshman year of high school my geometry teacher (can't remember her name, but she's still there) told us the classic "when you assume you make and ass out of u and me" statement. But moving on. If you click on the location that's part of the pop up on the page I just linked to, you come to here: Actual location of the library. Conveniently I found this out after I walked around the Notting Hill area for a while. It's a pretty area, but it was chilly and I have a bit of a cold, so it was a little frustrating not finding the library. So I gave up and came back to the room. It probably used up an hour and a half at most. Oh well, learned something new today.