Oh hi, Hawaii!

Hello everyone. It’s been a while since my last post, since I decided that this would primarily be a travel blog and I haven’t done a LOT of travelling lately (except for the requisite trips back and forth from Spokane, which are fun for me but dull for you. I aim to please!). So really, my time has been spent mostly in Seattle and the surrounding area…except last month when I went to HAWAII!!!

Diamond

My first time at Waikiki Beach!

Rewind a bit: I was unemployed this summer (an issue which mercifully is no more), so I spent a looot of time lazing about. One bright afternoon I was lying on the grass at Green Lake in Seattle with my buddy Yelena, and she mentioned her upcoming trip to Hawaii and said something about how I should come. “Haha,” I thought, and went back to reading my magazine. Which may or may not have been Cosmopolitan. Anyway, I kept thinking about Yelena’s offer and wondering if such a thing were possible until the next time we were at Green Lake. This time, she reiterated her offer: “You should really come, I have an extra bed in my room.” Interesting. I mentioned this to my dad during a phone call and he seized the opportunity to buy my plane tickets as a birthday present. Thank heaven for birthdays! The trip was officially on!

Wake

Waikiki beach and some cool peddle boat thing

After saying a quick hellogoodbye to my lovely Spokanite friends (and attending the wedding of my beautiful friend Colleen), I rode the Greyhound to Seattle, packed haphazardly for my trip, signed paperwork for a new apartment with my roommate Hillary, then got to the airport in the nick of time–err, an hour and a half early. I am a paranoid flyer, having missed a flight from Utah and burst into tears at the airport at the impressionable age of 15. That’s another tale for another day.

Anyway, my flight was fine and I got into Oahu at about 8 pm on August 13. I was greeted by lusciously humid night air and spent the next hour trying to find The Bus, which would take me to Waikiki. Finally I arrived at Yelena’s time share (she sent me the wrong address at first so we were a block apart, each wondering where the heck the other was!) and we went on a night stroll on Waikiki Beach. The next day, after planning activities for the week through the time share’s managers, we went to the beach and relaxed, alternately swimming and (in Yelena’s case) tanning. That night we went to Zanzabar, a hilariously tacky nightclub that had SALSA! I hadn’t danced for a while but it was a ton of fun! If you didn’t know (and I assume you didn’t), Oahu is apparently a great island for dancing! Most of the locals I danced with were really skilled. We met a group of Marines who were not so skilled, but they were super nice! At about 2 am we were danced out and headed home with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. Or something.

Creep

Yelena and I demonstrating The Creep.

The next day: POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER! We drove up to Laie with Yelena’s parents (which was a gorgeous drive!) and bought tickets once we got to the PCC. The place was incredible! They set up exhibits for several Polynesian islands and at each one there were presentations and activities which gave us a glimpse into the culture of each one. We saw Maori men and women performing the Haka, a Hawaiian man who played the ukulele as two girls demonstrated the hula, an a Samoan presentation that included how to start fire, harvest coconuts (hint: climb up the tree and grab them), and squeeze coconuts for milk. The presenter was hilarious! In the afternoon there was a boat parade which featured catamarans with dancers doing the dance of their particular island (most mind-blowing was Tahiti, with dancers shaking their hips with lightning speed). We also got to see the Laie Temple, which is called ‘the Taj Mahal of the Pacific’ and was lovely, and go to a luau! I tried poi. I was not a fan. After a quick look at the gift shop we proceeded to our seats for the show, “Ha: Breath of Life.” It was pretty cool! The dancers were incredibly talented, especially the ones who twirled and threw flaming batons. It was a long but fantastic day.

Tahitians

These Tahitian dancers were AWESOME!

 

Dancing

This is a marriage proposal, Tahitian-style.

 

The next day, we went to the beach in the morning and swam, and then made Yelena’s mom incredibly nervous by going parasailing! Yelena and I were picked up at the time share by a really chatty Hawaiian man and then driven to the harbor area, where our boat was loading. We slathered on sunscreen and headed out onto the water with ten other parasailers-to-be and two guides. Yelena and I were the second group to go so we got to watch an adorable Japanese family go up first. Then it was our turn! We harnessed up and got one of the guys on the boat to take some pictures for us:

parasail

Our parasailing guys kindly gave us a refreshing dunk into the Pacific

It was much less intense than I thought it would be, even with the 600-foot tether, but it was really fun to feel like I was floating above the Pacific! When they brought us back down to the boat, they dunked us in the FREEZING water, which seemed unnecessary.

That night we went dancing again to a club called Vice, which was about a mile from our apartment. Yelena walked in her salsa shoes like a champ! We met up with one of her salsa friends, I successfully imitated being a 21-year-old, and we were in! Again, the dancers were fantastic. This club actually had a less-sketchy vibe, thanks in part to the older couples present, and pretty great music! One man who asked me to dance the bachata asked me, laughingly, “Where’d you learn to dance?” and, meekly, I answered, “Washington state…” I’m not a great dancer by any means, but I think he just assumed that Washingtonians aren’t generally great dancers. Comparatively, I bet this is true.

The next morning we went dolphin watching and snorkeling on the west side of the island. It was good fun! Dolphins are inquisitive and came up to our boat, occasionally jumping for our pleasure. For lunch we had tasty burgers on delicious taro buns, and then, bellies full, we were ready to snorkel (?). We went to what is called Electric Beach, apparently because it is near an electrical station that makes the water nearby warmer and thus attractive to fish. There were tons of different fish, including those fancy yellow ones you often see at Petco. I missed him, but other snorkelers saw a sea turtle! I had a great time, even though I managed–in Hawaii–to get REALLY cold.

Dolphin boat

This is a picture of a smaller boat, which had more success getting dolphins to frolic

That night there were fireworks put on by the Hilton, and we went down to Waikiki beach to watch the sunset and the show. It was a really relaxing, fun evening with a festive vibe–tourists from all over the world (I heard some Argentinian ladies talking nearby!) were there to see the spectacle. After such a fantastic sunset, the fireworks seemed almost redundant, but still fun and pretty as ever.

Sunset2

The sunset was beautiful!

Sunset

And twilight was not too shabby!

Finally, Saturday came, and with it, my first time surfing! Yelena and I rented boards and she gave me a quick lesson (namely, try to balance and take cues from other surfers) before we paddled out. I LOVED the feeling of gliding over the water as I paddled–it was like flying almost! Once we were out I kind of sort of caught waves, though I never managed to stand up, and looked desperately for Yelena because I decided I needed some pointers. And I found her, right as she caught a massive wave and rode it alllll the way back to the shore. She is good at EVERYTHING! So for the rest of our surf time I kind of mirrored what the people around me were doing, every once in a while falling off my surf board for variety. I really enjoyed the attempt and I wish I lived closer to the sea so I could get better! It’s a great work-out.

Surf

Our chariots

Later that night we went to Zanzabar once more–this time it was club dancing and less my speed, so I ended up sitting and chatting with a guy I met while Yelena danced.

 

Sunday morning, I woke up and realized that I needed to find a church! Since there is a church school on Oahu, I figured there would be lots of different wards for me to go to. I used the handiest of tools, the Meetinghouse Locator on lds.org, to help me find a church meeting I could attend. Since I was in Waikiki my options were a little limited, and the two meetings within walking distance were either a YSA ward about two miles away or a Tongan-language ward a mile away. I put my desperate desire to meet a nice Mormon Tongan man aside and decided to go to a meeting in my own language, so I got dressed in the weirdest church ensemble ever (since mostly I’d brought beach wear to Hawaii) and trekked over to the Institute Building near the University of Hawaii. I’m SO glad I did. I am always amazed when I go to church in a new place that I can walk through the doors and be surrounded by the familiarity of the Spirit. I took the Sacrament and listened to      several talks from church members, one of whom was originally from Utah and had decided, on graduating college, “Why not go to Hawaii for law school?” And there she was. The congregation was a fantastic mix of transplants: several main landers, some native Hawaiians, and many different people from (I assume) the Polynesian islands. I loved the visual reminder that people, from all around the world, can be united in their love of Christ. Traveling is always an unexpected affirmation for me that the Gospel is for everyone and that Heavenly Father loves all of his sons and daughters. At the end of the meeting, in true Hawaiian tradition, the congregation rose and sang “Aloha ‘Oe” with such a beautiful reverence. I wanted to cry. I didn’t, in that moment, want to ever leave.

Laie Temple

I love temples! This is the Laie temple, right near BYU-HI campus.   

But leave I did, for another afternoon on the beach with Yelena and her family. Since it was Yelena’s last night, we wandered around the International Market and Waikiki Strip, eventually heading to the Shorebird, which was having a karaoke night. We listened to some good singers, some not-so-good singers, and a man who first sang a duet with his daughter and then, as she ran off with some friends for a night out, commenced to sing a heartfelt ballad about love that was lost. We decided he was a divorcee.

Monday came and off went my lovely friend and her family for a fun week on Maui. I walked just a few blocks to my hostel, Hostelling International–Waikiki, where I was greeted by the most apathetic hostel worker everrr! But I will write about my solo adventures later. Suffice it to say, for now: GO TO HAWAII! It’s awesome, truly.

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“I hope I’m not making you uncomfortable”: France in a Nutshell

The title won’t seem so weird once you’ve read my many tales of being hit on. Ah, Paris, the city of Love. My itinerary after Scotland was to spend a couple days in London once again, doing some of the touristy stuff I hadn’t made time for the first time around. I went to the National Portrait Gallery, which I loved, and to Westminster Abbey. I cheated a little and attended a service rather than paying a £13 entry fee, so I didn’t get to examine things as closely as I might have liked, but I did get to experience a beautiful service and get to see how the Church of England operates. Some statisticians estimate that about 12% of England actually go to church regularly, so I’m fairly certain the congregation was made up of tourists (the people next to me were speaking Italian). There was a men’s choir which sang intermittently during the service and it was one of the most ethereal, beautiful sounds I have ever heard. It literally gave me goosebumps to hear their voices, so perfectly harmonizing and praising God. I also got to take the communion, which was interesting. The girl ahead of me in the line didn’t quite understand how to go about things and dunked her communion wafer into the wine, then ate the wafer. The Abbey itself is gorgeous; I think it may even be worth the £13 admission price!

After the service I headed to the Tate Modern to meet Erik, a former TA of mine from UW who was doing some research in the area for his dissertation. He actually wrote me a recommendation letter for the London trip a few months ago! We headed to Costa for coffee and caught up, since we hadn’t seen each other since the class I took from him ended. It was fun to see someone I actually knew in London! Erik got his master’s in Scotland so it was fun to tell him about my trip there. After coffee I left to get dinner and grab my luggage from the hostel. I ate some cheap Indian food in Holborn in a little park and saw an adorable old man walking around and whistling. He winked at me! Aww old people. Eventually I ended up at Victoria Coach Station and boarded my bus to Paris. The ride was uneventful but pretty long, with a midnight wake-up at the border to have our passports checked. They didn’t stamp mine unfortunately so I have no proof of being allowed into Paris (which was a bit awkward when I was heading into Spain).

Finally, the next morning, I woke up to find that we were rolling toward Paris! We arrived, I disembarked, and I promptly spent a few hours sitting in a park reading whilst sitting atop my luggage. For some reason I was hesitant to go to my hostel right away (since check-in wasn’t supposed to be until four pm and I got into Paris around 7 am), but eventually I decided to just head over to Montmartre to the hostel to see if I could check in SUPER early. They said that for me check-in could be at two and kindly let me leave my cumbersome luggage there until it was time to officially check in. At that point it was about 11 am so I spent the next few hours wandering around Paris. Near the Sacré-Cœur Basilica I got hit on, the first of many times, by an artist who wanted to draw me or something, I think. He said no one should experience the city of love alone and winked. Sketchy. Later, at the base of the hill, I ran into a group of swindler-type guys selling bracelets, one of whom asked if I would “have him for boyfriend.” This was the point where my imaginary boyfriend sprang into existence.

Later, I stumbled upon the Boulevard de Clichy, which to my surprise turned out to be the red light district of Paris (sex shops galore!). I quite unexpectedly ran into the original Moulin Rouge! As a HUGE fan of the movie, it was both exciting and anticlimactic to see the actual building. The shows cost around 100 euro to see, so I quickly decided not to attend. I turned back at that point and wandered elsewhere past a train station, lots of shops, and what I think must have been Little India (a street with several sari shops, Bollywood movie stores, and Indian restaurants). Eventually I walked back to the hostel, checked in, and slept for a few hours in my room, which oddly for a hostel only had three beds in it and an ensuite shower and sink! (A plug: Caulaincourt Square Hostel was definitely the best of all the hostels I have been in, and I’ve stayed at seven different ones so far.) When I woke up I assume I walked around some more, I don’t really remember.

The next day I headed over to the Eiffel Tower because it’s a given. It was cool to finally see it! I took several pictures, some of which are very tricky portraits of both myself and the tower, and checked to see how much it would be to go up. Too much, I decided (I feel like a lot of my blogging is about how expensive everything is; apologies). So I walked around the area, stopping at a little grocery store to buy a baguette and some cheese for lunch–how very French. Then I sat in a park and ate while people-watching. It was a little less enlightening because the natives were inconsiderately speaking French so I couldn’t eavesdrop as easily! I then walked toward the general direction of the Arc de Triomphe, which was further than I had guessed! On the way I saw the Seine, an Egyptian obelisk erected in the Place de la Concorde, a LOT of designer shops, and Saint-Augustin, a large church which, though quite impressive to me, doesn’t seem to be a big tourist destination. It was lovely though. Finally I reached the Arc, which is quite large and sits elusively on a roundabout of sorts in the center of lots of traffic. Luckily I noticed the underground tunnel leading to it before I tried to dodge hundreds of Parisian taxis to reach it. The Arc, which is covered with reliefs and inscriptions, is beautiful. It is possible to go to the top of it, which I saw a lot of people doing but decided not to do. I took a lot of pictures then left in search of a meal!

Here I will admit something shameful: I was quite intimidated by being in a place where I don’t speak the language at all, so I didn’t go out to dinner or into many shops due to a dread that people might try to speak with me. The fear was largely ungrounded since mostly people in Paris spoke English quite well, but years of hearing about Parisian contempt for foreigners left me wary. I literally had no experience of people being unwilling to speak English though, so please throw that stereotype out of your mind! I think if I hadn’t been travelling alone I would have felt more adventurous, but alas.

The next day I woke up to have breakfast, which was free at the hostel and was so good! Croissants, juices, cereal, hot chocolate, tea, coffee, etc. were available. It was nice to have that provided each day. I decided to go on a walking tour with Sandeman’s, a company that provides free tours in several European cities. The guides work for tips, essentially, so if you are exceedingly cheap it literally costs you nothing (you’ll be glad to hear that I tipped fairly well). The tour was led by a Dutch guy named Onno who speaks fluent English due to his childhood spent watching American cartoons, he told us. Who says television is bad for children? Anyway, it was a great tour! For almost four hours the group walked all around the city, seeing the Notre Dame, the Louvre, and some of the things I’d seen on my own like the Eiffel Tower. Along the way Onno told us funny stories about French history and taught us the equestrian statue rule, which is accurate about 70% of the time: if a historical figure is depicted on a rearing horse, they died a historic death; on a horse with feet off the ground, an unnatural death; and if their horse has its feet planted firmly on the ground, the rider died a boring natural death. My favorite thing from the tour was the Lover’s Bridge, which connects the Louvre and L’Institut de France and is covered with locks that couples lock onto the gates of the bridge. They then throw the lock’s key into the Seine to symbolize a love that is ‘locked’ or eternal. Apparently this bridge was in Sex and the City? I loved it though and went back the next day to take some more pictures of it.

Later that night I summoned my courage and went to the store to buy dinner (I mean it when I say I was afraid people would speak to me in French!). As I was microwaving my food in the hostel kitchen I bumped into an Australian guy who apparently was studying the language in the area. We talked for a while about our travels, French people, and art (this was the point when I was warned about the Louvre from both the Australian and a really nice man who works at the hostel). The Australian left eventually, awkwardly kissing me on the cheeks with a charming, “I hope I’m not making you uncomfortable, it’s French.” Since he was basically the only person I’d talked to that day I didn’t especially mind the gesture. Ah, to be lonely in Paris.

               

       Mona Lisa       Victory Leading the People

My last full day in Paris was spent primarily at the Louvre, which I stubbornly decided to go to despite warnings from a man who works at the hostel that “it’s pointless…too big and too normal.” He was kind of right: there were a lot of works that were exciting to view because I’d seen them in textbooks or on television or wherever, but that was just the thing: I’d seen them. Frequently. Not much was especially surprising or moving because many of the works were so familiar to me (though I am a fan of sculpture and the Winged Victory of Samothrace did wow me). I think the Louvre is amazing and a good thing, but people who want to actually experience something emotionally in a museum would probably be better off at one of the impressionist museums or the Picasso museum in Paris. Eventually I left the Louvre, having wandered the HUGE museum (apparently it used to be a palace) for at least three hours. I stopped by the Parisian McDonald’s because I’d seen that they sold macarons, which struck me as delightfully hilarious. I bought some and they were pretty good, surprisingly (though I didn’t have a lot of basis for comparison).

Later that night I walked to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica again to take pictures of the city and the church at night. I went to the Moulin Rouge, wanting to see it all lit up, and stopped at a crepe stand. The man there was nice enough until he said, “You are so beautiful,” then asked me to stay and eat my crepe with him and then perhaps spend my last night in Paris with him (insert lecherous wink here). I politely declined. So FORWARD.

The next day I took a train to Lourdes, which is in the south of France and is a site of religious pilgrimage. My mom really, really wanted me to go. The area is lovely and quite warm compared to Paris. I stayed for two days, went to the grotto (which is where the pilgrims go–supposedly the water has curative properties and has caused miracles, but I am a little too cynical to believe that entirely), and wandered around a lot. The town seemed pretty small to me but has dozens of hotels to accommodate all the pilgrims. I did go to the fountain to be dunked, figuring both that it was worth a shot and that my mom would kill me if I didn’t at least give the waters a chance. It was an awkward experience, but the volunteers working at the grotto were incredibly kind and helpfully multilingual, so they eased the process. Being dipped in the waters felt sacrilegiously like my own baptism, so I felt a bit unsure about the whole experience. “Bathing” led me to believe that visiting the grotto would be less of a formulaic, symbolic affair than it actually was, but in reality the process required being all dressed in white and kissing a statue of the Virgin Mary. I don’t intend to be disrespectful, but for me it was really weird and sort of uncomfortable to visit. I know that for many it is a moving, life-changing experience, and I think that is worth something.

I left Lourdes on Sunday the 11th of September. I took a train to the city of Toulouse, which is close to Lourdes but much larger, and from there caught a bus to Barcelona, the destination I’d been eagerly anticipating for my entire trip.

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Harry Potter and Margaret Cho

I left for Edinburgh on the 27th around noon and got into Scotland about nine hours later (coaches, while economical, are not renowned for their speed). I had about three maps by the time I emerged from the bus station but none of them had the street where my hostel was located on them. I decided that as a birthday present to myself, I would take a taxi, which I think was a pretty good idea as the hostel was about two miles away and would have been rather unpleasant to find while dragging all my luggage along. When I arrived to my hostel I was greeted by a receptionist/bartender named Oliver who was, oddly enough, from San Francisco. He said he’d never fancied Seattle because it rained so much, at which point I interjected with “So you moved to Scotland?” It was raining that night, and was a pretty typical occurrence the whole time I was there. Anyway, I checked into my room and went to bed, happy to be in the land of my distant ancestors.


The next day I woke up 20! Happy birthday to me. It didn’t occur to me how lonely it might be to spend my birthday in a new country, but it did that morning! As it was Sunday, I walked about two miles to reach the Scotland-Edinburgh ward (there is only one church ward for the entire city!). The service was good—whereas in London there are mostly transplants from other areas, in Scotland most of the members seem to be authentically Scottish. I felt sick and left after sacrament meeting, then walked back to the hostel and slept for three hours. When I woke up I left to meet my friend Jillian from the London program and her boyfriend, both of whom were also in Scotland for the week. We had dinner at The Tron, a pub with some of the cheapest food I’ve seen in the U.K. I got cottage pie and sticky toffee pudding in lieu of a birthday cake. Jillian and Ethan were going to a ghost tour afterward and I tagged along. It was awesome! There are vaults underneath some of Edinburgh’s streets which were built to store goods but proved too damp for that purpose. Instead, poor people lived in them. At one point there was a fire in Edinburgh and people sought refuge in the vaults, which tragically ended up heating up (the guide described it as being “like a pizza oven”) and killing all the people inside. Thus, there are supposedly hundreds of ghosts still in the vaults. Next we went to Greyfriars cemetery, which has a prison yard where many Scottish resisters died. Our guide pointed out the Heriot school, which apparently served as the prototype for Hogwarts, and showed us the grave of a father and son named Tom Riddell (J.K. Rowling changed the spelling to work with the anagram but has confirmed that that gravesite is where she got the names). It was really cool! The guide told us the most common manifestation of a ghost attack is scratches on the body, but sadly I didn’t find any. Maybe next time!


On Monday my friend Milan from the London program arrived in Scotland and we did some exploring of the city and, more importantly, took advantage of the last day of the Fringe festival, Edinburgh’s month-long arts and entertainment festival. For only about 23 pounds we got tickets to three things (thanks in part to a half-price ticket booth): Alzheimer’s: The Musical, Theseus is Dead, and Margaret Cho. The musical was somewhat entertaining but, judging from the audience, was meant to appeal to people over 50. There were some pretty funny moments though, like when one of the characters was demonstrating how to talk to your grandchildren about sex and had some audience members demonstrate with balloons. Next, for a complete change of mood, we went to Theseus is Dead, a five-person production inspired by the French play Phedre. I liked it mainly because I’ve read both Hippolytus and Phaedra. It was quite dramatic and interesting. Next we went to Margaret Cho, an American comedian who apparently performs at the Fringe every year. She was really funny and very inappropriate, and she did the most hilarious impersonation of an Asian tourist I’ve ever seen. I’d recommend her if you like raunchy comedy. Overall the Fringe was fun—I think it’s best that I was only there for the end of it or I would quickly have spent all my money there!


The next day Milan and I made the trek up to Arthur’s Seat, one of the highest points in Edinburgh, which gives amazing views of the city and the North Sea. It was so hard to hike all the way up there but the views were worth it! Later we met Jillian and Ethan at Doctor’s, a pub, and had drinks.

On Wednesday we had a real tourist day. We started with the National Museum of Scotland, which is free and PACKED with exhibits (apparently it was remodeled recently and the collection expanded). I learned about early Scottish settlers, glass artwork (there was a free exhibit of a private collection recently donated to the museum), textiles, natural history, and ancient Egypt. There was also a rooftop vista which again had good views of Edinburgh—this seems to be a theme in the city’s attractions. After that we tried to go to Edinburgh Castle but didn’t want to pay the admission fee, so we instead walked the Royal Mile from that castle to Holyrood Castle, the official Scottish residence of the Queen. Again we did not pay the admission fee. We also saw Scottish Parliament, which is right across the street from Holyrood Castle and was designed in an exceptionally modern style. Next we went to the top of Calton Hill, which has a partial replica of the Parthenon and, you guessed it, views of Edinburgh (Milan called it “the most egotistical city ever” because all it has are places to view the skyline). We saw the Burns Monument and a monument to Nelson, to whom Trafalgar Square in London is also dedicated. I really liked this part of the city. From here we went to Princes Street, which is I believe the main shopping area in Edinburgh and the border into New Town. We tried to go to the National Portrait Gallery but sadly it was closed for renovation, so we walked around New Town and stumbled upon Rose Street, which has lots of pubs and restaurants. We went back to the hostel but returned to Rose Street later that night for the world’s smallest pub crawl. It was pretty cool! Milan had excellent whisky then disgusting whisky at Dirty Dick’s, a pub that serves 200 different varieties of whisky. Finally we called it a night and headed back.


The next day, our last in Edinburgh, we went to the tourist centre and found out how to go to Portobello, Edinburgh’s beach area. I ventured into the North Sea which was, as the Scots would say, bastard cold. We wandered around there for a bit then went back to the Royal Mile to buy whisky. Later we went to a pub so Milan could try haggis (I was not brave enough, so I went for bangers and mash—delicious). Finally we went back to the hostel and grabbed our luggage then took the bus to the bus station to catch our respective coaches back to London. We were almost late because I had the time on my ticket wrong, as did Milan. This seems to be a trend for me.

Overall, I liked but didn’t love Scotland. It didn’t have a ton to do, especially in the wake of the Fringe, and thus felt kind of dead. The people were moderately friendly but Dublin is still by far the friendliest place I’ve been to. I could see myself living in London, but Edinburgh is probably a place I would only go to for a visit. I loved all the random Harry Potter sites throughout the city though!

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Irish you were my boyfriend.

So, this one time, it was week four of my study abroad trip and, as it was the last weekend we would all be together, we decided going to Dublin was a simply fantastic idea. I wrote this on the ferry ride home that Sunday night and just haven’t posted until now, so here you go:

Our journey to Dublin started with me failing to buy my coach tickets on time. The coach was sold out when I finally moseyed to the website, so I (and my friend Libby) was forced to buy a train ticket. I was pretty okay with that considering it was only about 14 pounds more and we didn’t have to ride in a coach for several hours. We met at Euston station in London and caught our train to Chester, where we transferred to another train bound for Holyhead. We arrived in Holyhead to a series of signs in Welch, which, given my lack of research prior to the trip, led me to suspect that we were in fact in Wales.

Holyhead Station

Finally at about two in the morning we boarded our ferry to find—to our surprise—all our friends who’d taken the coach already on board! After my friend Adrian and I explored the ferry (called the Ulysses after James Joyce’s novel), we all settled down to sleep. I planned to sleep in a little chair bed like everyone else was doing, but I found that I was much too tall for that nonsense and soon moved to the floor. At about six in the morning I awoke to find that we’d arrived in Dublin! The city greeted us with a GORGEOUS sunset. We made our way to the hostel, where we rented lockers to stow our luggage, then went to find some breakfast. We found a very cheap cafeteria-style breakfast place called Kylemore which had a full Irish breakfast for five euros, tea and toast included. Already I was a fan of Irish prices.

Adrian is my buddy!

After stuffing ourselves with food, we decided to walk around the city a bit. We visited St. Stephen’s Green, Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral (the outside), and the river. Around noon we went to Temple Bar, which is a touristy pub area which apparently has a  lot of Irish music, and went to a pub there. Then, our group divided and I went with Jillian, Alison, Ben, Milan, Sher-min and Adrian to a tour of an old Irish prison. It was very interesting to see where prisoners were kept, why they were imprisoned, and how they spent their days in the jail. Adrian misheard the name of an IRA member who had been imprisoned there as “Tonald McDonald,” and figured that that was the inspiration for the terrifying McDonald’s clown.

After this, we went to the Guinness brewery to see how that particular brew is…brewed. It was really interesting. Guinness is made of four ingredients: barley, yeast, fresh spring water, and hops. Apparently the secret is in how they are blended together. We got a lot of free samples of beer (I gave mine to Ben) and saw decades of Guinness advertisements, some of which were hilarious (80s anything tends to be fantastic). Finally we went up to the Gravity Bar, which has an amazing view of Dublin. I took lots of pictures! We left, some with tears in our eyes, and stopped at Tesco to get dinner for the night. Later we went to a pub with live music. I was then walked home by my lovely pub companions because I was ready for an early bedtime.

The next day, we woke up in time for our free hostel breakfast and ate our fill. Then Alison, Jillian and I went off to shop and have coffee in Dublin. We found the cheapest store in Dublin and I bought an I <3 Dublin tote bag, which I am quite excited to carry around! We also went to the Sweetest Thing, a chocolate bistro. The owner came around twice and gave us free chocolates, which was one of our many “Irish people are SO NICE!” moments. We had a lot in our devastatingly short trip. We then shopped around in the shopping district in Dublin and went into a lot different shops, one of which sold crazy hats (a la The Royal Wedding) for crazy prices (as in wickedly expensive). We went into a lingerie shop then came out to encounter (in Alison’s opinion) the most gorgeous man in the world, playing a guitar and singing. Alison gave him two euro (which prompted Milan later to call her dumb). Then we decided to have a real Irish dinner at a pub, Sheehan’s. It was SO GOOD. Alison and I got Irish stew made with lamb and Jillian had a Guinness pie. We cheered along with the enthusiastic rugby fans crowding the pub, with no idea of what was going on, which was fun. Later we bought truffles at Butler’s, an omnipresent chocolate boutique, then went toward music which turned out to be a live concert with costumed performers.  We walked around a little more and saw a musician singing at a pub, so we stood outside the pub gates and danced along. He noticed and looked over frequently to make sure we were still participating. When we got back to the hostel we joined the rest of our group for a pub crawl the hostels were doing. We met a lot of cool people who were travelling and got to experience real Irish pub culture (think very friendly and VERY loud). We heard lots of live pub music (some of which I was able to sing along to thanks to the British characters on ‘Frasier’). In one pub we played beer pong and became a curious attraction to a lot of Irish people who’d never seen it played. I felt kind of like an American exhibit. Toward the end we were going to places with cover charges, which were free to enter for people who’d paid for the pub crawl, which Alison and I had not. We walked around instead and saw lots of drunk Dubliners. One guy riding past on a bike looked and me and said, “Oh, she’s so beautiful.” To which I said: “AWWWW!!!” I’m easily flattered, what can I say? We also went into a pub full of old people. Alison said, “Can we leave? People are staring at us.” I looked around to disprove that and saw three older men looking our way. We left.

Our final day, we had breakfast and Jillian, Alison and I went to Howth, a seaside town about half an hour by train from Dublin. It was GORGEOUS. We saw seals, seagulls, and tons of dogs. We went to a flea market and met a friendly guy selling books. He convinced us to buy some and gave us free bonus books. We chatted with him for a fairly long time and he shared with us his theory about why the Irish are so friendly compared with British people: the Irish have never ruled over anyone and are thus not elitist in that way. “Half of our country doesn’t even belong to us so we can’t really afford to offend anyone.” Fair enough. Later we walked on the boardwalk and saw a lot of sea lions poking their heads out of the water. Then we went to a farmer’s market and found a man selling macarons, so of course we bought some. He gave us each a bonus (read: free) macaron and we all ate them at a shamefully unladylike speed.

We got back, attempted to find somewhere serving dinner, and eventually just got slices of pizza at a little hole-in-the-wall place. Then Adrian and I stopped by a store and I bought myself a Guinness t-shirt to commemorate the trip. I know, I know: I don’t drink. But it is such a soft shirt! And it says Dublin on it, so…let’s pretend that’s why I got it. I think it will be my go-to St. Patrick’s Day shirt for years to come. We all got ready to leave for the ferry station and Libby and I discovered a lack of available public transport, so we hired a taxi and made it to the ferry quite quickly. The ride was pretty uneventful, then we had an unfortunate layover in Wales for four hours and finally boarded the train for home. Dublin was, in a word, fantastic.

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A Few Cultural Notes

Before my massive, two-weeks-worth-of-happenings update, I wanted to share with you some random observations about London that I’ve made, with no particular order or importance. Well, a few are important but I trust you can figure out which ones. Here we go:

1. Lack of religion: For those of you in the States who think, “No one goes to church anymore, what a shame” or alternatively, “Religion, in this modern scientific age, seems pretty outdated and naive,” you will be interested to know that Londoners agree with you. The last century has seen steady decline in the number of people who attend church here, with something like 12% being regular church-goers, according to some reports. This means less religious tension but also high rates of pregnancy in young (13-14) girls, high rate of divorce (about 43%), and a low rate of marriages. Most of the churches here are gorgeous but attract tourists rather than worshipers.

2. Kate. Moss. Is. Everywhere. British models can be divided into two categories: Kate Moss and everyone else, with each category getting about half of the available modeling jobs. Apparently Kate got married recently. This I know from Vogue.

3. Wills and Kate are ALSO everywhere. It’s actually funny to be here a few months after their wedding because a lot of the souvenir shops printed hundreds of commemorative key chains, mugs, t-shirts, postcards, calendars, etc. which they have not gotten rid of yet. In nearly every edition of every paper I read there is at least a picture of the happy couple, usually accompanied by a story about what they’ve been up to since yesterday. Her gorgeous wedding gown is also currently being displayed in Buckingham Palace, which has led to LONG lines trailing out the door and into the street.

4. Amy Winehouse, post-mortem, is ALSO everywhere. She died just before I came to London and for a good two weeks her face was on the cover of tabloids and newspapers next to a headline of questionable taste. A shrine to her was set up in Camden Town, an area known for drugs, drinking and music. It is apparently three stories high and littered with Strongbow, cigarettes, and other Winehouse-esque items. I was a fan of Amy Winehouse but nothing like some of the fans who have been pictured weeping copiously in front of the memorial. Apparently her parents live in the area I am staying in (Golders Green), and she was cremated just about a mile from the house I’m living in.

5. The street signs here are much cuter. Not just street signs, but those are the most noticeable. Instead of “Yield”, for example, it says “Give Way”. Since a lot of the buildings are old with low doorways, “Mind your head!” is a common sign. On the Underground, “Mind the Gap!” is an order one will hear an average of 30 times a day. I also really enjoy the Underground because if there is a delay, the train conductor gets on the loudspeaker within a minute or two and tells passengers what is going on, apologetically but promptly.

6. A shooting can be a catalyst for MADNESS. For those of you who haven’t heard about the riots here…you live under a rock. Google them, because I don’t know enough about it to do the story justice. Basically, a man named Mark Duggan was shot by London police (which is rare because the police don’t carry guns and have to receive special permission to use them), and his family set up a peaceful vigil. Somewhere along the line this turned into a protest and later, an all-out riot. People as young as nine (so I’ve heard) have been smashing store windows and stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of merchandise from shops. They wear masks and are in such large, violent quantities that the police are having trouble subduing them. Lots of things, including taxis and stores, have been set on fire, and apparently some people attempting to protect their shop were run down and killed. It is chaos at its most extreme. Apparently, according to one looter, “A redistribution of wealth.” The lower classes feel like they’re stuck being low class and as a result feel cheated to the point that looting seemed like a reasonable reaction. I have yet to see any rioters, but several friends have had their commutes disrupted because of closures due to rioting. My basic opinion is: These people are not civilized. Looting is selfish and cruel, and I am stunned that this is happening in one of the most well-known, wealthy cities in the world.

7. I love tea! On a lighter note, afternoon tea is still something somewhat common here, although it’s not as rigid a part of society as people seem to think. My friend introduced me to cream tea, which is basically a little tea party with tea, scones, clotted cream and preserves. SO good. I think I am going to pick up a habit that I will continue in the States. Tea party, anyone?

That’s all for now!

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Jude Law and a Semester Abroad

…is a song by Brand New which I played in my head as my plane whisked me from Washington, DC to London. If you haven’t listened to it, I recommend it.

Anyway! Here I am, out of the US for the first time in my life (seriously), and I must say…I LOVE IT HERE. I love the weather, which rivals Seattle in its bipolarity; I love the ridiculously convenient Underground system by which I can travel to almost anywhere in the city; I love the complete and utter diversity; I love that people dress well and jeans are the exception, not the rule; I love my professors and the students from UW who I am just now meeting in the UK; I love my host family and their kindness…there is so much more to say, but I have a feeling I could give you the world’s longest list and still not be through. London has a pulse and the city itself has a personality that is amazing. They love things that are old, as my professors like to tell us, so on the same block you can sometimes find architecture from 20 years ago and 500 years ago. Nothing in the States but the dirt and rocks themselves are so established! So yes, friends, I am having fun. I’ll give you the quick and dirty version of my last week here, starting with Thursday (my flight from DC):

Thursday: I woke up in the hostel at 7:30 am, got ready downstairs, tried to very quietly pack while all the boys (I was stuck in a room FULL of boys) slept on, and by 10 am was going stir crazy and trying my best not to panic with the realization that I WOULD SOON BE IN LONDON. Finally Stephen (my brother) woke up and we had some food. He went to the Space and Flight Museum while I looked at a few portraits in the Portrait Gallery. I saw Pocahontas’ picture and a portrait of Elizabeth I, both very admirable. Then I left to make the most out of my time in the same country as all my friends. I called my sister Thessaly, my best buddy Gabby, my sister-in-law, and my mom while looking for a place to mail postcards. Finally, Stephen came to the underground terminal to see me off (no point in him coming to the airport) and gave me an awkward hug. Aww sibling love.

SPIES

I got to the airport on time (as in two hours ahead) for my flight, which ended up being delayed about an hour for “mechanical problems”. Eek! I kind of wanted them to get a new plane rather than fix the one we had. Anyway, that was sorted out and I made my connection in New York with about five minutes to spare (please picture me sprinting composedly through JFK). I got onto the plane last, felt very awkward, and then relaxed once the plane ended up being delayed anyway. It was an uneventful flight but I did get to try airplane food for the first time, which I was disproportionately excited for. I flew American Eagle (a branch of AA I think), and the food was alright but not great, if you’re curious. I am not a great plane sleeper, so I watched a lot of shows on my personal TV and dozed a bit.

Finally at about 9 am people started to wake up and we descended. The views of the English countryside were lovely: lots of green and a few farms (this is nothing like London). I got very excited then! Since I was accepted for the London program it has seemed like a distant dream, but at the moment my plane hit the runway at Heathrow I realized…I was finally there. Finally travelling, finally seeing things I’ve seen photos of since I was a child. Cue euphoria. Customs was a long, dull process where I tried my best not to look suspicious (success!).

London skyline

I took the Tube to my home stay’s home in Golders Green (a suburb in Northern London). It took me a while to get money from the ATM, a little longer to change into cuter clothes, and more time still to find the train station from the airport. Thanks to directions from Phil, whose family I am staying with, I was able to get to the train station easily (despite an urge to fall asleep in my seat). I called him once I got to the station and he came and got me, thankfully. I didn’t bring a lot of luggage but what I have is very densely packed.

I’ll gloss over the weekend by saying: My host family is very nice and all three (Phil, his wife, and their daughter) are well-traveled and interesting. They actually have discussions about art and travelling over dinner! I don’t know why this comes as a surprise but it all seems very cultured. Their neighborhood is a conservation area, so it won’t be developed into thirty-story apartments anytime soon. The houses are lovely and narrow, with gardens and vegetable patches in the back yards. A system of hedgerows connects the neighborhood so it’s easier to walk through blocks. Apparently this area was designed as a sort of Utopia so merchants, artists et al could work and live together in harmony. The result is a beautiful area that is very green and seems a little closer to the country than you’d normally see in London. I am very happy to be staying here!

Two Italian girls were also staying in the house for another week (they left this weekend sadly) finishing a program in the city, and they are lovely! So friendly and funny. They invited me clubbing that Saturday, which due to jet-lag and confusion, I did not do. It would have been quite an experience!

My roommate Sher-min got in on Sunday and we (the Italian girls, Sher-min and I) went to shop at Spittalfield’s Market. I’ve never gotten so lost in London before or since! It was fun though to look at all the clothing stands and see a bit of native London life (people crowding into pubs at 4 pm!).

Our program started on Monday. I love our professor, Peter! He is hilarious and very frank, and he is our Art and Architecture teacher. The best way to see London is to walk around, and walk we do! Almost everyone in the group has a blister or two. Peter isn’t shy at all either: he often blames “that bitch Thatcher” for allowing so much antique architecture to be torn down in an attempt to modernize the city (only pubs, churches and Inns of Court are truly safe from this fate). We generally walk by buildings rather than going into them, so I have seen some of the most famous facades in the world! Westminster Abbey, the House of Parliament, the British Museum…in addition to Westminster Bridge, St. Peter’s, the Eye of London, Buckingham Palace…there are more that I can’t think of right now, but suffice it to say a LOT of downtown London. I think he’s brilliant.

Westminster Abbey

Our professor for British society and government (I don’t think that’s the official title but you get the idea) is named Mike, also a native of the UK. He is the epitome of a professor: white hair, elbow patches, a pipe. He also has a very dry sense of humor, which is delightful. A girl in the group said “Cheerio!” and he looked at her over his spectacles and said ominously, “Say it again.” She did not.

Sydney Kaplan from the UW is our third professor, teaching 20th century English literature. We had a very cool discussion about ‘Howard’s End’ by E. M. Forster on Wednesday. If you haven’t read this novel, do! It’s quite interesting especially when viewed from a pre-WWI context (and also kind of sad because of that). There is also a movie version which I’m told is awesome. I will be watching it when I get home. Later on Wednesday Peter met with the group to take us on a pub crawl. We met on Fleet Street at Ye Olde Cock Tavern (identified by the rooster sign) and visited five pubs in total (the last one was closed for renovations). Some of the pubs were full of business people and became much more crowded when thirty students wandered in! Some people drank more than others–one boy in our group wandered onto a train by himself on the way home, realized his error, and looked back at the rest of us as the doors closed. Off he went into the abyss (more accurately, the next stop). Funniest thing ever.

Black Friar Pub

Above: What you can’t see is the much more successful date happening three feet to our left. Below: Trying their hands at singing a drinking song.

The Cheshire Cheese

On Thursday we went on another walking tour with Peter and ended up at Maritime Greenwich (having seen a gorgeous Victorian meatpacking plant, St. Bartholomew’s, the official one-square-mile City of London and the infamous Tower of London), where we split for lunch. My friend Adrian and I went in search of pizza and found perhaps the worst pizza ever! It was like microwave $1 pizza in the US but cost seven pounds (to be fair, we did get decent fries and drinks). We reconvened at 2 and went to the Royal Naval Academy, which has the coolest. Dining room. EVER. The academy was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (he designed a LOT of things–Google him), and Sir James Thornhill painted what is now called Painted Hall. He was paid per yard so, to maximize his profit, he painted EVERYTHING in the room (ceilings, columns, walls, etc.). Thornhill had the idea that art could be funny so there are optical illusions, allusions to mythology and religion, a self-portrait with his hand extended for pay toward the King, and disgruntled-looking caryatids struggling under the weight of painted ceilings. It is hard to describe but actually being there is spectacular.

I feel like this is a really long entry! This weekend so far has consisted of…shopping! Well, not entirely, but mostly. My roommate and I met with some other girls from the program Friday morning and went to Top Shop and H&M. Phil pre-warned me that prices were higher in London so I didn’t buy very much (just some cute hair clips!). Sher-min and my friend Jillian bought the same cool leather jacket at Top Shop, and Alison and Jillian both got cute dresses there (on sale no less!). Later we met up at the Cheshire Cheese, another pub from our pub crawl, and got drinks (non-alcoholic in my case). I really like the pub atmosphere here. It’s really just social with none of the illicitness of drinking that American parties (especially in college) can have. I have sadly not been hit on by any cute Britishers yet–apparently, and this may or may not be true, the girls approach the guys here generally. I will not be doing that!

Today we went to Covent Garden to look at the markets and whatnot there. Alie and I got pies (Alie) and soup (me) at a very tasty shop. I had soup, bread and a soda for five pounds (roughly $7.80), which in a shopping district is not bad at all! It was delicious too. To eat inside a restaurant here is usually extra so we got our food for ‘take away’ and sat in a stairwell. Later we went to ‘The Icecreamists’ and got some delicious ice cream–berry and dark chocolate for me, espresso and milk chocolate for Alie. Covent Garden has a lot of street performers and we ended up being about twenty feet from one who was yelling that for a successful show he would need an audience. Valid. Eventually people crowded around. We saw a Jack Sparrow look-alike as well. OH on that note: the Painted Hall noted above was the setting for the scene in the newest Pirates of the Caribbean movie where Jack escapes from an audience with King George II in the dining room. Johnny Depp’s costume was on display there so we all took pictures with it. Also on the Hollywood subject, we visited King’s Cross station to see platform 9 and 3/4, but sadly the station was under construction. There was a little piece of wall with a trolley half stuck into it where people can take pictures pretending they’re headed to Hogwarts, but it’s just kind of in the middle of the street since they’re rebuilding so the effect is lost.

Yum!

I think I’ve caught you all up on my London adventures, with some gaping holes that I’ll have to fill in later. Basically: London is spectacular. Truly. There is so much to see, loads to do, amazing food…the list goes on. I love this city! I know some of you might have seen the airport or stayed here a day or two between flights, but I definitely think it’s worth a longer stay if you can manage it. And a word to my student friends: STUDY ABROAD. Now! Go somewhere, live out of your comfort zone, and do it while you’re young enough to get money and college credit for it. You won’t regret it.

I miss you all in the States (but not too much–London is a good cure for homesickness).

-Electra

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The Proposal.

I was talking to my friend a while ago, describing to her all the ideals of a perfect marriage proposal. A bit of background: In Mormonland, our weddings are generally held in a temple and usually only about 20 people attend the actual ceremony. Some people have ring ceremonies after (which I plan on doing), so their friends can witness some semblance of a wedding and feel like a part of their special day.

As you likely know, no little girl dreams of her ring ceremony, and from what I know about them, temple weddings—while of course very spiritual—aren’t especially personal. So that leaves you with the actual proposal. That’s when you can be really unique and in my mind a really exciting part of any courtship: the moment you realize you’ve found the person you want to be with forever.

So here is my list of things that would be cool on that special day:

1. Proposing at Multnomah Falls in Oregon. Even though it’s apparently a tourist trap, it is a GORGEOUS one. I have a very romantic picture in my head of what a proposal here would be like, and guess what? It’s awesome.

Multnomah Falls

2. The ring should probably fit. I was not blessed with particularly delicate fingers and more than once I’ve gotten a ring stuck on my finger and spent panicky minutes trying desperately to pry the ring off. That will ideally not be a part of my proposal day. For the record, my ring size is 7.5 (thank you Tiffany and Co.!).

3. The ring (yaaay ring!) should probably NOT have diamonds. Because of the whole slave trade thing. I like sparkling, but I also like not having a testament to consumerism and business monopolies on my fingers. If it HAS to have diamonds…they should be fake or something. Or a black diamond. Those are awesome.

Black diamond ring

4. There should be an element of surprise. How he will manage this AND the prescribed spot (above) remains to be seen. I suppose one or the other is acceptable.

5. He should go down on one knee. Call me old-fashioned if you must.

6. It should happen at a time when I look cute, so I can understand why he might want to marry me.

7. I should immediately say yes :-)

 

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