I had a vision. A vision of orientation. And in this vision, I sat for hours and hours in a stuffy conference room where old men plodded through powerpoint slides and admonished me for future misdemeanors, and I was really jet lagged and really hungry. Now fortunately, this wasn’t the prophetic trance kind of vision because then it would have come true, alack. Nope, it was just a vision of unnecessary pessimism.
Orientation was great!
Ok, yeah, there were powerpoint slides, and conference rooms, and old men. But the old men were all pretty cool. We got Andrew, a jolly Welsh guy who told us about how weird Americans are (they wear neon and talk to random strangers and are all good at sports, the WEIRDOS). We got David, a friendly London policeman who schooled us on not getting mugged (which is a very useful skill!). And we got Lord Taverne, a very dignified and very funny member of the House of Lords who chatted about current politics and events.
There were a couple of other meetings too, but orientation week turned out to mostly be a time to explore London! Yipee!
(Boring but informative side note: this was the orientation from IFSA-Butler, the study abroad agency that my American university contracts with. It was me and about 200 other students, who are all going to various London area universities through IFSA-Butler’s programs. IFSA-Butler has orientation so we can get a little bit used to England before moving into our schools. Ok, end of boring but informative side note.)
One of our tour guides told me that no one will believe I actually went to England unless I have pictures of Big Ben and Westminster. So I guess I had better post those now and alleviate your doubts immediately. I really am here! In England! I promise!
You also get the red double decker bus for good measure. I’ve always seen those busses in drawings, but I wasn’t sure if they were tour busses or charter busses or something of old that isn’t actually here anymore. But it turns out they are the official city transit busses and they are everywhere!
A fun fact about Big Ben: the first bell they had cracked, so they got a new one from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Two months later, this one also cracked, but they didn’t want to replace it again. So it’s still cracked, which is said to give it a distinctive ring. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry also made another famous bell. Can you guess which one?
Oh yeah, it’s the Liberty Bell.
On our first day in London, my roommate Juliana and I decided we should go to a pub, since that’s a very English thing to do. We walked around looking for a cute one that would serve us dinner and found this one, the Cambridge.
Juliana doesn’t like fish but felt that it’s pretty much compulsory to order fish and chips on your first day in England.
Unfortunately, traditional or not, fish is fish, so in the end we both ate my macaroni and cheese.
We stayed in the St. Giles Hotel off Oxford Street, so we were in an excellent location for exploring. I saw lots of cool and unique places, like this umbrella store from 1830. It was lovely inside and full of very beautiful but very expensive umbrellas (I saw some for £100). A tour guide later told us that you know you’re a real Englishman when you have umbrellas to match all your outfits.
And we saw Convent Garden, which is currently featuring this fun balloon installation. Julianna and I ate in a really cute crepe restaurant in one of those little hidey holes in the lower level. There were musicians playing outside, and the whole place was very sweet.
All of the IFSA-Butler students got to see shows in West End, and my group went to War Horse. The puppetry in this show was just astoundingly amazing. Half of the main characters in the show are horses! Played by giant metal framework puppets with three puppeteers each! And actors actually ride them! And the movement of the horses was so realistic. I started cringing and could barely watch when some of them started dying. It was worth seeing the show just for these puppets. As for the rest of it… I liked the happy beginning and happy end, but the vast desert of despairing bleakness between the two was just a little too much for my sunny disposition. My favorite parts of the show were the singing and the COMIC RELIEF DUCK. There was a DUCK PUPPET. Oh my gosh, it was so cute!!!!!!!!!!!! They didn’t allow photos, but you can see one online here: http://blog.fabulousfox.com/image.axd?picture=2012%2F4%2F852-288tighter.jpg
On our last day in London, we went to Greenwich. We visited the Maritime Museum, the chapel and painted room at the Old Royal Naval College, and of course the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory.
For lunch, I told our tour guide that I wanted to eat somewhere “good and local.” He said, “Oh, what you want is pies and mash!” He directed Juliana and I to this lovely restaurant, Goddards, which has been there since 1890. It was perfect!
The staff and the food were both really lovely. The first things on the menu were “pies and mash,” “double pies and mash,” “pies and double mash,” and “double pies and double mash.” The food was very simple but so pleasant and homey. I learned that “mash” is mashed potatoes.
I got apple pie for desert, and they asked if I wanted custard. “Oh,” I thought, “I know what that is. It’s ice cream!” So I ordered it. Nope, it was this:
It was served steaming hot and was strongly vanilla flavored. I liked it ok but didn’t eat all of it.
While we were touring around with the tour guide, we saw this cat, and everyone stopped to take pictures. Our tour guide laughed at us and said, “I’m showing you all these famous historical sites and the best thing you see all day is going to be a cat.” But it was a really pretty cat.
Before I end this post, I would like to impart to you a very important lesson I learned during orientation week: Some things shouldn’t be made into legos.
We saw this in a toy store. I wish I could convey to you the skin-tingling, nightmarish creepiness that grabs your soul when you are suddenly confronted with this. I feel like they don’t look that bad in the picture, but when they are towering over you with their jagged skin and beady eyes… ugh. I kept thinking they would be perfect Dr. Who villains.