Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Journey Home

Monday, October 19, 2009 to Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A very personal blog.

Monday was a really rough day at school. Not only was I still trying to get better and trying to catch up on the work that I missed from the previous week, I was also dealing with holding myself together. I felt so fragile. I felt like I was holding the weight of the world in order not to break down in front of my entire class. I felt like I was just waiting for a call and in a sense, I was. I was waiting on the call from my father to tell me that Papa had died. Why was I having such a hard time with this? Why? I mean, it was for the best. Papa would be happy and wouldn’t be in any pain and I knew I would see him again. But why was I in this weird place that I couldn’t explain? Was it because it was the first death in the family that I would ever have had to deal with? Was it because I felt so helpless because I was 4,000 miles away? Was it because I was surround by plenty of people at school but still felt completely alone? I didn’t know what was going on. All I knew was that after ever single class let out and that every ten minutes during a break, I was checking my phone for the call. Monday night I did so much prep work for my Tuesday classes. Looking back, I don’t know where my focus came from but I did more homework and preparation for my classes in that night than I had done total since being here.

Tuesday was a huge day for me: a monologue in acting, a dance piece in jazz, a song for Presentation class, a song for my private voice lesson, and a singing concert that night for the entire school after my classes were finished. The day was terribly exhausting but somehow I made it all the way through my classes and was ready for the singing concert. I sang “She Love’s Me” from She Loves Me. As I got ready to go on, I turned my phone off for the first time in almost a week. I was fifth in a line of forty-nine so I didn’t have to wait too long. At 7:20 I walked on to sing my two minute song. When I walked off and turned on my cell phone, I discovered that at 7:21 I missed a phone call from my dad. I went into one of the extra classrooms to call Daddy back to hear that Papa had just gone peacefully. One last grasp of air and it was over. I hung up the phone and it felt like everything that I was trying to hold on to just came crashing down on me. I told a couple of the other students what had happened and asked them to tell the teachers what was going on and that I was headed back to the States on the first flight back. While I was on the bus headed home, the head of Mountview Musical Theatre Deparment, Paul Sabey, called me to let me know that he, along with the rest of the faculty of Mountview, were there if I needed any help. He also told me to take as much time as I need in order to be with my family and to deal with what I was going through. When I made it back to Chester House I booked my flight and opened a nice bottle of red wine. I figured I wasn’t going to be able to drink when I got back to the States so I might as well have a glass while packing to calm my nerves.

I ended up getting about two hours of sleep before I had to get up. I had to wake up early to catch the first tube at 5 am that ran to Heathrow Airport which meant that I had to catch a bus around 4:30 to make it to the station in time. I didn’t realize how far away the airport was. It took me an hour and a half to go thirty five stops on the tube. Basically, I went from one side of London to the completely other side of London. The flight to the States actually didn’t feel that long. I watched several movies on the plane including The Proposal and Star Trek and made it back to Memphis around 5pm. Daddy and Brittanie, my older sister, were at the airport to pick me up. It was really nice to finally be home. It was nice to see family, people who where feeling the same way I was about the whole situation. We left the airport and headed straight to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to have dinner with the family that was already in town. It was good to see my grandmother and just give her a hug. It was then that I started not wanting to go back to London. I don’t know why but I just had this incredible desire to just stay here for the rest of the semester and be with my family. About an hour or so after dinner, I had to go home. Since I didn’t really sleep on the plane ride, I was starting to get extremely jet lagged and so daddy took me home to go to bed. Can I just say that I forgot what a piece of crap mattress I was sleeping on in London until I got back to my bed. I had the best sleep that night that I had had in months!

Thursday morning I woke up and did a couple of things around town that I needed to do. After that, I spent the rest of the day preparing the music for Papa’s funeral. I met up with my grandmother, went over a couple of things, showed her some of my suggestions, and we figured everything out that we needed to. After that I spent my time finding sheet music, making copies, and prepping the music for the pianist. That night the family stayed in and had a wonderful home cooked meal that a family friend had brought over (Thank you miss Sonya…it was amazing!).

On Friday I woke up early and went to rehearse with the pianist. After that I worked with Kassie, my younger sister, on the picture slide show of Papa for during the visitation and funeral. Once we finished up there, Kassie and I went back home to get ready for the visitation that night. I headed up to the church early so that I could sort of have my own time with Papa. Most everyone else had had their time to say goodbye. I really said my goodbyes in September before I left for Europe but I just needed a moment with him by myself. When I walked into the church he had already been brought in by the funeral home people and placed in the sanctuarty. This was the hardest thing that I think I have ever had to deal with. I mean, I’ve seen dead people at funerals before but this was different. This was Papa. This was the man that, besides my father, I looked up to most. This was the man that I wanted to grow up to be just like. I want to mean that much to people. I want to have that big of a heart. I want to always put others before myself. I want to have a servant’s heart like his. I want my grandson to love me as much as I love him. I want to be a major part of somebody’s life and just by smiling at them make them know how much I care and love them. I want to spend time with someone down in the basement making stained glass, or working on the tractor, or building something, or fixing something, or just be down in the basement doing something just to do it. I want to do something right because if it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. I want to slip someone a $20 for gas because I know he needs it but he wouldn’t ever ask for it. I want to sit on that back porch forever on my swing looking out into my back yard. I want to carry on the Gilland name with the upmost respect because it is the only thing I came into this world with and it is the only thing that I will take with me. This was Papa. Like I said earlier, I don’t know why I was having such a hard time with this. He was in a better place, happier, he could hear (not selective hearing anymore. HA!), and it was a good thing. Anyway, after a few minutes alone with Papa the rest of the family started to show up. The visitation was really exhausting but a lot of people came to pay their respects and to see the rest of the family as well. After the visitation a group of the cousins when out to eat and to hang out. Everyone’s lives are so busy that this was the first time that the entire family had been in town together since my first cousin’s wedding almost ten years ago. It was really nice to see everyone and catch up. Natalie had just come in town from Tulsa and so she got to join us for this as well.

Saturday was the day. It was the day of the funeral. It was the day that we would finally put Papa in the ground. It was a day that we’d all knew was coming but weren’t really ready for it. The whole day just seems like a haze to me. We went to the funeral. I sang and made it through most of the songs. The four sons of Papa, including daddy, all met with the preacher at different times to talk about their expierences of Papa and what he made them think of. During the service, Brother Danny shared some of these stories. The following is what daddy wrote to be read at the funeral and is so true to this man, his wife, and our family:

“Grandmother and Papa – to our family this is one word. When God put these two people together in marriage and made them one, this is exactly what we as a family had. Two people acting as one to raise, mentor, love and encourage us as we grew. He was and she is the most selfless people I now and will ever know. We were told the only thing we would take with us to the grave would be our name, so don’t mess it up. Be proud of it and build on it each and every day. The memory of Daddy cannot be broken down into just a couple of instances. It is one constant memory. He was steady as a rock in his day to day life with very little change. If it needs to be repaired, adjusted, built or torn down, now was the time to take care of it and he would be there every second teaching and helping. He never had other things that were more important than to help and teach each of us how to survive in this world with a strong work ethic and common since. When their first grandchild was born they both reached a new level of guidance and love. She guided, he taught and they both loved. I have been told by my children more that once that when we are blessed enough to become grandparents, we will have monster shoes to fill and they doubted it could be done. Papa…… you will be missed and remembered as long as we draw a breath. We were proud to be your sons, daughter-in-laws, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. We all love you.” -Darryl Gilland-

The male cousins were the pallbearers for Papa. I felt this was very appropriate. This man had carried us and taken care of us so many times that it was only appropriate for us to finally do the same for him. After the graveside service, all the family went to my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Tim’s house to hang out and be together. It was so wonderful for the entire family to be together. That is what it is all about. What we should all work and strive towards. Building a family that loves and cares for one another no matter what. I don’t care what anyone says, I’ve got the best family in the world. Don’t get me wrong, we have our problems and we have our differences, but I would do anything for every single last one of them and I know they would do the same for me. Family is everything.

On Sunday, Natalie left to head back for Tulsa. It was so nice to see her and I was so greatful that she drove in town. Nicole also left on Sunday to head back to Bama. It was also really nice to see her as well. I hadn’t seen here in forever and it was great to be able to spend a little time with her that weekend. It is times like these that friends and family are what really do matter the most. They are the people who help keep you strong and help you out along the way. The rest of Sunday was spent at home with the family.

On Monday I spent the entire day with Grandmother. While she, of course, was up by 6 am, I slept in until about 10 am. We had lunch with Nana and Pops, my grandparents on my mother’s side of the family, at Crackle Barrel. May I just say I do miss that wonderful southern cooking in London! After lunch Grandmother and I went over to Grandmother & Papa’s house to do a little cleaning and work on the house. While she was inside packing up boxes, I work on cutting the grass and picking up limbs. It was almost soothing to be able to do this. Something that I had watched and helped Papa do for so many years. It felt like he was right there with me, picking up each limb as I did and watching me cut the front hill to make sure that I did it right! Ha! After a couple of hours we headed back to the house for dinner and to turn in for the night.

Tuesday was the day I headed back to London. Like I said earlier, I really didn’t want to leave. I really wanted to stay here at home and help out where I was need and take a bit of the load off of my parents. But obviously, I didn’t stay. I woke up that morning and ran to Walmart before I left just to pick up a couple of things that I would need while back in London. It was easier to buy things like medicine and shampoo in the States since it was cheaper. I finished packing and my dad took me to the airport for my flight. My mom met us at the airport and we sort of just sat there for a while until it was time to go through security.

As I left my parents for the second time in two months now, I realized something. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t excited about my future about living on my own and away from my family.

The Honeymoon Period is Over…

October 12, 2009 to October 18, 2009

So I’m only three weeks in and I’m beginning to feel the stress of all the work crashing down on me. A song due for this class, monologue for that class, I’m already behind and forgot that dance…the honeymoon period for London was officially over. I was no longer fascinated to sit and listen to people talk for ages just so I could hear their accent nor was I excited to travel to school everyday just so I could really be living the “London life” and all that jazz. I mean, I’m still in love and want to be here but all the glamour, magic, and the sense of everything being new was over.

Wednesday I decided to go see Billy Elliot. No one else was really up for it so I decided to go by myself. Billy Elliot was the one show on my “must see” list so I was going to go see it. I got out of Anything Goes rehearsal and headed straight downtown to Victoria where the theatre is located right outside the station. I got there and realized that Billy Elliot doesn’t have student tickets at a discounted price. I figured it didn’t really matter because I was already here and I had to see the show anyway and so as long as it wasn’t going to cost me an arm and a leg I’d see it. It only ended up cost me £25 and I was very happy about that! I went and found my seat and waited for the show to start. As I was sitting there in my really good balcony seat, I turned around to see my little Tulsa friend, Erica, standing in the aisle taking pictures! She was the girl that I wrote about a couple of blogs post ago who is from TU. We didn’t meet each other until we got to London and realized we were both from the same school. How funny that we also decided to come see the show on the same night! Weird! Anyway, the show was absolutely amazing. The people were so talented and the Billy was absolutely incredible! I waited after the show and got several autographs with Erica. Afterwards, I walked her and her friend back to the tube station and headed back home for the night.

Thursday morning I woke up sick as a dog. My throat was killing me and I had a terrible headache so I decided to stay home for the day. I went down to Boots, the pharmacy here in Muswell Hill, got some OJ and medicine and came back to Chester House for some sleep. After I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep, I decided it was time to catch up on a few TV shows from the States that I had missed such as The Vampire Diaries and Brothers and Sisters. I decided to go to bed early that night in order to be extra prepared to hopefully go back to school on Friday. I couldn’t sleep and it wasn’t because I wasn’t feeling well. It was something else. Something just wasn’t right. After hours of just laying there, not being able to commit to sleeping and at around 3 am in the morning, I saw that I had a missed call on my American cell phone. My dad had called me twice: once from his cell and once from the house. I knew immediately something was up. I called him back and he explained that Papa, my grandfather on my father’s side, had just had a massive stroke and wasn’t doing well at all. I knew it. I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t fall asleep. I knew something was wrong when I saw that my dad had called me. I knew before I ever came to London that Papa was going to die while I was studying abroad. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just did. So after my dad talked to me for a few minutes we decided to skype instead just because the phone bill was going to be too expensive if we stayed on the phone much longer. After I skyped my parents, I skyped Natalie. I didn’t want to be alone right now. I was over 4,000 miles away and I needed to talk to someone about this besides my parents. I need to just talk. I needed to vent about how I was feeling. After I finished talking to Natalie and after tossing and turning for a while, I finally fell asleep around 5:30am. My alarm woke me up around 7:30 and I just hit the snooze button. After the night I had and with me still being sick, I was in no mood or mindset to go to school. I stayed in bed that entire weekend just trying to get better. I watched movies and continued to communicate as much as possible with my parents in order keep up with what was going with Papa.

I started making arrangements to be able to leave town at a moments notice and started preparing myself for what was about to happen in my life.

My First West End Show Since Being Here!

October 5, 2009 to October 11, 2009

The week started off really nice because for the first time since Discoveryland! ended back in Tulsa, I was on a schedule that repeated itself. For the first time in almost two months, I was back to a weekly schedule. It was hard to adjust to at first but also nice to know what my week was going to be like.

On Wednesday the Kellys convinced me to go see Blood Brothers with them after school. Right after we finished up with workshop we headed for the tube station and then it was off to Leicester Square to find the theatre. The girls promised me there was nothing to worry about since they went to the theatre on Saturday and knew exactly where it was. They also had “directions” if we got lost. We got completely lost…like had no clue were we were and didn’t know which direction to go in. Luckily, I used my phone again and got us there! We were literally running to the theatre to make sure we got there in time for the show. Only £20 for 8th row center seats since I was a student! That was so nice. I went into Blood Brothers not knowing anything about it and came out a HUGE fan! I loved the show! And the cool part was that out of a 10 person cast, 4 of them graduated from Mountview! After the show we went to the stage door and talked to the cast for a few minutes. We talked to the cast members from Mountview about their time there and they asked us if their teachers were still working, etc. It was so cool to talk to these people who about 6 years ago where in the same classes back at Mountview that we are in today!

Friday night a group of us went out to see a movie. We headed to the bar first for a little pre-gaming and then headed to the theatre to see UP! in 3-D. I saw it back in the States in July but everyone wanted to go see it that night since it was the first day it was released in London. I think that it is so weird that we see something back in the States and it takes almost three months for the producers to release it in the UK. After the movie we all headed back to the Goose, a pub in Wood Green, to celebrate a birthday of one of the guys from Mountview.

Saturday started off as a pretty boring day. Got up, ate lunch, and then it hit me: why am I wasting time just hanging around my dorm when I’m in London? I decided that I was going to make this Saturday a good day. I finished lunch and headed to the tube station to go downtown to Harrods, one of the oldest and nicest stores in London. When I got on the tube, I decided to take a small detour and stop and King’s Cross Station and visit Platform 9 ¾. For all you Harry Potter fans, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I figured since I was going right past the stop, I couldn’t not go take a picture. After I had my picture of Platform 9 ¾, I continued on my way to Harrods. The place is huge! I spent fours hours in Harrods going from floor to floor looking at clothing, music, pianos, fine furniture, sporting goods, and, of course, the Christmas displays. It is such a cool store and I plan to go back there before I leave and do a little shopping (and I mean very little since it is so expensive there.). After I left Harrods I headed a couple of blocks over to take a stroll in Hyde Park. I walked around the park looking at all the different statues, buildings, and works of art but two things really stood out to me. First of all, I found the Peter Pan statue and took a picture of it. (For those of you who don’t know, I have this obsession with Peter Pan and have had this obsession since I was really little. I used to watch it four times a day when I was little and watched it so many times that we had to buy another copy of it since the first video wore out. I have this weird theory that Peter Pan made me who I am today: my favorite color is green…everything about Peter Pan is green, I am a Musical Theatre Major and love to sing…it is a musical, and I have this weird obsession with London and that I had to study abroad here…takes place in London! I know, crazy. My mom actually bought the special addition DVD a few years back and gave it to me for my 18th birthday. I know, I should probably grow up but I just can’t! Ha! Another thing Peter Pan and I have in common! J) Anyway, the other thing that I really liked was the Princess Diana Memorial. It is basically this really nice, fenced in area in the park that has a fountain running through it. The memorial is a wonderful area to just lie in the grass and read a book or something on cool fall day. It was a wonderful day to take a walk in Hyde Park. After I left Hyde Park I decided that I didn’t want to stop walking so I made my way down to see Big Ben and Westminster. I took this time to really appreciate the opportunity that I have to be here and just relax. That night I decided to just stay in, chill with a few friends, grab a bottle of wine, and watch Jerry Springer the Musical at home. You know, going out and having a crazy night is fun and all but I think I’m more of a stay at home and be with the people you care about kind of guy. This night reminded me of a few wine nights back at Tulsa…miss you guys!

To see my pictures of Hyde Park, Harrods, Platform 9 ¾, or of London so far, look on Facebook or copy and paste the following link:

Saturday, 7 November 2009

My first week of Classes at Mountview…6 Weeks after the first day for TU!

September 28, 2009 to October 4, 2009

Ok…so here I go... This first blog about school is just going to be about each day of the week and my classes. I just want to explain what I’m actually doing here in London.

Mondays start at 9 A.M. (Well, classes started at 9 A.M. but I have to be up by 7:30 in order to make it to class on time. I have to catch the bus every morning and make sure that I sign in at school at least ten minutes before my first class or I’m not allowed in for the day! They are really strict here but that builds character, right?) On Mondays I have Actor & Text, Movement, Pilates, and Workshop. In Actor & Text we learn to work with a piece of text and how to get as much information from the text as possible. At the moment we are working with Much Ado About Nothing. In Movement class we work with archetypes and getting them to really sink into our bodies. Pilates…well that is obvious. Workshop is a lot like “Workshop” back home at Tulsa that we had last fall. This semester we are working on Anything Goes while the other group of second years is working on Me & My Girl. We actually have workshop Monday (Music), Wednesday (Acting), and Friday (Dance).

Tuesday starts at 8:25 A.M. (6:25 for me back home at Chester House…and for all of you back at TU who had Music Theory with me freshman year and knew how hard it was for me to make it to class by 10, you know how big a deal this is for me to HAVE to get out of bed at 6:25 in order to make it to school for the day!) Tuesdays I have Ballet Barre, Jazz, Acting, Presentation, and my private vocal technique class. Ballet Barre is simply a warm-up for my Jazz class. Jazz class consists of making sure that my technique is right, moving across the floor, and learning difficult choreographic pieces (Right now we are learning one of the dances from Pricilla, which is currently on the West End). Acting is a lot of fun and we are working on monologues from 1890 to 1900. I am doing a monologue of Sir Robert Chiltern from An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde. In class we also do a lot of exercises that deal with working with others and being ready, focused, and in the moment. Presentation is a lot like MTP2 in that each week is a new audition and we have to have a new song each week. My voice lessons are really nice…although it took the entire first lesson to understand what he was saying. They use different terms over here than we do back in the States and so communicating ideas and exercises at times can be difficult.

Wednesday starts like Mondays at 9. Wednesday I have Sight Reading, Voice Rep Class, Tap, Singing and Workshop. Sight Reading here isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. For Mountview, sight reading class isn’t used for sight reading music but for sight reading text. It is basically a class where they teach you how to read a piece of text, pick it up off the page, and communicate it properly. I have never had a class like this before and I am finding that it is very helpful…especially since I suck at sight reading and cold readings of scripts. Voice Rep Class is a thirty-minute session with a pianist for me to work on new pieces or have songs that I am working on recorded for me. Tap is fun and I am actually learning at whole lot in such a small amount of time. The tap here is British Tap and isn’t exactly the same as American Tap. For example, the time step here is much different from ours back home. It has been a fun class though and we are moving really fast. By our third lesson we were already working on pullbacks! The tutor is very talented, encouraging, and knows what she is talking about. Wednesday’s Singing class is where we work as a group on hard harmony parts, sight reading music, and a blend of singing with music theory. Knowing scales, key signatures, etc. is a must here! Like is said earlier, on Wednesday we use Workshop to block, work on acting, and work on the American dialect for Anything Goes. (My American dialect actually isn’t that bad! Haha!) After school on Wednesday I tried to go see a production of Mountview’s third year students in The Rink. I got on the waiting list but unfortunately I didn’t get into the show. I figured I would try again tomorrow night since I heard the show was just too good to miss!

Thursday is like Tuesday in that I have to be at school by 8:25. On Thursday I have Ballet Barre again, Ballet, Music Theory, and Voice. Ballet Barre and ballet are of course working on ballet technique. Music theory isn’t as hard as I thought it would be but the only thing that I am finding difficult is understanding what the teacher is talking about at times. Like I mentioned earlier, they have different names for things here so it is just taking me some time to get use to the names of everything. I am very surprised though at how much I actually remember from my classes in the past and that I am keeping up with the course work. Voice class is the “V” part from “V&M” back at TU…also called Voice & Movement. This is actually one of my favorite classes. Last year when I took V&M I was so worried about everything and everyone else around me that I wasn’t able to let the exercises work for me but for some reason I can completely release myself here and allow the exercises to work. So my “words of wisdom” to the current sophomore class at TU: don’t hold back, don’t worry about what everyone else might think, and allow yourself to go for it! J This is the one day were I actually end early and I get to go home at 2! This is truly the best day of the week! After classes I went to the library to copy as much music as possibly and to kill time while I waited to go put my name on the waiting list for The Rink. The show is playing in a small theatre right down the street from Mountview so I really didn’t want to go home and waste all that time traveling. I’m glad I waited because since I was the first person on the waiting list, that night I got in! The show was really good. I mean, I understand why the show itself didn’t do so well in New York and on the West End but the students were very talented and did a fantastic job with it. Seeing this show and the quality of what Mountview produces made me even more excited about my time here in London.

Friday starts at 9. Friday I have Jazz, Singing, and Workshop. This jazz class is very different from the class on Tuesday in that I have this class with the devil! That’s right, the devil! If you read my last blog you will have heard me talk about Kresida. She is a crazy lesbian who hates men…and my entire class is only guys. The music she plays for her “warm-up” makes you feel as if you are entering into the gates of hell and it is telling you that the torture is coming. This woman is crazy! The Singing class on Friday is a little different from the one on Wednesday. This class is more like choir back home and right now we are working on the opening number of Sweeny Todd. Workshop wraps up my day on Fridays with choreographing the numbers in the show. After school on Friday, I went home to clean up real quick, grabbed dinner, and headed out to see Mountview’s other production at the time of Lucky Stiff, also put on my third year students. It was the first time I have ever seen the show so it was nice to be able to just sit back after a long week of school and just take everything in.

One thing that I haven’t mentioned yet but would like to is that they have placed into my week’s schedule several different breaks. One is an hour and a half break on Tuesday morning, the second one is Thursday afternoon for an hour and a half, and the third one is for an hour on Friday. These are really nice just to work on different schoolwork and to get together with fellow students and work together on certain group projects.

Saturday was a very chill day. Just worked on some homework and walked around Muswell Hill just to get a better understanding for where I was living. That night, a group of us went out to Heaven, a bar is Soho, and saw the Saturdays, a girl band from London, play.

The course work is really intense here but I love every second of it. And for the first time in my life I understand the following quote: “Work hard, party harder!” Let’s just say that the weekends in London are epic. I LOVE LONDON!

To see my pictures of London so far look on Facebook or copy and paste the following link:

Sunday, 18 October 2009

“Mountview…Musical theatre training has never been this good.”

September 21, 2009 to September 27, 2009

Mountview Orientation & “Fresher’s Week”

After months of planning and worrying about Mountview, my first day of school had finally come! There were so many words to describe all the things that I was feeling: excited, nervous, worried, wick to my stomach, encourages, inspired, and determined. The first week of school for me was just orientation so on Monday I didn’t have to show up until ten. When I first arrived I had to check in to receive all of my starting materials and then had a meeting with the entire senior staff members of the Acting, Musical Theatre, and Technical Theatre departments. After that meeting there was another meet just for those new people specializing in Musical Theatre. Here they explained some of the “ins & outs” of how things worked around Mountview. Once the meeting was over it was monologue time. For the first week I was with all of the first years (Freshman is what we call them back in the States) so that I could go through all orientation meetings and then I would join the second years (compared to Juniors back in the States) once my classes actually started. I was with 1M2 (First Year/Musical Theatre/Second Group) for orientation and so right after the meeting we had to go straight into our Shakespearean monologue for the Acting & Text tutor (teacher), the Acting tutor, and the Voice tutor. My monologue…shout out to all those people in my V&M class last year… was Romeo’s “Tis torture and not Mercy” speech from Romeo & Juliet. And that was just so much fun to do again (sense the sarcasm) for an entire group of people that I met about an hour ago…and that is all I am going to say about that. After the monologue torture came Music Theory torture. We had a music theory placement test in order for the teacher to place all the first years in different classes (it wasn’t really for me since would be joining the second years and all of their classes are together anyway). It was during this test that I realized that they call things by different names here (meaning the notes, eighth notes, whole notes, measures, ect. are called something else) so my already shaky knowledge of music theory got even worse. Wrapping up the end of my Monday was a speech about UK Equity and then another meeting by their Student Union, their “SA” or student government, about “Fresher’s Week”.
Tuesday was a dance placement day that started at 8 A.M. sharp! First up was a jazz warm up and that is where I met Her: the Devil. For almost 21 years I have thought that the devil was a man…but I was wrong. The devil is a woman and takes form in the shape of Kresida, a dance instructor at Mountview. She literally killed every single person in that room and we only had thirty minutes with her that day. I would have gone through initiation four or five times more instead of a thirty-minute jazz “warm up” with this woman! She just screams at you and treats you like you are stupid and worthless while pushing you further that you have ever pushed yourself before. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love being pushed and challenged but she just takes you of guard if you aren’t expecting it. After this so-called “warp up” (it was like running a marathon), I had a jazz class where the top dance instructors streamed me (basically looked at my technique in order to place me into the proper level dace class for the semester). After this I was finished for the day and so I headed off to Covent Garden in order to buy some dance clothes for the semester. At TU I can usually wear whatever I want to but here at Mountview everything has to be black and fit close to the body. It was on my way to Covent Garden (by tube) that I had a break through and finally learned how to use the London tube system properly and so I am no longer afraid of the tube!
Wednesday I had a meeting on personal safety since Wood Green, the area of London that Mountview is located, is not the safest part of town. It actually has one of the highest crime rates in London…but now that I’ve had that class there is nothing to worry about!
Thursday I had a sex talk, UK style. Basically a couple of people came down from the local hospital to talk to us about sex and had lots of pictures and handouts…and condoms. They were pretty much just blunt about everything. I found the whole thing a bit humorous and awkward and the same time.
Friday was a long day. The first portion of the day was a preview of what a voice class, acting class, and dance class would be like during the semester and the second portion of the day was…BLACK FRIDAY! It is sort of an initiation of the new kids that are coming into the MT program. It is a three to four hour block of time were every new student to the MT Department has to sing in front of the rest of the department (about 150 people) and to the table of faculty sitting right in front taking notes. Everyone is cramped into this tiny room (about the size of 110 in Kendall Hall at TU) and one by one everyone gets up to sing for the department. I sang “If I Loved You” because they asked for one of the songs that I auditioned with and I was not in the mood to sing “I Can’t Stand Still” (didn’t really have that high C in me that day). I was really nervous as I started to sing but by the time I was finished my nerves where gone and I seemed more than happy to be standing in front and singing for all of these people.
On Saturday Even and I went back down to Covent Garden to get a few more things for dance classes and to just walk around. I ran into a guy while I was down there wearing a Tennessee Volunteers sweatshirt and so I had to talk to him. It turned out that he was from Manchester, England and he studied abroad at UT for a semester. I just thought it was really cool…even though that color is still so obnoxious…to see something familiar from home.
Sunday was a homework day! There were several items of homework that were asked of all second years before the first day of school started and while all those who were actually here last year had ten weeks to work on it, they did not tell the four study abroad students until a week ahead of time. Now granted, I did have the whole week but like all those at TU already know about me (especially those who wrote freshman papers with me at 3 AM in the morning…Cynthia, Natalie, Lynden), I work best under pressure and with a time limit! Some things never change…

“Fresher’s Week”…the parties!

We all know that the best things about orientation in the States are the killer parties that go on (at least it was like that during my orientation freshman year at TU). The UK orientations are no different! In fact, they take the parties to the bar…because they are all legal! They call orientation “Fresher’s Week”.
Sunday was just a meet and greet at the Duke, a bar right down the street from Mountview. Monday was “Old People” night at the Karamel Club and they also had fun games for everyone to loosen up with and have a good time. On Tuesday they had what they call a “Rubix Cube” party…this was an amazing party and since I plan on bringing this back to the States with me I am not going to explain it in order to keep it a surprise! Wednesday night was a chill night at a sports bar in London City Center and Thursday was what they called the “BBQ” mixer night…Attention all Europeans: Burgers are NOT BBQ…just thought you all should know that. Friday was the big party night since everyone had finished Black Friday and was ready to let loose! That night was at Tiger Tiger, a club down in Soho. It was a lot of fun just to kick back and dance with everyone and listen to the popular dance music in the UK. Since the drinks were so expensive here, a group of us left and headed to another bar in town. By the time we left the second bar it was already 4 A.M. in the morning! I soon realized that being out in London this late was very normal. I LOVE LONDON!

To see my pictures of London so far look on Facebook or copy and paste the following link:

Saturday, 17 October 2009

IES Abroad Orientation and Settling into Chester House

September 17 to September 20

After a great night of sleep on the concrete floor of the Stansted Airport, I jumped on a bus and headed to the IES Abroad Student Housing in Chelsea London for my orientation. IES Abroad is the program that I chose to study through while here in London and they are the ones who help me and guide me during my time here in London. Since I chose the direct enrollment plan with Mountview, IES is a bit more hands off than they are with some of their other programs here and allow me to pretty much live my time here in London on my own. When I got to the IES Student Housing building I checked into my room and showered. After that I met Claire Kibblewhite, my Direct Enrollment Manager and the person with whom I email during the summer with all my question. It was nice to finally meet her and put a face with the name.

After I met Claire and was heading back upstairs to my room, I bumped in Kelly Reilly, one of the girls I would be studying at Mountview with. After meeting her, she introduced me to another Mountview student, Kelly McCue, one of her best friends and freshman roommate from college back in the States (both of them are currently sophomores). Once we got the awkward meet and greet over with, the three of us ran out to get Pay-As-You-Go Phone planes since Claire said that we had to have a UK phone number during our semester here. My plan is really weird and I totally do not understand how it works. It is a international plan and basically includes calls to the States at 5 pents a minute, calls within the UK at 20 pents a minute, and all text messaging at 15 pints a message…how is it cheaper to call home than call my next door neighbor? Crazy, I know! Anyway, we got our phone plans and then decided to eat at this pancake house called My Old Dutch. They have really weird, thin pancakes (almost like crapes) and they serve them with toppings like ice cream and sprinkles. After we ate, we headed back to the IES center where I met the fourth and final person studying abroad at Mountview this semester and my roommate for the next few days, Evan Faram (currently a senior). Right after we all met we had to go downstairs for a building meeting so that the staff to explain some rules while we were living here. We all walked in and sat down and then this girl, also studying with IES through the Direct Enrollment program, walks up to me and says “You go to Tulsa, don’t you? You are that Refer Madness Guy!” I was like “yeah, I’m sorry, do I know you?” We got to talking and basically there is a girl from Tulsa, Erica Griest, who is in the same year as me back at TU and saw Refer Madness last spring! How weird that we had to travel over 4,000 miles to finally meet each other! Crazy! We talked for a little while and then the meeting started so we decided that we would hang out the next day just to talk. After the meeting the four Moutview students all sat in Evan and my room for a couple of hours just talking about who we were, where we were from, shows we’ve been in, etc. After a little while the girls mentioned that they really wanted to go to the bar and get a drink (since they are both 19 and hadn’t gotten a beer here yet). We all got dressed and found a pub and drank to our time here in London. Watching those girls order drinks was so funny (I now know how Ellen felt when I first arrived and she laughed at me as I bought my first Guinness legally!). After a couple of drinks we decided to turn in since the Kellys and Evan were still extremely jetlagged from their trip.

The next morning we had to be up in time to make it to the only real meeting that we had for ISE Orientation. They described in more detail about our program, what was expected of us, London and the areas we would be studying in, and opportunities to take advantage of while here. After the meeting, we all broke for some personal time and so I decided to hit up the post office right down the street to send off a few postcards and then McDonalds for free internet! Internet around here is not cheap so you find the free spots fast! A little later on in the day all the direct enrollment students, aka those attending Queen Mary and Mountview, traveled to London City Centre to explore! We walked around for a little while and saw Westminster and the bell tower and also grabbed dinner at a nice little restaurant…basically the only one we could find open at the time. After dinner we all headed back home to just relax. Going stir crazy in our London student housing, Evan and I decide that we have to do something and so we make the plan to head to Buckingham Palace because…well why not, we’re in London! So we grabbed the Kellys and the four of us headed off to see the Queen. She wasn’t in. Last time I went (Senior year of high school) it was dark so it was nice to actually see the entire building this time. We all walked around for a bit and then decided that we should find a bar and what better a bar for a group of theatre people to drink at than The Shakespeare Pub! We all sat around just talking and hanging out and having a really good time. (That is what drinking is suppose to be about: social drinking. You don’t have to get wasted to have a good time and so many back in the States…me included at times…just want to get wasted. I wish that America would adopt the European mindset when it comes to alcohol and not drink to get hammered but to drink in a more responsible manner…but I don’t see that happening when so much drinking has to go on illegally while the drinking age is 21…but that argument is for another time. Anyway…) We decide that since we all had a few and weren’t really sure how to get home…but still wanted to stay out…that we would move the party closer to our housing. On the way back, the girls spotted a bar that was allowing girls to get in free and so they decided to go in and told Evan and I it was alright for us to go on without them…so we did. We went to the pub right down the street for just one more drink. After that drink we started headed home and came across a theatre that was playing Rocky Horror Picture Show. Since Evan had just finished a production of the show back at school last semester he said that we had to go in to check it out. It was interesting to see all the people dressed up and dancing…during all the numbers. If only I had watch it more in my youth I could have joined in! After the movie finished, Evan and I headed back to the student housing, checked to make sure the girls made it in, and then went to bed.

On Saturday…I just needed some coffee to start my morning off, that’s all. Today was the day we were all heading for Guy Chester Housing in Muswell Hill and I would finally have a place to settle into. We got to Chester House, were shown around the place, and I finally was able to unload by luggage that had been packed up since I left the States. Chester House is in a really nice area and isn’t such a bad place to stay in London. The house is run by the local Methodist church and provides breakfast and dinner during the week and breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the weekends. I also have a single room so that is a definite plus. The only down side to being here it that since they are run by the local church, no alcohol is allowed in the rooms. A couple hours after getting to Chester House I hear a knock on my door. I open it, hear a laugh, and then Evan says, “I know I’m still a little hung over but do you wanna go grab a drink at the pub?” So off we go to the pub. The local pub in Muswell Hill, O’Neals, is an Irish pub and the coolest pub I’ve ever been in. It is an old renovated church that is just incredible…but closes at midnight (all of their pubs are weird and even on the weekends they close at midnight…but the clubs however just don’t close!). After closing down one bar, Evan and I headed to this crazy club in Muswell Hill that was sketchy! After a shot or two we decided to head out and turn in for the night…I mean, it was almost 3 A.M. in the morning.

On Sunday I finished putting my room together and went grocery shopping in order to make lunches for during the week. I also shopped for school supplies and got ready for my first day at Mountview! I also went to a Mountview mixer at the Duke, a bar right around the corner from Mountview. It was nice to just talk to some of the students face to face and get a feel for what I was about to throw myself into. Oh, I couldn’t wait to see what was in store!

To see my pictures of London so far look on Facebook or copy and paste the following link:

Friday, 16 October 2009

When in Rome…

(I know this one is REALLY long...but this is the last one like this!)

September 11, 2009 to September 16, 2009

On that Friday, Ellen and I took a train from Lancaster into London since we were flying out of Stansted Airport via Ryan Air. I had researched a bit the week before for a place in London to leave my extra luggage instead of having to take it all to Italy with me (you have to remember that I still haven’t settled into a place yet so I had all my luggage for the entire semester with me). I emailed Chester House, my student housing in London, and they said that I could leave my stuff there for free for the week so Ellen and I had to go there before we went to the airport. When we got into London, we got off the train and headed for the tube. Now, it would have been nice if either Ellen or I had actually known how to use the tube system but since we didn’t, traveling around London became a nightmare…fast…and it was during rush hour on a Friday!

So I went to the Assistance Booth, told the guy where we needed to get to…two hours, two tubes, and two buses later Ellen and I finally get to Muswell Hill, where Chester Housing is. We drop my bags off and then headed to Stansted Airport. When we got off of the tube to get our train toward the airport, our One Day Travel Cards wouldn’t let us get off. I didn’t realize that the ones we bought were only for Zones 1, 2, & 3 and we had just crossed over into Zone 4. The officer at the station told us what had happened and said to make sure that we didn’t let it happen again and sent us on our way. We got on our train, made it to the airport, found a taxi to take us to our hotel for the night, checked in, and went to bed.

The next morning we work up and made our way back to the airport. The airport was different than anything I had ever seen before. I mean, the checking in and the security check were normal but what made it so different was the process after you passed through security. The way this airport worked is that there is a central location for all passengers that you wait in until your airplane is actually loading. When it comes up on the screen that you are loading, it tells you what gate to head to. I just found this system very interesting since it was nothing like anything I had ever seen before. Like I said earlier, we flew Ryan Air since it was so cheap. The only deal with this service is that they have very strict guidelines for your carry-on and if you check anything it cost thirty pounds. My suitcase that I brought made me really nervous since it was a little bit bigger than their guidelines but I made it on with no problem and we headed off for Italy!

Once we landed in Rome we had to go through customs, which by this point I’m an old pro at it. After customs, Ellen and I bought Roma Passes, which are a discounted form of travel for tourist and allows you into different attractions at discounted rates as well (I highly recommend these for anyone who is planning on traveling to Rome anytime soon). We followed our directions that our Bed & Breakfast had emailed to me by taking the bus, then the tube into the city centre (a much easier system that London’s), and finally a train back out to the suburbs of the city. When we got off the train at our stop, our directions ended (I found out about twenty minutes later they forgot to send the other portion of the directions to me!). Lost and having no clue which direction to head in, I stop in at a local grocery store to ask for directions. Not one person in that grocery store knew how to speak English! Luckily, another tourist, who had just gotten off the train as well, could speak both Italian and English and helped translate for me. We finally got the directions that we needed and Ellen and I found the B&B. After we checked in we decided to clean up first and then head out into the city!

Our first destination in Rome was the Colosseo, also called the Colosseum. We took the train to the tube and then the tube to the Colosseum (once again, so easy to use the tube since they only have two lines that run and those two lines only cross once…so you can’t get lost). When you come out of the Colosseo Station the Colosseum is right there to the left. The Colosseum is HUGE!!! I’ve always seen pictures of it and seen it on TV but you don’t realize how massive it is until you actually see it. Ellen and I were really hungry since we hadn’t eaten all day and so we decided to eat at the little outdoor restaurant is right next to the Colosseum. It was at this restaurant that I had my first authentic Italian pizza and it was amazing! I’m not sure if I was just really hungry but it was probably the best pizza I have ever had in my life…and looking at the Colosseum while eating it was really nice as well. After we finished eating, we went through the Colosseum. Since we had our Roma Passes we didn’t have to stand in the long line and we skipped right to the entrance, where they scanned our cards and let us pass through. Walking through the Colosseum was really cool just because I learned so much about the place and all about the difference uses for it through the past centuries. While we where here it started raining due to the Curse of Ellen Gillis. Apparently every time Ellen has even been to the forum is starts raining. It wasn’t until later in the week we passed by the Colosseum on the way to something else and a storm appeared out of nowhere that I actually believed her! We walked around for about two hours and then headed over to the forum. It was unfortunately already closed for the day and so we headed to see the Piazza Di San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains) but it was closed as well so we headed to the Fontana di Trevi, the Trevi Fountian. This is probably going to sound weird, but this is the most romantic place that I have ever been in my life. Couples were kissing all over the place, people were throwing coins in the water, the lighting was nice and dim and made the water sparkle, and it was just overall a really cool place to be at night. It was here that I had my first taste of Gilato…which is so much better than normal ice cream! We continued walking through the stone streets and ended up at the Pantheon but since it was closed we headed back toward the tube station. On the way back to the B&B we grabbed a bottle of white wine because…well why not, right? When in Rome… Back in the room we turned on the TV to see what was on and since everything was in Italian we found that the only thing we could understand were the songs that played on English. We also watched in Italian the Miss Italian ’09 Pageant and A Guinness World Records reality TV show.

The next morning I woke up all excited because this was the day I was really looking forward to. That’s because today, Sunday, was the day we were doing the Dan Brown tour (meaning we were going to all the Alters of Science and churches that where visited in Dan Brown’s book Angels & Demons!). I saw Angels & Demons with Natalie back in the States in May when it was released. Just like the Guinness Brewery was on my list of “must see” in Dublin, this was on my list for Rome. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book I’m not sure if you will understand what I am talking about when I refer to certain things from the movie. We ate breakfast at the B&B and then headed off to our first stop, The Chigi Chapel in the Church of St. Maria del Popolo. In the book this is revered to as the first alter of science and also know as “Earth”. 
The famous statues of Habakkuk and the angel pointing the way down the Path of Illumination, by G.L. Bernini. The Chigi pyramid tomb with its numerous symbols and the vault refer to zodiac signs designed by Raphael. There is a skeleton covering the demon’s hole and subterranean crypt, where in the book/movie the first cardinal is found dead with the ambigram seared on his chest. When we arrived at the church, they were still having service so Ellen and I decided to go see “The Actor’s Church” right across the street while we were waiting for the service to end. We took a few picture of the Alter of Science right outside the church along with a couple other pictures here and there. After the service let out, we made our way back to the Chigi Chapel to get a better view of it and of course, take more pictures. In the movie, “Air” comes after “Earth” but since we were dedicating the entire next day to the Vatican, we decided we could see “Air” then. The next in the movie after “Air” is “Fire” but since the fourth stop, “Water”, was right down the street from “Earth”, we saw that next.

On the way to the Fountain of The Four Rivers at Piazza Navona (where “Water” is located), we passed by the Mausoleo Augusto as well as the Ara Pacis. The Mausoleum of Augustus is a large tomb built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC. It is no longer open to tourists but the ruins remain an impressive and dominating landmark on the northern side of the Campus Martius. The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar to Peace, envisioned as a Roman goddess. It was commissioned by the Roman Senate on 4 July 13 BC to honor the triumphal return from Hispania and Gaul of the Roman Emperor Augustus, and was consecrated on 30 January 9 BC by the Senate to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus's victories. After we pass these it wasn’t too much further until we reached Piazza Navona. This Alter of Science is also called the Fountain of the Four Rivers which was made by Bernini and is known as one of his most celebrated sculptures. The four colossal male figures around the fountain portray the four continents: America, Africa, Asia and Europe. It also represents the four most important rivers of the Old World, which include the Rio della Plata, the Nile, Ganges and Danube. In the middle stands the obelisk with the dove atop. This was a really cool market area with artist all around painting and people standing as statues in order to make a little money from the tourist.

After we were finished walking around the square we decided that we should head to the Church of St. Maria dello Vittoria. This is also known as “Fire” in the movie because it is where the third cardinal is burnt alive. This was my favorite scenes from the movie so I was really excited to see this church. On the way to the church, we passed the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain again. It was neat to actually be able to go into the Pantheon this time and to see both of these places in the sun light. The Pantheon was originally built by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome and rebuilt in the early 2nd century AD. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 142 ft. When we finally made it across town to the Church of St. Maria dello Vittoria we found that the church was closed and that it wouldn’t open back up for another two hours. Ellen and I took that time to do a little bit more exploring and to eat. While walking around, we saw the Santa Maria degli Angeli (a titular basilica church), the Piazza della Repubblica (a semi-circular piazza), the Teatro dell’Opera (the opera house), and the San Carlo Quattro Fontane (The Church of Saint Charles at the Four Fountains is a Roman Catholic church, designed by the architect Francesco Borromini). We also were able to grab lunch at this amazing little Italian restaurant near Barberini Station. I had my first plate of Italian spaghetti here! It tasted a little different that spaghetti back in the states but it still had a very fresh and spicy taste. After we finished with lunch we headed back to the Church of St. Maria della Vittoria. As I walked into the church I could literally see the scene in the movie taking place and it was nice to be able to just take all of it in. Inside the Cornaro Chapel is the astonishing sculpture Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Bernini and the “body” of Maria della Vittoria that looks like a wax figure. How they can claim that she is real is crazy to me! Anyone can just look at her and tell that she isn’t real! (Now the last Pope in the Vatican that they have on display is a different story…)

After we left there we headed back to see the Piazza Di San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains). The basilica was first built in the middle of the 5th century to house the relic of the chains that bound Saint Peter while imprisoned in Jerusalem. The chains are kept in a reliquary under the main altar in the basilica. Michelangelo's Moses, which dates from 1515, is the most notable piece of artwork in the basilica. Originally intended as part of a 40-statue funeral monument for Pope Julius II, "Moses" became the Pope's funeral monument and tomb in his family's church. After Ellen and I finished walking around here, we headed back toward the Colosseum to see the Forum. This was a really cool thing to see and I had my own personal tour guide…Ellen! She has taken several classes about the forum and so she guided me along and told me story after story of Roman times while also explaining what we were looking at. The Roman Forum is the central area around which the ancient Roman civilization developed. The oldest and most important structures of the ancient city are located in the forum, including its ancient former royal residency, the Regia, and the surrounding complex of the Vestal virgins. The forum served as a city square and central hub where the people of Rome gathered for justice, and faith. The forum was also the economic hub of the city and considered to be the center of the Republic and Empire. Being here was so amazing! To be looking at things that people back in Jesus’ day looked at was just unreal! We spent several hours here and left right as it was beginning to rain. (Remember me telling you about the Ellen Curse? It was a beautiful day with not one cloud in the sky. Ellen and I head to the Forum, which is located next to the Colosseum, and clouds begin to develop. As we are exiting the forum and walking toward the Colosseum it starts raining! I believe in the Ellen Curse!)

After the forum we decided to head home since it had been a really long day and we had pretty much walked everywhere instead of taking the tube. On the way back though I actually felt like we were being followed. You know when you get the feeling that someone is watching you? Well I got it. And as soon as I looked up, this guy on the tube was starting at me. Ok, cool…like someone on the tube was looking at you isn’t normal right? Then Ellen and I got off the tube and got on our train…the guy got on sat right across from us. Once again, not too weird but this is when I started to get a little suspicious. Then when Ellen and I got up to get off at our stop, so did he. This is where I went into full worried mode! I mean, two Americans, in a foreign country, neither of us can speak the language, and our B&B wasn’t exactly in the nicest part of town. As we got off though, he left the station on the right and Ellen and I left the station from the left…so we were headed in opposite directions. As Ellen and I were walking off, I turned around to look across the tracks just to make sure that the guys wasn’t following us and I saw him standing there, staring at me. This made me sick to my stomach. Ellen and I still had about a mile walk to get to our B&B and it isn’t in a very crowned area. I didn’t know what to do besides keep waking and hope that nothing would happen. Every so often I would turn around to see if he was still there…and he was. I saw him for about the first portion of the walk until we crossed under a bridge and then Ellen and I took off running for the B&B. Looking back, I was probably just paranoid but it just was one of those things that I felt really uncomfortable with. That night, we ran around the corner to Burger King and got a couple of beers so that we didn’t have to worry about being out too late after dark. Like I said earlier, our B&B wasn’t in the nicest of areas.

The next day (Monday) we headed to the Vatican. The first thing we did was head to the Vatican Museum. The line getting into the Vatican wasn’t that bad but once you got in it was really crowded. We rushed through most of the museum just because I really didn’t want to put up with the crowd (I get that honestly from my father) but once we got to the Sistine Chapel we took some time to look around. We ended up spending forty-five minutes to an hour just looking. I just don’t have words to do justice to this chapel. It was the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen in my life! The detail in the work and the story behind some of the paintings (once again from my lovely tour guide Ellen Gillis) was really cool to take in. After leaving the chapel we walked through the rest of the museum and then headed for St. Peter’s Basiclica and the last stop on our Dan Brown tour, “Air”.

Once we got to St. Peter’s Square we found the spot that was shown in the movie and took a picture of it. After that, we headed inside of St. Peter’s Basiclica. St. Peter's Basilica stands on the traditional site where Peter, the apostle who is considered the first pope, was crucified and buried. St. Peter's tomb is under the main altar and many other popes are buried in the basilica as well. Originally founded by Constantine in 324, St. Peter's Basilica was rebuilt in the 16th century by Renaissance masters including Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini. Once inside we saw Michelangelo's famous Pieta (his sculpture that depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead Jesus in her lap after the crucifixion), bronze statue of St. Peter from the 13th century (and for good luck I rubbed his foot), Statue of St. Veronica, Bernini's baldacchino over the papal altar, the Confessio near the tomb of St. Peter, Body of Pope John XXIII (not going to lie…was a little creepy seeing this), the Cathedra (Throne) of St. Peter by Bernini, and so much more. After we finished walking around, I wanted to walk to the top of the Cupola but Ellen didn’t and so I headed off to the top on my own.

Heading up on the first leg of the trip there were the long stairs. The path you take just continues to circle up and it seems like it is never going to stop. Finally, you reach the first roof and meet up with the people who took the elevator in order to miss the first leg of the trip. They didn’t get out of taking the steps though because while they missed out on a little over two hundred steps, they still have almost four hundred they still had to walk up. Then I went off to the next set of stairs, which were smaller and led me to the front of the cupola, overlooking St. Peter's square. From there, it went even further up and these stairs were even smaller! I wouldn’t say that I am claustrophobic but these stairs were so tiny and I had to duck down at least a foot so that I wasn’t hitting the ceiling. There were times during this walk that the wall beside me started sloping and you had to slope with it, making it seem as if you were walking on the wall. It was really weird but totally worth it once you made it to the top to see 360-degree view of Rome!

After I climbed back down the stairs and found Ellen, we walked to see the Castel Sant’ Angelo and the Ponta Sant’ Angelo. We saw these just by passing by them and headed to the train station, located next to the Termini Subway Station, and bought our tickets for a our day trip to Florence! After we got our tickets we headed home and on our way we stopped in at this little cute Italian restaurant (which once again, no one spoke English) and had dinner. After dinner we headed back to the hotel where we watched Harry Potter in Italian!

Florence, Italy

The next morning we got up and headed for Florence. The morning started off a little rocky since we missed our first train into Rome, making us almost miss our train to Florence. Thankfully we made it though on time to the train station and made it to Florence four hours later. When we got off the train in Florence we headed right for the Galleria Academia, where Michelangelo’s David is located. We only waited in line for about an hour and a half but it was totally worth it once we got inside. The David is pretty much the coolest thing I have ever seen. It is about seventeen feet talk and it just so…amazing. After seeing the David we walked around the city a bit just to explore. We saw the Florence Cathedral and ate the best gilato I have ever had…not that I’ve had a lot of gilato before but it was Mint Chocolate chip with Dark Chocolate chunks...wonderful! Besides that we just window-shopped and waited for our train back into Rome. The day was nice just to relax, sleep on the train, and see a really neat city.

Back in Rome

Wednesday was the last day in Rome for Ellen and I as well as our last day together. Within 24 hours we would be back in London and she would head off to meet up with some friend from school to keep traveling until her break was over. That morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and checked out of our B&B. We didn’t really want to do too much walking around that day since we had all of our luggage with us so we hit up the Spanish Steps and returned once more to the Trevi Fountain. It really is an incredible place that has this wonderful vibe to it. After we left the fountain we headed to the airport to catch our plane back to London. When we landed, we decided not to get a hotel room for the night and just sleep at the airport…my back is still yelling at me from that night! I slept while Ellen caught up on Facebook and email since we didn’t have the internet the entire time we were in Rome. She woke me up around 5:30 A.M. before she had to catch her next plane so that we could say goodbye. She left and I went back to sleep since I didn’t have to report to my IES Program until noon!

I’m so glad that Ellen and I were able to spend this time together. We haven’t been able to see each other that much since high school and this was a really nice time to catch up. And although we both drive each other crazy at times, I will always consider her a great, lifelong friend.

To see my pictures from Rome look on Facebook or copy and paste the following link: