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:

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Wonderful Week in the English Countryside…oh yeah, and Scotland!

September 7th – September 11th

Monday morning I slept in since I was still extremely jetlagged and the trip to Dublin had worn me out. I didn’t really have much to do this week since I was going to be in Lancaster with Ellen until we left for Rome on Friday. Ellen got back from class around 1PM and we went to the city center to shop for a few things including grocery shopping to keep the cost of meals down a bit. On the way into town though we passed a travel agency that was offering a round trip deal to Edinburgh for only £20 (20 pounds). I thought about it for a little while and when we got back from the grocery store I decided to book it for Wednesday since I really didn’t have anything else to do. The grocery store was an interesting experience. Just to see the prices of everything and to see what types of food were available here is why I found it so interesting. It was also really cool to be able to get a bottle of wine and not have to worry about anybody saying anything! I also learned that they are really trying to cut back on their carbon footprint and so they charge you per bag that you sack your groceries in! CRAZY!!! There were a couple of things I learned in Lancaster about Europe trying to be frugal with their resources: they have a switch on there electrical outlets to turn off the power if it isn’t in use; most of their lights are on a timed systems so that they turn off after about five or ten minutes; in some places you have to swipe a card when you get into the room to turn on the electricity in the room and it goes off after 6 hours of use (this is in like hotel rooms so that only when someone is actually staying in the room is the room using power). At first, all of these things are just annoying but after a while you get use to them and actually appreciate it.

Tuesday was just a day of lots of rest and prep work for Mountview. I looked at finding a monologue for class, learned Sonnet 71 for my voice class, started reading Much Ado, and watched Shakespeare in Love. I also researched Edinburgh a little bit and planned out my day trip for the following day.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Wednesday morning I woke up early and made my way to the train station to head to Edinburgh, Scotland. The train ride was probably one of my favorite things that I have done so far in Europe. The countryside is so beautiful with the rolling green hills, the little towns tucked between the hills, and the grazing sheep. It was just such an amazing sight that the ride alone was worth the trip! About an hour before we got into Edinburgh a guy got on the train across the aisle from me and watched What Happens in Vegas. It reminded me of when I first saw it in theatres a couple of years ago with Nicole so I texted her to see how she was doing with her shows.

When we got into the train station I worked my way to the Royal Mile by crossing over North Bridge. I walked to Edinburgh Castle first in order to see the One O’clock Canon Fire. It sort of reminded me a little of the State’s Changing of the Guards. So I made it to the castle just in time so see the canon fire off and walked around the castle a little bit. I don’t think I was really able to appreciate it that much since I really had no clue about any of the Scottish history. I did enjoy the War Museum in the castle though. It went from the early years of war to present day Iraq. It was just really cool to see how far back their history goes. After the castle I made my way to the Elephant House to have lunch. It was made famous as the place of inspiration to J.K. Rowling, who sat writing much of her early novels in the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle. I knew all about this coming to Edinburgh and so I had to eat here. I got a slice of pizza and a pot of hot tea and grabbed a table in the back room that over looked the Edinburgh Castle. It had an amazing view and it was just cool to think that I was sitting in the same place where a few of the Harry Potter books had been written. After lunch I made my way down a couple of blocks in order to see a couple of different theatres in town that I had looked up the night before. The first one I saw was the Bedham Theatre, which looked like an old church. It was closed so I wasn’t able to get in and see the inside. On my way to the other theatre I was looking for, the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, I passed the Optometrist Shop and I had to take a picture of it. It reminded me of She Loves Me and Lynden singing about her Optometrist Paul, aka Chandler Duffel. Anyway, I made it to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre and snuck into the closed off section in order to get a view of the inside. It is a beautiful theatre but I didn’t stay long since I was nervous that someone was going to come kick me out.
Once I saw the theatre I walked back to the Royal Mile and headed in the opposite direction of the castle toward the Parliament Building. The walk was pretty cool just to see all the different little shops along the way. I saw several kilt shops, pubs all over the place including a pub called The World’s End (which I find very funny and only a few of you might actually get what this refers to), and just a couple of touristy shops. Finally I reached the Parliament Building…which is ugliest building I have ever seen. They were trying to go for the “artsy looking modern building” but it just turned out looking like crap! I made my way past the Parliament Building toward Arthur’s Seat, the main peak of the group of hills that form most of Holyrood Park. The hill rises above the city by 820 ft and had an incredible panoramic view of the city. I made my way to the top and spent about thirty minutes there just looking out over Edinburgh city centre and out towards the sea. After Arthur’s Seat I walked to Calton Hill, the headquarters of the Scottish Government, which is based at St. Andrew's House, on the steep southern slope of the hill. The hill also includes several iconic monuments and buildings including the National Monument, Nelson's Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, the New Parliament House (the Royal High School), the Robert Burns Monument, the Political Martyrs' Monument, and the City Observatory. Calton Hill has a great view that is just a little closer up than the view from Arthur’s seat and the monuments there are also pretty cool to see as well. This was the only part of the day though that I got a little nervous because I took a few back streets and short cuts that were not very crowded and just made me the slightest bit nervous... but obviously everything was fine.

I left Calton Hill and headed down the street to the Prince’s Mall where I ate my sack dinner on the roof of the mall while my phone was charging. The rooftop of the mall is covered in grass so I figured a little picnic while being able to see Arthur’s Seat and the Edinburgh Castle would be nice. After dinner I walked to the see the Scott Monument and the National Gallery of Scotland. By the time I finished with the National Gallery of Scotland it was time to catch my train back to Lancaster. I am so happy that I decided to go to Scotland for just a wonderful, relaxed day!

Back in Lancaster

Thursday I did a little bit more prep work for Mountview and I started packing my things up so that I could be ready to leave for Rome on Friday. I also made arrangements to leave my extra luggage in London so that I didn’t have to take everything with me to Italy. At first, I was just going to rent a locker but realized that after September 11th they did away with them. Now you have to use this company at the airport to store your belongs at and it was going to cost me almost £80 for 5 days. I called around and finally got a hold of my student-housing place in London that I would be staying at while at Mountview. They allowed me to store it there for free so that ended up working about wonderfully!

Friday I finished packing my things up and Ellen and I headed off to London in order to catch our flight to Rome!