Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day Ten: Hellllllo Paris!

Day 10
Saturday, May 21, 2011

Although I loved Amsterdam, I am glad that we left after one day. I am not sure there would have been too much else to do in the city (I feel like we accomplished everything I wanted to in one day). So, I wasn’t too sorry to leave in the morning, minus the fact that our departure time was 8:30am. I literally had to eat and run. I grabbed a quick bite from the hotel restaurant then sped over to the bus (all in about three minutes). And when I say "quick bite," I mean, I stuffed my face as fast as I could, then carried everything else in my arms out the door. Probably not the best impression I've given. And we wonder why Americans have a bad rap!

I slept for the first leg of the trip. We drove through the Netherlands and stopped on the way at the National Liberation Museum. It was a nice museum, but I was so tired that I wasn’t in the mood. And the lady who gave us a tour gave really long-winded explanations so it lasted longer than Professor Slade had intended. It was interesting though. The lady (I’m afraid I don’t know her name) grew up during the war and she had firsthand experiences to share about life in occupied Holland and what it was like after the liberation. It is amazing how ingrained the war is in the hearts and minds of Europeans, especially the older generations. WWII definitely left a significant scar and impact in their memories. The lady continually emphasized the need to have memorials and to share stories like this because we have to educate the future generations so we prevent another war like that. I think it is much more powerful a message coming from someone who lived through the war in this war-torn country, and can share these experiences firsthand.

After the memorial museum, we got back on the bus and drove all day to Paris. We stopped once at a McDonald’s (everyone was appalled that we had to pay to use the bathroom there––typical France/Europe). Suzy refused to use it, apparently on principle. I just said ‘What the heck, I have to go.’  and paid the 30 centimes. After lunch, I slept for a little while (I finally hijacked my own two seats so I had some leg room) and chatted with Adam R. for a while. I was able to convince him to come with me to Disneyland Paris. So exciting. We planned to go on Monday during our full free day in Paris. I figure I have done all the big monuments and museums, and I’d rather not pay for them again, so might as well go to Disneyland. I was also able to talk Chris and April into joining along too, so we would have a nice group of four. Perfect for rides, right?
Later that night, we arrived at our hotel (Marriot Renaissance Hotel) in La Defense by La Grande Arche. The Grande Arche is a modern model mirroring the Arc de Triomphe. They align down the road (you can see the Arc de Triomphe several miles down the street from the Grande Arche, which is a pretty cool view). Once we brought all our things inside (April and I were assigned a room together) we all walked around the hotel area. There was a nice boardwalk and the La Defense plaza is nice too. There is a huge shopping center next to the Grande Arche, big skyscaper business buildings, and the metro is right there beneath the plaza. We got some late dinner at a fast food Italian joint inside the mall. It was pretty good for about 5 euros. Afterwards I walked around some more with Rogelio, April, Chris and Hannah. The night was still really warm and pleasant, so we just sat on a bench overlooking the Arc de Triomphe in the distance and chatted a while. When we got back to the hotel I attempted to get internet in the lobby (where its free) but the connection was terrible and I couldn’t get mine to load. After about twenty minutes without success, I decided to change and do a quick workout in the hotel fitness room. Their facilities are not very expansive however. They just has some cardio machines (which I hate) and some free weights. I didn’t stay long.

Luckily, I was able to get about five minutes of internet afterwards. Just long enough for me to send a quick message to Lauren (my cousin living in Paris for a year) to meet up after church in the morning. So excited to be able to see her in Paris! She and I have always loved Paris and studied French in school, so it is cool to be able to see her our favorite city.

First Impressions:
1. Soooooo sooooo very happy to be back in Paris. Just being here for a few hours reminds me how much I love it. When we entered the city by bus, all the old memories began flooding back to me and I just sat there taking it all in. Paris is definitely a magical place. At least it is for me. Just so happy.
2. I want to live here again.
3. I want to just meander around the city and walk around my favorite haunts with a good book. A lot of people will be going to museums, but I just want to soak in the essence of Paris and everything French.
4. I am so happy to be back. I’m glad that my first night, however brief, has not spoiled my original impressions of the city. I was afraid that I wouldn’t love it as much when I came, but so far it is just as wonderful as I left it. Hopefully, it stays that way. I want to leave as much in love with Paris as when I left last year.

Maybe even more.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Day Nine: This Dam City

Day 9
Friday, May 20, 2011

    Friday was auction day for us, meaning we had a very early start. Got up and ready at 6:15am and we loaded the bus at 6:45 to go to the famous Flower Auction. Unfortunately, Ben, Luke, and Chris accidentally slept in and we couldn’t be late, so we had to leave them behind at the hotel. We eventually met up with them later in the day, but they missed a great business visit. It is the largest flower auction in the world with approximately 22 million products up for bidding. The auction was formed in 1911 by a cooperative of local growers and has expanded ever since. It is a non-profit organization that belongs to member owners (5,000 members with 3-4,000 suppliers) who seek to sell the best flowers in the best conditions at the best prices. An interesting thing about the Dutch auction is that it is backwards from an English-style auction. In other words, instead of starting low and bidding up, there is a clock ticker that starts the price high and moves down until someone bids. They do this to make the auction faster and more efficient. The buyers have to know exactly what they want to buy a product for, how many flowers they want, and the entire auction is a game of strategy to outbid the other buyers. You don’t want to wait for the price to drop too low or someone else will snatch the purchase, but you don’t want to bid too soon and pay too high a price.
The whole thing is incredibly interesting and very complex––at least in terms of the people involved, the system itself is very clear and relatively simple to understand. But both the auctioneer and the buyers must know everything about the product beforehand in order to make the best bids and set the right prices. It is highly efficient. The auction is held Monday-Friday starting at 6am and going until the last product is sold (usually around 10 or 11am). The auction ensures quality through standard grading and inspection procedures, and guarantees product delivery within an hour and a half from the time of purchase at auction. This kind of efficiency requires the help of 10,000 employees in a building whose square meterage (1 million sq/m) is equivalent to the size of Monaco. Yeah. Monaco the country. It is soooo big.
    Once we finished our tour of the flower auction (by 9am) we still had the whole day to ourselves. Luke (not in the class, but our bus driver) dropped us off in downtown Amsterdam. I fell asleep on the ride there for about fifteen minutes (I was sorry when we got there so soon). Shardae and Christina had mapped out an itinerary of a few cool things to do and see in Amsterdam so a few of us decided to go around with them. Our first stop was a boat tour along the canals through Amsterdam. Definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made. The boat took us through the canals in the old town which was absolutely gorgeous. It was a lot like Venice, going through canals through the city, seeing the old architecture and buildings. However, it had a distinct atmosphere and look to it that was uniquely Dutch. Beautiful. It was also one of our first warm and sunny days we’ve had in a while, so I enjoyed just sitting on a boat soaking in the sunshine and loveliness of the day in this beautiful city.
    After the boat tour, we walked down a street in the famed Red Light District. But there wasn’t much to see. I guess the area has become pretty touristy and is more of a historic area now (at least in the day), so it wasn’t sketchy at all. We stopped on our way back to get some souvenirs (I bought another license plate to go along with my ones from France last year). 

We then walked through the town over to the Anne Frank House around one o’clock to meet the rest of the class. We arrived a little early so I bought some more souvenirs in a shop on the corner (they’re gifts for my family though so I won’t disclose what they are and leave it as a surprise). We sat and waited for our tour for another fifteen minutes along the banks of the river. Then we went through the Anne Frank House.
    It was an interesting experience. I was able to walk through all the rooms where she and her family hid, watch an interview filmed of Anne’s father relating his experiences, and I even saw the original diaries and manuscripts that Anne wrote on. Going to places like this can be difficult for me to relate to. I read Anne Frank’s Diary, I have studied the history behind World War II etc. but when I was finally at her very own house that I’ve read about and learned about for so many years, it didn’t feel real. However, it was definitely a humbling experience and I am glad I was able to get a more hands-on opportunity to learn about this history, tragic as it is. I think one of the most important aspects of this tour is the local attachment to the history and background of this story. Anne Frank is just one name among thousands and millions of others who suffered and experienced the events of WWII. The entire city of Amsterdam, not just that one house where one Jewish family went into hiding, carries that history, and it is evident in the psyche and human experience of the locals and their culture. That is one thing that really sets Europe and America apart, I think. Our own national experience is quite different from the European perspective, and just that difference makes these historic places, museums and tours that much more significant and singular from anything I’ve seen or done back home.
    When we finished our tour of the house, we walked back to the main square and took the train out of town a little ways to the country where we visited a traditional Holland windmill village. It was so cute. There were about six historic windmills lining the banks of the river, and we walked through a cute little historic-looking village with cottages, fields, cows, and bridges.

It was really fun walking through and taking pictures, especially on such a nice day. Afterwards, we took the train back into Amsterdam where Heather, Shardae, Christina and I went and saw the Amsterdam letters. Basically they’re just big red letters that spell out AMSTERDAM in a park square. They were fun to take pictures with, although it was difficult to get a good shot because a ton of people got there about five minutes after we did, and started taking pictures and climbing on all the letters and getting in all our shots. Lame. Not a big deal though.

    Once we finished taking pictures and playing around, we decided we were craving something good that was not weird and European. Our solution? The Hard Rock Cafe. I haven’t even been there in the states and I go when I’m in Amsterdam. Of all places. However, even with all the crap we got from others in the group for going to an American place instead of getting some sort of authentic meal, I have to say, it was one of the best meals I’ve had on this trip. I bought a delicious salad, which was perfect because I have been eating carbs almost exclusively since I left the U.S. And I never buy salads because European salads are typically disgusting. Well. Not. This. Salad. It was fantastic. Made American-style just the way I like it. We had a fun Dutch waiter too, who chatted with us, told us about some good places to get his favorite dessert in Amsterdam. Of course, we couldn’t eat it because he recommended...and get this...               “Space Cakes.” 
One guess what’s in a space cake in Amsterdam.  


    After dinner, Heather, Luke and I split off from Christina, Shardae and Ben (who had joined us a little later) and made our way back to the hotel. However, we weren’t exactly sure how to get back, so it took us a while to figure out which bus to take. Luke asked about five people, and we finally were assured by a lovely elderly lady that we were in the right spot. She was so sweet. I was sitting next to her on the bus bench talking with Luke and Heather about whether or not we were in the right place and she just interjected in her cute Dutch accent and asked us where we were trying to go and telling us which bus was the best. She was so kind and helpful. I’ve noticed that all the Dutch were that way too. Everyone was so friendly and patient and accommodating. For example, when I was buying souvenirs earlier, I was taking a while to go through my wallet to find the right coins (I had some British pounds mixed in so I had to sort them out). Normally I get a little flustered because the shop owners often get impatient and snappy waiting for annoying tourists to pay. However, the guy at the counter was super nice. He offered to help me count out my coins and was just generally friendly and patient. He was smiley and courteous, and actually sounded genuine when we said our thank you’s and goodbye’s. Now, that may sound like I’m making a big deal out of something ordinary and small, but I have had enough experience with annoyed shopkeepers that a smile and a little patience goes a long way.
And this shopkeeper and the bus stop lady were not the only ones I noticed. They are just two examples of some of the nice gestures I experienced while in Amsterdam. The Dutch are just nice people I guess. 

And, SIDENOTE: they are also the most attractive Europeans thus far. I don’t know why, but they are just good-looking people. Much more so than in the U.K. or even in France, from my memory. But I digress.
Summarizing Impressions:
Amsterdam = A new city to add to my list of places I l.o.v.e.
Amsterdam is beautiful (something I wasn’t entirely expecting), fun, historic and exiting
The Dutch are some of the nicest people I’ve met––they are much more open and friendly than many of the other Europeans I’ve seen and encountered thus far. I like them.
Canal cities are great. I love boat tours (they are pretty AND you can sit and take pictures)

I love this Dam city.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day Eight: You Are Ferry Photogenic Sir

Day 8
Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thursday morning brought little rest. The bus left the hotel at 7:30am (ughhh) for our drive to the  coast. We took a ferry from Dover to Calais, France. This was especially fun because I got to see the famed White Cliffs of Dover.  

 They are actually white and they are indeed cliffs.

I also got a chance to photo-stalk a French man on-board. From a distance anyways...As you can see from the photos below, this man was the epitomic picture of a Frenchman. How could I NOT take a picture...or two...or three...or *ahem* four...?  

Seriously...just look at the guy!

 Snoody-looking Frenchman. 

{Notice the buttoned up trench, popped collar, scarf, sunglasses, cigarette and non-chalante pose against the railing. Looking off into the distance behind us (the French have a distinct habit of looking backwards instead of forwards––figuratively speaking), the French flag waving proudly in the wind.}

{see? his Frenchness compelled me...clearly I had no choice but to stalker photograph him...}

The ferry was a quick jaunt of about 45 minutes to the coast of France where we reboarded the bus and drove through France and Belgium on to the Netherlands. We arrived in Amsterdam around 7 or 8 o’clock that night. It was a long travel day to say the least. Thankfully I prepared myself for this occasion and wore sweats and a t-shirt. Nothing is worse than a long bus ride in jeans, let me tell you. Since it was already pretty late when we arrived at the hotel I didn’t bother to go out exploring (we weren’t technically in the city anyways, so there wasn’t much to do). Instead I had a late dinner of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my room while using...wait for it...FREE WIFI...IN the hotel room! I love the Dutch. So accommodating. So practical. So great. Free wifi is so rare in Europe, and to have it in our rooms (and not just free in the lobby), well, that is just a luxury. And to think, this amazing service was provided at none other than a Best Western. Who knew?! This Best Western was pretty nice though. Better than a lot of the ones I’ve stayed at in the States. We had four twin beds in our room too. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a hotel room with that many beds before. Hannah, Michael and I were assigned together as roommates, which was fun. I love those girls. They’re some of my very favorites on this trip. And what did we do that whole night? Internet.

Funny story:

With this free internet I was able to connect with the world again, including Clinton from Preston. Hannah, Heather and I have been in touch with him since Preston, and it was funny talking to him on Facebook. Then he had me add him on skype and we tried to call, but it kept disconnecting us. Hannah and I tried to greet him with British accents because he attempted an American accent. He gave us a 6/10 for our efforts. Not too bad, I’d say, considering John told me my accent sounded rather Irish when I tried it in Preston. I’ll have to practice more.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day Seven: On the streets of Londontown

Day 7
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I was able to sleep in today (9am!). So brilliant. I got a delicious breakfast then went with Michael, Janelle, Hannah, Heather and Suzy to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. I had never seen it before so I was pretty excited...and so too, apparently, were all the other tourists in London. The square around the Palace was so crowded. Normally, I try to be polite and courteous about crowds. However, I have learned that one must be aggressive in these situations, so I boldly pioneered my way to the front lines of the action...sort of. Basically, I was able to see half of what was going on, and get several clear pictures. The crowd control there is crazy. I felt bad for the police officers who had to keep telling all the crazy tourists (including myself) to back up behind the ropes and to keep the pathways clear. This one Indian lady in front of me never seemed to get the memo. She kept moving forward into the exact spots that the officer was trying to clear, and she allowed her three year old daughter to roam freely about in between the barriers. The girl kept getting in the way I guess, because the officer had to tell the mother multiple times to get her under control. It seemed very irresponsible to me. But then again, I was only a foot behind her, so maybe I can’t judge. 


Now, I may burst a few peoples’ bubbles here, but unfortunately, Mary Kate and Ashley lied...there were no British guards available for me to try out some of my best jokes. I was really hoping to see one of them crack. Sadly though, all the guards on duty stand in boxes inside the Palace gates, beyond the reach of my witticisms. Too bad for them!

After the Changing of the Guard, which consisted of marching around the square, a military band, and a lot of standing around waiting for something interesting to happen, Michael (who is, btw, a girl, if I have not yet clarified this) and I decided to go visit the Victoria and Albert Museum while the others went to sites we’d seen on our previous visits to London. The Victoria and Albert Museum is pretty big, and there are quite a few different and semi-random exhibits there. Michael and I spent a good amount of time going through their jewelry exhibit that showcased some cool pieces from ancient periods through modern eras, including a very weird metal bra that looked highly uncomfortable and not at all practical {prelude to the chastity belt?}.  I even got to “try on” a rather ornate tiara. I was hoping to be discovered as the next princess of Genovia, but I guess they already have one of those :( Maybe I can talk to Queen Elizabeth...William may be taken, but Harry is still technically on the market.
I should have worked harder on this while at Buckingham Palace...
{Chastity bra} 

                                                             {Crowned princess}

We also saw an interesting photography gallery that presented a photographic commentary/record of the Apartheid in South Africa. One of the coolest things, in my opinion, that is housed in the museum are some enormous Raphael cartoons (depicting the Acts of the Apostles).

Cartoons = pre-sketches of larger paintings

Cartoons ≠ Calvin and Hobbes  
{although that would probably be the highlight of my museum experience}

I think its cool to see the original sketches of famous murals and paintings that are exhibited in other major galleries. The sheer size of these cartoons was overwhelming as well. The pictures were drawn on smaller squares of canvas that were then pieced together like a puzzle in order to make the large final sheet we see at the end. 

Raphael Cartoons Gallery

(This is a contraband photograph that I took before I realized no photos were allowed––a lesson I learned immediately after taking this picture when the nearby guard informed me. Oops!)

Around 2:20 we left the museum to go over to the British Museum where a bunch of people from class were meeting up at 3pm. Matt’s former freshman roommate Nils (from Denmark) is interning at the British Museum, working on his Masters in history. He wants to be a museum curator. He was nice enough to meet up with us and give us a short highlights tour of the museum. i.e. the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, the Egyptian gallery and a couple others. I was just glad he didn’t try to take us everywhere but kept it short and sweet, because my feet were killing me. And I’ve already been to the British Museum and it is MASSIVE.

 This statue's head was missing a I decided to help it out.
 {I'm walking the Queen's Walk}

 {Hannah and I}

I was not in the mood to go through it for three hours or more. Instead we only spent about an hour or so walking through, then Suzy, Hannah, Michael, Janelle and I found dinner at an Italian restaurant about a block away. The food was surprisingly delicious. Pretty sure they were a legit Italian least, they spoke with Italian accents and acted foreign. Either way, I ordered some sort of tortelloni (not to be mistaken for tortellini) and it was amaaazing. I ate it so fast. Mmmmm. Only downside? We had to pay for our water. They serve water in bottles that you have to pay for, instead of from the tap. So we just split a bottle between us.

Translation: I got a small European-size glass of water for my entire meal.
{Our expensive bottle of water}

Further Translation: I was thirsty the whole time.

Once we finished our dinner, we split up again. Hannah, Michael and I took the tube to the Tower Bridge area because Hannah hadn’t seen it yet and we still had some free time left in our evening. Unfortunately it started raining as we ate our meal, but we all had umbrellas so it wasn’t a big deal. Just your typical London weather! We just meandered down the pier by the bridge and then walked down some back streets, exploring London. We walked too far though and ended up kind of out of the way from any tube stations. Problem: I had to use the bathroom so bad (even though I’d only had that small glass of water for dinner). Let’s just say the walk back to the tube and then to the hotel was a long one.
Plus side to the evening: Cool fountain pictures in front of the Thames and Tower Bridge and the rain stopped when we got to the bridge.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day Six: I studied abroad at Hogwarts

Day 6
May 17, 2011

{This post is extra long and I haven't been able to add pictures yet because the internet is too slow to upload the files. So just FYI, you made need to read in parts and/or skim/skip certain sections. 
Sorry for the inconvenience. I'll try to spruce this blog up with pictures soon!}

Breakfast at the Premier Inn was delish...even if their internet services were lacking. At least they  know how to provide a decent meal. After eating way too much from the buffet (the fresh fruit was a definite plus to our typically high carb diet of late), we walked a few blocks to the London Family History Center (near the Victoria and Albert Museum) for our London “business visit.” It was actually just a lecture from an LDS expat, Ron Judd, who has worked in London for the past eleven years. He was very excited and passionate about what he was talking about, which made it an interesting lecture. Basically, he used his own life story about business and life successes as a motivational speech for us. It was pretty convincing actually. By the end of it even I felt like becoming a cool CEO of an international company and taking on the world...then I remembered that I hate business and would never want to do his job. But he did make some important and pertinent points. 

WARNING: Tangential block of words. This is mostly for my benefit as I have to write a paper about my business trip experiences. However, I thought I would include my thoughts in case you're interested. If not, no worries, just ignore the text within the brackets and skip to the next section of this post. 
That is all.

{I especially appreciated his assertion that great business/work success can be balanced with personal/family life, although it will come at a high cost. Sacrifices have to be made on both sides, but in the end, if you work hard at it and make family and your personal values a priority, you can find ways to balance them with your work life and still be successful. I think its important to see an example of someone who has done just that. He is the president of a major international company (Maiden Global Holdings, Ltd.) and still able to actively participate in Church callings, attend family activities (e.g. his childrens’ sports games and school functions) while maintaining integrity and high standards in the workplace. I also found his perspective on the challenges and experiences of moving abroad for work to be especially interesting. Apparently, it was a difficult transition for his family to come to London. The culture, people, lifestyle and even the language (although English) were dramatically different. However, they worked through these challenges and eventually came to love London and England and stayed longer (eleven years now) than originally planned (3-5 years). 
One of the things I found especially applicable was Judd’s advice to “build your own brand.” Consciously and subconsciously we have a specific “brand” that people associate with us. He encouraged us to be self-aware and begin developing our personal “brands” now, because that is what people, including potential employers and clients, will think of when they see us. This means that we need to determine now what our aspirations, goals and objectives are, personally and professionally, so that we can work to make them align with our ultimate plans for the future. If our aspirations, goals and values are not compatible, then we will run into trouble either professionally or personally (likely both) in the future. I think as members of the Church this is especially important because we have certain values and standards that do not always align with the goals and typical functioning of a business. Sacrifices will almost have to be made and it is our job to determine now what we are willing to give and what we are not willing to give in seeking this balance between our personal and professional careers. 
Another important point he made was encouraging education, for both men and women. He used his wife as an example of a lifelong learner. “Education is important in and of itself,” he told us, and urged us to pursue as much learning as possible. I think this is true for everyone because education (both formal and informal) will open doors in life that would otherwise not be available, and enriches your life personally. As a woman, I know that I want to gain a good education so that I can be prepared to support myself and later on even a family, if necessary, and then be more qualified to teach my own children. 
The final point I took away from this lecture was the ability to receive constructive criticism. I know that personally I struggle with this talent. I don’t like criticism, constructive or otherwise. However, I appreciated the way Judd approached it. He explained that we should not only be willing to accept constructive criticism, but to actually seek it. Judd used the example of a colleague/employee he had a few years ago. This man was highly intelligent and a great worker and asset to the company. However, whenever his name was mentioned in meetings for possible promotions, the response across the board was negative and disgusted. Why? Because of his appearance. He was a poor dresser (grungy, cheap and unkempt) and his office space was a mess. Because of this, in spite of his impressive work ethic, all that his coworkers could see was a slob, and he was continually passed by for promotion. Judd decided to take initiative on his behalf and inform his friend of the situation. He explained to the man that he had potential to move far in the company, but that he would have to make some changes to his appearance if he ever wanted to progress. The man took this criticism to heart and the following Monday he came to work a new man. Sharp new suit, briefcase and haircut. Spotless desk and office. He was promoted soon after and enjoyed great success in the business. I liked this anecdote because it shows not only the importance of receiving criticism constructively, but also the importance of maintaining a good personal brand. This man was held from promotion multiple times over, not because he wasn’t performing, but because his brand was tarnished. Once he cleaned up his appearance, his brand received a makeover too. 
Obviously, criticism can be constructive and ultimately rewarding in business, and in any life situation. However, Judd asserts that it is necessary to not only accept this criticism, but to actively seek it out. He claims that much of his success derives from his desire and initiative to learn and develop himself. How did he accomplish this? By seeking constructive criticism and advice from his coworkers, employers and friends. This kind of attitude of humble learning not only helped him turn his weaknesses into strengths, but it was an attractive quality to his business colleagues, and was certainly a factor in his brand success. 
Even though I may not go into business per se, I think this kind of attitude and advice is pertinent in any situation. By seeking constructive criticism and looking for opportunities to learn and improve, I can progress much faster and more effectively than if I go along pretending I already know everything. I think this lecture was one of my favorites so far on the trip because his advice was applicable across the disciplines, both professionally and personally. }
Phew. Okay, sorry about the tangent. I am using this blog for several purposes, one of which is to help me write our final paper at the end of this study abroad. Don’t worry, I won’t be offended if you skimmed through that bit. It was mostly for me, although I think that there were some good points that you might find interesting too. 

{View of Trafalgar Square near National Gallery: One of my favorite shots of London}
Once the lecture was over we had free time for a couple hours so a few of us took the tube to Leicester Square where we bought discounted tickets to Phantom of the Opera (£23) for that night. Afterwards, we walked around the theater district and Picadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square where we went through the National Gallery. I have been there before but it was really fun. There are some really fantastic artists shown there. 

Here are a few of my favorites:


Leonardo da Vinci
                                   Paul Delaroche                             Monet
                           Van Gogh
                                                                                                       Alfred Sisley
                                                            Camille Pissarro
Favorite pieces:

“The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” Delaroche, 1833

“The Boulevard Monmartre at Night” Pissarro, 1897
---->this was Pissarro’s only night scene. I love it not only for its beauty, but also because it is a painting of one of my favorite places in Paris (the area of Monmartre by the Sacre Coeur basilica). I can’t help loving everything Parisian. AND it is cool to see an old painting of a place I can actually recognize. It is amazing to me how very little old cities like Paris have changed in a hundred years. That street in a painting from 1897 was familiar to me from 2010. Obviously I can’t help but love this picture. 

“The Cote des Boeufs at L’Hermitage” Pissarro, 1877

“Avenue at Chantilly” Cezanne
“The Umbrellas” Renoir                                                        “At the Theatre” Renoir

“Van Gogh’s Chair” Van Gogh
                                              “A Wheatfield with Cypresses” Van Gogh
                “Farms Near Auvers” Van Gogh
                                “Miss LaLa at the Cirque Fernando” Degas, 1879

“Three Dancers in Violet Tutus” Degas, 1896
                                                                        “Ballet Dancers” Degas
“Lake Keitele” Akseli Gallen-Kallela
--->a lake north of Helsinki

{Some of these paintings I first noticed from across the room and it’s amazing how clear nda pure the picture looks. Then you move closer and you can see the detailed strokes. The change in perspective is really quite fascinating. For example, Gallen-Kallela’s painting looked like clear glassy water––it appeared as though you could go touch the canvas and come out wet. Truly beautiful. I love art.} 
We only had about an hour to go through the galleries, so we couldn’t see everything. However, I really enjoyed it. I think the fact that I had been there before made me less anxious to move through it quickly, so I just went at my own pace trying to appreciate some of my favorites. The impressionist works in the National Gallery are some of my favorite pieces of impressionist art anywhere. I’m not obsessed with impressionism (I know it is a favorite for many), but there are certainly a few key pieces of artwork that I just love from that genre, so I particularly enjoyed going through that part of the exhibit. 

At the end, we waited on a bench for two other girls to come back from another part of the gallery. However, while we were waiting, Heather got up and said she was going to walk around for a bit. Well, right after she left, the other two came back and Heather was no where to be found. We looked through a couple of the nearest rooms but didn’t see her. We don’t have cell phones so we couldn’t call her, and our next business visit at the Bank of England was in fifteen minutes. We considered leaving her, hoping she’d be able to make her way there on her own, but we didn’t feel good about that. It would be like the line from the movie Elf: 

“Bye Heather!
Good luck finding the Bank!”

That wasn’t a good plan, so then we were going to have two people wait behind for her and the rest of us would go. Luckily though, she arrived a few minutes later and we all headed for the Bank together. Usually there aren’t any problems with getting lost or falling behind, but when it happens it is always a hassle. It is amazing how convenient cell phones are. Good thing this doesn’t happen a lot. 
I won’t bore you too much on the Bank of England visit. Mostly because I fell asleep during the movie presentation. And because I don’t know much about banks, fiscal policy or currency. However, I will say a couple things. The Bank of England is 300 years old (established in 1694) and was nationalized in 1946. The notes issued by the Bank of England are legal tender in the United Kingdom and it backs the Scottish and Irish banknotes. It acts as the central bank for the U.K., similar to the Fed in the U.S. In 1997 the Treasury was put in charge of determining interest rates, instead of the politicians. The Independent Monetary Policy Committee (nine members) assembles to set rates and try to meet inflation rates/goals. The minutes of these meetings are available to the public two weeks after each assembly. All the functioning of the Bank is very transparent. 
Okay. Enough of that. If I fell asleep in the presentation, then you certainly aren’t going to be interested by this. Probably. 
Now for the fun stuff. Took me long enough...sorry about that...
I wandered around the area a bit with Michael, Hannah and Heather, and found a snack at a chain called “EAT” to tide me over until dinner (we missed lunch). Then we decided to go to King’s Cross Station

Because I’m going to HOGWARTS of course!
We took the tube over to the station and walked down the platforms. However, the platform was blocked off by construction. We stopped in front of the ticket turnstiles and stood around in a confused manner. I guess we were talking rather loudly (stupid Americans) because one of the workers standing behind the turnstiles motioned for me to come over. I walked over to him and he told me that the platform had been moved around the corner during the construction, and that we could get there without needing a ticket. I guess a group of four young girls chattering and gesturing confusedly is a dead giveaway. Oh well. I’m just happy he was kind enough to direct me to my destiny! 
We hurried around the corner onto the train platform and walked down until we found 
Platform 9 3/4

Life goal: Completed. 

Happiness: Achieved.

We took pictures in front of the platform for a few minutes. A cute train worker walked past us to a back room. I asked him if he wanted to come to Hogwarts with us. He didn’t know I was talking to him at first, but then he smiled and said he’s already been several times, but thanks for the offer. In a British accent. Good times. 
I went to Hogwarts. 

{That’s why I’ve taken so long to blog. The real reason. They don’t have free wifi in Hogwarts. Everything is by owl.  Go figure.}
However, as you may have guessed, I couldn’t stay at Hogwarts for long...hence this form of humdrum Muggle communication. Sad day. 
After a magical time at Platform 9 3/4, we walked (in Muggle fashion) to the tube and went back to the theater district for dinner. We had dinner at a place called Wagamama’s, an Asian food restaurant. Incidentally, it is the same restaurant I ate at in London last year with Meridith and Andrea! We ate there upon my recommendation. I’m not sure if I’ve seen them in the states, but they have good food, and a lot of it, for fairly cheap. I think my dish was about £8. So not terrible, considering. 
Once we finished our dinner, we walked around a bit. Heather’s foot was killing her, poor thing. She hasn’t been wearing good shoes on these cobblestones, so it has really messed up her feet. The same thing happened to me the first time I went to Paris while in high school. I was literally limping around I was in so much pain. So was Heather, by this point. Her feet ending up being in even worse shape than mine ever were. She could barely walk. Luckily, we were already in the theater district, so it didn’t take too long to find the theater. 

Phantom of the Opera.
Showtime: 7:30pm
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
So good. Our seats were terrible (to be expected at a discount price I guess). The upper half of the stage was blocked from view by the ceiling. Not to mention the fact that a French couple was sitting directly in front of me. And they kept kissing every couple minutes, further blocking my already limiting viewing space. There was an Asian guy next to me who just sat up on the folded part of the seat. He was basically standing the whole time. 
Fortunately though, after the intermission, we moved up to the middle in some empty seats that had no viewing limitations. The show was exponentially improved by this. The music was fantastic. I loved it. Although, I feel like the production was a little hyped up. However, I would see it again. I’d like to see it on Broadway and compare them. I’m wondering if the production is better in New York than London. Either way, it was a great show. The music in that play is phenomenal. Way better than Wicked. That play is much too overrated. The rest of the class went  to see Les Mis that night, and the following night many went to see Wicked. Personally, I’m happy with my choice of Phantom. How can you beat Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London??

You can’t.