A Travellerspoint blog

First Week

Overwhelming is one of few words appropriate to describe our first week of classes in Florence.

Everyone was running around every day trying to get housing and classes settled, which consisted of a lot of bitchiness and a lot of crying (although not on my part). I love having a big group of friends, but a lot of the time it is tough to satisfy everyone’s specific wants, needs, and complaints. We all wanted to make sure that we were able to do the excursions together, such as going to Pisa, Siena, The Uffizi, the David, etc., but when all 180 of us are swarming around the sign-up table four-year-olds, it makes the coordination difficult. Everything worked out in the end, and we all signed up for the things we wanted to do.

On Monday, all absolute beginners started their Italian classes, while anyone who was trying to place into a higher level took the written and oral placement tests. The grammar was challenging because my Italian class last semester was oral expression, therefore we did not review much of the grammar. The guy who I talked to for the oral part of the exam said my Italian was good, which was nice to hear. I was one of five people in our entire program who placed into the highest level.

We had a meeting about our housing, which was a bit pointless—we knew everything already. They had gone over most of what was in the housing handbook they gave us at our orientation meeting, which all of us actually read rather thoroughly. But the way they do the housing is ridiculously chaotic. They do a great job of trying to place us together based on the housing forms we sent to the housing director back in November, but in the few short days we have known each other, everyone has made friends and formed groups of people who they would feel comfortable living with. Then, if we were not happy with the people we are living with or where we are living, we had a week to finalize our living situation by moving names around on the board where our apartment assignments were posted. Most of the guys did not have a problem with their housing because they are a lot less catty than girls. Many people feel like they got screwed over with housing and some people are just so stingy and cannot accept where they are placed to live, therefore they HAVE to live move to be closer to their friends otherwise they will not be happy. Fortunately, I was placed with one of my roommates now, Sinead, and another girl named Katherine, who seems to be really nice. We are living on Via del Boschette 21, which is apparently near the Colosseum, so that will be fun.

The program set up a welcome cocktail for us on Monday night at a restaurant called Colle Bereto in the center of town. We all went and had little appetizers and wine and I was able to relax a little bit.

We started our classes on Tuesday, except no one informed us that Advanced Italian starts at 9 instead of 9:30 like the other classes. It was embarrassing to walk into class thirty minutes late on the first day, and is considered rude by Italian professors. My teacher, was very cool about it, and just chuckled at us when we walked in. This class is a lot like the classes I took when I was in Florence two years ago: in addition to the seven American students in the class, there are about ten other students of all ages from other countries, which adds a fun atmosphere to the classroom. They are from Switzerland, France, Portugal, Spain, and Brazil, and range in age from 20 to 60ish. Most of them speak French (Switzerland and France), but it amazing to hear the different accents from the different parts of the country, and sometimes they do not all understand each other. To me, the two women from France have the strongest difference in accents. Celine is from Southern France (I believe) and has a deeper, more throaty accent than Maria Elena, who hails from Paris. Her voice is high and squeaky, her posture is rigid, and she is very fashionable. (The best way I can describe her will only make sense to Harry Potter readers: She reminds me of Dolores Umbridge in The Order of the Phoenix. It is quite hilarious, actually—she make those squeaky coughing noises when she says something and I cannot help but laugh).

While we are in Florence, our classes run from 9-12:45 every day. They are divided into conversational and grammar, with a half-hour break in between because Italians love their coffee (but only in the morning). Rosanna explained to us on the first day that Italian is mandatory for the duration of our stay in Italy because it is integral to know the language of the country we are living in (of course I agree with her). I like the conversational part of the class better (which is pretty standard), because it is more fun and I like that professor, Paolo, more. The grammar class is tedious and boring, and my professor, Ugo, is sarcastic and sometimes unforgiving of mistakes. Most of the other European students in the class know their own language, English, speak Italian very well, and probably know another language or five. All of this grammar is review for me, but I am finding myself having to relearn the rules of the tenses and there are SO many of them. I know it will make my Italian that much better, but getting to that point is pretty taxing.

After our classes on Tuesday, we had a meeting with Rosanna (our director) about academics. She just gave a brief overview of where our classes are held, what classes are like, and what we should expect from our Italian professors. I will be taking an art history course on the High Renaissance, a communications course on the History of Italian Cinema, an English class on Greek and Roman Mythology, and Advanced Italian. Classes in Rome run Monday through Thursday, and Fridays are reserved for mandatory class trips to museums and things. All of my classes sound really cool, and they are all mostly subject I have not studied before.

For our first Italian excursion, we went to Siena on Wednesday. I went to Siena once when I was in Florence before, but I did not explore it as thoroughly as I wanted to. It is a tiny, hilly, walled-in city surrounded by five miles of brick walls. Siena is made up of seventeen neighborhoods, or contrade, in Italian. They are each represented by an animal, which range from a goose to a rhino to a unicorn. They each have their coat of arms and the lines of their neighborhoods are clearly defined by plaques where each begins and ends. Twice over the summer, once in July and once in August, Siena holds the Palio, a horse race between the contrade, in the Piazza del Campo (the main town square). This is when the neighborhoods are able to duke out their rivalries that date back to the foundation of Siena. Each contrada has a jockey and a horse, and if they win the coveted title of Palio champion, they earn bragging rights and a flag (aptly called “the Palio”) for the year.

We headed towards the cathedral, which literally appeared out of nowhere. We were walking up a hill and came to a sudden clearing where we were faced with the ornate façade of the Siena Cathedral. The white, green, and red marble is similar to that of the Duomo in Florence but the front of this cathedral is softer and more delicate: overall it is just prettier. Inside the cathedral was even more impressive than the outside. Strangely, however, the nave is lined with massive black and white striped pillars, which have an extremely looming effect and I felt like they completely dwarfed my existence. The floor is tiled with red, black, and white marble that tell stories of the Bible in a beautiful way. This was my favorite church thus far.

We climbed a few more hills and out of nowhere appeared the gigantic Piazza del Campo. It is a lot bigger than you would imagine, especially for being in the middle of such a tiny city. The last time I was there it was full of people, but this time there were only a couple of college students sitting in the sloping center doing their homework in the twilight. We went into the main building, the town hall (with the famous clock tower) and looked around in there, which was not very exciting.

(I apologize for this anecdote, but I must make another Twilight reference. Il Piazza del Campo is exactly what I picture for the scene in New Moon where Edward is hiding in the shadows and about to step out into the sun. And by the way, Shash, they are filming New Moon in Italy while I am here—we are going to find out precisely where they are filming and are going to stalk them and meet Robert Pattinson if it the last thing we do).

On Thursday we went to the Galleria dell’Accedemia to see the magnificent David, who is most definitely the most beautiful man I will see while I am in Italy, and there are hardly words to describe the experience. He was just as breathtaking as the first time I saw him: I sincerely doubt a sculpture with that kind of brilliance will ever be duplicated in anyone’s lifetime.

It rained again on Friday, surprise, surprise. It was my friend Brenna’s birthday, so we decided to go to go on a program-sponsored trip to Chianti to go wine tasting. Just like everything else in Tuscany, the castle where the wine tasting took place was beautiful. We tasted five different kinds of wine, and were served garlic and olive oil foccacia with pecorino cheese, which of course were delicious.

We had planned to spend the day on Saturday shopping, and surprisingly the driving rain did not deter us from spending all day diving into shoe store after shoe store until we had been in every single shoe store in the greater Duomo area. My Uggs were soaked by the time we returned to the hotel: they had transformed from chestnut to dark brown. Unfortunately I did not find what I was looking for—I had this perfect vision of camel-colored boots that I wanted to find and would not settle for anything less.
We celebrated Brenna’s birthday on Saturday by going to my favorite restaurant in Florence, Trattoria 4 Leoni (Four Lions). I went three or four times when I was in Florence last time and have been dreaming about their food ever since. We had a party of eighteen and an entire room to ourselves, and raised the volume of the restaurant as we ate and drank the best of Florence. I had been talking about my favorite pasta since we arrived in London: fiochetti (which look like little sacks) filled with pears and drenched in a creamy cheese sauce. All six of us sitting at my table ordered the pasta, and basically died and went to heaven when they ate it. As my friend Carly took the last bite of her pasta, she said “Ciao mi amore,” and consequently we all laughed hysterically. Dinner ended with what I think is the best tiramisu in the city and a bottle of Prosecco (Italian champagne). I could eat that meal for the rest of my life and be perfectly content.

Albeit hectic, the first week here has been great.

Posted by taylork210 04:37 Comments (2)

Adjusting to the Italian Lifestyle

We have not seen the sun since last Friday, and the cold, continuous drizzle makes this city pretty grim. The streets are littered with cigarette butts and huge puddles of dirty water. The air is polluted with gas and stale smoke, and faintly smells of wet garbage, a combination which has a throat-burning effect. Miscellaneous pieces of trash are carelessly thrown into the Arno, gather along the banks on the side of the river, and are promptly covered with a brown film. Swans and heinous water rats alike appear to thrive in this foul water source.

Despite this grime, Florence retains its majestic beauty that has been a defining characteristic of the city for centuries. It was only a matter of time before I adjusted to the Italian lifestyle, and I knew I just needed to be patient.

On Saturday, we had an orientation meeting at a Borghese palace in the center of Florence. If you were just meandering around the city without agenda, you would never, ever, in a million years, guess that a palace this enormous and elaborate was sitting in the city center. I do not know anything about the Borghese family, but I am sure they were rich and powerful based on this building. We started off with icebreakers consisting of nametags and balloons, but I will spare you the details.

I love the way Italians eat. It is a celebration of sorts, and should basically take as long as humanly possible, which is why our lunch break that day lasted for two hours. Lunch was prepared by the staff of this place (which I think may be a hotel, as well), and it was PHENEMONAL: definitely the best meal I have had since I have been in Europe. And there area about 180 of us so it is not easy to cook well for all of us all the time. We were split between three rooms with gold borders, red and turquoise walls, huge mirrors on a wall, and extravagant chandeliers. We started out with pesto lasagna with this white cheese sauce that is often used instead of marinara, although I cannot remember what it is called. This would have been more than plenty, but then our waiters plopped two bottles of wine on our table. They brought out our second course, which consisted of grilled chicken, spinach, and very crunch potatoes. Italians know how to cook because nothing ever needs any kind of extra seasoning: it is absolutely perfect the way it is served. We finished our wine and tiramisu for dessert, and headed back into the conference room for our actual meeting.

From the minute we sat down in this meeting, I knew it was going to be good. Although it would be mainly housekeeping things, our program directors are super organized and efficient. They gave us a folder with everything we could possibly need for our stay in Florence: a map of the city, description of the program, a student handbook that has recommendations for everything from restaurants to electronic stores to where to buy our books. We also found an itinerary of activities mainly sponsored by the school that we were able to sign up for. These include a soccer match, trips to the Uffizi, visits to the Galleria d’Accademia (where Michaelangelo’s David is located), wine tasting, trips to Pisa and Siena, screenings of Italian movies like Bernini’s La Vità è Bella, and about a zillion of other things which only cost 5 Euro at the most: the rest of it is covered by our program. We jumped on the woman who had the sign-up sheets so we could get everything we wanted—it was pretty hectic.

Rosanna Graziani, our director, is a super-stylish, 40-something Italian who we are all in love with. She just spoke for a while about the program and why we were here and things like that. She then had a policeman come to talk to us about safety in Italy, which was reassuring to hear even though we all knew everything he had to say.

All in all, my first impression of this program has been positive. It is comforting to know the staff is attentive and keep us incredibly well informed about what is going on in our academics, extracurricular activities, the program, and the country. It is going to be a great semester.

Posted by taylork210 07:13 Comments (2)


Benvenuto a Firenze!

We FINALLY arrived in Florence on Friday after the trip from hell. You would think that traveling two hours to another country in Europe would be relatively easy, but this was not the case. It is a good thing that every single person working for British Airways is super helpful and nice. We were supposed to leave the hotel at 7:45am SHARP. However, due to some people who apparently cannot follow directions, we sat on the bus for an hour before we actually departed from the hotel. One girl was sound asleep, even though her roommate swore that they had a conversation when the alarm one off. Another boy was absolutely convinced that his flight was supposed to leave the next day, so he did not get up and was consequently left at the hotel.

I pretty much need to send the majority of my stuff home: my suitcases are too heavy to carry. Of course, I had to pay extra for the overweight bag, which was fine. But the woman who I talked to when I paid totally reprimanded me and told me to remember to bring less the next time I traveled through Europe. As if I did not know that already. To top this all off, my small red suitcase, which is DEFINITELY carry-on size, must have gotten itself a steroid injection between the time I left the Newark Airport and the time I departed from London Gatwick. After trying to make it shrink, I ended up having to check this bag too. I was so frustrated that I went up to the woman in tears, and I guess she must have taken pity on me because she did not charge me for my extra bag, which was sweet of her. So I finally got to security and was on the verge of breaking down. My bag was exploding and I just wanted to apparate to Florence, but unfortunately I am not Harry Potter (Apparating is when you wave your wand and are immediately in another location without so much as a blink. It comes from the Latin word “paro” which means to appear. Too bad I am not a witch or a wizard). As if my luck was not already horrible, my bag was searched—every single thing in my bag was taken out and put on the table. It was really not a big deal, they just took out a bottle of soap that was apparently too big to carry onto the plane, but miraculously made it through the Newark security. After about thirty minutes of this whole thing, I made it to Dana and Brenna who were waiting for me on the other side and I just broke down. Everyone was perfectly nice about everything, but I was agitated and exhausted and it was just not fun.

Luckily, the plane ride was smooth and only two hours long. Everyone got their luggage without a problem, and we got on the bus and headed out of Pisa to Florence. The bus ride was fine, it just took us forever to get from the outskirts of Florence into the center of the city because we arrived during rush hour.

The city is beautiful at night, and the first things I saw when we crossed the Arno were the top of the Duomo and the tower in Piazza della Signoria. We actually drove right past the building where I took classes two years ago! I pointed out what everything was to Dana and Brenna, and was getting excited to be there.

We are staying in the four-star Hotel Anglo American for the duration of our stay in Florence. It is a gorgeous hotel and only about a fifteen-minute walk into the center of town. My roommates are Renee, who I hung out with in London, and Sinead, who I happened to sit next to on the bus tour in London. She lives outside of Philadelphia and goes to Pitt. We were originally supposed to have four girls in the room, but one of them ended up moving out and into somewhere else with some friends. It is better this way: we have a ton of floor space and lots of room to hang out. They are both super down-to-earth and we all want the same things out of the program, which is reassuring.

I have not exactly hit stride yet, although I feel like I should have by now. I know it is a bit of an adjustment, and we have only been here for two days, but that will come soon enough. Until then I will just work on patiently reorienting myself with this city I love and everything Italian.

Posted by taylork210 06:10 Comments (2)

London Calling

Adventures from the second day.

Trying to fit the entire history of the British Empire into one day is pretty hard, but somehow we managed to accomplish a lot today. Our program set up a private bus tour for us so we could see the most important sights of London. Our coach driver (a privately hired bus is called a “coach” in London), Nikki, was this 60-ish sassy British woman who pretty much knew everything there is to know about the history of England, which was extremely helpful.

Our hotel, the Park Inn, was right near Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park, so we were staying in a pretty upscale hotel. We started out by going through Kensington Gardens, which is the antique center of town: this is where Portobello Road is. When she pointed this out, I got the song about Portobello Road from “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” stuck in my head. Some of the biggest houses London are located in Kensington Gardens, and they are absolutely enormous. Nikki said it was nicknamed “Millionaire Road.”

From there we traveled west and then to the south side of Kensington Gardens. We saw the church, St. Mary’s (I think) where Prince William and Prince Harry went while they were growing up. Beatrix Potter was also a member of this church! Turning east, we saw the Prince Albert memorial in the gardens: this memorial cost 10 million pounds to be restored. Near here there is also the Prince Albert Hall, a performance hall where Cirque de Soleli is currently taking place. Nikki told us that Eric Clapton likes to play there, too.

We then headed into the area with the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Victoria and Albert’s museum has many of the collections from Victoria’s rule such as furniture, art, and jewelry. Fun fact about these two: they had seventeen children!! All of the national museums in London are free admission.

We proceeded onto Brompton Road, where Harrod’s is located. I learned that Harrod was Egyptian, and it was his son who was killed in the car crash with Diana, so there is a small memorial dedicated to them inside the store. This is the more expensive shopping part of town, Nikki said. Sloane Street is apparently the 5th Ave of London.

Contrary to popular belief, the security around Buckingham Palace is not a secure as it should be, despite the barbed wire around the street that the Royal Mews are located. Apparently, the Queen once woke up to a curious man standing over her bed. He was totally harmless; he just wanted to see what she did during the day. Another time, two guys dressed as Batman and Robin tried to scale the brick walls and get into the Palace. Unfortunately they were not as slick as their costumes made them look: one of them got their pants stuck on the barbed wire while attempting the climb and was promptly arrested.

There are 600 rooms in Buckingham Palace. What one does with 600 rooms I have no idea. Charles, William, and Harry do not even live in the Palace!! They live across the way in Clarence House. You would think the Queen, who turns 83 this year, would have the room to spare and would enjoy the company. I guess these rooms came in handy when Victoria and Albert’s seventeen kids had friends over. Interestingly enough, the Queen hates coming to London: Buckingham Palace is essentially her “office,” so when she comes to London it means she is in the city for work. She spends most of her time in the countryside at Windsor Castle. There are two ways to tell whether the Queen is in the city or not. The first is to see if all of the guard boxes outside the castle are full. If they are all occupied, she is in London. Also, her turquoise flag on the top of the castle is a signal that she is there. Unfortunately the flag of Great Britain was flying, so there was no chance of a royal sighting while we were there.

After Buckingham Palace, we continued through St. James Park. We saw the Palace where Diana lived, and the place where all the flowers were laid after she died. Nikki said that she came to the park after her death and the smell of the thousands and thousands of flowers was utterly overpowering. This is strange because there are no flowerbeds in St. James Park. Since this part of London was once countryside, the park used to be a burial ground for the plague. They did not want to plant anything in the park because archeologists have discovered that a form of plague is still viable, which is a bit daunting.

We passed through Trafalger Square and headed to the neighborhood of Westminster. We drove past Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and Big Ben. For those of you who do not know, Big Ben is the name of the bell inside the clock tower, not the clock tower itself. We could see the London Eye from where we were, and we were so stoked to take a ride on the biggest Ferris Wheel in the world. It inconveniently was closed for maintenance the week we arrived, and was to reopen on the day we left. What luck.

We went over London Bridge (which is not falling down), saw the Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London, where the Queen’s jewels are kept, including the biggest cut diamond in the world, which is something like 500 carats.

There is London, the capital of Great Britain, and then there is the City of London, the financial district of the larger city. It has been called the “city” since around the 1500s, I believe. We saw the oldest bank in London, which is denoted by the symbol of a uniquely shaped golden bottle: since many people could not read hundreds and hundreds of years ago, storeowners and bankers had to figure out a way to distinguish themselves. To remember where their money was kept, Londoners just had to search for this gold bottle. We saw Barclays and the bank that was used for Gringotts, Harry Potter’s bank. Fleet Street is the main thoroughfare through the City of London, which is where Sweeney Todd, the demon barber, was said to have committed his crimes. We took a short break at St. Paul’s Cathedral to talk around and see the place where Diana and Charles are married. The steps leading up to the cathedral are where the old lady feeds the birds in Mary Poppins (that scene was filmed here). This makes sense because it is the first time Jane and Michael go to the Bank with their father, which I thought was pretty cool.

The bus tour ended in Covent Garden, where Henry Higgins met Eliza Doolittle. We stuck around here for a while and went to a pub for lunch. Dana wanted the national meal of England: fish and chips. She was ecstatic when we found somewhere with them, and said it was delicious.

From there, we took the metro to Westminster Abbey and had a private tour, which was awesome. For the introduction, we got to sit in the seats where the Abbey choir usually sits. The Abbey is the Queen’s church, and she is the highest-ranking officer in the church. She has appointed a dean to act in her place because she obviously cannot maintain the church as well as the entire British Empire. Every single coronation ceremony since William I has been held here. The story says that he was unsatisfied with his birthday presents, so he stormed into Westminster Abbey and demanded to be crowned the King of England. It is also where the Queen Mother and Diana’s funerals both took place. Almost every monarch in England is buried here, so naturally it was only a matter of time before the Abbey ran out of room. Due to this, the Queen Mum and Diana were buried in Windsor Castle.

Obviously, there are graves all over the floor. But there is one grave in particular that is never, ever stepped on: it is the tomb of the first Unknown Soldier. Even the Queen has to walk around it when she comes into the Abbey.

It is reassuring to see Geoffrey Chaucer’s grave and will not be writing any more masterpieces like The Canterbury Tales. It is by far the smallest grave in the Abbey: he only stood at 4’3”!! He is surrounded by memorials, ashes, and in some cases the bodies of people like Dryden, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Dickens, and of course, Shakespeare.

We decided to continue our education of Shakespeare with a trip to the Globe Theater. It was reconstructed its original location in 1997 after being burnt down twice. Since there are no blueprints of the theater, it was a challenge to rebuild it, but they did a great job of trying to recreate it. They used 12,000 wooden pegs (no nails at all in the theater), oak pillars, a thatched roof, and a sprinkler system around the roof so it does not burn down again. The Royal Scottish Company and Theater and Music was practicing on stage while we were on our tour. Sometimes, to retain the feel of Shakespeare days, they do all-male productions.

After running amuck all over London, we went back to the hotel, and I met up with Meredith Hershenson (a friend and Pi Phi from Dickinson, who is studying in London for the semester). We went to a small Italian restaurant around the corner from our hotel and talked to for a while. Afterwards, she met up with her roommates and I headed out to a pub with Dana, Brenna, Ariel, Carly, Renee, Caitlin, and Brad. We had a great time, laughing and talking and getting to know each other.

As much as I love London, I am glad I decided to go back to Italy for the semester. We leave the hotel at 7:45am tomorrow for Firenze. I cannot wait.

Posted by taylork210 04:31 Comments (1)


Good thing my gang is full of "pretty people!"

I arrived in London this morning! It may be one of the most gorgeous cities I have ever been to: I am in love already and I have been here for a mere eighteen hours.

My bags were wayyyyyyy too heavy, surprise, surprise. I definitely brought too much stuff. Oh well! While waiting to check-in to my flight in Newark, I met a girl named Dana who is also studying with my program. We got to talking, and after she had a ticketing mishap, she requested to sit next to me on the plane. We went to the terminal together and talked about everything: She is an English/Art History major from Summit, New Jersey and goes to Maryland (therefore my mom automatically loves her). She was fun to talk to—it seems like we want most of the same things out of this program. We even made a list of the places we would like to visit while we are here: Switzerland, Croatia, Vienna, Barcelona, and Prague are among them.

Our flight was incredibly turbulent, and I did not sleep a wink. I attempted to get at least a few minutes of sleep, but my mind was racing with the anticipation of getting to London, so I watched the movie “Crash” and listened to some music. It was a relatively short flight, five hours and forty-five minutes, and we landed at Heathrow at 6:00a.m.

It is amazing the small-world stories one ends up with at 6:30a.m. when you are beyond the point of exhaustion, look completely disheveled, and cannot form coherent sentences. On the train to the baggage claim terminal, this girl came up to me and said “You look familiar” and nothing more. After some prodding, I deduced that she is Kate Furman (or Fruman or something) and she lived in Rumson for a year when we were freshman in high school—we took Mr. Chern’s Honors English class together freshman year at RFH. It turns out we were on the same flight from Newark—she goes to school in Florida and is heading to Bulgaria for the semester (kind of a random place, I know). But I did not get a chance to talk to her any more than that—we were separated when we got to border control.

Dana and I got our bags without a problem (which was a miracle considering her horrible luck with ticketing in Newark), and met up with some other girls who were on our flight. I was standing with my bags talking to Dana, Brenna (from Manalapan, goes to Maryland), Carly (from Connecticut, goes to Virginia Tech), and Renee (from Maryland, goes to Towson), when I heard “Kelsey?” At this point, I was staring at these girls (who, in the few short hours I have known them, have become my London posse), thinking, who the hell could be calling my name? I have been in London for all of thirty minutes and literally just met these girls. I turned around to the caller and it took me just too long to recognize the guy: it was one of Max’s friends from D.C., Ryan, who is studying in London for the semester. Max introduced me to him once last year when I visited him—he is a junior at UVA, and a really nice guy. For some reason, I was dumbfounded by his presence, and it took me a couple of tries to get the correct words out of my mouth. We ended up talking for a few minutes about our semesters and what we were planning on doing in Europe. So who knows, maybe I will see him again.

After waiting in the airport for a few other flights to get in, about twenty of us piled onto our private bus (or “coach” as they are called in London) to get into the center of the city. The drive took about an hour, and it was totally foggy, so we did not get to see everything we had hoped to. Dana, Brenna, Carly, Renee, and I met up with Dana’s friend from school, Brad, who had just flown in from JFK and sat together on the bus chitchatting the whole way to the city. We were each randomly assigned a room with one roommate for the duration of our stay in London. We dropped our bags and went out to find some breakfast and stop at an ATM (Barclays!). I do not think our waitress liked us very much—we sat around at our tables for about an hour just getting to know one another.

We then came back to the hotel to freshen up before our self-guided tour of London Dana, Brenna, Carly, Renee, and Brad, grabbed two new friends, Matt and Jake, and set out on an excursion through the city. The AIFS representative showed us how to get through Hyde Park (our hotel is right across the street from it) in order to get to Harrod’s. Harrod’s is the largest department store in Great Britain, maybe in all the world: it is a full block long and a full block wide. You could not spend the entire three days allotted for us to see London and see everything in Harrod’s. We spent a mere forty-five minutes in the grand store and really did not see much! We at least saw the Egyptian Escalators, which were really cool. There is a caviar bar, a sushi bar, a full butcher, a chocolate shop, a whole other grocery section, hairdressers and numerous other salons, banks, and a display for every single designer you could possibly think of. It was beautiful.

After Harrod’s, we decided we had done quite enough walking for the day, so we hopped on the Tube, London’s metro system. You can buy a daily pass for 5 pounds, and it lasts you until the time the last trains run that night, which is usually around midnight. Our first experience in the subway here was a guy playing guitar and screaming after us “Hey guys—remember—if you’re not one of the pretty people—you’re one of the ugly people!” I still do not really know what that means, but we laughed about it for the rest of the day.

We only had to go about a mile, and came out right in front of the Ritz Carlton in London. We walked up the street a bit and headed into Fortnum & Mason, the gourmet grocery store where Her Royal Highness the Queen of England buys her groceries. Everything is fresh, they make Turkish Delight and fudge right in front of you. They have every kind of jam known to mankind, and probably even some unknown to mankind. The store is beautiful, decorated with Tiffany’s-like coloring and a four-story silver spiral staircase in the middle of the shop.

Right next to Fortnum & Mason is a bookstore called Hatchards, the oldest bookstore in London, dating back 200 years. Genres are split into the five levels of the store, which also has a spiral staircase, although this one is creaky and old. The two men working there reminded me of Harry Potter characters: both elderly, yet seemed to have a magical effect on everyone they talked to. They appeared to have a special relationship with every one of their customers, which brought a smile to my face.

We headed next door to a café called Cilantro for lunch. Despite it’s name, it did not serve anything remotely having to do with cilantro, but was more of a coffee bar and a panini place. Again, the eight of us lingered there for about an hour after we were done eating to just hang around and chat. We jumped back on the Tube and headed back to the hotel for some R&R before dinner and such.

Our representatives planned a reception for us in the lobby of the hotel, and we pretty much took over the entire ground floor. It was fun to get to know other kids who came in on the later flights. There are about 180 of us total, so I am constantly seeing new faces everywhere. My gang and I stuck together and headed to dinner in Soho, which is the shopping district (or one of many) of London. We walked around and headed to a pub for a beer. We got there just in time for the locals to also arrive, and they looked at us like we must have been nuts. Again, we did a lot of talking and laughing until the bell rang for last call and we ventured back to our hotel for the night.

I love this city already, mainly the architecture of the buildings and they way the city is laid out. While it still has a city feel, it is a distinctly European city with minimal skyscrapers and instead low buildings that highlight the ever-present grey skies of London. The intricate sculpture done on the buildings is marvelous to look at because it is on every single building throughout the city. London is a relatively clean city, from what I have seen, although the food basically sucks: I have been dreaming of Italian food since I got here. I guess I will just suffer though until Friday.

So, since I have been awake since I was in the States yesterday at 9a.m. without so much as a cat nap, it is time for bed. Tomorrow we are going to see Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the Queens Jewels, Westminster Abbey, and probably taking a ride on the London Eye.

Love to all, miss you tons.

Posted by taylork210 16:27 Comments (4)

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