Coming soon to an internet near you
Coming soon to an internet near you
With that little order of business out of the way, allow me to apologize for the lack of updates throughout most of February. Where I lacked in updates, I dominated in traveling. Imagine getting a massive killstreak in your favorite online FPS. You’re taking terrorists/monsters/robots/Barney the Dinosaurs down left and right; your teammates are jealous; your enemies are infuriated; you feel nothing but adrenaline fueled bliss.
That was me. Besides the killing part, anyway. If my previous post was any indication, I went to Dover, Canterbury, Bath, a night club (oi), Westminster Abbey, and Barcelona. Not on that post is Wales, where I spent this previous weekend. Not to be redundant, but there will be plenty of half-sarcastic blogging in the very near future. By the way, Wales’ entire government representation is composed of nothing but sheep.
With no further baaaaaaado, allow me to recant the tale of my day traveling to Dover and Canterbury.
The nice thing about going on trips through Queen Mary is that the buses come right to campus. The potentially disastrous downside is that they don’t ever take roll, so any Tom, Dick, or Seamus could hop on the bus. As far as I can tell, that didn’t happen. Riding up to Dover on a double-decker bus was nice, except the heater was broken. Normally, when you think of a broken heater in an English February, you probably think the passengers try starting fires out of upholstery and seat cushions for warmth. In this case, the heater could not be turned off full blast. On our way back from Dover, my little group of amigos migrated to the first deck of the bus.
When we got to Dover, we were basically told to be back at the bus at 1:30 and that there was a tour through the old WWII tunnels at 11:40. Probably not in that illogical order, but you’re not the one writing this blog.
The tour through the tunnels was a mixture of ghosts reenacting an injured pilot’s trip to the infirmary, randomly dimming lights, and walking under a lot of rock. Anyway, after the tour we walked the castle grounds.
After climbing a huge hill or three, we finally reached the whole reason we came: Dover Castle itself.
…Except at that point, we had all of five minutes to get back to the buses. Se we sadly left the castle without ever getting further than I’m standing. We were the first people back on the bus, so we just waited around inside.
For forty minutes.
Apparently there was some miscommunication. See, our tour guide randomly stopped people and told them the bus was going to leave much later because we arrived so late. Unfortunately, they somehow missed a quarter of the Queen Mary students running around a giant castle. When my little group heard what had happened, we were not pleased, but it’s not like there was anything we could do at that point.
Dover pictures can be found here.
Fast forward a bit and we reached Canterbury. The tour guides essentially steered us away from where the bus parked and into the touristy part of town, letting us loose to tell two stories each along the way to and from the church. After making a few quick plans and watching a baby rock out to a local band, we decided to go to the cathedral.
When we got to the cathedral’s ticket booth, we were told all tickets were discounted from whatever to £6. Hooray! But the cathedral itself is off limits due to construction. D: We still got to explore the exterior and the vaults or catacombs or whatever, which was pretty cool. Still, this was one famous cathedral I didn’t get to enter.
Canterbury pictures can be found here.
After wandering around for a while, drinking (and spilling) tea, and buying gummy dolphins (they taste like guilt and tuna), we returned to London, telling two stories each along the way.
Not really. The designated author got lazy and stopped the whole thing well before fulfilling even a quarter of his original idea.
Any frequenter of this blog has probably noticed my lack of updates. Believe it or not, this isn’t caused entirely by my laziness. No, I have, in fact, been too busy to update. Besides homework, I’ve been going places. Places like Dover, Canterbury, Bath, Westminster Abbey, and, to stand out from all the rest, the Ministry of Sound, one of London’s hottest night clubs.
So, as a checklist for you and a reminder for me, here are some things I’ll post about in the undetermined future:
QMUL excursion 1: Dover/Canterbury
Butler Excursion 1: Bath
Differences between US and England (dining, grocery shopping, crossing the street, homicidal motorists, how polite everybody is, etc)
Ministry of Sound
I won’t write these in any particular order. Until then, I’ll be spending all my spare time watching Veronica Mar-er, drafting these blog posts and diligently doing my homework.
I was still furious about Hedwig’s death until I saw this:
Somebody get these owls some letters to deliver!!
For the uninformed, I am a humongous fan of Sherlock Holmes. Like, really huge.
I haven’t read all Holmes literature, but I have read a majority of the short stories and one novel. Slowly but surely I’m making my way through all the books. Regardless, when I was deciding where exactly I wanted to spend my semester abroad in England, I was torn between Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes, so to speak. Should I go to school in the English countryside and play Quidditch with all the outdoorsy folk, breathe the clean air, and deal with lower prices (ARG!!), or do I go to England’s biggest city, deal with high prices (ARG!!!!), and visit the replica home of my British hero?
I didn’t hide my Holmes addiction. During my first few weeks, I asked several other people if they’d be interested in coming with me to the Holmes museum (somebody had to take my picture, after all). Eventually I broke the wills of two other Americans. (Okay, I asked nicely and they wanted to come. Also, I don’t like traveling and/or doing sightseeing in London by myself. The big mobs aren’t trustworthy enough for me to look awestruck while wandering around). With the traveling companions confirmed and the date set, I was ready. On Saturday, 25 January 2010, I completed my hajj and arrived at my Mecca.
First of all, the Baker Street tube station was awesome. Each tube station here has its own unique vibe to it: Westminster is modern, gray, and industrial, King’s Cross has witches and wizards running through walls, Tottenham has all sorts of cool murals, and Baker Street looks like it hasn’t modernized in over a hundred and thirty years. (Besides the electric signs, lights, Oyster card readers, cash machines, computers, digital displays of train schedules, etc.)
One of the first things to see when you get outside the station is the previously posted Holmes statue. Believe me, I was not the first person in line to get my picture there, but I do have to wonder the dedication of the people waiting…
Okay, I have to get this off my chest: Holmes wore his trademark deerstalker cap maybe twice. Nineteen times out of twenty, he was wearing a derby. And he didn’t smoke from a pipe very often, at least not the kind he’s usually portrayed with. His tobacco intake method of choice was either cigarettes, corn cob pipes, or cocaine. Something tells me most of the people that visit the museum – hell, most of the people who know who Sherlock Holmes is – don’t know this. But now you do!
After some wandering around, we did eventually make our way to the museum. Heart pounding, legs fidgeting, arms flailing, I crossed the street and found myself before a quaint, narrow building, guarded by a traditional (read: unofficial) bobby. He was kind enough to tell us where to buy the £6 tickets, and he even offered props for pictures!
After looking around the gift shop for a while, we bought our tickets and made our way up exactly seventeen steps to Holmesian nirvana.
The items on display were awesome. There were knick knacks from all sorts of Holmes stories. From the first to third floors, the entire building was amazing. Holmes’ room was on the first floor, which was a total mess. The Holmes impersonator pointed me out to his chemistry set, his desk, his bedroom, and the VR he shot into the wall (Victoria Regina, like he had to tell me. Pshaw.) Next floor up was Watson’s chambers, which was much tidier and had some more specific stuff. Third floor was their caretaker’s quarters, which had a few various items and a ton of wax dummies. Unfortunately, camera battery problems didn’t allow me to save many of the pictures I took of the took of the wax dummies, but trust me, they were cool. Rather than write about it, I’m going to show some of the pictures I did take.
On the stair case, there was this one random wax dummy of a little boy. I wasn’t entire sure who it was supposed to be, but I’ll be damned if the little bugger wasn’t creepy.
Some of the stuff on display was also a bit on the macabre side…
If you’d like to see the rest of the gallery (and trust me, nothing there is nearly as disturbing as the voodoo mummy baby or the soulless child), check it out here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2907815&id=8371820&l=1e2a4fc27c
After getting my fill of the Holmes memorabilia on display (including a functioning old school toilet), I was prepared to depart… to the gift shop! After spending a good while looking over various purchasables, I eventually settled on four items: a keychain (£4.50), a replica Baker Street street sign (£5), a poster of a bunch of original artwork from the stories’ first run in The Strand (£4), and a miniature bust of Sherlock (£25). I almost bought the Sherlock Holmes board game, but that would have been an extra £22, and that would put me £2 over my budget. I know what you’re thinking, “Ben! You’re always complaining about how expensive everything here is, but you dropped about £40 on tourist crap? What a hypocrite!” To that, I have two things to say: 1) You’re a hypocrite, meanie. 2) This museum was one of the deciding factors of mine to come to London over some smaller town. I was fully prepared to drop an extra £20 (just not £22) for as many souvenirs as I could carry.
Still, the museum left me satisfied in ways you cannot understand. Unless you’re one of those religious types that’s been to wherever your religion considers sacred. Coming to this museum was like that: divine.
To be frank, I am very disappointed with Queen Mary, University of London. I knew I should have gone to a school in the country. My pretenses about English schools have been shattered since our first arrival on campus. Everything I read in preparation of this trip has been false!
Rather than take the Queen Mary Express when we moved in, we took a nonmagical bus. The dormitories don’t have moving staircases and talking portraits guarding the doors, just elevators and regular old locks. After our big welcome meal in the dining hall, we didn’t even get sorted!
I could go on, but I think you get the picture: Harry Potter, and J.K. Rowling by extension, is a liar. For the sake of argument, I’m going to discuss how degrading my (quite probably) muggle classes are.
Divination: My first class is Divination (King Arthur of Britain), taught by Professor Trelawney (Tamara Atkin). So far we haven’t even started looking at tea leaves. We read a whole lot, and the reading is getting more interesting every week, but come on! Shouldn’t I be predicting my own death by now? Crystal balls weren’t even listed on required materials!
Charms: Tuesdays I have Charms (Northern Epic & Myth), which is headed by Professor Flitwick (Peter Orton). This class, more than any, has me ticked off. Without even a wand, we’ve only read a bunch of Norse myths and some Beowulf. Isn’t this class supposed to be hands on? Can’t I at least make a toaster dance like in Ghostbusters 2?
Potions: My first (and earliest) class on Thursday is Potions (Contemporary Hollywood Cinema) with the infamous Professor Snape (Guy Westwell). We haven’t been making magical potions so much as “screening films” and “analyzing how American politics and culture affect Hollywood.” BOR-RING. Give me a copy of Magical Drafts and Potions and I’m sure I’d make something that could develop film faster, transform somebody into somebody else, cure that nasty slug barfing spell….
….or make gummy worms.
History of Magic: My final class of the week is History of Magic (Variation and Change in the English Language), taught by Professor Binns (Peter Orton). Man, this class is as boring as Harry Potter says it is. Professor Binns goes on and on about how magic (or was it accents?) has changed astronomically over the past centuries. What I don’t get, however, is how Merlin has never shown up in any of the lectures: surely he was around during the time of Chaucer!
In conclusion, the classes here are terrible. Without a wand, cauldron, or even a snazzy uniform, my English educational experience is going to be as dull as Hermione’s parents.
In all seriousness, I really do enjoy all my classes. King Arthur is covering some of my favorite material, and I was being honest when I said the stories are getting better as we go further into the class. Northern Epic & Myth had a couple hiccups (such as having to transfer in because I had to drop my very first class here, the first day of class being canceled, and ordering an untranslated copy of Beowulf) right off the bat, but the material rocks. Norse mythology is awesomely grim. Contemporary Hollywood Cinema is easily my favorite class since we watch movies after the lectures, and none of the films so far have been too bad.
Finally, Variation and Change hasn’t exactly been what I was expecting so far. When I signed up, I thought we were going to discuss the evolution of the English written language, not the change in pronunciation. At least the course is teaching me one thing about the English: we aren’t the only ones who love their accents.
As promised, the food I’ve encountered thus far is getting the spotlight tonight. England, especially the East End, is a cultural and culinary melting pot. You can get pizza in one restaurant, Chinese one door down and Indian across the street. However, the primary diet has two big issues for little old me:
First of all, food here is E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E. The cheapest meals I’ve had so far have been £3, or $4.88 (current market value). Admittedly, that’s especially inexpensive. Even Burger King will run you $5 for a relatively small meal in the States. A burrito and a small soda costs $7.87 in Texas (not that I memorized that or anything). But at the same time, $5 will get you a salad at Wendy’s. Eating cheaply in America will at least give you the option to eat somewhat healthy. My $5 meals here have been:
Not exactly something dietitians will tell you to start seeking out.
I’ll get back to health in a bit. Most restaurants I’ve been to have “similar” prices to those in the US: £6-8 for a decent meal. The problem here is the exchange rate. At the time of writing, the rate I’ve seen at banks and Bureau de Changes has been £1.62 = $1. Better that its previous £1 = $2, but still not great. One hamburger I had cost me £7.50. Had I ordered the “American,” it would have been an extra pound. The slice of home was a beef patty, cheddar, bacon (the ham looking kind), “rocket” (a kind of lettuce, unfortunately), and mustard on a ciabatta bun. The build-your-own-burger I ordered was one entire pound less because I didn’t order mustard.
One Indian restaurant appeared to have pretty good prices: a bowl of curry was a mere £5.50. Indian restaurants I’ve been to in America cost somewhere around $12 for curry. Seeing that low low price for the rage of Agni in my mouth was a prospect I could not pass up. We all ordered, and life was looking delicious. Except I had to order rice on the side. And then I had to order the nan bread on the side. Feeding nine people there cost £93 pounds (that’s $153 for you non-mathematicians, and no, I only covered my own meal). The price gouging was possibly unique to this restaurant, but I still felt cheated. Most Italian restaurants hand out garlic bread like there’s a Stephanie Meyer fandemic, but there it felt like… I don’t know, 1/3 of the population has a criminal record. This is exactly why I try to avoid eating out too much.
Grocery shopping here has been exciting. Some things are really expensive (£3 for a box of Frosted Flakes??), while others seem really cheap (60p for a ton of digestives??). Keeping track of prices is actually very simple since most items are one or two quid. Still, occasional items have ridiculous price spikes. Dr. Pepper should not cost £2.50 for a two liter bottle. Especially when………. wait. Ingredients that don’t include high fructose corn syrup? My God, Dr. Pepper here is closer to Dublin Dr. Pepper than most of the DP in the States! God save the queen!!
To be honest, I’m surprised the Queen’s heart hasn’t kicked her in the head yet. They don’t have the food pyramid here, and my guess as to why is because it got lost in the fryer. Just about everything here is fried at some point. My first night here, when I missed the group dinner, I was forced to find cheap food near the hotel. The nearby Boots had long closed (at 9 PM? What the hell, England?), and I had Burger King for lunch, so I was looking for something more foreign. After wandering around for a while in the dark, deserted streets of Central London, two restaurants caught my eye. One was a dimly lit noodle shop where I could see a couple chefs tirelessly twisting their handmade noodles. Their grace, their skill, the noodles, made it hard for me to take my eyes off them.
Then I went to the cheap looking fried monster next door. Essentially, it was the mall food court’s token Chinese restaurant in London’s poshest district. I ordered noodles (fried), salt and pepper chicken (fried), spicy Thai chicken (fried), and a bottle of water (fried), which cost £5, I believe. Sure, it was good, and the noodles even had some onions and broccoli in them, but I knew I was in for a deep fried adventure. My low cholesterol’s only hope was the restaurant selection around campus.
When Butler hauled us from the St. Giles hotel to the Queen Mary campus, we got a quick glimpse of the area. Off the top of the head, allow me to list every restaurant I saw: KFC, SFC, PFC, WFC, FFC, LFC, BFC, HFC, and Chicken Hut. These restaurants all host the exact same menu. Fried chicken, burgers, pizza, halal, and “Indian food.” My favorite sign so far has to be “A’La Pizza,” whose subtext reads “Burgers – Indian Food.” Apparently fried chicken is a huge deal over here. Not only that, they brag about their American recipes. The fact that they serve American fried chicken must be a deal-breaker for people deciding where to buy their fried chicken. Because if there’s one thing the English know about Americans, it’s that we eat fried chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Delicious or not, this is exactly why I’m about to pay £89 for unlimited campus gym access.