Friday, October 30, 2009



Monday 10/19-Friday 10/23
Amidst tossing and turning I was actually able to sleep most of the trip to Dublin. The weather is much improved from yesterday. I was so happy that the bus ride included a taste of fall. They seem to have fewer trees whose leaves change color than in the states, but every now and then the side of the road would be lined with bright orange, fire red and solemn yellow hues from a particular tree that must have decided to make my day. Not only am I living in a country of green, but there are not many trees in the city center, so I miss that crisp crunch of fallen leaves under my feet as I walk around this time of year. I found that in parts of France – a country who does not shy from mixing trees into their cities.

The wait in the airport was long, but passed by planning routes in London. The plane was delayed a bit, but not too long and we were on our way. I’m pretty sure Ryanair’s entire fleet consists of the same styled planes. Zach and I joked that they might start charging to use the toilets or worse yet light or even air would come at a charge. The cloud cover was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. A thick blanket like wool, scratchy like it too, covering the land basically allowed for almost no sunlight to pass. There was just a soft glow when we landed at 4:30 and an overall depressing feeling. I wanted to go back up above the clouds. The temperature was crisp, but it felt good after being on a plane packed with people. When we were flying over the Irish Sea I saw some wind turbines out in the water like a garden. 5x6 in two different places. It looked pretty class from above.

I’ve discovered new British words like “quid” for money like we say “bucks” I guess, and trainers for sneakers or tennis shoes. I learned that one at the airport. Boots and heels must come off to go through the scanner, but trainers can stay on. I had on trainers.
The bus ride into Dublin from Luton took about an hour and we arrived at the Victoria Coach Station. Before anything else, we grabbed some pounds from the ATM and ate dinner at an all you can eat buffet called Fresh Pizza (like Cici’s pizza). We discovered that the best way to get around London is to purchase an Oyster card. This card is for the tube (metro) or the bus. All double decker buses are 1 pound and the tube is at a reduced rate with a cap of 5.60 pounds a day. It’s a great idea. Otherwise one use of the tube can cost 4 pounds. I navigated us out to Aaron’s apartment at the Clapham Commons stop, but once above ground we got a little lost. Nothing more than a 10 minute delay and we had arrived at his house. He shared a flat with a Welsh guy named James and they lived in the bottom floor of a beautifully restored home. We went to a corner pub for a drink and Aaron got a bite to eat while the four of us sat around catching up and getting to know each other.

The days that followed were a mix of exciting adventures, new people, familiar faces, and many many free museums and cool stuff. I love London. It reminds me more of a big US city like New York. The far outskirts still have shopping malls although I don’t know if they are the lavish centers of commerce like they can be at home. The city has KFC, Subway, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and….Krispy Kreme! I picked up a Krispy Skream (for Halloween) one evening to take to Prime Rose hill overlooking London. The convenience is still there in London. It combines the states with a European flare.

Aaron turned out to be extremely hospitable despite the lack of time available to spend with us. As an investment banker his hours are from 7-7 leaving little time for anything but dinner and sleep. His flat mate was polite, but not as friendly. However, who can blame him when two strangers commandeer his living room for four days after he himself had only moved in two days prior. Really, other than that first night I really didn’t see him much. I feel like he would be friendlier when you get to know him. The room Zach and I slept in was beautiful. It was the living room and the first room you pass by in the house. The ornate molding and chandelier made the room dazzle. The high ceiling left it a little chilly at night, but I had Aaron’s sleeping bag. Zach and I slept on the two couches they had furnishing the room and it was a comfortable enough sleeping arrangement for the week.

London itself is very crowded. I have never actually seen people pressed up against the glass of the tube windows like they were frequently in London. It is also a little dirty, the air especially. I had black soot in my nose after the first day. However, the city is marvelous overall with the free museums, parks and houses. It definitely is a mix between good and bad. Often only a street separates the good from the bad districts. Zach and I took a walk up to Primrose Hill (where Gweneth Paltrow lives – no luck in seeing her) but you could tell that was a nice area with all the Bentleys, BMW, Mercedes, Land Rovers and Porsches parked in the driveways.

Ashleigh Davis was in London as an au pair for a family that lived in Chapel Hill. As a good friend of Zach’s she met up with us and showed us all around London for the days we were there. I had actually known her at UNC as one of Sarah Whitley’s friends. She was at the bridal shower and wedding this past summer too. I had not connected the name when Zach said it, but when we met her outside the National Gallery on Tuesday I was surprised to see a familiar face. One night we met her and a friend, Gary for dinner. Gary was the quintessential British chap, but he wasn’t British. He was Finnish – born and raised in Finland. He had the accent of the upper class British, long umbrella, scarf and trench coat. He had studied tapes of Prince Charles when he was young to learn English; therefore, acquiring the uppity dialect. He now works three jobs in Parliament for the House of Lords and the House of Commons. He will soon be applying for British citizenship and I highly doubt he’d be rejected. He also couldn’t have been a nicer person.

Another afternoon Ashleigh, Zach and I were headed to find the British Museum. On the way there we ended up taking the long way and passed by Windsor House – UNC. I saw this and announced it to the other two. Zach said it was actually affiliated with UNC and he’d recently read about it as a new Honors program. Ashleigh suggested we stop by. I tried the door but it was locked. They were about to keep going, but I rang the doorbell and told the voice on the intercom we were alumni (felt weird saying that) and we had some questions. We were immediately invited in and the first thing I saw was the wonderful university seal as a door mat. I was back at home – in London.
The receptionist was happy to listen to our stories and gave us a tour of the place. We were invited back for a lecture by the visiting professor, Tod Taylor, later that evening. Ashleigh had to work, but Zach and I said we would try to make it back. She also informed us that they would be showing the Homecoming game on TV with a BBQ on Nov.7. A huge wave of depression followed by quick computation of how to skip Eddie Rockets and get back to London in two weeks started going through my mind. At this moment I still have no solution.

We did return that evening after going to the British Museum and Primrose Hill. They provided light food and drinks. The lecture was about the birth of cool. It was actually nice to sit in on a lecture of which I actually miss a little, but the lecture itself was open-ended. There was no real resolution as his point. Zach and I met a few people, thanked them for their hospitality and ran on to take Aaron out to dinner as a thank you for letting us stay with him. Even dinner at am average-nice restaurant cost no more than 10 pounds a person. The Euros and the pound were basically worth the same when we were there, so London was surprisingly cheap in every way. Round trip out there with planes and buses cost about 35 Euro.

Thanks to the Labour Party, most of Britain’s museums are free. They spare no expense at making them wonderfully appealing. Detailed explanations are beside every item displayed and everything is organized in a fun interactive way. New forms of technology have been added for further ability to make connections between artifacts. The only drawback is the exhibitions are not free, but they are only a small portion of the museum. The majority is free. The exhibitions are also astronomically priced. I was surprised to find anyone paying 15-30 pounds to go in. You would really have to be interested. Thankfully, we had Aaron’s card to let us into the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, but the British Museum claimed that Aaron had to be with us to use it.

National Portrait Gallery
This was the first museum we went to, and we ended up going back for the Beatles to Bowie exhibit because we did not have enough time in the first go round. I was more impressed with this museum than any others I’ve visited and I only continued to be impressed for the rest of the trip. I thought this would be a bore with a lot of portraits of people I did not know hanging on the walls. I was wrong. While I did not know most of the people, it was not hard to find out who they were, what they did, and any juicy tid bits about their lives. Under each portrait was a detailed biography that was short enough in length not to lose interest yet get the idea across. The rooms were mostly divided by a period of time, but some rooms had themes like the affairs room! It was really neat to see how they connected the portraits in all the rooms with each other using references. I walked into one room and found a portrait of Mary Wollstonecfaft. I remembered her name after I read her bio explaining her involvement with the early feminist movement and writings. We talked about her in my gender studies class. She was actually the mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The lady I know as the author of Frankenstein. I did not know that they were mother and child and that much of her mother’s writings influenced Shelley’s style. The Shelleys were also neighbors with the infamous Lord Byron (said to have kept a bear in his quarters in college just for the sport). I learned that the title Prince of Wales is given to all next in line sons of English kings. The title first came about after Wales had been taken over by England and they requested that whoever ruled them not speak English. The King slyly named his enfant son (who could not talk at all) ruler of Wales with the title Prince of Wales. From then on any prince had been known as the Prince of Wales. A reoccurring theme of the museums was their use of technology. In the Portrait Gallery they had the large paintings containing rooms full of people catalogues with a computer touch screen. The painting was digitally copied beside the original and anyone was able to touch a person and find out all about them, the history behind the painting and circumstance.
The Beatles to Bowie exhibit exposed the 60s through photographs and narratives with a section on each year cataloguing the musically talented people having an impact on the course of history in that decade. I knew so many names, but so little background that I was fascinated reading up on all the connections between Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds who also contained Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page who went on to form Led Zeppelin. Jimi Hendrix started out with the Blue Flames before going on to become the Hendrix Experience. The Beatles were an obvious focal point as well as the Rolling Stones whose lives were well documented throughout the whole exhibit. We spent about 4 hours in this museum and still did not completely take the whole place in. The National Gallery connected to the Portrait Gallery was about three times large than the Portrait Gallery and we only breezed through it stopping to see some Van Gough paintings that included the infamous Sunflowers. I personally think they are dreary looking. Most sunflowers make me bright and happy, but every time I’ve seen the ones in his painting I get a sinking feeling. Overall, I could spend days in this building alone and I only spent a sixth of one day there.

Tate Modern
The Tate Modern is the collection of modern art in London and it is arranged by theme. We saw everything from cubism to surrealism to Arte Povera and post-war expressionism. Monet’s water lilies were housed in this museum and it was quite a surprise to me. It also contained many Jackson Pollocks which I can admire more so than some items I saw, which I found completely pointless. The museum itself is an old refurbished factory and thus the expanse is quite large. The mindset one must have when in a modern art museum is not one of beauty, but one of open-minded interpretation. It is a complete switch from looking at portraits because it is more about what the artist is trying to convey – the message rather than an accurate portrayal of something in existence. In fact, they are usually trying to create something that does not exist normally, or warp an existing item so that it invites the viewer to question what they thought was fixed. There were many intriguing displays for as many as there were that disturbed me or I found to be ridiculous. I liked Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren. She had a large impact on the way film has been used ever since her short piece which I was able to view in the museum. Another room had an exhibit where a woman had taken lots of silver items like plates, jewelry, etc and crushed them with a steamroller. Then she suspended them in thirty circular groups calling it thirty pieces of silver. She has been known to reconstruct objects using violent processes like the steamroller. Another piece juxtaposed many pieces of laundry with a status of Venus. Andy Warhol’s work of course made it into a section of the museum. One display I particularly liked and wished I had been allowed to photograph was the ‘red room’. A room the size of a closet was made like a shadow box to be a representation of all the things a family might have in a house. However, everything was red. The whole room blended together and it was only after careful observation that well known items began to take their shape and be distinguished amongst the general redness. I enjoyed my visit, but I don’t think it is a museum I could spend a fraction of everyday in like the others, but a trip once and awhile would be nice.

Natural History Museum
In true museum fashion, the entrance leads you straight into a dinosaur’s mouth! From the central hall you can choose to go left to more dinosaurs, mammals, human biology, and the new Darwin center or right to birds, creepy crawlies, minerals, and more leading on to the geology section. Zach and I first chose left so as to go straight to the newly opened Darwin Center also known as the Cocoon.
The information and displays in the tech savvy exhibit all centered around evolution. I must admit I was not as impressed with the content as I had hoped to be. Nothing startling, all basic and accurate information about the phylogeny of creatures. However, I was very impressed with their use of modern devices. Upon entry we were given a NaturePlus card with which we could scan in information that appealed to us at any of the designated areas. The individualized information would then be available to us online. I realize that the information could just all be available online, but this seemed like a neat interactive way to use technology and get people interested. The Cocoon also made use of projectors and smart board technology. Lots of stations had a projector shown into a mirror reflected onto a flat surface. The flat surface could then act as a touch screen were things could be moved around and clicked on. I’m sure there are technical terms for all these inventions I am unaware of.
The rest of the museum was not as crisp, but still set up to make learning attractive. The Human biology exhibit I found very fascinating. It drew out knowledge I had locked in deep wells of my brain stored there for about five years. The simplicity of explanations and diagrams made me wish that I had something like this to see as a teenager learning about cells - mitosis and meiosis or the parts of the brain.
PHOTO- cortex man
School children of all ages were everywhere and I found myself very jealous of this wonderful learning opportunity they could soak up everyday if they wished. When we wound our way back to the earth lab, my passion for all it encompassed spread to a big grin across my face. Some might think I took weather and climate and geology as my science credits in college to take the easy route, but I also loved the material. I could have spent many more hours than we did in that section of the museum, but I was able to get enough of a fix. I felt especially gleeful when I was finally able to explain something to Zach that he didn’t know (this area of science not being one of his favorites). The volcanic section had a mock advertisement about flying to a volcanic island by way of “aa airlines”. Aa is actually the name for a particular type of volcanic lava. Call me a dork, but I took pride in being able to chuckle at this.

Victoria and Albert Museum
We did the Natural History Museum the V&A and the Science museum all in one day, so a break was taken before the V&A with a walk through Hyde park trying to find some lunch. We ended up taking a long route through an all residential area and finally ending up at Paddington Station (like the bear) for a quick stop into a Subway before taking the metro back to Exhibition Road with most of the museums.
The V&A was a wonder in itself. I didn’t know what to expect from it since nothing is given away in the name, but I was very pleased with the result. In addition to a display on fashion over the ages there was a room on China and Japan, and most impressive was a room with gigantic plaster cast representations of pieces from all over the world. There was much more, but we still had the Science museum to see.

Science Museum
This museum was kind of like Discovery Place, but much more (and yea, it was free too). There were six floors of space exploration, materials and plasticity, communications, agriculture, energy, mathematics, ships, Wallace and Gromit, flight, health matters, science in the 18th century, medical history, psychology, and the art of medicine just to name a few things.
We started off in the ships section which was an older part of the museum and not as interactive, but there were hundreds of miniatures of every kind of ship, boat, water vessel you could imagine behind glass casings. There was something nautical in the less modern display.
PHOTO- diving men

We went up a flight of stairs to the exploration of flight. There we learned about hot air balloons, blimps, and finally planes. There were models hanging all around. Large engines were spread across one wall and you could even go into a cockpit. One thing I like about these museums is that often they will have scaffolding like stairs in the middle of the room so that you can climb up and get a top view of the things on the ground and get a closer look at the items that are hanging. They did this with the dinosaur exhibit and with the planes. I learned how to use an abacus – something I’ve always wondered about. I also learned about the history of plastic, which was rather fascinating the way it was presented. I even brushed up on some chemistry and used an interactive computer to combine chemicals to make various types of plastics and learn all about their uses. By combining different elements I could understand their particular uses and naming. I wish I had a Darwin card to scan that information in; I would have liked to access it now. The energy section had a display that asked “ what if your poo was a valuable energy source?” and it had hilarious illustrations to accompany the question. A hamster eating television was also modestly proposed if another form of energy was meat.


The rest of the exhibits we saw centered on medicine. One detailed advancements in medical history with wax figures operating the actual machines used at different periods in the last century. I learned about polio, vaccines, early medical exams, child development studies and much more. All these things were done through the use of strong visuals, which tend to leave more of a lasting impression in my mind than words on a page. The last area of the museum we visited before getting kicked out used a combination of shadow box miniatures and wax sculptures to outline medical advancements from the beginning of time up to present day.

British Museum
The British Museum contained the Rosetta Stone, which unlocked the mysteries of language specifically hieroglyphics. The Stone contained the same story in Greek and two types of Egyptian. Up until the finding and translation of the stone, hieroglyphics were a bit of a mystery to the world.

The museum also contained pieces of the Parthenon in Greece, pieces from the Mausoleum of Hassanuses (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) and pieces from Sutton Hou’s ship. All of these artifacts were marvelous, yet controversial. The countries from which they came want them back. Most items were acquired by the British in their days of conquest. I can see both sides, but personally I think it is best to have pieces of the ruins in multiple places in the world so more people can see them and get an idea of the past. According to Zach, if the British had not taken pieces of the Parthenon, it would have been destroyed anyway by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire who used the Parthenon as artillery storage and ended up blowing the roof off. We did not have enough time to see everything or really dwell on anything, but I did get a nice overview of the museum. Same goes for the mummies dotting the Egyptian section. These were people who have been exhumed from their graves. While I am thankful I get to see them and learn about the culture, it is someone’s family member’s body behind the glass. It’s just interesting to think about it that way.

The rest of our trip included stops to take pictures and admire the outside of the: Globe Theater – where Shakespeare gained so much popularity even while alive as is rarely the case; most people gain more popularity postmortem. We were going to try to see a play there for only 5 pounds in the standing only area; however, the last show ended a week prior.
We saw the London Bridge often confused with the large and better known Tower Bridge which we also saw along with The Tower of London – a well known torture facility for many famous people.
The London Eye was ever present in the skyline. It is a huge Ferris wheel, which costs a pretty penny to ride (so we didn’t). I was unaware that it is always moving. It doesn’t stop. The full circle takes at least 30 minutes maybe an hour, but it’s slow enough to step on and off of. You also stand like in an elevator.
We saw Westminster Cathedral, Parliament and Big Ben, Millennium Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus – an area like Times Square in New York.

One of my favorite places was Camden Lock. It is an area that epitomizes the word “eclectic”. We went there with Ashleigh and her friend Ellie from the Netherlands. It is a huge market area all pedestrian with flavors from all over the Orient. I’ve never seen anything like it. The outer part might be described like a main drag Myrtle Beach on crack (not craic), but back in the winding streets of the market one could easily get lost in the craziness of what I can only describe as in movies of markets in more exotic places. We tried a few samples of food and settled for some Turkish, African and Italian selections. One place we went into was a permanent store called Cyberdog. I have NEVER in my life seen anything like it. I was tempted to buy one of the cyber dresses. I think if I had money I might have. It was like a rave going on in the store between the music, neon lights, strange sculptures, and outfits.

I really enjoyed a week in London and I would have been happy to stay much longer. Between the people and the places I could easily have spent my four months there, so it makes me sad that I was unable to get the visa to do so. Often I would find Aaron, who loves to pick on me, giving me English lessons. I felt like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain” I learned how to pronounce Luton airport as Lootn instead of Lu-ton. The English seem to mash their words together. As for the word museum, I evidentially leave out the ‘e’ and pronounce it similar to mausoleum without the ‘l’. So, we worked on my enunciating the ‘e’ because Aaron claimed that if I left out the ‘e’, he wasn’t so sure I wouldn’t add in an ‘l’ and then people would think I was talking about where the dead are buried. I let him have his fun before we switched to other topics like racism in South Africa, London’s impoverished, and differences in vacation (holiday) days and maternity leave. Americans get about 2 weeks paid vacation, while the rest of the west gets 5-6 weeks paid vacation.

We left around 9:30 Friday morning for the coach station. We just missed one bus, but they ran every 20 minutes out to Luton, so no harm done. I have never seen an airport set up like Luton. It caters mainly to Europe so it is smaller scale, but you had to wait in the main lobbies till you were called to your gate. We were finally called to our gate and the flight was delayed with us all standing in line ready to board. With Ryanair, it is first come first serve – there are no seat assignments like other airlines, so no one was leaving the line to sit. When we finally got in the air, the ride was smooth and timely. In Dublin, we just missed the bus again and waited an hour for the next departure to Galway. The bus we took was direct, but it seemed as if the bus driver was confused because it took longer than it as ever taken going between Galway and Dublin. I recognized none of the landmarks and often we would take the direction of the Dublin street signs and not Galway. It was raining and dark, so thankfully I had my ipod and a bit to writing to keep me occupied.

I was talking to Dad when we got back from London, and I hung up to go inside the apartment. We thought Erika had moved in, but no one was there. Everything was exactly as we had left it. I thought this to be strange until I looked at my phone and I had received a text from Erika saying she had stayed with her friends the whole time and found something else, but thanks so much for the help and when could she get my key back to me. I checked to make sure all my things were still around and they were. I had locked up my valuables in Zach’s room and we had locked his door. I don’t think she was the kind of person to take anything after having met her, but you can never be too sure. I was pretty bummed after that. I was counting on her being there financially and I was excited to have a change too.

The infamous telephone booths

Ashleigh and me at the Tower Bridge, not to be confused with the London Bridge

An Egyptian artifact in the British Museum. I thought it might make a nice picture if I "wore" it.

Ashleigh admiring the Parthenon pieces in the British Museum

The Rosetta Stone

Yea! Home sweet home!

The crazy Cyberdog shop like a rave inside at Camden Lock Markets

Part of the Lock


Interesting new sources of energy: The Science Museum

I will have me a pen chandelier one day

That one is for you Walth

A room in the Victoria and Albert Museum with plaster molds of many huge structures

Memorial in Hyde Park to Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband who the Victorian Era is named after)

Entrance to the Earth section of the Natural History Museum - see what I mean, they spare no expense

Can you name the parts inside the cell? - Natural History Museum

Motor and Sensory Homunculus models - interesting... Natural History Museum

I thought these were cute. There were more, but this was my favorite : Natural History Museum

The new addition to the Natural History Museum. The Darwin center also known as the Cocoon

The silent observer

Example of the new forms of technology used as tools of learning. This is the projector shining down on tables as touch screens. - super cool!

Shakespeare's Globe Theater - Same place, but it has been remodeled of course!

View from on top of the Millennium Bridge (pedestrian only) across the River Thames

The Tate Modern Museum

Parliament and Big Ben - too bad we were not there a few weeks later for the 5th of November (Guy Fawkes Day)

The London Eye

Westminster Cathedral

Piccadilly Circus - London's version of Times Square

Trafalgar Square - it was strange, there were no pigeons there. This was the place I experienced my first of five bird poopings years ago because of the masses of pigeons.

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