Well Hot Damn.
Where to even begin?
My first 3 weeks have been a whirlwind. In first week of school here at Holloway (and most Universities I think) there are no classes. Be prepared to meet people, never sleep and do as the Roman’s do!
In my case England has quite a lively pub culture and I found myself awash with people who were all too happy to buy me that one last drink.
If, dear reader, you ever find your self in England I highly recommend sampling Kopparberg Pear Cider. On top of being cheap (about 2.70£), the bubbling brew is delicious and the comically large bottles it comes in really do give one a sense of accomplishment once finished.
Staying up until 5am discussing theology, life, politics, impossible scenarios or dancing, running, laughing or not going to bed at all are the norm for the first few days and you will make some incredible friends.
As an insomniac and part time anarchist I didn’t find the lack of sleep too perturbing (though even I would have struggled with any more than 2 weeks, I highly recommend ear plugs, eye masks and any kind of over the counter sleep aids).
I’ve been running on adrenalin, ginger beer and friendship.
On my first weekend I was swept away by my aunt Jan, who was in the UK for business, to London. Here she showed me an incredible pub constructed from an old series of tunnels, which were once used by ships to transport crates and barrels of supplies. The tables are jam-packed deep underground into low ceilinged tunnels (I was perfectly comfortable, standing at a whopping 5 foot 5 inches) that leak and smell of smoke and musk. Iron grating reminiscent from the time of their use still section off some of the tunnels from the rest of the restaurant. There are no windows and so candles stuck in the tops of wine bottles light the whole place. The food is fantastic!
The bar is tucked into an alley next to a busy street with tantalizing smells of curry, hair spray, colonel, cigarettes, pastries and perfume. Many men in suits hang half way out of pub windows, almost all the way gone after a long day at work. Everyone is dressed to the height of fashion and eager to say hello to a passing stranger or have some fun.
After going to bed well into the am my aunt and I had a lay-in before taking another romp around London. We ran into a trio of hilarious men, one of whom had stolen a traffic cone and explained quite impassionedly that he wanted to find the perfect spot for it in London. I recommended he place it next to Big Ben; then it could be Little Ben.
Big Ben…IN LONDON!
After this we ran into a man playing the flute and a biker, both of who were lovely and happy to dance with me on the streets.
The Thames sparkled under the London Eye in the now fading light of the street lamps, boats rocked gently on the water, people chattered excitedly as they passed by and I can genuinely say the moment was a perfect one.
Museums, especially ones with free admission, are my favorite thing. The Royal Museum of Surgeons in London features a fantastic array of specimens; from preserved human fetuses (not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but endlessly fascinating to me) to some of the first blood transfusion devises. Thousands of insects, reptiles, amphibians and other, stranger things in jars decorate the walls next to sets of massive horns, antlers and surgical instruments. How anyone survived the last few hundred years is a mystery to me.
One particularly peculiar artifact was a false nose attached to glass-less wire frames, which was worn by a woman in the 16th century who had lost her nose to syphilis.
On the top floor are all the surgical devices as well as a looping documentary of current day medical practices/surgeries.
Pictures are prohibited in the museum as I found out after taking one, but I will display it here for you. Don’t tell any one!
The circulatory system of a Human baby.
Me in the skelo-suit.
After a few hours in the museum, (and make no mistake, I loved every second of it!) I was starting to feel an overwhelming sense of my own demise and the fact that all things end, and that everything I do will eventually be forgotten and that ultimately, I am a dot on a spec of dust floating through space and time with absolutely no significance.
Luckily my aunt Jan was there to break this existential crisis by telling me quite unexpectedly the next morning that she was taking me to Paris for the rest of the weekend. To this I responded, “Meh, well I suppose if we have to…”
Paris, obviously, is amazing. The architecture alone is worth the trip.
I have heard many stereotypes attributed to the French; that they are rude, racist etc., etc. This was not my experience at all; everyone was lovely and I had ample opportunity to use my spoken French and comprehension of the French language.
I generally try to avoid tourist traps. My travel plans are usually to find someone who knows what they are doing and follow them. I have no interest in standing in line to see something up close that I can view from a far. Instead I aim to create an experience; I want to meet the people, eat the food, and speak the language. All things which can be done relatively cheaply and, in my mind at least, create a more lasting experience.
That being said, I did feel the need to visit the Catacombs. My visit was unfortunately rushed as our trip was ending and our flight left within a matter of hours. And so after making two new poly-linguistic friends in the line, paying my 4 euros and rushing down a seemingly never ending spiral stair case I was able to see piles upon piles of bones. Femurs stacked in 5-foot piles, all mounted by or decorated with skulls in various states of completeness. The catacombs are dark and damp and generally give one an overpowering sensation of what it must have been like during the plague when so many ill fell dead in the streets that they had to by buried en mass in an endless network of tunnels under the city.
My aunt had opted not to come with me; she had instead gone back to the hotel to prepare our things in the interest of a quick get away. It was something of a comical scene; me running out of a labyrinth of death to appear, blinking from the light, heart pounding from my sprint up the last of the stairs, only to fly desperately into a French taxi to meet my Aunt with a high five and a squeal of delight that we were not to miss our plane. I sort of regret not coming away from the experience with a cursed skull or a fragment of patella bone. Incidentally; don’t steal bone from the catacombs; the security will check your bags and also the soulless, empty sockets of hundreds of dead skulls will judge you.
He’s judging you.
We did go see the Arch de Triumph, though we stood several feet from it as the 300000 lane round about with no cross walk permitted entree to only the most foolish of daredevils. I saw Le Tour Eiffel from a respectable distance instead of climbing to its peak.
But the experience. Visiting flea markets and chic interior design stores that trump any IKEA, eating crescents and actually speaking French. I was even able to have an accordion lesson, thanks to the kindness of my aunt, and my instructor, Danielle, was an absolute peach! Dressed in a bubbly pink poodle skirt, she sat with remarkable patience as I struggled through the keys and the correct movements. The accordion was the same one she had played as a girl and won many trophies with. The entire lesson had been in French and I was certainly feeling I deserved the delectable sparkling wine I was offered by Danielle’s husband after our playing. The accordion shop also happened to be a winery.
To end a perfect experience my aunt then took me to a delightful restaurant where I left sketches on all the napkins. One of these I stuck to the kitchen door and the staff left me a delightful thank you note for my work. From dinner we then proceeded to a cabaret bar where an incredible performance lasted well into the wee hours of the morning. The singers; a stunning selection of men and women with incredibly powerful voices absolutely rocked the house; they danced on tables, encouraging patrons to join them (which I of course did) as they jigged and belted out a combination of French jazz and English pop music.
I remained sober through all of these endeavors because when I requested a rum and coke I was given a mini coke-a-cola and nearly a liter of rum to mix with it. I am no captain Jack Sparrow and such a hefty amount of rum was beyond me.
Me at the cabaret bar with my liter of rum.
Vie de France!
I know I am missing details, but too much has happened for me to cover in less than a novel of epic scale.
Now that my classes have started I am starting to feel the pressure. I have two drama classes; Devising and Australian Theatre which are fantastically interesting and do not have exams, only final papers. And one biology class: Invertebrate Physiology. The biology class, which consists of 50 page readings, 2-hour lectures and a 4-hour lab, is making me sweat. And it’s only the first week!
Tata for now!
I know I will have loads to report soon!