About sierra

Hello! My name is Sierra, I am a Theatre and Bio student at UTM who is getting a double degree in teaching. Traveling is one of my many passions next to talking to strangers, embroidery and finding the funny in freaking terrible situations! I hope you enjoy. :)

One door closes…

Leaving England was an absolutely gutting experience. I was not ready to leave and what made it harder was the overwhelming kindness shown to me by everyone I had met. My whole residence building put together a book filled with photos of us and lovely messages, all hand written.

My time here went so quickly and even though I am now happy to be home I know a part of my heart remains over the pond. Seeing my friends and family has been amazing as the long time away from them has made me appreciate my loved ones and all they mean to me on a whole new scale.

I feel it is mandatory here that I complain about the Pearson Airport. After the lovely service of Heathrow, Pearson feels especially manky.

I was planning on saying much more here today but words really cant wrap around it; this is the kind of experience that should be had by everybody as it will be unique to everybody.

Good by everyone in England! I will miss you all so much but fear not, I know I shall return.

Happy Travels!

So I can die happy now….

I’m sure my 2nd blog, with its stories of medical madness have given you, dear reader, a sense of my luck with my own health. It appears my many medical misfortunes are a trend of life that determined to follow me across countries.

On Monday the 2nd of November I found myself in need of a trip to the hospital because of a searing pain in my right lung, which made it pretty difficult to breath. The pain had started 24 hours before this point, but much like the UTI I had before coming to England, I had chosen to ignore the pain and the accompanying cough until it got bad.

In a matter of hours I had gone from on and off discomfort to gasping and sweating with pain. So here is a chance, dear reader, to learn about the British Health Care system.

I know that house calls are an available service here and I was tempted to set one up, if purely for the kind of romantic experience that would provide (and I mean romantic in the traditional sense here, not the current use which would imply romance). However, the nurse I spoke to strongly recommended I go to a hospital. Luckily I have made a dear friend here who has a car. Together we googled the address of the nearest emerge and off we went.

Once in the emergency room I got to experience meeting a triage of what English people call ‘Chavs’. A Chav being a young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behavior who wears (real, or imitation) designer clothes. The girls were lovely, and certainly dressed to impress; one sported a red onsie and superman socks. The other wore cashmere pajamas.

After putting bodily fluids in flasks, cracking bad jokes and waiting for a few hours I was at last seen by a doctor. There is something about the massively imposing figure, charming accent and twinkling eyes of a Swedish doctor that just suggests nothing could possibly go wrong.

After poking and prodding, and running a few tests of his own he discovered that I had trapped a nerve between two of my ribs. This was causing the extreme pain, but wasn’t at all serious long term. His actual advice was to take some anti-inflammatories and a hot bath.

So disaster averted!

On November 20th, several days before, I ventured to the Darwin House, home of the famous Charles Darwin! The friend I was going with remained skeptically nervous our whole journey because after he accidentally demagnetized his train ticket (making it useless and forcing him to explain this strange occurrence to the gate guards at every station we needed to transfer at) he and I then had to take 2 long train rides, 1 bus journey and then a long walk up hill on a very narrow, very poorly monitored road down which several retired and well off old people sped in really nice cars. He remained skeptical because he did not I think, actually think we, would make it to the Darwin House.

His suspicions were somewhat justified though, as when we got there, the house was closed for cleaning. The house is only open to the public on the weekend.

But that didn’t matter, because between our charm and good old British hospitality we managed to sweet talk our way into a tour. The tour was reduced, as we weren’t allowed to be in the rooms that were being cleaned, nor were we allowed to go in the rooms that were locked to the cleaning staff. The staff there felt so bad about this reduction that they didn’t charge us entree!

As a Bio student the Darwin House was super cool, but even if you aren’t a total nerd like me it is still well worth the trip. Just seeing the preservations, the details of his family life and their profound similarity to the family standards of today, and the ways in which he was mocked while making advances in Biology, I certainly can’t imagine the world without it. Making the house a note worthy point to stop at.

The weekend of the 23rd November. In an attempt to avoid copious amounts of school work I took a journey to the beautiful city of Bath (a short train ride from Chippenham, which is a long train ride from Egham, Surrey, which is a 40 minute train ride from London) where I encountered a wonderful man taming pigeons for the joy of the public. A strange but 100% accurate sentence.

Bath is an amazing city; filled with cute shops, an amazing Christmas market (though it was closed when I arrived there) and beautiful buildings surrounding loads of bustling people, stopping to shop, eat or watch the street performers. I saw some really cool stuff in the shops and was able to get awesome Christmas presents for my house mates and family.

I’m sorry to report that I haven’t really done much these last few weeks as exams draw closer; though it is important to balance the academics of exchange with the fun. I highly recommend joining some clubs at your school abroad if you can; you will meet cool people and learn cool things. I personally have a flare for the dramatic and so I joined an improv comedy club which has put on several amazing shows and provided a really supportive group to blow off some steam with.

The shows and rehearsals are a great way to break up the monotony of schoolwork and they really have enhanced my experience as a student; laughing until your sides hurt is always an excellent use of a Sunday.

3rd December 2013.  I have been to London many times since my arrival here but I had yet to see the changing of the guard, a rather spectacular and quintessentially British event.

The changing of the guard happens every other day and, unfortunately, I had gotten the days mixed up. So I didn’t get to see the guards change, which was somewhat disappointing, but because I have a life history of plans not coming together I have learned to roll with these kinds of punches pretty well. The building is still beautiful and I did get to see the guards in their giant fuzzy caps and a few police officers were walking around with semi automatics to blast to bits any one who got too near the Queen.

So all in all; fun.

I visited the Buckingham Palace shop where I could afford nothing; royals only it seems, and then made my way to the park outside Buckingham. The park has an amazing collection of birds (and many friendly squires with no concept of personal space) including swans, which all belong, by law, to the Queen, making them illegal to eat in the UK.

After the palace I went to Covent Garden which much like Bath is awash with amazing little shops; some large darpartment stores, others holes in the wall, and street performers. In fact, while there I was walking down some stairs only to be swept up into the arms of an opera singer who then danced with me as he continued to sing. I know most people would be mortified by being so spontaneously dragged into a show, but this is exactly the kind of silly-center-of-attention-but-not-really- action that I thrive on as a Drama student.

On my way back to the train station I happened to pass a film crew at work. Now I can’t say where it was, or what film it was or who is in it. But I can say that I got to meet, talk to, hug, and watch work on the monitor behind an equally note worthy director, a very famous person. And his name may or may not rhyme with Dohhny Jepp.

I kissed his cheek. Had a real conversation with him and hugged him. Multiple times.

I’m not saying anything more about who it was. But I will say this; he is as kind and lovely in person as I always expected. And I can die happy.

FOR SCOTLAND!!!

Edinburgh was AMAZING.

The museums alone make it well worth the 7 hour drive (or at least they do if you are a total nerd like I am). The admission everywhere I went was free and I will include lots of pictures of all the spectacular things.

On arriving in the evening the first thing I did was find a pub and drink a real Scottish pint. I kept the Scottish Tenner I was given in change and plan to frame it upon my return.

The next day I started my journey with a visit to not quite a mountain, but a Hill with Aspirations. The landscape was AMAZING (I am sensing a theme here in my typography).

First of all, it was quintessential Scottish. Lush, green and rocky, with stone ruins and roughly weather hewn stairs. At the top, several people had left messages using spare stones and I was sure to add my own message to the mix.

Second of all, the hill was so wind swept that ravens, searching for prey, could just hover for ages. This was a breath taking sight (and not just because the bitter gusts made it hard to breath), which I was sadly unable to get a photo of.

At the top of the hill I was amazed by the wind; it literally lifted me up and pushed me against the rocks. I could see the entire city of Edinburgh below and the ocean stretched out before me on all sides.

In spite of my lack of success finding an affordable pin bearing my family crest, I have never felt more in touch with my ancestry. What kind of hardened, crazy people would choose to settle here in this merciless, frigid, savagely beautiful landscape? People I could be proud of to count myself among, surely.

That evening I had dinner in a lovely pub called the Half Way House (perfectly suited to all of my future aspirations I’m sure) where I ate Haggis (which was DELICIOUS but no photos sadly as the light was too dim for my camera) and drank a pint (of some beer or other). The bar maid was a hilarious waif of a woman who seemed terrified by my request of, “Whatever she recommended.”

A very kind man gave us his table as well, which made me feel just absolutely chuffed.

Before visiting the Hill with Aspirations I spent some time wandering around a graveyard, as I often so morbidly do, and turned the whole situation into a comedy of sorts as can be seen in the following pictures.

I also wandered around the city quite a bit, to discover a series of astounding shops and beautiful architecture. I didn’t have much money to spare on my week out of classes but I did manage to scrape some funds together for the essentials.

Namely shortbread…

Which I ate in one sitting…

I regret nothing.

The first museum I stopped at was the Museum of Childhood, which housed a terrifying selection of dolls, as well as other things.

Next on my list was the Castle, which is a series of museums itself, all demonstrating Scotland’s valiant history of warfare. Here I also saw how kilts were made, both traditionally and in the present.

After the Castle I was able to hold an owl for only 3 quid (pounds) and the biologist in me was ecstatic. I held the poor patient dear for about 10 minutes (9 minutes longer than the average passerby) and spent the entire time telling the owl keeper all the facts I knew about owls (namely that their ears are lopsided so as to maximize their field of sound and also that their whole face is shaped to maximize their hearing; kind of like one giant middle ear in between two others). The owl keeper, as a keeper of owls, was not impressed. And I felt like a giant nerd (namely because I wanted to keep the owl and use it to fly letters to and from various locations).

Next was the Scottish National Museum, very close to the University of Edinburgh campus, which featured an amazing variety or art, history and science.

Now, I have told this story somewhat out of order. Obviously I spent my evenings sleeping, and I should like to tell you how. I realize that this sounds overwhelmingly creepy, but bear with me…the story gets better. I stayed in series of hotels; the first being a relatively nice, extremely over priced TravelLodge, which due to its location on a side street, was almost impossible to find (it took 2 hours, even Taxi drivers with GPSs didn’t know where it was).

In my attempt to find the TravelLodge I wound up at a very posh hotel where I met a lovely man named Michael, who not only knew the directions, but also knew everything about everything else. He quizzed me on the Dominion of Canada (formed in July 1, 1867) and then sent me, smiling, on my way.

Because I had only booked accommodation for the one night; (a very effective method I find is to book your first night to avoid stress and then wander around finding either a hostel or hotel offering cheaper rates once you arrive, not for everyone but a good strategy for me) I now found I was in need of a new place to stay.

After a few fruitless attempts to find a cheap hostel I was starting to think I would have to pay another 52 pounds to stay in the TravelLodge (a rip off by anyone’s standards, even if they are in the heart of the city) when a man startled me out of my thoughts with a jolly cry of “Free fudge!”

I was charmed by his enthusiasm and allowed myself to be ushered into the warm, sweet smelling shop wherein the free confectionary delights were promised to await. Robin, The Fudge Man, was only too happy to give me several samples of free fudge and met me with a fun, flirtatious attitude and a very fine waistcoat. He also happened to have directions to a very fine hostel.

I purchased some fudge in gratitude and made my way over to Brodies Hostel.
Brodies was owned by Pete, the blue haired Scott. Pete was perhaps one of the kindest men I have ever had the pleasure to meet and offered me a room for 30 pounds, plus parking.

I was very pleased by this offer but I still felt indebted to Michael, the manager of the posh hotel, for his helpfulness. I knew it would be unlikely that I could afford to stay in such a place, but a strange loyalty in me to the kindness of strangers drove me to implore him.

As it turned out, the very posh hotel was actually cheaper than Pete’s place, essentially because it included free parking.

Upon my return to Michael’s however I was met, not by Michael, but by Michael’s wife. All of the loveliness of her husband was replaced in her by all the attitudes and mannerisms of a waffley c*nt.

It was so evident, in everything that she did, that this woman just hated every aspect of being alive. Everything she did was a giant pain in the ass, and this was her attitude towards life the entire time I stayed with her and Michael.

This was offset by the loveliness of the location and the room and the ease with which the city could be accessed from such a location.

All in all Scotland is an amazing place filled with art, architecture, food, tartan, amazing people and the potential for incredible experiences. England is amazing, but if any Toronto student gets the chance to visit the country where my roots lie, I highly endorse it.

Life is Weird

Life is really weird.

This may seem like a statement of the obvious. But take a moment to really consider it. I don’t mean to start this off hard and heavy but really, regardless of what you believe about the afterlife, etc. our time here is very short. It is short and unimportant.

I know that once I am gone it will only take 3 generations or so to be completely forgotten. Even if I do something completely spectacular, like conquer a nation, I will be forgotten. That nation will be re-conquered and reformed and ultimately, my contribution will be rendered pointless.

Again, I don’t mean to be too heavy here. Because looking at the world like this gives me an enormous sense of perspective. To know that I really don’t matter and nothing I do matters, really takes the pressure off.

When I look at the world like that all I am left with is a profound sense that I should collaborate as much as possible, love everyone and try not to cock up too often (as the English would say).

The feeling that I do not matter motivated me to do things, not to try to matter per say, but to try to make the most of this strange, weird, pointless, wonderful, incredible miracle that is human consciousness.

I think this is why I get so much joy from feeling a wave crashing over me on the Brighton Pier. I will be soaked and cold and salty for the rest of the day, but this will only serve to remind me of the incredible power of the ocean and the sheer statistical improbability that not only have we navigated the escapeless vastness of such fierce waters, but also all the things that live there. And my inescapable connection to all of those things.

The smallest plankton is just as important as I am, in that we are both utterly pointless, and ultimately, part of a larger ecosystem system. The older I get, the more I am able to understand my place in the eco system. I think my place is as a catalyst.

I am excellent at doing things. What’s more, I am excellent at getting other people to do things. This is my only talent. And it can often fail with complete spectacularity.

Spectacularity may not be a word in the strictest sense. But it is here and now, for my purposes.

I don’t do things because I want to, although certainly this is part of my motivation. I do things, with others, because I want to share an experience. I want to make stories. I want to give some meaning to this ultimately pointless trek though the dark, even if only for the briefest of moments.

Because, so far as I am concerned, the only reason to be here, the only point in living, is the people.

It is the people we meet and learn form and share with that make this whole awful, terrible, wonderful, pointless life worth something.

My favorite author, John Green, once wrote the words, with the collaboration of many others, “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”

And this is what the world is. We are all stars trying desperately to align ourselves with others enough to make some kind of sensible pattern. We are all of us galaxies, trying to fill the insurmountable gaps of space between us and inside of us.

I make no attempt at philosophy, nor do I consider myself either particularly wise or even a very good or very interesting person. And I know you, dear reader, are here to read of England, so I will digress for now and move on from my own existential crisis to tell you of all the attractions you must see.

If you end up studying abroad and it is possible to take a drama course, I HIGHLY recommend it. You may have to do some public speaking and that is uncomfortable yes, but many of the drama courses will also give you access to shows and events that you would not otherwise think to see or even know about.

If drama really isn’t for you though and you want a free and entertaining time I cannot stress enough seeing Covent Garden; the place is beautiful and full of street performers who put on some truly spectacular shows. Though I did find that English audiences are somewhat more reserved then I am used to. Finding myself as the only cheering, screaming, enthusiastic audience member was a bit of a strange, though entertaining, experience.

The hills of Worcestershire are more than worth a visit if you can get there. Teeming with sheep in a wind swept, classically Dickens landscape; this is the real English countryside.
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I head to Edinburgh soon and I cannot wait to share what happens there. Until then, tata dear reader.

And remember to smile.

 

What friends are for :)

Hello hello hello dear reader!

Have I got a tale for you! All of it, by the way, 100% true.

I live in Founders Hall at Royal Holloway, a building set up to house the originally all-female students of Thomas Holloway’s boarding school, which was constructed in 1886 in memory of his beloved wife.

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The building is teeming with ghosts; in one room on the 5th floor a girl murdered herself and the blood spilled so violently that it leaked into the rooms below, the stain has been painted over many times over the years, but the blood continues to seep through. During an exam held in the art gallery here at the school a boy attempted to take his own life by stabbing himself in the eye with a pencil. The whole time he was screaming, “The eyes! The eyes!”.

This was apparently due to possession by a painting with very fierce looking polar bears on it. To this very day whenever exams are held in the room the university mandates that the painting be covered by a Union Jack.

Not all the ghosts are so malevolent though; the ghost of Tom Holloway himself is said to wander Founder’s at night, watching over his students and looking for his wife. And the ghost of his wife, a miss Jane Holloway, can be seen in the form of a black cat which will implore you to follow but never allow you close enough to touch.

The university as a whole has grown quite a bit; adding pubs and residences and class rooms and labs and a few obvious changes have been made such as the addition of Wifi, a Starbucks and running water. But, all that aside, the building remains a Victorian vision of Hogwartsian beauty.

And it comes with all the Victorian problems.

The building is insulated with Hay and Paraffin. This makes it the second most flammable building in all of England and the 7th in all of the UK. The whole thing would go up in 6 minutes and is built in such a way that it will collapse in on itself. (Don’t panic mum I am right by the emergency exit.)

Due to this insulation issue the building often runs out of hot water for weeks at a time. Now, not bathing every week might have been acceptable in the good old days but a few nights ago I couldn’t stand myself any longer. I had to brave the frigid water before the grease in my hair started frying under the harsh fluorescents of the in-lecture lamps.

I got my friend Yasmin, who in a display of true bravery has agreed to let me use her real name in the tale of extreme hilarity that is to follow. She is indeed a friend that I know will last lifetimes.

So, after hopping corridors (each corridor has a bathroom, so a few toilets and one shower per every 10 -11 girls) because we were told that some corridors still had hot water (a lie) Yasmin and I each get into a shower stall.

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The water is freezing.

And when I say freezing I don’t mean lukewarm. I mean it is holy-f**k-polar-bears-couldn’t-even-handle-this-sh*t-if-they-were-wearing-a-self-insulating-snuggie-it-is-so-cold-that-it-feels-like-it-burns! freezing.

I managed to get my hair wet. After standing there for a good 5 minutes psyching myself up about my Canadianess I stood under that water cursing a blue streak. I managed to get shampoo rubbed in, a whole 3 minutes under that freaking water, but I was not able to wash the shampoo out.

So I am half clean.

In the stall next to me Yasmin is unable to stand under the water, not because she isn’t tough, but because she has a joint disorder that gets incredibly painful when she is cold. Think arteritis but with ice and a jack-hammer.

At this point I can no longer stand the cold. So I jump out of the shower and start running the tap. This produces lukewarm water. I stand at the sink attempting to wash the shampoo out of my hair by bending over and trying to soak my whole head. My head is of course too large for this sink and this presents several interesting feats of flexibility on my part.

Suddenly I hear Yasmin’s water stop running. Her own series of shrieks had stopped as well. My hearing is muffled from the tap water running over my head but I am still able to make out Yasmin very distinctly pounding on my door.

She demands:

“Let me in!”

I respond, laughing:

“What? Why? I’m naked.”

She continues. In a manner more desperate than before:

“I don’t care! I’m so cold!”

I take a moment to consider. I look down at my naked body; I feel the shampoo still trickling down my back, the weak, lukewarm tap water only partially able to remove it. Then I decide that at this point; screw it, might as well let her in.

The poor girl sits wrapped in a towel, shivering violently. I feel terrible but I am determined to get clean. Standing at the sink I rise, lather, shave, scrub and rinse again. Until, finally. I achieve an acceptable level of cleanliness.

Yasmin has not been so lucky. She reached the same level as me in the showering process but was unable to wash off in the sink. We made our way back to our hall, and I was in absolute stiches, what a predicament!

Here is a girl who I have known for maybe 2 weeks who has now seen me stark raving naked. And I was (am) perfectly ok with that. This girl was also sopping wet, freezing cold, and still not clean.

Said girl, is also brilliant.

As determined as she was to have her own shower, Yasmin came up with a brilliant plan. She filled a large and clean coke-o-cola bottle with half boiling water from the kettle in our pantry (kitchen) and half cool tap water.

Viola!

The perfect temperature.

My job then became filling the bottle to the appropriate temperature and returning to the shower stall where she would let me in, lather, have my pour the water over top of her so she could clean off. I was in my pajamas by this point and trying desperately not to soak myself.

Yasmin and I had now both seen each other in all our naked glory, impressive specimens that we are, and I know for certain that we have forged a bond that cannot by any means be broken.

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This is really what university is about; getting into and out of bizarre circumstances, making friends who share stories that make you laugh and cry and leaning more about yourself and others than you ever wanted to know.

I sincerely hope these are the kinds of experiences everyone will get to have in life because they call for ingenuity and humor and collaboration. 3 of humanities best traits if I do say so myself.

Ta ta for now!

London Paris Adventure!!!

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!

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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.

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LONDON!

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LONDON!

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.

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Big Ben…IN LONDON!

The trio…

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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!

Circulatory System of a Human Baby

The circulatory system of a Human baby.

Me in the Skelo-suit

Me in the skelo-suit.

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Skelo-booty

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Me at the cabaret bar with my liter of rum.

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My auntie.

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!

IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING!!!

My friend Amalia Damberger

My friend Amalia Damberger

 

My lovely friend Bronte.

My lovely friend Bronte.

 

The School!!!!

Schmancy dining hall ceiling is schmancy.

Schmancy dining hall ceiling is schmancy.

This blog is going to be somewhat jumbled because the closer I get to leaving the more it feels like my brain is made of mangos. If you will bear with me, dear reader, then I am sure you will gleen something useful, or at least entertaining, from my rambling.

First off, several obstacles have tried to prevent me from getting to Royal Holloway. I feel a great deal like Harry Potter caught in the scheme that sought to unfairly allow him to return to Hogwart’s. First I was mistakenly sent a tuition of about 5,763 pounds. The exchange rate to dollars would have crippled me financially and before discovering this was a mistake I was launched into a 3-day spiral of depression. I came to terms with not getting to see the UK, started making preparations to get into classes at UTM late and generally hated being alive. The email saying the tuition fee was an error is the best news I have ever received and I do suspect the only news I could ever hear in the future to rival what I felt would go something like,

“You do not have a terminal illness.”

“Your child was born healthy and strong.”

“Your mortgage is paid in full.”

A day after my good news came I noticed I had developed a strange abdominal pain that wouldn’t let up. It felt like cramps and so I ignored it as an inconvenience. About three days later though I was woken at 3am by a searing pain in my lower abdomen. I ran to the bathroom and discovered that I was urinating blood.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking,

tmi .

Perhaps, but stay with me the story gets better.

I got my roommate to take me to the hospital at about 5am when I could stand again. Luckily the hospital is only just down the street. While there we sat across from a sleeping-homeless-partially-nude woman. After waiting for a few hours a man in complete hysterics came in and began screaming and crying about how he had been robbed.

We listened to him whine for a few hours and discovered from his many loud and self-important phone calls and chats with the police that he had gone to a club, had 6 drinks in 4 hours and accidentally Rufilin-ed himself.

Seriously.

This is too stupid to make up.

He had intended to drug and then do god knows what to an unsuspecting victim and accidentally took the drugs himself because he was too drunk to remember what cup he put the Rufilin in. So far as I am concerned, he got what he deserved.

After the drugs started to kick in the club called him a taxi to get rid of him. In the taxi he had taken out his cell phone and all his ID (including passport) and put them on the seat. He then panicked, thinking it had been taken by the taxi driver and demanded to be let out. The taxi driver let him out on the sidewalk, where he promptly passed out before coming into the hospital and claiming he had been robbed.

I, in the mean time, was in agony waiting for a doctor. When I was finally seen the doctor and nurse were lovely and were able to determine that I had a UTI and needed antibiotics. In his effort to discover what was wrong with me one of the doctors asked me if I had ever had an STI. I mistakenly thought he said UTI and off handedly said,

“Oh yeah, tons, all the time.”

He gave me the kind of horrified look that indicated my answer was somewhat worrisome. I felt I needed to break the petrified silence and so I said,

“I usually drink cranberry juice, I’ve heard it helps.”

The cranberry juice thing is, as it turns out, recognized by doctors as a helpful aid to getting rid of UTIs because my mentioning this helped the good doctor to recognize that I have not in fact had several STI’s (or any STI’s for that matter).

These are the kinds of things that seem hilarious at 8am.

***

The closer I get to leaving the more anxiety I am starting to feel. So I am engaging a well-practiced university skill and not thinking about it.

This anxiety is combination of good and bad; bad feelings like, “What if I get there and realize I haven’t packed any underwear?!” which is of course ludicrous, as I have packed more underwear than what is housed in the average Calvin Klein wear house.
These notions of paranoia are broken up with good thoughts such as, “Ican’tbelievethisisreallyhappeningIamsoexcited!”

My bags are neatly packed, a friend is subletting my apartment while I am gone, I have completed (with the aid of my mum) all the necessary documents at this point. The full gravity of the situation hasn’t yet hit me. And I don’t think it will until I am up in the air.

I am not worried about being on my own because I am just as introverted as I am extroverted. I am looking forward to the time away from everything familiar (though I fully admit to being terrified of the idea of a totally new habitat) because I am hoping to gain, among other things, a new perspective of what I have by experiencing something new entirely.

In a vain effort to appear organized and travel ready I have herein attempted to prepare a list of all the things one must do to prepare for a long journey, alone, internationally. I do make my first recommendation this; if at all possible avoid attempting to complete 2 difficult summer school classes while simultaneously moving from a mold ridden, cockroach infested apartment to a more suitable, if notably more expensive, dwelling in the city.
Having successfully avoided all the above, here are some things that will help prepare you on your travels!

1. Waiting. Get good at this.
There will be a lot of paper work and registering and waiting in soul crushing suspense to get in. Once you have found out you are accepted there will be a lot more paper work, registrations, meetings, seminars, et cetera. All I can really suggest is wait it out, check email constantly and don’t panic. I know this isn’t spectacularly helpful or informative advice but everything is relatively straight forward and lain out for you. Just follow the steps your school gives you and don’t expect anything to happen at a normal pace. Everything will either happen too fast or painfully slowly.

2. Pay Attention.
To deadlines, instructions, registrations et cetera. There will be a lot of things to keep track of, so make sure you keep track of them.

3. Keep a list of the things you pack!
Once you get to the packing point, which may be sooner for some of us and later for others. Having everything written down on your mac book or another, inferior piece of hardware (I jest) will make it easier to avoid losing things and will give you a solid idea of what you already have and what you need.

***

I am not a savvy traveler. People skills and resourcefulness I have down pat; it is following directions and finding locations that I struggle with. But here is where the people skills come in handy; find someone who is going where you are going, make friends with them and follow them to the gate.

So upon entering the terminal I find I have just enough time to board the massive plane, my first time on such a plane. In the connecting suspended hallway I can hardly contain my excitement, an old man ahead of me notices this and says, “Are you excited to go to Cancun?”

I can feel the color drain out of my body and puddle onto the floor around my Doc Martins which are large and make my feet look big. Except they don’t actually make my feet look big, my feet are actually just that big.
The cheeky bugger. He realized he had half scared me to death and told me he was kidding; this flight goes to England.
I let out a huge sigh of relief and recounted to him the occasions on which I had nearly died before this flight. Surviving all that, only to find I was about to get on the wrong flight, would be too much.

The flight attendant is a spiffing man with a Jordy accent who point me in the direction of my seat and says, “Have a good flight love.”

As I enter the plane I pass through the first class section; large sprawling, reclining seats, foot rests, cup holders a premium amount of space for carry on luggage. I am over taken by a moment of giddiness until I realize that my section is closer to the back of the plane, far removed from this life of luxury.

As I walk down the aisle people struggle to get their luggage into the over head compartments and I actually cheer them on in their struggle.

“You can do it!”

“I believe in you!”

“Take your time, you got this!”

7 and ½ hours later I find myself in Heathrow Airport. I had been warned that it was big. I was never told that it is FRACKING MASSIVE. Immediately everyone is shuffled into lines to cross the border. I worry that I may be in the wrong line because there is a line across from me where a lady is yelling “Students!? Students here!”

As it turns out I am in the first class line. I have no idea how I got into the ‘fast track’ line as it’s called because I didn’t have a first class ticket. I start to get nervous and because sweating seems to be my body’s response to even the suggestion of emotion I also begin sweating heavily. I start to panic, thinking things like,

“What if they don’t let me into the country?”

“What if they make me go stand in another line and I miss the shuttle taking me to Royal Holloway?”

“What if they think I am up to no good because I am sweating so heavily and looking paranoid?”

Getting across the border was of course no problem. The officer was lovely and I was not forced to return to Canada. Having then crossed the border I began searching for the shuttle that was to take me to the school.

Rows and rows of bored, grumpy and scowling faces met me. All the taxi drivers half hold up cardboard or washable signs with names like ‘Charles Munchin’ and ‘Mike Lee Zoa’. None have the words “Royal Holloway” embossed on them.

I start to panic again. Luckily just as the first bubbles of dread popped on the surface I saw a giant orange sign.

ROYAL HOLLOWAY.

It told me. I quickly joined the group to meet friendly, if jet lagged, girls from France, Kazakhstan and Greece. The drive to the campus was somewhat disappointing; it looked just like Ontario. Any disappointment I had from the drive was washed away by the view of the campus cresting the hill: it was spectacular.

Once moved in and settled I met several lovely girls who are now friends and joined a group who gave me free beer promptly before losing me accidentally in the winding halls of the building. Everyone is lovely.

***

Administration here is disorganized and painstaking. But it must be done. I am successfully moved in and hope to have my class timetable soon.

I have found that I am able to stay up until early morning and only sleep until 8am without feeling tired. I am unusually positive about everything that happens, good and bad. I am, I feel, truly living to the fullest in a way I have never been able to before. Small inconveniences don’t bother me the way they usually do.

For the first time in my life I feel truly, and fully, content.

Tata for now.

So You Want to Go to England…

So you want to go to England?

And why wouldn’t you? The land of adorable vlogger boys, Butter Beers, Benedict Cumberbatches, Tom Hiddelstons, Whovians, tea, Corgi’s, Royals and Shakespeare. A perfect destination for any traveler looking for a little class and romance.

But first you have to get there. And this process, dear reader, is distinctly un-fun. I’d like to talk about the process I went through in attempting to gain a visa, only to discover that I did not, in fact, need a visa to begin with. Let the ballad of bureaucracy begin.

To confirm for any Canadian citizens’ future reference:
– If you are in England for LESS THAN 6 MONTHS you DO NOT need a visa.
– If you are NOT planning on WORKING or VOLUNTEERING while in England you DO NOT need a visa.

I was unaware of all these things and dead set convinced I needed a visa. However, I was unwilling to pay the outrageous fee for a visa until I knew for sure. My paper work was done and ready to be handed in, but my resolve was lacking.
I was filled with anxiety. After all, I didn’t want to be unable to enter the country, I didn’t want to get in trouble, and I certainly didn’t want to make waves. My mother was quite certain I did not require a visa, but I was not willing to make any decision regarding the purchase of a visa until I was dead sure on the matter. Suspended in a sort of visa-less limbo and growing ever more anxious on what to do about my predicament, I opted to call the lovely and wonderfully helpful Julienne Lottering, Safety Abroad Officer, at 416.946.3929.
For anyone interested in visas, travel safety or just a wonderful collection of travel stories (once she is not on the clock of course) Julienne is your go to woman.

Sadly, in this instance the bureaucracy was working against she and I both. Julienne gave me the number to the British consulate, which is: +1-416-5931290.

Stop reading.

Call that number right now.

Now that you have heard the recording you know that the number takes you to a recording that is as hilarious as it is useless. I actually cried I was laughing so hard. I can’t think of anything any more delightfully, stereotypically British that that woman’s voice. The only thing missing? She neglected to offer me tea.

One of the first things the message states is that they do not deal with visas, however, they are kind enough to give you the address of a consulate which will help you with your visa troubles.

The address is 777 Bay Street, Toronto. And approaching this office is an exercise in futility. The office is lovely; large British Flags, soft and inviting looking lounge couches, a small crystal bowl of candies.

All of which are behind glass doors and not accessible to you.

I kid you not. So far as I could tell, the office cannot be entered. Instead, and this is the best part, there is a phone. Outside of the office that you have just come to IN PERSON there is a phone, which you must pick up and wait for someone to answer. The less than polite, less than tangible secretary on the other end of the line will inform you that you may not enter the impenetrable glass barrier which prevents you access to the office and at this location, 777 Bay Street, they do not deal with visas.

This whole endeavor had thus far cost me many months of anxiety and now a full day of goose chasing.

I was feeling slightly defeated.

But, never fear! For in my resolve as a UTM student, I was determined to persevere. At the 777 Bay Street Office-that-you-may-not-enter which has the phone-that-you-must-call I was given a new address; 1 Dundas Square.

With new abandon I made my way to Dundas Square, where I witnessed a man replicate the CN tower out of paper clips in record speed, cheered and rallied a dance battle between two spry and athletic men in saggy pants and was informed that the error of my ways could be cured so long as I found God.

Now rallied by this entertainment I resumed my now epic quest to the British Consulate on my journey to find a visa.

Once in the office I found that the woman at the desk was new to her position and as such, had no idea what she was doing. Seeing my immediate look of nausea and deflation she rushed to get her superior. The man’s name was Richard and he was, for all the world, a spitting image of Hugh Grant.

With the utmost contriteness and politeness he listened to my awesome struggle with the dragon called bureaucracy and expressed great sorrow to hear of my many defeats. Then, with a flourish, his slightly balding head flashing in the light of the now setting sun, he provided me with all the relevant information I could possibly need. He then proceeded to explain the same points I made above about visa policies and the instances in which they are required.

Richard and I shook hands then. His hand shake was firm and he smelled like lemon grass as he wished me luck and good fun on my travels.

By the time I left the office darkness had fallen. But I was unconcerned, guided by a new light I made my way back to Hart House and stood in line to board the shuttle bus. With hardened tenacity I was ready to tear up my completed visa paper work and focus on the next steps required by my journey.

Look Out Queen Victoria, here I come.