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25 February 2008

Mom in London

My mom and Ninang Lisa are visiting me in London this week. They arrived Saturday, on a flight that was delayed over an hour >.<

Saturday, I met them at Heathrow, then week took the tube to their hotel. We then traveled to Picadilly Circus and walked through the West End, having dinner in Chinatown and walking through Trafalgar Square to Westminster and Parliament, then walked more to Westminster Cathedral and ultimately Victoria. I got back to my room past midnight, and I wasn't able to work on my history paper (which was due today, Monday).

Yesterday, Sunday, I had to wake up early and I met the two of them at Westminster Cathedral, which was very convenient in a way, because the history paper I was writing yesterday was an architectural description of Westminster Cathedral itself. Anyway, after mass at 9 am, we hopped into a local pub and had a traditional English breakfast (eggs sunny side up, sausages, "bacon" aka ham, baked beans and sauteed mushrooms)--yum-o! We then walked to Buckingham Palace, where I thought the changing of the guard would take place, because there were tons of tourists flocking there at 11 AM. But, alas, no guard changing today, it would be the next day. So we walked through St. James's Park to the London Eye, which we went on! It was very nice. It was sunny as we walked through the park, but it became overcast when we went on the Eye. So, it wasn't as perfect as I expected. But the views were nice anyway. I don't know if it's worth £15, though (£35 combined with Madame Tussaud's). I'd prefer the views I got in the Alps :). After the Eye, we walked a bit along the south bank embankment, looking at the statues that are really humans. We then crossed the river and caught a bus to the Tower of London. By this point we were already tired from all our walking. We made it to the Tower around 2, just in time to catch the last tour at 2:30 given by a "beefeater," which was really fun and infotaining! So many stories of queens, conquerors, traitors, and executions! We got out before they closed down the Tower, but it started to London rain on us (aka shower), so we headed to the tube station and made our way to Baker Street to get to Madame Tussaud's before it closed. We made it in time, and we got to see humans that were really statues! Ironic, that we came all the way from California to see recreations of celebrities. There was also a Disneyland-style "It's a Small World"-style ride "The Story of London" which was very cute. It was sort of confusing to get out of Tussaud's, though, but we did, and got a bus to Oxford Street, where I bought a Sim Card for my mom's cell--I mean, mobile phone. I think the guy at the store stole the old sim card. Stupid Carphone Warehouse. We then walked around, looking for a place for dinner, settling eventually on a nearby pub. We sat upstairs and had the whole dining room to ourselves, right before they closed (there were a bunch of Italian mothers at one table talking, and all their kids at another table keeping themselves occupied; I presumed the dads were downstairs in the pub itself). We then parted ways, and I got back to my dorm around 10, in time to write my essay. I hope it turned out okay--I never wrote an essay after having had 3 drinks before!

And today, I had class in the morning. I escaped having to give a presentation in Austrian Literature (note to self: call my partner and make sure she's prepared for next week). I then had to print out my essay; the library was full, but I'm pretty sure my print credit was still -£21 so I went to the computing office in the Queen's Building. I re-reported my print credit problem and printed out my paper. Then I rushed back to the Arts building to turn it in. I then ate an empanada before my Architecture class started. We learned about early modernism, the beginnings of British Art Deco, and suburban planning after WWI. I returned to my flat to find a strong burning smell in the air. Someone must have overcooked their food. I then went to the kitchen to get some water and the burning smell was really strong. I looked in the oven to find it still on, and inside was a round block of black charcoal that looked like it was once a pizza. I opened the window and turned on the fan, hoping the fire alarm wouldn't go off. I don't know whose pizza it was; probably Nicholas. He's always leaving a mess with his cooking. Anyway, I had gotten out of my class relatively early, so I called my mom, who told me they were at the National Gallery. I made it there in under 45 minutes, taking the Central and Northern lines to avoid "severe delays" on the District due to a signal failure. Oh, London Underground, how you frustrate millions of people every day. I met with my mom and Lisa, and we quickly got back on the tube to do Abbey Road. We got our necessary Beatles-crossing shots, and headed straight for the Tate Modern (if you know the layout of London, they're nowhere near each other). The museum closed at 6; we got there are 5:15, so we went rushedly through the exhibitions, taking in as much modern art as one could in 40 minutes. When they kicked us out, we walked across the Millenium Bridge to catch a bus (an old "routemaster" style bus!) to Embankment, where I looked for a quick place to eat before our show, Mamma Mia. We ended up eating at Quizno's (they don't have all the sauces I love!) :X and then walking to our theatre. It was quite a walk, actually, from Embankment to our theatre, which was between Leicester Square and Picadilly Circus. But we made it, and we got to see Mamma Mia. It was lovely! I have Abba songs stuck in my head now (I'm listening to "Dancing Queen" as I type this--oops, should I admit that?). But it was a very fun show. My contacts were really dry on the train as I came back home, and I started tearing up as I rubbed my eyes. I wonder if the other people in the train thought I was actually crying?

In other news, I found out today I got an A in my German seminar! Yay! It's harder to get A's here than in Berkeley, so I feel really good about that.

I gotta get some sleep. I have to wake up at 6 tomorrow (yikes!) because we're going to Bath! I'm excited. But I gotta sleep. Good night!

23 February 2008

A Stop in Lucerne

It was my fourth day in Switzerland and time to say auf Wiedersehen to Interlaken. My next destination was Zürich, the largest city in Switzerland.

To get to Zürich, there are two options: Going through Bern, or going through Lucerne (or, auf Deutsch, Luzern). Since I had already taken the route going through Bern, it was an easy choice that I would now stop in Lucerne.

So, for one last time, I trekked from my hostel across town to the east train station. And guess who I saw - Alex, the Taiwanese guy from my hostel. He was on his way to Zürich too, and we got on the same train. The only thing was that he had a first-class ticket, and I was merely a member of the second class. It is still difficult for me, as an American, to fully accept Europe's still-established class system. :(

The train left soon, taking us along the shores of Lake Brienz and through forested mountains.

Atop the Schilthorn: James Bond in the Alps

Gondola lifts, a revolving restaurant, Bond memorabilia, and a disappointing small town.

After my unexpectedly intense ski day, I needed a calmer day to recover. But I wasn't going to stay in bed at the hostel all day, and I still had the second day of my 2-day train/ski-lift pass to use. So naturally, I returned to the mountains!

This day, I had a mantra: "Take it easy." The Eagles song provided a soundtrack to my day, as I traveled up and down gondolas and vowed to not let the sight of all those skiers drive me crazy.

Back from Switzerland

I flew back from Friedrichshafen late Thursday night. I had an incredible time in Switzerland, more fun than I have had in a long time (and that's saying a lot considering all the places I've been traveling).

Some highlights:

  • Skiing in the Alps--the Jungfrau! What a thrill! It was more thrilling for me, a very inexperienced skier, because even the curves of the "beginner" course knocked me off my skis several times! I have the bruises to show for it, but long after they're healed, I'll remember that experience.
  • My hostel in Interlaken, very cozy; I felt at home there, and I made around 10 friends there!
  • Spending time with my hostel-mates, who were all really intense skiers/snowboarders, was really fun! I'm now inspired to tackle more activities: Snowboarding, paragliding, mountain climbing, surfing, river rafting, skydiving! We'll see what I can get done.
  • The Swiss people. They're very nice, helpful, fun-loving, and laid-back. It's a great combination of German, French, and (a tiny bit of) Italian cultures.
  • Swiss trains! They're so clean, efficient. Everywhere I traveled on the trains (I was averaging 4 train rides a day), the views were spectacular. I was (metaphorically) suffocating from all the breathtaking views.
  • The downside: the cost. It was expensive, everywhere. But I'm used to it now, coming from London. It was hard to monitor how much I spent in Swiss Francs instead of euros, pounds, or dollars.
  • All the cities: Bern, Zurich, Luzern, Interlaken, Vaduz (in Liechtenstein!), Friedrichshafen and Ravensburg. I liked them all. So clean, efficient, yet relaxed at the same time. And gorgeous scenery everywhere.
I don't have much time now. The next phase of my European adventure continues: My mom and cousin are arriving in London today (in a few hours). So I'll be busy, busy, busy showing them around London, then going to Bath on Tuesday, and going to Paris Wednesday to Saturday. Whew!

PS. I have a paper to write, but it's pretty straightforward. OK, better get to it!

Cheers out!

22 February 2008

Skiing Near Death in the Alps

My trip to Switzerland began with an amazing first day. I was high on travel adrenaline, and the momentum of my trip pushed me onto the slopes on my second day.

I awoke on the top bunk in my 8-bed hostel room. Beyond the warm red duvet, the air was chilly and crisp. I had the usual hostel breakfast - slightly stale bread with communal marmalade. I bundled up and went to the Interlaken West train station to buy my ticket to the slopes. There was a 2-day pass for unlimited train, cable car, and ski lift use that cost about CHF100 (about $95). Expensive, but seeing how many cable cars, ski lifts, and trains there were, an unlimited pass seemed to be worth it. I would be skiing everywhere all day!

Soon my excitement about hitting the slopes would come crashing head-on with reality. And I would be involved in some actual physical crashing myself.

Interlaken: Skydiving, Skiing, Snowboarding, and Bouldering into Town

It was still the first day of my trip to Switzerland, and I had already seen so much, flying at 6am from London to Friedrichshafen then taking a ferry across Lake Constance and riding a train across most of Switzerland for several hours to Bern, which I quickly visited for one hour, and finally catching my final train into Interlaken. I arrived just as the sun was setting, and as I stepped off the train, I saw the final rays of the day splashing onto the snow-covered mountains. As if that weren't enough, there were two skydivers parachuting gently down into Interlaken.

I can't think of any better way to encapsulate Interlaken than that moment.

It was a perfect moment and a perfect welcome to town. I could already tell that this was going to be a fun trip...

Planes and Trains and an Hour in Bern

My trip began with yet another early morning RyanAir flight from Stansted. By now I knew the routine: Wake up at 3:30 AM, make sure my backpack is packed and ready, walk to the bus stop by 4:15 AM, hopefully get to Stratford by 4:45. Get on the National Express coach bus, buy a return ticket for £15, put on my ipod, and maybe start falling back asleep as the bus arrives at the airport. Then, depending on whether I'm running late for my flight, I dash through the terminal toward the RyanAir counters.

This time, there was a long queue of people waiting to start their winter holiday (can I say "snowcation"?). Plenty of people had skis and snowboards to check in, especially on my flight. I quickly passed through security, bought my bottle of water and a snack for myself at the Boot's next to the exit from the security screening, and trekked to my departure gate. Yes, it has become a routine, but an exciting routine, because each time I'm headed to a new destination. And it's hard to remain calm when you're a few hours away from being in the Alps!

Soon I was in the air and headed to Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Planning My Next Getaway

My "reading week" fell in the middle of February. This means that for one week, there are no classes at the university. It's meant to give students a chance to "catch up" with their studying. Of course, I took it as an opportunity for a one-week trip.

My destination?

Switzerland! I had been wanting to travel to this land of cheese, clocks, chocolate, and banks for a while. Since it would be mid-February, I was expecting a snow-covered visit. The Alps were beckoning!

14 February 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

So how's England?
It's a country--I think it's doing just fine. Oh, did you mean, "how is [life in] England [treating you]?" In that case, it's treating me just fine. I'm healthy and happy, though often exhausted from all the traveling I've been doing. But that's not really England's fault, now is it?

How are the Brits?
I don't think they like being called "Brits." I know the Scottish hate being called British--and don't even think about calling them English! The English, however, seem okay with it. Of course I'm lumping 50+ million people into one, much how the world lumps Americans together as heavy-set loud SUV drivers with the Bible in one hand, a double cheeseburger in the other, and a gun in the lap. [No offense to the heavy-set SUV-driving, etc., people out there!] So, it's actually pretty complex.

Wait, you mean ... there's a difference between Britain and England?
I'm surprised how often I have to explain this to people back home. Yes! Look at a map, and let me break it down: England is a ("constituent")country that occupies most (but not all) of the island of Great Britain. Also part of Britain are Wales and Scotland. Now, take Great Britain and add Northern Ireland. Voila! You now have the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." And furthermore, if you add all of Ireland, you now the British Isles. Got it?

So what's British food like?
Ah, British (Er, I mean, English) food. At first I didn't know much about what was traditionally eaten here. All I knew was fish and chips, and that they ate haggis, which is a sheep's stomach--stop, it's already too disgusting to be eaten. Oh, and I also knew that they drank tea all the time. Well, the culinary spectrum of English foods offers more than that! I'll start with breakfast: English "bacon" is what we call "ham." And they eat beans with breakfast. It's fascinating! (You'll have to decide for yourself if it's tasty!) But it's definitely more filling than a "Continental" breakfast.
Walking through the grocery aisles one can realize what the English like to eat. There is a lot of curry. Apparently curry is now the national dish of the UK. (They love it on their wurst in Germany, by the way.) There isn't a lot of frozen food that you can just microwave. And the food spoils really quickly! They just don't have many preservatives here. Oh, there are many good pastries and pies--"Cornish pasties" are a good lunch on the go. And there's a lot of potato dishes. One big thing is Sunday Roast, which is roast beef with potatoes, gravy and Yorkshire pudding (which is spongy bread--just imagine batter baked in muffin tins). They also have "brown sauce" which is their equivalent of barbecue sauce.
Needless to say, coming from L.A., I miss the convenience of having lots of good, cheap food from all over the world available. No Mexican food, and the avocados here are just weird. But there is a good amount of Bengali cuisine available, and if you can find it, just as much variety of food from around the world in London. I had some delicious Ethiopian food this Sunday. But still, no Mexican food! But lots of baked beans.
Oh, and the tea! There's a lot of tea here. And lots of biscuits to go with the tea. But "biscuits" refers to something between what we call "cookies" and crackers. They're good--especially the "digestive biscuits."

Ok, I've gone on enough about the English and their food. Any other questions?

When are you coming home Jason?!
Oh, I don't want to think about it yet! Not that I miss home (I do!!); I just don't want to think that my year abroad is almost over.

Well, if you must know, June 7 is the last day of my housing contract.

Not Getting Done

I'm leaving for Switzerland tomorrow! I'm excited. But my plans have just changed:

My friend Elena (from orientation in London) said that she would meet me in Interlaken. Well, turns out, she couldn't get a plane ticket! What that means is that yet again, I will be traveling on my own. I'm not exactly excited about it; I was looking forward to having a travel buddy. But I'll manage.

And I'll just remember, I'm going to Switzerland! How exciting!


And now for a little recap of the rest of my day.
German class today was very... let me say, intimate. And not in the way you'd think (especially with today being Valentine's day). There were only 5 people in the whole class! So, the teacher called on each of us a lot. Which was good, in a way, but most of us didn't know what we were exactly talking about (We're learning about the different types of corporations/partnerships, etc., and "corporate culture" in Germany. It's somewhat interesting, but full of unfamiliar vocabulary.

Anyway, after class, I went to the library to print out some of the documents I'll need during my trip to Switzerland. Well, (as happens usually when I try to do the laundry) there were some major obstacles in my way. First of all, the first computer I tried to log onto wouldn't let me, because it would turn on, but it would freeze before getting to the login screen. Okay, I thought, That's happened before. I'll just use another computer. So luckily there was another free computer available (usually the computer lab is totally full). I logged on (yay!) and went to print out my hostel reservation. Well, guess what?! It wouldn't work! Because I had no "print balance." Weird, I just added £2.00 to it a few days ago and haven't printed anything out since. So I check my print balance on the computer and, to my disbelief, not only is it out of credit, the balance was -£21.48!

Unbelievable! I double-checked to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Then I asked the library help desk about it. The guy was very polite and said that he had seen this problem before but couldn't do anything about it (what?!); instead, he referred me to the university-wide computing services office. So I had to pack up all my stuff and walk to the Queen's Building (and up 3 flights of stairs) to the Computing Office. I told them my problem and the receptionist was sympathetic but their "expert" wasn't. I gave him my name and login ID so they could check my account. I then told them, "I have to print pages out today." They then said to just add £1.00 of credit to my balance.
"But I have -20 on my balance!" I said.
"Then add a pound and you'll have 80 pence."
"No, I'm down 20 pounds, not 20 pence!"
Haha, turns out the man thought I only had a 20 pence deficit, not 20 pounds! No wonder he was so umsympathetic! Well, upon this clarification, he consulted his colleague who thought it would be something with one of their drives. They should be working on it soon. As for me, I was able to print out my pages on one of the Macs they had in their office and just pay for it in cash.

And I came back to my room. I'm leaving for a week, so I have to finish all the perishable food in my fridge. Therefore, I made an omelette--ham, cheese, and onion! It was delicious. I put pancake mix into the eggs to make it extra fluffy (thank you, Ihop!). And now I'm here, trying to get everything organized before I leave early tomorrow (4AM!).

Thursday Morning

I woke up (relatively) early today, so that it would be (slightly) easier for me to wake up really early tomorrow. (My flight to Friedrichshafen is at 7AM, so I have to leave my flat by 4AM :X!)

So, after moaning and groaning in bed and forcing the lights on, I got up around 8:30 and made myself some tea. Took a shower, and headed out to get some errands done. First, I had breakfast. I went to The Curve, which is the cafeteria on campus. I always walked by there in the mornings on my way to class, but I never had eaten breakfast there. Today I did. I just had some British bacon (basically ham), eggs and hash browns. The quality of the food was--okay; the bacon was a little too salty and the potatoes too dry. But it cost less than 2 pounds, so I didn't complain.

Then I walked down to Sainsbury's to get some shopping done. I just needed soap and laundry detergent. But I also got some snacks for my Switzerland trip tomorrow.

While at the grocery store, I looked at the "Reduced to clear" shelf, because there are usually some good deals there if you don't mind food that's about to expire. As I looked at the food, I noticed the expiration dates: 15 Feb, 16 Feb... "Hmmm," I thought, "weird that they're putting food on clearance when it's not due to expire for another week!" Then I looked at my watch and saw today's date: Feb 14. Oh, wow! It's already Valentine's Day! I hadn't even thought about it! I thought it was still like the 9th or 10th. Silly me!

Ok, I have to get ready for German class now, cheers out!

06 February 2008

I'm Sure It's a Super Tuesday Somewhere

I really mean to keep this more updated, I just end up doing so many other things during the day! I went to Sainsbury's today, having some "Perfect Fried Chicken" along the way. I didn't have class, but spent much of the rest of my day planning my mom's visit at the end of the month.

Anyway, I'm back from Munich! I had a wonderful time there. It seems that each of my trips out from London keep getting better. I saw some awesome scenery, the Bavarian alps and Schloss Neuschwanstein (covered in snow!!!), and I had some good times with people at my hostel.

Traveling really is addictive! I can't wait until I leave on my next trip, which will be to Switzerland at the end of next week. On the other hand, it is really stressful and exhausting to travel all the time. I'm glad that I finally have one weekend in London this week. I'll finally get a chance to do some schoolwork and actual work to earn some pounds.

Speaking of schoolwork, I have a lecture early tomorrow so I have to hit the sack!