Sublime exhaustion

This weekend has been awesome – I’m sweaty, smelly, exhausted, and thoroughly happy. I know my posts have been a little (ok, a lot) delayed, so here’s a rather massive post to hold you over:

On Thursday I intended to visit the British Museum as it was my first day off this week (and I wanted to beat the inevitable crowds that appear in London on the weekends), but I accidentally slept in far too late and ended up sitting around the house all afternoon before attending class in the evening. City University is about an hour’s commute from my flat by tube, despite the fact that both are technically located in central London, so just getting to class and back is a rather lengthy affair. We ‘discussed’ (and I use that term loosely) discrimination, though the opinions of my classmates are rather obnoxious and often downright offensive. I wish the class would stop dwelling on the theoretical and focus more on the practical matters of the workplace in the EU and UK… I feel like that would prove to be far more beneficial, while sparing the poor “professors” (also used loosely) the agony of listening to obnoxious rich white American students who think they understand what it’s like to be discriminated against. Sigh.

The best part of Thursday evening was the fact that class got out a full hour early, giving me a chance to catch the train out to Greenwich for the opening ceremonies of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. The trip there was interesting, as I had never ventured towards that end of the city and had never used the DLR before (Docklands Light Rail, an overground offshoot of the underground system). I had invested in a month’s Travelcard (an all access train/bus card) for zones 1 and 2 – lucky for me, Greenwich sits exactly on the edge of Zone 2, so I didn’t have to pay extra to get there, hooray! See here for a map of the London Underground zones.

Sunset via the Deptford Bridge stop on the DLR

The trip into Greenwich was gorgeous – the sun was setting into a beautiful English summer evening, and I had some time to explore the grounds of the Greenwich University campus before the festival started. I happened to be walking outside the music school, and the air was filled with the alternating sounds of orchestras, rock bands, and string quartets rehearsing as the sun set against the buildings and Thames beyond. Words cannot do it justice. After grabbing some quick McDonalds (which broke my heart but hey, I’m a student on a budget!), I walked to the courtyard of the National Maritime Museum to grab a space to watch the performances. Even though I got there a full half hour before it started, the grounds were already covered with people sitting in lawn chairs, spread out on picnic blankets or standing in awkward groups of confused tourists. I grabbed an empty patch of grass and waited.

Greenwich!

The University of Greenwich

Details

The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival is held every summer, and consists of ten days of outdoor arts performances. Most of the performances are huge modern dance numbers that involve all sorts of technology – pyrotechnics, water, lights, incredible sound systems, you name it. The performance I went to was called “Gravity,” and was supposed to be followed by a fireworks display, but I missed it because I had to catch the train back into London before the tube closed at 11PM (the Brit business clock, the bane of my existence!). The performance was amazing, though… a group of dancers emerged onto the terrace of the museum with music in the background, then jumped quickly behind a wall as their images were displayed running up the sides of the museums like spiders via high-def projectors, looking to all the world like they were dancing on the walls. It was really amazing! Here’s a picture and short video:

"Gravity" outside the National Maritime Museum

If you’re interested, see here for more information on the festival and the performances going on over the next week.

On Friday, I finally woke up at a fairly decent hour and made my way to the British Museum after making what was intended to be a short trip to City University to print out my voucher for the next day’s planned trip to Salisbury, Stonehenge, and Bath. Needless to say, this “short” trip took stupidly long thanks to the confusing layout of the university building and the ridiculous printing process, which included finding the hidden computer labs and IT help desks,  figuring out my computer ID and password, paying for my printing, and running to two different printers in search of my paper(s). Agh! When I finally made it to the museum I attempted to do a quick overview of everything but then decided not to, instead deciding in favor of exploring the museum in small pieces over a series of visits since I’ll be here for another three weeks or so. I did however get to see the Elgin marbles (extremely controversial pieces of the Parthenon which the British Museum refuses to give back to the Greeks), as well as the Rosetta Stone! I also got to go on a free tour of the Assyrian section, including a series of stone reliefs and massive stone sculptures taken from the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC), an Assyrian king. The detail was stunningly beautiful, and it was amazing to think that people could create such glorious objects at such an early point in our history. (See more here.)

Inside the British Museum

the Assyrian reliefs

After the museum I headed to home to change and meet Maddie, Archana and Ashley who were going to take me on a tour of Parliament (including the secret pub underneath!). Ashley and Archana are interning for MPs in Parliament, which means they have security passes and are able to enter Westminster at will. The best part? They get to bring guests :). We toured the House of Commons but didn’t dare sit on the seats (they’re serious about it!), then followed a secret stairway behind a statue to the pub vaguely underneath the House of Lords. We drank a little, talked a little, and generally enjoyed the vague, fleeting feeling of entitlement associated with being old enough to potentially drink alongside lawmakers. After taking the underground tunnel from there to Portcullis House (where all of the MPs have their offices), we headed home via Mangosteen, a local Thai restuarant that is quickly becoming one of my newest obsessions.

Inside Parliament

The secret pub!

Inside Portcullis House

The perfect way to end the night

Saturday morning Maddie, Archana, Ashley and I woke up early to catch our bus, since we had booked a day tour to Salisbury, Stonehenge and Bath! The bus was full of American tourists, and we sat next to three girls in grad school who were in the middle of a two-month-long trip around Europe. The entire day was extremely hot and completely gorgeous – the legendary English gray gave way to glorious blue skies all day long, making for some great pictures and some seriously dehydrated tourists. Our first stop was in Salisbury, where we toured their amazing cathedral and got to look at one of the last remaining copies of the Magna Carta! Pictures of the big MC weren’t allowed, but it was an amazing document – so small and full of cramped little writing, but full of so much significance. We ate a picnic lunch on the grass outside of the church, and admired the roses growing along the quaint village houses before heading back to the bus to move on to Stonehenge! Stonehenge itself was full of tourists (obviously), and seemed so small and out of place in the middle of the green rolling hills full of cattle and sheep. Somehow I had always imagined it to be so much… larger! One of the most interesting parts of our visit was the fact that a legit Druid religious ceremony was taking place while we were there. The solstice had been the previous weekend (June 20-21st), and apparently religious ceremonies carry on throughout the week, with people from all over the country traveling to worship inside the ancient circle of stones. All of the worshipers wore white robes and garlands of flowers, and stood alongside people who looked vaguely reminiscent of Native American Indians carrying banners and flags. Strange, eh? Another gem at Stonehenge was King Arthur Pendragon (seriously), a protester-Druid who legally changed his name and spends his days just outside the fence accompanied by large protest posters about reclaiming true English heritage. Maddie, Archana, Ashley and I took far too many jumping pictures and generally enjoyed the fact that we were actually standing at one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Crazy! After spending far too little time at Stonehenge we moved on to Bath, where we toured the Roman Baths in the ancient city of Aquae Sulis and marveled at the gorgeous honey-colored limestone of all of the buildings in the city. The Bath museum is a bit touristy (they have people walking around pretending to be ancient Roman priests), but it’s fascinating tour through the excavated ruins of the ancient Roman temple and bath house! The tour ended far too soon and we got back on the bus to London thoroughly exhausted and dehydrated, but exceptionally happy at the amount of things we’d been able to squeeze into the day. For more photos, please see my Facebook album. We got home just in time to see the heartbreaking loss by the USA to Ghana (seriously defense, wtf happened?!), though it was made bearable by the idea that Africa would at least still have some representation in the World Cup.

A slideshow of pictures from my weekend. To pause on a photo, just hover your mouse over the picture and press the center button that appears (the stop symbol) – I know they move a bit too fast for you to read the captions!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A 10-second clip of the natural hot springs in Aquae Sulis (modern-day Bath):

As a side note, on the way back to London our tour guide pointed an office building called The Ark, which was (surprise surprise) built to resemble the boat of Biblical fame. However, the building has stood empty since its completion, and displays huge signs advertising it ‘To Let’. Why? Because it has FLOODING PROBLEMS. Seriously! Now how’s that for poetic irony?!

"The Ark"

On Sunday I woke up ready to accomplish one of my latest goals: finding my way to King’s Cross Station and Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame. First, however, a group of us from Redcliffe made it to a local pub called the Hollywood Arms (frequented by Hugh Grant, who lives down the street!) in time to watch the disastrous English vs. Germany match. Germany won 4-1, the worst English loss in the history of the World Cup. Ouch! Ashley, Maddie and I drowned our sorrows in some delicious Thai food from Mangosteen, then Ashley and I (with another housemate of ours, Jairo) headed to King’s Cross. As it turns out, J.K. Rowling mistakenly misrepresented King’s Cross station in the Harry Potter books – Platforms 9 and 10 are actually divided by train tracks, such that it’s impossible for there to be a Platform 9 3/4 between them. J.K. said she had actually been thinking about Euston Station, but the same problem is present there, as well! In the Harry Potter movies they transformed Platforms 4 and 5 in order to make the story work. Despite this minor detail, they have installed a permanent “Platform 9 3/4” sign on a side wall, with a luggage carriage installed halfway through the wall. Being the Potter-philes that we are, Ashley and I absolutely had to have photos:

Really hoping this works out...

Sadly, I am most decidedly a Muggle. Dreams have been shattered.

After making it home and spending a few hours writing this blog, it is now 4AM and I am definitely in need of some sleep before I need to be at work in a few hours. Keep your eyes peeled for some more posts on my recent trip to Wales, as well as various other excursions I’ve missed out on documenting so far. Love from across the pond!

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