Comical Professors and Van Morrison (!!!)

I’m not used to having classes that are so blatantly applicable to life! Examples: lectures on feminism and postmodernism in my European Culture and Society class, and the value of nature in a capitalist economy in Geographies of Nature. So REAL!

I’d like to tell you a quick story from my last Euro class. The scene: our professor is shooting out all these incredible facts about how we live in a postmodern world and what it means and what is everyone’s favorite Starbucks go-to and can we ever prove the eclipse happened and all of a sudden he springs

“You don’t even know if you exist unless you’ve taken a selfie that morning.”

Whoa. No wonder this guy has tenure! (In case I’m not being clear, this sentence was so powerful because it completely encapsulates the essence of postmodernism and simultaneously couldn’t resonate more with our mostly eighteen years old millennial class. And it’s funny.) Man, the professors here are just full of goodness.

Which brings me back to our old friend placenta prof! Today he added another moment to his “greatest hits” collection.

So, we’re learning about the precursors to humans, namely Homo australopithicus and Homo habilis. He keeps reiterating the important advances that eventually led to our species, like the use of tools and having bigger brains. Yada yada. Excitement level is unwavering at zero. That is, until he reaches for his baby and pelvis props, announcing, “I will attempt to give birth this morning!”

The entire class explodes with laughter. Even the “manly” men couldn’t help but giggle. (Overall, England seems much more patriarchal than the US, and that’s reflected in the sociology of the sexes here quite noticeably. But that’s for another time.)

So he takes his pelvis model and a baby doll and actually shows us how much trouble it is for a baby to traverse the birth canal because of our ginormous brains! Now that’s LEARNING!

He also told us that hominins (a type of ancient humans) have gained “two tablespoons of grey matter every 100,000 years”. Chew on that unexpected measurement of intelligence! (Sorry for that unsavory pun. <– but not for that one! 🙂 )


I’m going to a CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL on Friday!! And, as they’re conjoined, a Cheese and Wine affair too! As my funny father quipped, I’ll probably regain the ten pounds I gave for a ticket after a day’s sampling of chocolates and cheeses. (Get it? Go punny papa!)


On Wednesday, Van Morrison and I decided to meet at the Royal Albert Hall and have a conversation. We talked of many things: New Orleans, gypsy souls, dancing in the moonlight. But the subject matter wasn’t the main takeaway, no. As I wasn’t the only one involved in this meeting of friends, I’ll let the grown man sitting in back of me explain what we were all feeling after the conversation had ended:

“YAY!”

His exclamation resounded with a pure sense of joy… a vulnerable, raw display of genuine human happiness. It was especially unique because of my location in London, a part of the world known for its reserved residents. That’s the magic of Van Morrison: his music zeros in on the part of you that’s grown numb to the spirit of life and taps it awake. His music is interwoven with spirit and soul. I left that theatre feeling renewed with motivation for life. That’s big stuff right there. Other reactions blurted out seconds after the last chord ended included “Brilliant!” and “Utterly brilliant!”

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It wasn’t til the last half hour of the show that the magic really started for me- the first hour was him playing his lesser-known music and duets with “friends” that I didn’t recognize (but will post pics in case anyone can solve the mystery.) But after he played “Days Like This”, the audience knew what was coming next. He really saved his allure for the end, in my opinion, letting loose his legendary voice and leaving me feeling awed, thinking, “he’s still got it.” “Brown Eyed Girl” was a pleasure to behold, “Into the Mystic” sent waves of relaxation and good feeling about the entire concert hall. There was no way to avoid the goodness he poured over the crowd, even if you were in the limited legroom, obstructed view seat you bought for 50 pounds four days before the concert.

So yeah, Van’s the man!

TODAY WAS AWESOME. And Tips for Not Getting Run Over by London Pedestrians!

It’s eleven o’clock, your half-interesting biology lecture about rodents has just let out, and you’re on your way across campus to a comfy study area. A novice would break out the internal sunshine, but a seasoned walker would know to resist giving in to so soon. Indeed, that stroll will be no walk in the park: it will demand agility, instantaneous decision-making, and something between assertion and aggression. What am I talking about? What it takes to simply walk somewhere in London!

It’s strange, for sure, but the thing is, here, nobody respects any logical rule of staying to one side of the sidewalk. Oddly, they do hug escalator flanks like magnets, but that’s the one exception. So, what you see when walking pretty much anywhere is a horde of people coming at you from every longitude of pavement. But fear not: from a little over two months’ practice, I’ve figured out how to survive unscathed and now you can too!

Behold: the Boston driver trick. If you don’t make eye contact, keep your eyes on a focal point, and bluff as to discourage anyone from trying to alter your pathway, you can silently command the walkway! This doesn’t always work, especially when there are big, lumbering man personalities involved, but it is pretty effective. So there you have it: act as if you refuse to change your walking path and others will accommodate you. Sweet.

It sounds sort of arrogant. But to live in a city, sometimes you have to be ruthless. Especially if you don’t want to expend half your latte’s energy before you even get to work simply by dodging people!


That was this morning. What happened in the hours afterwards was just… a combination of serendipity and good fortune and London magic, I think.

First was lunch: a shockingly delicious chicken and rice soup that I’d made, frozen, and forgotten about. I was rushing to explore London before class, but this soup stopped me in my tracks! It forcefully proved how integral is genuine chicken stock in a soup. The rice, chopped leeks, and a little roasted chicken commanded me to sit down and enjoy. I may have found my go-to recipe! How exciting!

But the fun didn’t stop there. I’d heard rave reviews about this gelato place called Gelupo, so I sought it out and let me tell you– no wait, I sort of can’t, because it transcended language- how delicious this gelato was. I started conversing with the gelatoista (?) about the five-star reviews that had brought me there, and she, in her thick cat-eye makeup and blooming flower balanced above her ear, warmly offered me rapid-fire samples of every single flavor before I could even finish a mind-sentence about how incredible the last flavor was. It’s a pretty nice position to be in, should you ever find yourself practically being force-fed otherworldly desserts on tiny shovel-shaped spoons.

In this instance, I was sold from the first sample: Ricotta and Sour Cherry. I paid four pounds for my treat- a princely sum for a rather petite scoop. But never did I doubt its worth, for soon after I dove into my dairy dream, my mind unconsciously raced through its thesaurus of tasting superlatives until it settled upon the thought of praying to the cherry swirl. I kid you not. I may have had an out-of-body experience today. There were no witnesses, so we’ll never be sure!

I might name my first child "Gelupo"

I might name my first child “Gelupo”

Also around this area of Piccadilly Circus was a fantastically cheeky clothing shop called Lazy Oaf. I’d found it online a while ago, but being in the physical store was a million times more fun! In true Sophie fashion, I tried on the most garish thing there and took a series of embarrassing/YOLO-y pictures. Here’s the least nutty one:

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I felt like a kid in wearing a candy store.

Next was my Museums of London class’ trip to the Saatchi Gallery. I went previously with my mamacita a few weeks ago, but since then they’d changed up their art and displayed some exceptionally exciting art:

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And one last fun day stop:

A tea shop! Ironically, I’d just purchased two cartons of tea at a shop a few minutes before, so upon the sighting of this much cooler shop, I was disappointed. However, after elevating my mood by sampling a trio of cocoa-tinged teas, I told my saga to the sales associate (after asking her what it was like to work at a tea shop; she replied that she is never stressed, gets to give people relief after a long day’s work in (healthy) liquid form, and hears loads of great stories) and she generously gave me a lightning tea lesson and three loose-leaf samples along with a make-your-own-teabag teabag! All for free!

London, you’re the best.


On Monday, Matthew and his friend Forest visited after their trip to Scotland. We had a great time catching up and walking around the city! I was proud to show them Queen Mary, my beloved hot salt beef bagel shop and Brick Lane, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, St. Martin in the Fields and its Crypt Cafe, and they explored Buckingham Palace and St. James’ Park on their own. As with Michelle, it was deeply enjoyable to spend time with another Wes pal and reflect on our adventures together. And exchanging severe dad jokes and puns that make every other person cringe (but not us!) 🙂

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Oxford + ALL the parks

What comes to mind when you picture the scenery of “Pride and Prejudice”? Softly swaying weeping willow trees bending over a peaceful pond? With swans? How about luscious green grass running into the horizon with ancient beige buildings hugging its edges? This image could probably be from a Jane Austen novel or a bevy of other Victorian classics. Instead, I’m describing Oxford.

Even in the middle of March, Michelle’s study abroad college shone with magic that could easily inspire a novel such as PP. I’m telling you, it was amazing.

I saw about half the green when I visited. But yes, people live a minute’s walk from this paradise! (From Quaint Living blog, link in picture)

Here’s a good photographer who succeeded in documenting its beauty. My pictures can’t measure up but I’ll offer them nonetheless:

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It was a special kind of relaxing/fun to walk around the campus and town with Michelle, a good Wes pal. In addition to its health benefits, walking is also a great way to get creative thoughts flowing and stimulates great conversation. Less pressure to focus on faces and interpret body language (not a strong point for me.) Just gaze at nature and converse to a delightful friend. Glorious.

(On a tangent, I realized I’ll have taken four three-hour-long walks with five people in six days by Monday! I’m seeing a trend in how I like to spend time and initiate intriguing conversation…) And on the seventh day she rested. lol jk she wrote all of her essays and wished she were outside. Essays here sneak up so quickly!!

The second walk was around Regents Park, an impressively large park with beautiful scenery. That was with a friend I met on the Venice trip. Today, I went on a long walk in search of deer at Richmond Park (to our dismay, it was rainy, so no deer appeared) with the friend I met at the Staves concert. Tomorrow, I’ll be with Matthew and his friend touring London! By the time I return to the states, I’ll be fit enough to walk back to the UK! (wait, what?)


Some Richmond Park and market pics:

Venezia!

veniceThis 26-hour trip was organized by the fantastic QM Travel Society, a small group of third-years with lovely personalities. They were so welcoming and funny, a perfect combination for our “mothers and fathers” who led us around all day. Not to mention good-looking! I was so impressed by how BEAUTIFUL the group was, overall! Not just outwardly, but also (yes, brace yourself for the cliche) inwardly 🙂

yup, I went there.

But for real, these kids were a treasure chest of loveliness. I was so glad that they were my companions for the day. The lack of sleep and magic of the trip allowed us to all talk to one another freely, connecting in ways that I usually feel after multiple hang-outs or a semester of club meetings.

A challenge of Venice was the unfortunate lack of respect from others who slowed down the group by taking triple the time allotted for lunch and getting lost without good cell service. Maybe that’s why my opinion of Venice isn’t shiny and happy; I didn’t get to see too much, the usual structure of my trips. Yes, I love talking with people, but when I’m in Venice, I’m there to SEE it, not hang around tacky souvenir stands while waiting for all 30 of us to finish whatever and move on.

So yeah, Venice didn’t blow my mind. Having recently departed from Amsterdam, perhaps I was still used to the widespread waterways that mystified everyone else. Didn’t get to check out some of the major sites either, only getting to the Rialto bridge (not that great), pizza and gelato (the latter severely disappointing), and a gondola ride (WORTH IT!) We did a lot of walking, which was great, but the group was slow and complained a lot towards the end.

A schedule of the trip:

Midnight-2 am: “Social”

2-6:30: Transport to and in the airport

6:30-8:30ish: Flight to Trevisio

8:30-11ish: Getting to Venice

11ish-7: In Venice

7-8: Bus to airport

8-midnight: Waiting for and being on flight back

midnight to 1:15ish: Waiting at immigration

1:15ish-2: Bus back to campus

Yes, it was QUITE the long day!

And now, the moment you’ve been awaiting: Photos!

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And because you can’t see it too well in the slideshow, this artwork gets extra attention because it’s just AWESOME

LOVE THIS SIGN

LOVE THIS SIGN!

My mom “popped over” to London

Some of my wonderful readers have inquired about where I find energy and time to generate so many blog posts. The answer is that I just love exploring my experiences abroad through writing. I’m inspired to create a lasting narrative of this time in my life and open it up to my favorite friends and family and let them inside my world. I’ve had a separate blog reserved for personal and philosophical musings for something like five years now, so it’s not a new concept, although making it pretty public is.

So about my mom “popping over”: it was so, so wonderful! We enjoyed a lovely weekend together and I’d like to give a small recap of some things we did but not everything, or in great detail.

We visited the Saatchi Gallery (thumbs up), found this hilarious little dog at a gorgeous garden shop, enjoyed Middle Eastern food and snagged a pic on the stairs (lights and tiles in background), then visited the Oxo Tower Wharf (bursting with fascinating creative stores and enchanting watches) and Gabriel’s Wharf for some more fun shops and a great little trumpet/snare drum duo that played some upbeat jazz on the waterfront. A candlelight concert at St Martin in the Fields (a b e a u-tiful church in Trafalgar Square) tied up our day, filling our heads with heavenly choral music. Yes, my mom is amazing!

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A highlight of her visit was a comprehensive rock ‘n roll tour of the West End. We drove past countless residences, places of death, studios, and landmarks of huge influencers of the rock scene including Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Cat Stevens, the Beatles in general, Mama Cass… it was so great! Our tour guide used to be a road manager for a rock star (forget who) so he was like an encyclopedia. He even threw in a Coldplay location (I went berserk.) Anyone know of the song “Violet Hill“? It’s deep, dark, powerful tune named after a park in a fancy part of London.

I really wasn’t feeling getting a picture at the Abbey Road crosswalk because I felt like such a tourist, but somehow my mom and the tour guide ended up staging the included photo. Can you tell who wanted the pic and who wanted to not get run over? It is pretty funny though.

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We learned so much, covered an incredibly large area of London, and rocked out to some great music all the while. The guide even told me that Paul Simon was involved in East London/the UK, recording The Paul Simon Songbook and writing Homeward Bound there!

I’d definitely recommend this tour if you’re into London’s rock ‘n roll history.

Fittingly, just a few days later, my London and its Museums professor told us that the day earlier, when he was teaching at the Tate Britain with a different group of students, he turned around and there was Mick Jagger. A scruffy one, he said, but all the same, Mick Jagger!


The last great thing I’ll mention is our trip to the over-the-top artsy restaurant Sketch. The atmosphere, decor, food, bathrooms… I was incapacitated with wonder.

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It was my first real dining experience, and I can’t wait until I have enough dinero to afford another one. The basis of food is art and appreciation for flavor, which deeply resonates with my views.

It was fantastic to have a family member visit me. However, as my friend Caroline talked about in her study abroad blog, it’s also difficult to let go and realize you won’t see that special slice of home again for months. Now that I’ve readjusted to college life, I’m fine, but I sorely missed my friends and family on my birthday (Feb 18). I’m very happy socially over here, but nothing can compare to the physical closeness of friends and family on a special day like a birthday. Can’t wait to see my beloveds upon my return in May or June!

Up next: One-day trip to Venice!

Prague & Amsterdam: Part Two

Prague was incredible. After taking the tube, train, plane, bus, metro, tram, and a steep walk uphill, we finally arrived at our hostel. We stayed in Old Prague in a great hostel ten minutes away from the Charles Bridge. Everywhere we looked, we were surrounded by age-old buildings covered with abundant ornamentation. Although later they harassed our feet, the ubiquitous cobblestones paved ways to feelings of wonder and awe. For much of our time in Prague, it felt like we were in a fairytale village (albeit one overrun with tacky souvenir shops and Thai massage joints.)

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view down a street near our hostel

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p r a g u e !

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this city was such eye candy to gaze at all day long

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We saw a restaurant overlooking the city near Petrin Hill and without thinking, I dashed past the bushes to this point and just went to town (taking pictures, not literally! P-unintended!). This was probably trespassing but you can tell it was worth it!

We saw many of the touristy sights while on a 2.5 hour walking tour and on our own: Astronomical clock (previous post), Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Jewish Quarter, Kafka’s stomping grounds, Old Town Square… The tour really helped skyrocket our opinions of Prague,  compared with Amsterdam, where we ended up taking a tour on our last full day there (were only there for 2 full days though) because of some confusion. Understanding the city through a mixture of history, landmarks, and modern customs is essential to appreciating a city and to everyone planning trips during their times abroad, I stress the significance of walking tours soon after you arrive.

Food: Mmmmmmmm. Tried curly, sugared bread cooked on rotating sticks called trdelnik (thanks to the suggestion of a fellow blogger studying abroad in Prague!) Hot wine is also common, and we jumped on that bandwagon quickly. It was so bitter that even with a generous honeying, it was still too dry for my taste. Goulash was delectable, the bread dumplings hearty, onion soup scrumptious. My only negative food experience was the lack of vegetables (common in far too many places, I know. 😥 ) When presented red cabbage, I sorrowfully strove to collect every measly vitamin K molecule available.

One night, we got all dolled up, fetched our Chilean hostelmate, got a cab for 300 Kr (was about $3 per person for 20 min! So cheap!) and went to an amazing nightclub that played 80’s and 90’s music all night. The music videos plastered the walls and created an atmosphere I’d never previously experienced: many “older” people (late 20s to early 40s) dotted the large dancefloor, shamelessly grooving to the cheesy songs. As a young adult whose majority of “going out” experiences have been disappointing and full of desensitizing, uninspiring music, this felt like an epiphany. Finally, I’d found a club that seemed FUN and full of people I could actually relate to! In short, it was a great time and we danced for hours. I don’t have any pics of this night but Erica and Beth do, so if you want to see pics, I’ll show them whenever they share them with me.

blackswan

This is dedicated to my DAD: Look, a black swan! (for everyone else reading this, the bird refers to how commonplace coincidences actually are, e.g. a black swan. It’s also the title of a book he loves)

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Couldn’t resist snapping a pic of this funny kid decked out in blue. (Elior I gotchu)

The Prague Castle was a joy to meander around. The highlight was the St. Vitus Cathedral, an edifice so massive that I barely tried photographing it before surrendering my camera in order to absorb its formidable presence.

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My favorite stained glass of the cathedral


We also found the John Lennon wall, a memorial to the legend who never actually visited the city but remained a symbol of peace and resistance for the youth during a time of particular political turmoil. We were surprised when we learned that Prague has only been opened up as a major tourist destination in the past 25ish years, owing to the government changing at that time (don’t ask me any more about political history than that! Not my forte.) Read about the wall here.

I’ve loved JL for a long time. I even dressed up like him, memorized his life story, and donned a costume for a sixth grade biography project! I bought a wonderful book of his artwork a while ago too. So this excursion was especially fun.

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Strawberry Fields Forever

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the wall (notice 3 JL heads up top)

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3 Johns

Whoooh, this is a long post! Grab a swig of gatorade and a granola bar to replenish those electrolytes cuz we ain’t finished yet! Nearing the end, though. I applaud your tenacity.

good job, you reader you!


One of the best parts of Prague was going to a monastery whose resident monks produced, wait for it, beer! Some proclaim it to be the best beer in Europe. Not long after hearing of this, you can imagine how, in my head, the puns flowed: How the monks turned water into beer, brewing happiness, etc.

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Love that monk!

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It was a gas. Each table lit by candles, a restaurant underground where Charles IV used to hang out…

Inside the restaurant

Inside the restaurant

We had a great time. The food was incredible as well! None of us were/are beer people, so it tasted like almost any other beer to us. Maybe the magic wasn’t in the taste, but the effects/benefits? Should’ve asked the monks!

On our way out, we stumbled upon a cute Czech cat and Erica was smitten. The first picture really says it all.

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TRUE. LOVE. Look at those faces!!!

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I gotta say, what an adorable cat.

The day we left, we explored the Jewish Quarter’s museum and cemetery area. Really interesting and worth it.

As I said in the previous post, we indulged in massages. Our bodies thanked us by staying able enough to take on much of Amsterdam’s sights in two full days. STAY TUNED: More of that in the next post!

Seen at Prague Castle. Reminds me of my wonderful sister Emily (brown hair on left) and me on right! <3

Seen at Prague Castle. Reminded me of my wonderful sister Emily (brown hair on left) and me on right! ❤