Battling the Parisian Dawn [Paris]

Personal Life, Travel

Welcome back! I’m sure you’ve been waiting to hear from my most recent trip to France and Germany, and I certainly have a lot to share with you. First off, I want to say that it was the most brilliant trip I’ve ever taken, so much as I need to break it into separate blog posts.

When I last left you, I had gone to see a musical in London. Last Thursday I spent packing and preparing for my journey south. Some of you may know my analytical personality, and naturally I made a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to map out the important times like train/plane times and check-ins.

Friday’s lecture and field trip: Despite being overshadowed by eagerness of the upcoming trip, the Friday lecture and field trip still found its way onto my Canon Powershot camera. The lecture demonstrated and compared Britain’s class-conscious, liberal and secular society with America’s individualistic, conservative and religious lifestyle. Taught obviously by a Brit, the lecturer blatantly described each situation. 70 percent of Americans say they are middle class when 40 percent actually are. This is because one-third aspires to be part of a group in which they do not belong. In the UK, 35 percent define themselves as middle class, a more accurate guess that shows that Brits are class-conscious and do not live ‘the dream.’ Another point the lecturer made was the struggle for America to combat simple issues like abortion and gay marriage. Unfortunately for the USA, its conservative mindset and use of religious context hinder the progress of such issues… So, on to The British Museum we went. The museum looks a lot like The National Gallery and its artwork is quite similar. The museum is full of artifacts from different regions of the world and different periods. My favorite exhibit were the Latin American carved stones.

        

Paris trip begins: After a rushed experience at the museum, I scrambled home to gather my belongings and head to the station to buy train tickets to Luton Airport, a small port west of London. Whist arriving at the station to buy tickets, my travel buddy Chelsie and I became worried we would miss our flight. We boarded the train and made it to Luton in decent time, but we waited in the check-in line just minutes before it closed. Fortunately for us, several were behind us, which made us feel not as behind. The plane included us, as it took off on time, headed to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

This was my first time in a country where the native language was not English. How would I fare? Chelsie had been to Paris before, but did not speak French. Gradually the frequency of English fell to French. It was our second time flying EasyJet. EJ sounds like the Dollar Tree of planes, and in some ways, it is: cheap but decent. The plane landed fine, and we waited for a bus to take us to the city centre. By the time we reached midtown, it was quite late. The bus dropped us off just a look away from the Arc de Triomphe. I snapped a few night shots of it, then headed down the streets with Chelsie to find a decent hotel or hostel.

Another journey began within a journey. Chelsie is one to go right up and ask, which is helpful when I’m tired of asking for things. Place after place, we were disappointed with the outrageous pricing. After checking several, the cheapest place was €75. The place looked like cockroaches were slowly sucking away its time on earth. Tired and hungry, we stopped at a restaurant called Hippopotamus. It sounds like a kids playroom, but it served decent food for the time being. I ordered a margarita to get me through a few more hours. By the time we finished, it was nearing 2 a.m. Chelsie wanted to go to a hotel of €120. Being rational as I am, I thought, why pay that amount for just about 6 or 7 hours of sleep on a bed we don’t know? I got her to keep walking.

We made our way through the Champs Elysees and crossed by several palaces in the dark. Eventually we made it to the Seine River and crossed it to where we could still somewhat see the Eiffel Tower in the city lights.

We agreed to be homeless.

First we wanted to potentially sleep under the Arc de Triomphe, but it was blocked off. Then, we thought a night under the Eiffel Tower would be quite unique. The park near the Tower had whispering voices through the bushes and drunk teens going about weekend business. Mind you, this whole way we lugged our bags in this foreign city. Eventually we needed to sit down. Chelsie used a skirt to wipe off a wet bench overlooking the Seine River, where we would station for the night. We knew we would not get much sleep, but it was the best thing to do because we had to get up early to prepare for the journey to Germany, or so we thought. Chelsie laid down with her head on my chest as I sat up and chatted while she dozed off. A police car approached to check to see if we were homeless people on public property, but because I was upright and chatting, he thought we were just a couple chatting under the moonlight. To pass time, I took her book, ironically called ‘An Idiot Abroad’, and read it aloud to pass the time. We alternated dozing off phases, and watched an actual homeless woman haul her hoarded cardboard boxes to her bench near us. Time actually went by, and Chelsie suggested we wake at 5:30 to ‘get ready’. I looked at her with my blackened eyes in an are-you-kidding-me gaze. Get ready? It’s not like we had a water supply or changing room to exactly prepare for the day. Anyways, we wandered around, the first ones awake to see the city. First we went back to the Eiffel Tower to get better snapshots and then looked for a breakfast place. It seemed as if the owners were pressured by us to get their businesses running. The Eiffel Tower is quite tall as expected with a beautiful garden surrounding it. Chelsie took advantage of morning tea and toast, while I took advantage of a bathroom sink.

      

Moving back toward the Seine, we saw the Esplanade des Invalides on the Pont Alexandre III. We wanted to take a boat tour of the city, but it was only 8 a.m. at this time. Across the bridge was the Grand Palais, where I fell subject to the psychology of homelessness. I was too exhausted to wait up, so I found the back of a statue and curled up and slept as Chelsie towered over me in disgust. A decent rain moved me. We skipped the boat tour and went straight to the Louvre Museum.

    

The French army was up practicing throughout the city and singing its French chants. Disinterested, we moved on to a park before the Louvre. The line was quite long for an early morning at an art museum, but we made it in and started the tour. We go separate ways at museums because we have different interests. I had studied Italian Renaissance art at KU, so I wanted to see several paintings and statues from that period. The museum is massive, and it took about three hours for me to get a decent look. I got to see the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory statue, paintings by Leonardo and Raphael, statues by Michelangelo and Egyptian art. I wouldn’t have time to sit here and write all about it, but I can expand on it some if you ask me nicely.

          

We were eager to shower and leave Paris. We made it to the Paris l’est train station to get ready to go to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, where cousin Helga lives. After waiting an hour in queue, the horrible French customer service told us that there were only two seats on the next train to Germany: both first class for a total of €375. Um, no thank you. We had to get the later train, which came at 7 p.m. At that time, it was only 1 p.m. Again, we were hungry, so we thought, why not get a bottle of wine and cheese in Paris? Chelsie can explain how I became narcoleptic at the restaurant. I was seriously falling asleep mid-sentence. We got out of the main public eye back at the station. We became quite rowdy off of no sleep, but became homeless-ish again. I found a small nook in a baggage claim office where I could plug in my phone. We sat our alarms to get ready for the train later in the day. I slept some, and so did she. The alarm went off, and I phoned Helga to let her know of our arrival time.

The train to Saarbrücken, Germany was decent and fast. I don’t remember much of it. We had about an hour layover in the city, so we took extra advantage of large bathrooms at the station. I changed clothes even though I was unclean as ever. A neat market area had some country fries at a good price, so we spent our first euros in Germany there. Time was going quickly now, and we took a short train to Kaiserslautern. Luck again was not on our side, as the rail between Kaiserslautern and Neustadt was being repaired. We took a sketchy bus from there to Neustadt, arriving an hour later than planned. In the back of my mind was, “I hope we are not keeping Helga up too late…” Boy, was that not true. We finally arrived and looked for her. No sight of her. I phoned her and she said to take a taxi, which was about four blocks to her house.

We greeted the 82-year-old woman and then began our fondness for Deutschland…

(Stay tuned for a sleep-included German post.)

Independence and Freedom in the UK [London]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

Well, we’re now in July, and you know what that means. I’m coming home this month! Good news for you, bad news for me. Not that I don’t care to come home, but London and the other places I’ve traveled have been brilliant. I write this blog post less than 24 hours until my next big trip, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about within the next week. This week though, I stayed around these parts and did a few things on my bucket list.

Last Friday’s lecture and trip: The previous week’s lecture taught the topic of Britain becoming a world industrial power. Britain’s rise was split into two periods, 1945-1979 or post-World War II and 1979 to present day. Enough with the lecture, I was ready to go to the National Science Museum, which was only about a 10 minute walk from home. The museum, located in South Kensington, was our first modern technology museum, but it did include quite a bit of history. The first floor had old steam engines and machines that Britain used first as an industrial power. The floors progressed in time as you went up, the second describing how human anatomy works. Small peanut-shaped learning modules helped put science into simple terms. After checking out how the brain works, I made my way over to the ‘sex’ exhibit. No, not sex, but gender. One module had a sex change application where one takes a picture of himself and watches as the computer changes into the opposite sex. The only thing I gathered from that was that the computer made the male figures box-headed, and gradually got fatter and rounder when changing into female… After that I headed to the atmosphere floor, then on up to the future floor, which described futuristic events, such as men having children, global warming, etc.

        

Even though it was not a required trip, I had desired to go to the Natural History Museum next door. It is an absolutely stunning building from the outside, and it’s seriously as big as it looks. When you arrive inside, it seems as if you are part of the movie, The Night at the Museum. A long, stretched dinosaur skeleton elongates the entrance. Side hallways stretched to exhibits of prehistoric dinosaurs, birds and mammals. Most of the museum shows the evolution of life, and its father Charles Darwin sits as a statue in a chair on the way to the second floor. Despite the animals, I held more interest in the architecture of the building. Take a look at some of the images I snapped.

            

That evening I went out for some Pimm’s, my new favorite drink of choice. Pimm’s, native to Britain, is a ginger-tasting liqueur that is mixed with lemonade and fruit to make the special Pimm’s. A pitcher of it makes about five glasses, so it’s economical! After a few of those, I headed to a bar called Strawberry Moon, a laid back club with modern hits, classics and 1990’s tunes.

Saturday shopping: Dad, you might not want to read this as my bank account might have taken a hit on July 2, 2011. Ok, I was in need of a few pairs of pants. The jeans that I brought are outdated and ill-fitting, so I decided to spend a little on a few nice pairs. Oxford Circus is an area full of modern stores: River Island, Urban Outfitters, Zara and New Look. I bought a couple pair of chinos, or colored khakis as you might call them. They were only £29, or roughly $45. Not bad for a pair of nice pants. I also got some nice dark jeans that go well with work clothing. Needless to say, I was exhausted at the end of the day, so I spent the evening updating my resume to prepare for a job search the next week.

Sunday sports and worship: Because I was able to get some rest, I woke up early on Monday to do a few items on the bucket list. First, I headed to Emirates Stadium up north, where the football (soccer) team Arsenal plays its games. It’s a beautiful stadium in a rough area, and it was cool to see the jerseys and items in the store as well. I know my roommates in Lawrence would be jealous! It’s disappointing that football season here isn’t happening, but I hope to see a game someday. After that, Notting Hill was on the list. No, I was not interested in finding the door where the movie Notting Hill took place. The vintage shops and unique stores caught more of an interest at Portobello Market. I didn’t buy anything, but I had a great Moroccan and chorizo burger for lunch. Next on the list was a church service at Westminster Abbey. The evening service started at 6:30, and we got second row seats. The service took place where William and Kate got married and where Charles Darwin and Dickens were buried. Goosebumps covered my body as the small congregation alternated prayer with song. The bishop’s voice echoed through the height of the abbey and it was an unforgettable experience. I kept a program of the service, but I was not allowed to take photos.

      

Fourth of July: Now, how was I going to celebrate the independence of my home country in the country it gained independence from? Well, after work on American Independence Day, I found an ‘American’ bar in Chelsea where flags were flying. It had a beautiful garden in the back where we ordered burgers and chips, but unfortunately they did not have American beers. On to the next place. A couple of us found a rooftop where red, white and blue balloons moved with breeze. Then we stumbled upon a VIP section, where we met the cast of Made in Chelsea, a reality TV show about the lives of Londoners (sort of like Gossip Girl or the OC). We somehow ended up in a mini photo shoot with the cast. Maybe they thought our American-ness would boost viewership? Not sure where these photos ended up. Maybe a magazine cover? The photo below is us Americanos.

Internship: I spent most of my internship this week getting my required assignments done, and then searching for jobs online to apply for. I’m mostly looking into advertising agencies or marketing firms for a career in client or account service. My passion for sports could also play key in where I end up. I’m hoping to hear back from some contacts this next week, so I’ll keep you posted if anything looks good!

Wednesday at the theatre: Part of our program for KU included a trip to the Victoria theatre to Billy Elliot: The Musical. It’s about a young boy whose dad wants him to grow up as a boxer during the troubled time of mining strikes in Britain. Billy instead draws interest in ballet and has a unique talent. Because of unemployment, his dad is angry, and becomes angrier when he hears his son is involved in ballet. Through all the hardships, his dad helps him get to a famous ballet school in London with the help of his coworkers. It was all a dream for Billy, as he’d like his late mother to see his accomplishments. The play was absolutely fantastic, and I think it’s something London does best. I recommend seeing a show here if you ever travel to the UK.

It’s getting quite late here, but I couldn’t bear without writing a post for so long. Getting so close to my big trip!

My five London tips/fun facts of the week:
1. The ABC’s. We say the letter ‘z’ as “zee.” The English say “zed.” Don’t ask why.
2. Common welcoming and departing phrases are similar to ours but slightly different. Bye is sometimes changed to bye-uh, and hi is sometimes changes to hi-yuh.
3. The News of the World scandalous publication is closing after 168 years on Sunday, due to a phone hacking allegation.
4. Snog is a frozen yogurt place I like to eat at. ‘Snog’ means ‘kiss’ in British English.
5. Campers set up tents outside of Parliament (Big Ben) to protest top worldwide issues.

I’ll be back soon after my trip!

Best,

MRF

125 years of Wimbledon [London]

Personal Life, Travel

As you have probably seen on TV, Wimbledon is in full swing in London, and the players are heading into the final weekend. Before I came abroad, I knew I wanted to experience the Championships. After getting off work, I rushed to the train station to take the train down to Southfields, where I walked about five or six blocks to Wimbledon Park. I entered a queue line where you get a numbered ticket (so no line-jumping!), and I waited and waited to just get into the grounds. I was in line for about an hour and a half and was only able to see the top of the tennis court buildings.

Once Andy Murray beat Feliciano Lopez and Rafael Nadal beat Mardy Fish, officials opened the grounds to the rest of the people in line, which were thousands. I got in the grounds in enough time to experience a Centre Court match. Gentlemen’s Invitational Doubles was playing the final Centre Court match of the day. It was a fun atmosphere, as doubles usually is, and I was glad I got to see the world’s most famous grass court stadium. After that, I stopped by match on a smaller court that featured USA’s Lisa Raymond.

From there, I met up with some friends and had some pizza, a beer and some Wimbledon-famous strawberries and cream. It is literally strawberries with heavy cream on top, but still delicious. I got a few things at the store on the grounds to mark my experience at the 125th Championships at Wimbledon.

                    

Today was my last day of work for the week, as I have a How Britain Works class on Fridays and an afternoon field trip.

Who do you have winning it all? Sharapova or the underdog? Murray, Nadal, Djokovic or Tsonga? I can assure you that the Brits are pulling for Murray.

MRF

Stoned in History and Club Beats [England]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

Just as I was about to write about the wonderful 85° weather the past few days in London, it started downpouring midday. I’m sure the folks out at Wimbledon aren’t too happy about this. Anyway, the past week has been full of nice weather, an unbelievable historical venture and the first use of my shorts. I hope all at home near the floods are staying safe and above ground!

Internship: Work has been going great, and they have me doing a lot of DFA research using AdRelevance, which measures the specific amount of clicks, impressions, costs and orders from advertisements and campaigns on specific websites. It requires a lot of Microsoft Excel input and formulas that calculate averages, sums, percentages and cost (£). The experience in digital ad research will give me a head start understanding how media planners and buyers work in an ad agency. I’ve started to browse jobs for when I return, but I’m torn between going the agency route or sticking on the corporate side. Like many professors and friends have said, one’s first job may not be the ideal one, but it sets a foundation for what you do later in a career. Oh, and we all went out for about an hour during lunch for drinks on Monday!

Early weekend: Thursday night a bunch of us went to Mrs. Q’s in nearby Earl’s Court. For those who know Lawrence, it’s a mix between Quinton’s and Tonic, a vintage-looking building with modern lights and music. A bunch of KU folks joined us, so it really did feel like Quinton’s. The place also had a few pool tables, so I was able to use my skills from the pool table back home. Oddly enough, when I went the restroom (toilet), I rinsed off my hands and there was a guy waiting there to squirt soap in my hands and provide me with a towel. I’m still unsure who exactly he was supposed to be to this moment…

Friday’s class and trip: The class lecture on Friday discussed political systems in Great Britain. The country has three main parties: Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats. The lecturer discussed how our meaning of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ completely differs from theirs. Another major difference is the polarization of the parties. He said that Britain’s political parties work more together even though they have different platforms. Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Dave Cameron were all of discussion as Prime Ministers. Let’s just say that Britain doesn’t spend as much money and time with elections as we do in the U.S. In the meantime, I’m receiving emails from the Obama 2012 campaign… The afternoon trip was to the National Portrait Gallery, which is part of London National Gallery adjacent to Trafalgar Square. The gallery included Tudor, Elizabethan, Stuart, Civil War, Georgian, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian, 20th Century and contemporary portraits. We were able to map the political evolution of figures. Old portraits include stern faces and emotion, good posture and elaborate clothing. As you move toward modern era, portraits become more emotional and relaxed with more of a focus on setting than bodily features. I saw artwork by Andy Warhol, the portrait of William Shakespeare and contemporary art of Susan Boyle, Tony Blair and nude beaches. Oh, and on our way to the gallery, I spotted a transit ad of a boy wearing a KU shirt. I forget what it was promoting, I think a charity or world fund, but it was a Kansas Jayhawks 2006 football t-shirt. Odd, huh?

                    

Saturday’s trip West: Early Saturday morning our KU group headed west about an hour and a half to the countryside, where sheep and cattle grazed the land. Over the hill stood a circular wall of rocks, one of the Wonders of the Middle Ages, Stonehenge. Before going to the rocks, I walked by a rock near the entrance known as a magical rock. I touched it of course, and seriously felt something surge through my arm. (No, I’m not crazy!) Walking up to the rocks, everyone receives personal audio guides for markers around the rocks. You can only get within 40 feet of the rocks, which is frustrating, but it’s still so surreal to see it. A manmade ditch still somewhat exists from prehistoric times (3000 B.C.), as it protects the rocks. Stonehenge literally means, “hanging stones.” Some sources say they were meant for sacrifice or hanging persons and animals, and the ditch served as the “burial” of the dead. The 360° walk under a clouded sky created a great experience. The site isn’t interactive, but rather an emotional, surreal experience for everyone. Druids were around to celebrate the summer solstice at the rocks.

               

After Stonehenge, the group traveled to Salisbury, a nearby city with a lot of history. We had lunch at a local pub and gathered to our next destination. In the meantime, some of us watched a wedding couple walk out of a cathedral as people waited to celebrate outside. It was interesting to see the dress of people. Women wore derby-like hats, much like Kate Middleton. After that, we headed to Salisbury Cathedral, a gothic style church constructed in the 1200’s. The outside is standard gothic, with the tallest spire in England. In the entrance, we could hear a choir and orchestra of about 200 practicing for an upcoming performance; goosebumps as I walk to a reflective fountain in the middle of the church. Next, I studied the gears of the world’s oldest working clock, dating back to 1386. The nave and transepts have enourmously-high ceilings with ribbed vaults and pointed arches, a signature to gothic style. Stained glass adorns the side chapels and tombs lie in any open side space. In some areas, one can see modern art combined with ancient, a great experience for artists and architects. On the way out, a courtyard with gothic arcades made way to a quite important room. The room included one of the four copies of the Magna Carta. THE Magna Carta. The document is beautifully scribed on lasting paper, and the lines were straighter than lined paper. After the cathedral, we wrapped up and headed back to Londontown. Stonehenge, the Cathedral and the Magna Carta in one day, unbelievable.

                                                  

Top-rated Saturday night: After returning from a long day in the countryside, a few of us wanted to enjoy more of the day. Late at night we had planned to go to Ministry of Sound, one of the top nightclubs in the world. We found ourselves not there, but at a nightclub called Fabric, the #2 nightclub in the world. The experience was amazing. The bottom floor contains the dance floor, the nucleus of the club. It is rated so great because it’s bass and subs are located under the dance floor. So, you seriously feel vibrations of the music flow through your legs to your torso. The music is electronic/house/techno genre, so no words, just beats. The above floors are casual drinking areas, and their balconies overlook the dance floor below. Unbelievable night, and yes mom, I made it home fine. 🙂

Sunday market: After resting up from Saturday, a few of us went to Camden Town, a large market full of food, souvenirs, stores and tourists. It was almost too crowded and touristy for most of us, but we enjoyed the unbelievably warm temperatures and Thai food. Later that evening, I made the best food I’ve had here with my friend Chelsie, a stir fry of whole wheat noodles, peppers, pork, teriyaki sauce, onions, brown sugar and spices. I haven’t talked much about the food here, but everything is bland. The carrot cake doesn’t taste like anything. The spaghetti doesn’t have any spice, the cookies have little to no sugar. Maybe it’s good to locals, but I feel like almost all the dishes could have been enhanced with some sort of spice, herb or ingredient. I can’t wait to have food in Paris and Germany.

Monday after work: I recently implemented some planned trips around London in my iCalendar in my MacBook Pro, and yesterday included one of those. After work, I went to Abbey Road to see the Beatles’ home. Had to take a picture of the crosswalk of course and of the walls in front of the studio. The studio is getting a bit of a facelift, but you can still see all of the writing and graffiti that lines the gates in front of the building.

          

Nothing is planned for this afternoon, as I might try to get some laundry done. Tomorrow I will try to go to Wimbledon, even though I know it will be packed. I really wanted to see one of the Williams sisters, but unfortunately they both bowed out on Monday.

My five London tips/fun facts of the week:
1. Gas prices around these parts are ~£1.35. Think cheap? Not so fast. That’s per liter, and there are 3.7854118  liters in a gallon, making a gallon of gas here about $5.11 USD.
2. Cell phone numbers here do not use area codes. Instead, they replace area codes with the cell phone provider code. Because I have an O2 phone here, my code is 776. If one has Orange or Vodaphone, they will have a different code.
3. You don’t have to tip at restaurants. Glory, right? Waiters are paid regular wage, and you only really tip at a nice place, but only 10%.
4. Brits sign text messages with an ‘x’ or two at the end if they are texting someone they love or are interested in. It’s similar to xoxo at the end of a letter, but now just one ‘x’ can symbolize endearment.
5. Cilantro is coriander. Detergent is non-/biological powder. Sketchy is dodgy. Ground beef is mince beef. Ovens are hobs.

Cheerio from the 2012 Olympic host city,

MRF

Climbing and Surviving [Scotland]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

It’s 11:11, make a wish! Well, I know at this time you are in bed (or at least should be), but I wanted to share my Scottish experience from the past weekend.

Before making a travel up north, last week was my first week at my internship at M2M. I’ve been working on clients like Estee Lauder companies, Historic Royal Palaces and Momentum Pictures. My coworkers are quite nice, and I enjoy the sarcastic nature of Londoners. Work for me begins at 9:30 and lasts until 5:30. I usually take my lunch break at 13:00, or 1:00 p.m., as most do. For those of you who struggle in the afternoon, try to extend the morning by taking a later lunch, which makes the home stretch not as long and drawn out. Most what I’ve been doing so far is making screengrabs of advertisements that have been placed online to prove to the client that the campaign is live. For a few days I also created URL links for parts of a website, advertisement links and images. This week so far, I’ve been working on a social media review of Estee Lauder competitors. – Friday class last week was about race and immigration in Britain. The lecturer was quite outspoken about America’s past of slavery, putting it in company of Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. He praised Britain for banning slavery before it could start, and he suggested that America is still “race conscious.” I wanted to ask how western Europeans, including British, were excluded from the conversation in regard to settling in America and wiping out the Native American population (oh well). The afternoon trip was to the Museum of London, which included the chronological advancement of the city. Here are some snapshots of the museum.
                   
I spent early Saturday taking a bit to sleep in, and then walked around the Chelsea neighborhood for a while. In my first celebrity sighting since the queen, I saw Jesse Metcalfe, known most as the young gardener on Desperate Housewives and his role in John Tucker Must Die. After that, my friend Chelsie and I packed up and headed to Liverpool Station, where we’d catch a train to Stansted Airport north of the city. On the way to the airport, it was really our first view of abundant grass, and we saw sheep, horses and cattle on our way. Once arriving to the airport, we boarded a plane and headed to Edinburgh, Scotland. Why Edinburgh? Well, from the beginning I thought a trip up north would provide a better understanding of Great Britain than just London.

Once arriving north of Edinburgh, the weather was dark, rainy and quite chilly as expected. A busride took us into the city at about 9:30 p.m., where we saw Edinburgh Castle and the skyline in a mist, creating a mystical feel for the city. We headed up to the main street after briefly looking around to begin a search for a hostel to stay. Let’s just say that Edinburgh’s streets were not laid out like America’s gridpaper. One street diverges into four, then comes a roundabout that creates even more confusion. After finding our way around, we found a decent hostel, but come to find out, it was film festival weekend, one of the most busiest weekends for the city. We spent the next half hour calling about 12 places, all of which were booked. It finally set in that we would be homeless in Scotland. Neither of us really panicked, so we went out for a few drinks, first at Grassmarket then to Picardy Street. The places then closed, and we were hungry, so we found the only place open at 4 a.m., a quite busy place. I ordered a standard hamburger and fries to get me by. The eatery closed. What now? Well, my friend Chelsie had gone outside while I was using the toilet, and she started making conversation. I came out, met a couple of Scottish guys with her, and within 15 minutes, we had a place to stay. My analytical nature immediately questioned the situation, but the aura and nature of the guys seemed inviting and welcoming. We arrived at the apartment of Umberto, a Scottish-Italian 23-year-old who works at his dad’s Sicilian bakery and pastry shop. His apartment was quite nice, and much to my surprise, he had a massive wall banner of a Native American chief. He said he thought it looked cool, so he bought it and placed it in his dining area. We spent a while chatting, then he gave us blankets (and even his comforter off of his own bed) to sleep with…

Awaking in the afternoon, I opened my eyes and wondered where I was at and how I got there. Don’t worry, I completely remember all that happened, it just seemed unreal that we would find a place. On the kitchen table, two water bottles sat atop a note that said he had to go to work and that we were welcome to anything. Had this guy just left his apartment free to two strangers he had only talked to for an hour or so? Yes. And that’s when I started to get an understanding of Scots. Chelsie and I had a list of things we wanted to do, so we set out on a touristy quest. We walked to Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the city and then to a large kilt factory. From there, we split up for some alone time. I walked down the Royal Mile toward the Palace of Holyroodhouse and enjoyed street bagpipes and shops. I later made it to Parliament, a futuristic building next to the Palace. Arthur’s seat, a dormant volcano, is located near both buildings.
         

Later that evening, we met back up with Umberto and went out for some delicious pizza. He said that we were his first American friends, and he was impressed with our vocabulary, poise, politeness and demeanor. We asked why he opened up his place to us so easily, and he said he could just tell we were nice people. He certainly has something great coming for him for doing this great deed! We spent hours chatting about our experiences and thoughts about the United States and his comparison to Scotland. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve met someone as genuine and friendly as him. We later went out to a club for some drinks.

The final day, Chelsie and I had planned to get up and climb Arthur’s Seat, the dormant volcano. Little did we know, this landmark has a 360-degree lengthy path, but we made it to the top. It was one of the most breathtaking, rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Along the path you can see the whole city of Edinburgh, luscious golf courses, the shoreline and the ocean. While at the top, I took several photos and took a moment just to think and relax.
                             
The way back down was obviously much easier. Hunger set in and it was time to eat… haggis! I wasn’t sure how much of this I had preferred to eat, but I tried it. My coworkers said I must try them when I was in Scotland because they are a traditional Scottish food. I had a small haggi sandwich. Want to know what they’re made of? Definition: a dish containing sheeps heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours. Wow. Family, I can honestly say that it was similar to a Mutt&Jeff burger from Falls City. The texture was mushy, but it was not bad. – We waited around for Umberto to meet us for a more ‘normal’ meal, and we ate Mexican burritos for lunch. He wanted to show us his family’s pastry shop, so we went to meet his family. The shop makes and decorates cakes, pastries, sandwiches and coffee. They gave us a box of pastries to take with us, another generous offer from the Scots. Earlier in the day we had missed a scheduled Scotch Whisky Experience, so we went back to see if we could get in. Luckily we got there just in time, and we saw how scotch whisky is made and how different regions of Scotland provide different flavors. A test-tasting session with a free glass was given, and we got to see the largest private scotch collection in the world.

It was then time to leave. Umberto, being who he is, traveled with us back to the airport and hugged goodbye. We exchanged emails and Facebooks, and he might come visit us while we are still here in London. The whole experience in Scotland was phenomenal, going from nearly homeless to gaining a lifelong friend, seeing castles and climbing a volcano, and seeing small-town folk at their best. I traveled back the way I came, and then continued back at the internship again the following morning.

MRF

(P.S. – Take the polls under the Poll tab!)

Royal Sighting, M2M Begins [London]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

Hiya. Sorry it’s taken a bit to get my thoughts and news posted on here, but it really seems like I just posted a couple of days ago. Time seems to fly. By the time I’m done with work, browse around town after work, and go home to eat, it’s time for bed. I’ll update you from when I posted last.

On Fridays, as part of the internship program, we have to attend a class called How Britain Works. Last Friday’s lecture was about the rise of power in Britain and its history of colonization and remaining a world power. After class, we attend a museum or historical place that relates to the lecture. Last time, we went to The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which is a way east of where I normally roam. The museum included ship, treasure, painting, map and navigation artifacts that contributed to the exploration of England to the rest of the world. I think my view on England’s colonization is different from Brits, as I don’t think they see it as conquering a foreign land, but rather an opportunity to grow and exploit foreign resources. After the museum, a few of us stayed in Greenwich, where we found a market that contained world food, jewelry, vintage clothing, artwork, royal items and more. At the end of the day, I ended up buying a few gifts and a pair of black dress shoes that were only £29, or about $44 USD. Also for lunch, a cheap bowl of mixed Ethiopian dishes, a great way to save money and be cultural. I think more than anything, I will remember and take from experiences like that more than standard tourist routes.

    

The evening after the museum, I stayed home because I KNEW that I was going to see the Queen the next day at Trooping the Colour, informally known as the Queen’s birthday parade. Elizabeth II’s actual birthday is in late August, but because of tradition and colder weather in April, the UK celebrates in June. Running a bit behind, I thought finding a decent spot was impossible, as thousands gathered behind the gates of The Mall, the processional street to Buckingham Palace, where the Royal Wedding occurred as well. Well, I ended up about three people away from the gate next to the street, and thanks to my height, I was able to get some decent photos and videos of the event (see below; video of Queen). The royal family rode through the street and entered Buckingham Palace, where they went in and moved to the balcony. After it was finished, they let people flood the area around the palace and watched as planes and jets flew over to celebrate. It’s great to say I’ve seen the Queen, as men are the next in line to the throne.

                   

The end of the weekend was a bit of a shopping spree, as well as the first few days of the week. Some of the department stores like Selfridges, Topshop and Harrods are the most massive stores I’ve ever seen. It’s almost hard to shop because you feel tense with the numerous surrounding security guards, loud music and massive amounts of people. Some of the weekend though was spent in Hoxton, where several vintage stores are located. You’d never believe this, but I found a KU vintage sweatshirt! It was randomly stuck in a rack of sweaters but priced at £29. It was a bit overpriced, so I just took a picture with it. I also found it ironic in the department stores that they had many American shirts, even shirts that were just of the flag. In some instances, a rack had a line of UK flag shirts and a line of US flag shirts. I’m still on the lookout for jeans my size. The pants/jeans here are quite unusual: types called carrot and twister. Carrot pants bevel out so they scrunch up on the leg, while twister pants have stitching that wraps around the legs. I’ll keep looking.

Monday marked the first day of my placement at M2M, a media planning and buying agency. The people here are young, helpful, welcoming and casual. The first day I wore a dress shirt, tie and pants, only to see most everyone in jeans and a nice top, but I guess it never hurts to dress up the first day. The area is called Marylebone, an affluent neighborhood with Lebanese food down the road. The setup of the agency is open, no cubes, privacy or personal conversations. We sit at long desks facing one another, so there’s quite a bit of noise with phone calls, people talking, laughing and typing. As opposed to last summer at my own cube, it is nice to interact with everyone, especially the accents. So far I’ve been doing several things: monitoring social media (Facebook and Twitter), taking screengrabs of websites where our ads are placed, and creating URLs for website ads in Germany, UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. Some of the clients I’ve been working on are Historic Royal Palaces, Net-a-Porter (online fashion), Estee Lauder and Momentum Pictures (film). If you’ve seen The King’s Speech or The Fighter, M2M has placed those advertisements.

A bit for grandpa: When you go in the grocery store, each item has a British flag on it that says ‘Made in UK’ or says ‘British pork’, for example. I’ve yet to purchase anything from the store that was not UK made. The sense of national pride is much higher here than I feel like it is in the U.S. Reasons for this could be the traditional monarchy or its history of being a ruler of the world, but I think of it as Brits working and making things for Brits. The U.S. should do something like this with packaging so consumers become aware of who they are buying from. I do feel as if Americans would buy products with American logos as opposed to China or elsewhere, but it is only located in small print so people don’t check. Food is like that here for sure, but clothing is still foreign and outsourced for the most part.

The living situation is going well, but the group has received several noise complaints from neighbors, so we are supposed to keep quiet and respectful during quiet hours. The building includes about 35 KU students and 10 students from Boston U., so taking the ‘college’ out of us is hard to do, especially when abroad! For food, I’ve eaten at several cafes, English pubs and Italian. At an Italian restaurant the other night, we sat next to Icelandic guys, who recognized our accents, as they had attended college in America years ago. They pushed Iceland as a place to visit, but I think I’ll stick a bit farther south… Plans for tonight? Laundry.

My five London tips/fun facts of the week:
1. In the workplace, it is common respect to bring people a cup of tea, whether they ask for it or not.
2. In London, it’s common to hear more foreign accents than English (lots of Dutch, French, German).
3. You don’t swipe a London debit/credit card. Cards contain a chip, and one simply sticks the end in with the chip.
4. London sports news only care about football (soccer), tennis and rugby, so I had no idea that Dallas won the NBA title.
5. Mealtimes here: Breakfast (when you wake), lunch (around 1PM), snack/tea (around 3/4PM) and dinner (8-9pm).

Happy (U.S) flag day yesterday. Oh, and I’ve posted a new poll under my Polls tab. Please vote!

MRF

Weather Bipolarism Meets Tourist Travel [London]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

G’day. Finally got a chance to sit down and write a bit after much walking. Let me tell you about the weather… It will be sunny for about an hour, rain the next, sunny, rain, rain, sunny. Whenever I forget my umbrella, it rains. Whenever I bring my umbrella, hello sunshine. Not the typical Kansas sunny half the day, torrential rain at night. I find often that I go from one station to the next with different weather patterns.

Recently I have been participating in some typical tourist travel. The walking tour consisted of many standard London sites including Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. (attached a few photos, click to enlarge).

                        

Next, we had a scavenger hunt that comprised two days worth of searching for London’s lesser-known monuments and history. Some included a site of 17th-century hangings called “Tyburn Tree Gallows,” the statue of Peter Pan, Harrods (a million sq. ft. department store), and several ancient statues. Here are a few photos of the hunt:

             

I also had my internship interview on Wednesday at M2M, which is located in the borough of Marylebone. It is about a 20 minute commute through the Underground (The Tube) transit. I met with a young fella named Chris who discussed what I would be doing and a little bit about the business. He mentioned that I will be working on the digital team with clients such as Momentum Pictures, Estee Lauder, Swatch Group, and Net-A-Porter. Sounds like I will be doing a lot of online research, social media monitoring, attending brainstorming sessions, etc. I also asked about potential future with me and the company, and he said they certainly have a network in both the U.S. and U.K. I will certainly have updates of the internship in the coming weeks.

Last night we had a welcome party at the Foundation, a bar in Covent Garden. I ordered a drink called Dr. Jack, which consisted of whiskey and pomegranate juice.  What was interesting was that the bartender had inserted a stick with a wide bottom into the drink. When I picked up my drink, it was bubbling and rumbling as I held it. Come to know, the stick actually was a bubble maker and made the drink a little more interesting! Tonight a few of us went to a nearby pub called The Blackbird, where I ordered a Guinness beer and bangers and mash, a traditional English pub dish comprising of sausages on top of mashed potatoes surrounded by gravy. The plate was delightful and filling.

My five London tips/fun facts of the week:
1. Bring a coin pouch or purse before you come here. Their coins are actually worth something.
2. Cookies are called biscuits and ‘digestives’ are sweet cookies, not antacid cookies.
3. Asians still don’t know how to drive, even in the U.K.
4. Bringing as many shorts as I did was a bad idea.
5. Most business entrance doors are push, not pull like the majority in the U.S.

Cheers from London.

MRF

The Old Man from Bristol and Racing for Pounds [London]

Travel

‘ello from London! I am winding down Monday as you finish up your work, and I just got back from the grocery story/market. The plane ride was about 6.5 to 7 hours, and I sat next to a old British man named John. He is a old man with no family, coming back after visiting the States at North Carolina to a friend’s. I’d describe him as one of those who likes to be included in everything, as an unmarried, childless, independent person would. He asks me the regular and I do the same. He happens to be a maintenance/handy man for a Christian church in Bristol, a city west of London. He helps out with adult bible school and services. He couldn’t keep still the whole flight, but the crying baby behind him was enough to drown that out.

When I first arrived in London, we took the Underground, also known as ‘The Tube’ to our living quarters. At first, flying into London and landing looked a lot like a wet Kansas City, but once we got on the train, we saw the old-style houses with backyard gardens. The backyard gardens were unique because each home had a section blocked off with their own mini tool shed. Immediately I got some currency, which didn’t last for long. I had to call my dad to reactivate my card because the bank blocked it; should be working now!

As far as living, I have one roommate, who I actually know a little bit from journalism. We have a small, but modern room with our own bathroom. The living quarters is dominated by KU students, all of whom seem pretty nice, or at least faking it. (Just took break for first fire alarm.) Anyways, seems like a great place to live. South Kensington is quite ritzy, as cars parked along the street are BMW, Mercedes, Ashton Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari.. Got a cell phone today, just a cell phone here. My new number is +44 077-6118-9356. I hope that works.. basically got the phone to keep in touch with people here.

Dinner was at Nando’s, a rotisserie chicken place.
The language is harder to understand than you would think, and it’s also hard for them to understand us the first time.
The streets are a big crazy, as the street names are small attached signs to the side gates by the buildings. They are not up on poles for everyone to see.
Tomorrow we have an orientation in the morning, then a walking tour in the early afternoon.
Will have updates later! Going to go hang with a few folks down the hall..

MRF