I guess I'll just get right into it. I've been here for a week and it's taken me about that long to get settled and actually want to blog. I got off my plane at about 6:00 a.m. London time last Tuesday and hopped in a cab instead of braving the Tube due to the weight and size of my two suitcases (memories of me sweating and running through Charles de Gaulle Airport only eight months earlier swam though my head and no one wants a repeat of that hot mess). I won't even go into what happened at the airport when I tried to check in with two bags weighing about 70 pounds each. OK I will cause HOLY CRAP DO I HATE UNITED AIRLINES NOW and SO SHOULD YOU. The woman who was checking me in was rude and made an already fragile Katie even closer to tears due to her comment of "ha, since when? You can pay $400 if you want to check that much luggage" when I asked about a 75 pound weight limit. So I did what any strong, independent young woman would do in that situation and I turned to my boyfriend with tears in my eyes and willed him with my psychic powers to make her stop and make everything be OK. Unfortunately, his powers of making this evil woman stop glaring at me with her devil eyes didn't include smiting her and instead he got me a plastic bag and we began throwing my clothing into it as quickly as possible. My dad and boyfriend then bid me farewell and I went into the security line crying from saying so many good-byes and watching Steve sling 30 pounds of my belongings over his shoulder like an evil reverse- Santa.
That is actually quite alarming, and to be fair Steve only looks at me like that if I ask him to rub my feet.
So, after an uneventful flight filled with many more tears, I got into a cab. When I got here (a two-bedroom apartment in a student housing building just five minutes away from campus) I was able to immediately check into my room and so I made my bed and took a nap. It probably wasn't the best idea, because that night I couldn't sleep to save my life. Between the sounds of the double-decker buses roaring past and drunk people shouting at each other I probably got about three hours of actual, deep sleep time. And if you know me, you know how much I love my sleep. I was cranky and hungry and in no mood to be alive when I woke up on Wednesday morning - I would've been content to lay in bed all day if it hadn't been for the weekly fire alarm test at 9 a.m. that sounded so much like a freaking air raid siren that I jumped up and hid under my bed in anticipation of the German bombs. They didn't come, so I got back in bed, ready to sleep until my hunger pains became unbearable. Then I remembered something important: I'm in London, I'm trying to be a responsible adult, and most of all I had to pee. So I sucked it up, rolled out of bed, didn't complain (cause I had no one to complain to, duh) about how hungry and cranky I was, and got dressed. Did I shower? No. I had no towel. It was a special day for everyone who came in contact with me before I found a towel at this cute, cheaper-than-Crate and Barrel type furniture store about a two minute walk from my place.
The rest of the week was supposed to be spent doing orientation stuff, but it turns out that "International Orientation" = Freshman get to have parties and drink and make merryment with each other while the grad students have nothing to do beyond getting their ID card. Which I did. And I enrolled and I opened a bank account and I went grocery shopping and bought a colander and pots and pans and I even managed to get a phone and Skype with some family members. Over the weekend I went to Buckingham Palace and had a "Royal Day Out" (their name, not mine... I'm not nearly clever enough to come up with catchy slogans as a way to wrangle tourists to spend the extra ten pounds and "make a royal day of it!"), which included a tour of the art collection of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, a tour of the Royal Mews (the stables and where the carriages are kept), and finally a tour of the State Rooms within the palace itself.
A view of the back of the castle - not my photograph but this is the view I had when I walked up from the tube station
Even though it was a beautiful and sunny Sunday morning when I left my flat, it had started to sprinkle when I got to the castle to pick up my tickets. I first went to the see the art collection, which featured a lot of art depicting favorite scenes from operas and many family portraits, as well as a lot of art that had an Indian influence due to the colonization of the country at the time of the reign of Queen Vicky (we're close friends now, so I feel OK calling her that). It was really cool, and I even gave into my nerdiness and did the free audio tour. So, yes, I was one of those people walking around with the ca. 1993 style head phones and large keypad to type in the numbers of the art to learn more about it. And boy howdy did I learn a lot, including the ridiculously cute and heartwarming detail that the royal children used to put on little plays for their parents at every holiday and anniversary. Did I ever do anything cute like that? Nope. I just got angry at Grace and Seth for getting married when I had to be a bridesmaid every time. And then I got left in the ball pit at Discovery Zone. And no, I'll never let that go.
I didn't even get to wear a sweet bridesmaid dress like this. DAMN YOU CLARKE!
Anyway, after I went to the Stables and saw absolutely nothing awesome (that was for you, Auntie JG) except for a solid gold carriage used ONLY for coronation ceremonies, I went and stood in line to see the state rooms of the palace where there is ornate decoration a la Versaille. Those rooms were absolutely badass, and they only open them up once a year for two months while the Queen is summering at Balmoral Castle (her Scottish home). Needless to say, it was crowded. Beautiful and breathtaking, but crowded. And, if you've ever had the pleasure of traveling or touring with one of the wonderful Fine woman while they are in a crowded and/or stressful situation, you know this: I get to be a grumpus. A major, major grumpus. I literally wanted to start punching children in the face who wouldn't get out of my way and I was on the verge of standing up on one of the silk-upholstered couches and just screaming at the people who didn't understand that they were not, in fact, the only people in the room trying to look at the chandelier. I even took off the headphones of my audioguide and just walked through the rooms, needing to get OUT.
It's got nothing on the Tucson.
I WILL HONESTLY DROP KICK YOUR CHILD OF OUT OF THE WINDOW IF YOU DON'T MOVE FROM DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF MY LINE OF SIGHT.
I got out of the palace and onto the royal gardens that provided guests with the privilege of walking the stone path that normally only people invited to a garden party would get to experience. I, however, made the prudent decision to wear a pair of flats that are essentially ballet shoes. If you've never experienced walking over thousands of tiny rocks in little more than your bare feet, I highly suggest you try. It's a great experience! Add to that the muddiness of the path, the chill of the day, and my long black pants thoroughly saturated with mud and water, it was indeed a grand stroll in the garden.
To get me through the walk back to the tube, I did something I rarely do here: I listened to my iPod. I tend to walk around without it on so that I can hear the sounds of the city (and I'm afraid I'll miss my tube stop or not hear someone shouting after me that I left my book on the cafe table) and to just really experience everything. Steve's step-dad recently got a hearing aid but hates wearing it because "the world is just too noisy". But, as I'm new here and not yet as accustomed to the sounds (whereas in Chicago I'd much rather listen to Arcade Fire than hear "this is Belmont. Doors open on the left at Belmont. This is a redline train to Howard"), I quite like walking around iPod free. But this time I put in my new noise-canceling headphones I listened to Sigur Ros as I calmed down and walked back through Green Park to the Tube. And then I finally got home and had a dinner of homemade pasta and Diet Coke. Sweet, life-giving Diet Coke.
Yesterday graduate student orientation finally started. I got two different syllabi and met 16 of the 18 students in the Master's in Near Eastern and Mediterranean Archaeology course. The entire graduate school of archaeology is about 130 people (all having different specializations), but there are so many smaller course options that classes are going to be small. There are four American students in my class, and the rest are European. It was extremely overwhelming to have all this new information thrown at me after almost a year of being out of school, but I know that I'll be able to do it. The only setback is that I'm going to have to finish my dissertation early (it's technically not due until September 10, 2011) because I'm deadset on going straight into a PhD program next fall. I'm most likely going to return to the states due to a lack of funding here for international students ("lack of" = I'd have to pay for my PhD), and the fact that the more I speak to different professors, the more I'm told that the best candidates for jobs are those with an American PhD. That gives me an interesting perspective on my time here: while I will definitely return to England after I'm done with my degree (unless I get deported for calling the Queen Lizzie and former Queen Vicky), it does mean that this time has an expiration date. I'm definitely going to make the most of it, and hopefully I'll do well here and will have some great stories to share with everyone.
Currently listening to: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
Currently reading: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
Currently craving: peanut butter
They absolutely do not have good peanut butter here. But they do have Nutella, so everything is (sort of) all good.
Peace, love, and nuts.