Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New country, new things

I came to England with a desire to try new things, and in that spirit I tried rock climbing tonight. Let me tell you, I really suck--a lot. I couldn't even climb halfway up the easy wall. My friends, who had never been rock climbing either, zipped right up the easy wall, but not me. Perhaps it's because I have a bit more body to get up the wall. However, I paid my 15 GBP and joined the mountaineering club tonight because I'm determinted that eventually I'm going to climb up that damn wall, and that will be a happy day. In the meantime, my hands still feel weak, and I'm sure I'm going to be uncomfortably sore tomorrow, but that's fine. It will all be worth it when I make it to the top of that wall.

Does the universe hate me that much?

I really hate being stressed out, and I had hoped that my time here would be relatively stress free, but no. Last week, I discovered that the English dept had given me a 1302 to teach during Summer I. That's great, I love teaching, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to do it this summer. However, I made my travel plans before I knew about the teaching job. I was supposed to take a course, or module as the Brits call it, during the summer term. Of course I can't take this module if I'm going to come home and teach. I don't need another course--I only needed six more hours for my thirty hours to complete my coursework. I have two options--to take a third module during the spring term, or chuck the third module altogether. Personally, I'd prefer option two. With my incompletes from the fall, I have enough papers to write already. I'm not eager to add yet another to the mix. However, if I chuck the third module completely, I'll have to return part of my IEFS scholarship. If I take the third module, I'll have to pay UTA even more tuition for this semester. Either way, it's going to cost me money--and this is all dependent on whether or not the University of Leicester study abroad office is okay with me taking only two courses. Apparently no one works there on Monday and Tuesday, so I won't know anything until tomorrow morning. No matter what, university administration, university rules, and bureaucratic university issues keep kicking me in the ass and costing me money I don't really have, and everything here is incredibly expensive thanks to the crappy exchange rate.

Okay done venting, I'm just frustrated. I just want to teach 1302--and I will.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


I meant to include this in my last entry, but I've reset my comment preference. You don't have to have a google account to post a comment now. Thanks to Rachael for telling me about this. And comment away, it reminds me that people do in fact read my blog.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lazy Days, Indian Food, and Shamefaced Running

Sadly, I've really done no schoolwork for the last two days. I haven't been out doing fun and wonderful things either. Lately, I can't seem to sleep enough. Thursday, I slept until 1 pm. Friday, except for a brief half hour interlude at the dining hall for breakfast, I slept until 2pm. Then I was up for a few hours, and crawled back into bed to take another nap. All of the Americans in Wistow House have fallen into odd sleep patterns. We're tired during the day, but midnight rolls around, and we're all wide awake.
We did make a sad attempt to go out last night though. We got all dolled up and took the bus to the city centre. We arrived at the pub of our choice, The Orange Tree, but it was too crowded and smoky. We ended up at McDonald's drinking milkshakes, and we were back to campus by 11:00. In the end we went to the Chicago girls' room (which is so large that I swear that you could fit the whole of my old apartment within it) ordered pizza and talked about girl issues, much to the chagrin of the one guy that was with us.
Tonight, we were a little more successful. We had a craving for Indian food, so we took the bus to Leicester's Golden Mile, which is the part of town where all of the Indian shops and restaurants are located. After wandering around on the Golden Mile for a bit, we settled on a place called Friends Tandoori, where apparently you need a reservation. Luckily they seated us anyway, but the staff acted like it was an imposition to serve us. I swear the server looked offended when we asked him for water He actually had to go and ask someone if we could have water (and quick sidebar--other people in the restaurant had pitchers of water). We got our water, but I felt nervous and out of place just being there.
The food however, oh my god--it was so good. By far the best meal I've eaten in the United Kingdom (of course I do eat most of my meals in the worst cafeteria ever). My mouth was so happy to experience spicy again. Even now, several hours later, my stomach is still happily full. We probably won't be going back there again--not because of the service, but because this meal cost us 60 GBP--that's close to $120 for those of you not familiar with the exchange rate. We'll find a cheaper Indian food place in the future, but I still say it was worth it.
Full and sated we left the restaurant and proceeded to spend thirty minutes waiting for a bus that we spent less than five minutes on. By some miracle, the 80--the bus that goes to the residence halls was at the stop and waiting when we got off the bus. We made a run for it to get to the other bus in time (so we didn't have to spend another 30 minutes waiting for yet another bus), but I quickly discovered that I've lost so much weight in the last two weeks that my pants will fall off my butt if I attempt to run. I'm very thankful that I had a long jacket on. It saved me from flashing my underwear--albeit super cute underwear--to all of the Leicester city centre.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Class Two

My Victorian Literature Culture and Class was yesterday. Like my last class, it was composed entirely of women, but this class was a little younger than my other one. Everyone was really nice. There are two other Americans, who are there for the year as regular students, and the rest of the girls are all British. It was really nice meeting some people who are closer to my own age, and I hope we'll all become friends.
When class began, all of the lecturers conducting this module were there, and we briefly went over what was expected of us this semester. There' a presentation (and really, I'm beginning to think that no graduate level class would be complete without a presentation of some sort), and the standard seminar length paper.
The class itself seems like it's really going to be interesting. We're reading a ton of stuff I've never even heard of, which is good because I want to read and discuss new things--broadening the mind and that kind of thing.
And now I'm done with class for the week. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with myself. I'm sure some sort of reading/writing paper type work will be involved, but I'm certainly not going to stay holed up in my room reading the whole time. The sun is actually shining today, so I want to get out enjoy a little of that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


At about midnight tonight, I was sitting in my room nice and cozy chatting on the phone and I hear the call--it's snowing. Most of the residents of Gilbert Murray Stamford halls were outside of their respective houses living it up and playing in the snow. Apparently, it doesn't snow in England that much. American television and film depicting England in the winter has lied to us. This is the biggest snow storm they've had in quite some time. I can see why the Brits were out playing too. Coming from a warmish locale myself, I was pretty excited. The ground is covered in a beautiful thick layer of snow.

It begins

The actual study part of my study abroad adventure. I had my first class today, the Country House in Literature, and it went pretty well. The class, or module as it's called here, is made up of all women, mostly cute old English ladies, working on MA degrees part time. There are two other girls, who appear to be about my age as well. The lecturer (professor in American--not to be confused with lecturer like at UTA) for this week's seminar was a fairly new PhD. She's only been teaching at Leicester for a couple of years.
I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated at first. I wasn't really on comfortable turf. I felt like they were going to know so much more than me, that I wouldn't have anything relevant or important to say, that I was an intruder in their orderly British class. I didn't really speak during the first hour of the class, but the lecturer was really nice. She spoke a bit about the English Renaissance and how that affected the development of the country-house poem, and she asked a lot of leading questions about the assigned primary texts. After a while the feeling that the whole class would collectively stop and laugh at me every time I spoke died down a bit, and I started to contribute to the class a bit more. And, for the record, the class didn't collectively stop and laugh at me every time I opened my mouth to speak.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Botanical Gardens!

Yes, I live here, lucky me! These are photos from the botanical gardens at the university of Leicester. A lot of people live in these really old fabulous looking Edwardian houses. Sadly, I live in a building akin to a prison cell block without the bars, but all of this beauty is literally right outside my bedroom door.
If you want to see more, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/barbi7/
I've uploaded (or as of right now, am attempting to upload) all of the pictures of my trip to the botanical gardens. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

If I were a nineteenth century lady, I think I wouldn't mind getting married in this dress. Apparently, the folks at the Victoria and Albert Muesem think the same way, because the curator gave this dress its own case. It is beautiful.
Sorry there are no new pics of Leicester, this is from my trip to the Victoria and Albert on Monday. Sadly, I've been immersed in international student orientation for the last two days. I spent hour after hour in session after session about one thing or another. It was defintely information overload. It was just plain boring. But orientation is over now, and I'm all official, registered and ready to start school next week.
Now it's Saturday night, and unfortunately I'm sitting here alone in my room listening to music and writing my blog because I have a cold. Too bad too, there's supposed to be some big party tonight. Well, I'm sure it's not the last. A healthy chunk of the study abroad students here at Leicester are under 21. They're pretty excited to drink legally, so I'm pretty sure they'll be having other parties in the not too distant future. Since I've been over 21 for eight years, it's not so new and exciting.

And leave me some comments guys! Let me know you're reading!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cheap thrills

This beauty here is called the paternoster, and it's absolutely fabulous. The building I'm in at when I'm taking this picture, Attenborough, is very tall, and it only has one elevator. To make up for it, the architects or some person wonderful added this little gem. It's a group of small cabins, like you see on the right, that are constantly in motion. One side of the paternoster goes up and the other side goes down. There are no doors and it doesn't stop; you just hop on and hop off. I speak from recent personal experience that you have to step on at just the right time or you can fall into the paternoster (when it's going down at least). It's like a cheap Disneyland ride. Of course there would never be something as fun as this in the US because someone would sue. And really I can't convey the fun of the paternoster in this blog, and the picture certainly doesn't do it justice. So if any of you come to visit me in England, we'll just have to run on down to Attenborough building and take a quick ride on the paternoster. Fortunately for me I'm going to have class in this building, so I'll get to experience the paternoster on the regular basis. I'm not being sarcastic when I say, lucky me.

Blow me over...literally

Today was the ever exciting study abroad orientation. I spent my day sitting through a series of lectures about the typical new student type things--student union, international student association, library, and a very helpful lecture concerning where the good bars on campus are. Yes, the English love their alchohol. Every hall (which here will include a number of smaller nearby "houses") has its own JCR, known as the Junior Common Room and after 7 the bar at each JCR opens offering really cheap beer and drinks. It's a great system. (And I can personally vouch for the tastiness of the cider that these JCR bars offer).

After the orientation, we all walk around campus a little bit, and it is so windy that we literally cannot walk. It was blowing people over. I kept falling over on the girl next to me. It was actually a bit funny. If you were walking in the right direction, the wind would take you right where you needed to go.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dorm living at its finest

Well, there it is, my new palace. Isn't it spacious? I took both of those pictures while standing on the opposite side of the room. So yes, it really is that small. It's not that bad though. I have my own bathroom, and they come and clean your room every two weeks. I'm provided with linens, including that "lovely" bedspread you see (please don't think my taste is that tacky), which they replace for me every two weeks. No American dorm I've ever seen does this, so all in all, it's not a bad situation. It's not like I have a lot of stuff to clutter up the room anyway.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

In Leicester, sort of

I had to wrangle the suitcase again today. I've grown to hate my suitcase and carry-on bag. They're so heavy and cumbersome. And English trains don't offer wide aisles for these big bags. I had to perform odd contortions of my body in a tiny aisle with a line of people waiting just to get the suitcase to fit in a seat. Then I had to squeeze past that seat and sit for an hour and a half with my carry-on, purse and a smaller bag in my lap, all while listening to small children nearby who wouldn't know the meaning of the word quiet if it came up to them and introduced itself. When they got off, some kid gets on the train, listening to the most annoying club music on his ipod loud enough for the entire car to hear. However, despite that, the English countryside really is as beautiful as everyone makes it out to be. It was a scenic trip.

Thankfully, I arrived in Leicester fairly quickly. After the horror that was my restless and uncomfortable plane trip over here, I wasn't ready to deal with a long trip. And thank God, baby Jesus, and any other deity listening, the station had an elevator to the ground level, or I'd be hating the suitcase even more right now. I found a cab right away, and we take off, but he's not sure where the motel is. After driving around for a bit, I figure out why. It's not in Leicester. Apparently Leicester Forest East is a bit outside of Leicester. The city listed on the address is Leicester, but apparently it's still not Leicester. So I end up at what is essentially a glorified rest stop on the M1. My room looks out on a BP petrol station and convienence store. But I will say this, the staff is certainly friendlier than at the Thistle Kensington Palace, the bed is much more comfortable, and the internet working here. I'll have to take a cab to the university tomorrow because there's no public transit out this far, but that's okay. I'll finally be able to unpack the monstrosity. I've been living out of suitcases, bags, and boxes for the last month. It's time to settle somewhere. And from what I could see in the cab, Leicester looks like a pretty nice place to be. I'll try to take some pics and post them tomorrow.

My nature walk

Pics from Hyde Park and the adjacent Kensington Gardens. Imagine how magnificent this must look in the spring time.

I finally started to feel better yesterday, so I could finally get out and take a nice long ramble around West London and do some sightseeing. After a wonderfully mediocre lunch at Pizza Hut (at least it was cheap!) I walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum. They have a wonderful collection with lots of really cool stuff, but they had a really great exhibit of period clothing. I think the part of my mind that misses all of the really great clothes I had to leave behind was at home here. Here's a picture of my favorite dress:

Yes, I'm enduring a painful separation from my beloved clothes, About twenty minutes before I left the airport, I decided that I should only carry one suitcase. All of the clothes and things I had spent days carefully packing and organizing were suddenly in a giant pile on the floor of my bedroom. Good thing though, dragging that mammoth thing across London, its train stations, airports, and the underground is not an experience I want to repeat. I'm shipping some of this stuff home before I leave, I don't care how much it costs. However, I consolidated my suitcases so quickly that I didn't realize that I didn't bring a lot of stuff that I needed. Somehow, I ended up with only two pairs of shoes and no skirts or dresses. Fortunately, my mom has graciously agreed to ship some of my stuff to me (and even better, I don't have to pay her back for shipping).


One of my first big "English" meals. At least it was cheap. And, FYI--I thought British Chicken McNuggets did taste better than American ones. I've consequently eaten at a British Pizza Hut, a British KFC, and I can say that their American counterparts are tastier. Tomorrow, I'll try eating something more British.

12 January 2007

Being here is a dream come true. Getting here was an absolute nightmare. All total, I spent twenty-one exhaustion inducing hours travelling. I now know that no matter how excited I am, I need to force myself to sleep the night before a transatlantic flight. The flight was awful. I had a six hour layover in Chicago where, unfortunately, I got sick. That made my plane ride to London extra fun (sarcasm definitely intended). It was an agonizingly long trip. (And note for Rachael: if I had been returning from the U.K. they would have shown The Illusionist on the plane. Instead it was some stupid movie about ants, too bad.) I was ill and jet lagged by the time I arrived in London.

And you can’t just get off the plane. When you arrive at Heathrow, you have to walk through this really long maze-like series of corridors to get to immigration. Then I had to walk through another series of maze-like corridors to get to baggage claim. And when I got my bag, I was certainly sorry I had packed it so heavy (it weighed about seventy pounds) because I had to drag it and my carry-on bag (which was also pretty heavy) across half of London on the tube. I had to change trains three times. There are no escalators at the tube stations. I had to drag my suitcase up the stairs. Fortunately, several very nice men offered to help me with my suitcase at various train stations when they saw me struggling, giving me a very nice impression of Brits in general.

Finally, I found my hotel. At this point I was even more exhausted and I felt distinctly nauseous, so I was pretty excited about the prospect of sleeping. Unfortunately for me, check-in time wasn’t until 2:00pm. It was 12:30. The lady at the front desk (who I didn’t have a high opinion of at the time) must have seen how tired I was because she managed to get me the first available room and give me an upgrade at no extra charge.

Thankfully, I went upstairs, called my mother, and sank into bed.

13 January 2007

I slept pretty late today. I still don’t feel very good, so I only went out for a few hours. (Sidebar: Did I mention that I’m here in London alone? My dad got extremely ill the day before I was due to leave and he had to cancel his flight. Sadly, I think I’m sick because I caught what he had) I’m staying on the West End, across the street from Hyde Park and near Kensington Palace. It’s a really cool part of town. I spent a couple of hours walking down High Street Kensington. I noticed a Mark and Spencer when I arrived yesterday, so today I popped into to see what they had. I found a purse that slapped me on the face with its wonderfulness and since it was only £19.50 (about $40) I splurged and bought it a matching scarf to keep it company. I wandered around a bit more and found a small Italian restaurant where I had some really great pasta and gelato.

I called my mom when I got back to the hotel. I hate to admit it, but I’m a little lonely here, and I feel really cut off from the world. When I arrived in London yesterday, my cell phone wasn’t working, the TV in my room is broken, and the broadband connection in my room costs an exorbitant amount of money. (I’m writing this on Word right now, hoping to post this when I can find a place with free wi-fi) Fortunately, thanks to a call to T-Mobile, my cell now works, and I can call the States for a mere 34¢ a minute, but I really have to think about the cost before I pick up the phone and call. It doesn’t help that I don’t feel well enough to go out for long periods of time. I don’t move into my dorm until next Thursday, so in the meantime, email me, leave me comments. Let me know that you guys are still thinking about me, at least a little bit. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to share a bit more about how fabulous London is.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Ah clothes

My bedroom is in a state of disarray right now. Suitcases, clothing, space bags, books, shoes, purses, and one sleeping cat are scattered all around my room. I'm in the midst of packing. I knew this would be hard; parting with my clothes for six months is difficult. The good news is--they all fit in my two suitcases. The bad news is nothing else will--not shoes, not toiletries, not books, not anything.
So I have no choice--I have to make some cuts, and this is hard for me because I really love clothes. (It really doesn't help that I went to Old Navy today to buy one pair of pants, and I came out with that, another pair to keep it company, a handful of shirts and a sweater) Right now I have a "no" pile and an increasingly large "I'd really love to take it if there's room" pile. I'll butch up in the end, and at least I'll spend the next six months only wearing clothes that look absolutely fabulous on me.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

For several years now, I've had a list of things I wanted to do before I turned 30. I wanted to be realistic, so my list only has one item--I want to go to Europe. Well reader, I leave for England in one week. I'm spending next semester studying at the University of Leicester. I'll be immersing myself in Victorian culture for the next six months.

Right now, I'm trying to take care of all of those last minute things, which involve, sadly, a root canal and a meningitis shot. I'm also in the midst of the rather unpleasant task of deciding what I really can survive without for six months. I'm buying my luggage tomorrow, so the real decision making can begin. It's probably going to take me all week--I'm a chronic overpacker.