The last three day’s pictures.

Two day’s ago, after heading out with Emily and Margaret for a spectacular Afternoon Tea with scones, jam, and clotted cream, I headed back to the flats to finish off our last assignment and reading.  3000 words was much less than I anticipated and the following morning started the melancholy feelings I would be having for the next few days. The class discussion was just as great as always – we tried to define just what theatre is.  We came to no real conclusion, as anything and everything can be theatre if we want it to be.  

After class, we went to go see the last piece of theatre in London that we had planned – Billy Elliot. The musical was so much more than I expected, and I found that I was really moved by its music and story of a young man’s love for the ballet in a world of endless masculinity. Some of my particularly favorite songs were solidarity and Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher.  The show was surprisingly raunchy, though a lot of it was hard to pick up on because of the Northern England slang.

The moment the musical ended, the Fulbrighters, myself, and our tutor Vicky all headed over to the Strand campus one last time to wrap up and say our goodbyes to all the people that made this possible. We spent an hour just talking about our time here, and then we all headed off to one of the only experiences that none of us had yet but is oh so necessary to the London experience – Indian Food!  Only two in our group had ever really had Indian food before so I was very thankful that all our native Londoner mentors were there to help us out – it was surprisingly sweet!  I suppose its a bit like Chinese food in America, not really Chinese, but good all the same. We said goodbye to our mentors John and Adam, and finally to Valerie of the Fulbright Commission, the one who was really doing a lot of the work behind the scenes. Though it was the last time we would see them, I didn’t get too emotional because I still had one day left in the UK.

The next morning, I got up, went across the street to receive my certificate of completion for the course, and while the rest of the group split up over the city to enjoy their last day, I decided I was going to Cambridge. The train ride was very cheap and a little long, but I got a good four hours in the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my entire life.  The sun was shining, the streets were busy for this small University town, and the river glistened in a way that I had never seen before.  I spent most of my time just wandering down random streets in awe of academic buildings some of which were 700 years old. Nothing could have prepared me for just how beautiful Cambridge is.  I unfortunately didn’t get to see the Computer Lab like I had planned to, but it was all made up for ten fold by the punting boat tour I took down the River Cam which runs straight through the town and passes by the most beautiful and ancient of the colleges there. It may have been a touristy experience, but I have rarely experience such serenity in my life.  I took many pictures of the place that you can see in the flickr I’ve linked above. I may need to return someday.

That serenity ended with a mad dash for my train back to London for one last dinner with my group at 8:00.  We went to an unremarkable italian restaurant, which was appreciated because it helped me reflect on the time that I’ve spent with the friends that I’ve made here. I’m really going to miss these guys a lot – they are truly wonderful people.  On our way back to Stamford Street for the night, we all paused on the Waterloo bridge to soak in the sight of the city on last time – I didn’t need to take any photos for that moment because I will never let that last image fade.  

I’m packing now, and we all have cabs to take us to the airport at different times of the morning tomorrow.  I’m going to do my best to meet up with them each one last time to say goodbye, and I can only I hope I don’t get too emotional.  I’m going to make one last post soon as a reflection on this whole experience, but in preface, the only thing I can feel for it now is complete and utter gratitude.  


Tea Time

The last three day’s pictures.

I apologize ahead of time for the briefness and tardiness of this post, as in addition to the 250 pages I have to read tonight and the 3000 words I have to write by Thursday, I am feeling just slightly under the weather. For that reason, I think I’m just going to give a brief overview of what I’ve done in the last three days.  Unfortunately, I would not be inaccurate if I said that I did relatively nothing on Sunday, at least nothing worth blogging about.  I outlined my essay, and I stayed inside and relaxed most of the day.  I needed some time to really slow down, and time I received.

Monday revved the engines again as we began class with Vicky, our second tutor. Our lecture yesterday was a brief overview of English theater from the end of the Shakespearean era up until about the 1850s. In lecture, we learned a lot about the criminal nature of the theatre, and the major reforms that came to it in the 19th century that started at the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane.  Appropriately, after we discussed this revolutionary place, we went to go tour it.  It has many amazing things to boast – it is the longest running theatre in the world, it invented conventions such as dimming the audience lights, having a ‘backstage’ and a ‘stagecrew’ who where in fact crews of sailors at inception, and was the first theatre to legally allow women to play roles on stage. While I was there, I got to sit in a Royal chair that every monarch since Charles II has sat in, and as well, and much more eerily, a chair that was supposedly one of Hitler’s theatre chairs. 

Afterwards, Emily and I headed over to Twinings, the famous Tea Shop in London.  We spent a lot of time there picking out some nice things, taking some nice pictures, and then we grabbed some dinner at a pizza restaurant on the Strand. That was, unfortunately, where the day ended for me as I started not to feel well, as I do now. This morning, I felt just enough strength to peel myself from bed, and I felt in a picture taking mood so I photographed my morning route to the Strand campus again. After discussing a play called ‘Blasted’ an ‘In-yer-face’ theatre production from the 90s that climaxes with the protagonists eyeballs being sucked out of his head by another man and subsequently eaten (it was a very weird play), the entire group went shopping in Leicester Square. The shops there were the most genuine I’ve seen in London so far, among ancient book shops, coins collectors, war medal traders, art enthusiasts and more.  I don’t want to give too many details away because I’ve picked up a few souvenirs for family that I’d like not to give away just yet. I ran back from the square to Southbank where I live to meet with a friend from home – my twin from my honor fraternity back home!  The two of us had pizza together on the Thames and I showed her around my part of London a little.  She’s on a study abroad program to Cambridge this summer, and we were both very impressed with one another.  It was a great meal, and since I’ve headed back to my room to write this post and get a start on my essay. 


Like a Light Switch

Today and Yesterday’s Pictures

Friday morning was meet gleefully as it was the first morning this week that we were not expected to have read another play or piece of literature.  Instead, we slept in a little late, and headed across the street for a light brunch. We had been given plans for the day by Fulbright just like the Friday before.  After brunch we were to report to a Fulbright ‘Masterclass’ at the Strand Building.  There, we had a long lecture and discussion about the intricacies and differences in the American and United Kingdom Health Systems.  We only had a few hours with our mentors, so we were only able to scratch the surface of an enormous topic, but a lot was learned.  Most of us ended up being very surprised and impassioned for healthcare reform in our own nation.

Afterwards, the five of us had a few hours to kill before our reception that was the main event of the day.  We decided to head over to King’s Cross train station to take pictures at Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter.  The line was ridiculously long, but the pictures were free and the employees taking them were extremely enthusiastic.  It took longer than expected so we had to run back to our dorms in order to get read for our presentation. Yesterday was extremely hot and humid, so I made the decision of walking to the building dressed down with the intention of changing into my full apparel after I got there.  This decision was good because by the time I reached the Strand building, I was again soaked in my own sweat (this country is not keen on air conditioning) and I was ready to freshen up for this event that had been built up so much.  Unfortunately, I had made what I thought at the time to be a pretty bad mistake – I forgot my belt. I was very worried about it at first, but after the reception was under way for a little while, I discovered that almost no one noticed, and those that did thought it was an intentional fashion statement.  I was told by my tutor that as long as you’re confident, in regards to fashion anyone can get away with anything in this city.

The gathering itself was above all else, extremely flattering.  There were rumors that the US Ambassador may have been there, but any truth that those rumors may have had where thwarted by the recent invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israel. The amount of people present at this event that was particularly for us King’s Fulbrighters was very surprising – it did not occur to me just how many people either helped with or had a vested interest in our program and us.  We met with many of King’s and Fulbright’s officials, and a lot of small talk about our time here and how we’re liking the country was had.  The vice principal had a few congratulations to give us before we took the stage to present to these people our impressions of the program and our education thus far.  I am proud to say that our words and video were well received.  The reception lasted about two hours, and as more and more people left, I came down to just the five of us and our tutors.  We had a great little talk and then we decided to all go out to dinner.

Though it was very hot in my suit, we trekked far out into this city to a Thai restaurant on the recommendation of the Summer School Office administrator, Dominika, that had helped us so much.  It was a chore to find the location, and was located in a very interesting and clearly sexually independent part of the city, but the food, as she said, was well worth it.  The pad thai was absolutely delectable. While after that some of our group decided they wanted to stay out and have fun on the City’s Friday night, I was feeling very tired and a bit dehydrated so I went home early and headed to bed.  Besides, I had big plans for tomorrow.

In the morning, we all met up again and headed to Borough Market, the same market I went to last weekend on my own.  Our intention was to visit a bakery we had been told about for breakfast.  Apparently the donuts were to die for – spoiler, they are.  It was very interesting eating them because while contained much more sugar on the outside of the dough and much more cream on the inside, overall the pastry was much less sweet than in the States.  To much surprise, I much preferred it this way.

I unfortunately (or rather very fortunately) had to break off from the group at this point to fulfill my actual plans for the day.  Today I got to see through on a plan that has been about three years in the making.  After making my way through Trafalgar square, seeing some street performers, and the protest against the Israeli embassy, I was met by two of my peers from the Theatrical London class to see “The Book of Mormon”.  I simply cannot describe either how badly I wanted to see this musical or how hysterical it was.  It simply lived up to every high expectation. Luckily for me, I was able to talk to my tutors, and my entire reason for being able to see this play in the first place while I was here is because it is actually going to be the topic of my final essay for the class.  The final topic may evolve, but I would like to discuss the relationship between specifically vulgar and immature humor to social commentary.  Satire is a well-worn genre, but Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s childish slandering is one of a kind, while at the same time achieving great heights of social insight. 

After the play, I headed to the sketchiest part of London that I have been to yet – Camden Town.  I met up with the other Fulbrighters there, but as I waited for them to meet with me, I discovered that we chose our rendezvous point particularly poorly.  Between the many hundreds of people, including clear alcoholics, drug addicts, homeless, and legitimately crazy people, the trash that lay on the streets everywhere, and the endless shops on Camden street, the place was utter chaos in my opinion. Some people there seemed to be having a fantastic time.  Thankfully night hadn’t fallen yet so it still felt relatively safe.  We made our exit into a very American themed BBQ restaurant called Porky’s.  It was charming to hear Bruce Springsteen,  Johnny Cash, and “This Land is Your Land” over the speakers in this overly american sideshow.

Very full, we made our way to the last sight of the day, Primrose Hill. The hill, very steep looking form the bottom and not so much from the top, was a difficult climb after eating large amounts of pulled pork, but man was the view amazing.  We could see the entire London skyline from the top of that hill, along with many couples young and old unabashedly making out in the park. We laughed at first, but it really was very romantic, and I couldn’t help but miss my girlfriend back home. We spent a good amount of time there, and we laughed heartily and often.



Hello Internet!

Today and Yesterday’s Pictures

Unfortunately, today marks the last day that our class has with one of our tutors, John.  Though we know our tutor for the next week, Vicky, is also fantastic, John has been a wonderful facilitator and he will be missed. What is significantly more fortunate is that the last two days that we were allowed to spend with him were spectacular to say the least.

Yesterday morning began with a discussion of a most vulgar and sexually explicit play, Cloud 9 by Churchill. I cannot explain the specifics of this play for the sake of my potential audience, but I can vaguely mention that the play and hence our discussion makes a lot of commentary on identity both sexually and racially, pedophilia, necrophilia, and homophobia. These topics were very forefront in the play and while the play was mature, I am proud to say that our class handled its content with equivalent maturity.

After class, we broke for quick lunch and then we were off to the Old Vic, a prolific theatre just south of where we are staying in London.  The theater is currently set up as a theatre in the round, where seats entirely surround the stage on all sides. I was also delighted to know that this hallowed institution’s current artistic director is Kevin Spacey, one of my favorite actors.  Though he was no where to be seen at that night’s rendition of the Crucible, I’d like to imagine that he had some hand in the masterpiece that we saw that night.  I have need seen a more eerie performance than this before, and between the perfectly chosen music, the tattered cream drapes that adorned the theatre, and the mesmerizing staging, I was completely taken with every moment of the performance. This was perhaps the first modern theatre I have seen while in London, and it has left me a with a craving for more.

The evening after the play, we had a few hours to kill before we headed in for the night, so we decided to take a casual trip to Abbey Road and Regent’s Park.  As many have told me before, Abbey Road, and particularly the infamous crosswalk was both entirely underwhelming and at the same time very dangerous as a result of the careless tourists that I made an effort not to be.  What did excite me very much about the location though was the existence of a particular webcam of the spot that I have been a long time familiar with.  There is a constant live streaming webcam overlooking the intersection that anyone can view in order to see silly tourists posing for the album cover, and I was much more excited to spot this landmark and give my greetings to the internet than I was to actually walk across a busy road.  Here is a link to that live stream and a photo of myself pointing at it:

Afterwards, we walked for about an hour more through Regents Park, which was a welcome and beautiful relax from the bustle of central London.  It was then that we headed home.

Today, as I said, was our last class with John, and we discussed the History Boys. Afterwards, we took a tour of the National Theatre in London.  This building has three, soon to be four massive theatres.  Each one plays two shows at any one period of time, so the building is constantly playing 6 shows at a time. After today’s tour, I am absolutely determined to see a show in one of those theatres before I leave.  Unfortunately, because it was a backstage tour, I was not allowed to take any pictures. On a cooler side though, I now know that you can rent out old props and costumes from the National Theatre, so I will keep that in mind.

Afterwards, the four of us decided to be spontaneous and just jump on a bus to nowhere.  The bus took us through Piccadily Circus where I took many photos (it was chaos) and coincidentally, we ended up near the park where we were yesterday.  The trip was well spent however as we found a delicious niche italian restaurant that was tucked away. My spaghetti was amazing, in the cream puffs for desert were like none I’ve ever had.


As our time here reaches to the half-way point, the wonder hasn’t worn away yet, but a sense of comfort and content has set in.  I feel that we all know our way around the immediate area of the city fairly well at this point.  We all take less pictures, we look up less, and we probably look less like tourists as well.  Somehow, in only a week’s time, we don’t feel like tourists any longer either. It is interesting how quickly the city makes you part of it.

Inherent with this development of comfort and stability is the increasing difficulty to want to find new and interesting things to do.  I don’t think we’ve become complacent, but I do think that our state of constant amazement has plateaued. The positive sides of this of course are that we are all engaging in our classwork with much more depth and effort. It seems that our seminars continue to improve as a result. 

Two of my peers and myself facilitated today’s discussion that was centered around a play that self describes as a scripted improv, living newspaper, moral discussion of nuclear warfare, and documentary all at once. This play is called ‘Uranium 235’ by Ewan MacColl. The play was very freeform in nature as it was a loose outline of a series of improvisational performances that framed the events leading up to the development of the Nuclear Bomb.  These events were episodic in nature, hence why it could be called a documentary, but the play contains many elements of humor, it is very self-referential, and insults the audience on multiple occasions. These devices are used frequently in the ‘agit-prop’ genre of theatre that Uranium 235 belongs to.  The actors were often aware they were actors, the audience was treated as the protagonist itself and in fact this is explicitly stated, and the intelligence of the audience is all but directly challenged on multiple occasions.  These are all hallmarks of a form of theatre that is inherently political in nature.

After a very eventful class, the rest of the day was spent working on the presentation that the other Fulbrighters and myself are expected to give at the end of the week.  This time was again spent at a cafe- I have started to wonder as a result of the concentration of cafes in this city whether anyone ever actually eats food, or if they all simply are fueled by caffeine alone. It certainly would explain the urgency that London constantly has.

Organ and Choir

Today and Yesterday’s Photos

Sunday, Margaret, Emily and I decided to attend the 3:00 pm choir service at Westminster Abbey.  We chose to do this mostly because attending during a service means that one doesn’t have to pay to see the Abbey, but I am so glad we experienced that place that way.  Of everything that I have experienced in the United Kingdom, nothing compares to the opulence and ethereal nature of Westminster Abbey.  Photography was not allowed indoors, and rightly so as no photograph could capture just how massive the building is, or beautiful its monuments to men. No recording could attempt to convey the beauty of the organ that filled those halls.  I know with no question that that organ and choir alone have converted many men to new faith in the hundred of years they have sung. I refrain from describing it anymore as anyone who can witness it must.

Of course on our way to the Abbey, we got an up close an personal view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.  We grabbed a bite to eat at on of the very many ‘Pret’ cafes around the city, and it just so happened, unless I read the plaque that I took a photo of incorrectly, that we stumbled into the very first of its kind. The rest of the day was lazy.  We returned to our rooms to study the play that we discussed this morning, and emerged once more that evening to have Mexican food in fluorescent colored refurbished storage containers on the Thames river.

This morning in class we discussed the play “Toussaint Louverture”, a historical recount of the leader and events of the Haitian revolution.  Our discussion was again pleasant today, and revolved mainly around the ideals of revolution, and the role that Theater has played in revolution throughout history. It is just one topic of many that we have touched on in this seminar so far, but I think I may make it the topic of the essay I need to write for its credit. Today’s discussion was facilitated by a few of my peers, and tomorrow’s discussion is to be led by me and two others, so I have to prepare a good amount this evening.

After class ended, we all worked on a presentation that we have to give later in the week, and grabbed lunch at a Cafe on the same block as King’s College.  I decided to be spontaneous and randomly choose something from the menu – I ended up with a red breaded chicken with ham, and it was absolutely delicious.  I’m finding that a little spontaneity is serving me very well.

Perfect Timing

Today and Yesterday’s Pictures

This post comes a day late because at the end of the last, I anticipated that today would be slow. After a long week with lots of traveling, reading, discussion, walking, and little sleep to make up for it all, I decided to sleep in today.  That is not to say that I did not go on another fun adventure, it was perhaps just more calm than the rest so far.

Yesterday was an absolute and unexpected treat. Earlier in the week, the Fulbright program informed us that we would be traveling to Liverpool for the day. In years past this trip served a purpose specific to the course, which used to be a course about cities in the UK, but this year it lasted as more of a fun day out because it had apparently been very fun in the past, and indeed it was yesterday.

The other Fulbrighters and I, after getting slightly lost in the Underground Tube station, frantically took the Northern Line up to Euston station and got ready to board a two hour train to Liverpool with our Fulbright mentors Jason and Marta.  The train ride gave a glorious view of the English country side, and Jason informed us about the green ring around London – a preserved space to allow the country side to stay free of the industrial monster that London has become.  The sights certainly benefitted from the ordinance because all at once, at some point we crossed through a particular line and there was nothing but green pastures.  The train ride was filled with good conversation, mostly about differences between the US and UK.

I expect everyone who has heard of Liverpool has some kind of image in their mind of what it is like.  I knew it was the cradle of the Beatles, and my image was somewhat fuzzy and foggy, in a very literal sense.  I imagined cold concrete buildings and industrial smog everywhere – and though we arrived on a particularly beautiful day, everything about the city absolutely shattered my expectations.  Liverpool is so much more than its reputation of having housed 4 particular musicians.  My experience of the city was crescendoed throughout the day.  We grabbed a quick lunch at the train station to be eaten on the roman inspired steps of their art museum.  It was obvious right out of the train station that the city had once been a place of great influence, of power and money.  Unfortunately, the part that was particularly clear was that this time of influence was long ago.  Time seemed to gather and lay on the galant architecture and made it seem very distant. We made our way to the docks of the city, and I noticed that though the city was old and a remnant of itself, it had a hearty pulse.  The streets moved casually, and there were people on every block, but the bustle and the hurry of London was very far away.  The view of the river from the docks was spectacular and blinding.  We took in the sights of this old part of town before a meeting that at the time I did not know many details of. I wandered into the Liverpool City Museum and learned about some of this port city’s rich history – its part in the establishment of the Slave trade, its construction and sending off of the Titanic, and the circumstances that lead to its eventual, and hard, downfall.

When it was time to gather for our meeting, I followed our group to the Town Hall, we discovered that our reception was apparently no small matter. I was very honored to see our group proudly displayed on a screen that documented the Town Hall’s major events for the day, and I was wholly shocked to know that our meeting was with the very city planner of Liverpool.  He gave us a very detailed lecture about the history of the city for about an hour, and then the city planner himself showed us outside and toured us through the rest of the city.

This tour is the crescendo that I was referring to earlier. He took us past more ancient buildings, he showed us the most frequented Beatles Fans tourist spots, and then he pointed out an area of the city dubbed Liverpool one.  It had a few shops and about a hundred people and he told us about how it was the prime example of how Liverpool was alive again.  I was impressed because it definitely did bring significant life to the town. It wasn’t until a few moments when I passed through an A shaped alleyway into the actual Liverpool One what he was actually referring to: I found myself at the bottom of an artificial canyon, natural in design and modern in its facility.  There were thousands on each floor all the way up to the top, where, because this was like an outdoor megamall, there was a park on the roof.  My sense of elevation was gone because this structure gave no indication of whether it was a valley with a crevice, or a mountain with a crack.  It was very fantastical in this way, and the sun shone on the many shops and restaurants, along with the piano players in the street.  The city planner took us proudly through this area, and left us again along the water. It was our time to explore again, and we thanked him heartily for the privilege.

While most of the group split off to go see some of the museums, Alex and myself wanted to go see more of Liverpool One.  We did eventually make it there to see the Sony Photography museum, the Lego store, and more architecture, but just as we left for it a moment of perfect timing brought us to see something that made my day even more perfect:

(The orange group at 1:25 in the second video is my favorite – was dancing right along so the video may be shaky)

As a long time marching band member and musician, this was an experience that I was hoping for but did not think I would get a chance to have. I’ve often wondered what the differences between parades and marching bands in the US and UK are, and although these were obviously informal performance groups and comparisons are hard to make, one thing that I can point out is that these people marched up and down unblocked streets alongside cars and buses with only a handful of policemen to watch. With the ‘health and safety’ stereotype that England has, I was very surprised to see that.

The day ended great food and a great view.  We went to a Brazilian restaurant perched at the top of the market-crevice and scarfed our food in order to make our train back to London.  I slept most of the way back, as did the rest of our group.  It was then straight off to bed for all of us.

Today, as I said before was mostly uneventful. I rose late, I made my way to a Greggs for morning lunch, and then I spent about 5 hours walking down the Thames river.  I made my way toward Borough Market, a spectacle like I’ve never seen before.  I had forgotten my cash at my apartment and so was not able to take in the dozens of baked goods and sweets stands. The food there was very enticing, but I tore myself away to go take a short trip to the Tower of London and across the Tower Bridge.  The Tower was very crowded today and tours are expensive so I was happy to take pictures of the location from the outside.  I was hoping for a less hustled tourist experience today anyway, and I gladly did.

Tomorrow will likely be another slow day.  I plan to wake late again because I know I will have rare opportunities to next week, and I’d like to visit a quaint cafe I read about online in the morning.