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Orientation Daze (HUGE update post!)

October 5, 2009
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I survived orientation in London! One down, one to go: now I have Worcester orientation with the freshers.

A brief London rundown, with pictures:

We were ushered around London like a tour group for a couple of days, with only a meal scheduled on Thursday (the day we arrived) so that we could recover from our flight. The flight was fine, by the way, I watched two Clive Owen movies and dozed. Then it took our group over three hours to get through the line at the border, where they had about 2 people working.

We stayed at the St. Giles Hotel on Bedford Avenue, which is right by Tottenham Court Road and not far from Oxford Street (shopping) and Covent Gardens (more shopping plus food). The hotel had conference rooms in the basement (way way down–they joked about it being the depths of hell) where we had various “talks” on Friday and Saturday, which covered English-style academics, cultural differences, politics (thank you Lord Taverne, a life peer in the House of Lords who came to speak to us), and safety. The safety talk was given by a former London police officer who now does training on how to deal with violent individuals, and still comes to give the Butler safety talk as a holdover from his police days. He taught us how to smack a mugger in the windpipe with the side of your hand and flick your fingers into their eyes to get away. Yep.

We also had two Pearly Queens come, which was really great. Pearly Queens and Kings have been around since the Victorian era and about as recognizable in London as the Queen’s Guard. They wear black suits decorated all over with pearly buttons and big hats with plumes. There is one King and one Queen for each London borough, and their job is to collect for any charity that asks them to. Mostly retired people become Pearly Kings and Queens. Part of the job is showing up at parties and events, and one of the Queens told a story about how she once got invited to a mysterious party in a sketchy part of town. At first she wasn’t going to go, but she was talked into it, and when she arrived it turned out to be Elton John’s birthday party and a ton of celebrities were there. She showed a picture of her and Hugh Grant on the red carpet outside.

We also had a short walking tour of London, which didn’t have much in it that I hadn’t heard before, and we went to a play called “The Woman in Black.” It was a ghost story, well-acted, and suitably creepy.

Sunday was the best part of orientation. More than half our group was taken to their respective schools, and everyone else had a free day in London! I hooked up with a very nice girl from Carnegie Mellon named Katie who is here for Worcester as well, and we did our own self-devised walking tour of London. We left the hotel at around 10:30 and went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, very touristy but worth seeing just for the pomp and circumstance. Which was rather lightened when the band, once the ceremony was over, played the score to “Pirates of the Caribbean” from inside the gates. Perhaps the best part, though, was that on the way there we cut through a park and encountered these massive pelican birds that were allowing people to pet them on the head. I know, right? I have to confess–I did it. I wasn’t about to let a few germs scare me away from petting a bird! How often do you get to pet a bird?! It was making this face, you know the one that dogs and cats make when they’re being petted and truly content. The bird was making that face. It was bizarre and awesome.

The birds:

the birds

A boy touching the bird:

boy and bird

Katie’s face after touching the bird:

katie

Our limited view of the guard and Buckingham Palace:

guard

Then we went over to Hyde Park and through to Kensington Gardens, where the flowers are still blooming. There’s a memorial there to Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, which is really very impressive. We went past Kensington Palace where there is a beautiful private water garden and then over to the Italian Pumphouse, and I realize now that our route took us within a hair’s breadth of the Peter Pan statue and we really should have seen it. Some other time!

Albert’s memorial:

albert

Flowers:

flowers

Are you seeing what a gorgeous day it was? We got so lucky with the weather!

Then we took the TUBE (my first time; she really does say “Mind the gap,” it was fantastic!) to Tower Hill. We had lunch by the Tower of London, which we found out on arrival costs 17 pounds to go in to, so we skipped the ticket and watched for free from above while they did a demonstration of wall-scaling techniques and fired a couple of siege engines, one which was rather like a giant crossbow, and a counterweight trebuchet (which would have been operated by women behind the walls, slinging huge stones at the advancing enemy!). They were REALLY cool. The demonstrated the trebuchet with large water balloons, and it was amazing how high and how far they went. Plus the guys doing the demonstration were all in period dress, which is fun.

Tower of London (this is the view you get as you emerge from the underground station):

tower of london

Traitor’s Gate:

traitor's gate

After the Tower we walked across Tower Bridge, which will never not be impressive, and then along the Jubilee riverwalk to where the Globe and the Tate Modern is. Katie had the genius idea of looking into tickets for a show at the Globe (it didn’t even occur to me, I guess my brain had pre-determined that it would either be too expensive or sold out), but in fact we got two 5 pound tickets to be groundlings at Love’s Labour’s Lost that very evening! We did have to stand for the entire performance but it was so amazingly good, and we were there early enough that we were right in front. As in there was no one else between us and the stage. As in the edge of the stage was about 2 inches from my nose. !!! I about died of excitement. All of the actors were really good (and really beautiful) and the costuming was gorgeous and the Globe reconstruction is a piece of art all by itself.

Tower Bridge:

tower bridge

View to across the river from the tower, where you can almost see the riverwalk:

view

The Thames as seen from Tower Bridge:

Thames

Globe Theater (seats and sky):

globe 1

Our view of the stage:

globe 2

(It may look like that guy was in front of us, but if you look you can see that the stage comes out so that there is more of it between us and him.)

After the performance we walked across the Millenium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which at that point was all lit up and haunting in the darkness. It was so spooky and lovely and quintessentially London. From St. Paul’s we walked down Fleet Street past the Royal Courts of Justice, also spooky at night, and down the Strand to Covent Garden. We went back through Covent Garden to get to Oxford Street, where we had a late pizza dinner, and got back to the hotel at almost 11pm. We had been walking or standing for over 12 hours! It was like a marathon London hike but it was so much fun to strike out on our own and get to do our own thing in the city for a day.

Millenium Bridge and St. Paul’s (from before the show, so it’s still light out):

st pauls

Thames and sky from Millenium Bridge:

millenium

We both had the sneaking suspicion that the majority of the rest of our group slept in and spent the rest of the day shopping. Well, to each their own I guess! It was a brilliant day.

Today, being Monday, we took a coach bus from London to Worcester, got checked in to our rooms, had a bit of a tour of Oxford, and chatted with the Dean of visiting students, Elisabeth Dutton, who is also my tutor for Chaucer. She gave us all an opportunity to root through her collection of stuff left here by visiting students from previous years, and I got a hairdryer, some soap, dishes and silverware, a little umbrella, a rug, and a heating pad, all for free! She also had a few electric teakettles but those all went before I could grab one. This evening we had wine with the JCR (Junior Common Room) President and her important people–she’s basically the student body president, from what I can tell–and then a fancy dinner with them, the Provost of the college, Elisabeth, the Chaplin, and others. There were three courses, three different forks, and a different wine served with the first two courses, with coffee and petite fours after the meal. OMG. Oxford.

I’m sure it won’t always be like that. Right?

One of the Oxford men at the meal (who’s only 20, but very posh with his accent and his suit–since when do guys my age wear a suit without looking uncomfortable? But granted, Steve the fratboy from Duke didn’t seem to feel out of place in his) was telling us that one of the reasons he applied for Worcester was that it was more down to earth than the other Oxford colleges. I think he’s probably right–they seem relatively friendly, and since one of the Old Members (alumni) is Lord Sainsbury (owner of Sainsbury’s, the British grocery chain), the food is subsidized and therefore about a third as much as at the other colleges (2 pound 50 for a formal dinner compared to 8 or so pounds elsewhere).

Moving right along. My dorm (although they don’t call it that; a dorm is at boarding school) is the farthest one from the main college, called the Canal Building. It’s a little over a ten minute walk as it is located at the back of the athletic fields. The building seems to be only a decade or so old, not entirely in a good way as it has a bit of a hostel-y feel, but my room is very large and has a window on two of the walls (I have a first-floor corner room). The bathroom is en suite, so I have it to myself, and I also have a little fridge. What I don’t have yet are clean linens, which is a bit of a disappointment as it is now midnight (or later, depending on when I get this posted). There is a large kitchen on my floor that I am looking forward to using.

My room as you come in the door:

IMG_4702

Beds on the right (they stack into one, if someone will come do it):

IMG_4703

My huge closet, on the left as you come in:

IMG_4706

My bathroom, across from the closet (on the right as you come in):

IMG_4705

There are two other visiting students in the Canal Building as well. One is an exceedingly polite boy named Chao, who is from Beijing and goes to Trinity in Connecticut. The other is named Anthony, from Hong Kong, who is not here through the Butler program as he has one of the spaces for visiting Princeton students. And even though they are from very different parts of China I already feel a bit left out.

My neighbors have been very nice to me, coming in to introduce themselves almost as soon as I got to my room. I think I am going to like them very much. Overall, it’s been a whirlwind so far, but I am looking forward to settling in!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. leslie krogh-wisner permalink
    October 6, 2009 1:01 am

    The best blog ever! Keep them coming. love ya!

  2. Geoff Sather permalink
    October 6, 2009 2:58 am

    This is going to be great fun for us folk hopelessly stranded stateside… I really hope you will keep it going !!!

  3. Grandma Jeanne permalink
    October 6, 2009 11:14 am

    What a wonderful tour of London — a gift to share it with you! Keep “em coming! LOve me

  4. Jessie permalink
    October 6, 2009 1:34 pm

    I am so jealous (but in a happy way for you). love you lots.

  5. Jeneane Lunn permalink
    October 11, 2009 1:27 pm

    Ditto Jessie’s remarks, but at least WE have book making. Didn’t win the lottery AGAIN.

  6. (Aunt) Katherine permalink
    October 13, 2009 6:09 am

    Very exciting! I love the pictures!!

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