Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jane Austen's England

It may seem that this has turned into a travel blog, but the truth is, I have been traveling a lot lately and it's just going to keep going until the end of the year. I've got trips planned every month until December, but the good news is that you, gentle readers, can come along with me! At least feel that you did after the fact when I share the stories and photos from the trips.

On August 12, Kristin, Rachel, and I took to the skies and traveled to merry olde England for a Jane Austen themed trip. We were planning to hit not only the big sight-seeing spots, but also walk in the footsteps of one of the most beloved authors in the English language. Armed with our resident Austen expert (cough Kristin cough) we were ready to see it all!

We took the redeye to London Heathrow on Thursday night and arrived at 8 the next morning. I managed to scam some Ambien from a friend (who shall remain nameless) to ensure that I slept on the flight, since we had a full day of sight-seeing planned immediately upon our arrival. And I cannot function without sleep, it's just a fact. After landing, we hopped the tube (i.e. London Underground, i.e. subway) to downtown London to check in to our hotel, which was in a prime location in the Mayfair District by the Green Park tube stop. And then we were off!

Any visit to London must include a stop at Westminster Abbey. It is, hands down, my favorite London sight as it contains so much British history it gives me a little learning-gasm. From monarchs to artists, some of the most important figures in history are buried here (Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens, etc. etc.). And in Poets Corner, there is a plaque honoring Jane Austen. Hence, it fit right in to theme of our trip. While wandering around, we had some trouble locating it, so we asked a docent where it was. He helpfully pointed it out, but then came back our way a few minutes later with some questions of his own. He asked us, "what is it about Jane Austen that has made her so popular?" and he also wanted to know if we thought her popularity was just a fad brought on by the latest film adaptions of her novels. Kristin eloquently pointed out that the real appeal of Austen lay in her understanding of people and what motivated them to love, laugh, cry, and live. We assured him that the appreciation of her books was NOT a fad, and she would be around for a long time. He tried to talk up the merits of other authors like Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, but we weren't having it. Viva la Austen!

After Westminster Abbey, we wandered down to Trafalgar Square, where Lord Nelson perched on his impressive column flanked by massive stone lions, and took some pictures. By this time, it was starting to rain and we were hungry, so a quick look at our Rick Steve's guidebook confirmed that there was a cafe in the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields across the street. But it wasn't just any cafe--it was located underground in the crypt. It may sound creepy, but it was actually really cool and the food wasn't bad either.

Trafalgar Square. The large domed building on the left is the National Gallery. The spire on the right belongs to St. Martin-in-the-Fields where we had lunch in the crypt.

We were just getting started with our London day, so we hopped on the tube and headed to Kings Cross Station, for a quick visit to Platform 9 and 3/4. That's right, the infamous Harry Potter platform is immortalized at the Kings Cross station to allow for photo opportunities. There's even half a luggage trolley sticking out of the wall as if someone was making their way to the Hogwarts Express.

A quick walk down the road took us to the British Library, where in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery are displayed the treasures of the British Library including the Magna Carta, illuminated bibles, original manuscripts from some of Britain's greatest authors, and handwritten lyrics from The Beatles. It also happens to have Jane Austen's writing desk and some of her original letters. Maybe it's the history dork in me, but it was such a moving experience to see books, letters, and other documents dating back to over a 1,000 years ago. Seeing Austen's letters was for me akin to that moment in Deathly Hallows, when Harry finds the letter from his mother. If I may paraphrase, "here was tangible proof that she had lived--that she had put pen to paper." Very cool.

After the British Library, we decided to maximize our sightseeing time for the afternoon by getting on the Big Bus tour. It's one of those "hop on, hop off" deals, and is a great way to see most of the big sights and get the lay of the land. We rode it all around, getting off at St. Paul's Cathedral. Our hope was to get there before 6 to see the free Evensong service, but unfortunately we just missed it. Bummer. Luckily, the St. Paul area (actually the one mile square area known as "The City" as it was the original London and now the financial district) is home to London's oldest pubs. So we got ourselves some dinner at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, most recently rebuilt in 1667. That's right, 1667. There were tables tucked away in every corner, and once you thought a room would end, you'd realize that it just going on in a veritable maze of medieval furnishings. All of the pub tables were full and the dining room appeared to have been completely reserved for later in the evening, but the waiter took pity on three tired American tourists and let us sit in the dining room as long as promised not to linger. The best roast beef and yorkshire pudding I'd ever had and a pint of cider later, things were looking up, and we caught the last Big Bus back to Victoria Station where the tour ended.

At the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese:

On the way we drove over the Tower Bridge, past the Tower of London and the London Eye, over London Bridge, past Marble Arch, and ended up back at the beginning of the tour. From there, it was a quick tube ride back to our hotel and COLLAPSE. Remember, we had gotten at most 4 hours of sleep the night before on the plane and had immediately gotten our sight-seeing on. None of us had any trouble falling asleep that night, and we had the promise of our next day's adventure in front of us: Oxford and a visit to Blenheim Palace!

Here are some more random London photos:

Houses of Parliament and the clock tower (Big Ben is actually the name of the clock inside the tower).

The front of St. Paul's Cathedral, Christopher Wren represent! Also, I hear you can get bird food there for a really food deal. Tuppens a bag or thereabouts.

Lord Nelson atop his column in Trafalgar Square.

Did you know that I have a street? And am a saint. Bitchin.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

LEGO my exhibit ticket!

This was supposed to be another one of those "Things to do in DC" posts that I manage to get up here (way too infrequently). I say supposed to, because as usual, things didn't work out as I planned.

The initial idea was simple: this past Sunday, my friend Jason organized a group of friends to visit the National Building Museum to take a look at the new LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition exhibit. We met across the street, chatted about our eagerness to check out the LEGO renditions of 15 of the world's most famous structures, and then went into the museum. Where we were greeted with a sign plastered with big "SOLD OUT" stickers. Apparently, special exhibits require a special ticket so only special people can get in to see them. The kicker? The website didn't indicate that the separate ticket was required. So there were, all ready to rock the LEGOs, and we were denied.

Alas, nothing is ever easy. We tried to make the best of it by taking the Building Museum's basic tour, but this focused solely on the history of the building, and we didn't get any chance to see any exhibits or collections. By the end of the hour tour we were all feeling despondent and were hungry, so we dragged our sorry butts down the street to The Green Turtle sports bar (don't ask me where the name comes from). Good food and good conversation can cure even the worst heartache, but I have to confess to still feeling extreme disappointment regarding my lack of LEGO.

The silver lining on the LEGO cloud is that the exhibit is sticking around until September 2011 so there is still plenty of time to get our hands on tickets for another weekend. And when my office finally moves to it's new location in April of next year, I'll be only 4 blocks away from the museum. Happy hour LEGO exhibit, anyone?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Alma Mater, Hail!

Ah, Williamsburg. I spent 7 years of my most formative years there, through college and law school, but since graduation in 2005, I hadn't felt a strong desire to go back. It's not that I don't love the town (I do) or loved my time at William and Mary (I did), but the bar examination-induced trauma was just too strong to ignore for a couple years. Coupled with my academic burn-out from 7 years of continuous higher education, I needed a break.

But all that's over! It was time to head back to the Burg and revisit all the old hot spots. So with Selvi along for the ride we painted the town red...or as red as you paint it when you're facing 105 degree weather. Because it just so happens we decided to head down to Williamsburg on the hottest weekend of the year. Typical.

We drove down Friday night after work and because of traffic on I-95 didn't arrive until 11pm at night. But that didn't deter us from doing a quick drive around the town and campus. Let me just say this: if any of those kids ever bitch about their not being anything to do I will punch them in the face. When we were there, there was NOTHING. Literally, nothing. It was big news when they built a Wawa across the street from campus and the frats and three bars (called "the delis") basically comprised the entire nightlife. Of course, things improved as time went on. But now, there is an entire yuppy village at New Town (with bars, restaurants, housing, etc.) and two movie theaters. TWO! We used to have to drive down to Hampton to the AMC to see a movie. Now there's a huge multiplex in New Town and some place called a movie tavern, which is kind of like the Arlington Drafthouse.

The campus has changed a lot too; there are two new dorms on Barkesdale Field, and the Rogers science building has been expanded into a new "science center." The Swem library renovations are done and the renovations of Andrews and PBK are starting. The law school also has a fancy new library (which of course was done right when I left), and there is a brand new business school where the Common Glory parking lot used to stand. And the University Center (UC) was renamed the Sadler Center (after Sam) and is having a whole new wing added.

Ah, changes.

But not everything changed. Morton (the government building) is still slowly sinking into the ground, but god knows I love it. And the music building, Ewell, is still exactly the same. But they should really think about upgrading their security; almost all the campus buildings were locked, but we waltzed right into Ewell and into the bandroom. We even left some nice messages on the chalk board. No seriously, they were nice. Something like, "greetings from alumni!" Nobody except the janitors is likely to see it, but it made us feel good.

The Sunken Gardens at morning. Looks just the same!

Of course I had to take pictures of the Wren building, right?

The original Music department diva.

Me and Selvi chill with Thomas Jefferson.

The sun dial on new campus looking towards Swen Library.

The Crim Dell bridge. As soon as Selvi and I walked by, about 5 adorable turtles swam up in eager anticipation of us throwing food at them. Ha, suckers.

It's nice to know somethings never change, like the inside of the University Center.

After we spent a couple hours walking around the campus, we hit the campus shop and bookstore (my former employer) for some WM digs. Then it was off to the Prime Outlets for some shopping, and Peking Mongolian BBQ for lunch. A word about Mongolian--it was just as good as I remembered. SO GOOD.

And I was really happy after eating at the buffet.

By that time, it was over 100 degrees, so Selvi and I headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Then we met up with my friend Andrew at our favorite drinking spot, The Green Leafe. On the way there we lamented that it wasn't Sunday night when we could have broken out our Green Leafe mugs, but it turns out they were offering mugs of margaritas on Saturday. That's right, mugs.

That's a whole lot of margarita.

By that time we were well and tipsy, so Andrew loaded us up in his car and took us to hang out at his place. We watched some quality HBO shows and just hung out and had fun. Then it was back to the hotel where we slept the night away. We didn't have a lot of time the next morning since we had to get back to DC, but we slept in and then went to IHOP for brunch. It may not be fancy, but it's definitely a Williamsburg tradition.

All in all, we had a great weekend, and I'm really excited about going back sometime soon. Once you walk down memory's hard not to make a return trip. Maybe we can get some of you WM alums to come with.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Blog Inertia

For the past week, I have been trying to work up the energy to blog about my trip last weekend to Williamsburg. I've got fun stories and fun pics, but for some reason, the motivation is just. not. there.

It's not like I had a particularly busy week; work, home, some family and friend stuff, you know the usual. I didn't go out late on any weeknight or stay up late any night. I have been working hard at work, pushing myself, so I think the burn-out factor is definitely playing a part. BUT. None of this really explains why I went to bed at 8:30 Thursday evening. 8:30! You would think I had a run a marathon or been up all night the night before....or you know, done something to warrant that level of exhaustion. Alas, no. I was just tired and lame.

I think I'm getting old. Or it's hormonal. Either way, god help me because I'm only 30 and there is a long road ahead.

The good news, I have had a very relaxing weekend. I was pretty active with working out, walking in the park, and swimming and I've had a lot of fun but also some downtime. So I am hoping for the week to come that I will shake off the tiredness and get back to business as usual. And have the energy to get that Williamsburg post and pictures up. Because I am sure everyone is giddy with the anticipation of reading about it. So stay tuned!