March 19, 2012

It's Tea Time!

I have always wanted to go to England. It has always been in the back of my mind as one of the places that I had to visit one day. I don’t know what the appeal of it is exactly... maybe it’s Harry Potter or the British peoples' fabulous accent, but I’ve always been curious and fascinated to discover it for myself. And so when my class was proposed a three day voyage with the sophomores, I immediately jumped on board. And that’s where I was last weekend. ENGLAND. The country of red telephones and buses in a sea of vintage black and white photos; the country of manners and tea drinkers; the country of bad food and a wonderful accent; the country of monuments and shopping; the country with London as its capital. It was absolutely amazing. I had a blast. I miss it so much already. I mean I love Cambrai and France and all... but a city like London is quite unforgettable. I felt so incredibly happy and free over there. Of course it was only three days so I can’t really judge everything off of that. I’ve heard that the English people are really uptight and don’t like to show their emotions so making friends would probably be much harder over there than in France. But at least the language barrier doesn’t exist for me :P

So only me and two other girls (Manon and Diane) in my class ended up going with the sophomore class. We boarded the bus on Thursday at 5:30am headed for the British Chanel. Cambrai is not that far away from England so we didn’t need to take a plane. The bus ride lasted about two hours. I had a hard time grasping the fact that just two hours on the road could bring me to a completely new country. Two hours from my house back home would take me to one of those big super malls in the middle of some plateau. That's kind of one of the big differences between America and Europe right there. We had to go through a passport check before getting on the boat. The kids on the bus were fascinated by my American passport. They said it was so "beautiful" compared to theirs... which I sort of agreed with. We Americans don’t really pay attention, but we really do have pretty fancy passports in comparison to other countries. We’re just so patriotic, we have to show our pride everywhere.

Then when we were all checked off, we boarded the boat! It was a really nice fancy boat. It reminded me of the ferries back home (I don’t think ferries exist here... unless that boat was actually a ferry) It had some stores, restaurants, food courts, bars, chairs, money exchange booths, balconies, etc. The first thing they did was assign host families. I ended up in a family of six. The host families in England are used to receiving students all the time because they only do it for money. It’s normal for French people to go on these types of trips to England because we’re so close by. For a lot of people, this wasn’t their first time. Also on the boat I exchanged 100 dollars and only got around 50 pounds! I was really disappointed. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had the same currency around the world? But I love the English bills and coins. They are super pretty with pictures of the Queen everywhere. I find that only America is different in terms of the money system. All the European countries, England, and even Canada have coins for one dollar or two dollars. It’s a lot more practical than having tons of bills all the time. And not to mention America’s wacky metric system! We just like to stand out.

I'm on a boat!

Anyways, when we arrived the first thing we saw were enormous foggy white cliffs that plunged into the sea. The Cliffs of Dover. Honestly, I had only heard of them before from a Madonna song... I had no idea that they were located in England. My geography is horrible– match that up with cultural/monumental/famous places and you get a very confused sense of the world.
The Cliffs of Dover!

We started our activities right away so that meant another two hours on the bus on our way towards the Windsor Castle. The first thing I noticed were the infamous left-hand side drivers! They really do exist! It was so weird. I freaked out when I first saw a person in the normal driver’s seat without a wheel. I even creeped and took pictures of this new cultural discovery.

Whaaaaat?!
My second cultural discovery was when we arrived at the castle and I saw that the boy’s bathroom was labeled «Gents». How distinguished ;) My third discovery was a British tart that I ate before we went into the castle. I thought of Alice in Wonderland and all of the stereotypes that I was fulfilling...


I am not the biggest fan of historical tours, especially the ones with audio guides so I hadn’t really been looking forward to the castle visit. But it turned out to be really good! I really enjoyed myself and actually learned a lot. Diane and I stuck together and we had a lot of fun. The castle itself was gorgeous, magnificent, and enormous (like all castles in Europe).
Diane and I with our sexy audo guides...
We wandered around and toured about outside for the first part and saw one of those Buckingham Palace kind of guards with the enormous bearskin hats! It was quite funny. He really doesn’t move. I tried talking to him, to make him laugh, to make him smile. I even danced in front of him because I was feeling silly. He didn’t even blink. The only way that we only knew he was alive was when he yawned. What a fascinating job... but it is an honor, serving the queen and all.

But really, he's secretly a dancer at heart ;)
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside of the castle, which was a bummer. The thing that I really liked about the castle was that it was still in use. The queen often lodges there, has her tea parties there, and strolls about the place. It’s weird thinking that it’s her home. I couldn’t imagine living in such a place with luxury, chandeliers, and gold in every corner on every wall in every room. It was oozing with the presence of wealth and royalty. To think that it is still somebody’s home is incredible.

(In the Queen's throne room) Okay, just don't tell the Royal Guard about this picture...

How did I get in on this royal dish?

Haha funny story. Well, I made some new friends. Royal Guard friends to be specific. I was really happy to be speaking English again (with an attempt to speak with a British accent) so I tried talking to as many people as I could in my native tongue... which meant asking a lot of questions. I didn’t think the guards inside the castle would be so talkative! It was great. At first I just asked them why the guys outside with the big furry hats didn’t move (a very intellectual question, I know) and then we just got talking. I learned some very interesting things that I would have never learned from those ridiculous audio guides! For example, did you know that the queen wears the exact same earrings every single day?? (Except for royal functions where in that case she puts on her fancy diamond loopies) They are usually just a single pearl with a tiny diamond on top. Apparently she was given them when she was a little child by her parents so they hold a personal value. I think it’s very sweet and modest. I googled it and sure enough you’ll see her with the same earrings in every single pictures (except for the royal function pictures in which she'll be wearing her big diamond ones). Would have never known that if it weren’t for those bored guards! They have already met the Queen many times. She’s almost like their friend. Wow. I’d like to be friends with a queen :P

After our visit, we checked out the pricy gift stores and then left the castle ground for some free time in the city! It was great. The shopping in England is fantastic. All my favorite stores were there. We looked forever for a Starbucks, but ended up getting shakes at one of those places with 100000000 shake options. Then I bought a new pair of jeans at Zara and some necessary tourist things. Diane and I amused ourselves by trying on some super tall high heels and some of the completely ridiculous hats that are à la mode in England (thanks to Kate Middleton). Yeah we definitely know were to find the hot spots in England...


Grr... ;)
Then we headed back on the bus to go to our host families for the first night. Our family was really nice, but they didn't get very close to us. They didn’t really even talk to us. They just get paid to feed us and give us a place to sleep... not to become friends with us. It’s a common thing in England to host students for money (like in the popular French film LOL). They lived in a small house with two dogs, one cat, three chameleons, five people, two semi-permanent guests, and then with us five French students plus one American. So you can imagine our spacious lodging. But it was really fun and we were quite lucky with our family compared to others. One family didn’t even electricity or hot water! We were just a bit squished in our room with six beds and all... and the food wasn’t so great. We had pasta that night but were still starving afterwards. Luckily we had all prepared for the infamous English cuisine and had each brought tons of stuff to snack on. ;) We didn’t eat with the family. It was a little awkward.

Snack party!
Day 2: Destination– LONDON!!! I fell in love with London like I had fallen in love with Barcelona. I’m easily enchanted by beautiful foreign cities. Windsor was an hour away from London. We started off with a tour on the bus, passing by hundreds of fantastic stores, monuments, stores, monuments, and more stores. Have I mentioned how amazing London is for shopping? Our first stop was at the Buckingham palace. We didn’t get to go inside but it was still gorgeous to look at! Very big. Too bad England’s hottest couple wasn’t around... :\ We also saw the famous red guard guys come by on horses! So English.


Me with the Polish exchange student whose at my school
Then we seemed to go on a long detour through a park that had TONS of birds and ponds and eggs (giant painted Easter egg sculptures were scattered throughout London for a giant scavenger hunt). We ended up in front of Big Ben. It’s quite a practical monument if you’re someone that always forgets to wear a watch. It was incredibly well-made and very beautiful.. like all monuments.



Diane and I in front of.. something famous.
And then finally we had some free time in London!! But not much... Diane and I ate at Starbucks (Love!!) It was her first time ever and I had insisted that she try it. She loved it. Point for America... and especially one for Seattle. Starbucks is kind of a part of American culture. People go there to hang out, do their work, go online, chat with old friends... not just to eat and drink. But I guess French cafés are sort of the same thing. Then we discovered the classic red telephone booths of London. They are everywhere! I thought it was a thing of the past, but people still actually use them!


Next stop: Madame Tussauds! Best. Museum. EVER. I have never loved another museum as much as I loved that one. I’m not a huge museum fan so I was really happy to discover that this one was not at all like the ones that I’ve visited before. I admit that if you don’t like celebrities or the movies or famous people then you probably shouldn’t go to Madame Tussauds. But on the other hand, if you like seeing your favorite stars... you would love it. It’s a museum full of incredibly incredibly incredibly incredibly realistic statues of stars! It was amazing. There were times when I honestly thought that we were walking through an A-list party.

Colin Firth :)
Orlando Bloom <3
We all know this lady ;)
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
Represent.
Then there was a scary haunted house kind of thing with people that leap out at you. Usually those things are lame, but this one was traumatizing. There were horrible creepy guys that just wouldn’t leave us alone. I was screaming like crazy and embarrassed myself by hiding behind some lady only to find out later that is was my English teacher :P Then there was a «Tour through English history» in little English taxi cars. I couldn’t help but think of how expensive it must have cost to build that museum. They even had a 4D movie presentation about superheros. 4D means that your surrounding environment comes to life as well– the chairs moved, water fell from the ceiling, wind blew, and we saw everything in wicked 3D. Pretty awesome.

And for the last day, we went to The British Museum. It wasn't as cool as Madame Tussaud, but I think it's just a matter of taste. The Egyptian section was really cool with giant pharaohs and ancient artifacts. And I discovered that the museum had the real Rosetta Stone! The legit Rosetta Stone!



Afterwards we spent the afternoon in Covent Garden. We had a lot of free time just to explore. It was fantastic. The ambiance was the kind that I really like– with lots of music, people, food, art, shopping, etc. There were street performers everywhere and tons of fantastic boutiques. We watched a guy fit his whole body through a tennis racket (you wouldn't believe how disgusting that was... and how much money he got afterwards from the crowd!) There was another guy who tried to break out of a straightjacket, metal chain, and thick ropes. We also saw an opera performance and a charming classical music group... all while eating fresh-made paella in the center of the marketplace. Diane had her first cupcake ever. It was quite the grand experience for her. And then we went shopping :D I could have spent a whole week just going up and down those streets of wonder. I don't what it was about London, but I just loved everything about it. I just loved being there in the thick of it all.

Paella in the center!
So gross. So disturbing... So interesting.
Our buddy :) He was just, you know... wandering around.
Those three days in England were incredible. This experience as an exchange student has opened so many doors for me– to new countries, to new cities, to new friends, to new adventures. I'm so thankful for this experience and am so happy that I got to set foot on English soil! It won't be my last voyage there, that's for sure ;)
The Tower Bridge!

Sorry for the lack of blogging... I really am sorry... I just... well... if you were an exchange student, you would understand our problem of thinking that we have lots of time and then realizing how little of it we actually end up having. I will try to write more frequently! A bientôt, bisous.

3 comments:

  1. You looked really good in the white house my dear:) So happy you are having a fantastic time in London.

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  2. You're writing has gotten so much better. You were already really good, but yeah, you're even better now. :-) That's so cool that you got to go see London Aja! Sounds like you had a great adventure!

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  3. I can't wait to read about your trip to Venice, Italy! I'm so freakin' jealous! That's awesome!

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