Posted in Souvenirs

The London Underground

My first experience on the London Underground – the Tube – totally shaped how I viewed London above ground. I was in 8th grade traveling with my parents to London, Paris, and Rome. Our hotel was near Paddington Station and we used the Tube to get pretty much everywhere. I thought the city had to be so spread out. Though the rides on the Underground were mostly under 10 minutes long, I didn’t understand how anyone walked anywhere. None of the tourist attractions seemed near each other with the exception of Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus as you can see one from the other.

My dad and I. I can’t recall if we posed for this or if we really were discussing what Tube stop to get off at.

When I returned to London for my Master’s, I still had this concept of the city being unwalkable. Fortunately, this notion was greatly disproved – and on my first day in town. After I dropped my luggage off at my temporary home, I went for a walk to kill the time before I could actually get to my room and take a much desired shower. From High Holborn I quickly came upon Covent Garden. As I wandered a bit further west I soon found myself in Leicester Square.

I paused for a moment when I saw all the ticket booth signs and movie theatres indicating my arrival to Leicester Square. How were these two locations so close? We “had” to take the Tube when I was with my parents. But the entire process of purchasing tickets, getting down to and then up from the platforms, and the ride itself took the same amount of time if not less than walking. The size of London above ground was forever changed. In no time the city no longer felt unmanageable and intimidating, rather it became intimate and welcoming.

One of London Transport’s many posters promoting the Underground.

Never having lived in a town with a good public transport system, or a town with a need for one, the Tube was the best introduction. I loved/love/will forever love the Underground maps, the great variance in station atmosphere and design, the ease of use, and the reminder to “Mind the Gap.” Even during rush hour in the summer when I was sweating and smelling the sweat of those pushed up against me, there was still a part of me that loved it.

I recently learned that the London Underground will be celebrating its 150th birthday/anniversary in January. The 150 great things about the Underground blog was created by an admirer of the Tube. The photographer/blogger has taken pictures of 70 things (at the time of posting) so far that he finds architecturally, historically, and even aurally interesting about the Tube and its stations. As a London-ophile, looking through the list I enjoyed having the little details be made explicit as I long to return and check them out in person. Happy 150th, London Underground!

Posted in Study Abroad

Thanksgiving in North London

Being a week behind everything has been the theme of my life lately. Blog ideas come up in hindsight of something rather than me having the time to look ahead and plan. My apologies. So for this week I thought I’d finally get with (or ahead of) the times and post a week in advance about a Thanksgiving abroad. This serves me doubly well as now I can take the holiday off and avoid seeming out of touch posting about Turkey Day a week late.

Some of our English, Mexican, and American representatives.

Last year I wrote about how my fellow Americans and I hosted Thanksgiving for a large group of exchange students studying together in Utrecht, Netherlands. What made my London Thanksgiving special three years later was not only did my flat of Americans invite our non-American friends over for a feast, but one of our guests was a girl who had her first Thanksgiving with me in Utrecht those few years prior.

I was so excited to find out my Utrecht friend, Ximena, was also in London. I wrote an email to my group of girlfriends from my time in the Netherlands, most likely about the Dutch bar and Dutch pancake house I had found in London and how my thoughts drifted to them. It was a great and pleasant shock to hear back from Ximena saying that she was also in London. Me being from the US and her from Mexico, who would have thought that both of us being back in Europe would reunite us? The first time we met up outside the Starbucks in Leicester Square, I was really early and she was really late. Nothing had changed.

Commemorating our meetings as Starbucks

As Thanksgiving approached, my flatmates and I decided to invite people over for the holiday. On the day, our group comprised of people from Ireland, England, France, Mexico, and the US. Unlike in the Netherlands where we had a number of long tables to fit together, we didn’t have a single table big enough in our Holloway flat. We ended up bringing all our chairs and benches into our front room to go along with our two sofas, and we pushed together two coffee tables to place the food on. Everyone cradled their full plates on their laps and set their glasses either on the coffee tables or on the floor if there was no room.

Gaiety abounded with tasty food, readily available alcohol, and great ambiance as some of us vied for the role of party DJ. We filled our guests up with turkey and gravy (probably the simplest and most delicious gravy I’ve ever had, a recipe I still use each year – thanks Meghan), mashed potatoes, rolls and vegetables. Wanting to make the day seem special, we bought gold paper plates, gold plastic serving trays, and fancy plastic wine goblets. Regardless of the budget, the sentiment of the holiday was felt and passed along to our friends.

Makeshift Thanksgiving table.

I asked Ximena recently what her memories were from that day and how her Thanksgiving in London compared to Utrecht. Here’s what she had to say:

I think that the Thanksgiving dinner in Utrecht was very special, it was the first Thanksgiving I ever celebrated and it became a very special holiday to me (even though it is not celebrated in MX [Mexico]). I remember we were all crowded in a small apartment, all foreigners and a few Dutch, drinking a lot of beer and wine. I knew almost everyone there since the beginning of the semester and had a lot of fun.

But if I am not mistaken when we were in London the food was amazing! Also it was very special to me because I was going through a hard time missing my family, crazy cold weather, so being surrounded with people and warm food to celebrate Thanksgiving was very comforting. I got to meet your friends and enjoy a nice happy dinner.

I too will remember both of these special holiday feasts. Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in Study Abroad

Guy Fawkes Night

Image: anymus21 – saintsrow.com

Clapham Common is a large park in south London. It was there that my flatmate and I met up with some of her friends from Brixton to participate in November 5th’s Guy Fawkes Night festivities of fireworks and bonfires (though I didn’t see any that night). Entering the north end of the Common, we joined thousands of others in celebrating this night of historical political significance.

Who was this Guy Fawkes, you ask? A Catholic conspirator, he was, of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The plot’s intent was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament with the ultimate goal of assassinating King James I, who would be present to make a speech. Just after midnight on November 5th, tipped-off authorities arrested Guy Fawkes as he was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder in the House of Lords. To celebrate the fact that the plot had been thwarted and King James I lived, people began setting bonfires alight. In the years to follow people also began to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes in the bonfires.

Prior to that evening, I thought people were celebrating Guy Fawkes for his anarchy against the government. Bonfires seemed riotous and fireworks joyous. I was, however, a bit confused why people would burn effigies of Guy Fawkes if they were praising his actions. The film V for Vendetta wouldn’t come out until the following year so I didn’t get the idea from that. I was just plain ignorant of the day’s history; I learned that night.

Fireworks Before

It was very cold that evening. I had on gloves and a scarf. I purchased hot cocoa more to warm up my hands than to drink. We had arrived late to the Common, and, therefore, were relegated to the fringes. Some people were carrying around smaller-than-life-sized effigies of Guy Fawkes. I really wanted there to be a bonfire to burn them in. The whole event was like being at an outdoor concert where everyone was facing one general direction waiting for something to begin. The crowd packed in tight to stay off the surrounding roads. The nearness of bodies did take off some of the chill. Eventually, the fireworks began and I was content viewing the show.

Then, out of nowhere, came a 6 foot 6 inch tall (at least) man and he parked himself right in front of me and my flatmate. We tried to shift but were packed so tight there was nowhere to go and nowhere else to look but at the back of his head. And next to him was a father with his kid on his shoulders! We were cold, trapped, and couldn’t see a thing. Once the fireworks crescendoed to their finale, we quickly made our way back to Brixton on foot avoiding the clogged Underground and went to a pub.

Fireworks After

It was fun to participate in a truly British event. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times above, seeing a bonfire would have been cool. I’ve read that there are some towns that celebrate the night very extravagantly. That would be really awesome to experience and speak with the townsfolk as to why the night is so important to them. Also, the night gave me some background for when I did watch V for Vendetta the following year.

Posted in Souvenirs, Study Abroad

Don’t Forget The Passport

Many study abroad programs have just gotten under way. For a number of students, they just received their first and potentially only foreign stamp in their passport, the golden ticket to seeing the world outside one’s own country. I love my old, now expired passport. I love looking back through it. The stamps and visas remind me of the few years I spent enjoying a higher proportion of international travel than the years prior or since.

The passport is proof of my travels. It is a souvenir. It’s a bare bones scrap book, if I were a scrap booker. It is a keepsake. The time span it covers is from my first study abroad experience in 2001 to visiting friends in London in 2008. There are two personal “highlights” – if you will – of the collection. One is a stamp, the other a visa.

The Stamp

Way back on page 20 is a solitary stamp. This blue-green inked rectangle marks some exciting and important firsts for me: first major continental getaway, first overnight train, and first time to Eastern Europe. It was fall 2001 and I was traveling with four other girls. The plan was Prague, a stop in Vienna, and then some would return to the Netherlands, and others, myself included, would make a trip to Munich.

The reason this stamp is so coveted is not just because it denotes these firsts, but because this was the only stamp given in the Czech Republic – to any of us. When we entered the country we didn’t receive a stamp; it happened on our way out. We were on the train passing through the border city of Břeclav on our way to Austria. The patrolman went around our train carriage looking through each of our passports. Mine happened to be the last one he checked, and was, therefore, the lucky recipient of the stamp. I had the only (passport) proof we spent time in the Czech Republic.

The Visa

I have four visas in my passport: one for the Netherlands, two for England, as the first one they put in had the wrong date on it, and one for Russia. This last one I think is pretty awesome, if for nothing else than having my name, or a close equivalent, written in Russian. I didn’t have an easy go at getting that visa. It took me two trips to the embassy in London in 2005. It was only open for a few hours in the morning and the queuing started early.

The first time I went, I just didn’t get there early enough. After standing in line for two hours and getting as close as 20 people between me and the front of the line, I went to class empty handed. The second time I went I arrived earlier. I also got sick, literally, and on the sidewalk. Fortunately, I had met a girl in line who was going on the same trip as me. She was gracious enough to hold my spot while I made my way to the nearest public restroom to clean up. Thank you, Starbucks, for really being on every corner. Though I felt terrible and still nauseous, I rallied as I was determined not to have to get up at 5AM again. And I was rewarded for my efforts and sacrifices by being granted entrance and receiving my visa. In the end, the trip was more than worth the hassle.

I now have a new passport and I have yet to hand it over to an immigration officer of a foreign nation, have them turn to any empty page, and place their stamp on the (overly) decorative paper. I can’t wait to see what stamps fill it up.

Posted in Issues, Souvenirs, Study Abroad

Personal Space

One thing that I wasn’t prepared for or even thought about prior to studying abroad was the issue of personal space. Generally speaking, here in the United States personal space is one of those things that is an universally-known, unspoken rule. Around each of us is this invisible circle usually about three feet in radius. Everyone is mindful of their own circle and usually of others’ as well. The big no-no is when someone’s circle is violated or invaded. What I didn’t know before going abroad was that not everyone knows the rule or knows that there is such a thing as personal space.

Sure, personal space is invaded all the time. You can’t really function without someone at some point being closer than three feet from you. Public transit is a good example of a time and place when people are crossing over that threshold; in most cases it is tolerated. But the idea of strangers meeting for the first time, embracing each other, and exchanging air kisses seems crazy. Actions like those are reserved for family, close friends, and lovers, right? Well, not everywhere in the world.

My first experience with the ‘greeting kisses’ was actually here on US soil. The kisser was a friend visiting from Germany whom I hadn’t seen in about six months. I arrived at the house where he was staying and when he opened the door he bent down and kissed me on both cheeks. My lack of knowledge about how people from other parts of the world may greet one another caused me to totally misconstrue the situation. I had always crushed on him and I thought he might have had some feelings for me too. I mean who double kisses a girl they don’t like? Apparently, many.

Violator of my personal space

It actually wasn’t until my second major moment of greeting kisses that I realized what really happened that first time (and it would have saved me a lot of time spent over-analyzing – ha). The next set of greeting kisses came while I was in the Netherlands. A Czech boy from my exchange student mentor group and I were hanging out at a coffee shop on a boat in one of Utrecht’s canals. He greeted me when I arrived and as he leaned in I flinched away. In my head I chastised myself as I had recently had a conversation with a French girlfriend about the whole greeting thing. I wanted to be more open to it, but clearly 20 years of conditioning couldn’t be wiped away so easily. Fortunately, the boy was very understanding, particularly as he had spent some time in the United States.

I am happy to say that by the time I was studying in London, I was much more aware and open to the greeting embrace and kisses. Becoming best friends with a Mexican and an Italian-Columbian expedited my progress. By the end of my twelve months, I even had little or no issues initiating the embraces. However, I still refrained with fellow Americans.

Upon returning home the issue of personal space was probably the first to go back to ‘normal.’ There are times when I do miss the more intimate connection made with the embrace rather than the usual detached and isolated way of presenting ourselves to potential new friends via a handshake or nod of the head. But regardless of your stance on personal space, remember and be prepared that others you encounter while studying abroad may not share your view, or – more likely – not even be aware there may be an issue.

Posted in Souvenirs

Crushing on Prince William, or How I Became a Lady

I debated whether or not to write about this topic but the more I thought about it the more I saw how my, if I’m being honest, obsession with Prince William has really played a part in my life, and subsequently my travels. And if there ever was a time to do it, today’s the day for it is Prince William’s 30th birthday.

My modest collection of Prince William magazines (minus the commemorative ones and the Princess Diana ones)

I first became aware of the Prince through the media (Tiger Beat, Bop, YM). It was probably around the time I realized that all New Kids on the Block members (or one in particular – love you, Joey!), were way too old for me that I turned my tween crushing ways towards the age-appropriate Prince. And it stuck.

In high school, a friend and I had come up with names related to our future husbands; she became Nicole Joel (Billy Joel) and I, Lady Lindsay Windsor (Wills is of the House of Windsor). When it was time to create my first ever email account, Prince William played a role having granted me Ladyship. And today the name of this blog stems from that. Travel Lady Lindsay isn’t just meant to be read as ‘the travel lady’ like ‘the car guy,’ but also as Lady Lindsay who’s writing about travel.

Tongue-in-cheekily, he followed me to college via a poster. Then Kate stepped onto the scene. My first thought when news of a serious girlfriend hit the tabloids was that I should have sucked it up and gone to the University of Edinburgh for my undergraduate degree. We could have met with him planning to attend St. Andrews…three years later.

At college with me. (We were ‘Donna Martin Graduates’ supporters for Halloween, FYI)

Later he showed up in a rhyme I wrote to commemorate my acceptance to the London School of Economics, as surely this was the time fate had meant for us to finally meet. Though rarely serious in my references to him, deep down a little part of me believed in the fairytale.

Over the years, I’m sure William added to my growing Anglophilia, had even been a catalyst. I traveled to a small number of (totally non-stalkerish) Prince William destinations, ones that I would have visited regardless (St. James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Holyrood Palace). The years of crushing just adding that extra dash of fantasy.

What? Me? Live here? At my future home – Buckingham Palace, London
Surely not here too? At another future residence – Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh

Only two destinations have been more William-specific.While visiting Windsor Castle over spring break in high school, I wandered over to Eton College, where the Prince studied at the time. Alas, few students were at the school as it was Easter holiday. But just knowing I was walking in the same halls as he did provoked a voice in me to whisper, “what if?”

And with no proposal made yet, I thought I’d give the dream one last go by planning to visit St. Andrews as part of a post-“I just turned in my Master’s thesis and want to get outta here!” trip. In the end, time didn’t allow for the stop. I soothed myself with the fact that he had graduated two months prior and was unlikely to be in town anyways.

Timing was never on our side, and six years later it was time to truly say goodbye. The wedding day drew nearer and all I could think was:

The big day arrived. A friend and I baked pasties, and donned whatever hats we owned while I drank (too many) English porters as Kate walked down the aisle towards my greatest childhood dream. Apparently, I made many others aware of this dream over the years judging by the Facebook messages, texts, and emails I received between the engagement announcement and the wedding expressing condolences.

Watching was bittersweet for me. It was hard to say goodbye to someone – something – that had been a part of my life almost every single day (recall the email address) and to say goodbye to the naïve notion that, as this fellow William-crusher wrote, “simply having strong feelings is enough to give you a chance with a total stranger. Once you’re older and realize how silly that idea is, there’s no way to return to that innocence.” A huge and probably long overdue chapter of my life closed. And all he left me with was a title.

I now associate my Ladyship status with my Anglophilia. I even looked into those ‘buy a piece of Scottish land to help preserve an old castle’ schemes in order to make the title official just for kicks. It has become such a part of my identity. It has also helped to shape my professional brand in that I can’t imagine not using it creatively in one form or another e.g. its appearance in this blog’s name.

For this, I thank you, Prince William. Happy Birthday and Welcome to the Dirty Thirties!

P.S. And wouldn’t you know it!  A year after William and Kate wed, my parents – MY PARENTS – shake hands with my former future father- and mother-in-law!

Posted in Study Abroad

Let’s Go To The Movies

We have entered the summer blockbuster season. I have had a few movie-going experiences that have made lasting impressions or provided new experiences. Below are four such times – on Nantucket, in Dublin, Utrecht, and Rotterdam – plus my two experiences at movie premieres while in London.

There once was a girl on Nantucket…

I was ten years old. My family was visiting friends staying on the small island of Nantucket. We kids (two 11 year old boys, who wanted not to be stuck with me, and I) were shooed out of the house by our parents. The boys did everything they could to lose me but I stayed close-by. Mid-afternoon I followed them to the movie house in town. They wouldn’t even let me stand with them while we waited to go in, let alone sit with them. I had never seen the first Terminator and I hoped that this would be an action flick; I had a history of not faring well with scary films.

Courtesy IMDB.com

I found a seat three quarters of the way down on the right side of the three-sectioned seating. The AC offered a nice reprieve from the summer heat. The auditorium filled up quickly with college and high school kids. People were getting antsy for the film to start. A boy a few rows in front of me let out a huge belch which drew much cheering and applause.

Then the lights went down and I heard the crescendoing ‘DA-DUN DUN DA-DUN‘ for the first time. My heart pounded so loud and fast under my Hawaiian Punch pink shirt and Fla-vor-ice blue with pink flowers overall shorts (that’s how much this day sticks out in my memory). My eyes never wavered from the screen. Terminator 2: Judgment Day kicked ass. When it was all over there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation before we all stood up and cheered.

Why Hello, Clive Owen

Having returned earlier that afternoon from Kilkenny, and then having written a short paper for a class assignment, I decided to treat myself to a movie at the theatre just down road from my housing at Trinity College in Dublin. The film was Croupier. I didn’t know how things worked in Irish theatres. I saw on my ticket that I was to sit in seat GA GA. It wasn’t until I noticed that the rows didn’t have markings that I had my ‘duh moment’ realization of GA = general admission. I headed to my usual center-of-screen seat. 

After finding a seat, a couple came and sat down leaving an open seat to my left. Then as the theater began to fill I knew I’d be sitting close quarters. I saw a small group approach from the right and figured they’d ask me to move over one to fill the gap. Instead they asked me to let them in the row as they knew the folks on my left. I obliged but was annoyed to loose my perfect center-center location. But then the lights dimmed and I was introduced to Clive Owen with his deep voice and piercing green eyes. All was forgiven.

The Discovery of National Pride

In 1992 Dutch author Harry Mulisch published The Discovery of Heaven (voted “Best Dutch Book Ever”). In 2001 I attended the film adaptation in Utrecht. You would never know by the large turn out that the film had been released three weeks prior. People around us outside of the entrance were buzzing with anticipation of seeing a Dutch author’s work played out on the big screen. It was like everyone knew Harry personally and were there to show their support.

We made our way through the crowd to try and get good seats. I noticed as we passed the concessions that the offerings were a bit more fancy than I had seen before. They sold wine and beer, which you could take into the theatre with you! Also, the film being 2 1/2 hours long, had an intermission during which practically everyone purchased ice cream. Overall, I was blown away by the festive national spirit, the luxury of the concessions and the heaven-sent intermission (I needed to use the little girl’s room).

Who’s the Philosopher?

Courtesy harrypotter.wikia.com

I had not read any of the Harry Potter books. But on a cold December afternoon in Rotterdam, I didn’t care if I hadn’t read the book; I would see the movie. Most films I had seen in the Netherlands were either in Dutch with English subtitles or in English with no subtitles, as much of the adult population speaks English. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first children’s film I had seen and, therefore, my first English film with Dutch subtitles.

My friend Leslie pointed out that the film used the original UK book title of Philosopher’s Stone as opposed to the US title of Sorcerer’s Stone. I had to admit I had no idea what the philosopher’s stone was nor that it had any actual historical context. She explained that those marketing the book figured US kids wouldn’t know either and that sorcerer was familiar and gave a similar connotation.

Also, the names of the characters changed for the Dutch translation (and I would assume for the books as well). I never really thought that names would be changed even if they weren’t in the language of the audience. Someone’s name was someone’s name. Hermione Granger became Hermelien Griffel and Ron Weasley, Ron Wemel. Harry Potter, however, remained Harry Potter.

Leicester Square Shenanigans

Leicester Square in London has a movie theatre on at least three of its four sides and is often HQ for UK film premieres. While my sister was visiting we happened upon the premiere for Aviator. The red carpet was rolled out for the film’s stars. We were close enough to snag this photo of Leo DiCaprio:

On a rain day I went to check out the Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith premiere. This one was a bit more exciting, what with the orchestra playing the soundtracks while the films played on a screen, not to mention the life-size fighter plane (fans, please forgive me my ignorance on the actual name) complete with its own R2-D2.