Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year In Review

Well, it feels like ages since my words have found their way to these familiar pages. I wish I had a wonderful excuse for not writing, but the truth is I just made other priorities. I have been writing, of course...pages and pages for my dear college professors. Just not many for myself.

A lot has happened in the past few months. I wasn't writing, but I was most definitely doing. I was going and seeing. Reading and working. Living, loving, crying, growing, and learning. And I learned so much. This was my "verb" year--a year so chock full of actions and travels and new experiences that I look back at pictures from the spring and feel as if they were taken a lifetime
ago. 2013 has made my heart swell with pride, pain, love, and empowerment. I am sad to see it go, but so anxious to kick off another beautiful year.

And so, my year in review:

Going & Seeing

My travels began this year in March, when I left the country for the first time and flew to Beijing with my journalism class. I set foot in the Temple of Heaven; walked through the Forbidden City; met journalism students halfway across the world at Tsinghua University; tobogganed down the Great Wall of China (where I got a photo op with Charlie Gibson); and partied in a Beijing nightclub called Latte. I ate foreign foods, bargained on the black market, and woke up at 6am on a foggy, rainy morning to watch the flag-raising ceremony take place at Tiananmen Square. No story I could tell can ever really live up to half of what it was truly like to be in Beijing for those eight dreamlike days. It is surreal now even to say they happened.

In April, I flew to California by myself for the second time in six months, an exhilarating journey both times. I spent five days with David, my boyfriend of nearly two years at that point, and we did all sorts of fun things in and around LA (including a wonderful day trip to Venice, spent riding bikes along the beach and writing in coffee shops).

One month later, I returned to the West Coast with David's family to watch him walk across a stage and receive his diploma from the best film school in the world, the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. We even spotted John Goodman in the crowd! It was a truly unforgettable visit. Years from now, I will still remember waking up to the surf after a lazy afternoon on the beach in Malibu with David and his sister, Leah. I will remember getting Baskin-Robbins in San Pedro and chatting late into the night before David's graduation. I'll remember my first delicious visit to Mendocino Farms and waiting in line to get a picture taken with both the Banana Stand and the stair car from Arrested Development. And I will definitely remember my brief encounter with Taylor Lautner on the way to dinner at Gyu Kaku, which taught me two very important things: never be afraid to ask for what you want, and always, always get a damn picture with Taylor Lautner when you get the chance.

In July, I left the country again--with my family this time--to visit Ireland, Scotland and England. While in Ireland: I kissed the Blarney Stone, became a Galway girl, drank Guinness in Dublin and walked along the Cliffs of Moher.

In Scotland, I walked between tombstones in the Necropolis of Glasgow, ate French cuisine, learned of Princess Kate giving birth (finally!), visited Edinburgh Castle, enjoyed afternoon tea aboard the HMY Britannia, and drooled at some of the most gorgeous architecture from atop an open-air bus.

London was our final stop, and with it came a whirlwind of famous sights and sounds. A flight delay put us on fast forward from Heathrow, to our hotel to freshen up, to Matilda the Musical in London's theatre district. In a span of four days, I saw the inside of Westminster Abbey, the towering entirety of Big Ben, the underside of the London Bridge, and the top of city skyline from inside the London Eye. I gazed upon the Crown Jewels (stunning), walked through the halls of Buckingham Palace (also stunning), visited the Empire Theatre (where Daylight would screen in August), and walked through the illustrious Harrod's department store. Finally, I had to get a traditional Abbey Road picture in honor of the four mop-topped greats who came from London town.

Later in the summer, I also went on some wonderful quick trips with two of my best friends. I went to both Nashville and Garden of the Gods with my friend Morgan, and in early August, I spent a weekend touring downtown Chicago with my pal Baker. We even got our picture taken with drag queens on Navy Pier in the rain.


2013 was very much a year when I hit the books. Below is a list of the books I read from May through December, because that's when I started keeping track. The asterisks indicate my personal ratings of the books, on a scale of 1-5 (5 being fabulous, of course), and the bolded titles are ones that I highly recommend.

***** Mystic River
*** The Secret Life of Bees
**** Year of Wonders
**** Visit From the Goon Squad
**** Middlesex

**** Shutter Island
**** The Long Halloween
*** The Palace of Laughter
*** Joyland
***** The Davinci Code
***** One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
***** Interpreter of Maladies

**** The Namesake
* The Seven Days of Peter Crumb
** Light of the Feather
* A Walk to Remember
*** Skinny Dip
** Basket Case

**** The Amnesiac
** Heart of Darkness
**** The Big Sleep

*** The Janitor's Boy

Currently, I'm reading Slaughterhouse Five, and I already have a feeling it's gonna be ***** (...meaning fabulous, not some dirty word).


From May through August, I worked 40 hours a week for the YMCA day camp in my hometown. Working with so many kids every day from 7-3 or 9-5 was often a test of will. Coffee and/or Advil was a daily requirement for handling headaches and staying cool under pressure. Sometimes I wanted to cry as easily as they could. I wanted everyone to be responsible for their own messes and mess-ups. But it was never that easy, and I'm glad it wasn't. The summer was rough, but every one of those kids tugged at my heart strings, and I cherish each and every one of the small but important moments I had with those kids, just for that short time in their lives.

During those same months I wrote freelance work for my local newspaper. I only wrote four articles in the summer--and one in December--but between my summer travels & working 40 hours each week, I was proud to write what I did. I met some wonderful people and got to put my name on some truly fascinating life stories, all while being paid for my work; what could be better?


This year did bring some tears, as well. The biggest personal loss I felt this year occurred right after the year began anew in 2013. On January 4th, my black cat and first pet, Columbus, died at home. He had been sick with feline leukemia for nearly three years, and he had shown signs of improvement going into 2012. However, over the course of the year he began deteriorating and losing weight more quickly, and when we brought home Otto in May 2012, it didn't do anything to help the process. My baby kitty cat was the first real pet I ever owned (besides summer social fish), and my parents, brother and I treasured him for the six years and two months that we had him. We buried him under his favorite tree in the backyard, where he would always sit and watch his best friend, Caspian the dog.

Growing & Learning

In May, I turned 20. No longer a teen, I have officially been on earth now for two total decades. It's pretty wild for me, but for earth that's like a fifteenth of a millisecond. To be honest, it was freaky and a little sad to realize I could never be a teenager again. This is, like, the decade when most women have babies and get married and finish college and buy their first real apartments. They find a job and start to pay their own bills and learn to really, truly become independent human beings. It's exciting and scary and makes my heart beat faster just thinking about it. But I think this decade will be okay. I have high hopes for it.

In the spring semester (and Fall 2012), I made straight As, and this fall semester in my third year of college, I did the same. My grades have improved incredibly these past two years, and I've never been happier about it.

I'm also now working toward becoming certified to teach Journalism, so that I may be able to teach journalism and writing courses at the high school level someday. That's another reason that I haven't written as much this semester: I've become so immersed in the School of Education and all it has to offer that I took a bit of a hiatus from writing about my personal self and focused more on what it means to teach others, to go into a classroom hoping to shape human minds every day. Teaching has always been an itch for me, and I'm so glad I decided to scratch. These last few months of 2013 really opened my eyes to a new world.

Living & Loving

October brought me one of my greatest nights in 2013. On October 5, after three years of waiting, DAYLIGHT finally had its day on the big screen. The hometown premiere was absolutely perfect: it was a night of dressing to the nines, reminiscing and catching up with cast members I hadn't seen in three years and being asked to autograph dozens of posters and DVD copies of the film. I truly felt like a princess on my throne. It was such a special night, and I'm so grateful to have shared it with my family, friends and all those who helped that night come true.
2013, in general, brought me a lot of love. After graduating from USC in May, David came back home late in the summer to organize the DAYLIGHT premiere, get some solid script writing done, and build a shed for his parents (and also to see this one chick he was kinda interested in). Five months of weekend trips home and week-long visits together at school. Five months of day-long writing sessions at the Runcible Spoon; of late night study grinds fueled by spiked coffee; of movie marathons and pumpkin-carving over the Halloween weekend; of day trips to Nashville, dinner dates on 4th Street and discovering new places, on campus and off. Fall of 2013 was one of the best seasons I can remember; it's certainly one of the semesters I will cherish most long after I've left IU.

So now the year draws to an end, and so, too, another chapter of my life will close. Next year brings with it new permissions and new responsibilities. It comes with challenges and new opportunities. I suppose I could be sad at seeing the time slip away, at growing closer and closer to the time when my college years will end and I will truly have to be that twenty-something with the apartment and the job and etc etc etc. But I'm not sad, not yet. Right now, I feel on the verge of experiencing a million different wonderful things. In January, I will begin both a new internship and a new job. I will be attending weekend trips in both Tuskegee, Alabama and Chicago, Illinois. I will begin a new chapter and year of my life. I will learn more, see more, and do more. And I can't wait.

Welcome, 2014.

~ J9

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Crazy for Swayze

Sixty-one years ago today, Patrick Swayze entered the world. Four years ago this September, he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and left his wife of 34 years lonely for the first time. That man was my idol, my first real love man crush, and someone I will always aspire to emulate, in my personal & love life as well as professionally. He chased his dreams and stayed by his woman's side for over three decades, about three decades longer than most Hollywood marriages last. In the spring of 2009,  just months before his death, I wrote a research paper about that marvelously talented man, and I have studiously copied it here below for your reading pleasure. Rest in peace, sweet man.
                                    CRAZY FOR SWAYZE
He stepped into millions of lives as a handsome bouncer in a rinky-dink town who sure knew how to throw a punch. He was the passionate lover, killed by a colleague, who saved his girlfriend from the same fate. He was the irresistible dance instructor who entranced an innocent daddy’s girl at the Catskills and taught us that “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” From a bad-boy greaser to a teenage freedom fighter, Patrick Swayze has been soaring, dancing, and fighting his way into our hearts for years, never ceasing to make women everywhere “Crazy for Swayze.”
Patrick Wayne Swayze was born on August 18, 1952, in Houston, Texas. He had four siblings, two brothers and two sisters, and his parents, Patsy and Jesse. His mother was director of the Houston Jazz Ballet Company, while his father was a dancer and choreographer. Because of his parents’ involvement in dance, Patrick was introduced to it at an early age, and developed a love for ballet. In school, however, he took heat for it, and was teased by the kids in his class.
After middle school, Patrick enrolled in Waltrip High School, where he continued to take part in artistic activities, such as ice skating, classical ballet, and acting in school plays (Patrick Swayze Bio Profile). However, he also put more of a focus on his athletics, participating in sports such as football, swimming, and gymnastics. When graduation rolled around, Patrick was offered both dance and athletic scholarships, but pursued athletics; He enrolled at San Jacinto College in Houston, focusing on gymnastics.
After two years in college, Patrick left school to tour with the Disney on Parade ice show, playing Snow White’s Prince Charming. Following the Disney tour, Patrick returned to his home in Texas. While there, Patrick fell in love with one of his mother’s ballet students, sixteen-year-old Lisa Neimi. In 1972, after spending two years at home, Patrick traveled to New York City to pursue a career in dance. After graduating high school, Lisa joined him in New York; there, they both trained with the Harkness & Joffrey Ballet Companies. On June 2, 1975, Patrick and Lisa sealed their love through marriage, a love that would last for over thirty years.
Shortly after getting married, Patrick was hired as a principal dancer with the Eliot Field Ballet Company. However, an old football injury caused Patrick to undergo surgery on his knee. Unfortunately, his surgery kept him away from dance for a while, and eventually caused him to permanently leave the ballet company. In 1976, Patrick changed courses with his Broadway debut in “Goodtime Charley”. Later, he also appeared in West Side Story, but his biggest role was yet to come. In 1978, Patrick won his first main role, playing Danny Zuko in “Grease”. His success from the musical led to many offers for roles in television and movies.
In 1979, Patrick began his new career, one which would lead to much future success. That year Patrick made his movie debut in Skatetown, U.S.A. Following his first movie, Patrick landed his first television debut as well, portraying a dying leukemia patient on the show M*A*S*H. Later, in 1983, Swayze was cast as Darryl Curtis in Francis Ford Coppola’s movie the Outsiders, where he played alongside several future stars, such as Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, and Diane Lane.
Throughout the mid-80s, Patrick continued making films, such as Red Dawn and Grandview, U.S.A.  Patrick also scored a recurring role on the miniseries “North and South” in 1985 and its sequel in 1986. While the mid-80s didn’t hold many huge hits for Patrick, 1987 brought him the fame he deserved. His breakthrough role as Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing established him as an actor and won him titles such as “Hollywood’s Newest Heartthrob.” He also received his first Golden Globe nomination, and even recorded a song for the soundtrack, entitled “She’s Like the Wind.”
Despite his unforgettable role in Dirty Dancing, several flops followed Patrick’s overnight stardom. In 1989, Patrick starred in Roadhouse and Next of Kin, two action-packed films that were most successful. Next, however, came Patrick’s biggest hit and most memorable claim to fame. In 1990, he won the lead role of Sam Wheat in Jerry Zucker’s film Ghost, where he starred alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore. The movie grossed over $200,000,000 in the box office and earned Swayze his second Golden Globe nomination. The following year in 1991, Patrick appeared on the cover of People Magazine as “Sexiest Man Alive,” solidifying his fame in the hearts of women everywhere.
Sadly, after so much success, things seemed to take a turn for the worst in Patrick’s family life and career. In 1994, Patrick’s sister Vicky died of a drug overdose, having suffered depression throughout her life. “Her death changed my life,” Swayze said in an interview. “It was hard not to feel responsible, that I could’ve done something to prevent it” (Middlehurst).  In 1997, Patrick returned to work. However, while filming Letters From a Killer, Patrick broke his right leg during a horse-riding accident. Severe drinking problems and a line of unsuccessful movies in the late ‘90s soon followed and greatly hindered his career. Following his drinking escapades, Swayze checked himself into rehab to fix his alcoholic ways. After leaving rehab, he and Lisa retreated to their ranch in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountain range in California.
After letting his career spiral downward for so long, Patrick decided to take control again. With movies like Forever Lulu(2000) and Waking Up in Reno(2002), he made a comeback in the film industry. In 2001, Patrick also starred in the film Donnie Darko, an independent film that didn’t take well in theatres. However, in DVD sales the film made more than $10,000,000 and was publicized by critics as “the best independent film of 2001”. He also amazed audiences with his omnipresent dancing skills in One Last Dance (2003) and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004), a sequel to his 1987 original.
Now fifty-six, Patrick has been acting for more than thirty years, and continues to appear in film and television today. Recently, Patrick has starred in movies such as the2007 thriller Jump! and Powder Blue, set for release this year. He has also started filming for his new TV show, called “The Beast”. In the series, Swayze portrays an FBI veteran named Charles Barker who trains his new partner in a hard-edged approach to undercover work. The show aired January 15, 2009 on A&E (Olsson).
While Patrick’s career seemed to be taking off, December of 2007 brought new problems¾life-threatening ones. While attending a New Year’s Eve Party, Patrick drank some wine, but after only a sip, he knew something was wrong. Only that little bit of wine made it hard for him to breathe and made his throat sting and burn. He went to see a doctor several weeks later, and in March of 2008 was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a very serious cancer. To make matters worse, he was told that the cancer was at Stage IV, the most advanced level, meaning that the cancer had already spread to other parts of the body. Doctors who treated him gave him months to live.
Despite warnings from doctors and friends, Patrick has continued filming for “The Beast”. In early 2009, Patrick was admitted to the hospital when he contracted pneumonia. As if pancreatic cancer wasn’t enough, adding pneumonia to it could’ve been incredibly fatal, killing him in a matter of days. One year after diagnosis, however, Swayze is alive, optimistic, and ready for anything. While he’s not as physically healthy as he once was, he’s not giving up without a fight. Swayze refuses to give up doing what he loves and stop enjoying life because of cancer. When asked by Barbara Walters how he responds to people claiming he’s on the verge of death, he had one reply. “Watch me!” he said, “You watch what I pull off.”

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Eight days, two horrible sunburns, and approximately 53 mosquito bites later, it's official: I'm back in the Midwest. Instead of crepes and scones in the mornings, I get coffee and Special K. For dinner, I'm back to Lean Cuisines. Okay, that's not completely fair...my mom has made plenty of delicious home-cooked meals since we got back. But there's been no French fare involved, and, quite unfortunately, no wine of any sort.

In the week that I've been back, three kids at camp have had to go to the hospital. The entire rest of the summer, these kids have had no big issues...one bloody nose, one black eye, and a cut here or there. But requiring an ambulance three times since Monday is a bit ridiculous.

On Monday, one boy cut the bridge of his nose on a ramp at the swimming pool, creating a cut right between his eyes. Only required one stitch and the boy didn't even feel the injury happen; bled like crazy. That same afternoon, another boy got his fingers slammed in the bathroom door. This boy definitely felt it. Screams rang out from the hallway and he was half-carried down the hall, wailing and holding his bloody hand. A piece of the skin fell off of his finger, and the skin was completely removed from the bone in one area. He fractured the bone; got four sutures and a finger cast. The last boy got a basketball thrown at him in the gym today...this injury, while unintentional, was the result of an intentional throw done out of anger. He broke his finger, and no blood was shed. But for me, it was the worst to watch, because his thumb was bent backward and stuck in a position where typically the knuckle would be....

                                                  *vomit break*

So, yeah, I'm ready to go back to school.

This job has had it's ups and downs, for certain. But, it's taught me that there are no vile children, no vicious children. There are simply vile, vicious intentions, molded into actions that are then performed by regular, halfway-decent kids. These little humans have really made me fall in love with them, each in their own way. Of course, they've also made me unsure of my once solid plan to have three children and have convinced me that I don't want any number of children for a long, long time.

Still, they've shown me so much that is good about them. Up-and-coming generations always get a bad wrap, and you'd think that by now we'd realize that's just the pattern. This time around, it's technology that's frying their brains. We're all like, hey, we were kinda bad as kids, but just look at this generation! They're going to be fat slugs dominated by robots within the next twenty years, guaranteed. And I'm not totally convinced this is untrue. It makes sense for each generation to seem worse to us...the world is constantly changing, and none of us is growing up in the world that our parents did.

In twenty years, judging by the way things are going now, the world may be much worse off than it has been. But we contributed to that. The current generations and all previous ones raise the next. These children will inherit the world their ancestors left them, just like my generation is doing now.

I don't want this to be a soapbox spiel. It's just something to think about when we start pointing fingers. We can shake our heads in shame when we read that a 10-year-old girl has sexted a naked photo of herself to some pre-pubescent boy, wondering why for the love of god did she even need a phone at that age. But look what we've been raised on! Sure, we didn't get phones until maybe 13 or 15, but our parents didn't even have cell phones back in the day. Every run-of-the-mill innovation, every machine that is now 'old hat' was once shiny and new.

                        Moving pictures?! A sure sign of the APOCALYPSE!!!

And, on that same note, every kid of the past was as much a product of their surroundings and upbringing as they are today. The way people behave and the crazy things they do is a sign of the times. The world these kids will be inheriting isn't in the best shape it could be, but when has it ever been? We shake our heads, but maybe these kids will improve all that's wrong with the world, save the polar bears and end child pornography and all that jazz. Who knows? Only time will tell. For now, adults just have to stop complaining and do the best we can, for posterity's sake.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Crown Jewels / Palaces / Until We Meet Again

Today, we reached the end of our journey here in England. Tomorrow morning, we will board a plane and head back home to the states, taking with us new memories, new vocabularies, new souvenirs and tchotchkes galore. I will miss my weeks spent in Europe dearly, and though I'm ready to see everyone back home again, I would gladly stay here another three weeks. But before we start the tears, let me backtrack a couple of days....

starting with Sunday. After a couple days of taxi riding, we were ready to take on the subway to assist with our heavy-duty sightseeing. We started our morning by hitting up the London Tower, where we'd planned to go on Saturday but arrived too late. Nevertheless, it was worth the wait. We went on a guided tour with a large group around the interior wall of the castle (inside the exterior gate) and learned about the royals who lived there, the royals who were beheaded there (lawfully), and the prisoners who were kept in the Bloody Tower....including Sir Walter Raleigh, who spent years of his life in a tiny cell there.

After the guided tour, we lined up to see the most prized possessions in all of London town, the creme de la creme: the Crown Jewels. Now I love diamonds and jewels as much as any girl, if only because I like watching them shine. But I was truly taken off-guard by just how gorgeous and ornate these crowns were. Each and every one of them was so decadent, so magnificently superior to any other diamond-encrusted thing I've ever seen that I could not believe my eyes.

It sounds like I'm embellishing my story, but this was real life. My pulse started quickening and I could feel my heart beating a little faster. It was ridiculous, but these gems actually caused a physiological thrill in me. It was perfect.Unfortunately, we couldn't take any pictures in the gallery (believe me, I tried to sneak one). But I guess it's better that way, because a picture couldn't possibly do justice to the real things.

After spending some hours on the grounds, we got Subway for lunch (my brother was so happy) and made our way back to the underground where we rode to the Empire Theatre. When I was a senior in high school, my boyfriend David directed his own feature-length film. I was in it; that's how I met him. And that film, DAYLIGHT, is showing next month during Frightfest (film festival) at the Empire Theatre in London. It was unreal to see a film that he directed and I acted in written on a Frightfest schedule in London, England. One of the employees told me they sell out every year...1,300 people come to this event! Like I said, unreal.

We left the theatre district and walked around Leicester Square for a bit before heading back on the subway. As it was nearing dusk, we headed for Westminster. Our main goal for the night: ride the London Eye. Just about sunset time, we got up into the air and could see the entire city silhouetted against the setting sun. It was a most gorgeous night, and this time, I got to take pictures...these ones don't do the real thing justice, either.

Following our ride on the Eye, we had dinner at an Italian place on the same road as Troia. That road is completely owning it, because that restaurant was also wonderful. We ate outside to enjoy the cool weather, but the inside of the place had Godfather and Goodfellas framed photos everywhere. These Italians were legit.

We caught the subway after dinner, and all was fine...until we came out of the subway ten minutes later and it was pouring rain. Freezing cold rain. We ran the two blocks from the sub station to our hotel, myself shivering in shorts, and collapsed on the beds.

Monday was an early morning, but an exciting one: we were going to tour Buckingham Palace! Only open for two months of the year while the Queen is on vacation, the first day for tours was on Saturday, just after the Queen and Prince Edward left for Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Because of this, the morning changing of the guards ceremony was extra jam-packed, with lines ten-people deep outside the front gates. Still, I snaked my way through and got a couple good views of the guards' bearskin hats. Whoo! Thrilling.

As you can imagine, the Queen's home is also not a place where they want you taking pictures of the inside, so I have no photographic evidence to show for my visit, but oh my stars, it was extravagant. Did you know they have 78 bathrooms in the palace? 78 bathrooms!! I can't even imagine. They have hundreds of bedrooms and windows out the wazoo. I counted 78 on one wall facing the inner courtyard. As you can see from this lovely picture taken from the Internet (BBC), you would have to multiply that one wall by 8 to figure out how many windows are on every side of the palace. That comes to more than 628 windows.

                  And that's not including that lump on the southwestern corner.

We spent the better part of five hours there, touring the State rooms inside and then having lunch on the back lawn. It was really a splendid afternoon. From Buckingham Palace we took the subway to another type of palace: Harrods department store on Brompton Rd. One of the most famous department stores in the world, Harrods instantly made me understand why.

You could spend days in the place, which is about eight stories tall and takes up an entire city block. Inside and out, the store is such a sight to see. Whole floors are dedicated to Menswear and Womenswear, one floor allocated to each. Another floor is just food, all types: meat, fish, bread, cupcakes, quiches, chocolates, cheese, juices, wine, cakes, etc. etc. etc. Another floor is just books, cards, souvenirs, and home decorations, while another floor is for music and electronics (including a stunning TV not yet available in the U.S.).

We really only had time for about three floors, and we were there for three hours. I'm telling you, that's a day's worth of entertainment, easily. I can't wait to go back. When I get married, that is where I'll be registered. One set of bedsheets I saw cost 1100 pounds...but don't worry, you have a few years before the wedding.

Once Harrods closed, we shopped the souvenir shops along that road for almost an hour (Jeanine was not happy about this because she was wearing heels and let everybody know it), then finally made our way back onto the subway as it began to rain for the third night in a row. We stopped at a grocery store and I picked out some dinner, while my family ordered room service once we got back to the hotel. Dinner would've been incomplete, though, without a delicious cupcake from Harrods to seal the meal.

So: here we are, back at Tuesday. This morning was rainy and cool, which was a nice change of pace from rainy nights and sunny mornings. We started it at Abbey Road, taking a taxi to the spot where John, Paul, George and Ringo famously crossed the street with no apparent traffic to be seen. Let me tell you, though, either traffic has significantly increased in this spot over the past 50 years, or they blocked off that road for their shoot...hmm...

                Hard to tell the difference, right?

Despite the lot of cars that honked at the several Beatles fans beside me, and despite all those fans who also wanted their pictures taken, I got my turn, and I crossed that road happily. We thanked the cab driver for stopping and headed on to Kensington Palace, the estate where dozens of royals have historically resided, and where Will & Kate plan to live after visiting her parents with little George.

The grounds were beautiful, even in the morning fogginess and scattered rain, and inside the museum building on the property we learned all about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's love, marriage, and leadership in the 1850s. It was quite interesting, much more than I expected. Also, after all these royal exhibits and museums, I think I know more about the history of England's royalty than I do about past U.S. Presidents.

Several hours later, we walked through the public park outside the palace and got back into the subway. We rode around for picture taking for an hour or so, first to Buckingham Palace--which was now much less crowded outside--and then to Trafalgar Square, where we got some pictures with a lion.

Going on 7pm, our last stop of the day was at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, a staple of all big cities and a personal favorite for me. We spent an hour touring before they closed, getting pictures with the likes of Tom Cruise, Bob Marley, and even Holly Golightly.

Finally, our night ended back at the hotel, where we got dinner at one of the restaurants on the main floor. The last meal of the trip is always a deeply reflective one, and tonight John shocked everyone by saying he'd have liked to stay a bit longer. John is a homebody, and no matter how great a vacation is, he's always ready to get back home to his friends, his video games, and his cat. But the fact that he wanted to stay really says something about this trip, even more-so about the places we've visited over the past 17 days. It's been a whirlwind trip, but I've been grateful to have it all, and I promise that this, my first time in Europe, is one I'll not soon forget.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

When In London

Thursday marked our last day in Edinburgh, and Scotland, before heading on to England. We woke up to a foggy sky and chilly weather, but I loved it. Our first stop was the Royal Yacht Britannia also called the HMY (Her Majesty's Yacht) Britannia. Docked in Edinburgh since the 1990s, it can now be rented out for wedding parties and other events, but formerly belonged to the Queen of England. She sailed around the world on it at least once every year of her life before it was docked; in the '80s, the yacht celebrated 1 million miles sailed. Good thing it's not a car.

During the tour, we enjoyed tea & cakes on board in the upper dining hall, overlooking the water, but indoors (which was good, as it had started raining). The yacht was docked right by the large Edinburgh mall, so of course we made a little bit more time for shopping afterward. Leaving the mall, we caught a cab to our next tour: the Edinburgh Dungeon tour.

Most of the Dungeon tour took place in musty, dark rooms and halls, with sudden sounds and actors popping up from behind to scare you...it was like a spook house with commentary. Each new room meant a new actor, playing the role of someone who would've lived in Edinburgh in the 18th century...for instance, William Burke & William Hare, who began murdering people and turning in their bodies to the medical community to be used as cadavers, which they were then paid for. We also learned about gruesome torture techniques, many of which I knew, some of which I didn't. All sounded terrifying, but I'm constantly fascinated by that stuff. Probably because I didn't have to live with any of it.

The next morning, we woke up early because we had a flight to catch. Friday, however, was not a great morning. Our flight was delayed for three hours, which we spent sitting in the airport. After we finally were able to board the plane, however, they kept us on the tarmac for another hour and a half due to some other issue. I slept for most of that time, and half of the flight as well (which was just an hour...for all that!).

We finally ended up at the Heathrow airport, an hour's drive from London, around 5:30pm, and got a cab that took us straight to our hotel in the city. After the long hours spent at the airport and then the drive in the cab, we were all exhausted. But...surprise! My mom and dad had planned for us to attend a musical on our first night in London, not expecting any troubles with the flight that day. The show was Matilda, a musical based off of the book by Roald Dahl (one of my absolute favorite children's movies), so I forgot all my desire to rest and got ready in no time flat. The show started at 7:30, so we all had to book it. We ended up being a little late and missed the first few minutes of the show, but the next 2.5 hours made up for that entirely. The show was absolutely stunning. The set work was great, every scene change was flawless, Matilda was darling (and had a beautiful voice), and the Trunchbull was played by a man, who portrayed her as horrifically ugly and yet hilarious. I loved every last bit of it, and yes, I was crying at the end. But hiding it, obviously.

                            I can't even look at this. I'm tearing up. 

After the show, the streets were crowded with young couples because the theatre district is aptly surrounded by bars and pubs. Finally, though, we found a place called Ed's Diner, a Londoner's version of Johnny Rockets, and we sat at barstools around a big, U-shaped counter. I kept putting 50 pence in the mini jukebox on my section of the counter, playing Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross, while others requested songs by ABBA and Simon & Garfunkel. I even got up and danced at the end, when they were about to close and my mom was chatting with our waiter about his hometown in Germany. It was a good night.

Saturday was my baby brother's sweet 16th birthday, and our first real day of exploring London. We started the day with breakfast at the hotel. We're staying at a Hilton here in downtown London, so while it wasn't complimentary, you can bet that breakfast was delicious.

We then walked a few blocks from the hotel and grabbed a double-decker bus, touring London from up top while my shoulders and nose got burned by wind and sun. It was a hot, hot day, but the tour was wonderful...we saw where Brad Pitt stayed when he was here for the World War Z premiere a few weeks ago, drove right past J.K. Rowling's house, and saw the hotel where Kate and her family stayed before she and Will were married (in addition to learning a lot of rich historical facts about the city, of course).

We hopped off the tour bus along Westminster Bridge, getting dozens of traditional Big Ben/ London Eye pics before walking across the bridge (in the blazing sun while I was wearing jeans, I might add) to Westminster Abbey itself. Now, I don't like to over-exaggerate things unless it's in a sarcastic, ironic way, but I honestly have no words for the inside of that abbey. The size and scale of it is staggering; walking through, I think it's impossible not to dwell on the age of the place, how many kings, queens, knights and scholars have stood where you are standing. To be in a place where Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and Handel (among others) are all buried was beyond comprehension for me.

After spending an hour or so in the abbey, we headed back to catch the bus and it started raining. It was quite beautiful, though...it's almost more beautiful in London when the sky is gray and cloudy than anything else. In some places, the rain just fits.

Our bus ride led us to the Tower of London, where we were headed for a tour before it closed for the day. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time left before closing to really enjoy the tour and not speed through. Luckily, the tickets were good for the whole week, not just Saturday, so we decided we'd come back Sunday afternoon.

We got some Ben & Jerry's ice cream and hung out in gift shops for a little while to get out of the rain. After it let up a bit, we headed out towards the Thames River for a boat cruise/ tour. We rode along the Thames for 45 minutes up at the top of the boat, taking in the sights just before sunset. Among other things, we saw an exact replica of Shakespeare's theatre in the round, and The Dove, a pub where Hemingway allegedly spent much time. Those two were especially exciting for me.

After our ride, we were back on the Westminster side of the Thames (the other side is the London side, although they are both actually London) and decided to find dinner. After searching for about 20 minutes for something other than Italian, we finally found a Mediterranean place called Troia. They had great food (I got a fantastic Greek salad), and for dessert we surprised John with a big slice of chocolate cake, his favorite. The waitress was super sweet and came out singing 'Happy Birthday' to him.

Dinner knocked us out, and after we'd stumbled around to some souvenir and grocery shops, we hailed a taxi and ended back at the hotel.