Happy Holidays! Christmas in America and New Year’s Eve in London

Getting upgraded to first class with Delta on my 9-hour flight home to America basically set the standard for how the rest of my vacation would go…free drinks and a reclining seat all the way home, baby. It was a fantastic break, and SO nice to be home with family. Saw lots of friends, spent most of our time with family (aka drove back and forth a lot between Nebraska and Missouri), AND I shot some guns. Lucky for my boyfriend, a friend let me borrow her shotgun and I was surprised how much I enjoyed shooting that gun. It might just become a hobby. Hunting though…that’s another ball game. Good luck, Jarin 😉

2014_12_20_6109Best Christmas present ever: a cookbook with handwritten copies of mom’s recipes.

DSC_0182Jarin’s family, wearing the hats from the Christmas crackers we brought home from London.

DSC_0183 (2)Bald eagle in front of the house….so cool. America.

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Shootin’ school. I was taking notes. (And pictures.)

We headed back to London before New Years because we wanted to celebrate in London, and I’m so glad we did. Unfortunately, this year was the first year that you had to buy a ticket to see the fireworks. We didn’t get tickets because we thought we could just meander down that way and surely find a decent spot to watch from. WRONG. They weren’t joking when they said they’d have all viewable places blocked off. And heavily secured. We were steered through the Embankment station up to the Strand on a very inflexible route…which made for a crowded walk.

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Once on the Strand the crowd dissipated a bit because, thankfully, they had the street blocked off from traffic. We walked down the Strand towards Somerset house and really lucked out, because the security working Waterloo bridge decided to gift everyone with a free entrance to the bridge.

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See the green security gates on either side? They were everywhere.

Made for a tight walk through security, but once we were on the bridge it was perfect. Room to take some beautiful shots of London at night:

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And had time to spare to get set up for the fireworks. As cheesy as it sounds, I used some of that time to reflect on how lucky I am to be pursuing my dreams in this marvelous, historic city. I’ve touched on my story previously, but it really has been an incredible ride getting everything in place for London to happen – and it wouldn’t have happened if this kid hadn’t brought up the idea. So I owe a lot of this journey to him, and am grateful that we get to experience it together. 🙂

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I had time to get switched over from camera to video, and was able to record the first part of the show. With no further ado, for your viewing pleasure, here is our view of the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebration in London. (Listen for Big Ben…coolest thing ever!!)

(goshdang WordPress isn’t letting me embed the video. Boo. Check it out on YouTube!)

Home will always be the Midwest for us, but while we’re living in London we’re absolutely making the most of it.

Here’s to a fabulous 2015!!

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Takeaway Tidbit: Make 2015 your year 🙂

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Houses of Parliament and the no-good-very-bad night bus

This weekend I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Houses of Parliament with my London Ambassador program (for those of you who don’t know, I was chosen to represent Queen Mary as a LUIP Ambassador for the year–It’s been an incredible experience so far, with more to come!).

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The tour was absolutely perfect, thanks to our tour guide Joanna. We weren’t allowed to take pictures once inside the official Houses of Parliament, but if you’re in London and interested in politics and/or history this tour is DEFINITELY worth your time. Ask for Joanna if you can, our coordinator Kim said Joanna gave the best tour she’s experienced (and she’s been accompanying the Ambassadors on tours since the program started, so she should know!).

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The tour gathered in Westminster Hall, on the Big Ben side of the building. Joanna themed our tour around the events of the State Opening of Parliament, which marks the start of each new parliamentary session and is the only day of the year when all three parts of Parliament come together AND the only day on which the Queen enters the Parliamentary buildings. (If you’re interested in finding out more about the State Opening, this website has an excellent, short overview of the day.) Since the theme was the State Opening we began our tour on the opposite side of the complex, in the Victoria Tower:

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We proceeded through the Palace of Westminster (commonly referred to as the Houses of Parliament) from the Victoria Tower to the clock tower (aka Big Ben) accompanied by Joanna’s excellent commentary on the history of the building, the explanations and historical significance of the traditions associated with the State Opening, the current practices of Parliament (which can change relatively easily in comparison to the US, since the UK doesn’t have a written constitution), and the general history of the English monarchy which was illustrated by paintings  throughout the tour.

We finished the tour where we started, in Westminster Hall, where in 1649 they chopped off Charles I’s head and simultaneously planted the seeds for the eventual development of modern-day autonomous government.  I should have put it together prior to my visit, but the current practices of Parliament are a direct result of the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution and the subsequent cultural shifts that happened over the course of the Enlightenment era. Aka everything I’ve been reading, writing, and talking about in classes for the last three months. It was fun to see how the time period I’m studying connects in a very real, powerful way to today’s 21st-century government.

IMG_0582Inside Westminster Hall

After the tour, my boyfriend and I headed over to a friend’s house for homemade pizza, drinks, and good company. We chatted, ate, made some new friends and ended up enjoying the atmosphere so much that we missed the last train for home. At that point, we realized were left with some pretty unfortunate transportation options.

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Fun times with friends=don’t want to leave=miss the train=night bus 😦

I knew the night buses existed but had always been cautioned against taking them if it could be avoided at all costs. Now I know why. BUT, since neither Jarin nor I had taken one before, we figured it couldn’t be that bad. Plus we were extremely far away from home and financing a cab ride for that distance would have required another loan. The fact that it was raining didn’t really lend itself to the enjoyableness of the experience, but to sum it up quickly: night(mare) buses don’t have the fleet size or run as frequently as regular daytime buses SO you wait longer for one to arrive, ride longer since they have extended routes, get some…interesting characters considering they are the cheapest form of transportation after 1am, and have much less personal space than usual on a bus. And did I mention the ride is longer? Like, significantly longer. What is normally a 45-minute tube ride turned into a 3-hour marathon. Didn’t get home til 3:30.

Good thing the next day was a Sunday 🙂 It was worth it for the experience, but I’ll be making it a point to get to the tube on time from now on.

All-in-all though, it was an excellent Saturday!

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 Takeaway Tidbit: Visit Parliament. And avoid night buses. Most importantly, pizza parties with friends are the best.

The hustle-and-bustle revelation.

With orientation sessions and induction ceremonies, Monday marked the start of my life regaining some semblance of structure.

Blog8 Oh, the joys a schedule can bring…  ❤

I think I enjoyed the two-month hiatus from any and all planned activities, but for those of you who don’t know me as well I am a very social and over-involved type-A routine-driven person. Consequently, not having any plans for eight weeks was surprisingly debilitating for me, especially because I found myself in a cultured, diverse, and very large city and I felt like I had to experience literally everything London had to offer but had way too many places to start. (Rough life, right? 😉 )

Thanks in part to my pretentious drive to be involved in too many things at once, it took me much longer than it should have to accept that it’s unrealistic to plan to participate in even a quarter of the activities happening each day in London. You’re lucky to make it to one or two. Maybe three, on a good day. And that’s okay. The “it’s okay” part is where I struggled most, but didn’t realize I was struggling until one of my orientation sessions for school this week. The very wise and welcoming chaplain on campus, Jenny from Australia, presented a lovely session on London and the local area around campus. She was informative and entertaining, but for all the relevant information she shared the thing that stuck with me most was her assurance that I’m not going to do everything, and that’s okay.

Prior to Jenny’s revelation (thankfully!), I was able to move past my physical debilitation and have  experienced and appreciated London as much as possible during my sabbatical. But it wasn’t until her comment that I realized I was still feeling guilty for not doing more, seeing more, traveling, eating, smelling, visiting more around my vibrant city.

With her three simple words, she helped me to reflect and realize that just because I moved from the US to London doesn’t mean I’m on a permanent vacation. I need a normal life too. I’m allowed to sit at home on a Friday because I need to do some schoolwork. The world will continue spinning if I don’t make it to the popup food market in Brixton on Tuesday. I don’t have to feel guilty for not trying to pursue everything. It’s okay.

Takeaway Tidbit: Take advantage of all the opportunities to experience life in London, but remember that it’s okay to have some down time too 🙂