Friday, August 5, 2011

July 12th

Very busy day today. I started by going back to the Fashion Museum to see their brand new movie costumes exhibit which was great. I especially liked the rather sizable showing from The Duchess. All the costumes were accompanied by some sort of set piece, whether it be a painted backdrop or some mirrors or even a little throne room set up which gave a great sense of atmosphere. There were also some renderings on display. Another really nice touch was that they had music playing from the soundtracks to all the movies represented.

Then I headed over to the Roman Baths which are insanely crowded. I bought a combo ticket for the Fashion Museum and the Baths while at the first museum, which I highly recommend as I could skip the lines. The Baths are open until late at night so I'd be interested to see them in the evening and without the crowds. As it was, I saw them during the day. The accompanying museum was interesting but I didn't really stop to look at much as I was trying to beat this insanely large group of students through the tour (because I started out behind them and that is an experience I did not want to repeat). After the museum you got to explore the actual Baths which were really cool. At one of them they had these film bits projected onto the wall of Romans hanging around and doing things, so you got a sense of what the Baths were like in history, which was really interesting. It's just so fascinating to think that people had been swimming in those very waters for thousands of years. I left the Baths through the Pump Room, which is now a super fancy restaurant.

Then I wandered around the city a bit more, seeing some of the architectural sites, before heading back to the hostel to meet Charlie and go back to her and Jason's place for another home cooked meal. This time it was delicious spaghetti and home made meatballs. And, as I'd talked to my mom on skype plenty of times but hadn't actually seen her because I was only using my ipod touch, they were kind enough to let me borrow their computer with a webcam so I could talk to her face to face. And I also took the opportunity to talk to a million other people face to face and it was wonderful. Getting to see your friends and family is so nice after being gone for so long. I'm leaving Bath tomorrow, so saying goodbye was sad. It's crazy how you can make such good friends in such a short amount of time.

July 10th

When I got back to the hostel today I was pretty much dead, but I wanted to tell all my friends about my perfect night right away so I went upstairs and changed into some PJs, went back to the lobby to use the internet and facebook everybody, and then went back upstairs and passed out in bed. I woke up in the late afternoon but after a day like yesterday I didn't really feel like doing anything but lazing around with a dopey grin on my face and feeling wonderful.

Then I got a call from my new friend Jason, who asked if I was still up for a Sunday roast with him and his wife. First I have a fairy tale evening, then I get a home cooked meal! Hoorah! Charlie and Jason's place has the most amazing view on the whole planet, it's really not fair. Their living room looks over the English countryside with all these lovely hills.

Naturally the first order of business when I got there was to gush about last night and show them all the pictures and gush some more. Then Charlie cooked an amazing Sunday roast, and there was even Yorkshire pudding as I had said that I'd never had any (it was delicious!). After dinner we sat around the living room and watched Harry Potter. I can't even tell you how nice it was to have a quiet homey evening. I haven't had one in months. Just relaxing in a living room watching a movie after a home cooked meal was just what the doctor ordered.

I got a cab home and when the driver found out I'm American he treated me to his views on American politics. It was amusing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Roaming Redhead's Guide to Europe: Hostel Reviews Part 1

City Backpackers

Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Rating: 5/5 Swedish Meatballs

This hostel is a really easy walk from the main train station, so don't worry about public transportation. It's pretty much a straight shot down the road and if I didn't get lost you won't. It's located right next to an ATM, and right next to the main shopping street that has touristy shops, restaurants, and clothing stores. This is also the street that goes straight down to the historic district. It's about a ten minute walk to the historic area, where you can see palaces and museums and catch a boat to other areas. The hostel is clean, and provides a locker (you provide the lock) and a reading lamp for every bunk. My room had en suite showers, but no en suite toilet which was a little annoying. Wifi is free as are the computers, and there's a great little common area with couches and a TV where I made a lot of friends. A fully stocked kitchen is provided so you can save some money and buy a box of pasta and make it yourself. There's also an outdoor common area with couches and blankets because Sweden is cold. The staff is very friendly and they all speak good English. There's also a little cafe at reception where you can get coffee and muffins and fruit and the like, and they were happy to fill up my water bottle for me every morning. The hostel is very safe, there's a code to get into the building with the dorms which changes every day, and a separate code to get into your room. You can get a single gender or mixed room. Bring your own sheets and pillow case, as bedding costs extra and a sleeping bag doesn't count (I used mine anyways). Also, it's Swedish tradition to take your shoes off indoors so make sure your feet don't smell!

Copenhagen City Hostel

Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Rating: 3/5 Yorick's Skulls

This hostel is INSANELY HUGE. It used to be an office building. It's pretty centrally located and it's an easy walk from the train station. The rooms are clean, but the bed organization is a little weird. I was in a six bed dorm, and two of the beds were pushed right next to each other, basically creating one giant bed. This was fine as they were taken by Sarai and I, but if I was alone I would be super uncomfortable sleeping there. Especially because they don't have gender specific rooms, so there's a chance you could be sleeping next to a man who may or may not be a creeper. I felt pretty safe, you use your keycard to work the elevator and to get into your room. They provide a locker (you provide the lock) and a reading light for every bed. There's a bar on the first floor which can get kind of loud at night. You have to pay by the hour to use the computers and they say wifi is free if you have your own device (like a computer or ipod touch) but we could never get it to work in our room. Bedding costs extra and once again a sleeping bag doesn't count. In the basement there's a little common area with a TV and a few couches but it wasn't really as warm and inviting as the one in Stockholm. I never really hung out there and it didn't seem like a place to make friends. The staff are very helpful and fluent in English, and some one is at reception 24 hours a day.

Hostel Ruthensteiner

Location: Vienna, Austria
Rating: 5/5 Wiener Schnitzels

This is probably the nicest hostel I stayed at. The walls were painted lovely colors, there were nice hardwood floors, gorgeous outdoor areas to hang out in, even pictures on the walls in the dorm! The staff was very friendly and helpful and some one is at the front desk 24 hours. There's a really nice kitchen, and even an outdoor grill. Everything is really clean. The common areas are comfortable and a great place to hang out and make friends and there's a bar, but it closes down at midnight (I think) and there are hostel wide quiet hours so don't worry about loosing any sleep. This hostel is a quick walk from the train station and is located on a quiet street right off of the main shopping street. There's plenty of cheap restaurants and grocery stores right next to the hostel. It's also an easy walk to see the sites, you just go down the street for 15 minutes to get to the museum area, opera house, and palaces, and about 20 minutes the other way to get to Schonbrunn Palace. I walked alone at night back to the hostel from both Schonbrunn and the opera house and felt perfectly safe. Don't worry about bringing your own bedding, and every bed has an outlet and reading lamp. You use an old fashioned key to get into your room, and another key to get into your locker. The computers cost money but wifi is free if you have your own device. The shower was a little wonky, the spray would stop after a ridiculously short amount of time so you kept having to press the button over and over to get a full wash in.

Villa Olmo Hostel

Location: Como, Lake Como, Italy
Rating: 2/5 Lasagnas

This is a place to sleep. I do want to say that the staff is insanely nice. It's run by a family and they are lovely and accommodating and understanding if you have train issues and need to check in a little late. You feel like a part of their family. That said, this is a place to sleep. The hostel closes down from 10-4, and has a midnight curfew. The mattresses are really uncomfortable, but bedding is provided. There are no reading lamps which I didn't realize would be a problem until I didn't have one and wanted to read. This is a really basic place. You have a locker, and there are a bunch of basic metal bunk beds, a bathroom, and that's it. The dorms are gender divided. There is a common area in the little reception building with a computer (pay to use) and free wifi, and while there isn't a kitchen they do provide breakfast and dinner (dinner costs extra). It's a bit of a schlep to the train station but doable, and there are signs pointing the way to the hostel along the roads. It's located right next to the Villa Olmo (the hostel used to be the Villa Olmo's stables) which has a nice little park area for sitting by the lake and enjoying the view. It's also about a 10 minute walk to town. There are a few restaurants close by, but your best bet is going into town to eat. And the staff is really really friendly!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My trip may be coming to a close tomorrow but keep checking the blog for more exciting content like:

- What I did during the rest of July
- Pictures
- Academic ramblings


The Roaming Redhead's Guide to Europe
With travel tips, hostel reviews, what to see, and more!

"Better than Rick Steves!!" -The New York Times

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 9th: The Day Every Dream Came True

I have spent months looking forward to my Regency ball, which happened today. I've been carrying my Regency dress in my backpack all over Europe, decorating it as I've gone along. I have spent YEARS longing to go to a period ball in a period location in Europe. It has been a life long dream of mine. And today it actually happened.

The first order of business was the dance lesson in the afternoon. We learned six dances, including a waltz and Jane Austen's favorite dance. I picked them up pretty quickly and had a great time. Regency dancing is such fun! You get to gallop around and swing people in circles and there was live music for us to dance to. I sat down at a table with a few women at it who I ended up making friends with and dancing with in the afternoon. Emma and Ruth attended the ball last year, and there was also a foreign girl whose name I didn't get but for the sake of easiness let's call her Jane. Jane was my partner for the afternoon and we took turns being the man and the woman. It was all great fun. While I was learning the dances I was also scoping out the men, because what I wanted more than anything was to dance with a handsome gentleman in a perfect costume. Things didn't look promising. But I comforted myself by saying that there would be more people at the ball. Then about halfway through the dance lesson this group of four gentlemen in PERFECT costumes came in which immediately got my attention. I should probably point out that most people weren't in costume for the lesson so it was especially fun to see some Regency gentlemen walk in. I immediately determined that I would dance with one of them during the ball. In particular there was a very handsome gentleman who shall be hereafter referred to as Mr. Tilney. Now not only have I spent months looking forward to this ball, but I have also spent months daydreaming about meeting a handsome gentleman in a perfect costume and dancing with him and having a bit of romance. But never in a million years did I think it would actually happen. Little did I know...

So I went home after the lesson and got ready for the ball. About 15 minutes before I left I was sitting, giving my camera a bit of juice while I waited to leave, and my heart was literally pounding. I had butterflies in my stomach and my breath was coming quick. What if no one talked to me? What if no one danced with me? What if I was miserable? What if years and years of dreaming ended up in a horrible evening?

I walked down to The Guildhall where the ball was and met up with Emma, Ruth, and Jane. We all took some pictures and then the doors were opened and the ball began. The room we were in had GORGEOUS chandeliers from the 18th century, worth a million pounds each. I have seen my fair share of chandeliers on this trip, but these were the most beautiful. The room has neoclassical decorations, and was painted a pale green with some gold and white decorations. Simply BEAUTIFUL. The perfect place for a ball!!!! When we walked in there was a man with a large cane and a quizzing glass, and he would bang his cane on the floor and announce us. "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. MISS [MY LAST NAME] FROM THE COLONIES." I've never been announced before, it was awesome!

I was sitting at the Mr. Knightley table, which was fine. I got there at exactly 7 and the dancing didn't start until 7:30, so everyone had a half hour to mill about and get acquainted and watch as everyone came in. The people at my table were nice and all, but it was a lot of older couples and the conversation wasn't really great. I saw that Emma and Ruth were sitting across the room at the Edward Ferrars table so I walked over to chat. When I got there they said "You know those really well dressed men from before? They're all sitting at our table." I immediately determined to stay. This was my opportunity to see if I could get one to dance with me! Perhaps even Mr. Tilney! So I sat down and talked with Emma and Ruth, and everyone else started filtering in. I made friends with Ben, one of the well dressed gentlemen, and Michelle, his date. Ben and his group are all reenactors with a Napoleonic regiment, which explains the perfection of the costumes. We all quickly made friends, and I mentioned that I actually wasn't assigned to that particular table. There was one spare chair, which I was sitting in, but by that point we were all friends so Michelle, who is a lovely lovely human being, said that if whoever was assigned that spare chair showed up they would just squeeze in another chair so I could stay. I was so thrilled. Then I looked over to the Mr. Knightley table and saw a woman with a clipboard and the people from my table all pointing at me. I thought 'oh no, am I in trouble for switching tables?' The woman with the clipboard turned out to be the ball organizer, and she came over and said she was very sorry but would it be too much trouble if I switched tables as some one else wanted to sit in my seat. Best moment ever. I was more than happy to oblige and she gave me a big hug and said I saved the ball. So then I was officially settled at the Edward Ferrars table with my new friends!

For the first few dances I danced with Jane, who was sitting at another table, but what I really wanted was to dance with a gentleman. I mean really, being at a Regency ball in Bath, in a beautiful Regency ballroom, with live music, how could I not be despreate to dance with a Regency gentleman? Michelle and Ben got up to do a dance, and as I was getting up somehow or another, I don't remember quite who was responsible, I got pared up with Mr. Tilney. Which is why I am now calling him Mr. Tilney. Because just like Catherine Morland I was a stranger in Bath, alone and friendless, and out of the blue a handsome gentleman showed up and asked me to dance. Mr. Tilney is not a great dancer, by his own admission, but I will love him forever for dancing with me anyways. And I mean no one knew what they were doing so we were all messing up and laughing and it was perfect and magical. I can't even describe what it felt like for me to be dancing to live music in a beautiful ballroom wearing a beautiful gown and dancing with a handsome gentleman to boot.

Mr. Tilney is a total gentleman. I think he might be the most gentlemanly gentleman to ever gentleman. After the dance he gave me his arm and escorted me back to our table where we started talking. We talked and danced until dinner, when he gave me his arm and escorted me to dinner and told me about all the British food I was eating. Dinner and desert were delicious and I had a great time talking with everyone at my table. Ben told me about how his group was renting this fully restored Georgian townhouse, and how it was like they had time traveled staying there, and I was so jealous. Then Michelle asked if I would like to come over after the ball for drinks. !!!!!!! I'm pretty sure I started gushing an acceptance before she even finished her invitation.

After dinner the announcer man came over to say that there were card tables laid if we wished to play, and there was a game so easy even ladies could do it. Mr. Tilney escorted me to the card tables where Emma drafted me to take her losing hand in a game of Loo. I played against Ben, another man from his group named Paul, and Ruth (whose place was eventually taken by a woman named Allison). I lost miserably. I think there was only one hand that I actually won. The announcer guy suggested we place small bets, three little colored pieces of paper each. We decided to go bigger, eventually betting everything. Allison was an amazing card player, but Ben won in the end. Then we all went back in the ballroom for more dancing.

The ball ended at 11 although I don't think anyone was ready to leave. I went up to the organizer and told her about how I had woken up at 4 AM to get my ticket and backpacked across Europe with my dress in my bag and how I've longed to go to just this sort of thing my whole life and she gave me a big hug. Then we all gathered outside, Ben and Michelle, Mr. Tilney and me, and Paul and another member of their group named William. Mr. Tilney gave me his arm and escorted me back to their house. I walked through a Georgian city, in costume, on the arm of a Regency gentleman! The house was seriously GORGEOUS, I couldn't believe they were actually staying there. Apparently some of a film adaptation of Persuasion had been filmed in the drawing room. First Michelle showed me her room and we jumped on her bed which was great fun, then we all retired to the INCREDIBLE drawing room to sip champagne and talk. It wasn't lit by real candles, but it was lit by fake candles so the room had that dim candlelit glow. There were some other people there, some guests, some staying at the house, but all were in perfect costumes. I dubbed us the best costume club because it was basically all the best dressed people from the ball. All of them were fascinating, one lady turned out to be the woman who created that Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion exhibit and is like THE European expert on Regency fashion.

So there I was, sipping champagne in a Georgian townhouse with wonderful new friends and I don't even know if I can handle it. I had been so worried that no one would even talk to me, and here I was wearing a beautiful Regency dress surrounded by fascinating and super intelligent people in beautiful costumes sipping champagne in a gorgeous drawing room in a Georgian townhouse in Bath. Donald couldn't get over the fact that I had backpacked across Euopre with my dress, and I was voted most brave by pretty much everyone for going to the ball all by myself and not knowing anyone.

At about 3 AM most people had gone home, and those of us that were left decided to go to bed. Michelle lent me some PJs because at that point I obviously wasn't going home. I spent the night in a REAL bed you guys. I haven't slept in a real bed for two months! Then in the morning we all ate a big English breakfast on beautiful china, talked some more, and Michelle, Ben, and William gave me a ride back to my hostel.

Oh yes, and you know those dreams I had about the romantic evening with the handsome gentleman in the perfect costume? Those came true too. ;)

Every dream I have ever had came true. Including dreams I didn't even know I had. Dancing at the ball, meeting new friends, sipping champagne, great conversation, dancing with a handsome gentleman, a fairy tale romance. I don't even know how to describe how happy I was. And how happy I still am. It was literally the best night of my entire life. I could die happy now.

July 8th

Today I left for Bath. After checking into the hostel I went straight over to the Fashion Museum for my study appointment. I got to play with six beautiful 18th century gowns and I feel like I learned SO MUCH. I only had two hours, which was not nearly enough time, but I tried my best to manage it. I still only had about five minutes for the last dress. The number one thing I learned is that as perfect as they may look, historic garments aren't perfect. The width of pleats varies by .25" on the back of a robe a la francaise, some one must have mismeaured fabric at one point because there was an extra panel pieced in to the back of one robe a la francaise. It was nice to be reminded that these master craftsmen were still human. Takes some pressure off me. And the gowns were of course gorgeous! The petticoat of the last one was very interesting, it had this large square of plain muslin top center back rather than the nice fabric. I wonder if it was maybe because that's where a lot of sweat goes, or because that might be what you sat on so it wore out quicker.

After my appointment I had a quick look around the museum. Besides the "permanent" displays they also had a wedding dress exhibit, a couple contemporary dress exhibits, and an interesting "Behind the Scenes" exhibit where they displayed pieces from their collection from throughout the 19th century along with storage boxes and things so people could get an idea of what it's like behind the scenes at a museum collection.

It was pouring rain when I got out and I was starving, and I noticed that a pub called the Assembly Inn a few doors down served food. So I walked in, cold and wet, only to find that they were out of food. But James the bartender had made some delicious sausage rolls and bread, so I had a bit of that.

As I got up to pay I got to talking with James and Jason, a local having a pint. They invited me to join them and we got to talking and really hit it off. Jason's wife Charlie showed up and lo and behold, I found a British version of my dear friends Jeremy and Ashley. We all had a great time hanging out, and I impressed everyone with this awesome card trick I know. I even played the lottery (and lost. No 166 million Euros for me). I had only intended to pop in for a moment, as I still needed to finish my dress for the ball tomorrow. Four hours and four and a half pints of cider later, Jason walked me back to the hostel. Well, he walked. I stumbled.

I woke up at 4:30 AM and couldn't get back to sleep but that was OK because it gave me time to finish my dress and wash my hair so it would look nice for the ball.

July 7th

Happy Harry Potter day!! I feel so lucky to have been able to go to the premier of the last movie in London. After all, I'm part of the generation that grew up with Harry. He was 11 when I was 11, when the last book came out I had just turned 18. I remember when the very first book came out, I remember waiting for each subsequent book. I remember when the first movie came out. I'm not a huge crazy Harry Potter fan or anything, but it was always fun to get into the celebrating every time a book came out. I even went to the midnight premier of the first part of the seventh movie. Now that the last movie is out, I think my childhood is officially over.

Anyways, the premier was fun. I didn't camp out to get a good spot or anything like some people, so I was in the very back, but it was fun to get to be with everyone. The premier was in Trafalgar Square, and they had a giant fence set up so unless you had camped out you didn't get to see any actual people, but they did have a big screen set up where they were projecting footage of everything. It was really fun, we would all watch a car pull up, some one would get out, there'd be craning of necks to figure out who it was, and then when the actor was revealed everyone would start cheering.

After the red carpet everyone migrated to Leicester Square where the actual screening was to see the stars again. Meanwhile I went to the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant for dinner which was so cool. All the dishes were named after characters and stories! I had the Retired Colourmans aka fish and chips.