Sunrise, Somerset

12 Dec

Hello everybody!

It’s about time for another update. With only five days until my departure, everything seems hurried and rushed but also slowed down, all at the same time. Time seems to be inching by and then very suddenly flying past! It is a very strange feeling and it’s almost as if I’ve been in a funk over the past few days. Not happy or sad, just somewhere in between.

Last week, I had the chance to visit Somerset House on the Strand. When I say it’s next door, I mean it quite literally — King’s and Somerset House actually share a wall. And yet this was the first time I ventured into the massive courtyard. The first thing you see is a large ice skating rink right in the center, set up for especially for the holidays and sponsored by Tiffany & Co. The whole courtyard has lots of Christmas decorations including a large tree, the Wrap-Up Shop and Designers at Somerset Shop selling all kinds of little gifts and even a miniature Tiffany’s luxury sweets, gifts and yes – jewelry. Since I went in the afternoon, it wasn’t very crowded, just a few kids squealing and laughing as they ventured out onto the slippery ice.

I visited two exhibits (both free) that were currently going on. The first was 20 Years of Dazed and Confused Magazine, which was essentially a visual journey through two decades of covers, articles and celebrity spotlights. I don’t know much about the magazine but from what I saw they must have a reputation for producing avant-garde portraits of celebrities (read: nude). Lots of Kate Moss. It was interesting, and some of the portraiture and fashion spreads were quite stunning, but it probably would have resonated more if I was familiar with the magazine.

The second exhibit I visited was called Amazon, a photography exhibition. The first portion centered around the work of Sabastiao Salgado from his project ‘Genesis’, and was largely aerial photos of Amazonian landscapes and portraits of indigenous, traditional peoples. The photos were all really beautiful and I especially enjoyed the various shots of the natives  – sometimes hunting, sometimes resting, sometimes just watching the world go by. The second portion of the exhibit featured the photography of Per Anders Pettersson from a recent visit to northwest Brazil. These photos were meant to illustrate the extreme devastation and destruction of the Amazonian landscapes due to deforestation and other non-sustainable practices that exploit both the land and the impoverished people who live on it. The exhibition works — seeing the photos of the people and the land, and then realizing what terrible things are being done there, made the crisis seem that much more real and relevant. It was incredibly sad, but I am glad they are raising awareness about such an important issue. The Amazon is a treasure and it should be protected instead of abused and discarded.

The last stop at Somerset, and the part I was most looking forward to, was the Courtauld Gallery. Since I was there on a Monday before 2:00PM, it was completely free! I got to see the exhibits and the gallery for absolutely nothing – awesome! But this small collection would have been worth paying to see. When you first step in, the gallery seems small (deceiving, as it spans several stories) – but the personal, cozy feeling was what I loved about it! After I visited, it felt like I knew a secret – all these incredible and famous pieces of art right there! Ten feet from the Strand! I promptly told everyone I talked to that they had to go! They have a modest collection of sculpture and decorative art spanning several periods and regions. They also had great drawings and sketches by lots of  artists – in particular, they had a special exhibit on Spanish drawings. Some were plans for later paintings while others were more just doodles and studies. My favorite, by far, was a 1906 sketch by Picasso of pigs. Just lots of little pigs. I fell in love with it.

But the crown jewel of the Gallery is definitely their collection of paintings. From medieval to Renaissance, Rubens to Impressionists, it was quite an impressive inventory. They have one of the famous self portraits of Van Gogh displaying his bandaged ear, and the first work from Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’ – a sweet but somber portrait of a small child holding a dove. I spotted Manet’s familiar A Bar at Folies-Bergere and Cranach’s Adam and Eve (you might know this piece from the intro theme for the TV show ‘Desperate Housewives’). The collection was rounded out by pieces from Monet, Cezanne, Renoir and Degas. It was extraordinary and a definite must-see for anyone visiting London!

Thursday evening I got to meet up with some friends from Queen Mary’s and we headed over to O’Neills Pub in Leicester Square to see a live band preform. The band was awesome – we sang at the top of our lungs and danced the night away. We had a blast!

I was a little sick this weekend, but I am feeling much better. Now I’m just trying to crank out these last papers and fit in all the last minute things I’ve been meaning to do while here. I can’t believe I have less than a week left in London!

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White Cliffs and Dark Brews

5 Dec

Hello everybody!

So I finally found some time to put my pictures up from Dover and tell you all a little bit about my trip (even though it was almost two or three weeks ago that I went! Yikes!) If you’ve been reading my posts lately, you know how crazy things have been! It’s a mad rush between getting work done and doing all of the things that I wanted to do before I head home!

The papers are never ending and it looks like I will probably have to bring some of them home with me. Although I am still hoping for the best and trying to knock out as many as possible before I head home on the 17th.

But back to Dover…

IFSA-Butler put together a great little day trip for the students to visit Dover Castle on the coast and the Shepherd Neame brewery in Faversham. At Dover, we got some free time to explore the complex which is made up of the castle, an old lighthouse from the Roman era, a Saxon church, St. Mary in Castro and a small war museum. This site has significant historical importance and there is evidence to suggest it was fortified during the Iron Age, even before the Roman’s arrival in the 1rst century. On the march to his Westminster Abbey coronation in 1066, William the Conqueror had the castle rebuilt and it has been militarily occupied ever since.  It’s proximity to France (it is only a few miles across the channel to Calais) made it especially valuable to the English. And in World War II, following the Battle of Dunkirk, it became the frontline against Nazi invasion.

In this picture, you can see how close Dover (A) is to the French coast. Faversham (B) is in Kent, about a half hour closer to London (in the top left corner).

 While there, we got to tour the ‘Secret Wartime Tunnels’ which were actually  built right into the soft limestone during the Napoleonic Age.  Located right on the coast and extending for miles back into the cliff, these tunnels were a primary operating center for communication during World War II due to their security, privacy and anti-air raid benefits (Though they had been updated a bit since Napoleon’s age!). It was really amazing to walk around deep inside them imagining how tense and anxious it would have been for everyone living there. The tour itself was really well done – I would highly recommend it if you ever make your way out to Dover. Probably the most amazing part to me was the stories of merchants and other private citizens who took their fishing boats and lifeboats out across the coast, into  a war zone, to help evacuate Allied soldiers from the coast of Dunkirk. These “little ships of Dunkirk” were just helping in any way they could and they ended up rescuing a significant number of these starving, wounded and terrified young men that otherwise probably would have never survived. All in all, a total of about 340,000 Allied troops were evacuated in just over a week. Pretty amazing stuff.

From there, we headed to Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham, Kent. This is Britain’s oldest brewery, established in 1698. (Though they have found evidence that Kentish brewers were operating there several hundreds of years before, even). We got to go inside the actual brewery where they explained the entire process of cultivating the malts, adding the hops and then the yeast. We got to sample different stages of malts and even tried hops. At the end, they served us samples and taught us how to ‘evaluate’ ales and lagers (there’s a difference?!) based on clarity, smell, et cetera. Some of their more famous brews are the Spitfire (after the WWII plane, in commemoration of the Battle of Britain) and Bishop’s Finger, both of which I’ve seen in a few of the pubs in London.

It was a wonderful trip and very informative. I had a great time with my friends, as usual, and was so glad that I went.

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I finished another paper at the end of last week and am breaking ground on my next one. Tomorrow evening I am attending a holiday tea that IFSA-Butler is putting on which should be a lot of fun! It will be nice to get into the holiday spirit!  I’ve also just purchased a ticket to Oxford next week and will spend a day there – I am very much looking forward to it!

Wish me luck in finishing the rest of these papers!


Does That Make Me Crazy?

30 Nov

To say that things have been nuts lately would be an understatement. But probably the craziest thing around is me. With less than six hours total in three days, I am so sleep deprived that I am actually losing my mind.

“But Claire,” you say, “you are normally so stable and rational It just seems hard to believe that you could be acting crazy!” I know, I know. So let’s just recap a few things that have already happened this morning, shall we?

  • I realized this morning when I went to get dressed that I had completely  forgotten to do laundry last night, so I had to wear the same thing I wore on Monday.
  • On the way to class, I had a good three minute internal dialogue  where I was honestly trying to determine if I was dreaming or if I was really awake and walking around.
  • During class, I had the sudden realization that my name is ‘Claire’ which, for some reason, I found absolutely hysterical. I couldn’t stop giggling.
  • After class, my friend Katie L. waited patiently while I struggled to get my jacket on for about five minutes. I finally got it on, only to realize that it was inside out.
  • Once I got back home, I couldn’t remember which floor I lived on. Really. I went up to four, but then I went back down because I was convinced it was three. And after my key wouldn’t open the door, I realized that I do in fact live on the fourth floor.
  • I also am finding it very hard to understand my flatmates/other Londoners when they talk, as it requires some level of focus to process the accent. Focus is not something that I currently have the capacity for.

Yes, I know all of those things make me sound stupid and are probably so embarrassing I shouldn’t tell people that I thought/did them. But my dignity went out the window after the second day of no sleeping.  The only redeeming thing about today was that the sun was shining brightly – we had a big blue sky and lots of fluffy white clouds. The kind of days I live for back home. It was so nice!

Today also marks the largest strike since a general strike in 1926. Over 2 million workers in the public sector are striking and there was a massive protest and march near Strand this afternoon. The schools are closed, the NHS services are suspended, and most of the departments cancelled class since the professors were out protesting! (Not my professor, though. Because I’m just lucky that way.) When I got to class at 10AM, there was already a strong police presence. And by the time I left around 12:30, there were hundreds of policemen lining the streets waiting for the march to move through the area. My bus got stuck in traffic for twenty minutes or so, because they weren’t letting the buses cross over the river at Waterloo Bridge. (Most of the streets at north bank were barricaded and closed off). We were literally stuck between two bus stops that were each just yards away,  but the driver wouldn’t let us get out since they’re only allowed to let passengers on/off directly at the stops. Londoners get really mad anytime stuff gets screwed up with the buses and some people were yelling at the driver. Once we finally moved again and made it to the stop, we had to get off and I continued the rest of the trip to school on foot. I took a few pictures of the policemen that were starting to line up around the time that I left. And just after I snapped these, about six or seven big police vans pulled up and probably 50 or so more officers started lining up.

You can just make out all the neon vests in the upper left corner, too.

Really blurry but the group leaving from King's to join the protest was stopped by police and forced to go a different way.

More officers arriving.

Starting to line up.



They are obviously not messing around!

This public showing of discontent and frustration follows along with a lot the feelings of the Occupy movements, which are also causing some problems around here at the moment. People are upset, and not just in London. They’re struggling to be heard but who’s listening? Who is protecting the interests of the  working class?  People should not be passive about the way they are being governed, especially not in countries where the electorate truly holds the power. I think the apathy and political lethargy that  usually accompanies success and stability is slowly being replaced by action as people fall onto harder times. I hope that this very visible movement will get the politicians attention and maybe some good will come of it.

And I still owe you guys some photos for Dover. I promise I’ll get to it soon!


Life, Lately

22 Nov

Hey ya’ll!

(Ed Note: This post is best read while listening to ‘Mylo Xyloto’, since that’s how it was written.)

Lately, it’s been a bit rough with all my friends tweeting and posting about getting to travel home and be with their families for Thanksgiving Break. Jealous!! Especially since no one here has any clue what Thanksgiving even is, despite it being such a massive holiday in the States and somewhat related to their own national history. Several of my flatmates are really curious about it, though. So,  I’m planning a little Thanksgiving craft project for them this week, along with some trivia about the holiday so they can learn more about this American tradition and why it so important: Black Friday. Just kidding! But  I’ll be sure and film it because I have a feeling (based on what they’ve told me what they think the holiday is about so far) it’s going to be funny.

Fall is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. Back home, it’s starting to cool off and everyone’s eyes seem brighter, their cheeks are red and you can break out the sweaters, scarves and boots. It starts to feel like the holidays. Plus, my mom puts flannel sheets on my bed at home which is, like, the best.

I love my Texas falls – brief though they may be. But I have to say, I am quite enjoying the season here in London. It is significantly colder and with a lot less sunshine (Let’s just say that at the moment, I’m jealous of Edward Cullen’s tan. It’s that bad.) It’s overcast  all day, every day and it always seems as if it’s just rained – though I’ve only felt little drops once or twice the entire time I’ve been here! I think it’s actually rained more back home! But the colors are still beautiful.. maybe even more beautiful against the gray, rainy London weather. Just when I think this Texas girl can’t go one more day without seeing a clear, blue sky, I get the shock of the colorful leaves piled up along the muted backdrop of sidewalk and street.

Cold weather also means warm drinks. The red Christmas cups are back, an almost universal – or at the very least, transatlantic – sign of the season  if there ever was one.  There is just something about sipping a hazelnut hot chocolate (which tastes like liquid nutella a.k.a.  sin in a cup –  I have to go to church after I drink one) or a toffee nut latte on the way to class that just lets you know that you’re gonna have a wonderful day! It always reminds me of great times and great conversations I’ve had at coffee shops with friends like Brooke Bowen and Erin Shay. Plus, the Starbucks on Fleet Street (just down the Strand from King’s) is my new favorite study spot with its giant downstairs seating area full of comfy chairs. I get more work done there than I do at the library!

It does get dark very early here.. by 4 the sun is going down and by 4:30, it’s pitch black outside – which has really been throwing off my internal clock because when I emerge from studying all afternoon it seems as if the entire day is gone! Now each evening when I have to walk back to my dorm from the bus stop in the dark, it seems a lot scarier than it actually is until I remember it’s only 5 or 6 and there are still people out walking around everywhere!

Speaking of marathon study sessions, I have thus far completed two out of the seven papers I have to complete this term. I’m no mathematician, but even I know that’s not a great percentage.  I am starting on the third paper today and hope to have it done by the end of this week. I am really having to buckle down these days to get these papers cranked out. They are longer than any papers I’ve had to write back home and a lot more numerous. The one I finished yesterday, while not the longest I’ll have to write, was still a good 16 pages. For a history/anthropology major, I know this isn’t a shocking amount at all — really, it’s not the length that gives me trouble so much as the preparation that goes into writing.

Back home, I might write a final paper drawing together common themes from the course  or analyzing a particular work or set of works. Here, the prompts are largely over incredibly specific topics that might have been mentioned in lectures or referenced in readings, but you haven’t necessarily learned about them. So, you have to research your topic outside of class before you can even begin to know how to organize your paper, much less what position you’re going to argue and defend.  Again, this doesn’t seem like a difficult concept until you’re asked to write a 20 page paper over something you know nothing about or even where to begin – while simultaneously staying on top of your readings and work for class. I really struggled in writing my first paper and had to abandon the prompt I had originally chosen. It interested me the most, but I had such a difficult time finding adequate sources to supplement what little knowledge I had on the topic that I wasted days digging in the library and hours browsing through JSTOR with nothing to show for it.

For the regular students, the papers have shorter length requirements and are supplementary – they are not for a grade and are not even required.. just highly recommended – wink, wink, nudge, nudge. So, there is less pressure to flex your academic muscle – they’re viewed more like tools that give you a slightly more detailed look into the broader areas you’re already studying. You get them back, with comments and critiques, and you move on! But for me, my only grades for this entire semester will be  the grades I receive on the papers I turn in at the end of the term. At SMU, if you complete a paper or essay early, professors will often look them over and give you some direction before you submit them. Asking professors to look at your work is highly frowned upon here, a lesson I learned from a friend instead of first hand,  luckily!  I haven’t had any feedback on any work so far and am completely unfamiliar with the King’s  grading system in which your paper is graded twice, once by your lecturer and a second time by an ‘external’ grader,  in order to avoid ‘bias’. Needless to say, all of this makes me a bit more than apprehensive about these papers, but my mother has reminded me several times that all I can do is my best. Not a bad mantra to have. That mom, so full of wisdom!

I included some blurry pictures I took today of the somewhat famous  (and by somewhat famous, I mean it gets a mention on Wikipedia) Weston Reading Room at Maughan Library, the Strand Campus central library.  It’s often called the Round Room, but I actually think it’s octagonal. (You can tell I’m fancy because I use words like octagonal.)  Anyway, it’s three stories of walls lined completely with books with the little ladders and everything. In the center are rings of study tables. The glass ceiling is especially pretty.

Awkward Claire Story of the Day: So,  it’s dead silent in the Weston Room.  I tried to sneakily take a photo on my phone, but completely forgot that my phone was set to ‘loud’ instead of ‘vibrate’, so everyone heard the little ‘shutter’ noise and knew I was sketchily taking pictures. The guy sitting directly across from me definitely thought I was trying to photograph him and gave me the most weirded out look. Embarrassing!

I will try to have my photos and post from my trip Dover this weekend edited and up by tomorrow, hopefully! A big thank you for those of you who voted on my last post or sent me feedback. It means a lot to me! I really enjoy taking pictures and getting to hear what other people think about them helps me take better photos.

Thanks for reading!


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Photo Contest + Vote

16 Nov


IFSA-Butler is holding a photo contest for the London students and I was hoping you guys would help me choose which ones I should send in!

I have narrowed it down to a few of my personal favorites, so please take a look and vote for your favorite three! I’d also really like to know what you guys think about my pictures in general, so leave a comment telling me why you voted for the ones you did! Thanks so much for helping me out!

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I have been really busy with schoolwork lately, as the deadlines for my papers are fast approaching! Hopefully, I will finish another one before the weekend. On Saturday, I am going to Dover for the day to see the castle and tour a popular brewery there in town, so I should have some photos up on Sunday!


Word Up

14 Nov

Hey ya’ll!

I know I’ve talked before about the differences in words that I’ve encountered in my time abroad. I thought I’d setup a little mini-translation for those of you back home, in case you ever need to communicate with a Brit. So print this out and keep it handy if you ever make it across the Atlantic. (I got this idea from my friend Katie’s blog, which you can read here.)

American v. British

Subway = Tube
“I’m late, I have to catch the tube to work!”

Sweater = Jumper
“Haven’t you got a jumper? It’s freezing outside!”

Underground walkway = Subway
“Go in the subway and you’ll bypass the traffic and come up the other side.”

Pants = Underwear
“Someone’s left their pants in the dryer – ew!”

Exit = Way out
“That door over there is the way out.”

Tank Top = Vest
“You might wear a vest at the beach or in the summer if the weather is warm.”

Dorm = Flat
“I’ll meet you back at the flat with the groceries.”

Attractive = Fit
“That boy plays rugby, he’s right fit!”

Ground Beef = Mince
“I’m gonna cook up some mince for dinner.”

Cookie = Digestive, Biscuit
“Don’t you dip your biscuits in milk?”

Bangs = Fringe
“She got her hair chopped off and fringe across the top.”

Very nice = Lush
“Your homemade pasta was lush!”

Gross = Minging
“Get your minging curry out of here! It stinks!”

Dish soap = Fairy
“I’m out of Fairy, can I borrow yours to wash up?”

Candy = Sweets
“Cadbury sweets are better than Galaxy.”

Fries = Chips
“I’ll take a hamburger and a side of chips with ketchup.”

Trash = Rubbish
“Is that your rubbish in the bin?”

Thanks = Cheers
“Can I have two tickets, please? Cheers.”

You could/should  do that = Could do
“You should get your paper done now, and watch a movie later.”
“Could do.”

Yard = Garden
“Why don’t you take the dog out to play in the garden?”

“Whatsup?” = “You alright?”

This phrase in particular has led to a lot of confusion, as my flat mates will come in and say “You alright?!” and I reply, “Yes, I’m fine?! Do I look like I’ve been crying or something?”, as I grow increasingly hysterical that unbeknownst to me, something terrible has happened to my face to give off the impression that I am clearly not alright. And then we both stand in confusion, (me, desperately poking at my eyes to check for puffiness) each trying to decipher what the heck the other one is talking about.

Of course, a lot of the pronunciations are different, too. What about aluminum? Here, they say aluminium. (Take another look at it!) Now, say it like ‘al-loo-min-ee-um’. Funny, huh?

The other night, my flatmate and I went out to dinner at Pizza Express, the British version of a California Pizza Kitchen, and she ordered the pollo pizza. I know none of my Texas friends reading that missed a beat – “Right, a pizza with chicken on it.” But it took me a moment to process, and I had to ask, “Wait, what did you order?” Because she literally said “pollo” – as in 13, not our clucking, feathered friend from south of the border. Our Texan familiarity with the Spanish pronunciation rule of double ‘l’s  transforming into a ‘y’ sound spilled across the Rio Grande but didn’t quite make it across the Atlantic ocean. To her, this was completely normal. When I explained that we pronounced it differently due to its Spanish origin, pol-yo, she looked at me doubtfully and said half question, half judgment “..No.”

I had a total Napoleon Dynamite moment right then and there, and had to resist yelling out “Make yourself a dang quesadilla!”

Who knows, maybe Napoleon’s grandma was right. I guess I could understand my friend’s skepticism if she knew we pronounced words like armadillo and Amarillo by an apparently different set of rules. Oh the English language, a curious amalgam indeed!
Claire Piepenburg


4 Nov


Last Saturday I went on an Adventure Day Trip with IFSA-Butler to Bath with a bunch of other IFSA students from different schools. I was re-united with some of my favorites, and we spent the whole day exploring the Roman Baths and the town.

Our first stop was the Baths and we got to take a tour of the Roman ruins. It was very interesting and so complex – really incredible to think about how advanced they were. The audio guide pointed out that the Roman settlers in Bath were desperate to make this new place as much like home as possible, hence the construction of the baths and temple.

Bath Abbey is a gothic style church most recently restored in the 1880’s. It stands directly behind the where the baths are now, and has really beautiful architecture and stained glass windows. We made a small donation and walked around inside for a bit – it’s a huge church!

The rest of the day we just spent wandering the streets of the town. We stopped by the Jane Austen Institute out of pure curiosity, but it was a £6 entry fee so we decided to skip it. I didn’t like Pride and Prejudice that much anyway! We had lunch at a sausage stand and also stopped into ‘Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe’ and I bought some champagne truffles that were so good.  The cashier also gave me a long geography lesson about the latitudes of Boston, London, New York and Madrid and asked me if Dallas was a desert.

No! For the last time, Dallas is NOT a desert.
You’re thinking of Lubbock.

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Happy Guy Fawkes Day!