Friday, November 29, 2013

Day 90: Dublin

Yeah, I haven't finished posting about London yet. I still need to talk about all the sightseeing I did, but that post might be a while in coming because there are just so many photos I need to edit. So, in the meantime, I'll fill you in on some more immediate news.

I'm in Dublin!

Kayla and I arrived here yesterday afternoon, and we've already seen and done so much stuff. We're staying with my cousin, Marie, who just so happened to move to Dublin within days of my move to St. Andrews. Kayla and I spent the day touring while Marie worked, then tonight we went out to an Irish pub and enjoyed some fantastic live music.

So far, I don't think that Dublin will make it on my list of favourite cities, but I do love the Irishness. The accents are fantastic, the music is great, and the people are so friendly. I really hope I get to tour around the countryside at some point so I can get a taste of rural Dublin.

I ought to mention: there is a Tim Horton's in Dublin, which I was so eager to visit (for anyone who's not Canadian, Tim Horton's is the best coffee shop of life. All Canadians are addicted to it). However,  Tim's here is not the same as back in Canada. I had a cappuccino and, while it wasn't bad, it wasn't the familiar flavour from back home. So disappointing...

Anyways, it's nearly 3am, and we've got another busy day ahead of us tomorrow. I'll post in much greater detail at some point, likely once I have a few pictures. For now... goodnight!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Days 82-83: Doctor Who in London

Yesterday I wrote about the shows I saw in London; today I'll talk about the Doctor Who events I attended (the convention on Friday, and the cinema screening in Leicester square.) This leaves the general sightseeing/appraisal of London (and the majority of my photos) for tomorrow. 

Firstly, I'm glad that I went down to London for the anniversary. Everyone in St. Andrews seemed to think travelling seven hours was a little ridiculous, but it was definitely worth it, especially with everything else I did in London. Going to the convention and watching the episode with hundreds of other fans in one of London's main cinemas definitely increased my excitement for the show.

The queue to get into the convention
Friday was convention day. While it ran all weekend, each day was basically a repeat of the others, so I only got a ticket for Friday. I bought my ticket months ago, back in Canada, and they sold out in a few hours, which is crazy considering there were thousands of people there just on Friday.

That was the only downside to the convention- the sheer number of people there. I arrived at about 9:15 with the doors due to open at 9:30, but with the huge queue I didn't actually get into the convention room until after 10. Once in, it was a big squeeze to get anywhere, especially by the shops (there was basically anything imaginable for sale... I just bought a tardis notebook. So original.)

Panel with the current cast/crew
There were three main panels throughout the day. The first was called 'Regenerations' and it featured three of the old doctors (Colin Baker, Peter Davidson, and Sylvester McCoy). The second was my favourite, since it involved the current actors (Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman) and head writer (Steven Moffat). Finally, the third featured the special effects director, who demonstrated a number of the explosions and stunts they did on the show.

Other than the panels, there were lots of things going on in the main hall. There were two main stages with smaller panels (I went to one run by Big Finish audio, which records doctor who audio dramas, and I got to go up on stage and read part of the script), a smaller special effects demo, and sessions with the choreographer who taught us how to walk like Doctor Who monsters.
Panel with Big Finish audio

The best part of the day was towards the end, when people started to clear out. Up till then I had been feeling a little bit distanced from the whole thing-- with thousands of people there, I never got near any of the actors, much less had time to talk to them. But as people started to leave, I got the chance to talk to a number of people with smaller roles or behind the scenes jobs.

David Tennant's suit, and the spacesuit from
'Silence in the Library'
A bunch of trailers were set up with hair/makeup and costumes, so I got to take a look at the actual costumes used in the show. The highlight was definitely getting to handle the jacket that Tennant wore in 'The End of Time' when the Master burned a hole in the front of his suit. I also really enjoyed talking to the hair stylist who was in charge of Tennant's hair, because he was actually a good friend of Tennant's, and he had lots of good stories.

Nicholas Pegg, myself, and Barnaby Edwards.
The best part was when I had quite a lengthy conversation with Nicholas Pegg and Barnaby Edwards, the two main actors who play the Daleks. They were both really friendly, so I and another couple people just stood in a circle with them and chatted about various things, not always doctor who. It was actually quite bizarre because it felt so normal, like they were just other doctor who fans, but then every once in awhile they would mention some part of an episode that they were in and it would suddenly strike me that I was actually talking to doctor who actors!

I left the convention at 7, after most people had already gone. The huge hype from the day left me really excited for the anniversary episode, which aired the next day (Saturday) and was simulcast in cinemas worldwide.

As I said before, I got to watch the episode in Leicester square, which is apparently where a lot of movie premiers happen. All I know is that the cinema had two showings of doctor who on that night, so the building was packed with people in long colourful scarves or tardis blue dresses. The audience was really excited, always ready to laugh or cheer. It was almost like watching it with friends.

Before the episode they aired a couple short clips. A character from the show (Strax the Sontaran) came out to instruct us on proper cinema etiquette (keep a low volume when consuming liquids and nutrition packs) and then Matt Smith and David Tennant came onscreen (huge cheers for Tennant) to talk about 3D and how that would make Smith's chin stick out of the screen.... Smith also had a long rant about how there were zygons in the theatre, but apparently our 3D glasses were equipped with Zygon detectors. It was all good fun, and made it worthwhile to watch the show in cinemas rather than just on TV.

As for the episode itself, I loved it. I won't go into any details (spoilers!) but it was exactly what I wanted from the special: funny, intense, full of inside jokes, moving forward yet looking back, cameos, and just generally a good plot. I had really high expectations for the episode, and it completely met them.

All in all, the Doctor Who aspect of my trip to London was definitely a success. After all, there's really nothing better than leaving the Doctor Who theatre and stepping out not into ordinary real life, but into London, with people everywhere and Christmas lights across every street, and Trafalgar Square right behind you...

Don't blink!

Jenna Coleman at the autograph booth.

Cyberman queuing 

The crowd waiting for the panel



The Great Intelligence

The Doctors' costumes

Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred, Donna's grandfather)

Winston Churchill. :)

Old TARDIS console

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Days 81-83: London's West End

The Harold Pinter theatre, playing 'Mojo'
I'm writing this on the train heading back from London. We've been going for about two hours and it'll be another four until I get back into St. Andrews, which leaves me lots of time to blog about the past week(end). 

I've decided to blog about London in three separate chunks: theatre, doctor who, and sightseeing. Instead of going through a list of what I did each day, I'll post about about each of those categories and hopefully my "story" will make more sense. 

I'll start with theatre, because I want to post these as soon as possible and the other categories will involve far too many photos which I don't feel like editing just yet. So, without further ado, what shows did I see in London?

Before going to London, I knew the West End had lots of good theatre. I just didn't realize that "lots" meant "more than you could see in one trip even if you saw two a day." It seems like every street corner has a theatre, each playing what claims to be London's best musical.

The magic word in the West End is 'day tickets.' Most of the theatres sell greatly reduced front row tickets if you show up at the box office the day of the show. While the front row can involve some slightly uncomfortable angles, being so close to the actors is just amazing.

The first show I saw, on Thursday afternoon, was Mojo, starring Rupert Grint, Ben Wishaw, and Colin Morgan. The play was really dark and gritty and didn't make an awful lot of sense (I still don't know what the plot really was, and I've been thinking about it for a few days) but the acting was phenomenal. Plus, I only paid ten pounds for front row seats, which put me just five feet away from some of my favourite actors.

On Thursday night I saw Les Mis, where I was completely blown away by the vocals. Unfortunately, that theatre didn't do day tickets, so I ended up just buying twenty pound tickets in the back corner of the theatre. The sound was still amazing, and their set (a revolving stage) was so cool, but I did miss being able to see the performer's faces. Still, the strong point of Les Mis is the music, and it certainly delivered.

'Wicked' had a super cool stage-- the dragon above it
moved around and breathed smoke!
Finally, on Saturday I bought thirty pound front row seats for the Wicked matinee. I had the soundtrack for the play on my computer, and I knew the general premise (the untold story of the witches of Oz) but I didn't really know the ins and outs of the plot, so I really enjoyed actually hearing the story for the first time. I'm not quite sure what I think about the musical's moral views, but the show has a great concept that was well executed. While the vocals weren't quite as strong (in my opinion) as in Les Mis, the set, the acting, and the energy made for a truly fantastic show.

Wicked's curtain, with a lovely map of Oz.
So. I've just seen three shows in one weekend, but I've still barely scratched the surface of what the West End has to offer. The Lion King, The Book of Mormon, The Phantom of the Opera.... So many big name musicals, and many others. Also, in January, the Royal Shakespeare Company's 'Richard II' (starring David Tennant) moves to London, and Coriolanus (starring Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss) opens, so I shall definitely be returning for another round of London theatre.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Day 83: London!

I'm in London right now.

I've actually gotten used to that fact. While I've only been here for three days, it feels like much longer because so much has happened. I've seen three west end shows, photographed most of the major London landmarks, and met a number of the doctor who cast and crew. Currently, I'm sitting in Subway (yeah, I know, I should be at a proper British fish and chips place, but I've spent all my money on show tickets so I have none left for food...) and killing time until the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special airs.

It'll be odd to watch Doctor Who in Britain. It's just such a part of the culture here, and I bet the place will be humming with excitement. Also, I'm going to a cinema at Leicester square, which is just down the road from Trafalgar Square, where the filmed a scene for the episode (the doctor hanging out of the tardis).  It'll be so cool to watch the show so close to where it was filmed.

So far, my time here has been phenomenal. I've been looking forward to visiting London for virtually my entire life, and I still can't believe I'm actually here. I've also been jumping from thing to thing so quickly, often catching two shows in a day and sightseeing in between, that it's all become a glorious blur. I keep messaging my friends back home saying 'I just saw Rupert Grint!' or 'waiting for the 'Wicked' curtain to go up!' or 'here's Big Ben!' Life is so fantastic right now.

In a few days I'll write up a couple blog posts about each day-- this trip is just too full to fit all in one blog post. I'm not going to start writing those posts until I get back to St. Andrews on Monday, because I need a bit of time to just sit back and digest what's happened. One of the downsides about running around London for twelve hours a day is that it doesn't leave much time for reflection! It'll be a couple days before I can properly evaluate this trip.

For now, I'm going to post this blog (without edits, so if there are mistakes, my apologies!) and head off into the excitement of London. The streets around here are covered in Christmas lights and flashing billboards--- it's like a carnival. I think I'll just stroll around for the next half hour, taking in the scene, until it's time to head to the cinema for the big show...

(Here's a grainy iPad shot of the amphitheatre at the Doctor Who convention yesterday. I'll post more photos once I get back to St. Andrews and can put my camera's pictures on my laptop)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Day 80: England!

I'm in England.

We've just gone through Newcastle and York and a whole bunch of other places, and in just over an hour we'll be in London.

I'm so excited. Back when it was actually light and I could see the countryside, I just couldn't stop looking out the window and smiling. The train ride from Edinburgh to London is just so gorgeous. It goes right along the coast, presenting some lovely views of the ocean.

It's dark now, so I can't see much, but whenever we go through a city I can catch a glimpse of some of the larger buildings, like a church with stained glass windows lit up. I'm a little sad that I'll arrive in London at seven pm, so I really won't be able to see much, but I can afford to wait until tomorrow.

But... I'm in England. It really shouldn't be this exciting; after all, I've been in the UK for the past three months. Still, there's something exhilarating about entering a new country.

It's not just any country, either. It's England, the country where all my favourite authors lived. The country where my grandparents came from. The country I've wanted to visit my entire life.

I can't believe I'm here. The odd thing is that, despite how this is all completely new to me, it still feels like coming home. This is where my roots are. Maybe I'm Canadian, but my ancestors (well, on my dad's side) were English. I'm going back to where my family came from.

London should be amazing. The purpose of my visit is to attend the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary convention this weekend (which means I get to see Matt Smith and Colin Baker and so many other cool people... Jealous yet?) but since I'm here all the way until Monday I'll get to do a lot of other things too, like hopefully see some plays, visit the British museum, and see some landmarks like Big Ben.

I just can't stop saying this.... I'm so excited! This trip is, quite literally, a dream come true. By the time I post this (no wifi on the train, so gotta wait until I get to the house of the friend of a friend who I'm staying with to post this blog) I'll be in London. I can't wait.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Day 68: Winter is Coming

It’s suddenly turned cold. I wear two jumpers around the house normally, and tea and my new blanket have become my best friends. When I go outside, I normally wear my winter jacket.

While I’m not really a fan of cold, there is something wonderful about the briskness in the air, the vivaciousness of crackling leaves, and the comfort in a cup of tea.
It’s also lovely to walk to uni every morning with my breath hanging in the air, the freezing moisture droplets sparkling in the sun. The other day I wrote this poem in my head as I walked to 9 am lecture:

This morning, the world was all dragons
Flowing up the hill to market street
Smoky breath mingling with the mist
That slouched uneasily over the river.

The town prepared:
Unlocking shop doors
Sweeping the pavement
Carting away the refuse
From forgotten nights.

For dragons, their red scales
Wrapped securely around their shoulders
Would descend
And ravage
And leave gold.

And I thought,
As smoke swirled from my own mouth
How sad it was to be a dragon
So reckless
And dangerous
And demanding.

I hope that made some sort of sense. :) Of course, poetry doesn’t have to make a lot of sense… not immediately. If anyone wants to do a close reading of that poem and find all the deep meaning in the poem, then go right ahead. It would be really interesting to see what people thought the poem was about, since I have quite a specific meaning in mind.

Finally, I should note that a number of interesting things happened last week, like Kayla and I getting bus passes and travelling around Fife, as well as the Gilbert and Sullivan society’s trip to Edinburgh. I have some photos from both of these trips, so as soon as the editing is done, I’ll have a couple more blogs to post.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Day 63-64: Raisin Weekend

If you’re my friend on facebook, you might have seen photos like this floating around:

As my mom commented: “Looks like something straight out of a horror movie.”

Thanks, mom. :)

It’s no horror movie, it’s Raisin weekend. Quite possibly the most bizarre experience of my life. Full of parties, scavenger hunts, team challenges, crazy costumes, and shaving foam, there really isn’t anything else like it.

I’m not quite sure how to start describing Raisin. I guess it kinda begins with the idea of academic families, which is where third years ‘adopt’ first years as their kids. As an exchange student, I also got adopted by third years (which is slightly odd, since they’re both younger than me, haha). Here are my lovely parents:

The cool thing about getting adopted means that you don’t just get parents, but you also get brothers and sisters, and possibly even step-siblings or parents. For instance, parents normally adopt separately (not in couples) but my mom adopted a few people with a specific guy, making that guy her academic “husband,” so he’s my stepfather and his kids are my stepbrothers.

My mum's family (the orange team!)
I don’t know if any of that explanation made sense, but if not, then that’s okay. It’s confusing enough here, where everyone knows what’s going on. If I casually mention that I had coffee with my mom the other day, everyone starts wondering if my real mom actually came all the way from Canada.
Playing chubby bunny...

Alrighty: this past weekend was Raisin weekend, which is when all the academic families party together. Apparently the tradition began years back, when fathers would take their children on a tour of the pubs, and in return the kids would give their fathers raisins to brighten up their bland student diet. Now the tour of the pubs is normally a party at the father’s house, and the raisins are usually wine.

On Sunday, I spent the afternoon at a party with my mom’s side of the family. Three mothers had their party together, so we had lots of inter-family challenges, like a scavenger hunt where we had to take photos all over St. Andrew’s, like this lovely shot from the top of St. Rule’s tower:

One of the rules of the scavenger hunt was that someone had to be carried the entire time… Guess who that was?

We played a bunch of other games at the house, like the cereal box challenge where you have to pick up a cereal box in your teeth with only your feet touching the ground. It’s not terribly difficult at the beginning, but then you start ripping strips off the box until there’s basically nothing left…

Tessa (my sister) looks so elegant trying to pick up the cereal box.
My method is somewhat less elegant, but it worked well.
After my mother’s party, I headed to my dad’s, where we had a lovely dinner and played a bunch of fun games, like smashing the piƱata or building the tallest sculpture out of marshmallows and pasta. I also tried Cider, which here is alcoholic and tastes a bit like beer (which I hate) but the kind of cider I had was really fruity, so it was much more like pop.

Winning sculpture!
Twister (the extra plates on the sides had challenges)
Me and my bros (and dad)
Bright and early Monday morning we were up to prepare for the real fun of Raisin: the foam fight. First, all the kids go to their mum’s houses and get dressed up: my mum dressed us all up as biscuits! (I’m the oreo)
Biscuits. :)

Then, once you’re in costume, you walk to your dad’s house where he gives you the Raisin receipt. The idea of the receipt was originally to testify that you were a good child and you gave him wine like you were supposed to, but now the receipts are basically whatever huge object the father can find to force his children to carry around. In my case, our receipt was an entire paddling pool with slush and rubber ducks! We had to tote this all the way up to Sally’s quad, which took us nearly half an hour (thanks, Dad…)

My bros, dad, and the raisin receipt
Once at the quad, you toss your receipt in one of the dumpsters (such a waste… but I saved one rubber duck!) and enter the foam fight. Apparently the fight comes out of a tradition where if you didn’t have your receipt, you’d be dunked in the fountain, or some such madness. Now, it just means that all the freshers get cans of shaving foam which they proceed to spray on everyone else until the entire quad, and everyone in it, is completely covered in white. Need some evidence? Check out this BBC gallery.

And that, my friends, is Raisin, in all of its St. Andrews madness. There’s really nothing that’s odder, or more archetypically St. Andrew’s than a weekend of parties, crazy challenges, and shaving foam.