Monday, September 1, 2014

Day 365: I'm going... Home?

My flight leaves in two hours. I've all but left Scotland- Edinburgh airport doesn't really count as part of the country I've called home for the past year. I've said goodbye to England, to Scotland, to my friends, to St. Andrews... All that's left is to board the plane, sit back, and let it take me across the ocean. 

Am I excited to go back to Canada? Yes, of course. I do miss my country, my friends, my university, my family... I'm looking forward to seeing everything again and it'll be great to start my MA at Western. 

Still, I don't want to go. Over the past year Britain has truly captured my heart. St. Andrews has become my home, the town I know and love best in all the world. When I'm there I truly feel alive, like I belong. 

Going back to Canada doesn't feel like going home- it feels like travelling. Maybe it would be different if I was heading back to PEI, to be with my family, but flying straight back to Ontario, which I'm not particularly attached to, feels almost a little alienating. 

I'm not trying to downplay Ontario, or Western, or my friends there, or Canada as a whole. God has blessed me with twenty wonderful years in that country and I have so much to be thankful for. To all Canadians reading this, I'm not trying to imply that there's anything negative or lacking about our country. I'm proud to be Canadian.

It's just that travelling complicates the idea of home. After living in Britain, gaining the accent, and travelling Europe, I cannot be solely Canadian anymore. When I've lived in more than one place for so long, finding just one place to call home becomes pretty much impossible.

Maybe I'll go back and discover that Canada really is where I belong. Maybe I'll want to settle down there and content myself with occasional visits to Europe. 

But maybe I'll return to find that it's really not my country anymore. Maybe going 'home' will cement my sense that actually Britain is where I want to live long-term. Maybe Canada will be just as amazing as it always was, but I'll want something different. 

At this point I really don't know. I've got my one year MA ahead of me, but then my PhD could be anywhere. Canada, the US, Britain, Australia? Who knows? At this point I'm up for adventure, trusting that God will eventually show me a place I can call home. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Day 338: Living the Dream?

 I write this while sitting on a patio in Venice, a canopy to protect me from the brilliant sun, jazz music playing, a cup of tea steeping on the table, Italian waiters at the ready to bring me milk, or more hot water, or anything else I should need. 

I'm living the dream, apparently. 

Except, at the risk of sounding like the biggest spoiled brat in the history of the known universe (barring Justin Bieber), my life is no dream. 

Over this past year I've done so many things and been so many places that I've always dreamed about. Scotland. England. Ireland. Holland. Italy... the list could go on and on, but those are some of the main ones. Basically, for the past year, I have been quite literally living my dream. 

But, of course, this little thing called life tends to get in the way. The dream Britain is full of rolling hills and fish and chips and cups of tea with the Queen, but the real Britain involves wind and rain and supper in crowded MacDonalds and overnight busses breaking down at 5am.

The dream Italy involves relaxing on a balcony over the Mediterranean sipping wine, then taking a gondola ride through Venice and eating bowls of gelato in expensive florentine cafés. The real Italy involves grabbing meals in overpriced supermarkets and riding on crowded trains and getting hit on my creepy middle aged men and suffering blistered feet and sunburns. 

I'm not saying this to complain. Italy is amazing. All my travels have been fantastic. I wouldn't give up this past year for anything. But I just want to make it clear that my life is about as different from a travel magazine as a real life relationship is from a romance novel. 

Yes, I love my life. But it's really not a dream. That's why it's called life. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Day 332.2: Rome!

I love this place! I'd been warned that it was a bit of a dump, and yeah, it kind of is, but the sheer number of beautiful buildings make up for the crumbling ones and the  illustrious history compensates for the mediocre present.

After the thoroughly tiring plane flight, I made it to Rome a bit before 9am. Dragging my little green suitcase behind me I set off to find the hostel, which was apparently just seven blocks away. Well, it wasn't far, but it wasn't exactly easy to find, as it was on the top floor of a normal looking apartment building and there was no sign whatsoever! Thank goodness I had printed out a map with the address or I never would have found it. 

When I rang, the door was opened by a middle aged Turkish man who turned out to be a traveller in the same predicament as me- he arrived too early to check in. We left our bags in a side room, then set off together to the Colosseum. 

The first sight of the Colosseum was surreal. I've seen hundreds of pictures of it in history books and tourist guides... and then to have it rise up in front of me... Crazy... Unfortunately, the effect was diminished slightly by the fact that half of the main facade was covered by scaffolding. Still. So cool.

Admission cost €12 and also included the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine hill, which I thought was reasonable. Going in was so bizarre, thinking about the thousands of Romans who flocked there 2000 years ago to watch the gladiator fights... Strangely, the arena itself was much smaller than I expected. The outer walls, which look so thin in photos, are actually really thick to allow for layers and layers of seats. This means that the actual fighting ring is comparatively tiny. 

After grabbing some lunch from a cafe manned by a lanky Italian guy with long hair and a bored expression, I returned to the hostel to check in. I had reserved a six bed dorm, but it turns out I was given a room with just two beds, the other taken by an eccentric but friendly Hungarian woman who grew up in the US and now lives in Germany. She's a tad odd, but fun to chat with, and definitely an improvement over a dorm full of strangers!

I took a quick nap to make up for my sleepless night, then set off for the Roman Forum. This was certainly a highlight of the trip and one of Rome's most underrated attractions. It's the original site of the Forum, the Senate, the home of the Vestal Virgins, half a dozen temples, and Augustus's place. Basically, anything you've read about Rome- it's there. Of course, all these things are in ruins, but the site is actually an active archaeological dig, so you can see what they've discovered and what they're still looking for. I spent three hours wandering around here and ended up getting kicked out at closing time. Definitely recommended. 

At this point I was tired and hungry, so I returned to the hostel and got to sleep early. I wanted to be good and ready for the next day, touring the rest of Rome and the Vatican!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 332.1: Farewell Romania, Hello Rome!

It seems like most of my travel experiences involve being ridiculously tired. This is probably because the budget airlines always fly at inhumane hours of the morning, like the flight I'm waiting for right now, which leaves for Rome at 6:35am. That's why I got up this morning at 3:30 to be at the airport by 4:30, where, fortunately, the check in desk and security queues were quite efficient. 

I'm waiting at the boarding gate now, slightly before 5am, so I've got awhile to go yet. Boredom, combined with extreme tiredness, of course puts me in the blogging mood. Apologies, internets. Whenever I'm awake enough to write coherent blogs I'm probably off doing something more exciting.

Passport control was a tad awkward, since the guy kept flipping through my passport, looking from my photo to me and back again. I have got my hair cut fairly drastically since that photo, so that was probably the issue. He also asked me about my trip to Ukraine, about who I went with and was it safe. After chatting for a bit and actually joking a little he let me through, so I don't really know what the holdup was at first. 

(Have I mentioned I went to Ukraine? Don't think so... Well, I did. The day after the plane got shot down. Definitely genius planning on my part. But I survived, and some interesting blog posts will come from it, at any rate.)

So, I'm going to Rome. In fact, by the time I actually post this, I'll be in Rome. That's pretty crazy. I'm not quite sure why, but Rome has always been one of the top places in the world I've wanted to visit. A lot of people have told me that it's overrated and actually kind of a dump, but I'm still excited. It's got the colosseum, for Pete's sake! And the catacombs! And the Vatican! There are quite literally thousands of years of history standing right there-- I don't see how that can not be exciting.

And now, time for a power nap, and then I'll start praying the boarding crew doesn't ask me to put my bag in the sizer...


I'm in Rome! And I've been in the colosseum! And St. Peter's basilica! And I'm not going to visit the Sistine Chapel because it's really expensive, but I've been close. And I've seen so many beautiful buildings... I love this city! 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 330: Romania is a Wrap

On Friday I finished my second (and last) English teaching placement in Romania. We had a party, handed our certificates, and had a celebratory water fight... and then it was over. A few hugs, some thank you's, and I said goodbye-- perhaps forever-- to the group or students and volunteers who have filled my life for the past few weeks.

(Edumax, the first school I taught at)

It's a bit cliche, but it hasn't sunk in yet that I'm done. I've gotten so used to waking up at 7 every morning to plan lessons, to walking into the staff lounge and greeting the other volunteers, and to teasing Georgiana (my hostess/student). I'm pretty used to life in Suceava, and, despite it not being the most interesting city on the planet, I have enjoyed living here. 

(Photoshoot by an abandoned barn)

It's been a great month. Teaching certainly hasn't been without its challenges, and neither has been adjusting to such a different culture, but on the whole it's been really rewarding and a lot of fun. 

Before I came, last year's volunteers told me that Romanians were really friendly-- that's certainly proved true. I've loved spending time with my host families and the Romanian volunteers at the school. Together, we've explored Suceava, climbed a mountain, and spent countless hours chatting in pubs. 

(The top of mount Ceahlau, 1800m up!)

I can't say I'll be sad to get back to Britain in a week. As much as I'll miss the beautiful countryside and the friendly people and the great restaurants, I'm looking forward to getting back to a familiar language and a shared heritage and cleaner public places. At the risk of sounding horrendously snobby, I will be happy to return to a higher-income country, leaving the cracked pavement and the stray dogs far behind. 

But before Britain, Italy! On the 29th I fly out to Italy, where I'll spend a week visiting Rome, Naples, Florence, Pisa, and Venice. It's going to be a whirl-wind tour, but I'm definitely looking forward to it. 

(A monastery)

Just one more month travelling Europe. Three new countries left, bringing my total for this year to 20. Being on the road again will be tiring, but there is just so much more to see and do. I'm gonna make the most of this year. 

Romania, farewell. I couldn't live here-- I'm definitely too accustomed to my western standard of living. But even if Romania isn't as comfortable as the West, there's something more real here, a genuine vibrancy and warmth that made my stay so memorable. Hopefully I'll return some day. But even if I don't, Romania will always be part of me. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Days 288-293: The Mikado

On June 21st, a few days after mum went back to Canada, I performed as Peep-Bo in Gilbert and Sullivan's most famous operetta, The Mikado. Set in Japan, the story follows Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner of Titti-Pu, on his quest to obey the emperor, the Mikado, and find someone to execute... or be executed himself. 

It's somewhat of a dark comedy, with a lot of the humour revolving around characters planning each other's deaths, and it's often been accused of racism because of its portrayal of Japan. However, I think that the over-the-top situations and the caricature of Japanese culture are used to satirize the British political system, rather than poking fun at Japan, and the sheer strangeness of the story makes the satire more effective.

(Three little maids from school- I'm on the left, looking rather pleased about something)

The production came about in a sort of roundabout way. The performers were all members of the G&S society at St. Andrews, but it wasn't an official production. We just happened to have all the right people this year, performers who exactly fit the roles for the show, so we decided to put on a semi-staged version during the week before graduation. 

Since most of our society members were gone from St. Andrews by grad week, the chorus was sung by the audience, and we ran workshops throughout the day for people to learn the music. The principle roles were all cast by our lovely director without auditions, since she already knew who she wanted for each role. 

I got to play Peep-Bo, one of the 'three little maids from school.' Normally it's the smallest role in the show, with only a dozen lines and small parts in a few songs. In our production, however, we switched things around to even out the three little maids parts, so I ended up with quite a few lines and some substantial solo singing. It was a fun role for me, one I could bring a lot of energy to, with some pretty amusing emotional highs and lows. 

("I will instantly perform the happy dispatch with this dagger!")

Our rehearsal period was less than a week. We began rehearsals on Monday and performed Saturday evening. This meant that everyone was expected to attend 9-5, and sometimes long into the evening. I was a little apprehensive heading into rehearsal week, but the condensed time period really brought out the best in people. We all knew it would be hard, and we were determined to make it work.

Show day was certainly stressful. Due to availability of two of our principles, we never actually managed a proper dress rehearsal- the performance was our first (and only) full run! However, as we saw a good twenty people show up for the chorus rehearsals, and as around a hundred enthusiastic audience members turned up for the show, we knew it would all work out.

And it did. The show was by no means perfect-- I think I managed to somehow mess up every one of my vocal solos-- but it was fun. We were having a fantastic time and the audience was laughing and cheering and clapping and calling out 'encore!' I remember, near the end of the performance, sitting backstage and thinking how being in The Mikado, my favourite G&S, was quite literally a dream come true. 

(Behold the Lord High Executioner!)

My career in St. Andrews drama is basically over now. The Mikado was my final performance in St. Andrews, and in August I'll perform The Sorcerer in Harrogate with the society. Due to an unexpected job offer, one of our cast had to drop out, so I've been given the role of Hercules, which is a small but funny speaking role.

I'm so excited to have one more show with the society. Performing in St. Andrews has been an amazing experience. Eight shows later, I'm definitely a better, more confident performer, and as enthusiastic as ever. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Day 308: Week one of English Teaching

My first week of teaching English in Romania is officially a wrap. It's really satisfying to have finished a full week, but it's also a little sad to think that a quarter of my time here is already up, with only one more week until I switch schools and host families. 

This week has gone pretty much as well as I could have hoped. Monday was certainly a low point: I was tired from my first day of teaching, I was really confused about what was going on because I don't speak any Romanian, I was lonely because I wasn't able to meet up with the other student teachers, and I just really wanted to call my mom but I couldn't find an app that would let me call phones.

The thing is, after last year in Quebec, I've learned that adjusting to a new place is hard. I know that I'm likely going to feel miserable for the first few days. And that's okay, because now, one week on, I'm so glad I came. 

My host family is great. They have a large house on the edge of Suceava, so I get my own room and bathroom. The food is amazing- we've had shrimp and calimari, homemade schnitzel, goulash, stuffed pastries, and, of course, plenty of Romanian traditional dishes. My main problem is knowing how to politely decline food because I'm already way too full!

As for the teaching, it's been better than anticipated. I was a bit upset because I was allocated my last choice of group, 9-14 year olds in the afternoon, when I wanted to teach 15-18 year olds in the morning. However, when I first walked into class, I discovered that my students are mainly 13-16, and their English is fantastic. They're young enough to be pretty enthusiastic (I was worried about a 'too-cool-for-school' attitude, but it hasn't been a problem) but old enough to be taught at a fairly advanced level. 

The teaching isn't really conventional classroom style. I don't give them workbooks or expect them to memorize lists of irregular verbs. Instead, the point of the summer school is to have fun in an English-speaking environment. Most of the lessons are much more like games, and if the students aren't enjoying a particular exercise I don't drag it out. I don't make a concrete lesson plan for the day; instead, I come to class with a list of games and choose whichever one seems to flow naturally from the mood in the classroom. As a former homeschooler, who worked one whatever subject I felt like at the time, I love this more organic approach. 

The school also puts an emphasis on learning about other cultures. Tuesday July 1st was Canada day, so I showed up to school in a big Canada hat, showed the kids photos about Canada on my iPad, and passed around some Canadian money. Since that was my first Canada day ever out of the country, I was so happy to share the occasion with my students. 

On Friday, instead of our normal teaching hours, we held a ceilidh (a Scottish dance, pronounced Kay-lee) in the morning. Since the other teachers weren't as keen, I got the job of 'calling' the ceilidh, meaning I would teach the kids the steps and then yell them out while they danced. I was impressed by how fast the kids caught on, especially the little ones, and I'm looking forward to next Friday's last day of school ceilidh party. 

Suceava itself isn't the most interesting place to spend a month- it's not a touristy place at all, so there isn't much for us to other than sit in pubs and enjoy the cheap cocktails. The weather has been fairly cool for Romania, which I'm quite happy about, as it's been consistently mid-20s. I was worried it would be ridiculously hot, but instead it's been pretty comfortable. 

I'll write more about Romanian culture later. For now, I'm off to visit a monastery with my host family, then tomorrow I'll hike up a mountain with the other student teachers. After a week of teaching, this weekend will be a fantastic holiday. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Days 298-301: Cluj

It's been a whirlwind few days. The weekend in Cluj was one of the weirdest and most wonderful experiences of my life. Weird, because a year ago I never would have imagined I'd be spending a weekend in Romania with a group of students from around the world. Wonderful, because the experience of doing something so out of the ordinary gave me a real sense of freedom and the joy of simply existing.

Rather than wax awkwardly philosophical on the benefits of travel, I'll give you some more concrete observations about Romania, since the average western reader likely won't know much about this country. 

While it's not a rich country, Romania is actually known as a medium-high income country on a global scale, meaning that the quality of living isn't all that different from what we'd experience in the west. While shops and restaurants are generally cheaper, many of the same items and brand names are available. My western clothing doesn't look out of place and neither does my iPad. (Also, I must say, my host family's house in Suceava is way nicer than mine in either Canada or Scotland, so I by no means want to give the impression that all Romanians are poor, because the flat screen tv in my guest room definitely says otherwise...)

At the same time, it's still obvious the country isn't rich. The sidewalk is often cracked and the roads are potholed. Many of the buildings are covered in graffiti and need a new coats of paint. There's a fair bit of litter, and smoking is extremely common. Most of the nicer houses are surrounded by metal fences and electric gates. 

On Saturday afternoon, we visited a church near our hostel and chatted with the caretaker for a minute. We asked him if he had ever been to Scotland, and he just sort of laughed and said it was far too much money. This really changed my perspective-- to have a middle aged man admit that he couldn't afford to pay for the flight which I thought was so cheap. To say that he didn't have enough money to stay in Scotland, when I managed to pay rent for a year in one of Scotland's most expensive towns. That an established adult had less disposable income than I do. 

Because of the income difference, our weekend in Cluj felt like living like royalty. We could afford to eat out multiple times a day at the best restaurants in town while paying less than we would at a fish and chips place in the UK. We could buy earrings at the midsummer market or pretzels from the streetside stand, because even 10 Lei was still pocket change to us. 

It was so amazingly freeing and fun... and yet, somewhat unsettling. I've never been so comparatively rich, and I'm not quite sure how to deal with the feeling.

And I said I wouldn't wax philosophical in this blog post. Whoops!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day 298: Romania!

I have arrived in Romania. I may be a little bit tired and hungry and more than a little bit in need of a shower, but I have safely arrived in the formerly communist country that will be my home for the next month. 

It's been a pretty long road getting here. I left before 8am yesterday, catching a bus from St. Andrews to Dundee, then the megabus down to London. Because of delays, we didn't reach London until 9:30 pm, meaning I didn't get settled into my hostel until past 10:30. That wouldn't have been an issue, except that I had to wake up at 4:30am in order to catch the bus to London Luton airport in time to make my 8:30 flight. Things were a tad hectic and rushed at the airport, but I made it in time and they didn't make me check my carry-on bag (despite how I'm nearly positive it was too big) and I slept through most of the three hour flight. 

The Romanian airport immediately made me miss Britain-- they don't seem to understand the concept of a queue here! Everyone just sort of jostled together to get through passport control, which was pretty lax. 

Once through, the uncertainty began. I had been told that someone would likely be there to pick me up, but I had no idea where they'd be or what they looked like. I didn't immediately see anyone holding a sign with my name on it, so I wandered around the airport, got some money from an ATM (yes, I did go to a new country without a scrap of its currency on me. No, this didn't stress me out at all... maybe it should have?) attempted to locate a bus that would take me into town, and eventually decided to ask at the information desk, where I finally found the woman who was supposed to pick me up. Apparently she had been at the airport all along, with a sign, but we must have just missed each other. 

She drove me into the centre of Cluj and dropped me off at the hostel where all of us TEFL volunteers will stay until Saturday night. Cluj is Romania's second largest city with a population of 450,000. It's a lovely place-- not too busy, with some picturesque buildings and slightly mountainous countryside visible just beyond. The overwhelming colours are adobe beige, yellow, and pink, with a bit of stone and stucco. 

This afternoon I got the chance to explore a little bit. I set out without looking at the map and wandered along some old walls, climbed up to a university building, and visited a market square complete with cathedral and craft fair (I bought a lovely pair of earrings featuring little bronze ballet dancers). The hostel also had a party to celebrate their 12th anniversary, so I enjoyed the free cake and wine. 

On Saturday, the other TEFL volunteers and I will all be sent out to our placements. I'm going to Suceava, a city of around 90,000 people, in northeast Romania (about half an hour from the borders of Ukraine and Moldova). I'm looking forward to seeing the city, meeting my host family, and starting work teaching English! 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Day 278: Update from the Continent

(Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness)

Apparently I haven't blogged in a few weeks, not since exams. Whoops... So much has happened since then that I could have blogged a dozen times, but I've been so busy living through all this exciting stuff that I haven't had time to blog.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to write more detailed posts about some of the travelling I've been doing recently, but in case I don't, here's a brief look at everything that's happened in the past few weeks. 

1-  I finished exams! My own exams went decently, I had fun soaking my friends after their finals, and when I got my marks back just yesterday I found I passed all my modules with quite a decent average. Perhaps my marks were a tad lower than they would have been in Canada, but I'm still happy, considering how busy I was, and how I had to get used to a new academic system. 


2- Mum came! A few days after my last exam, mum flew out from Canada for a visit. She's here for a full four weeks, which means we're just a tad over half way right now. I loved showing her St. Andrews and introducing her to my friends, and she's a great travelling companion.

3- I moved out of St. Andrews. :( While I haven't said goodbye for the last time (I'm back for a bit in June, then for the last weekend in August before finally flying home September 1st) I have moved out of my flat and said goodbye to many of my friends. This, not surprisingly, was really hard, but having mum here definitely made things easier, since she helped me pack up my stuff, and travelling with her has helped take my mind of what I'm leaving behind.

4- I've visited four countries: Scotland (up north, so basically completely different from St. Andrews), England (Durham), the Netherlands (Friesland, Gouda) and now Germany (I'm writing this on the train just over the border from Holland, but we plan to visit Cologne, Manheim, and Heidelberg). It's cool to add a new country to my list (Germany makes 15), and I've really enjoyed seeing new places in countries I've already visited. 

(The house in the Netherlands where my great-grandparents lived)

That's life now. Another week of travelling, then a week in St. Andrews performing in The Mikado (a Gilbert and Sullivan, what else?) and then I'm off to Romania for a month! I have the feeling this summer is really going to fly by, since I'm constantly busy. The month in Romania will probably be the quietest time I get, since August will be spent dashing across the UK. 

As I mentioned in number 3, I do have a flight home now on September 1st. I'm flying Edinburgh to Toronto, which means that I'll leave from St. Andrews, which I think is fitting. Unfortunately, flying straight to Toronto means I won't have any time home in PEI this summer, so I won't get to see my family, friends, or the beautiful Island. On the other hand, I do get to spend the maximum time here in Europe, and I'll still be here when my BFF, Sharon, comes out for her exchange next year. Then, when I finally do leave, orientation for my MA program starts the very next day. It'll be busy, but I won't have time to miss Scotland if I throw myself right in to life back in Canada. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day 263: Soakings

It appears that every tradition at St. Andrew’s involves getting cold and wet. Raisin Weekend, the May Dip (more about that in another post), Pier jumps, and now Soakings.

Soakings are a bizarre combination of celebration and revenge. After you finish your final exam of your final year (which, for me, was at 11:30 on Monday) your friends waylay you outside your examination venue and douse you with water (and occasionally glitter. Or champagne. Or flour. Or flowers. But technically it’s supposed to be just water). This serves as a wonderfully amusing way to celebrate the end of your undergrad degree.

A friend's soaking this afternoon, with an unconventional soaking implement.
I’ve been to a bunch of soakings, some by friends’ houses when they were writing take-home exams, other times in officially designated ‘soaking areas’ by the main exam venues. The ones at houses tend to be a little crazier, since they aren’t subject to the water-only regulation, but the ones at official venues are fun because there’re often multiple people getting soaked at the same time, like when the medics all finished their final exam on the same afternoon.

A friend's soaking in her backyard. Water was followed by several containers of glitter. :)
Being soaked is the oddest mix of feeling so hated and so loved at the same time. Although getting doused with water isn’t exactly pleasant (especially with Scotland’s temperatures, wind, and rain), you’re so elated to be done your degree and so pleased to see that all of your friends have come to celebrate with you, that you welcome the buckets of ice-cold water (although your nicer friends bring warm water to help you avoid hypothermia.)
Group photo after my soaking. Love these people! <3

My soaking is one of my favourite St. Andrew’s memories. Four years of intense study at four different universities, all culminating in a few minutes of dodging streams of water and giving friends big wet hugs. A huge thanks to all my friends who came to my soaking and helped make the ending of my undergraduate career really memorable! St. Andrew’s really was the perfect place to spend the last year of my undergrad.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Day 259: Last Night

It's my last night as an undergraduate student. Tomorrow, at 11:30 GMT, I'll have finished my last exam. Maybe I won't formally graduate until November, but I'll be done.

Tomorrow I'll write a lovely, long, nostalgic post about my past four years in university. Now, though, I just have to say that it feels bizarre.

Done. Complete. Finished.

It hasn't sunk in.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Days 247-251: Five Days, Five Shows

Last week was our second revision week before exams. Being the studious student that I am, I decided that the library was overrated and a trip to London would be far more fun. So I packed a bag and set off to enjoy four days of London's theatre.

The Rosetta stone at the British museum

Other than theatre, I also watched the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which was rather disappointing. I stood there for over an hour and all I saw was  four groups of guards marching into the palace grounds and one group marching out. There were thousands of people there so I couldn't get close to the gates, or I might have been able to see more. Basically, I wouldn't recommend it unless you have tons of time to arrive super early and get a space right by the gates.

I also spent some time in the British museum and I think (after about four visits) I've finally been in every room. I loved the ancient Babylonian, Egyptian, and Assyrian statues-- it's just amazing how old and well-preserved the artifacts are. 

Now, to the five plays I managed to see:

Cats (New Wimbledon Theatre, Tuesday, £20 upper circle)
This production was only in London for two weeks and it was showing down in Wimbledon, which meant I missed the first twenty minutes because the tube journey down took so long. It didn't really matter, though, because Cats doesn't have much plot. Based on T. S Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats,' it's basically a showcase of song and dance held together really loosely by the idea of the Jellicle Ball. While I was disappointed by the lack of a story, I was blown away by the quality of the dance and vocals.

Cats stage during the interval
(with Old Deuteronomy signing programs)

King Lear (National Theatre (Olivier), Wednesday Matinee, £15 Circle day tickets)
Starring Simon Russel-Beale, I had heard nothing but good things about this production of Lear. I was unfortunately in the very back row, so I didn't get a good look at the actor's faces, but I loved them all. Performed in modern dress with a rotating stage and a large military chorus, the show felt clean and slick, highlighting Lear's descent into madness and the resulting political chaos. 

King Lear's stage before the performance
(the moon was a projection, and they had it slowly eclipsed as we waited)

Birdland (Royal Court Theatre, Wednesday evening, £10 student circle)
Starring Andrew Scott, this play was the reason I went to London. I booked my ticket months in advance, since that particular performance had a talk-back with the cast and crew afterwards. The play followed rock star Paul (Andrew Scott) on his journey through fame, showing how it destroyed his relationships with everyone around him. Although the play itself was perhaps a tad too black and white (money=bad, real relationships=good) it was an intriguing look at fame, especially since half the audience (myself included) had only come to see Andrew Scott, who is himself dealing with unexpected fame. There was a fantastic scene where the character Paul declines to take a photo with a fan because he says that photos are like taking a piece of your soul... but after the show he took photos with a bunch of fans (myself included!) at the stage door. In that way, the play did a great job in implicating the audience in the devastating impacts of fame.

Moriarty! And Me! In the same photo! Again! :D 

Once (Phoenix Theatre, Thursday, £25 front row day seat)

Starring Arthur Darvill (Rory on Doctor Who), Once was absolutely adorable. The music was all played by the actors onstage, giving the whole production a homey, comfortable feel. The songs were beautiful ('falling slowly' featured several times- I hadn't realized it came from this musical). The story was poignant, and the actors all had incredible chemistry. Arthur Darvill was so cute that somehow his somewhat subpar musicianship made him seem even more endearing (I should note that he was better than I expected; he just didn't stand out in a cast of strong musicians). The female leadZrinka Cvitešić, made me love her from the instant she pushed past me to make her entrance. All in all, a beautiful performance, only enhanced by how I was literally touching the stage. 
So. Much. Adorable.
(the photo isn't mine- my camera ran out of batteries before this show)

Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare's Globe, Friday, £5 standing)
Seeing a show at the Globe was quite literally a dream come true. As a renaissance drama nerd, I've always wanted to visit the Globe, and stepping into the theatre was like entering a fantasy world. I was a tad worried about getting a standing ticket for a three hour show, and I've got to admit that it was hard on the feet, but the proximity to the actors made it so worth it. I was right up against the stage, placing me just inches from the actors. At several points they ran right through the audience or shoved us aside to make way for a triumphal procession. They utilized the space so well that I didn't mind the lack of lighting, a curtain, or the fourth wall. While I'm not a huge fan of the show itself- it's simply so disturbingly violent that I'm not sure it can be properly enjoyable- the actors all did a phenomenal job, and I was able to easily follow the plot despite not having read the play. Finally, during the bows at the end they dragged audience members up to dance across the stage, so I grabbed a hand and got pulled up onto the Globe stage! It was truly an amazing Shakespeare experience. 

Titus's triumphal procession through the audience
(this is also not my photo)

All in all, my London theatre week was everything I had hoped it would be. I packed in a lot, but not too much, so I was able to relax a bit and enjoy some time with friends on the last night. So much more fun than sitting in the library studying!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Day 240: Endings

To employ an overly bookish metaphor: a chapter of my life is coming to a close. However, instead of quickly moving on to a new chapter, I feel like the page is being curled over slowly, leaving me waiting half way between chapters.

I hadn’t realized how many half-endings there would be here. A year ago I completed my last classes and exams at King’s, which was certainly bitter sweet. This year, it’s my entire undergraduate career that’s over. Two weeks ago I dropped off my last essay. A week was my last official performance in St. Andrew’s. Last week was the last CU meeting. Yesterday was my last class. In three weeks it’s my last exam. In a month I leave St. Andrew’s.

The problem with all these endings is that they’re constantly negated by other events. After handing in my last essays, I still had another presentation. After the last CU meeting, we still had a ball and a BBQ. After my official last show, I’m still doing two more Gilbert and Sullivan performances. After my last exams, I’ll already be thinking about my MA. After leaving St. Andrew’s, I’ll be returning at least two or three times during the summer.

It’s hard to say goodbye when there are so many endings. There’s no definitive moment when I can hug everyone and cry and really let go of this town and my life as an undergraduate. Everything sort of flows together in an unending stream of last times. I’m never really sure when something really is the last time and when it’s just a sort of rehearsal for the real goodbye.

And that’s okay. If there was some sort of big moment when everything was done and I had to give up this year and switch into my life next year, that would only make things so much harder. It’s easier this way, to give things up slowly and to ease into all the exciting things happening next year.

Right now it’s looking like I might not fly back to Canada until September 1st, the day before my MA orientation. Maybe it’s a stupid idea to start my time back ‘home’ with a bad case of jetlag (although apparently it’s not as bad going east to west as west to east) but I want to stay here as long as possible. Plus, there’s a sort of poetic justice in returning to Canada on September 1st, since last fall I left on September 2nd. It would be a lovely way to round out a year of travel.

I don’t want to leave this town, this country, this life. But, at the same time, I’m so very excited for next year. I’m excited to start my MA and work on a thesis. I’m excited to live with a family again. I’m excited to act in Marlow’s Doctor Faustus. I’m excited to see my country again, and to finally see my family. As much as I’m sad to leave this chapter of my life behind, I’m definitely looking forward to the next one. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day 230: The Sorcerer

"All is prepared for sealing and for signing!"
A scene in the middle of Act I
The Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of The Sorcerer closed yesterday, leaving me with a crippling case of post-show-depression this evening. Twenty four hours ago we would have just taken our bows and I’d be running into the foyer to hug friends and listen to their congratulations and thank them for coming to see the show (seriously, to anyone who came to see the show—thanks so much! It means the world to me that you came out and enjoyed it).

Myself and Peter Sutton as John Wellington Wells--
the Sorcerer
The Sorcerer was a very different show than Iolanthe. Set in the village of Ploverleigh in the west of England, the plot is a mix of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Doctor Faustus. Alexis and Aline are about to get married and so they decide that everyone in the village should also be in love. Enlisting the help of John Wellington Wells, the local sorcerer, they concoct a love potion which causes everyone in the village to fall asleep… and then fall in love with the first person they see. Mayhem ensues, resulting in the death of the sorcerer, but the eventual happiness of everyone else.

Some fine ladies of Ploverleigh...
and an unexpected visitor
I was a chorus member and choreographer for the show, which was great fun. Though The Sorcerer isn’t my favourite G&S operetta, the chorus has some fun songs and is onstage for a substantial amount of time. We also had some acting to do (falling in—and out!— of love) as well as some semi-complicated blocking/dance, so the show presented a bit of a challenge even though I wasn’t a principal.

The Lady Sangazure (left) condescends to pose with
the lower classes
Thankfully, the show isn’t really quite over. On May 3rd, St. Andrew’s is hosting Scotland’s celebrations of the International Gilbert and Sullivan Day, which include speeches, a three course dinner, and a promenade performance of The Sorcerer through the town. Then, in August, we’re taking the show to the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Harrogate (in the north of England). These performances won’t be the same, of course, but still… it’s a chance to revisit Ploverleigh and sing all the songs again!

Upper class ladies of Ploverleigh

What I’ll really miss, though, are the people. There’s really nothing that brings people together like being in a show. When the final curtain went down and I realized that I’d likely never perform with many of these people again… I just didn’t know how to deal. It’s been absolutely magical to inhabit the fictional world of Ploverleigh with all these friends and so very hard to leave.

My stage husband, Ronan
But. BUT. This is far too pessimistic a view of acting. Yes, it’s tough when a show’s over. It’s hard to tear myself away from the people and the music and the costumes and the lights and the story… but there are more stages to tread, and more characters to play, and more stories to tell.

Yes, I’m sad The Sorcerer is over. But, in the end, I’m even happier that it was a part of my life. Thank you so much to the cast and crew—you were all fantastic, and I’m honoured to have worked alongside you.
The entire chorus (points for spotting me!)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Day 144-148: Theatre in London

London. I can never get enough of that city. The energy, the vibrancy, the diversity, the Britishness... Just stepping off the plane put a smile on my face.

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square
This time, I went to London to spend the weekend with Hannah and her friend Molly. We stayed at Molly's great aunt's, and I'd say it was the nicest place I stayed at on my whole trip. We had a guest flat in a large, modern glass building, in Chelsea (the posh part of London) right overlooking the Thames. It was a tad inconvenient to get to the tube (the nearest station was half an hour walk away) but a helpful bus ran right by the flat and into central London. 

At the Canadian Embassy- One foot in Canada, the other in Britain! :)
The point of being in London, as I wrote about here, was to get tickets to Coriolanus and Richard II, starring Tom Hiddleston and David Tennant, respectively. As I mentioned, we were only half successful, but I enjoyed the theatre experience nonetheless.

The stage at the start of Richard II
Firstly, Richard II was fantastic. Tragic, funny (the scene where they keep throwing down the gauntlet was flippin' hilarious), well-acted and directed, with beautiful musical additions... It was everything I had hoped it would be. Even without David Tennant, I would have loved the show. With him, it was basically the best first live Shakespeare experience I could have hoped for (odd, isn't it, that I hadn't see Shakespeare live before? What kind of English Major am I?)

The stage at the end of Richard II
Since Hannah and Molly were disappointed about not seeing Coriolanus, they had scoured the West End to find another show for us to watch that evening. Eventually they bought tickets for Agatha Christie's 'The Mousetrap,' which is the world's longest running play, going for 62 years and 25,498 performances. I really enjoyed the show, it was dramatic and funny and clever, and watching it definitely took the sting off of not seeing Coriolanus. We were just a tad depressed when we walked out and noticed that the Donmar Warehouse was right across the road. So near, yet so far...

St. Martin's theatre, playing the Mousetrap
Sunday was supposed to be an exciting day: morning church service at Hillsong, afternoon tea at Molly's aunt's, and evening service at Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, I managed to get dreadfully ill with a fever/flu/cold, so I spent the entire day lying in bed, too knackered to even watch TV. By the evening I was feeling a bit better (probably because Hannah made me take a pill, helped down by a spoonful of Nutella) so I called my family and talked to them for about three hours before my iPad decided to quit. 

These lovely ladies dressed up for The Mousetrap;
I was still in a hoody and messy makeup after queuing at 6:50 for Richard II! 
On Monday, I took the four o'clock train back up to St. Andrews. It's really convenient how they have a train service directly from London up to Aberdeen, running past St. Andrews, so it only took me 5.5 hours to get back.

The Albert Bridge in Chelsea, where I went for a walk Monday morning
And that concludes my adventures. Forty days, eleven cities, countless friends and relatives and acquaintances... It was quite a time. I'm never going to forget this Europe trip.