Homeward Bound

19 Dec

My last days in London were spent studying and writing papers for finals. On Thursday I turned in my last final paper. That night Tim and I went to a Christmas Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The music was beautiful and the cathedral was stunning from the inside. I am really glad I was able to attend a service at St. Paul’s, one of the world’s most recognizable churches.

Inside St. Paul's before the service.

Friday was almost surreal for me. Well aware I was leaving London the next day, I was at the point where I wanted to try to just take it all in. It was hard to find things to occupy myself during the day. I ended up taking a last walk over to Regents Park and to Primrose Hill. It was good exercise and got my mind off the sadness of leaving. Reaching the top of Primrose Hill was amazing. The view of London is absolutely amazing and totally worth the hour walk it took to get there.

I spent the rest of the day hanging out in Nido, cleaning my room, and packing. I played my last game of pool in the Nido cafe. I tried to get some sleep but really was unsuccessful. My roommate Pat and I said our sad good byes to all our London friends at 4 in the morning before heading down to catch our taxi to Heathrow.

18 hours of travel later, I was back home. I was so excited and happy to see my family. It’s great to be back home.

Sometimes good things must come to an end. And so it was with my time in London. After three months of living abroad I was ready to return home. I can remember it as clearly as yesterday when I left home and began my journey to London back in September. Three months later, I am back home in Buffalo NY writing my last blog post. Looking back on my experience I learned many things about myself, the United Kingdom, London, and Europe. I still can’t believe how fortunate I was to be able to spend three months of my life studying abroad. It was definitely one of the best experience of my life and something I will never, ever forget.

Paris

8 Dec

This past weekend my friend from Wooster Tim Stehulak and I went to Paris! It was so exciting and enjoyable traveling to another city in Europe. The last time I left England was to travel to Madrid so it had been while since I traveled abroad. Our Eurostar train left St. Pancras International at 5:30 am on Friday so we rolled out from Nido bright and early.

I slept most of the way on the Eurostar so I was pleasantly surprised to awake and find myself staring at the platform in Paris Gare du Nord station. Immediately I was disoriented. We wandered through the train station for a good 45 minutes looking for a Cash Machine. I also don’t understand why we in America call them ATMs. I mean Cash machine makes so much more sense than Automated Teller Machine. Cultural difference.

After withdrawing enough money, we headed for the metro station. I can not overstate how completely disoriented I was this entire time. We had no map and no idea where we were going. We somehow managed to find the right metro line and went straight for the Eiffel Tower.

Luckily for us, we arrived at the Tower around 10:30 so it was early enough. The lines were not long at all. We took the elevator all the way up one pillar/leg of the Tower and then changed onto another elevator to take that up to the pinnacle. The views were amazing.

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

La Defense, the financial district

Not sure what this is....

The River Seine

Me and the Eiffel Tower

I love seeing urban areas from a high vantage point. I don’t think you can get any better than seeing Paris from the Eiffel Tower.

Next we walked to the Arc de Triumphe and ate lunch on the Champs Elysees.

Arc de Triumphe

We were lucky most people in the service industries in Paris speak English. I would say the important thing to remember when communicating is to speak slowly. Next up we headed back to the Eiffel Tower and took a River Tour on the Seine. Unfortunately at this point my dumb camera decided to run out of battery and I didn’t many good pictures on the River. My camera did make a resurgence when we arrived at Notre Dame later that afternoon.

Notre Dame Cathedral

After Notre Dame we took the Metro out to Basilica Sacre Coeur in Montmarte. The Basilica was probably my favorite part of the trip because it is situated on this hill where you can see the city at night. It was great. Tim took some nice photos so I will put them up as soon as I get them.

ATP World Tour Finals

28 Nov

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to see the year ending tennis tournament at London’s O2 Arena. I was able to see two sessions, one on Monday afternoon, and another on Wednesday evening. On Monday I saw David Ferrer of Spain take on Andy Murray of Great Britain in the singles match. We also got a doubles match between an Indian team with long and confusing names, and a team from Sweden/Romania. The doubles match was cool to watch because it showed me a lot of things I can do better in my own tennis game. Their reflexes are pretty quick and they have precise and coordinated footwork. The doubles match was played at a very fast pace, so the points didn’t last very long. It was very staggered and not continuous. After two sets of this I was ready for some singles.

I could tell during warm ups that Ferrer was ready to play. He was constantly jumping around, bouncing, running and just looking fit and ready to go. He reminded me of the Energizer Bunny. In contrast Murray seemed a little lethargic, tired, and slow. This of course played out in the match as Ferrer won rather easily over the world number three 6-3, 6-1. That’s pretty convincing.

I cheered hard for Murray. I want to see him do well in his own country. The London fans wanted him to win too I think but it is hard not to root for Ferrer. He is so consistent and is very difficult to beat. He really deserved to win. It was revealed later that Murray had a groin injury. This forced him to pull out of the tournament.

The O2 Arena

For the Wednesday evening session, I met up with my two friends Lukasz and Sulian at the arena. I met these guys playing tennis through the City University Tennis Club. It was cool getting to know them better and talking some tennis. I have not really had a lot in common with a lot of people I have met here so I really enjoyed talking with these guys.

The first match was between the American Bryan Brothers and the aforementioned Swedish/Romanian doubles team. The brothers Bryan won very easily. Go USA!

Bryan Brothers on the left. Ready for play!

Tennis court in the arena

Next up was Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer in singles. Djokovic is the top ranked player in the world, or basically he is the BEST tennis player in the world right now. I was lucky enough to see him play even though he was not in top form at all. Ferrer dominated again from the outset and won handily. Watching them play singles was neat because I got to see how fast they play. Everything was faster. They move faster and hit the ball harder. I don’t think you really get that when you’re sitting on your couch watching on TV. Their speed was the biggest aspect that stood out to me.

Djokovic serving

I really enjoyed seeing some tennis for the first time live and in person. It was a great deal to be able to see two matches of some of the best tennis players in the world. They weren’t the best matches ever, but nonetheless a very enjoyable experience.

LeBron James in London! What?

13 Nov

So close I could almost touch him

LEBRON JAMES! In London! I couldn’t believe it! How was I able to get this close to this superstar/celebrity/athlete. Lucky and unbelievable right?

Thankfully I am a twitterer and follow LeBron James on the micro blogging site. For my money, it’s better than Facebook. You get to follow the people who mean something to you. News, sports, entertainment, comedy; it’s all there.

I am one of LeBron James’ over 2 million followers. As I was sitting at my desk on Saturday evening watching some Parks and Recreation (one of the funniest shows on TV), I see LeBron tweet this:

There you go! Twitter at is finest, allowing superstars to easily connect with their fans. One of the many great things about the site.

I awoke early this morning and took the Central Line to Stratford. Stratford is where the Olympic Park is located for London 2012 Olympics. The area is still under construction for the most part but it seems to be coming together finally. Westfield Stratford Mall where LeBron was going is the largest shopping mall in Europe.

When I got to the Nike Store I waited in line for a good hour until he arrived. He was 45 minutes late. Upon arrival, every one craned their necks and forced their cameras to the front to get a good picture of him. After signing some autographs, he was immediately whisked inside and upstairs where he gave a 15 minute question and answer session. The promoter got to ask most of the questions like, “What’s the worst/best part about playing in the NBA?”, “What is your favorite English soccer team?”, and “Who is the toughest player to play against in the NBA?” (answer: Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul). One kid asked him what his favorite food was and LeBron said cheese pizza! Come on man! Can’t you think of something better than that? Of course he was asked about the meltdown in the NBA Finals last summer. Here is his answer:

Yeah he plays it straight and gives credit to the Mavericks. Nothing too special. It’s a question everyone who follows the NBA and sports wants to know so it must be asked.

LeBron has a receding hair line. I have heard jokes about this back during the NBA season but yeah upon seeing him in real life, the dude is definitely losing that hair! He is also huge. He is so big. 6-8 and 200 some pounds. Straight up beast. You see him on TV but you don’t really know until you see him in person. He stands a good head taller than everyone else. He is also just COVERED in tattoos. He was even asked how many tattoos he has and he didn’t even know. Apparently he lost track at age 14.

Getting animated

After he left the Nike store, I tagged along next to him and tried to get an autograph. No can do. He was surrounded by body guards and security. Take a look:

LeBron is the tall one with the red head-phones

Seeing LeBron, rather spontaneously and lucky, MADE my weekend. I don’t think I will EVER get that close to another superstar athlete like that in my life. It was amazing. It’s too bad I didn’t get an autograph or a personal photo, but somethings just are not made to happen. Nevertheless I still SAW LeBron in person and up close, less than five feet away. How many people can say that?
Oh and please follow me on twitter! My screenname is @dgree91

Lord Mayor’s Show

13 Nov

The Lord Mayor’s show is a parade through the City of London. It sometimes coincides with Armistice Day so being as the 11th was on Friday, it was a nice way to honor the soldiers. For Armistice Day, the tradition in Britain is to wear plastic poppies on your shirt or jacket. Proceeds go to support veterans in Great Britain. Its a nice tradition I think and a much more visible way for the average person to honor the soldiers who fought for our countries. I don’t see why we can’t do something similar in the U.S.

Tim and I awoke early Saturday morning and headed down to St. Paul’s for the parade. We were there early enough so we got a nice spot. Apparently I am just too tall for some people so they insist on nudging ahead of me to get a view. These two asian girls just HAD to get up front. C’mon people! You get there early for a good spot and you wait. You should be rewarded with a good view of the parade. Not the latecomers who are short, rude, and annoying.

Army truck

Just a great shot of the Lord Mayor. Can't even see his face

The parade lasted almost two hours. I am sure all the community groups and stuff mean something here in London but they didn’t do much for me. If this parade was like a London’s version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, it was not at all. It was more downscale and low-key. No extravagant Charlie Brown floats or Santa Claus arriving on his decked out sleigh. Instead you get the Lord Mayor of the CITY of London. He is not even the mayor of London. That’s Boris Johnson. I am not sure what I expected out of this parade but there you go. I wasn’t disappointed, but I was not exactly amazed either. Chalk it up to my lack of space, being surrounded by people for two hours, and annoyance at these chatty asian girls who pushed their way in front of me.

The Roman Baths

13 Nov

I arrived at the Bath Spa train station around 10 am Friday morning. I headed straight for the Roman Baths and Spas. I have heard some good things about Bath and the Spas so I figured it would be cool to see some Roman history and get out of London for a day. It was well worth the pricey train ticket.

The Roman Spas are situated right in the middle of the city. I was surprised that they did not really stand out much from the other buildings. All the architecture and buildings in Bath are significantly older than in the United States. I walked through the museum and saw some Latin words still inscribed on stones on display. I took Latin in high school and I enjoyed seeing the old, useless language all over again. It’s hard to believe these words are STILL inscribed thousands of years later.

The actual baths are located below street level but you get a nice view from the terrace above them. Circling the terrace are statues of various Roman leaders such as Caesar, Hadrian, and Trajan. I’m not sure if they really mean much to the average tourist but they meant something to me. I am a History major so I should know something about classical history considering how influential and advanced the Romans were.

View of the Great Bath from the terrace at street level

Great Bath from the terrace and city buildings in the background

The water is green!! Yuck. You can still seem the steam rising up from the hot springs and above the water. There is definitely a spring down below the Baths somewhere. You can just FEEL the heat. One of those things where you just need to be there. I even got to taste some bath water. It was warm, icky, and chock full of iron apparently.

After the Baths, I ate some lunch and walked around the city centre. I’m not sure how many people live in Bath. It’s smaller than Buffalo New York while bigger than Wooster Ohio.

At 2pm I went on the free walking tour of the city. I saw some fantastic architecture and ancient buildings. The city is just so much older than anything I am accustomed too. It blows my mind that we have managed to insert modern infrastructure like internet, water, sewage, and electricity among all these ancient ruins. It would be so COOL to grow up in a city like Bath.

Can you imagine living here?!

After the tour I walked back to the train station to catch the train back to London. Bath was great mainly because I got to see some ancient buildings, the Roman Baths, and get out of London. London is great but it was VERY refreshing taking a break from the city for a day.

Halloween….and then the sickness

3 Nov

Halloween in London!

This day of trick or treating for the children and drunken costumed revelry for the young adults is a day looked forward too by many. I am not a huge fan of getting all dressed up for Halloween unless I have a good costume. This year I was thinking of maybe going out as the deceased Libyan dictator Omar Gaddafi. I have the aviator shades and maybe I could grow out some facial hair. Could I pull it off??

No I couldn’t. I didn’t have the time of energy to find anything else necessary for a Gaddafi costume. Oh well.

We all went out to O’Neill’s, a pub chain  in London, in Piccadilly Circus. For the first time in London I actually felt some energy and enthusiasm on the tube ride down to Piccadilly. Londoners were excited for Halloween! When we got to the bar I was relieved to see some people were dressed up and some were not so I felt OK not being in costume. Snooki, from the Jersey Shore, was even there!

Just kidding! That's actually Brenda Wu, fellow London Nower

Overall the evening was a good time. Unfortunately by the end of the night I could feel the sickness coming. I had a sore throat and was unusually exhausted. I don’t usually get sick too much, maybe the occasional common cold (why haven’t we discovered a cure for these damn colds yet?), and that is about it. This though, was a full on fever/flu bug. Boo to that!

The next morning I went to the Tate Britain Museum in Pimlico for my History of Modern Britain class. It just sucked. I had to stand there as a substitute professor rattled on about these ugly paintings of London. I know I sound grouchy but I was not feeling well AT ALL. The Tate is a nice art museum for sure, but I did not have the energy or enthusiasm that day. Pity.

Since I have been sick, I have the time to blog more. I am feeling better now but still not 100% so I am taking it easy for a few days. Hopefully I can kick this bug by the weekend and get back to touring London and maybe even accomplishing my goal of getting out into the English countryside. A trip to the Roman Spas in Bath might be in the near future!

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