In the aftermath of this week, which has been a tumultuous one to say the least (election, much?), I went on a walk—to clear my head, to connect with a friend, to feel more grounded and real in the world, and to have an excuse to get off my couch and out of my sweatpants. We went to Hampstead Heath, a beautiful slice of wilderness full of winding walking paths, tranquil swimming ponds, and proud ancient trees.
There were also a million joyous dogs running around this park, chasing and playing and running and just existing so happily that you couldn't help but smile.
We could see so much of London spread our before us from the top of one of the hills, and it drove home for me how much there is still to explore! I got into a rut this week where I had a hard time getting out and doing things, so getting fresh air, exercise, and perspective was exactly what I needed to vibrantly show me that there is color and joy and beauty in life out there to be pursued and created.
Rewinding a bit, I went to see a musical this week with some friends. The Last Five Years is playing at the St. James Theatre and has been one of my favorite musicals that I've discovered in the past few years. It was such a joy to finally see it live for the first time.
I've seen Samantha Barks previously in Amélie (the musical) at the Berkeley Rep and in the film version of Les Mis as Eponine, and she is just unreal in absolutely everything. Her voice physically blows you back in your seat it's so powerful and emotional, and the venue was so wonderfully intimate and the acting was incredible...it was perfect. In the previous week we went to see Bastille (a great band) live at the O2, a GIGANTIC venue in downtown London. It's essentially a huge tent, held up thanks to some fascinating engineering, with a whole shopping center and entertainment arena inside. The musicians were incredible, with not a note sung out of tune and every song played with such passion that the whole stadium was swept along. Their music is very anthemic, and they managed to personally connect with an overwhelming sea of people (no easy feat) with a really fun mix of songs from their new album and lots of their old popular songs.
On the way home from this we passed Buckingham Palace. Because it was dark as I was making my way to the venue, I didn't have a good grip on my bearings and wasn't expecting it to be there. Then on the way home it was just like, 'WHAM, in your face, here's where the royalty lives, SURPRISE'. I'd definitely like to go back during the day and do some more ogling and get some better photos.
I went ice-skating with some friends at the gorgeous, twinklingly festive ice rink outside the Natural History Museum castle.
The lovely people in my program are so positive, and are a genuinely wonderful support network for both studying and relaxing.
I've also had some friends over for dinner in our flat. We ate delicious food, and had planned on watching a movie but ended up having such a lovely time talking that suddenly it was midnight and we had to part ways. I loved having people over to share the coziness, and we got to see Guy Fawkes night fireworks out of my flat windows—we had great views of fireworks from every window, which was such a joy because that was the first night that the temperature dropped below 30 degrees F. Autumn has truly settled in, and is getting its winter coat on.
I've also gone with some friends to visit the vast Camden market, which is a grungy, motley of booths and side streets and underground tunnels jam-packed with antique shops and creative boutiques, tiny closet-like shops with incredible finds and warehouses spilling over with artifacts that you can never imagine anyone actually buying, like doll's heads and moldering comic books and shag tea cozies--but there are some real treasures in there too.
I've also discovered that there's a lovely movie theatre walking distance from our flat—down a windy road with flats that seem to progress through time from the Edwardian era to the Victorian era to the 20's and thirties. Each looks pretty similar to the one next to it but with little additions, like patchwork stained glass entryways and white wrought-iron balcony railings, so they evolve as you progress down the blocks. We saw Doctor Strange at the theatre, which was silly and thoroughly, fluffily fun. The cinema complex was also all decked out for the holidays.
Feeling festive is the perfect antidote to the increasingly rainy and cold days—there's something inherently cheery to the gloomy weather that comes before the New Year.
I also had the opportunity to go sit in on a recording of a radio program at the BBC! One of our program lecturers hosts a technology show on the BBC World Service, and we got to go into the recording studio and watch him and the producers navigate their way through the timing of the live and recorded bits of an on-air radio program. It was fascinating to see how it all gets put together—it's definitely a lot harder than it sounds on air! Our lecturer also gave us a tour around the rest of the BBC's beautiful New Broadcasting House in Oxford Circus—the news floors, the studios where the live news gets recorded, the control rooms where all the editors and producers sit, mixing footage and sound and scripts. It was such a eye-opening experience and really sparked my interest in broadcast radio. One of the producers, when he realized that I was American, asked me if there's anything they should cover on their election-day Tuesday program. I pitched a couple of ideas about the intersection of voting and technology that got included in the show, which is really exciting! You can listen to the show here.
And just to round off this post with some extra positivity, I've seen some pretty amazing dogs on public transport.
This pile of four adorably sweater-wearing, calm, and well-behaved french bulldogs instantly lifted the mood of the train car.