Backpacking in the Lake District and Saying Goodbye to London…For Now!

The end of this last on-campus term in London sprinted by in a flurry of deadlines, plans, trips, packing—I feel like I blinked and there were two months left, blinked again and two weeks remained, blinked again and I was on a plane. This term I finished both my website and my documentary. I’ll be hosting my web project as a tab on this website as soon as it’s ready—I want to make a few final tweaks to it before it goes live, and I still have to figure out how to use my new web skills to upload it on here!

I’m really proud of the documentary we created. It’s about 13 minutes long and will be published in a few weeks on my YouTube channel, as soon as we get the permission of everyone who’s in it to go public. On the last day of documentary class we screened all the films made by everyone in the class, and it was so rewarding to see the final products! We had all seen each of the other groups laboring away for weeks next to us in the editing room, and we tried to keep each film’s theme under wraps until the screening so we could enjoy them all with fresh eyes. Everyone worked so hard and produced something really meaningful—they all looked like real movies, which was kind of surreal! A little sneak peek—here’s the title of ours:

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.47.17 PM.pngDuring the last two weeks of term I was also packing up all my things and planning how I was going to get everything from London back to California. I’m proud to say I’ve downsized quite a bit, and only kept the sentimental items and clothes that really make me happy—intercontinental moving really makes you realize what you need and what you don’t, and it was a valuable experience. Looking at what I had when I arrived and what I have now as I’m leaving, I think the change reflects how both my personal style and my attitude towards buying and acquiring things have evolved this year…but that’s for another post.

Now for the fun part! As a celebration of the end of term, some friends and I went on a backpacking trip in the Lake District, which is a famously picturesque national park in the North of England, on the border with Scotland. We didn’t camp—all of us have camping gear, but it’s at home in our respective home countries—so we through-hiked with all our clothes, equipment, and food, and stayed in beautiful places each night. We arrived in Penrith on our first day and explored the town there a little bit, stocking up on last-minute supplies—I ended up buying a water bladder and a water-proof backpack cover at a little mountain goods shop there to make sure I was totally prepared for my first through-hiking experience.lake_district_map.png

From Penrith we took a 20-minute cab ride to Rosgill, which was where we were staying on our first night (number 1 on the map)—there was no bus and it would have taken us about 4 hours to walk, so cab was our best option. We had booked an Air BnB there to stage from, and it was probably my favorite Air BnB experience I’ve had so far. It’s rented out by a lovely family who are still in the process of renovating the inside of this several hundred-year old barn right there smack in the middle of the wilderness.

The place looks quite modest from the outside and yet the inside is gorgeously remodeled with some of the original elements, like old wooden beams above the doors, incorporated into the newer interior design elements. They had chickens wandering all over the yard and left us fresh eggs for breakfast, and our host helped us take a look at our map and told us the best route to use to get started on our first day of hiking.

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Enjoying dinner in the kitchen (photo credit: Paulina Cerna-Fraga)

That evening we went on a little walk over the hills to get a sense of where we were and what the hiking would be like, and met some wild ponies! These were some of the views from our wonderful stay there.

(Photo credit for this set of photos goes to Paulina Cerna-Fraga, one of my wonderful friends who is a very talented photographer and came on this trip)

On our first day of hiking we did a chunk of the famous coast-to-coast trail that runs from the East coast to the West coast  of Britain (or vice versa, depending on which way you decide to do it). We walked about 12 miles total from Rosgill to Howtown, which involved skirting the little Haweswater Reservoir followed by a climb of a little over 1,000 feet elevation gain up to the top of a ridge and then back down as we neared Ullswater.

We encountered ancient bridges, walked through miles of fields and hills, and encountered some friendly locals!

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We had lunch after descending a little bit from the highest point to escape the wind. The weather was perfect—slightly overcast, warm at lower elevations and bearably chilly at the highest points. The remains of ancient stone walls and shepherd’s huts were scattered over the hills, or as the locals call them, ‘the fells’, and added a haunting, though not necessarily malevolent, air to the landscape.

Had we kept walking all the way around Ullswater to Glenridding (our destination at the westernmost tip of Ullswater), we would have added about another 6-8 miles to our day, so when we reached Howtown we decided to take the ferry instead! This gave us some much-needed rest and relaxation, and got us to Glenridding with enough time to get some groceries for the next day and check into our lodging.

Because the Lake District is such a popular hiking and touring destination, many of the local farms have added lodging and camping host to the list of duties they perform in addition to the centuries-old tradition of sheep-farming. We stayed at a lovely establishment that had a tent camping area, a camper van park, and a bunkhouse, which is what we stayed in. The bunkhouse really did have bunk beds, stacked three beds high, and we all felt like we were kids at camp again! It was comfortable, clean, affordable, and exactly what we needed for the night. We had dinner that night at a pub in town called the Traveller’s Rest (I say ‘town’, but after Penrith where we got off the train, towns in the Lake district mostly consist of a singular pub, shop, and a scattering of farms).

The northerners in this area of England, which is called Cumbria, speak in a unique, thick dialect and accent which was really cool to experience, and everyone we met was so friendly and gave excellent advice and directions to us clueless foreigners asking which way to go across the fells. I was really proud of us, actually—we navigated by the compasses on our phones and the amazing waterproof map that Katie bought, and by intuiting which landmarks were which. Up in the more wilderness-y areas, the path was not well-marked and was difficult to follow, and we strayed from it several times, especially on our second full day of hiking, but we always found our way to where we wanted to be. It was very empowering to be able to find our way and navigate like that! I’ve definitely improved my map-reading and directional navigation skills simply by practicing them so much more this year, both in the city and in nature, and I hope to continue doing so with more trips like this!

(Photo credit for these pics to Paulina Cerna-Fraga; from left to right: Paulina, Jane, Jessica, Me, and Katie)

On our second day we decide not to climb Hellvellyn, the second highest peak in England, as it might take too much time—Jane and I needed to make it to Keswick in time to catch us bus back to Penrith so we could get on the train that would take us back to London, and the rest of the girls were going to do the highest peak in Britain the next day anyway so they didn’t want to push it too hard. Instead we made our own way up and over the ridge down toward another lake called Thirlemere. This day was shorter, only about 7 miles, but with more intense elevation change. The views from the top of the hills here were just stunning. The sky seemed so big and everything was so quiet and peaceful—it was perfect for making my mind be still and encouraging me to just be present in the moment and enjoy this, right here and right now, and not think too much about the impending change.

Coming down the other side of the peak towards Thirlemere, the clouds opened up and the sun spilled out, giving us a spectacular view out over the valley and its farms. We caught the bus across the road from the pub pictured below, The King’s Arms, and rode in a tired, contented heap to Keswick. With its high street full of shops and its bustling supermarket, Keswick seemed like a veritable metropolis after the modest, sleepy towns we’d passed on our trip so far (Keswick and Penrith are just off the map I’ve included earlier this post, to the North of where we’d been hiking).

This is where I had to say (a temporary) goodbye to some of the most special people I’ve ever met so that I could head back to London, do my last packing, and head out to the airport the next morning for my flight back to California. Not everyone in this friend group could make it on the trip, but I feel so lucky to have gone on this Lake district adventure with such inspiring, strong, fun, and did I mention INSPIRING?! friends. Everyone on the master’s course has changed me and my life in ways I never could have expected, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have so many thoughts and feelings about what grad school and the people with whom I got to share it have given me, which I’ll be writing about in another post. But for now, all I can say is—thank you not only for an incredible trip that I’ll remember forever, but also one of my favorite years so far. I love you all so much, and I’ll see you again soon!

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My Last Term in London–Castles, Half Marathon, Travel, and Research!

After my friends and I returned from our Europe trip over Easter break, we jumped straight back into school. It was nice to be able to dive immediately back in, as it helped me be less homesick after coming back from a long stretch at home! London is truly in full bloom now, and the days are very warm and improbably long. It often gets to 9:30 or 10 pm before it’s fully dark, which is absolutely lovely but occasionally very disorienting, and not at all conducive to early bedtimes–which, to be honest, is quite fine since I have so much to do!

The warm weather and elongated days make for beautiful exploring conditions, and I’m still enjoying taking new routes to familiar places, continually stumbling upon new London surprises. I walked past both Sigmund Freud’s and T.S. Eliot’s houses the other day, and made my way to this famous London bookshop, savoring all of the meandering and side streets in between.

Right after school started again, a great friend from undergrad came to visit–Sabrina came to London! It was such a joy to see her again–even though we’d kept in touch, we hadn’t seen each other since graduation (which is now TWO years ago, HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!) Having Sabrina here, as with any visitor, helped me see London anew, and really impressed upon me again just how much I love this city. We did things I’d done before and saw brand new sites, and enjoyed long catch-ups and deep chats about everything that’s happened since graduation and how we’ve changed in the short time since we last saw each other. I’m so impressed by and proud of how we’ve grown, and I’m so lucky to have such intelligent, emotionally intuitive, generous, kind, and hilarious friends like her. We visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Christopher Wren (after whom the main building at William & Mary is named) is buried–what a small world full of unexpected connections. She toured the Tower of London and visited some museums while I went to classes, and we made a little day trip to Hampton Court Palace–Henry the VIII’s primary abode!

It was just starting to get really warm while we were on this trip, and we wandered through the vast, highly-manicured, well-tended gardens that were beginning to bloom.

While Sabrina was visiting, I had to leave her to explore on her own for a bit while I attended Imperial College London’s biggest event of the year–the Imperial Science Festival! Researchers from all over the university put on exhibitions and interactive activities for two days. It’s free and open to all members of the public, and it attracts thousands of people every year–it’s such an excellent opportunity for scientists to share their ideas and their research with the public. Citizens from every kind of background–teeny kiddos or adult scientists, science enthusiasts or those with no scientific predilection whatsoever–can all come and enjoy the fun. There’s student-produced live music, delicious food trucks, and fun demos and lectures on everything from neuroscience to robotics to superbugs to…communicating, which is my area of study!

For my master’s thesis, I am studying the changing nature of audience trust in the era of ‘fake news’, so with the Festival I had the opportunity to run a booth with a thought-provoking, interactive activity over the two-day festival, collecting survey responses for use in my finished dissertation. I got to meet and speak to hundreds of different people, and it was fascinating to gain their insight into a subject that has been a research focus for me over the past few months. While totally exhausted at the end of two 9-hour days on the move, it was such a great experience in public engagement, data collecting, and event organization! Many of my colleagues from my course put together other exhibitions and activities, and one of our cohort ran an entire zone of the Festival–I couldn’t have pulled it off without them, and it went splendidly.

Since the Festival and Sabrina’s visit, I’ve really been concentrating on school. This term we are taking our practical modules, where we get to do all hands-on work and actually produce real-world science communication products! I chose to take ‘Documentary’ and ‘Web Design’ as my two practical modules. In a group with two other students, I am in the midst of making a 20-minute mini documentary–we’re in the middle of shooting and it is so. much. fun. I’m really happy with the topic we’ve chosen to tackle in our film, which I’ll talk about in another, more in-depth blog post when it’s wrapped in a few weeks. It’s been so rewarding to speak to the characters who are going to be in the film and get them to tell their stories on camera, as well as work within a highly creative team to pull together so many different ideas–and pull off the logistics!

In the Web Design module we have been tasked with creating (from scratch) an interactive web page that will deliver scientific information to the user in a fun and unique way. We’re learning the fundamentals of HTML, CSS, and basic JavaScript, and it’s such a blast. It’s literally like learning a new language, and I’m getting that same thrilling feeling you get when you start to be able to string sentences together in a language you couldn’t decipher a few weeks ago. But in this case you’re talking to a computer and telling it what to build! To be able to write a series of words and symbols and have a computer turn that into pictures, layout, and interactive design seriously feels like some kind of magic.

Both of these classes are incredibly fun and very challenging, and I’m gaining so many new skills as we go along. All of these projects are due at the end of June, and there’s a long way to go before they’re done, so it’s going to be a crazy, jam-packed sprint to the finish! As I try to stay on top of all this work I’m also trying to chip away at my dissertation, analyzing the data I collected from the Festival, and of course, trying to see more of London and spend time with my friends. At the beginning of this term I decided I was going to say ‘yes’ to as many things as possible. I notice that I’ve often thought that I’m too tired or too busy to go out and do things with friends or explore, but every time I do go I never regret it–and to squeeze in as many experiences with these wonderful people as possible, I’ve been doing some pretty surprising, spontaneous, exciting things!

To start, I ran my first-ever half marathon. You can read more about the race and how I prepped for it on this blog post over here, but suffice to say it was exhilarating and empowering and I would totally do another one.

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My friends and I have also discovered some really amazing hang-out spots lately. The Magic Roundabout is a bar and restaurant in East London that has a very Sergeant Pepper’s, circus-y vibe to it, and BOUNCE is a ping-pong bar and club that is perhaps my new all-time favorite place for a night out on the town where, that’s right, you play ping-pong–occasionally under black light.

Again in the spirit of saying yes, I also took my first trip to Scotland with my lovely flat-mate and friend Emily. The train ride up to Edinburgh was gorgeous, and we got to spend a night with Emily’s friend Claire at her parent’s house in Edinburgh. We walked all over the city as the weather was uncharacteristically beautiful–80 degrees F and sunny! It felt like everyone in the city was outside, having a picnic and a barbecue in the green space called ‘The Meadows’.

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Claire’s parents’ beautiful, picturesque Edinburgh abode.

I felt so lucky to be in Edinburgh with locals because they gave me an excellent mini-tour of all the landmarks as we walked around on that gorgeous evening, telling me all about the difference between Old Town and New Town, and the changes that the city underwent during the centuries-long struggle over British rule. You can see Edinburgh’s history written on its face, so to speak, in its architecture and planning. It’s a jumbled mix of centuries and styles, histories and cultures, and it’s absolutely breathtaking.

(Pictured above: View of the city out to the water from the top of the castle hill; a view of the castle from below; and a statue of the famous terrier named Greyfriar’s Bobby, after whom the pub behind him is named, who supposedly guarded his owner’s grave for 14 years until he also passed away).

We also got to have dinner–the traditional Scottish haggis, neeps, and tatties, of course–in The Elephant House, the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first few books of the Harry Potter series while she was still trying to get published! The bathrooms of this establishment are famously covered in floor-to-ceiling graffiti left by Harry Potter lovers from all over the world–their favorite quotes, ‘thank you’s to JK, and general scribblings of devotion.

After Edinburgh, we got up bright and early to drive with Claire and her husband up to the Scottish Highlands, where Claire’s parents have a small cottage and are building their second house! The scenery…there are no words to describe the majesty of the place. There are also many, many sheep.

The house that Claire’s parents are building is eco-friendly in its energy consumption, and to help with its heat regulation and insulation the house has a living grass roof–that you can go up and stand on! The photos below are taken from the roof and inside the house respectively–you can stand on the roof and survey ‘the kingdom’, as Claire’s Dad puts it. The view from their soon-to-be living room isn’t half bad either.

The neighbor of this property lives in a castle–a legitimate, refurbished castle–and as there ended up being quite a few people staying in the little cottage, Claire and her husband got to stay in a room at the neighbor’s–this was the key to the castle!

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We also went swimming in the Loch on the property–very, VERY cold but invigorating, to say the least!

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In the week that’s passed since we returned from Scotland, I’ve been hunkered down with dissertation and school work, but got to take a break last night to see Tony Kushner’s ‘Angels in America’ at the National Theatre (the first play of two, ‘Millennium Approaches’). It’s a heart-breaking, fantastically-staged and acted production starring Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield, among others. Even though it’s set in the mid-1980’s, it feels unbound by time, and happens to be extremely relevant to the current political climate.

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I think it might be the best stage production of a straight play that I’ve ever seen, and it reminded me how experiences like that are why theatre, acting, and art really can be world-changing. I think it’s very easy to get caught up in the frivolous, meaningless culture of celebrity and fluffy Hollywood movies and say, ‘What does this add to our world at all?’. And then honest, raw, essential writing and performances like those in the production of this play sort of thump me in the chest as if to say, ‘This. This is what it does. It makes you think and feel and see yourself and your world in new ways.’

I’m now sitting in the library of the Wellcome Collection, a museum and creative space that has become one of my favorite places in London. I’m thinking about how I’m flying home to California at the beginning of July. And although I’m so excited to be back home with my family and to crank out the final months of my dissertation work and to (hopefully) start a full-time job in August, I’m also heartbroken to be leaving this wonderful city so soon…but I’m not going to think about that yet. I’m going to stretch as much life and exploration and joy and discovery out of the long summer days of this last month, and be present in the now.

I Ran a Half-Marathon?! How?!

As you may have read over on my most recent recap post, I’ve been trying to live life as fully as I can as I approach the end of my time here in London. I’ve challenged myself to say ‘yes’ to as many new experiences as I can in the short time I have left! So when a friend from my course asked me if I would sign up to run a half-marathon with her, what could I say but…yes!

IMG_0012Here’s me looking a little bedraggled at the finish–how did I get here? How did I prep? How did it feel? Read on!

I ran cross-country and track in high-school, and as unpleasant as some of those long workouts were, I’ve never lost my love for running. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs and our loves and hates, but me and running go way back and I think we’re in a stable place in our relationship now. Going out for a run always makes me feel better, more confident and clear of mind, and I know my adult body well enough now to make sure I don’t injure myself or push too hard while still being able to challenge my fitness.

Having said that, I have been struggling with shin splints for the past few months–I started taking High-Intensity-Interval-Training (HIIT) classes back in January, and I’ve really been enjoying it. This method of exercise is very demanding, and I feel that it’s really increased my cardio fitness and has helped me on my journey to keep getting healthier and more physically fit–I want to be able to climb mountains for hours, to ask my body to take me amazing places and do exciting things, I want to be able to lift heavy things when moving house–and this new regimen has really helped me make progress toward these goals. However, I think I pushed it a little too hard at the beginning of my training and started to develop some overuse-induced pain in my shins and ankles. Because of this, I was a little leery of training for 13.1 miles, but I decided to get creative…

After resting my shins over Easter break and doing more low-impact exercise like weight-lifting, swimming, and yoga, the shin pain receded. Since coming back to London for my last term, I’ve gone back to HIIT and been very aware of how my body is responding. So far, no return of the shin splints! But the catch: there were only 5 weeks between signing up for the half-marathon and the actual day of the race–this meant no long-winded training plan to slowly work up to the distance, but I decided that this way, I was less likely to re-injure myself! So I continued to push myself in my HIIT classes, and combined this with shorter runs (3-5 miles), swimming sessions, and hour and a half hour hot yoga classes on days off from the gym. I decided on these choices because they would still challenge my cardio fitness, providing me with more endurance training than HIIT typically gives me, and would keep me limber and flexible and therefore less likely to overstrain or induce an injury during the race.

I was feeling confident about my fitness up until I started feeling under the weather with a cold about a week before the race. I tried to rest my body while still doing light cardio and walking as much as possible, sleeping a ton and downing a BUNCH of liquids–tea, juice, and water, water, water. I started to feel better a few days before, although I definitely wasn’t at peak health on the day of.

The night before the big day, my flatmate, her boyfriend, and I went to a Gavin DeGraw concert–it was a pretty low key, seated affair, so it was a great way to have fun, unwind, and keep my mind off the race the next day.

I spent the day before resting as much as possible to try and encourage my body to feel better, and had a great time putting together my race day playlist. Top tracks included those by Florence + The Machine, Francis and the Lights, Alma, Alex Clare, the 1975, and the new Paramore album (if anyone’s interested in the full playlist, let me know!)

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In terms of nutrition, I hydrated as much as possible the day before the race and had a carb-heavy menu of oatmeal and peanut-butter for breakfast, with salmon, brown rice, and veggies for lunch and dinner. I slept really well two nights before the race–apparently the night before the big day doesn’t count as much toward your rested-ness as the night before the night before–and woke up bright and early to make the journey to Wimbledon! I had a bowl of high-fiber cereal with berries and almond milk before I left, and knew that I would have time to digest it in the hour and a half it would take me to get to the race venue.

I got to the Wimbledon playing fields with about 20 minutes to spare before the start time, so I ate a banana, did some dynamic stretching, checked my bag at the table and said hi to my friend before we all got serious a few minutes before the start. The longest distance I’d ever run before this day was 8 miles, and I knew I could do that comfortably and easily–but I had never really timed myself or ran that distance for speed, so I really had no idea how long it would take me to run the half-marathon, or how fast I could go.

I told myself as long as I finished it in under 3 hours, I would be happy–so I started with the last wave of people and off we went! I know how long all the songs on my playlist are, so I could tell roughly how much time was passing between each mile, which was nice–it helped me pace myself without having to look at a watch or take my phone out of my running pouch. I took it quite easy and slow for the first 4 miles–I heard from friends and from the reading I’d done beforehand that many people start off too fast, and I really wanted to make sure I wasn’t struggling at the end because I like to finish strong. I picked a group of people who I wanted to challenge myself to stay with, and kept pace with them for the first 5 miles.

The route was absolutely beautiful: the trail took us through woods and fields and the race took place on one of the first truly warm and sunny spring days. It wasn’t too hot, but it was warm enough to keep our muscles from tensing up too much and the scenery was so gorgeous that it served as a welcome distraction from thinking about ‘oh this hurts’ or ‘that’s tired’. My sister ran the San Francisco marathon a while back and something she said after her race was definitely true for me–‘as soon as one body part starts to hurt too much, another part starts to hurt and takes your mind off it’. I definitely felt some discomfort in my ankles and achilles, and some uncomfortable tightness in my hips, shoulders, and back, but–as I soon discovered–you just literally run through it. It hurts, it’s uncomfortable, you’re unhappy, and you keep running, and it fades into the background. The race trail was a loop, which I actually really enjoyed. The first loop felt like I was letting my body warm up and sink deeper into my stride, and then on the second loop, for the second half of the race, I knew where we were going, was more familiar with the trail, and felt like I could push myself a little more.

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Looking excited about getting a high-five from a volunteer dressed up as a fuzzy ‘Wimbledon Womble’ at mile 8

In addition to my phone and my ID, I brought a little handful of gummy bears in cling film in my running pouch. A friend had told me it would be a good idea to have a glucose boost at certain points throughout the race, so I had a few gummy bears at mile 6 and then the rest at mile 10–it really did put a little extra energy into those miles and helped me push through the fatigue.

The park was open to non-racers all day, so there were people out on walks and there were so many cute doggos! I wish I could have taken some pictures, but I wanted to stay focused on keeping my upper body relaxed and not faff about with getting my phone out. All the dogs running around and non-racers enjoying the day made the whole thing feel more casual and fun.

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Looking a little less enthused at mile 11

As I approached the final 4 miles, I could tell that I wasn’t as far through my playlist as I thought I’d be at this point, which meant that I was going faster that I thought I’d be. Feeling really confident about having so many miles behind me, I started to really push it in the final stretch. Instead of trying to stay with a group, I tried to pass as many clumps of people in front of me as possible. I felt really strong and fast, and I know that my last three miles were my fastest, with the last mile being the fastest of all–I’m really happy with that, because it made me feel like I raced smart!

I ended up finishing the half-marathon in 2 hours and 14 minutes, but it really didn’t feel like it took that long! I had such a great time in the beautiful woods, looking at the old trees and creeks, and having an amazing time with all the dogs running around, just focusing on the next mile. I think for a potential future race, I could try and even out my pace and run faster mile splits the whole way through, and could really cut my time that way.

(Above: looking very exhausted but pleased with ourselves)

It was really fun to celebrate this event with my friend Liz from school, and two of her friends who I met through the race–we all headed back to her place after the race and bought supplies for a seriously epic brunch which we enjoyed outside in the sunshine, picnic style, after making it back into London.

Overall, the whole experience was so empowering. I went into this feeling unsure of whether my my body could do this and in trying it, I discovered that my body is more than capable of running 13.1 miles. I felt strong and powerful and like I could have done even more, and I would be willing to try it again to see if I could do it even better! This was a bit of a turning point for me–feeling confident in my body, not only in its appearance but also in its capabilities, has been a journey for me. It’s certainly not a linear one, and there will continue to be ups and downs and new discoveries, but I think I’m in a really healthy place with it right now and I’m excited to see what other cool things I’m capable of. And that’s really exciting.

If you have any more questions about training or nutrition details, or any of your own experiences with training for an event or half-marathons in particular, I’d love to chat about it with you in the comments below!

P.S. Pro-tip–>don’t try to run a half-marathon while you still have a little bit of a cold. Because I’ve now had sinusitis for three weeks and I’m not saying it’s because I ran a half-marathon with a head cold but it might be because I ran a half-marathon with a head cold 😉

Spring Break Trip To Cinqueterre and Austria!

We had an exceedingly long break between our spring and summer terms, and in those five weeks I was lucky to be able to do a lot of traveling. I went home to California for three weeks for some much-needed re-charging and relaxation with loved ones. I spent some great time in San Francisco with my sister, and we went on a gorgeous cloudy day hike on Mount Tam with views of all the surrounding hills, the city and the Bay in the distance, the Pacific, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

 

We went on a beautiful 8-mile run in the Berkeley hills as well, talking, sweating, saying hi to cows, and admiring the views. We’re both going through some big life changes right now and she inspires me every day, making me feel like everything is going to be ok. She is the best adventure buddy!

 

I got to do a lot of walking around the city in some gorgeous weather, and we visited the newly renovated SFMOMA, which has some really thought-provoking exhibits on at the moment.

 

After flying back to England I prepped for a trip with friends! We flew to Pisa and took the train to a friend’s family house in the Cinqueterre area, which is a network of five towns in southern Italy, on the gorgeous coast. There are well-worn hiking trails in between each town, and we spent an incredible day hiking from Vernazza to Corniglia and finally to Manarola, stopping in each town for some gelato or some focaccia.

The town we stayed in was called Levanto, and was a beautiful, quiet, sleepy, welcoming beach town with gorgeous houses and views.

 

The vistas from our hike were absolutely unbelievable, and each town we stopped in had its own character, with tiny crooked alleys and meandering streets packed with locals and tourists alike.

 

 

 

The ladies I went with are friends from my course, and are some of the most fun-loving, brilliant, adventurous, and loving people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. It was such a joy to explore this part of the world with them!

 

 

 

 

 

We topped off our 8 hours of hiking with a mouth-wateringly delicious dinner and one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen, to which no photo could ever do true justice.

 

We ate fresh seafood (frutti di mare), the best pizza I’ve ever had, and even though I’m not a huge ice cream fiend, I discovered that gelato really is one of the best-tasting things on this planet.

After Cinqueterre, Paulina, Katie, and I went on to stay in Innsbruck, Austria with Katie’s family. To get there we took the train from Levanto to Milan, a city that feels like a cat stretching lazily during a nap.

 

We got a few hours in Milan after getting breakfast and leaving our bags at Ostello Bello, recommended by our friend Silvia, which was an excellent stopping place. Although we didn’t stay the night, I highly recommend you check it out if you’re traveling in or near Milan, whether you’re on a budget or not. Friendly staff, good cheap food, all day breakfast and coffee that you can drop in for, great atmosphere and the chance to meet other interesting travelers. After our time in Milan, we got on the FlixBus to Austria–it was a long ride but the bus was surprisingly comfortable, with lots of room, big windows, and good wifi. I listened to the podcast S-Town on the ride, which is addictive and engrossing, although a little unsettling and even disturbing at times. The views from the bus out of Italy were spectacular, which I was not expecting.

 

Innsbruck was a big change from Italy, and was just as beautiful in its own way. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides, often shrouded in mist and clouds, and with a bright turquoise river running through it, it felt a little bit like something out of Lord of the Rings–but with historic houses and buildings dating all the way back to the 17th century.

 

Katie and her family were so lovely and welcoming, and she showed us around Innsbruck like a pro. She also took us to one of the city’s hippest hang-out spots, Café Moustache.

 

Katie’s family also just got a new Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, who is quite possibly the cutest, sweetest ball of fluff I have ever encountered.

 

We headed from Innsbruck back to London for the start of term, rested and relaxed and excited to start our last term of classes!

 

To see some more from our travels, check out the video I made about our trip, with some tips that I find useful when trying to stay active while on vacation!

A City Break to Athens

Athens was a sun-drenched maze of antiquities, graffiti, crumbling buildings, and friendly shopkeepers who all insisted that anything you were to buy from them would be the ‘best deal in all of Athens’.

My friend Jane and I arrived on a sunny Thursday afternoon and acquainted ourselves with our area, grabbing some essentials from the supermarket and looking at our maps. Our Air BnB was a gorgeous top floor apartment with a huge outdoor roof terrace and views of the whole city—including the Acropolis!

Seeing it lit up at night was surreal. We would gaze at it as it sat atop its a hill, a glowing beacon from another century, half-listening to the backing soundtrack of the thumping bass from the nightclub on the ground floor of our building. That’s what all of Athens felt like, really—one big anachronism, existing simultaneously in 500 BC as well as the 20th and 21st centuries, different parts of the city frozen in different eras. All of which are lousy with cats. There were so many cats everywhere it was like they were the unofficial sentinels of the city, always observing you from under the shadow of a tree or the nook of a ruin.

We explored all kinds of food, but the traditional Greek food was delicious. The tzatziki was spicy and tart and flavorful and refreshing, and everything was light and fresh, with healthy doses of olive oil and Mediterranean seasoning. We offset our long lazy meals by walking about 7 miles a day, just ambling down whichever streets looked appealing.

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In randomly weaving our way around the city, we ended up stumbling across everything that was on our list to visit even though we rarely used a map to get around—it was relatively easy to navigate by the high elevation, easy-to-spot landmarks. We visited the ruins of the Agora (and its accompanying museum), which was the center of commerce and politics in classical Athens.

Of course we hiked up to the top of the hill to see the Acropolis and the Parthenon in the daytime, and enjoy the great views of the city—the theatre of Dionysus was up there too! We felt very lucky because normally we would have to pay to get into all the ruins and up to the Acropolis, but we got in for free as students!

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On other days we stumbled across the National Garden, which is a huge, gorgeous green space of about 38 acres, right smack int he middle of downtown Athens. It was a restful and beautiful escape from the motorists and the people—and there were ruins in there too (it seemed like you couldn’t walk two blocks in Athens without coming across something ancient, which was amazing). This time it was ruins of ancient Roman buildings and mosaics.

On our way out of the park we came across the Temple of Zeus and then we made our way up to Mount Lycabettus, the tallest hill in Athens at about 908 feet elevation. The whole walk up was gorgeous, through lush vegetation and with breeze in our faces. This is where Athens felt a little more local—people were out doing their shopping and heading home from work. The views from up here were breathtaking, and we got there at sunset, right when the mountains looked like they were being dipped in gold light. We could see what felt like the whole of Greece, and all the way out to the sea!

Throughout the whole of our trip we just meandered among tiny streets crammed full of tiny shops and street vendor stalls, walkways and staircases full of café-goers out for a coffee and a cigarette. We had a great time relaxing in the Mediterranean way of life, which sometimes seemed to be: “wake up to sit, drink coffee, and relax in the sunshine until 1 pm or so. Take a walk to the square and sit and chat with a friend until 4, then have a lunch of fava and roasted vegetables and pita bread. Walk home, take a nap, and do the laundry before you head out for dinner around 9 pm and dancing until 2 am.” Safe to say, the Greek lifestyle can be very laid back, and time seemed to slow a little bit for us, stretching out to make it feel like we had been there for weeks—in a good way.

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A very aesthetically pleasing European-style hot chocolate: bitter and satisfying

The Greek language is completely fascinating, and it’s the first country I’ve ever been to where I couldn’t even read the alphabet! By the end of our trip, Jane and I knew how to successfully say ‘thank you’ and ‘airport’…and that was about it. All the locals were so friendly and welcoming, and everybody we talked to had some family member who lived somewhere in America. We bought traditional Greek sandals from a man who wouldn’t let us leave until we had ooh’ed and ahh’ed over the photographs of his sisters, nieces and nephews, and cousins visiting Niagara falls in New York.

We both had a little bit of school work to do while we were there, but it was such a treat to be able to write a paper in the sun on a terrace in Greece instead of in London (even though I’m still in love with London). We stayed long enough to be able to experience Athens’ local and touristy areas, as well as Athens on weekdays and on the weekends!

It was the perfect city break to somewhere sunny and warm with a great friend, and I’m so happy to say I’ve finally been to Greece. We’d definitely like to come back sometime to visit the islands, as I think that would be quite a different experience. The trip home was beautiful, as we passed over the alps, and it was such a great reminder that pretty much any of the gorgeous, historic European destinations are just a short plane ride away!

img_2036This exploration really whetted my travel appetite, and even through I was excited to be back in my familiar London flat and my own bed, I can’t wait for the next trip. The big journey on deck at the end of April is southern Italy with friends, but I’m hoping to hit some more destinations in the UK before that…get ready for more adventure logs!

Exploring Amsterdam Together

After Paris, Michael and I headed on to Amsterdam!

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Hanging out on the train, heading to Amsterdam.

We really enjoyed train travelless stressful than plane travel, better views, you can get up and walk around, and it’s actually kind of relaxing if you don’t miss your train (different story altogether). Our Air BnB in Amsterdam was charming but freezing (who knew the Netherlands would be so cold in January!), and we warmed ourselves on our first night by making a delicious, healthy spread.

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We followed the same pattern we established in Paris, walking a big circle around the city and enjoying the people—EVERYBODY bikes in Amsterdam! Some of them don’t use their bike bells, they just do a little ‘woo-hoo’ noise to let you know that you’re in the way. It’s really adorable. They also ‘woo-hoo’ sometimes to say goodbye as they cycle away from each another. We saw lots of the must-sees: The Vogelpark, Rijksmuseum, the exterior of the Anne Frank House (too sad to go in), the Van Gogh Museum, the Royal Palace, and amazing houses of all kinds.

We also saw the oldest courtyard in Amsterdam with a historic church in the middle of it, whose housefronts and brightly lit windows and little front gardens were very hygge.

We wandered Amsterdam at night, enjoying the beautiful lights and feeling strange but intrigued by the surrealness of the red light district. Amsterdam has a ton of little house museumsliterally museums in houseslike the Tulip Museum, the Sex Museum, the Weed Museum, etc. I have some more eloquent thoughts to put to paper about how I feel and what I think about the red light district, but that’s for another time.

Amsterdam is quirky, gorgeous, historical, and welcoming, but strange and a bit alien as well. It’s like being sent simultaneously to the past and the future. And there was far less cigarette smoke here than anywhere else we’d been in Europe.

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How picturesque is this!?

Our second day we embarked on a long walk to the zoo, passing by the post office and the train station, which are both incredibly ornate and impressive buildings.

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We also really enjoyed this barge, which was trawling the Amsterdam canals and picking up garbage; it was quite mesmerizing to watch.

The zoo was the absolute best animal exhibition I have EVER experienced. The animals were just out and about in the buildings and the enclosures, many not in cages, and were close enough to touch (hence my disbelieving face at the sloth and the joy at the giraffe). The Royal Artis Zoo was one of the best experiences during my travels so far, and I feel so lucky to have gotten to do it with my best friend. They had every animal imaginable! Monkeys the size of my hand, bright orange hogs with long curly ears, mammals that look like they can’t decide between being a primate, a cat, or a squirrel…and they also had elephants.

We also could not stop laughing at the Dutch names for the animals (see hilarity-inducing example below):

And we learned a lot about Amsterdam and its history! For example, most houses have a beam sticking out of the little crown molding tiara situation at the top. We looked into why that might be and it turns out that most of the houses in Amsterdam, especially those on the canals, belonged to merchants who needed to store things in their attics. So instead of hauling heavy, large bags and boxes up the stairs, they would lift goods directly into the top floor via a pulley attached to the sticky-out beam. This is also the reason why many of the houses in Amsterdam tilt forwardso the goods being lifted into the top floor don’t bonk into the front of the rest of the house or knock any windows out. Pretty cool, huh?

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On our last night in this beautiful city we went to the NEMO Science Museum. We didn’t actually go in, but to the top of it. The building sticks up out of the landscape and over the harbor like the prow of a sinking ship, and in the flattest country on earth, this was the only place to get a view out over the city (the resulting photo is the cover of this blog post). The NEMO closed right after we got to enjoy the sunset, and then we skipped on over to the people’s city library, which may now be one of my favorite places in the world. It was the perfect way to round out our short trip there.

Michael and I spent one last long day in London after coming back from Amsterdam. I took him to visit school and we visited the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. I feel so lucky to have someone in my life who is as curious and in love with world as I am, who is my advisor, supporter, travel partner, best friend, and the best partner I could ever ask for. Someone who loves me the way that he does, who I can tell everything to, do anything with, and with whom I want to share everything. Having him leave was one of the hardest things I’ve experienced in a long time, but I know I’ll get to see him again soon and I’m so excited for many more adventures together.

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Christmas in London and Kicking Off the New Year in Paris

This post (and the one to follow) have been sitting in my drafts for a whileand I’m realizing that it’s because I don’t want to admit that it’s over. My family and my partner came to London for the holidays and we had an incredible time.

Having all the people that I love here has made this experience feel very real in a good way, and now having them be gone is…hard. Butit is reminding me to make the most of the remains of my brief adventure here and to have lots of fun planning future travels. While my parents and sister and her partner were here we had Christmas dinner at a gorgeous little pub in Primrose Hill called the Princess of Wales.

I took them to see school, and we did some fun touristy things, like the Tower of London and the London Eye. It was fun to go to parts of London with them that I normally don’t see all that muchwe walked along the Thames as the sun was setting and got to look up at Big Ben and the houses of Parliament and it all just seemed like a big dream.

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Big Ben at night. You can see the tops of Westminster Abbey peeking out from behind it too!

We visited Kew gardens for the nighttime Christmas light show. It was lovely to see the gardens in the winter time and the greenhouses were a gorgeous warm reprieve from the frosty fields and bare treeswhich were beautiful in their own barren way.

We spent evenings playing speed scrabble and putting together a puzzlethe puzzle was especially exciting because it was a stylized, illustrated map of London, so we got to see all the landmark spots that we had visited laid out for us to see in relation to one another and in a fun way.

My family’s visit was all too brief and I was terribly sad to see them go, but my partner got to stay a little bit longer. We had a day in London that we spent walking around the city, taking London transport, and visiting the Imperial War Museum. We then went alllll they way to Greenwich to visit the Prime Meridian and the Maritime Museum, which was gorgeous and misty and mysterious, with fog hanging over the Thames and evoking a very historical feel. We then hit up the British Museum, which was an absolutely incredible treasure trovewe felt like we needed a whole lifetime to see all the wealth of knowledge and artifacts in that building. I can’t wait to go back and dig even deeper into the collection.

On New Year’s Eve we got on a train to Paris! We stayed in a gorgeous Air BnB in an apartment building and in an arrondissement that were just the absolute epitome of Paris (and I got to use my French to ask for directions!)

We saw New Year’s fireworks from our apartment window and brought in 2017 togetherI couldn’t have asked for a better start to the year. Right away on January 1st, we walked about 12 miles in a huge loop around Paris, hitting all the major landmarks. It was an incredible day. We stopped at Sacré-Couer first and enjoyed the gorgeous views of all of Paris. Only after we got home did we realize that the hill in Montmartre upon which the basilica sits is the highest point in the city! We encountered gorgeous doors and facades and architecture throughout our whole walk, and neither of us had ever seen anything like it before.

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This was the little church that was on the way to Montmartre. We could see its spires from our apartment windows.

Next on our list was the Le Moulin Rouge, and Michael indulged my love of the movie Amélie and took a picture of me in front of the Cafe Des Deux Moulin. Then we moved on to the Arche de Triomphe, and continued to enjoy the ‘Paris-ness’ of it all. Seeing the whole city on foot was the best way to do itwe got to absorb all the sights and sounds and smells, and being on the move all day was invigorating and challenging and kept us warm!

We took a little break to rest our feet and warmed up our fingers and toes in the Shangri-La hotel, which was not a part of the planwe simply happened to be passing by the door and did a little double take as we saw how fancy the hotel looked. We went inmostly just to see if we couldand then decided to use the facilities, eat our snacks that we had brought with us, and stayed for half an hour to absorb the glory of this five-star hotel (see lobby Christmas tree).

Night fell early, and the light on the swoops and arches and balustrades of the elegant buildings was incredibly picturesque. We visited the Eiffel Tower (which is excellently sparkly at night) and passed by the Grand Palais and Petit Palais on our way to our next stops. We dipped down to walk along the Seine under bridges and next to houseboats and sailboats and old-timey ships before popping back up to walk over more bridges on our way to find l’Île de la Cité.

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The Eiffel Tower is bedecked with flashing lights for five minutes every hour, and we were very glad to have caught one of it’s fantastical displays.

We happened upon a Christmas Village on our walk and got ‘Christmas-villaged’ (that is to say, cheerily carried along) by throngs of people enjoying the holiday tunes over loudspeaker, scents of fried food and mulled wine, and twinkly lights all around.

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Encountering the Christmas village made it feel like the holidays weren’t really over!

We did a little nighttime reconnaissance around the Louvreit felt like one of those young adult novels where they go on adventures and live in a museum after dark.

The last stop of the night was Notre-Dame. Michael practiced his excellent Spanish and a very obliging Spaniard took our picture in front of the beautiful cathedral.

It was a magical, lovely, and exhausting whirlwind of a dayand the next day we got to explore a few things in more detail. We went back to the Louvre in the daytime and enjoyed the art and the architecturethat much art and culture can be a little overwhelming all at once but it was also awe-inspiring to experience it in person. Even though you can see everything online, you can actually feel its presence and the presence of the people who made the art when you see it, standing in front of it and breathing the same air. Even the building itself and the views from the building are works of art, and it’s beautiful just to be there.

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Taking a break to rest our feet and our eyes at the Louvre.

After the Louvre we went back to Notre Dame and actually went in this time. There was so much space and elegance…it’s like they brought the feeling of the sky inside, and in the form of architecture. It was gorgeous, AND we got to witness a Catholic mass and communion, in French, complete with singing and standing and chanting…IN NOTRE DAME! Pretty cool. We had a lovely last evening in our cozy apartment, and got ready to leave the next day. We stopped in a classic Parisian bakery for some delicious french baguette sandwiches and headed to the train station (which was also beautifuleverything was so beautiful in Paris!). We were sad to leave the city of lights and love, but really enjoyed our adventure there and were excited to go on to explore Amsterdam!

Beaches, outreach, friends, and Christmas time: December so far in London

This month in London has been darker and colder than ever, but still bright (and full of lights of a different kind). Right after finishing our most recent paper, a group of friends and I Googled ‘beaches near London’—this search turned up a place called Broadstairs, a tiny, sleepy seaside village in the southeast, about a two-hour train ride from the city. It was so relaxing—we spent all day walking in the cool, damp, salty air, through the shops and streets, and along the main beach.

After a fortifying break for tea and scones and other assorted snacks in a tiny tea shop in town, we set out on our walk toward Botany Bay. Alongside good friends with whom to explore a wild beach, we couldn’t go wrong. There were all kinds of winding paths through sprout fields, past schools and houses and castles, and after about an hour of wandering, Botany Bay came into view around the corner.

We found a meandering path cut through the cliffs down onto the beach, and were stunned to then find ourselves suddenly under these stone giants, whose heads we had just been walking upon, with the ocean right next to us. The cliffs loom over you as you walk along the soft, flat beach, covered in lichen and moss, textured in rough, rectangular chunks.

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We wandered along the beach until dusk, climbing and clambering, and then decided to head back. On our way, we noticed twinkling lights out at sea, and realized that we could see what was probably France (or possibly Belgium) from where we were standing!

We made it back to the village and spent time chatting and poking around an old bookshop-turned-pub called The Chapel. We rounded out the night with fish and chips at a seafood fry-up restaurant and then hopped on the train back home, tired, damp, content, and fulfilled.

Later that week, one of our group had organized a clothes swap for the Imperial College Environmental Society—we all really enjoyed learning more about how the clothes industry perpetuates waste and unnecessary environmental stress, and we all picked up some cute secondhand items. I’m really excited to try and find more (if not all) of my clothes at charity shops—high-quality items with a history that will fit into my already established style. Not only is it much more affordable, but this kind of clothes purchasing habit has human rights benefits as well as environmental benefits. This cutie was there keeping everyone company, running around under the tables and licking crumbs off the floor in her very own stylish jumper!

img_1159This past week, a friend of mine invited another friend from the program and I to help her with a public engagement event—at a conference for design professionals, we presented exhibits and simple, hands-on experiments about the science of flavour and how we experience food. This was to help demonstrate the concept of multi-sensory design, or design of packaging and spaces and, well, anything really, that engages more than one sense at once. The event was at the University of the Arts London in Kings Cross, a huge, gorgeous, brick-metal-and-glass building full of workshops and maker spaces. The Kings Cross area is artsy and brimming with funky installations, and this one caught our attention on our way home. img_1215

Next week is the last week of our first term! I can’t believe it’s here already, and in just two short weeks, all my loved ones from home will be here for a Christmas visit. Just two more days of class and one more paper, and thenwinter break….here I come. In the mean time, a wonderful friend who I’ve known since childhood has been on a whirlwind adventure for over a year through Thailand and all over Europe, and just before she heads home, she stopped off in London. It’s been so fantastic to see her—and she was here just in time for Christmas decorating!

I’m looking forward to finishing up my last essay, making new videos, and preparing for having my family here with me in London. If there’s one thing that’s really been made clear to me this month, it’s that friends and adventures and keeping busy with projects help keep you grounded in the present moment—they keep you here, keep you sane, and keep you happy. And I’m so grateful for all the compassionate, loving, adventurous people in my life!

 

 

A Weekend Trip To The Seaside in November

Last week marked the halfway point in this first term of my graduate course. We had just turned in our second paper, finished a mountain of interesting reading with the prospect of more, and it felt like time for a change of scene. I decided to book a spontaneous trip to Brighton—’as close to the ocean as possible’ is my favorite place in any country, and I’ve wanted to give this coastal town a visit ever since I heard Kitty Bennett say “I want to go to Brighton!” in various and sundry adaptations of Pride & Prejudice.

First of all, the train journey was beautiful, zooming a friend and me through bright green fields, past old manor houses, and under fiery autumn trees. Arriving in Brighton, I was welcomed by the friendliest, kindest Air BnB hosts at a funky, gorgeous flat just a block away from the sea. The breakfast nook in this place was all window, a little glass conservatory perch from which to watch the clouds and the people roll by.

The hosts left little notes all over, with handwritten guides of activity recommendations on the desk and fresh flowers in every corner.

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This was the view right outside the front door, just a block down to the sea.

I always forget just how much I love being by the ocean until I’m there again, and then I wonder how I survived away from it. The sound, the smell, the feel of the air—it’s healing, rejuvenating, and calming all at once. On Friday my friend and I walked all around the city and went up the Brighton i360, a 500-foot tower with a glass donut of an elevator around it, so as you go up you can see panoramic views of the city, the surrounding downs, and the sea.

After a long day of walking around, exploring, and eating delicious food, my friend headed back to London and I enjoyed a cozy, relaxing evening. Saturday was warm and sunny in the morning, and I went on a long run along the beach front, with the ocean next to me all the way.

There’s something about the beach in the winter time. It’s more wild, more raw, more privately yours to keep with you when you leave. The beach in Brighton is made up of large pebbles instead of sand. When the waves wash ashore they make that familiar crashing sound, but when the waves recede the pebbles and the water make a whispering, hissing sound, like it’s speaking to you.

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This is the ‘old Brighton pier’ from the 1880s that became unsafe and fell into disrepair, but its boney shell still lurks out in the surf, half creepy and half elegantly, eerily beautiful, like some kind of lacy sea-creature.

Little art studios, shops, and pubs are clustered on the edge of the beach, weathering the chill and salty air with great aplomb and character. There are green spaces all over town as well, peaceful pockets of damp verdancy.

The day progressed ever more cloudy and drizzly, and I wandered around tiny twinkly alleys, dipping in and out of antique shops and shoe shops and ‘little-things-you’ll-never-actually-need-but-now-that-you’ve-seen-them-you-totally-want-them’ shops.

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The rain wasn’t bad during the day, but as the night progressed it got colder and windier and rainier, so I made my way back to the haven of my rented apartment. All night long the wind shook the window frames and the rain tap-tap-tapped on the glass, and I snuggled up with the space heater and did some writing, reading, and video editing.

The morning of my departure it had cleared up but was significantly chillier, so I packed my things, bundled up, and went to snap some pictures (both mental and literal) of everyday people doing everyday things, like checking the price of flowers or eating scrambled eggs in a café with their friends. I love traveling with friends, family and loved ones, don’t get me wrong—sharing new experiences with people is really special and beautiful, and one of the reasons I miss them so much while I’m here is not getting to share these experiences with them. But I also like traveling alone because it gives me time and space to observe other people living their lives. It gives me perspective and oddly enough, gets me out of my own head because I get to be an invisible voyeur, more interested in the minutiae of other peoples’ lives than worrying about my own.

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My last stop after a delicious brunch in a little corner coffee bar was the Royal Pavilion. This park in the middle of Brighton is occupied by a stately Indian-style palace, which was commissioned in the 1800’s by George, then Prince of Wales but soon to be King George the IV, as a seaside pleasure palace. His royal presence grew Brighton into a bustling social and arts destination, inspiring the fabrication of Brighton’s elegant white house fronts. The Pavilion also played an interesting role during WWI, serving as a hospital for wounded Indian soldiers, who were segregated from the rest of the British Armed Forces. These days, the Pavilion is a local historical and architectural attraction, and sits nestled in this park next to the Brighton Dome, the central performing arts venue in the city.

It was a restful, relaxing, and yet still adventurous weekend well-spent. I loved exploring everything that Brighton has to offer, both with a friend and on my own. I would love to go back, as I feel that there is so much still to see, and the sea is always calling.

 

Plays, Concerts, Walks, and Thoughts: An Adventuring Update

In the aftermath of this week, which has been a tumultuous one, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 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.

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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.

I went ice-skating with some friends at the gorgeous, twinklingly festive ice rink outside the Natural History Museum castle.

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The lovely people in my program are so positive, and are a genuinely wonderful support network for both studying and relaxing (from L-R: Me, Sarah, Katie, Jane, and Paulina)

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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.

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I’ve also gone with some friends to visit the vast Camden market, which is a series 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.

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 your 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.

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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.

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With the sky a roiling gray, the leaves and the remaining resilient flowers provide little pops of joy on the kind of rainy day that makes your cheeks and nose glow pink.

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. img_0822It 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.

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This pile of four adorably sweatered, calm, and well-behaved french bulldogs instantly lifted the mood of the train car.

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