Apr 17
WEEK 10 and OUR RETURN

First of all, we're back in Iowa! Our journey home was long, but uneventful, which means no delays, just hours of waiting. All of us were picked up from our homestays between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m., which meant that none of us went to bed for fear of over sleeping our alarms. We got to the airport and checked in with plenty of time before our departure at 7:45. I think everyone but I was able to sleep on the flight to Chicago. We landed in Chicago at 9:30 a.m. Unfortunately, our flight to Des Moines wasn't until 6:30 p.m., so we had a long day of waiting in O'Hare. However, the final leg of our journey was on time and we landed in Des Moines at 7:30, where our families and friends were waiting.

On Friday night, in my attempt to be organized and prepared for my early taxi, I had an accident at my homestay. I was attempting to carry two of my pieces of luggage downstairs. Don't ask me why I was trying to carry two instead of just one, but I was because I thought it would be more efficient. Unfortunately, about half way down the flight of stairs, I slipped and with the pull of gravity, my two bags and I plunged to the bottom of the stairs, where I cracked my lower chin on a piece of furniture at the foot of the stairs. It didn't bleed much, so I let it go. Fortunately, the two bags somewhat softened the fall. However, as we journeyed home, my lower chin swelled because of the blow. Currently, I have a black and blue chin and some other bruises, but I will survive.

The last week was used to present final projects, finish some incomplete homework, and take finals. The plan for British Life and Culture was only to review and complete an evaluation of the course. I thought our time would be better spent if we had our own British cultural experience, so we met at the Marlborough Arms, a pub about three blocks from campus, and had lunch as a group. They have great lunch specials—both taste and cost—and since we were at the door when they opened, we were able to create a table for nine.

On Tuesday night we went to see Wicked, which is a great musical and lots of fun. We also went to dinner as a group one more time. The entire area near that theatre is currently torn up for construction, so I went ahead on the weekend and looked for a good place as a possibility for dinner. We had three choices, a pub, a Pizza Express, or an Italian restaurant. The group voted for Italian food, so that's where we ended up for dinner.

Several of us spent extra time in London this week taking photographs of places we had thought about, but didn't have a camera at the time. For example, I went back to Holland Park and the Kyoto Garden, which might be the most serene place in all of London. I went specifically to see if I could capture one of the male peacocks fanning his tail. When I first arrived, there were no peacocks in the area and I thought I was going to be disappointed. However, it wasn't long before I saw a crowd of folks flashing pictures and I knew one of guys had come out. Sure enough, I was able to capture him.

For the photography class this week, I had planned to take them to the Photographer's Gallery. It is an easy walk from the campus, so after we discussed the highlights of the chapter in the book, we set out to visit the current exhibit. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we discovered  there was no exhibit and all but the coffee shop was closed because they were preparing for a new installation. That's the second museum that didn't work for us. Earlier in the semester when we went to the London Film Museum, it was also closed. At that time, I wasn't quick enough to create an assignment. However, an idea popped into my head for an assignment with photography. I told the students to search in their gallery of photos from the semester and identify an example of each of the main types/kinds of photographs that were discussed in the chapter. It ended up being a great assignment and they sent me some incredible examples.

On Friday, we met for our last class. The students completed their AIFS evaluation forms and I handed them their final exam. Previously, students would turn in their final, but this semester I had an electronic classroom and they had to submit their finals via email. However, I thought it would still be good for us to gather one more time, so we met at O'Neil's, the pub in Muswell Hill that has been the DMACC students' favorite pub for years. We toasted the semester and set off to our homestays to pack and get ready for the trip home.

It was a wonderful semester. I think I can speak for everyone and claim that it was a life-changing ten weeks and each of us grew in different ways. Hopefully, everyone grew academically and culturally, but I also think some grew emotionally and moved a step or two deeper into adulthood and independence. One of my favorite parts of the trip is to watch each of the students change and become a different person because of these travel experiences. London is an exciting and vibrant city. It is a wonderful place to live and learn more about the world. I am grateful for this experience and thankful for all nine of the students who journeyed with me for these past ten weeks.

Cheers! Randy

Apr 10
Week 9

I'm late with this week's "Notes from London" because after having a beautiful weekend and being out and about all day yesterday, which I'll share later, and then helping to prepare my homestay's Sunday dinner (I made my grandmother's rhubarb cream pie for dessert), it was pretty late by the time we finished the meal.

Speaking of rhubarb, once again I will soon have to sacrifice my almost daily treat of rhubarb yogurt. I'll be having some on the way to the airport! I purchase the Activa brand here, so I'm not sure why they don't make it in the US. I guess Americans don't have the same love for rhubarb as the Brits.

The British Life and Culture lecture this week was on Britain's international identity, especially its relationship with the US vs. its relationship with the rest of Europe. For our humanities field trip, we tried to go to the London Film Museum, but once we got there, it wasn't open. There was no sign or explanation on the door to indicate why it wasn't open. Although there are two other film museums in the city, both of them have entrance fees, and one you have to schedule a guided tour online before your visit. Since most of the students are nearing the bottoms of their wallets, so to speak, I didn't feel justified in making them pay to enter a museum, especially since all of the others have been free. On Wednesday, we had a tour of the east end of London. It would have been a great tour, but it was very cold and after being outside for two hours, we were all glad to get indoors. Actually, when we walked off the Tube stop at Whitechapel, we all thought we had walked into another world. We were in the Bangladeshi part of London, so the look, mostly the people and the clothing, was completely different from any other part we have visited.

It's pretty sad to say that the rest of the week was pretty much routine of our regular classes. Four of the girls went to Spain, actually an island off of Spain, for part of the weekend, and Brian went to Amsterdam. The rest of us stayed in London. Apparently, the students who stayed in London worked on papers or projects. However, because we finally had sunshine on Saturday and Sunday, I made it a point to be out and about. On those two days, I visited my three favorite London parks—Regent's Park, St. James's Park, and Holland Park. Regent's Park has beautiful formal gardens before its vastness of playing fields. Also, in Regent's Park is Queen Mary's Gardens, which I am sure are stupendous when they are in bloom. One part of those gardens has a delphinium bed bigger than my house and yard in Des Moines. There are also thousands of roses, but, of course, none of that was in bloom. Prim roses, daffodils, and some tulips were blooming in Regent's Park and St. James's Park. I go to Holland Park to visit the Kyoto Garden, which is a Japanese garden, where it is probably the most serene place in all of London. The peacocks were there and the males were fanning their tales in all their glory. It was brilliant. Unfortunately, my camera was not cooperating for me, so I have to return sometime this week to see if I can capture the peacocks in some photos.

On Sunday, I ventured to Kew Gardens. Every other visit to Kew Gardens has been beautiful with something in full bloom. Thousands of waning daffodils were there, but they were on their last leg, so to speak. At first, I was disappointed because I've been there when the rhododendrons have been blooming and it is a stunning sight. However, I soon became interested in the leafless trees and their limb structures. I also tried to capture the Pavilion through the leafless trees, which provided some interesting photos.

I went to two shows this week. On Tuesday, I saw A Chorus Line, which has been revived in London. I loved that show the first time I saw it live, and it captured me once again. I was so wrapped up in the plot and the characters' stories that when they sang "What I Did for Love," I nearly cried. On Thursday evening, I saw Rupert Everett in The Judas Kiss, which is a play about Oscar Wilde. It might have been the best play I saw while I was here. Well, I still have Wicked to see on our last Tuesday, but since this will be my fifth time to see it, I'm pretty sure I know what it's all about.

I've had a wonderful ten weeks. I have missed Baxter and I'm anxious to see him, but I could easily stay another ten weeks! Although the students claim they aren't home sick, I think most of them are secretly anxious to be home. I've had good groups the other two times, but this group has been exceptional. They have all gotten along beautifully and bonded as a group. I'm pretty sure they have made some lifelong friends. I have not had one discipline problem the entire semester, and their attendance has been exceptional; they have missed only if they were genuinely ill, no skipping class just to be skipping class. Let's hope the last week continues this pattern.

The next and last time I will write will be after we have returned to the US.

Cheers! Randy

 

Apr 03
WEEK 8

It's hard to believe that we are fast approaching our departure, so each of us has been thinking about what we most want to do before our return. One must see, as far as I am concerned, is the Tower of London. Most of the students ventured there this week, but apparently, they were nonplussed about it. Maybe it was the cold weather, I'm not sure, but I was somewhat disappointed that they didn't seem to appreciate it as much as former groups with me.

Our British Life and Culture lecture this week was on British identity. I'm still waiting to read their Reading Responses for the week, so I'm not sure what they have learned about British identity, other than their own personal observations from living with British families. For humanities, we headed to the British Museum to look at sculpture. I can't think of anywhere else in the world that I would have had a better opportunity to talk about sunken-relief, low-relief, and high-relief, plus all of the other possibilities of traditional sculpture. However, when I took them outside to visit the Lady Diana's Memorial Fountain and the sculpture of Prince Albert, there were grumblings about it being too cold. For film this week, we viewed The King's Speech. The students love the films about the monarchy.

On Thursday, one went to Germany, two stayed in London, and the rest went with me to Paris.

I tried to cram as much as possible into our three days in Paris as possible. After getting settled in our respective residences, we ventured off to the Eiffel Tower. My first place to take people is to the Trocadero area, where they can have a picture of themselves with the Eiffel Tower behind them (notice the group photo). We then walked to the Eiffel Tower to see what the time wait was to ascend the tower. The wait was too long, so we decided to find some dinner and head to our beds.

On Friday, I met them at Notre Dame, which we toured, while an organ and Easter mass was being performed. Then we went to St. Chapelle, which took over an hour to wait to get into; however, everyone loved the stained-glass windows and spectacular views of the chapel. After lunch, we found the Shoah Memorial, which is France's Holocaust museum and spent some time working our way through the many exhibits. (Two of the girls are taking the Holocaust fiction course, so they especially enjoyed this visit.) By that time, because one of the girls wasn't feeling well, I ventured on with two to Sacre Coeur. After that, everyone decided it was time to part and find dinner.

On Saturday morning, I met the group at the Arc de Triomphe. After our visit there, we walked the Champs-Elysees to the Louvre, with several photo opportunities in between, such as the Tuileries and the Place du Concorde. After lunch, the girls went to the Louvre, and Brian and I went to Pere Lachasie to visit Jim Morrison's grave. I also visited Oscar Wilde's grave while there.

On Sunday, some went to Easter Mass at Notre Dame and some slept longer. At any rate, most of us met the Eurostar to London, and a couple missed it. As I write this blog, I'm not sure where the two who missed the train are. I can only hope that they caught the next train to London.

The last picture this week is of our blushing bride and her handsome husband. I never thought I would have the privilege to walk someone down the aisle, but one of the girls decided to get married while here, so we had a little wedding.

Cheers!

 Randy

Mar 28
WEEK 7

The British Life and Culture lecture and article this week was focused on the BBC. We were supposed to have a guided tour of the BBC, but they are currently in the process of moving to a new location, and they couldn't host tours. I only heard the last twenty minutes of the lecture because I was off to other parts of London—the Holborn area—to hear the West Des Moines Valley High School Orchestra perform a concert. It's a long story, but friends of friends of mine were touring with the group, and my friends wanted me to see if I could catch one of the concerts. Originally, I thought I was going to attend a concert on Tuesday afternoon and I thought they were playing at St. Paul's Cathedral. After going all the way to the cathedral, I discovered I was in the wrong place, and then it dawned on me that they were probably at St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden, and I was correct. However, once I finally got there, I discovered it was not a concert, but a working session with a London conductor. At any rate, I went to the concert on Wednesday and they were very good.

Our humanities field trip this week was to the National Portrait Gallery. This gallery, like our own National Portrait Gallery in DC, is about who you are, not who painted/photographed the subject. The students always seem to enjoy this gallery because they like finding the portraits of people they have learned about while here, such as the Tudors and Stuarts from the Royal Family, or movie stars, authors, and musicians. It was fun for me to listen to them talk about the royalty and explain their complicated royal lives to the one student who is not taking the film class.

We had our last all-day field trip on Friday, when we journeyed to Stonehenge and Salisbury. It was a cold day out in the open at Stonehenge, but we managed to take our photos and have a good time. We created another possible photo for next year's advertising campaign with the slogan "London Rocks!" The Salisbury Cathedral is a beautiful structure and always a joy to visit. Once again, we had Trudy for our guide—the same guide we had for Oxford. She is very informative and the students enjoy her tours. It was supposed to rain all day, but we were spared the rain until the coach ride back to London.

Friday's rain turned into snow by morning and it snowed all day on Saturday. There wasn't much accumulation in London; however, other parts of the UK received quite a bit of snow. It has remained cold today and the snow has actually stayed on the ground for more than 24 hours. I spent the majority of the weekend at home because of the weather and because I simply needed some down time to rest and get myself geared up for the last three weeks. I received several assignments via email yesterday, so some of the students took advantage of the weather and produced some work.

The highlight of my week was seeing Judi Dench live in Peter and Alice, and Helen Mirren live in The Audience. Both performances were outstanding. Each performance was costly, but worth every pence! The acting was excellent, and the plots of both plays were interesting. If I can fit them in, I still want to see a couple of additional plays, and I still have a ticket for Wicked, which I will see with the students during our last Tuesday evening in London.

My colleague Maria Cochran from the Ankeny campus visited us in London this week. AIFS brought her over for a visit because she is DMACC's London Study Abroad Coordinator. It was fun for me to share some of my favorite parts of the city with her. We covered several miles on Wednesday afternoon, which gave her an opportunity to take many photos and walk the city. She also accompanied us to Stonehenge, which gave her a flavor of the types of field trips we take. Hopefully, her visit will help us market the program more efficiently in the future.

It will be a short week in London because five of the students and I are traveling to Paris on Thursday morning through Sunday. I have finalized our itinerary for the trip; I'm hoping to have a good time with them. We plan to complete our Paris visit with Easter mass at Notre Dame.

I hope everyone who was on spring break this past week had a restful and enjoyable holiday. It seems that the weeks after spring break just race by, which means the end of the semester is nipping at your heels. I only have three weeks left, so I know the end is near. The weeks have passed much too quickly.

The photos this week are the students at Stonehenge, a shot of Stonehenge, the cloisters at Salisbury Cathedral, and the bowling green covered in snow at Hampstead Heath.

 

Cheers!

Randy

 

Mar 28
WEEK 6

Our British Life and Culture lecture this week was on modern British art, and we had a field trip to the Tate Modern. The lecture was quite interesting and Chris, our lecturer purposefully chose some provocative pieces in his slide show to keep student attention. Unfortunately, none of the pieces discussed in the lecture can be seen at the Tate Modern. However, I still think all of the DMACC students need exposure to the Tate Modern, so I took the group on Randy's Walking Tour of the Tate. Aside from some interesting pieces I wanted them to see (the Encounters in Humanities had already viewed these few pieces), I purposely wanted them to see some internationally known modern artists. I wanted them to see the Mondrian paintings and the Rothko Room. I also made sure they saw some Picasso and Matisse. A few of the students enjoy modern art, but most of them don't, so it can become a painful sixty-minute experience, but one I insist they endure.

For our humanities field trip, we made two stops. First, we went to St. Martins-in-the-Field and listened to an organ recital, and then we visited the Victoria & Albert, which is one of my favorite museums in London. The V & A is dedicated to design, so there is a little bit about everything that has to do with design. Our original intent was to visit the architecture exhibit, so that they could identify pieces that represented the different types of architecture, such as earth-rooted and sky-oriented. There are some beautiful models in this exhibit, so I think it is worth visiting. After architecture, I walked them through some other parts of the museum. For example, I wanted them to see samples of William Morris, my favorite British designer. I also took them to see the cast rooms, so that they could see a replica of David because I knew none of them would see it in Florence. I also wanted them to see the Raphael cartoons for the tapestries in the Sistine Chapel.

On Thursday evenings, the students have been returning to ULU (University of London Union) for the weekly karaoke competition. This week, Megan Kroeger, one of the DMACC students, won the competition, which apparently means she will participate in the finals later this semester. They keep wanting me to attend, but I tell them that I am in my pajamas by 9:00, so it is out of the question for me to venture back to central London at that time of night.

For the weekend, four traveled to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day celebrations, one ventured to Scotland on an AIFS trip, and three stayed in London with me. For the three who stayed in London with me, plus a visiting parent and sibling, we toured Westminster Cathedral and Parliament on Saturday morning. Parliament used to be a part of our program, but now the only time that Parliament can be toured is on Saturdays and those who wish to tour have to purchase a timed ticked and be on time for that appointment. We had a 12:00 appointment for Parliament, so we decided to do Westminster Cathedral first. I have never seen so many people in Westminster at once. I think because it was raining, it brought everyone inside for the day. I enjoyed walking through Westminster again, but I mostly enjoy the Poets' Corner and paying homage to my favorite British writers. We had a good tour guide for Parliament.

After lunch, I returned with two students to the V & A. It is such a large museum that I can always manage to find something that I haven't seen before. Luckily, such was the case for Saturday afternoon. I don't remember ever walking through the theatre section. In fact, it was closed earlier in the week because one of the students commented on wanting to see it. As luck would have it, it was open on Saturday, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking through that part of the museum.

That's all of the adventures/travels with students for the week. However, I had a couple of my own adventures. On Thursday evening, I saw The Book of Mormon, which was a great theatrical experience. Anyone who hasn't seen it should purchase a ticket the next time it is in Des Moines. Of course, since it is written by the creators of South Park, be well-informed to know that it is raunchy, but hysterical.

However, on Friday, I experienced one of my most difficult travel experiences ever. On Friday morning, I discovered that my ATM card was not working. (This is a complicated story that I will attempt to tell with minimal detail.) After several phone calls to Wells Fargo (each time I kept getting cut off before I received any help), I discovered that they had issued me a temporary travel card (the original/permanent had since been mailed to my home) that had expired. Although I could look on a computer screen and see that I had plenty of money in my travel account and my checking account, I could not access any of it, and, according to them, there was nothing they could do. Next, I discovered that there are three Citibank locations in London, and since I have a Citibank credit card, I decided to journey there to take a cash advance. First, I had to journey home to get the card, and then travel to what I thought would be the nearest bank. Once there, I discovered that their cash-advance machine was out of order and they couldn't help me. In the meantime, I thought it important to travel to Parliament to collect our advance tickets, so I wouldn't have to hassle with them on Saturday morning. However, once arriving there, I discovered they weren't open until Saturday morning. With only an hour before closing, I decided to try a second Citibank location. After arriving, it took me 45 minutes to secure a cash advance. At first, they were going to deny me this privilege. It took some careful persuasion, but I finally managed to convince the teller that I had a legitimate card and that she had no right to deny me a cash advance. I learned some important lessons about money and backup systems. I also intend to have a serious conversation with Wells Fargo when I return.

The pictures this week are just some fun ones I took at Parliament on Saturday and a few photos from my afternoon walk through the Camden Stalls today. It's St. Patrick's Day. Cheers everyone! I drank a pint at my local pub to commemorate the day. I hope you did as well.

 

 

 

Cheers!    

 

Randy

Mar 27
WEEK 5

For British Life and Culture this week, we had a field trip to the Globe Theatre. Besides having a tour of the theatre (no back stage tour because they were preparing for a high school production to be staged later in the week) and a description/explanation of the history and the construction of the current Globe, the students had a workshop about preparing for a Shakespeare play. They did some acting warm-up exercises and played some with the words and presentation of lines from Richard III. Of course, the DMACC students were somewhat to a disadvantage because we read A Midsummer Night's Dream for our Shakespeare piece, but I think they all had fun in the workshop.

For LIT 142—Major British Writers—we took a field trip to Charles Dickens' House, which is only about eight blocks from the campus. Because we cannot work a Dickens' Walk into our schedule, I took them to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub on Fleet Street, right in the heart of the The City, a pub that Charles Dickens often frequented, and we had lunch in honor of our mid-term and Charles Dickens. Even the students not in the literature class attended this field trip. Although the food is nothing spectacular at this particular pub, it is a must see because it's full of tiny rooms. Structurally, it has not changed since Dickens' time.

On Friday, we boarded a coach and journeyed to Oxford for the day. Aside from the fact that it rained all day, we still had a good time seeing the sights of Oxford. In the morning, we had a walking tour and saw several of the 38 colleges that are a part of the university. Probably the highlight of the visit was the advantage to visit inside Christ Church, where we were able to walk through the cathedral, as well as up the staircase to The Hall, where meals are served each day. Both the staircase and The Hall were used in the Harry Potter films, so the students were excited about seeing them. Along the way, we learned a little history. For example, both William Golding and Lewis Carroll were lecturers at Oxford, and small pieces of their history are evident there. As usual, there is far too much to see in one short day.

On Saturday, we went to Hampton Court. Although the sun wasn't shining, we managed to have a good time working our way through the various parts of Henry VIII's palace. The Privy Garden was stately, even if there were no flowers blooming. On the other hand, there were many crocuses and daffodils blooming in the wild near the maze and on our way to lunch. Although few flowers were blooming on the grounds, there was a Florimania ("Jewels from the King's Crown" theme) in Henry VIII's apartments. This event was a special Mother's Day (March 10th in England) celebration of large floral arrangements made by various gardening clubs. They were huge and quite stunning. Because the theme was the king's crown, it meant those colors should be used in the arrangements. We had lunch there and then ventured back via train to London. The students went home and I went on to the Victoria and Albert Museum to plan Monday's humanities field trip.

Sunday was a quiet day. I actually allowed myself to sleep three hours past my alarm, and then I stayed in my pajamas and graded assignments for a couple of hours before I ventured out for the day. My destination today was Hampstead, the neighborhood where I am living. My guide book has a guided tour of the area, and I took that walk, which allowed me to see such sights as Jack Straw's Castle, Fenton House, the Admiral's House, Keats' House, Burgh House, and Church Row. It was cold today, so being outside for a couple of hours was about all that I wanted to do. I ended my walk with a nice cup of coffee, and then I walked home to face a stack of student papers.

We are at our mid-term point. I have compiled their mid-term grades. Mostly, they are good grades, but a few have some areas that need some serious attention, or they will have had a good time in London (because there is no doubt that any of them are not having a good time), but with expensive failing grades. Everyone still has time to turn their academic situation into a positive situation if some type of focus can be achieved before it's too late.

I can't believe we are at the mid-point of our trip. The first five weeks have simply flown past. I hope the pace slows somewhat, but I fear the second five weeks will slip by even quicker. Many of them have some trips planned in the next few weeks—Scotland, Ireland, and Amsterdam, as well as my trip to Paris, so we will be out and about before we return in April.

 

Cheers!

 

Randy

Mar 05
WEEK 4

The fourth week's British Life and Culture lectures focused on "The History of Theatre and Its Impact on British Theatre" and "British Education." Although the students seemed to enjoy both, I wanted more British Theatre history (he barely got to Shakespeare before his time was up) and less on theatre history. I found the lecture on education quite interesting, especially since he kept comparing their system to ours. Since I am currently living with two young men who are studying for their A level exams, I found the lecture even more interesting. In fact, John stopped by my room this afternoon to tell me that he earned 2 A's and a B on his mock level exams. Apparently, he takes the real exams in May.

Other than those two lectures, we're moving through the rest of the curriculum as planned. We watched Elizabeth—The Golden Age in the film class and everyone loved the movie, especially the costumes. I'm not sure how much we're learning about the art of film making, but they are certainly learning quite a bit about the history of the monarchy.

The highlight of the week was our trip to Prague. We left on Thursday afternoon for the airport to fly to Prague. We used EZ Jet as our carrier. There is nothing at home that compares to this type of European transportation. Each passenger is allowed one carry-on, and that carry-on has specific size limits, but no weight limits. Of course additional bags can be checked. At any rate, when it comes time to board the plane, it's like loading cattle for market. They do allow parents with young children to board early, but other than that it's pretty much a free for all. Our flight to Prague was very rowdy because there was a bachelor's party on board, and they were pretty "loaded" before we took off, to say nothing of what they consumed on board.

 

At any rate, we finally landed and made our way to customs and met our coach driver to take us to our hostel, which was called Fusion Hotel. It was very nice. The students all bunked in rooms of six or eight, but the adults all had their own private rooms on a different floor. This hostel was right on the border between Old Town and New Town, so it was convenient. The rooms were nice and the breakfasts were great! Even though it was pretty late, we took a quick journey to the city square of Old Town, just to get our bearings.

Most of Saturday was consumed with a walking tour of the Old Town and Prague Castle. Some of the highlights of the Old Town Square were the Church of St. Nicholas, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, the Old Town Hall, and the Town Hall Clock. Everywhere I turned there was a picture waiting to be taken. I have never seen such beautiful architecture in one city. We crossed on the Charles Bridge into the Little Quarter and climbed to the top of where Prague Castle is. Within the walls of Prague Castle is St. Vitus's Cathedral. One of the highlights of the cathedral for me was the stained glass window designed by Alfons Mucha. It was breathtaking. Before leaving the castle, we had the chance to stroll down Golden Lane, which is a group of artisan cottages that were originally built for housing 16th century Castle guards and gunners.

We had a great tour guide for both of these tours and I think the students had a great experience leaning a little but about Czech history. Klara told many Czech legends, which kept the students interested. There were also several places where people could touch a statue and be guaranteed something. For example, if they touched on statue, they would be sure to return to Prague. If they touched a dog on another statue, it meant they would have good luck in a relationship. However, the most interesting one was on the path as we came down from the Prague castle. It was a naked man and because his penis had been touched many times, it was very shiny. I jokingly encouraged the DMACC girls to touch it, but they all refused. I later asked Klara about the legend of the penis and she said, "The rumor is if you touch the wee willy, you'll get pregnant. The girls were glad they had refrained from touching it.

 

The DMACC students went to the Prague Hard Rock Café for dinner, while I went with the other faculty on the trip to a quaint, local Czech restaurant. We were the only nonlocal folks in the restaurant, but we had a great time. About the middle of our meal, one of the restaurant patrons asked the accordion player if he could play his accordion. (I think there was a money transaction involved.) At any rate, he took off playing some Czech music that soon turned into a rowdy, beer-drinking song fest. It was great fun. On Saturday night, three of the DMACC girls went on a Prague Pub Crawl. Although it was a late night, they had a great time and were still up and ready to go on Saturday morning for discovering more of Prague.

We started Saturday at the Alfons Mucha Museum, which happened to be right next door to our hotel. It is a great little museum and filled with some beautiful art deco work, which he was famous for painting. We then met our tour guide from Friday and journeyed deeper into Prague, especially the Jewish Quarter. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and the Sabbath, so everything—the cemetery and synagogues—were closed, but we still got to learn about the history of the area. We left our tour guide at noon because she was going to do the castle again, and we wanted to venture into new territory, such as Dancing House and a little of New Town. However, before we began our afternoon activities, we went to another local Czech restaurant and had more of the local delicacies. We ate local food one more time on Saturday night. We had so much Czech food that by the time we got to the airport to depart on Sunday, and we began to search for a place for dinner, the girls said, "Anything but Czech food!"

On Sunday we boarded a coach for a day trip to Licid and Terezin. The trip was a learning experience about WWII and Czech history and Nazi exterminations and Jewish extermination. The concentration camp, in particular, was eye opening and a good learning experience, especially for the students who are taking my Holocaust fiction class. I haven't had a chance to talk with them about their thoughts and feelings, but it should make for some good discussion in tomorrow's class. It was a long and quiet day, but everyone was glad to get to the airport and begin the journey back to London. Everyone returned to London, but me!

Because I had made a mistake in booking my return flight, I had the privilege of spending the night in the Prague airport, so that I could catch a morning flight to London. It all started when I told the flight attendant that someone was sitting in my seat, and after much confusion and frustration, they discovered that I had the wrong boarding pass and should have been on the morning flight. Even though there were a couple of seats available, this woman who was in charge was determined that I was not leaving on that flight. Thankfully, I am a well-seasoned traveler and I was able to work my way through this situation, even with an incredible language barrier. When I asked her what I was supposed to do, as she was about to abandon me in the terminal, she replied that I would have to book another ticket with EZ Jet. I soon discovered that EZ Jet doesn't even have its own ticket counter in the Prague airport. They book through another airline, but no one told me that. To make a long story short, I slept (well kind of napped) in the airport and was able to catch the 10:35 a.m. flight back to London. I'm exhausted, but I'm glad I went to Prague, and I'm ready to get started on the fifth week.

 

Cheers!

Randy

 

Feb 27
Week 3

It's hard to believe that we have already been here for three weeks. We have definitely settled in and have found our daily rhythms of traveling to and from school and attending classes. I was quite sure a week ago that we had turned the corner and were turning into spring weather, but the weather has been unseasonable cold this past week. Although the Brits are frustrated and uncomfortable with the cold, it would be normal weather for us if we were still in Iowa, so we haven't seemed to mind it so much, except when we are out and about, like on our day trip to Stratford on Friday or venturing to the London Eye this afternoon.

Classes are going well, and so far, no one has missed a class. A few have been late because they are still struggling with the transportation system and its seemingly inconsistent timing. I'm pretty sure it is inconceivable that they would think to leave the house an hour before needing to be somewhere, so that they can manage the changes or delays in the Tube system. I have been using the buses more this time because I see more of the city and they are nearly as fast, as well as being more dependable on a regular schedule. For example, when I got into the Tube system the other morning, there were delays everywhere and it took me twice as long to get to campus as usual. However, because I had left an hour in advance, I still made it to campus before classes started. I had thought about going up and going to a bus stop, but the time for all of that was about the same as waiting for a delayed train.

We had a double lecture for British Life and Culture this week. One on the monarchy, which was very interesting, and the second one was on the British class system. The articles that accompany these lectures provide additional interesting information. We have had quite the time with our films for the film class. The films I brought from campus are blue-ray and the AIFS projectors can't read them. AIFS ordered a special blue-ray projector, and we're still unable to view the films. They're working on this and hopefully it will be remedied by Tuesday. In the meantime, the students have been very clever and managed to stream the videos from the Internet.

On Friday, we had our first all-day field trip. We traveled out of London and journeyed to Stratford upon Avon. It's about a two and half hour coach trip from London. Our first stop was Anne Hathaway's Cottage. I think everyone enjoyed walking through the house and seeing the living conditions that Shakespeare would have experienced at that time of his life. The grounds are certainly beautiful and it would have been a truly delightful morning if it had not been so cold. After the cottage we journeyed on into Stratford for a drive around of the small town. The coach dropped us near the center of town, and we had a couple of hours of free time for lunch and visiting shops. Typically of this DMACC group, their first pursuit was for food. We found a quaint little British restaurant with reasonably priced food and found a table for nine.

After lunch, we scattered in a variety of directions and pursuits before our 2:00 appointment to visit Shakespeare's birthplace. I spent my time bouncing from shop to shop, but spent most of my time in a bookstore. Some of the students went to visit Shakespeare's grave. They had to pay 50 p, but they were glad they went. At 2:00 we met up with our guide and had a tour of Shakespeare's birthplace. Once again, we had the opportunity to see what living conditions would have been like during Shakespeare's life. At 3:00, we boarded our coach and headed back to London.

On Saturday, I spent the afternoon in the National Gallery to work on an assignment for the humanities class this week. Apparently, the students went shopping in Camden or stayed at their homestays and rested or worked on homework assignments. Just about all of them have struggled with a cold, but I think they are mostly on the mend. Slowly, I'm seeing shoes, scarves, and other apparel that I have not noticed before, so I know they have been out shopping. I think there have been a couple of tattoos added, but I'm not asking about them; I just overhear their conversations about making tattoo appointments.

Today, I met them for our London Eye experience. I'm glad we did this as a group. They really had a good time and enjoyed seeing London from a bird's eye view. I have included some of the photos from Stratford and the London Eye.

On Tuesday evening, I went to see Singing in the Rain. This is a new West End production and it was sensational. I can't believe that someone hadn't tried to turn the black and white movie into a musical long before. The dance numbers were brilliant! The "Singing in the Rain" and the finale with the entire cast came with rain on stage. I'm glad I was sitting in the balcony (my favorite seat is first row balcony, center stage) because those sitting on the ground level were drenched with water that the dancers kicked into the audience. However, because the show was so good, no one complained to the management about getting wet. I'm seeing Top Hat this week; I hope it is as enjoyable.

Five of us are going to Prague for a long weekend. I am excited about seeing a part of the world that I have never visited before. I will share our Tales from Prague next week.

I hope all is well with each of you. Keep in touch; I love hearing from you.

Cheers!

Randy   

   

 

Feb 22
Week 2

When we woke up at the beginning of our second week, there was an inch of snow on the ground, which is a first for me in London, and the "hot" news item on BBC4 was how appalled the French are because apparently horse meat has been mixed with beef in "ready meals," which I'm assuming are frozen dinners. The moral of the story—don't purchase any "ready meals." Actually, it's a long drawn out situation involving meat coming from Rumania, but apparently, the situation has the rest of Europe up in arms. However, soon after that story, the Pope broke the news with his resignation and that became even more important than "tarnished" meat. WOW! History is being made as we trudged through the snow to get to campus on time. One of the students, as well as Jack from my homestay, was hoping for a snow day!

Monday's homeroom time is to regroup and reconnect, to make sure everyone is on the same page with activities for the week. During this time, we also share our experiences from the weekend. Students share their new "cultural experiences" at this time. So far, nothing out of the ordinary or unusual has been experienced. I'm hoping as the weeks pass, that the students will branch out more and more and discover parts of London that are new and different to them.

Tuesday evening was our first theatre experience, when we went to see War Horse. Most of the students enjoyed the performance and were amazed by the puppetry of the horses. It's an amazing production, and I am glad to have seen it again. The story isn't overly interesting, but the life-sized puppets of the horses are truly amazing. One of the students is thinking of using the novel, the stage production, and the movie to create the final project for Humanities. I think it could prove to be very interesting.

 

Wednesday's British Life and Culture lecture focused on Parliament and British politics. I am proud to announce that in this lecture environment of about 100 students that a couple of the Iowa students have felt very comfortable to participate and offer information when the lecturer asks questions. The articles that have been added to this lecture series are also very interesting and provide the students with some valuable information before the lecture.

On Friday, six of the students went with me to Greenwich to visit the Prime Meridian and stand in the eastern and western hemisphere at the same time. It's quite a hike to the top of the hill in Greenwich Park where the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian are located, but we finally made it to the top of the hill, only to discover that they are now charging to enter the part where the Prime Meridian is. Fortunately, on a path right beneath the "real" Prime Meridian is the continuation of the line, and so the students still got to place a foot in each hemisphere. I have attached a photo of them straddling the Prime Meridian.

 

The other photos are a view of London's east side from Greenwich Park, the south side of St. Paul's Cathedral (for some reason, I have become extremely fascinated with St. Paul's this time and I have managed to take several photos), and a photo of London's newest skyscraper, The Shard.

On Friday evening, I went to a play by Peter Nichols entitled Privates on Parade. It was great fun with lots of song, dance, and humor, as well as part of the story of WWII and the British troops in Malaysia. Although there was a disclaimer about off color jokes and nudity, most of the audience roared throughout the performance. However, the couple sitting next to me must not have been very amused because they didn't clap at any of the right places and they didn't return after the intermission. I had a good time, and I'm glad I saw it before it closes next week. That show has to close in order to prepare the theatre for Peter and Alice, the show starring Judi Dench, which I am seeing in March. The tickets were nearly sold out for her performance, so I was forced to pay a high price if I wanted a seat. Oh, well, she's worth it; I've seen her live before.

On Saturday, I took a day off from the students, slept in late, and then traveled to the Tate Modern to create Monday's museum assignment. Every time I visit the Tate Modern, I see new exhibits from their original collection. On this visit, I saw very few pieces that I had ever seen before, so they must have a massive collection. My favorite piece this time was entitled Mirror on Canvas, which was exactly that, a mirror, nothing more, nothing less, and so when you gaze into it, you become the work of art! A sculpture that caught my fancy was Richard Wentworth's Siege, which was one chair on top of another; the two chairs were tied together. The title is a play on words—the French word siege, which means seat, and the English word siege.

 

After my museum time, I strolled along the south side of the River Thames with hundreds of Londoners and other folks from around the world. I think there were so many people out because it was the first nice day in weeks, and everyone was anxious to be outside.

Today was an even more beautiful day than yesterday. It was a perfect afternoon to go to Hyde Park and see what was going on at Speakers' Corner. Five of the students joined me for this adventure. It wasn't as busy as I had hoped, but we got to listen to some political and religious speeches, which were being challenged by various members of the audiences. We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. We visited Princess Diana's Memorial Fountain and we walked by the statue of Peter Pan on our way to the Italian Fountains, which were originally built by Alfred because of his love for Victoria.

It's hard to believe that two weeks have slipped past us, and before we know it, we'll be on our way home. So far, all is well in London.

 

Cheers!

Randy

Feb 12
WEEK 1

We’ve weathered the first week, and everything is going great so far. Aside from Introduction to Film, all of the classes have met and the students have started to submit their homework, so it feels like the semester has finally begun! AIFS has given us a small room with desks set up like a large table in the middle of the room, so that we have a seminar atmosphere for all of the classes except for film. We needed a room with a projector for that class, so they have set us up in ULU (University of London Union), where the British Life and Culture (BLC) class is also being held. We take BLC with all of the other London AIFS students, so we are in a lecture with about 100 students. On Tuesday, we made up last week’s lecture on the History of the UK. This week’s BLC lecture was on the History of London with a field trip to the Museum of London.

 

The weather has been cooler than my previous visits and it has rained every day at some point. However, I don’t let rain stop me, and although some of the students are not always appropriately dressed for the weather, we move forward. For example, on Saturday, a couple of them didn’t have gloves and one didn’t have socks on, so they soon became cold as we waited in our places to watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. After that event, one of the girls said she was too cold and just wanted to go home, so the rest of us proceeded. I hope she had a good afternoon in her homestay.

 

On the way to Buckingham Palace, we managed to be in the right place to also see the Horse Guard trotting down the Mall. I managed to get us positioned, so that they could see both the old guard and the new guard enter the Palace grounds. I think with this “tourist event” and the rain that they have sufficiently been baptized in British life and culture.

 

I think all of them have been lost at least once now, which is good because it helps them figure out the system better. Brian had trouble finding the campus the first day of classes, but he has since charted his way quite well. However, somehow he got lost this morning and couldn’t find our rendezvous point. I had to get on the phone and direct him through the tube system. He finally caught up with us about an hour later. In fact, when one of the girls called him to find out where he was, he was right behind us and within our vision. I guess it’s good they use their phones to connect at times like that.

 

On Friday, five of them went to Bath on a field trip with one of the other AIFS groups. Brian didn’t feel well, but Emma, Milena, and I ventured out for a walking tour of London. We walked through Trafalgar Square and up into Leicester Square. We went through China Town, where they all want to go on Sunday because it’s Chinese New Year’s, and we worked our way down to Covent Garden for lunch. After lunch, we took the tube to Regent’s Park and walked through it and to the top of Prim Rose Hill for a spectacular view of London. We journeyed on to Camden, where the girls wanted to shop, so I left them and went back to the National Gallery to prepare Monday’s field trip assignment.

 

Saturday evening, I spent a quiet evening with my family. We’ve had wonderful conversations about politics, both American and British, education, culture, and what the boys enjoy doing when they are not busy studying for their A level exams. Penny made a wonderful shepherd’s pie that I will have to attempt to duplicate once I get home. They also make great salads with a variety of vegetables like beets and peppers and cucumbers, along with the lettuce. They usually just have pudding for dessert, but tonight I know she is making a rhubarb crumble because she knows I love rhubarb. (Speaking of rhubarb, I couldn’t wait to find some rhubarb yogurt, which is so good! However, now they also have gooseberry yogurt, and that might soon become my favorite instead of rhubarb.)

 

It has been a cold and wet day all day, so I don’t know if the students ventured out to China Town for the New Year’s celebrations, which was their intent yesterday. I spent the afternoon visiting Joan and Arthur (my previous homestay). It was great seeing them. Arthur recently had his right hip replaced; he is in much better spirits and health since then. Although I enjoyed visiting them, and I will see them several more times before I leave, the trip was quite an adventure. It is not uncommon for parts of the tube to be closed on Sundays for maintenance. Well, I couldn’t get to Muswill Hill without getting off the tube and taking a bus. On the way home, Arthur told me to take a #134 to Camden Station, which normally would have worked. However, because of the large number of people who try to use Camden Station on the weekends, it is closed from noon until 5:30 p.m. for departures. The printed notice suggested walking to Mornington Crescent, the next tube station. I continued my journey on foot—mind you, it is raining all of this time—and then I discovered a #24 bus, which I knew went to Hampstead. Unfortunately, I didn’t know which stop was closest to my house. I rode the bus until it was terminated at Hampstead Heath. By now it was dark and I was completely clueless as to where I was. I knew I was very close to my home, but I knew the only way to find it for sure was to find the Hampstead Tube Station. After several minutes of walking and stopping for directions a couple of times, I finally found it. I was able to backtrack to Belsize Park Station, which is my station, and walk home. When I got here, I discovered I was only blocks from my house when the bus reached its termination point. Oh, well, such are the lessons of travel and adventure.

 

Well, I’m off to have dinner with my family. We are having a typical Sunday pot roast dinner, and then we’re going to watch a movie together. I am so lucky to have this family!

 

Cheers,

 

Randy

 

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About this blog
No, this isn't actually my picture. I just haven't gotten around to updating this section. It's good to know that someone is reading every last word though. Thanks!