18 September 2010

It is perhaps fitting that since my last post was about my leaving Edinburgh that this one should mark the beginning of my time in London. Yes, I am once again back in the UK. This time it is for 90 days until I come home for winter break. What am I doing here? Studying for my master's degree in International Relations at King's College London.

But more on that later. First, an overview of my month in the US. I flew home on August 14th and was greeted by my parents (toting the 'WElcome Home Rebecca' sign they had made for when I returned from Oxford, this time devoid of Christmas lights) and my boyfriend, who brought me roses. After an 8 hour flight on which I did not get a single wink of sleep, seeing these two groups of people was most welcome. Later that week, Drew and I spent a night at my Aunt Lynn's house before journeying to his house where I met his relatives. It was a pleasant week and it was so wonderful to have the chance to spend that much time with him. We savored every moment of it because the following week he returned to school for pre-season cross country training.

On August 27th, Mum and I traveled to Ashland, Virginia, where I ran the Patrick Henry Half Marathon the following day. The half marathon went wonderfully - I ran the entire way and finished in 1:49. I was 10th in my age group and something like 312th overall (out of 1230 finishers). Not too shabby. Unfortunately, the entire event left my toes a bit worse for wear and the resulting trip to the podiatrist was most painful. Immediately after the half marathon, Mum and I drove the 3 hours home. I relaxed for an hour and then turned back around to drive 2 hours down to St. Mary's to celebrate Drew's birthday. I joined his family for dinner at the Captain's Table in Solomon's (the same place where we had our anti-gala dinner in May). It was a wonderful evening. I spent the next few days at SMCM running, hanging out with Drew, and relaxing on the beach. I suppose that it takes leaving a place to fully appreciate just how much you will miss it. Being at SMCM without having to deal with school-stress meant that I finally had the opportunity to go to the River Center and sleep in the chairs, to lay out in the sun, to run the trails in Historic, and to read with Drew, all without feeling guilty for not doing work. The fact that I was leaving rural SMCM to go to grad school in massive London probably had something to do with my sense of nostalgia as well.

Of course, all good things must eventually end, and so it was with extreme reluctance that I let Drew get on with his school work and returned home. Our separation was not prolonged, however, as that Saturday I drove to Salisbury to cheer him on in his first cross country race of the season. As expected, he did marvelously and I was so proud to watch him speed around the course. This kicked off blissful weekend number 2 of my vacay in the States. I joined his family in Salisbury for the weekend, where we roamed small neighboring towns, ate in amazing local restaurants, and then went to Chincoteague Island. Now, I've wanted to go to Chincoteague for years, ever since I read 'Misty of Chincoteague'. At age 22, I finally got to go. Drew and I went for a (somewhat inadvertent) 14-mile run in the National Park, were subsequently eaten alive by flies, and then laid out on the beach for a while. At night, we roamed around Chincoteague looking at the various small stores. It was truly magical.

The following weekend I journeyed to McDaniel for Drew's second cross country meet. Once again, both he and St. Mary's did well. We drove down to SMCM on Sunday so that I could spend one last day with him before I left for grad school. It was bittersweet -- the time was wonderful but it reminded me just how much it was going to hurt to leave. The final week at home was spent packing, crying, fretting, and packing some more. And it all culminated in my heading to the airport last night. Drew met me and, I am a bit ashamed to admit, I broke down when I saw him. I had been so good about holding back major tears until he was out of the room...but I failed this time. He makes me so happy and so leaving him behind the barrier as I walked through security was like being stabbed in the heart. :( (An example of how thoughtful he is (of which there are many): I had told Drew that one of the things I will miss the most is the changing of summer into fall. I love the fall and the UK simply does not have it. The weather changes from slightly warm to freezing overnight; there is no intermediary period to enjoy. So what does my darling boyfriend do? He bought me autumn-themed gifts: an absolutely beautiful leaf necklace that reflects the changing of the season, a satchet of 'Harvest Moon' fragrance, and a metal scarecrow that I have named 'Foghar' - Scots Gaelic for 'Autumn'. I was so touched by his gifts that it almost brought me to the brink of sobbing all over again.)

And so I finally get round to the actual flight. I was crying as I went through security and one of the guards asked me what was wrong. When I told him that I was upset because I had just said goodbye to my boyfriend for a year, he was like 'Damn girl, you deserve a cry.' Granted, we will be apart for 3 months and then 6 months, but the two weeks that I will be home at Christmas do not really count since I'm not truly 'home' and everything we do will be tainted with the knowledge that time is short. We boarded the plane late, around 9:30, but took off quickly. I ended up sitting next to a man who was paralyzed from the waist down and did not speak any English (only German). The flight time was 5:45 -- long enough to have moments where the wait was agonizing but short enough that I couldn't convince my body to sleep. By the time everyone was finished dinner (I did not have any since I had already eaten earlier in the day and my stomach was already loudly protesting the change in pressure onboard the plane), there were 3 1/2 hours left and, since they wake you up with an hour to go for the breakfast service, my body was having none of it. (Keep this in mind as you are reading this post: any grammatical errors are likely due to the fact that I have not slept in almost 48 hours.)

Once in Heathrow, I passed through customs, collected my baggage, and then boarded the Tube for the city center. Luckily, there were lifts (elevators) at both the Green Park and London Bridge stations so I did not have to carry my two heavy suitcases up and down stairs. I did drag them 1.5 miles from the station to GReat Dover Street though, so I feel like my reputation for doing things the hard way can still be maintained. My flat is located in the Borough district near Southwark Cathedral and the London Bridge. I am a short walk away from Tower Bridge (the iconic one), Tower of London, and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. As for my flat itself, it has an odd setup. It is located in block 4 (of 10), on floor 6 (of 7). Immediately upon entering the flat, you face a corridor of doors. Three of the doors (all white) are mysteriously locked, so who knows what actually is behind them (although I rather suspect it is something disappointingly mundane like cleaning supplies or machinery). Five are orange and are the bedrooms, and the sixth, to the immediate left of the entrance door, is the kitchen. The kitchen is wide and spacious, with a huge window overlooking the park in back of GDS, small (small!) hob (burner) and oven, kettle, and microwave. There is also a sink and several recycling bins. As my current state of utensils, plates, and cookware consists of the set of measuring spoons my Mum bought me in Ashland, and as most stores were closed today, it is not surprising that I did not end up cooking dinner.

As for my room...most people would consider it too tiny. For me, it works out well. After all, I am just one person, so how much space do I need? Upon entering the door, to the left is the closet and to the right is the bathroom. The bathroom is a combined toilet/shower, which means that whenever I take a shower the toilet will get wet :(. Not my favorite type of bathing environment, but I will take what I can get. The rest of the room has a window overlooking the park, a large desk with an equally large corkboard mounted on the wall, a shelf and cabinet mounted on the wall, and a bed (that came with linens). I wish the room had come with a dresser as I did not bring hangers and so the clothes-arranging situation is currently pretty dire. But all will be remedied soon.

My crowning achievement of today was arranging my pictures on my corkboard. The set-up is flawless and I will be able to see my boyfriend/parents/friends whenever I do work. Hopefully, the knowledge that their eyes are upon me will force me to be productive in my work. Besides unpacking, I walked around Borough, to St. Paul's Cathedral, and then to Tower Hill. Tomorrow I plan to go running along the Thames (hopefully early enough to avoid the tourists) and then visit the Tower of London.

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