Yellow flowers to match the awnings! This is just one of the beautiful things I saw in London.

Yellow flowers to match the awnings! This is just one of the beautiful things I saw in London.

My favorite picture I took in #london

My favorite picture I took in #london

I leave for England tomorrow, and oh my golly, I’m so excited to get back there!!!!! #london #england #uk

I leave for England tomorrow, and oh my golly, I’m so excited to get back there!!!!! #london #england #uk

TWO DAYS!!!!! #london #england #uk

TWO DAYS!!!!! #london #england #uk

4 days. Still haven’t unpacked from my last trip but maybe it’s time so I can start packing for England! #london #england #uk

4 days. Still haven’t unpacked from my last trip but maybe it’s time so I can start packing for England! #london #england #uk

Less than a week until I head back to England! #london #england #uk

Less than a week until I head back to England! #london #england #uk

Leaving for the quirky streets of #london in ten days! #england #uk

Leaving for the quirky streets of #london in ten days! #england #uk

Fair warning, world: I leave for England in 12 days and I’m already sick with excitement. #england #london #uk

Fair warning, world: I leave for England in 12 days and I’m already sick with excitement. #england #london #uk

Look right before you cross the road in England.

Look right before you cross the road in England.

Shakespeare’s Globe

If you recall some of my posts about Stratford-Upon-Avon, you’ll know what a big Shakespeare fan I am. I have the complete Shakespeare dictionary, one of my bedroom walls is covered in Post-it notes with words he invented, and I don’t usually go longer than a few weeks without re-reading one of his plays or watching a film adaptation of one of them. So it should come as no surprise that the Shakespeare’s Globe attraction in London made it onto my list of English favorites.

This is a replica of the Globe Theatre in London where many of Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed. Originally, the theatre was destroyed when one of the special effects went horribly wrong, and a spark from a cannon landed on the thatched roof and burnt the building to the ground. The theatre was quickly rebuilt, but a few decades later, the Puritans took over England, decided that frivolous activities like plays were causing things like the plague, and shut down all of the theatres. The Globe that you can visit today was built in 1997, and is incidentally the first building in London that has been constructed with a thatched roof since the Great Fire of 1666, after which thatched roofs were outlawed.

Today, there is a museum attached to it, and then you take a tour of the actual theatre. The museum offered fascinating insights into the context of Shakespeare’s era, including so much information about what theatre was like at the time. I learned so much, but I think my favorite section was the costume part. Historic apparel always fascinates me, especially the women’s clothing. The exhibit talked a lot about costume design, fabric, maintenance, and many other interesting aspects. The most outrageous fact I learned was that pee was regularly used to take care of clothing. Rather than paraphrasing, I’m just going to directly quote from the plaque:

Urine Collection

Urine was used as a stain remover. It was collected and stored for three weeks until it fermented. Pregnant women’s urine was most effective because of its high oestrogen content; whilst the urine from someone who had consumed a lot of alcohol was useless. Urine was also used for mordanting dyes, tanning leather and bleaching.

So there you have it. It definitely makes the thought of wearing Elizabethan clothing a little less desirable (as if the corsets weren’t uncomfortable enough!).

As for the theatre itself, it was beautiful. The seats were just basic wooden, backless benches, as they would have been in Shakespeare’s time, but the stage was extravagant. You can see from the photos that it was decorated beautifully (those big pillars are wooden, but they were painted to look like marble because actual marble would have been too expensive). I would have loved to see a performance here, but their season hasn’t kicked off yet—at the moment they’re running a program called Globe to Globe, so all of their performances are in different languages. If I ever come back to London during summertime, I will definitely be making a Shakespeare performance at the Globe Theatre one of my priorities!

Love, Elizabeth

Volunteering

Today was my last day volunteering at the centre. These past few days have been really, really incredible. I don’t really know how to describe the rest of my time there, other than life-changing, eye-opening, and awe-inspiring. I met so many truly amazing people, both guests and volunteers. I had so much fun getting to know the other volunteers, and talking to the guests of the centre was just as amazing.

At the end of my shift today, one of the guests came up and sat down and thanked me and my shift partner for helping; he said that he was truly grateful that all of us volunteers were so willing to talk and even just smile (a few days ago, one of the guests was really confused that everyone was smiling at him because it’s something that never happens for them). As someone who had been homeless for almost a year, this man hadn’t been able to have a real conversation with anyone until now. He told us about the circumstances that led him to become homeless, which put me and the other girl in tears, but then he ended by saying that being at this centre for just these few days had given him hope, and he knows he can make a fresh start and turn things around for himself.

I made so many new friends while I was doing this. It was such a great atmosphere, and all of the volunteers were there because they wanted to be. There was just so much positivity, and it was so uplifting to be a part of it. I am truly grateful to have had this opportunity, and I’ll be looking to do something like this again soon.

I hope everyone’s holidays are going as well as mine are!

Love, Elizabeth

It’s a Christmas miracle! My hostel’s dodgy internet is actually cooperating!

As any self-respecting English major should do during this season, I read A Christmas Carol, and now that I’ve just finished it, I thought I’d kill some time before bed by writing about my hostel.

First of all, for people who’ve never stayed at hostels before, it’s basically like a dorm room where you stay with a whole bunch of people you don’t know. Typically, you’ll pay about ten pounds a night (the price usually doubles on the weekend, though) for a bed, which comes with a pillow and a duvet, and sometimes you’ll get a locker with your room (I’ve only stayed in one place that had a locker, so I usually just keep my essentials with me). The bathroom is either ensuite or shared by the entire floor. Most hostels will let you rent a towel for five pounds, because we backpackers don’t bother bringing our own towels with us. I can’t ever bring myself to spend that kind of money on a towel, so I usually just use the pillowcase, and I’ve started bringing one of my extra pillowcases with me when I travel since it takes up less room in my bag than a towel would. All of the hostels I’ve stayed at so far have offered a free breakfast of toast and cornflakes, which is always a nice bonus. All sorts of travellers stay at hostels, so they’re usually a little grubby. But the messiness has never bothered me that much. Until this hostel.

I walked into my bedroom yesterday and felt a little bit sick. It’s a ten-person room, and the other people live here—like this is their actual home where they stay—so the room was completely full of their things. I waded through the piles of junk to the only free bed. It didn’t look very clean, but I knew better than to go out and ask for clean sheets, because they’d probably be worse than what was on my bed. So I unpacked my things and went to go find the bathroom. It was upstairs, and the tiny room with a toilet and a shower (no sink or mirror) was flooded and disgusting. So I’ve been walking to the McDonald’s around the corner for my bathroom necessities. Because even public toilets like that are cleaner than this hostel.

I felt really gross today because I hadn’t been able to shower and since there was no mirror, I had no way of telling if I looked as greasy as I felt. I knew I couldn’t go another day as is, but I also know that I wasn’t willing to risk all sorts of diseases in the hostel shower. Necessity is the mother of invention, so I’ve started to get crafty. I took my shampoo to McDonald’s with me and washed my hair in the sink there. When I got back to my room, no one was there, so I stripped and cleaned off with an emergency pack of baby wipes I had with me (I have them with me when I travel for situations like this!). My hair is still drying, I smell nice again, and I feel quite content, and more importantly, clean!

So I guess this is all just my explanation of why I’m going to go four days without a shower. I had a similar situation in the spring when I stayed at a campsite during my trip to DC for an environmental grassroots movement called Power Shift and there was a wolf spider (<—don’t click on that unless you can handle a pictures of a spider … Kate, DON’T do it—you don’t need to relive that moment!) in the shower. It menaced the shower the whole time we were there, and my best friend Kate and I absolutely freaked out and didn’t go anywhere the bathroom the whole time. Circumstances have changed since then, though, and now I’d take a spider-y campsite over a nasty hostel.

When I look back at Power Shift, it was an amazing experience and the no-shower story is just another funny thing to add to the story. Just based on how amazing today was, I know I’ll look back on this experience and the whole diseased-bathroom thing will just be a fun little detail. I know I’m lucky to have a roof over my head right now, and I’m even luckier that I have such a nice flat to go back to. Ultimately, I know that I am so privileged, and I just want to try to remember that even in situations like staying in this hostel, I should be thankful for what I do have.

So there’s some thoughts from today. What have we learned? Trust the online reviews when they tell you the hostel is a piece of poo, McDonald’s bathrooms are nice, there are worse things than spiders in your shower, and BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE!

Enough moralizing. I’m off to bed. Santa comes tonight!

Love, Elizabeth

Twenty minutes of battery, so I’ll make this quick!

I’m volunteering with an organization called Crisis. The specific event is called Crisis at Christmas. They set up several centres throughout the UK to help the homeless over the holiday season. Within London, there are several different shelters.

This morning, I left early and got to the centre right on time at 7:45. I signed in and was a little bit shy for about ten minutes, but I soon started talking to other volunteers and felt right at home. All of the other volunteers were amazing, interesting, genuine, caring people, and it was so much fun to talk to all of them. Our centre is a dependency centre, so we get referrals from the other centres. For that reason, there weren’t many guests yet, and we actually had more volunteers than guests. A lot of the time, we volunteers just spent making friends with each other and swapping stories. I was talking to one person about an elephant-relief program in Thailand that I was looking at, and it turns out he just got back from working with that program there last week; he highly recommended doing it (did you know that elephants can get tuberculosis, and it’s actually a huge problem within the elephant population?). Then I met someone who was laid off, and so now she’s going to volunteer and be part of the female empowerment movement in Morocco (I listened closely, because I’ve really been wanting to do the same thing in India). I heard so many amazing stories and met so many amazing people. I even met some fellow Americans; one from New York and one from Detroit. I find that I get so excited when I hear someone who sounds American.

There is something called the MXU, which is the Mobile X-Ray Unit. It’s part of the NHS (National Health Service) and it’sthe only portable x-ray machine in the country. Their job is to look for people to screen for tuberculosis. It turns out that London has the highest rate of TB in all of the Western cities. Because it is only found in people with compromised immune systems, they’ve been screening guests at the centres. My job was to talk to the guests about tuberculosis and then take them to get screened. Luckily, everyone tested negative. It was so eye-opening, though, because TB just isn’t something that we usually think of; I don’t at least, because it seems like more of a third-world problem. 

Because there weren’t many guests and the screening didn’t take long, I got to talk to a lot of them, and they were all really nice. It was a really uplifting experience, because unlike the soup kitchen I volunteered at in the States where we served people stale food and sent them on their way again, this centre offered housing, job, and alcohol/drug counseling, a doctor was available to see all of the patients, and there was even a hairdresser. Since the guests stay overnight, there are plenty of nice beds and showers, and the food was amazing. Even the volunteers got to eat the full English breakfast of toast, eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, and cereal. And there was a really good vegetarian option for me to eat at lunch. Plus, there were drinks available all day, so I paid many trips to the bathroom because so many guests had asked me to have a tea with them!

All of a sudden, it was 3:40 and I only had twenty minutes to go. I hadn’t looked at the time all day, and I couldn’t believe that it had gone so quickly. Today was the best day I’ve ever had, and I’m so glad to be doing this!

6 minutes of battery left. I don’t have time to proofread this, so I hope it makes sense!

Love, Elizabeth

This week, I wandered into the city centre a lot. I needed to go to the Post Office every day, and while I was there, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore. I thought I knew most of the city centre, but I discovered a lot by walking down the side streets that led to other shopping arcades, malls, plazas, and parks. I finally went inside the city library; I actually have to walk through the library building to get to the city centre, but I’d never been inside the library part. It’s just an ugly concrete building, but the book selection was great. They have books in pretty much every language and on every subject imaginable. I think I’ve found my new study place!

The building with all of the circles on it is the Selfridges store, which is part of the Bullring Mall. I’ve been there before, but I don’t think I’ve shared any pictures of it before. That’s the iconic building that’s in pretty much any brochure or website about Birmingham. I’ve heard it’s supposed to look like a handbag, but I don’t see it. I think it looks like someone let Salvador Dali design a building. People seem to either love or hate the architecture in the city centre. It’s very modern, because everything was refurbished just a few years ago to get rid of all the ugly old concrete buildings from the 70s. Personally, I love the crazy architecture, but I guess it’s not very elegant so I can see how someone might now like it.

It’s been really warm, and I haven’t needed a coat all week. Yesterday, I wore a sweater when I was out, and I ended up taking that off and walking around in my tank top—three days before Christmas, and I was dressed for summer! It’s raining now, but it’s still about 55 degrees outside.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be volunteering in London at a shelter for the homeless for a few days over Christmas. I’ll try to post while I’m there, if my hostel has internet. I’ll probably be back in Birmingham on the 27 unless I leave for my next adventure straight from London. We’ll see what happens.

Have a very wonderful Christmas, everyone!

Love, Elizabeth

Cool things happen in London!

love, e