OPA! Or what I did with the first half of my summer vacation

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So for those of you out of the loop, I’ve been on vacation for a while. For, like, three months. I did a lot of cool things, went a lot of cool places, and spent a lot of time not writing blog posts to regularly update on what I was doing. Now that I’m at the end of it, everyone wants to know how it went, what was my favorite part, etc. But to sit down and explain that to each and every person would take, like, a bazillion years, and there are youtube videos I could be watching. (Like THIS one). So in the interest of saving time, I have decided to compile the best and worst of it here, on my blog, in alphabetical order. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.

Just to give the basics, I spent two months in London, pretty much trying to see all the shows I could afford, eating all the chocolate I could stomach, and stalking Colin Firth as much as my restraining order would permit. Then afterward I went on a weeklong cruise to Sicily, Ephesus, Athens, and Crete, then spent three days in Rome, a little bit in New York, and then began a cross-country tour that included Maryland, Chicago, St. Louis, and Memphis, and ended up back in jolly old Arizona. And here, in a very particular order, are some of the highlights.

A.      Alligator              I HELD an alligator! Like, in my hands. And it was one of the coolest things ever! Keeping in mind that during this very same vacation, I was an extra in a movie, took a tour of the Coliseum, and ate gelato in front of the Parthenon, and at the end of the day one of my favorite parts was still feeding marshmallows and hot dogs to half a dozen alligators and holding a cute little baby one in my hand. Then afterward we went to a restaurant and tried fried alligator—hopefully of no relation. Tasted like chicken.

B.      Brighton and Bristol       I got to go on a couple day trips while I was hanging out in London, and two of my favorite were to Brighton and Bristol to hang out with some old friends. They also happened to take place in the same exact week, from heretofore known as the week of daytrips.

 

                       

C.      Coney Island      On our last night in New York, my sister and I went to Coney Island with some of her friends to watch fireworks and eat deep-fried Oreos, my new favorite method of slow but sure suicide.

D.      Downton Abbey               I couldn’t hang out in England without taking a brief detour to Highclere Castle, aka the filming location for one of my favorite ITV series, Downton Abbey. The grounds were absolutely gorgeous and it was pretty fun to see inside the house, even if I did find out that the kitchen scenes are filmed in a studio in London (gasp!) and that Branson doesn’t actually spend all his time in the garage. And this was not to be my last run-in with something Downton Abbey related. But to find out the rest, read on. . .

This was me attempting to give off some period-drama vibes.

 

And here was me giving that up entirely.

E.       Ephesus              Ephesus was one of the stops on the cruise, and it was amazing! We had an awesome tour guide who really made the day special. And I really wish I could remember his name so I could give him some free advertising here… although, since I’m pretty sure only my mom and dad read this thing and that they aren’t planning on going to Ephesus any time soon, I guess it’s no great loss. Highlights of the day include going to Virgin Mary’s (alleged) house, hanging out in the ruins of the ancient city where the apostle Paul preached, and eating an incredible meal at a Turkish restaurant where we had to sit on the floor and take off our shoes and everything.

 

F.       Felon Jesus!       Okay, so for those of you who aren’t aware of this, I’m insane. Like full-on crazy, and I’ve embraced this fact about myself. When I did study abroad in London in the spring of 2006, I fell in love with an actor in a play. His character in the play didn’t have a name, but he played an outlaw who was pretending to be Jesus to con a bunch of little kids into helping him (I know, phwoar, right?) so my friends and I nicknamed him Felon Jesus. And maybe I saw the show three times and went to the stage door to meet him (see disclaimer above). Cut to six years and several unhealthy obsessions later, I returned to London to discover that Felon Jesus, aka Tim Rogers, was going to be starring in a revival of Jekyl and Hyde. So naturally I had to go and sit in the second row. Turns out that Felon Jesus is still awesome but that I’ve moved on (though unfortunately, Elliot Cowan was too afraid of his love for me to appear in any plays this time around). But it was nice to take a stroll down memory lane with an old love.

Me and my peeps Liam and Meagan during intermission at the show.

G.     Galaxy and Gelato          So, I love to eat. Particularly chocolate. And one of my favorite kinds of chocolate is the Galaxy bar, which is everywhere in London but is virtually impossible to find in Arizona. So I may have eaten a lot of it. And by a lot? Take the number you’re considering, multiply it by 12, and then add on three more just to be safe. Another favorite treat of mine? Gelato, which I had after pretty much every meal while I was in Rome. And what’s truly wonderful about this whole thing is that people keep asking me if I lost weight on the trip. I honestly don’t know how that could be possible, but maybe everyone should be on the chocolate and ice cream diet.

 

H.     Hampstead Heath           While living in London, I totally lucked out and got not only an awesome roommate (if you don’t believe me, listen to some of our duets! She’s amazing!) but also an incredible place to live. For any of you who haven’t yet been to Hampstead Heath. . . Go. It’s gorgeous. It’s massive, it’s lush and overgrown, and the rambling paths don’t seem to lead to anywhere specific. I would go on a walk there every day and get lost pretty much every day, but it was great because every time I got lost, I found something new, including my new absolute favorite place in all of London, Pergola! Pergola is this old beautiful mansion with secret gardens and vines growing up and down the walls and magic oozing out the windows, and I absolutely fell in love. Go there and you will, too.

I.        The Imperial War Museum        The Imperial War Museum is another of my favorite London hangouts, potentially even my favorite museum of all time. I’ve gone there several times and always find something new and interesting. And while it may seem weird to have such a fixation on a museum that’s all about war, what I love about the place is that they focus so much on the people experiencing the war, not the machines and the weapons. Also, it’s free, so you know I’m all over that.

J.        Jambalaya           Can you go to New Orleans without eating black shrimp jambalaya? Well, I guess you can, but I’m not sure why you’d want to.

K.      King of the World!          The last night on the cruise ship we found the helicopter pad, which translated to a beautiful view of the night sky—and the opportunity to pay homage to Jack Dawson and scream “I’m the king of the world!” from the bough of the ship. Which was fitting, considering it was the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, though thankfully we didn’t pay too much of an homage by, you know, sinking ourselves…

L.       Little Bunny Lulu              When I was living in London two years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of being nanny to two little girls, and one of my favorite parts of this trip was getting to visit with them again and see how much they’ve grown! I would always sing songs to the girls at night when I was putting them to bed, and they always liked it best when I would change the words to fit their names into a song. Hence,

“Little Bunny Lulu hopping through the forest, scooping up the Ninas and bopping them on the head. Along came the stiiinky Elizabeth, and she said, Little Bunny Lulu, I don’t wanna see you scooping up the Ninas and bopping them on the head.”

I miss those girls!

 

M.    Milano                 Just to prove what a foodie I am, here’s another tip for your next trip to London. Find the nearest Café Nero and order a hot chocolate Milano. Your only regret will be that you’ve never had one before, and that now all other hot chocolate will pale in comparison. I was in London for about two months and used up my first loyalty card before the first month was up. Just sayin’.

N.     Nauvoo to New Orleans               One of the most ironic parts about the cross-country trip was the transition between our two main stops—Nauvoo, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana. For those of you unfamiliar with us Mormons, Nauvoo is a church history site filled with wholesome singing and dancing and re-enactments— and New Orleans is party central with dancing and alcohol and lots of half-naked ladies. A bit of a contrast, no?

O.     Opa!      I loved Greece! Everyone had pretty much warned me that Athens was a stink hole, so my expectations were pretty low, but I actually really liked it. Mostly because the gyros were so amazing. And Crete was absolutely beautiful—in fact, I think I took about three dozen pictures of the same lighthouse, just because it was so picturesque. So naturally for the rest of the cruise, our way of expressing that we were having a good time was shouting at “Opa!” at random intervals. Though sadly, we didn’t break any plates.

 

 

P.      Proposal              I received exactly one proposal on this trip, with a ring and everything. Granted, it was part of a truth or dare game and it was pretty late in the evening. . . but it was a proposal nonetheless. Maybe that’ll get people off my back for a while.

Q.     Queuing for Once            I was only in New York for a short trip, but my sister and I decided we really wanted to try and see Once the Musical. Unfortunately, everyone else in the world had apparently made this same decision, so we had to try three different times to get our tickets. Finally we decided to really commit and showed up at 5 in the morning one of the days, which meant we had five hours to wait until the box office opened. This, naturally, translated to watching five hours’ worth of Dawson’s Creek on my sister’s I-Phone. The good news was, we FINALLY got the tickets (despite a very close call of a sneaky girl trying to worm her way in front of us in line), Pacey and Joey FINALLY kissed,  and the show was amazing! Definitely worth the wait.

R.      Roma!                   I’d actually been to Rome several years before, but that was on a very quick trip and I was amazed at how much it felt like seeing things for the first time all over again. The highlights include, as mentioned previously, eating gelato after every meal; eating pizza to, you know, be more nutritious; getting to use some very rusty Italian from my undergraduate days; and getting hit on by various Italian men. Seriously, the tales are not exaggerated; they are pretty forward, and I love it. Che bella!

 

S.       Strand                   One of the things I miss most about living in New York is the amount of used book stores, so naturally I had to make a stop at Strand, one of the most magical of all. Seriously, pretty much any time I’ve gone there and had a book in mind, not only did they have it, but it was on the dollar discount rack. And this time was no exception—I’d been wanting to read Robert Jordan’s the Wheel of Time series (I know, I’m a little late on this one, but better late than never, right?) and lo and behind, there’s the first book for 99 cents! Works every time.

T.       Terminal 5          Being the genius that I am, I booked my trip from Rome back to London so that I’d arrive at about midnight—with my flight leaving New York at 8:00 that morning. Brilliant, I know. Luckily my lovely friend and traveling companion, Meagan Brady, agreed to make it a night with me, and we had a slumber party in Heathrow Airport, complete with snacks, cards, and some pretty intense games of MASHO. Thanks, Meagan!

U.     Umbridge           This turned out to be the summer of Umbridge. Not only did I see Imelda Staunton in Sweeney Todd with Michael Ball, but I passed her on the street in Hampstead Heath. Actually, she was not the only celebrity I ran into this trip. I also saw Ricky Gervaise, Steve Merchant, Danny Strong (aka Jonathan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Sir Derek Jacobi, Jason Stratham, and Ginger Spice. Random, no?

V.      Virgin!                  Earlier I mentioned that I got to tour the Coliseum, but what I didn’t mention was the tour guide who gave me my own special nickname. While talking about the virgins who were sacrificed there, he kept motioning to me every time he said the word. Repeatedly. Throughout the hour-long tour. Man, can’t even fool a tour guide.

 

W.   William Shakespeare    So there’s this little-known playwright, Bill Shakespeare, maybe you’ve heard of him? It’s been my goal for a long time to do the Globe Theatre tour and I was finally able to accomplish it. Turns out? It was awesome. I also got to see As You Like It as a groundling at the Globe Theatre, performed in Georgian by a traveling company, and it was maybe the best show I’ve seen. Ever. At least top five. It was so cool how the language difference wasn’t even that much of a barrier—you could totally understand everything that was happening just based on their facial expressions. An inventive, creative, hilarious show.

X.      Xtra in a film      One of the first things I did when I got to London was to be an extra in a film. I believe the film is going to be called Road to Damphas and I’m pretty sure if you see any of me it’s probably a small corner of the back of my head. But one of the stars of the movie was the girl who plays Daisy in Downton Abbey.

Y.      Yarn-spinner     Okay, this one is a bit of a stretch, but it’s hard to think of things I did that started with ‘y’. But one of my favorite things I did in London was getting to go to a Q&A with a yarn-spinner, aka storyteller, aka author George R.R. Martin who wrote one of my new favorite series, A song of Ice and Fire. Afterward he did a book signing and I thought of about ten different clever things to say to him, but by the time I got to the front and was face-to-face with him, all I could do was stare and stumble out a “thank you.” Someday when we’re author friends and hang out all the time, we’ll laugh about this. Won’t we, George?

Z.       Zero       As in how many hours of sleep my sister and I got the 23 hours driving between Louisiana and Arizona, stopping only briefly to get gas and food. We drove through a LOT of Texas, took a detour through Roswell… and somehow made it back to AZ in one piece.  Home sweet home!

 

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About lissag7

Elizabeth Gilliland is an aspiring writer/dreamer/pirate who loves a good story more than just about anything else... except maybe chocolate. This is her place to create and dream and share just a little nugget of what's going on in her little corner of the 'verse.

3 responses »

  1. Um, I LOVE everything about this post. Except the fact you didn’t tell me you were an extra! Cool! Also, I miss you. Come up to Utah! Or we can split the difference and meet up in Vegas, or the Grand Canyon. Or even Tijuana since we obviously haven’t traveled to enough countries this year!

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