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Honey, You Know We Always Strut Like We Mean It (And This Time Without Wearing Four Layers For The F

This is it. Not the film of the Michael Jackson tour. But it is DECEMBER. I am leaving in 10 days. London is almost over. All the imagining and surmising and suspecting what would come to pass this semester is nearly gone. HOW fast this semester has flown by. Probably more quickly than any other term of schooling in my life (wonder why).

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Well, first off, last Wednesday night, we went to see Matilda! Really liked the movie but not so much the musical. The dancing was great. Production and sound design, wow. The sequence where the “kids” are climbing the steps of the blocks comprising a wall of letters all in time with the song was amazing. Such a feat in choreography and stage design. And Miss Trunchbll was beyond scary–played by a male. Although, I found the cake-eating scene more frightening in the film, as you see the kid with chocolate smeared all over his face and looking 

like he’s about to burst from all the food he’s consumed. No wonder gluttony is one of the seven sins.

But I could barely understand any of the words the kids were saying. They were all screaming! Yes they’re kids and also have British accents, but it made it really difficult to grasp the songs’ deeper meanings. The dad was a shining star making being outright obnoxious and negligent as a parent seem humorous (of course, it’s not, but this is fiction here). The story ran far too long (over three hours!) and numbers were added for the stage that seemed unnecessary. But all in all, Mel and I had a great time walking through Covent Garden together and going to our last show with Accent. Accent has been so great about scheduling programs for us to enhance our London experience. I’m really looking forward to our last one, a farewell dinner with all of our professors (with a shnazzy pre-set menu featuring ~Christmas pudding~).

Can’t believe it’s all coming at us so fast!!!

So yes, Thursday was Thanksgiving, but as I told the border control officer upon re-entering the UK Monday night, my mom and I will roll out the full regalia of food feasting once I return to the States. You bet Urth will be receiving a call for their pumpkin pie.

Our gang planned a fun last hurrah for our final weekend pre-finals: first Munich, then Barcelona!!!! I’m so grateful for all the exploring I’ve been able to do. I never could have imagined I’d be saying: “Oh ya, I was in Munich this morning and am now checking out Gaudi’s house in Barcelona” in a text to one of my friends. Alright. Nothing will ever feel as fast-paced as studying abroad.

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From so long ago!


So Thursday night, Taryn, Claud, and I departed for the land of the Autobahn and Grimm’s fairy tales. We took the train to Luton from St. Pancras, but BEFORE we even got on the train, a cinematic moment happened.

The summer before I started my senior year of high school, I studied the “History of American Film” at Brown University in Rhode Island for three-odd weeks. I lived on a floor with a bunch of girls, our group of “Brownies.” We all became friends and had such a lovely time together, bonding and going to the V-Dub. One of my friends, Sam, lives in Manhattan Beach, and we actually met up at Urth our senior year to catch up, but we haven’t been as much in touch since.

BUT on Thursday, I was going up the escalator after purchasing my Luton ticket and happened to look

down to see a girl that looked just too familiar. She looked at me quizzically, then asked: “Tara?” And I, in reply, asked: “Sam?” And we both recognized each other. It was WILD. Of all the places on all the days at all the times in existence. How unreal. We immediately hugged and discovered how we’ve both been studying here in London this semester so near each other! She was at St. Pancras to head to Paris on the Eurostar (throwback!!). Hopefully we’ll hang out before we both go back to the States, but wow. Encounters like that make you realize just how small the world is.

We then took to the skies for München, arriving so late at night ultimately, but our hostel front desk directed towards some “authentic” German food. The food hall looked like a cross between the Great

Hall of Hogwarts and Disneyland–but with beer. Some dudes literally chugged pitchers the size of their biceps. Insane.

I tried “spaetzle,” which is basically the German version of mac & cheese, and got some strudel for dessert! Had to pay homage to America’s day of gratitude somehow!

Our hostel was a little tight and awkward, what with the other girl in our room being asleep by the time we returned and we had to tip-toe in the dark with our iPhone flashlights in order not to wake her.

But we rose bright and early the next morning for our tour to Neuschwanstein Castle!!! Seeing Walt Disney’s inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle has been on my bucket list for a site I would desperately yearn to see sometime in my life. And the fact I actually got to visit it felt unreal. I’ve always, always, ALWAYS wanted to go to the “real-life” Sleeping Beauty castle. I went there. Last weekend. I’m shaking as I’m typing this. I think it may only just be hitting me now that a wish for my life was granted. I need to stop and recognize this moment. You really need to pause and be grateful when things like this happen. Wow. Ok sorry just needed to take a quick breather. Lifelong Disney fan here still reeling from such a gift of life.


Ok so the day started when we met our lovely tour guide Dan (the Man) at Hauptbahnhof Station, where he gave us nifty Livestrong-esque bracelets coming straight out of the 2000s that his designer-mom had made for his tour groups, with words like “Adventure” and “Discovery” lining the band. Very cute.

Of course, we slept en route until we arrived in Schwangau! The name means “Swan Place”–how beautiful! I’ve always found swans to be elegant and graceful creatures, especially due to my affinity for The Swan Princess (it always comes back to childhood nostalgia). Before our tour officially started, we got some

“bratwurstsommel” (bratwurst sandwich) from the convenience store that everyone got food from, which may have not been the best choice in the long-run. It looked and tasted more like a hot dog anyway–more American baseball fare than German sausage bravado.

Our tour guide later told us the story of the “Fairy Tale” King Ludwig II, who built Neuschwanstein and helped fund Wagner’s operas like those of Ziegfreid the Dragonslayer and Tristan & Isolde. Ludwig II’s life was riddled with tragedy–his father neglected him and when he did visit him and his brother Otto, the king would beat him “into a man” at their home right down the hill from Neuschwanstein-to-be, Hohenschwangau–“high above the swan place.” The castle is gorgeous itself, but was divided into two–half for the sons, the other for the parents who never wanted kids but knew it was their royal duty.

Furthermore, as a gay man who could never freely express his homosexuality, Ludwig II’s life was further littered with motifs of unrequited love and he even had a mysterious death that has never been resolved–stories our tour guide told us that don’t necessarily help to maintain the facade of the “ethereal fairy tale king” that built the castle as a refuge and

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Hohenschwangau


place of isolation for himself. What a poor man, but also a wonderful patron for the arts and architecture.

Although the day was foggy, the interior of Neuschwanstein, well, the 7 finished rooms that we saw out of the 130 planned ones that were never completed because Ludwig II ran out of money, were breathtaking. I loved our tour guide with his adorable bowl hat much more than the castle’s brief, fast-talking/speed-walking tour guide who barely let us spend more than 5 minutes in the rooms. BUT seeing the room that clearly inspired the opening scene for Sleeping Beauty, a grand room with a stage designed for royalty clearly by a theatrical designer–along with the rest of the castle itself!–and pastoral tapestries lining the walls made me feel like I was transported in time. And it’s interesting because Ludwig had Neuschwanstein built in the mid-1800s, but was reflecting on the Medieval

period for design inspiration. Quite the Journey to the Past. K, I’m done. Sorry.

His bedroom was also my dream bedroom. The wood carvings along all the paneling and the canopy of his bed (modeled after European Gothic churches) in addition to the pale blue aesthetic of the entire room, and his READING CHAIR (!!), certainly made me want to pass my evenings in such a haven. However, the tragic love motif rang true in this room to be certain, as the wallpaper featured scenes from Tristan & Isolde–the tragic love story and Wagner opera somewhat similar to Romeo & Juliet in disappointment and devastation. WHY would that be the story you want to wake up to and be reminded of every morning? Poor Ludwig II. He must have led such a lonely life and all he had was building this castle to keep him going,

along with Wagner’s operas. Other people like culture and building castles too. No one should have to feel so alone.

Anyway, despite the brief amount of time allotted in the castle, I was so thrilled to see it for however long. We got more bratwurst (again, probably not the best choice), as we hiked back down the mountain towards the Schwangau town for our train back. We ended up meeting a couple that day, Tara (funnily enough) and her husband Andrew, who love going to “The Strand” beach in Dana Point!!! They live in Laguna Hills and had just come from Bruges (another fairy-tale semblant city!). I loved getting to know them and swapping travel stories. Tara had gone on an Ireland road trip with her best girlfriend, where they stayed at castles and bed-and-breakfasts between cities. WHAT a life!

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Also, fun fact: Bayern means Bavaria. So, the Bayern Munich football club means the Bavaria Munich football club. Definitely need-to-know info. Well, at least interesting-to-know. Bavaria in effect is like its own state within Germany, similar to Texas, California, and New York fostering their own distinct identities within the U.S. People in Bavaria consider themselves Bavarian first before German–another aspect of the culture I found so fascinating.

When we returned to Munich, we went to the Christmas Market with our new fave American-expat (well, just for a few weeks) couple and Tour Guide Dan! I got some delicious gingerbread, shared a GIANT pretzel with Claud, and tried some glühwein over an hour-long conversation about film with Dan the Man and Andrew. Interests can truthfully span across nations, borders, worlds even, if you permit the opportunity for conversation to arise.

Our tour guide was so blunt but respectful in his opinions about film, surely, and music, but mainly about politics. He expressed his fears that America might repeat Germany’s mistakes in the past, which is a terrifying prospect but a valid point to probe. Nonetheless,

we all so appreciated our tour guide’s hospitality in spending the rest of the evening with us. BTW, check out Swangled—(swag + Tangled) on Youtube. That’s his and his brother’s band!!!!

The next day, we were bound for Barcelona to meet up with our pals Kris, El, Just, and his Paris-abroad friend Carlton (or Carl’s Junior, as I like to call him). While our transportation time was spent working on our essays-upon essays-upon essays that have been due these past few weeks (including this very afternoon), I started to not feel well in my stomach. Didn’t the entire Barcelona trip. I do think I must have had a bad sausage. Claudia and I ate basically the same things while we were in Germany, but man, one of those famed bratwursts must NOT have sat well with me. Maybe it was the spaetzle? I really don’t know. Thankfully, I believe that bout of stomach dysfunction has passed, but wow was that painful. I woke up in the middle of the night Saturday feeling like my stomach was being stabbed. I know, sounds SO groovy.

ANYWAY, we were BLOWN AWAY when we

walked into our airbnb. It was my first time being the one to book a trip using the site and negotiate with the host of the place. But it all went so swimmingly! I felt so relieved. The place was beautiful, maybe even nicer than our flat honestly! It was so perfect for our last weekend holiday together as a big group.

We all met up and went to Casa Batlló–the underwater/nature-themed house designed by the unparalleled Antoni Gaudi. I would regard his mosaics and architectural style in general as some of my most favorite artwork I’ve ever seen. I was enamored. I felt like I’d stepped into an undersea cavernous grotto walking into that house. Aunt Ro was right–I ABSOLUTELY LOVED Gaudi’s work. The entire house had no straight lines–so much of it looked like an endless wave. So much movement and life

within the building’s foundation alone. And the exterior facade! It was night so we couldn’t see it so well, but the vibrancy of the colors! Wow.

Afterwards, Just found a restaurant called “Arte de Paella,” where we all devoured different varieties of paella (not pa-yay-a as Claud said I’d been pronouncing it). I got the seafood kind and thought it was SO delicious, but my stomach had an alternate idea. We ended up getting churros to dip in hot chocolate too–another Spanish specialty. The food was so yummy, but I was SO beat and had to call it an early night.

The next day though called for Gaudi Appreciation: Part Two, as we trekked on over to Park Güell. We were lucky enough that it DID NOT RAIN. Truthfully, the weather felt like we were back in Los Angeles. A day without wearing 4 layers of warmth on top of my undershirt?!? A day where I got to where my favorite Free People black dress and my flannel and THAT’S ALL? It’s a whole new world.


We sat on the benches of the famed mosaic steps in the “Monumental Zone” and looked out on the vastness of Barcelona. I’d love to come back one day. I can totally see why Emily studied abroad here and barely left the place. The city has so much action and excitement and vivacity. Art, music, food, history. The more I see of the world, the more I want to

know more about each place I visit!

And of, course, you can BET we STRUTTED LIKE WE MEANT IT. Aqua, Dorinda, Chanel, Galleria went full-throttle down the steps next to Gaudi’s “El Drac.” It was so much fun. Disney is always a great reference point for traveling–whether it’s DCOM’s or the classics that produced such standards as “Once Upon a Dream.”

I then tried my first tapa–a Spanish omelette (tortilla española)–before we went to see LA SAGRADA FAMILIA. GAUDI. GAUDI. GAUDI. Name someone who has had more architectural influence on a city then GAUDI on BARCELONA. He is buried in the crypt of this still unfinished masterpiece (it’ll be done in 2026, apparently). But wow

this church was so modern yet with Gothic-inspired features that wherever you looked your draw could drop and you wouldn’t even notice (I didn’t, it basically stayed open the whole time with my eyes totally bugged-out). Gaudi is one of the most innovative human beings I have ever come across and his talent is unparalleled–still can’t believe he was killed by being hit by a tram. If Regina George can survive, why can’t he?

That night we got some more paella, obviously, and after I ordered, the waiter came back to ask me a question (as I’d necessarily made some dietary requests par mi estómago), and he asked if I spoke Spanish or English since I’d ordered in Spanish. It felt so cool to feel Spanish roll off my tongue again. I really need to practice more and keep it up. It’s such a fluid language and lets you infuse such passion into it. Plus, being recognized for my ability to speak the language felt so validating–and relieving!

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That’s Carlitos with the blue scarf!


The next day, after the others headed back home to Londres (and Carl to Paris), Taryn, Claud, and I went on a free walking tour of the Gothic Quarter with another AMAZING tour guide, Carlos! We had so much fun hearing his stories and his excitement for relaying the beauty of Barcelona to all of us foreigners.

Also, even though we could NOT attend an FC Barcelona match and see my man MESSI play because they were playing an AWAY GAME the weekend we were there (UGH, MY HEART), I still got an honorary Messi jersey. Whenever I wear it now, I will always beam with pride in supporting my

favorite footballer. Couldn’t leave Barcelona without getting some token to support Barca!!!

We headed back home later in the evening–no more National Express buses EVER again. Trains only are where it’s at. We have definitely learned the better modes of transportation after all our trips this semester.

The next day, Claud, Mel, and I (after turning in yet ANOTHER essay–I wrote about UK vs. US teen dramas for this one!), went to SKETCH for our last Afternoon Tea!! It was the “Night Before Christmas” themed. And the bathrooms are literally PODS that make you feel like you’ve stepped into an alien invasion–but a classy one.

We had such a great time ordering extra scones for take-away (because you HAVE to when they’re so gratuitously given and you’re major scones-lovers) and seeing all the waitresses with their holiday-themed headbands on with large ornaments or snowmen on top! I was so grateful my tummy pains had subsided so I could enjoy the meal!

Yesterday’s last Rhetoric of London class was really sweet, as we all wrote kind and

reflective messages as to why each one of us was “certified” for completing the class. Michael really tied the class up together nicely, especially with a slide-show of all our silly photos and projects!

We also went on a “Theatre Walk” with actor and pro-guide David Mildon around Covent Garden! Very fun and informative. We all now know of some great shops to buy some theatrical-themed goodies!

Today I turned in my LAST paper (HALLELUJAH) on the Stones vs. the Beatles. Of COURSE I mentioned my parents’ preferences (as if we didn’t already know). We are all now SO exhausted after all the traveling, late work-nights, and non-

stop activities. But to celebrate, Just, Claud, Kris and I went to HOMESLICE for some pre-theatre dining.

Claud and Kris then split off to go see Wicked while Just and I went to see School of Rock. A really great adaptation–the kids are so talented, my goodness! And this Dewey definitely captured the great spirit Jack Black infused into the character in the Linklater (be still my heart) film. Still have “Teacher’s Pet” stuck in my head.

Can’t believe it’s just about that time for the “final countdown.” To finals, sure. But to the end of our time here as South Londoners. Well, I don’t know if you ever really stop being a “South Londoner.” I feel like I’ll always still have that part of me and the memories I made here still in my heart. I’m looking forward to my last week of embracing all this beautiful city has to offer–first day of bucket-listing: Camden Market and Hyde Park Winter Wonderland tomorrow!

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I have such bittersweet and mixed feelings of excitement at being able to see my family and spend the holidays with them but also sadness and poignancy that this semester abroad I’d idealized for so long is nearly over. But you know what? This semester has been everything I could have ever imagined it to be and more. And what I’ve learned from studying here in the classroom but mainly in the educational facilities of London itself and the other cities and towns I’ve visited will always be with me. As will my darling Amigas (and amigo) Cheetahs. Here’s to the next 10 days!

Cheers, Tara xx
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