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Friday marked the beginning of my last frolic through the Great Land of Britain. With the assistance of a father from Los Angeles, willing to brave the always disconcerting British driving patterns, Ali, Lauren, Raviv– the Gnome, and I ventured to Stonehenge. I feared that if I did not make the journey at least once this year, I would face the wrath and ridicule of loved ones at home, who have made similar remarks to me about being a New Yorker and never having visited the Statue of Liberty. In this case, in an effort to embrace my inner English girl, I vowed to make the trek to the legendary tourist trap. Fortuitously, I procrastinated making the visit. I say this because in preparation for the summer solstice next weekend, the fence usually craftily obstructing the view of Stonehenge, had been taken down. In other words, the visuals below did not need to be copied from Flickr or any other image-sharing site:

Stonehenge, in all her picture postcard glory.

No Photoshop involved.

Luckily, on this journey, we had the Gnome. Raviv, a social historian, was quite well-versed in Stonehenge history, as well as willing to detail the three periods of building in Stonehenge, and the significance of each period. He even knew the type of stone used to erect the magical little pagan fortress. Basically, just like in those Travelocity commercials, he acted as the perfect gnome– prepared for any journey. Only, he forget his hat, and Moses, was it windy.

I will admit that despite the kitschy-ness of the Stonehenge experience, it was a wondrous visual display of ancient architecture and prowess. One of the aspects of the European year abroad that I will miss the most is the ability to stumble on 3000 year old ruins. Did I mention the remains of an Oxford Palace I stumbled upon the other night? There they were, in someone’s driveway, just chillin’. As to why I was stumbling through people’s driveways, well, let’s just say you can take the girl out of the stalker, but you can’t take the stalker out of the girl.

Moving right along, we continued our journey from Stonehenge to Salisbury, the location of a beautiful cathedral, which held one of the four copies of the Magna Carta. Yes, I got to see the origins of democracy up close and personal. And in Latin. The tour guide explained that is why the Magna Carta was stored in the Cathedral. Back in the day, only the monks were literate and Latin speakers. The common people could not have composed or orated the content of such a sophisticated and lengthy document. Let me tell you, it make me glad it was 2010 and not 1215 anymore. Of course, no photography was allowed so you’ll just have to take my word for its existence in that particular cathedral.

The one notable, and slightly odd highlight of Salisbury: the discovery of the “Freak” statute outside the Cathedral. It essentially was a woman in a long gown, but with a beard. I believe Salisbury is where the first freak show took place. I must admit it was both riveting and disturbing, and well, blog worthy:

Freak statue, in all its ceramic glory.

Upon the conclusion of my Friday frolicking, Laura and I headed to London for Anna’s last Shabbat in England. The journey, which induced the fingernails on the chalkboard sort of sensation, thanks to one near head-on collision and the death of the GPS, was one I am content to never relive. However, Shabbat itself was lovely and delectable. Shockingly, though, when I said goodbye to Anna on Sunday morning, it was not too overly emotional. I am not in PMS mode yet, otherwise Lord knows how I would have reacted to our separation. Though we vowed to Skype everyday, I am taking my real comfort in knowing that we may be reunited in December, should I board my Christmas day fight to the UK.

Basically, I adore Christmas flying. Aside from the fact that you can arrive at the airport 15 minutes before your flight, and still successfully navigate your way through security and aboard your flight, the airlines always feel a tremendous amount of sympathy for their passengers forced to travel on the holidays. For example, one time El Al gave out white chocolate Toblerone to all of us Israel-bound passengers. Another time, KLM provided myself and the other Bruriah High School for Girls tourists with the comfortable sleeping pillows that fit around your neck. But you get the picture: they treat you like a fat-kid/princess.

However, I digress. After departing from London, I boarded a Birmingham-bound train. Laura and I were going to wallow in chocolate self-pity for the next three hours at Cadbury World. What can I say about the factory that has been providing caloric goodness since 1870? It was magical, aromatic, and well-managed. Interestingly, though, we were told we would only be given three free chocolate bars and one free cup of melted chocolate. I say only because in the past, Cadbury World provided all of its visitors with bags and bags of bars. Due to the new war on obesity in Britain, though, they have been instructed to limit their generosity. Even though Laura and I assumed it was recession-related, it turned out it was about reducing the number of child-bearing hipped individuals in the country. I must say, I respect the proposition and wish a similar measure had been in place when I visit Hershey Park back in the day.

Greatest sign in England.

Needless to say, my final full weekend in England was quite memorable. And the discovery– late last night– that I had won a small Wellesley College UK Club scholarship to spend on further British excursions will probably fuel some small degree of spontaneity in my last six days here. Stay tuned.

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but I fear that aside from the costs of hiring the venue and flying all 913 of my facebook friends to it, my parents might be averse to the idea of a Jewish wedding in a Catholic church. This monastery, known as Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, is not your run-of-the-mill monk hang out, though. Built over 500 years ago, during the period of King Manuel I, it reflects a distinct gothic architecture unlike anything this Euro-tripper have ever seen. Basically, it is a visual masterpiece, and well, despite the lack of husband, I am starting to think wedding plans.

Unlike most of my female friends, as a child I never thought about marriage. In fact, in 5th grade, when we had to design the perfect husband for an English assignment, I drew a cat. My reasoning: It cleans itself, and hence saves me the dirty work. I distinctly remember my classmates staring at me in complete bewilderment; if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, I was from Pluto. My English teacher was not impressed either. She told me to redo the assignment, and so I begrudgingly wrote about a simple church-style wedding– only in a synagogue. However, I genuinely had not given a single thought to the location of my wedding, the style of my dress, or the choice of Jewish bands to perform at it until this weekend in Lisbon when I finally found the perfect wedding location. It was so perfect that there was an actual wedding taking place when Mike and I toured.

Remember how many facebook friends it must accommodate...

It even has arch ways.

Chillin' in my wedding hall.

While creeping on the newlyweds...

Though if the whole Jewish wedding in a monastery thing does not pan out, I have another Lisbon location in mind– Torre de Belem, a small fortress located at the mouth of the Tagus River running through the city. It has a picture perfect view of the urban landscape and waters below it. You can even see the Portuguese version of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. As long as you are willing to make the climb– in my case, in wedding dress and heels– you will not be disappointed. It also has no religious connotations, and therefore leaves less possibility that my mother will object on reasons of heresy.

The Little Fortress That Could.

Note an eerily familiar bridge in the distance.

Mike approves of the wedding selection.

Remember, I am a water sign.

Until the wedding bell tolls, though, I am reserving myself to enjoying my final week in England. This weekend will involve a farewell tour of London and the lovely Anna who will reside in it only until Sunday, and then the inevitable tear fest that will occur as a result of her departure to the Holy Land. Laura, in preparation, has booked us two tickets to Cadbury World on Sunday, where we will indulge in all the cocoa-based products our ever expanding bodies can tolerate. For all those who have not had the fortune of being acquainted with Cadbury chocolate, Cadbury World is a monument to its caloric greatness. Think of it as Hershey Park, only with class and thus no life-sized Cookies ‘n’ Cream bars to meet you at the entrance.

Instead of bemoaning my state of singledom, I have embraced it and all the perks that accompany an era of non-attachment– including an ability to consume guilty pleasures without the requisite guilt. With no men to impress and no princes to pine after, I left for a weekend in Portugal without a caloric care in the world. This was my final European expedition, and I was prepared to enjoy it, in all its hip-fattening glory.

My tutor– Raquel– instructed me to try two types of pastries while in Lisbon and Sintra. The first, sold at Pasteis de Belem, was pastel de nata, a traditional Portuguese egg tart, filled with exorbitant amounts of custard and powdered sugar. Ironically, the bakery leaves powdered sugar shakers on every table, as if the diabetic-inducing natural state of the pastry is in and of itself not enough. After nine months on this continent, it still astounds me how thin Europeans are, what with the tarts and sugar and all:

Insert SUGAR HIGH here.

Mike– my travel companion– and I, being the hardcore New Yorkers that we are, decided we would take on the challenge of tracking down the second recommended baked good of the day: travessiros, an almond pastry acquirable only in a small shop in Sintra known as Cafe Piriquita. To even attempt to encapsulate the profound sense of happiness that consumed my being as I consumed the artery-clogging treat is to do the Portuguese people a gross injustice. It was basically all the nutty goodness of an almond in a light and fluffy dough, baked just to perfection.

For kicks, Mike asked for an additional delight: queijada, a sweet tart– that if one is not careful– can be devoured in one bite. Yes, the trick of savoring each moment on this trip was reduced to that of the edible:

SUGAR HIGH Part II

Of course, there were moments during the weekend in which Mike and I engaged in completely non-food related activities. For example, our trip to Quinta la Regaleira, an UNESCO World Heritage site with all the thrills of a cheap South Jersey amusement park, was quite a memorable and blog-worthy adventure. Known as the “Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire,” named after its first owner Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, it offers a romantic palace, marked by distinctly neo-classical gothic architecture, as well as luxurious gardens, parks, lakes… and wait for it: secret passageways. Yes, the Disneyland for Adults site, has several caves beneath it– connecting the palace to a variety of wondrous towers, ponds, and labyrinths. In said caves, there are rocks, which if manipulated correctly, give way to magical doors that can be shifted to reveal surprises on the other side.

Honestly, Mike and I felt like kids in a candy store, climbing and shifting and leaping, as we attempted to uncover every mystery within the palatial grounds. Though, I think we both agreed that the biggest highlight was navigating through a cave mirroring the effects of blindness, only to discover what can be described as the Tower of Babylon at the end of it. It was as if we were characters in the cheesy Nicholas Cage film “National Treasure” (2004), only this was not some computer-generated cinematic visual. It was real life. Well, sort of.

My Tower of Babylon

Happening upon a pond and a photographer.

Mike getting in touch with his inner Rapunzel.

Because every castle has a sculpture garden.

The view from the top of the castle. Not too shabby.

The lesson from my experience in Quinta is that sometimes I don’t need a prince to feel satisfied. Getting lost within the castle walls, I felt a profound sense of completeness. Everything was as it should be. I had a breathtaking fortress to call my own, and despite the lack of romantic male companionship with which to share its glory, I was content. I could and did experience an existential sort of happiness, for which this year abroad has taught me I am capable of doing on a quite regular basis.

Said happiness was not limited to the Sintra experience. In fact, when Mike and I initiated our journey, we stopped at the flea market in Lisbon, where I got to indulge in a little retail therapy. And with the exception of white chocolate, little more gives me quite the same pleasure. Sadly, I am a slightly materialistic girl at heart. I think this fact may pose some problems to me eventually joining a convent and swearing away all made-for-consumer goods.

But, seriously, when examining the images below, you will understand my sentiment:

If only they came in black...

I bought the Buddha. Bad Jew, I know.

Note: Gold Sabbath candlesticks. To balance the Buddha.

This is how I should have learned AP Biology.

Though there is much to left to say on my Portugal experience, I will leave that for another entry. Having completed my pathetic attempt at being a legal positivist, I must now embark on a public policy expedition: how to stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 2000 words or less.

Yes, Portugal taught me quite a number of useful life lessons, including to embrace my inner Madonna-inspired Material Girl self. Instead of searching for the metaphorical prince charming, I should be on a quest to find his many castles, hidden amongst the mountains of Sintra, a breathtaking beautiful coastal town in Portugal.

I will elaborate on this lesson a bit further after I have finished philosophizing and playing the role of an Africanist. Yes, this princess has a few essays standing between her and her blogging experience.

For now, I leave you with my favorite castle of them all– Quinta la Regaleira, a palatial landscape complete with hidden caves, secret passageways, and exquisite gardens:

A.K.A. Disneyland for Adults

Sociological revelations aside, Liverpool offered some necessary comedic relief. As the end of the academic year appears on the horizon, I am attempting to truly, madly, deeply live in the moment. It may be contrary to my neurological wiring, but I am willing to defy biological norms to achieve a greater good– enjoying the now.

The first notable conversation was shared between the Vicar and myself, one Sunday morning after a church service that he was “disappointed” I did not attend. And this was after I mentioned Jesus was most definitely not my home boy. Let me tell you, I really wished I had been wearing my Urban Outfitters “Moses is my home boy” shirt at that moment in time:

VICAR: Yaffa, it’s so lovely to have you here. Johnny doesn’t bring girls to these parts often.

YAFFA: Really? In Oxford he always has a girl on his arm. PAUSE. Well, I mean in the totally platonic, buy you a McFlurry when your boyfriend breaks your heart sense.

VICAR: Clearly confused by the absurdity of my ramblings. So, Yaffa, how did you two meet?

YAFFA: Well, funny you should ask. We met in Starbucks, through a mutual friend. And you’ll never believe the first thing he said to me–

VICAR: Oh, no, what did he say?

YAFFA: Realizing now would be a good time to lie. No father wants to hear his son’s crude underpants jokes. Um, well, it was something like how New York I appeared, what with my grande skinny vanilla latte and black attire and all.

VICAR: Not too excited by my clearly falsified response. (Oh, I hope I don’t go to hell for lying to a man of G-d.) Well, let’s get down to business, shall we? What are your intentions with my son? In the long term, I mean?

YAFFA: Intentions? Um, definitely impure.

VICAR: Excuse me.

Yes, this was the moment I realized my New York sarcasm had been completely lost on the man. Luckily, Johnny’s brother –Paul– entered, and before the royal inquisition could proceed much further, dissipated the mounting tension.

The awkward turtle conversation was followed by a walking tour of Liverpool, of which I now present the Beatles montage:

1. The Hard Day’s Night Hotel, where for a meager £185 a night, you can enjoy the “Love Love Me Do” Suite, which is accompanied by two “Love Love Me Do” flutes (as take home gifts) and a champagne reception for you and that special someone. Or, if you happen to be married into the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs clan, you can stay in the John Lennon suite for £750 a night, which guarantees you an original piece of Beatles artwork and as much mineral water as your parched throat desires.

A slice of rock 'n' roll history.

2. The Cavern- the site of the first Beatles performance– located adjacent to the gay club district. What I appreciated about it was just how cavernous and uninviting it looked. I could envision a young John Lennon, drugged and fresh off his shift at a nearby hotel, plunge into the depths of this beatnik-like club and profess his passion in lyrical form.

Sober people excluded.

3. Mathew Street– one of the more famous Liverpool streets. It now is home to the Beatles Museum, which thanks to Johnny’s planning skills, I did not have the fortune to enter. Hence, I ogled from afar, as I have a tendency to do.

It makes me want to "Twist and Shout.

Sadly, there is not much more to the tour. Penny Lane turned out to be in a fairly grimy part of the city, where even the existence of a few notable barber shops could not redeem it. Strawberry Fields I opted to skip as I have my very own in Central Park– and despite the fact it may not have any actual strawberries, I didn’t want to contaminate my image of an area I have always taken great pride in. And the rest of the memorable sites– think birthplaces and such– were overlooked by my tour guide, who thought a ferry ride across the harbor to an area known as New Brighton would be preferable to indulging my childish obsession with British boy bands.

Ferry Boat Fever.

New Brighton, unlike Old Brighton, is not a gay haven, but rather a lovely little retirement area with stone-covered beaches. And it is where Johnny and his two housemates– Nick and Jun– decided to release their inner little boys, running freely along the shores while throwing jelly fish into the shallow waters beside us.

The image of the three men reliving their youth was quite meaningful to me. They moved in sync with one another, displaying a sort of brotherhood I have not noticed amongst women before. I could tell their impending separation from one another after graduation would be an adjustment for them all, and I was quite honored that I had been chosen to participate in one of their final excursions as housemates.

The Headington Boys.

We concluded the weekend with a trip to a senior citizen’s birthday party. Said senior has been like an aunt to Johnny, and despite her lack of filter, I grew to appreciate her honesty and cynicism. She and I seemed to form a fairly fast connection because at one point– the point at which the Vicar pulled me aside and asked if Johnny had been treating me “properly and lovingly”– she gave me the million dollar smirk. After I had responded in the least sardonic manner possible, she approached me and whispered, “You’d make an excellent actress on Broadway. Go home to New York and pursue show business, love.”

And with that I depart to finish an essay on the role of morality in legislation and legal application. After which I will depart for my final European city: Lisbon, where I hope to find my Portuguese prince charming. Ideally, he will whisk me away to one of the breathtaking castles lining the coast, and we will live happily ever after– in a lifetime supply of custard tarts sort of way.

Until I was 19 I had never been to Middle America. When we boarded airplanes in New York, we were always headed to the West Coast, be it California, Washington, or British Columbia. We never stopped in Omaha or Fargo or any other Midwestern city ending in a vowel. The simple reason: My mom and I were city slickers, unaccustomed to the strange ways of those who chose farming and trucking as their means of financial earning. We didn’t eat red meat or watch football games from the comfort of our Lay-Z Boy recliners. We hated Budweiser. And well, we were Democrats through in through, who endorsed crazy things like abortion and gay marriage. Somehow, Omaha just didn’t seem like a city where we could even remotely fit in. I mean, until 2000, the city lacked a Whole Foods and a Starbucks.

But then I got an internship in Chicago, which granted is quite different from Omaha, but still centrally located in the Midwest, and I was forced to confront all of my fears– including that of friendly strangers, who greet you on the street simply because that’s what friendly people do.

On my first day of work, I stepped off the bus in Albany Park, a working class section of northern Chicago. There was a gigantic Popeye’s on one side of the street and a Payless shoe store on the other. I was definitely not in the Upper West Side of Manhattan anymore. Nor was I in Wellesley, the wealthiest suburb of Massachusetts, and one of the top five wealthiest suburbs in the United States.

The people passing all around me were an ethnic mixture, not unlike New York. But these individuals were different. They were smiling– and at me, even though I, in my first day of work dress, and hence all in black– stuck out like a sore thumb. Their smiles initially made me think I had descended on pedophile city, but after a few days I realized that in the Midwest people are kinder on the surface. They do not feel the need to put up the rough and reserved front of a Yankee from the Northeast. By the end of the summer, I grew to appreciate the ease with which they met each other– and yes, I started returning the smiles with polite grins.

Now you may be wondering what Chicago has to do with Liverpool, and the answer is a lot. Like Chicago, I experienced culture shock upon my arrival in the City of the Beatles. Simply put, Liverpool is to Oxford as Chicago, or more likely Omaha, is to New York. It’s another world– in the sense that I, as a New Yorker, have more in common with a local Oxfordite than a Liverpool resident has with an Oxfordite, even though geographically they are thousands of miles closer.

I come from a highly-educated family, where everyone has a masters or PhD, or often both, and where earning six figures is necessary to afford the rich cultural experiences offered by a city such as New York. There are always copies of Newsweek, Time, The New Yorker, and The New York Times lying around the house– or my personal favorite, in the bathroom, so that every second of the day you have the potential to expand her knowledge base and pursue your inner intellectual. It is a given that you will go to the theater 2-4 times a month, indulge in exorbitant amounts of caffeine consumption, and always strive to make the world a better place– no matter how ridiculously idealistic that may sound.

It is not to say that a person in Liverpool may have a dissimilar pedigree, but it is quite likely that his childhood will involve a different sort of reading materials, and most likely an entirely different set of ambitions. Now the teenage version of myself would have viewed their ambitions as inferior or irrelevant. I would have tried to impose my insular value system on those I thought I should be helping. Yes, I assumed everyone between Nevada and Ohio needed help– help getting to a coast line, that is.

But Chicago– as well as this entire academic year spent exploring regions often labeled as “backward” or “behind”– has taught me the dangers of imposing my beliefs on others. It has also taught me the importance of listening, observing, and reserving judgment for when I’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes. For as the saying goes, at least when you criticize them, you’ll be a mile away and have their shoes.

Liverpool, the quintessential working class city in northern England, is lined with abandoned buildings, Starbucks that close at 5 PM on the dot, and churches promising a support system for those in need. People smile, invite themselves over, and make jokes that are not at the expense of another individual. They drink tea, eat copious amounts of meat, and love their potatoes. (No, that is not a euphemism.) Despite the seemingly rough urban exterior, Liverpool is a community comprised of individuals who genuinely appear to care for another– to have a loyalty that runs much deeper than any I have ever noticed before.

They may not make a lot of money; they may not even have a college degree, but to cite my mother, they are mensches, or genuinely good people with good intentions. Now I may be grossly generalizing, when in reality I have been exposed only to a pastor’s family and their intimate circle of friends, but I have a feeling that in smaller cities, where people know the names and birthdays of their neighbor’s children, this tends to be a material reality.

It’s true- this weekend I did not have any hyper-intellectual conversations about the fallacies of natural law theory or failed agricultural policies in Zimbabwe, but sometimes it’s refreshing to take a break from academia, or to cite Johnny, my lovely host, “to move away from the academic crazies.” And in reality, when I have those conversations, I never really reach any life-altering conclusions that change the course of human history.

Despite my failure to change the world by 21, I will say that I would chose Oxford over Liverpool any day. Not because Oxford is a richer or academically more challenging city, but because Liverpool is not. In the final analysis, I am a girl with many mountains yet to be climbed. And well, Liverpool, though not without its mountains, does not have my particular mountains of interest.

It does, however, have a living history that in Part Two I will explore in greater detail. And I know y’all what to hear about my experience with the pastor, who did ask me point blank, “What are you intentions with my son?” When I said, “Impure ones,” he didn’t laugh. Notice, the North-South divide on humor right there. Liverpool doesn’t do sarcasm like Oxford does.

I leave you with the Liverpool skyline, which I am told resembles the New York one. I find this questionable, but I leave it to you to judge for yourself:

Liverpool, New York's long lost twin?

and other tales of my time in Liverpool upon my return from the city that gave the world– and maybe just American popular culture– the Beatles. Trips to the Beatles Museum and other such John Lennon-related stories to follow. Did you know that the Liverpool airport is named after John Lennon? The man hasn’t even been dead 30 years, and he has already earned the title of an aeronautical transportation hub. Clearly, he is a legend.

In the meantime, I leave you with the most moving and still Beatles-themed site of the day: the Eleanor Rigby statue, oddly enough located across from Liverpool’s gay club scene. Poor Eleanor, she can’t even get rest in her final resting place.

"All the lonely people."