Setting Up Google CourseBuilder in the PyCharm IDE on Windows

This is a direct follow-up to my last post, Setting Up Google CourseBuilder in the PyCharm IDE on Mac OS X.

There wasn’t a single source of information I could find to get CourseBuilder to work properly, so I decided to put together this guide in the chance that I need to go through the process again. I make no guarantee nor responsibility that it will work for anyone else. All I know is that it worked for me in my particular situation.

Step 1: Download ALL THE PROGRAMS!

CourseBuilder is based off of Python, so check to make sure Python is installed. CourseBuilder doesn’t play nice with version 3, so make sure you have a version of Python 2. I have Python 2.7.10. You can download it here.

PyCharm, my Python IDE of choice (since the others on my project are using it), can be found here.  Grab the Community Version 4.0.6. For some reason, PyCharm 4.5 doesn’t play nice with CourseBuilder.

To run CourseBuilder, you need to have the Google App Engine SDK. The Engine runs as the server of CourseBuilder. If I understand correctly, it would then be impossible to run without it. Download that here. Grab the “for Python” version.

Finally, download Google CourseBuilder here. I was having issues directly clicking “Export to GitHub,” so click on the Downloads page and download the latest zip version. At the time of writing, it was “Course Builder v1.8.0 (6 April 2015).” Check to make sure your copy has a “lib” folder. One time I downloaded it, there must’ve been a problem since it didn’t download the entire program.

Not necessarily required, but I ended up needing a basic text editor for one step. I recommend Notepad++, which you can download here.

After downloading, install the files that ask to be installed. Which should be all of them except CourseBuilder. Now time to make everything play nice together! This was far easier than it was on my Mac.

Step 2: Follow the Directions!

Here, I just followed the directions on this website. In case something happens to it, though, I’ll re-post it here.

Configure python GAE debugging

This is the minimum Run/Debug configuration that will enable you to debug your python for GAE application. It must be set on a per project basis. You’ll need a pre-existing GAE project for this to work. The prerequisites at the end of this post explain how to set up an example GAE application.

    1. Open the GAE project in PyCharm:
      1. Select menu item File > Open…
      2. Select your base project folder (the one which contains an app.yaml file). For our examples we’ll be using the folder C:myproject, which we’ll refer to as <myproject_path>.
    2. Add a new python configuration:
      1. Run > Edit Configurations…
      2. Click the green plus sign “+
      3. In the Add New Configuration list, select Python.
      4. Specify the configuration parameters:
        1. Name: GAE_config
          Choose a name, which we’ll refer to as GAE_config
        2. Script: <GAE_install_path>dev_appserver.py
          Here you need to enter the location of the dev_appserver.py file installed in your Google App Engine SDK. On Windows the default installation is C:Program Files (x86)Googlegoogle_appenginedev_appserver.py. We’ll refer to this location as <GAE_install_path>
        3. Script parameters:
          –automatic_restart=no –max_module_instances=”default:1″ .
          These are the minimum arguments needed for the debugging to work.
          Ensure you include the final argument, “.“: it means the current path, i.e. the working directory in this case.
        4. Working directory: <myproject_path>
        5. Tick the Share box.
          This creates configuration file <myproject_path>.idearunConfigurationsGAE_config.xml, which can be shared with other users and put in version control.
        6. Press OK

PyCharm python run/debug configuration for Google App Engine

  1. Check the python debugger settings:
    1. File > Settings…
    2. Expand the tree to Build, Execution, Deployment > Python Debugger
    3. Ensure the option Attach to subprocess automatically while debugging is ticked.

The basic PyCharm configuration for python GAE debugging is done. To debug, add a breakpoint in the python file and run in debug mode.

Enable code navigation for GAE libraries

To enable PyCharm’s code navigation and completion, we need to add the GAE SDK to PyCharm’s list of External Libraries.

  1. Close PyCharm
  2. Create a GAE SDK library file:
    1. In <myproject_path>.idea, create a directory named libraries.
    2. In <myproject_path>.idealibraries, create an xml file named GAE_SDK.xml
    3. Copy and paste the xml code below in GAE_SDK.xml:
      <component name="libraryTable">
        <library name="GAE_SDK" type="python">
      	<CLASSES>
      	  <root url="file://C:/Program Files (x86)/Google/google_appengine" />
      	  <root url="file://C:/Program Files (x86)/Google/google_appengine/lib/django-1.5" />
      	  <root url="file://C:/Program Files (x86)/Google/google_appengine/lib/jinja2-2.6" />
      	  <root url="file://C:/Program Files (x86)/Google/google_appengine/lib/webapp2-2.5.2" />
      	</CLASSES>
      	<SOURCES />
        </library>
      </component>
      
    4. Update the paths C:/Program Files (x86)/Google/google_appengine as needed to point to your GAE install location. See the next section if you’d like to use a per user macro path variable instead. To add more GAE libraries, add them to the list (in a similar way to webapp2, django and jinja). Save.
  3. Update the project’s .iml file with the GAE SDK reference:
    1. Open <myproject_path>.ideamyproject.iml
    2. Add the line below to the component element and save.
      	<orderEntry type="library" name="GAE_SDK" level="project" />
  4. Open PyCharm. GAE_SDK should be listed under the External Libraries in the Project viewer (View > Tool Windows > Project). In the python code, you can open class definitions (right-click on class) and code completion works.

After this, I set it up to push directly to my GitHub repository. To do so:

  1. VCS > Import into Version Control > GitHub
  2. Give PyCharm your username and password
  3. Add a master password if you have one, otherwise leave it blank
  4. Select a name for you repository (probably coursebuilder)
  5. Use VCS > Commit Changes to push modifications to your repository.

At this point, I had a “no module named lxml.html” error, the very same as when I tried with my Mac.

To fix this, I used PyCharm’s built-in library manager. And it worked this time!

  1. File > Settings…
  2. Expand Project: coursebuilder > Project Interpreter
  3. Click the green plus sign “+
  4. Typed “lxml” in the search bar and highlighted lxml in the menu
  5. Clicked Install Packages.

The library downloaded, installed, and then the program ran! How’s that for easy?

Setting Up Google CourseBuilder in the PyCharm IDE on Mac OS X

There wasn’t a single source of information I could find to get CourseBuilder to work properly, so I decided to put together this guide in the chance that I need to go through the process again. I make no guarantee nor responsibility that it will work for anyone else. All I know is that it worked for me in my particular situation.

Step 1: Download ALL THE PROGRAMS!

CourseBuilder is based off of Python, so check to make sure Python is installed. CourseBuilder doesn’t play nice with version 3, so make sure you have a version of Python 2. By default, it should be included on Mac. I have version 2.7. Perfect!

PyCharm, my Python IDE of choice (since the others on my project are using it), can be found here.  Grab the Community Version 4.0.6. For some reason, PyCharm 4.5 doesn’t play nice with CourseBuilder.

To run CourseBuilder, you need to have the Google App Engine SDK. The Engine runs as the server of CourseBuilder. If I understand correctly, it would then be impossible to run without it. Download that here. Grab the “for Python” version.

Finally, download Google CourseBuilder here. I was having issues directly clicking “Export to GitHub,” so click on the Downloads page and download the latest zip version. At the time of writing, it was “Course Builder v1.8.0 (6 April 2015).” Check to make sure your copy has a “lib” folder. One time I downloaded it, there must’ve been a problem since it didn’t download the entire program.

Not necessarily required, but I ended up needing a basic text editor for one step. I recommend TextWrangler, which you can download here.

After downloading, move the applications that ask to be moved to your Applications folder. Apple sure makes installs easy. Now time to make everything play nice together!

Step 2: Set Up Run/Debugging in PyCharm

I used a lot of information from this website to figure this step out. It was written for Windows though, so I had to change a few things.

The first thing you’ll notice after you open PyCharm is a dialogue box that says “Do you want the application “PyCharm CE.app” to accept incoming network connections?” I believe you have to select yes for it to be able to work properly with Version Control, the updater, or some other programs.

Now to set up run/debugging:

  1. Open the GAE project in PyCharm:
    1. Select menu item File > Open…
    2. Select your base project folder (the one which contains an app.yaml file). For these examples I’ll refer to it as <myproject_path>.
  1. Add a new python configuration:
    1. Run > Edit Configurations…
    2. Click the green plus sign “+
    3. In the Add New Configuration list, select Python.
    4. Specify the configuration parameters:
      1. Name: GAE_config
        Choose a name, which we’ll refer to as GAE_config
      2. Script: <GAE_install_path>dev_appserver.py
        Here you need to enter the location of the dev_appserver.py file installed in your Google App Engine SDK. On Mac OS X the default installation is /Applications/GoogleAppEngineLauncher.app/Contents/Resources/GoogleAppEngine-default.bundle/Contents/Resources/google_appengine/dev_appserver.py. We’ll refer to this location as <GAE_install_path>
      3. Script parameters:
        –automatic_restart=no –max_module_instances=”default:1″ .
        These are the minimum arguments needed for the debugging to work. Don’t ask, I don’t know why.
        Ensure you include the final argument, “
        .“: it means the current path, i.e. the working directory in this case.
      4. Working directory: <myproject_path>
      5. Tick the Share box.
        This creates configuration file <myproject_path>.idearunConfigurationsGAE_config.xml, which can be shared with other users and put in version control.
      6. Press OKgae-mac-preferences
  1. Check the python debugger settings:
    1. PyCharm > Preferences…
    2. Expand the tree to Build, Execution, Deployment > Python Debugger
    3. Ensure the option Attach to subprocess automatically while debugging is ticked.

At this point, the basic PyCharm configuration for python GAE debugging is done. To debug, add a breakpoint in the python file and run in debug mode. However, I had a few problems when I tried to run it.

First, I got an error that said lxml was missing.

Lxml is a library of some sort. PyCharm actually has a robust library import system built directly into it. To find it:

    1. PyCharm > Preferences…
    2. Expand the tree to Project:coursebuilder > Project Interpreter
    3. Check to see if lxml is included in the list of libraries.

In my case, it was missing, so I tried to add it to the libraries.

    1. Click the little “+” in the lower-left corner
    2. Type “lxml” in the search bar, and select it
    3. Click Install Packages.

I get a “pip could not be found” error. Great.

Pip is the Python library downloader. Apparently, it’s not included in Python 2.7 by default, so open up a Terminal and put the following command in:

sudo easy_install pip

It will then ask for your password, and install pip for you!

Trying the above method to install lxml, I received another error, and the only way I could figure out to install lxml was to use a workaround, utilizing xcode—the Apple development suite. I don’t know if it will work without xcode explicitly being installed on your machine or not.

sudo CPATH=/Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/Developer/Platforms/MacOSX.platform/Developer/SDKs/MacOSX10.9.sdk/usr/include/libxml2 CFLAGS=-Qunused-arguments CPPFLAGS=-Qunused-arguments pip install lxml

Now my CourseBuilder website runs correctly! Press the green play button to run the server. To see your website, you click one of the three links will appear in the terminal. By default, it runs on port 8080.

Setting up auto complete, on the other hand, is another project for another day.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. England, Day 20

The fire alarm works! We found this out at about 2 o’clock last night. Fortunately, there was no fire (that I was aware of, at least). I poked my head out into the hallway to see what was going on. At the same time, so did everyone else on my floor. The alarm stopped. We all simultaneously turned around and went back to bed.

Today was a free day, so I hopped on a bus down to Westminster Pier. I then bought a one-way ticket for a river cruise to Greenwich. One of the staff of the boat gave us a tour of the city as we made our way down the river. He pointed out all sorts of interesting sites and gave lots of neat information.

London is the smallest city in the world. It is only 1 square mile in size. It’s surrounded by Westminster, Greenwich, and a few other cities and towns, which is what makes it feel like a big city. We saw Sir Ian Mckellen’s pub. Also a pub called The Mayflower (which was actually owned by the family of one of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower). And the place where, in the time of pirates, criminals given the death penalty would be drowned. During low tide, they would be tied to stakes on the beach. As the tide rose, they would be trapped under the surface of the water and suffocate. Sounds pretty awful.

wpid-img_20150530_113613707

We passed under the wibbly-wobbly bridge, which was closed twelve hours after its grand opening because pedestrians walking along it would be seasick before reaching the other side. It took huge amounts of money to have it repaired.

We even passed by a few battleships!

wpid-img_20150530_114949698

We passed under a bridge financed by John Harvard (of United States fame). We saw a really cool rowboat, but I didn’t catch what the guide had said it was.

The river tour took an hour, and I’m glad I took it to get there. Highly recommended.

When I arrived in Greenwich, I was feeling peckish, so I wandered over to the Greenwich Marketplace. The marketplace was a big open-air market, with a bunch of vendors of food and homemade goods. I wandered a while—it all looked super tasty! I ended up getting Indian seafood curry and beef stir-fry on a bed of rice. Yum!

wpid-img_20150530_123916513

I then walked over to the National Maritime Museum, where I saw all sorts of cool naval stuff. There was a lot of information on the East India Trading Company. It was amazing to see how much was imported, and then after the rise of industrialization, how much more was exported.

wpid-img_20150530_130217527

After walking through the museum, I was running short on time. I made my way to the Greenwich National Rail Service Station, and bought a one-way ticket to downtown London, which on the ticket was titled “London Stations.”

I then met up with the others at the hostel, and we went to a pub to have dinner. I ordered a medium-rare steak (which arrived medium, of course—there was only one cook working and 30 meals to prepare though, so I guess it can be forgiven), and an excellent sticky toffee pudding. I didn’t realize that pudding in England is more like a cake.

I’m going to miss England.

Theatre, Why Can’t You be This Fantastic in Duluth? London, Days 18 and 19

On Thursday, the theater group and the literature group split for the day. The literature group went to a graveyard to see some famous corpses. The theater group participated in a super-awesome-cool stage combat workshop.

We learned how to slap, punch, and choke our fellow actors safely. It is completely different from martial arts. Its to be expected, of course. In martial arts, the point is to hurt the other person.

After, a few of us went to take pictures. We went by the lions outside the National Gallery, and then to Westminster so I could get a picture at one of the oversized phonebooths. For dinner I had an acceptable pot pie.

wpid-img_20150528_163909240

In the evening, we saw The Play That Goes Wrong. I had no idea what to expect. When we reached the theater, one of the reviews they had posted read “ITS AS IF THE MOUSETRAP HAS BEEN TAKEN OVER BY MONTY PYTHON.” This was going to be good.

wpid-img_20150528_185946912_hdr

My goodness, good was an understatement. I loved it so much I purchased the script at the box office. I don’t even know what words to say about it. It was hilarious. It was fun to watch. I was crying I was laughing so hard. It was amazing. And it was so much better having seen The Mousetrap beforehand too. I felt I caught more of the murder mystery nuances there, as well as the parodies of specific characters.

7 out of 5: Would Recommend to Friends.


Friday. Went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Saw some stuff. The old statues and stuff were cool, especially the pair of statues “Valor crushes Cowardice” and “Truth slays Lies.” They even had an Oculus Rift!

wpid-img_20150529_120251675

After eating, I picked up a piece of German Crumb Cake, a piece of Clotted Cream Fudge, and Cream Fudge. They were all amazing. I also had a major sugar crash soon after. Oops.

We then went to the Tate Modern, an art gallery for modern art. I’m not much of a modern art person, so I was only there for about 20 minutes before I wandered back to the hostel to recover from my sugar crash (I did see everything before I left, promise!). Maybe I’ll check out the Tate Britain instead sometime.

Then we saw an adaptation of Everyman. Fantastic. I gave it a standing ovation, the only one I have so far this trip. If I gave The Play That Goes Wrong a “7 out of 5,” then Everyman gets a “9 out of 5.” It was thought-provoking: it makes you consider everything about yourself. I don’t want to talk too much about it, so as to avoid giving many spoilers. One thing I will say about it though, is that the adaptation was beautifully done. I was somewhat familiar with the play beforehand (remember, I learned my lesson after Les Mis!), and I was expecting a Shakespearian-style or Reconstruction-style play. Not so. Everyman blew my expectations right out of the water. This was the only play in England that I awarded a standing ovation. It deserved it.


wpid-img_20150529_212221694

Needless to say, I purchased another script from the gift shop.

Fortunately, the employee was restocking the shelf when I was looking for it, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen that it was for sale. The adapted version!

Luxury Accommodations! England, Day 17

The hotel we stayed at last night was excellent. Soft beds. Quiet atmosphere. In-room shower. Tres bien.

The bed was actually too soft for me, as I like to sleep laying on my back and there wasn’t a lot of support. I didn’t think I’d ever say that a bed was too comfortable for me to sleep comfortably!

We got a little bit later start today, having breakfast around 10:15 or so. Hot breakfast! I had the Full English Breakfast, which consisted of bacon, a sausage, mushrooms, an egg (I had it poached), and a hash-brown triangle thing, like you would get at Arby’s (except this one was actually good). Both the clotted cream and jam was fantastic, and I had about six pieces of toast just so I could have more of the toppings. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. Maybe its not.

After breakfast, we toured the house Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare’s wife, not the actress) grew up in, as well as the gardens outside the house. The house was neat to walk through, and I managed to not hit my head on anything.

wpid-img_20150527_113953962

In his will, Shakespeare had left his second-best bed to his wife after he passed on. Historians are still trying to figure out if that was a good or bad thing. Beds, in his time, were a huge wealth image, like luxury cars are today. Usually the first bed goes to the eldest son. Since he also left a third of his estate to her alone, it was probably intended to be a positive thing.

wpid-img_20150527_112446386

The gardens were pretty to walk though. There was a really cool photo opportunity, but I didn’t take it. There was a round hedge surrounding a beautifully cut lawn, with one person laying in the grass reading. The way the individual was laying contrasted with the cut of the lawn and was just off center of the circle created by the hedge. The picture would have turned out beautifully, but since there was only one person laying in the grass I didn’t feel comfortable with it. Probably for the best.

wpid-img_20150527_120946835

We then went back to London. The trip was fairly uneventful, and I think I slept through most of it.

After arriving in London, eight of us decide to see the place where Sherlock is filmed. I’ve only seen a part of one episode, so I wasn’t really sure what we were looking for. Turns out it was the external shot of the flat he lives in (in the show, of course), and the cafe he eats breakfast in every day. Now when I see the show, I’ll be able to say I’ve been there!

wpid-img_20150527_153302829

After having a bite to eat (it was a pretty terrible chicken burger with avocado with a side of not very good onion rings, but the chips were good), I went back to the hostel to change for the show.

The Elephant Man was very thought provoking. It was a short play, about an hour or so in length, about a man with a terrible disorder that makes him look mangled and have difficulty functioning. Everyone felt sorry for him by the end of the show, but I expect most people, back in the real world, will continue doing their best to avoid people like him regularly. Its quite sad, really.

wpid-img_20150527_212714029

 

Rolling Hills, Keys, and Wealthy Merchants. England, Day 16.

I can’t continue writing “London, Day X” since we aren’t in London for a few days!

The place we stayed at last night was a nice one. The guys were all in a flat in the backyard—it was probably a guest house when the building was residential. We managed to lock ourselves out. Fortunately, the manager was able to let us back in, even though we had left the key in the keyhole. Last time the key was left in, he said, a small child had to crawl through the window to open it. There were no windows open yet!

wpid-img_20150525_214021861

Today, though—super busy! In the morning, we toured a Roman bathhouse museum after a wonderful breakfast. Full service!

The bathhouse museum had a ton of neat artifacts and remains from the bathhouses. It even had the original bath, still in working order! I spent way too much time going through the museum part though, and had to rush through the bathhouse part. Oops! Here too, was an audio guide, narrated by the same individual who narrated the Stonehenge one.

wpid-img_20150526_093311751

After the bath, we were instructed to meet back at the bus station (after having eaten, of course). I managed to walk in the opposite direction and was completely turned around. Fortunately, I ran into a few others that knew the way back. So much for wanting to get books before we left Bath!

The bus ride to Stratford-upon-Avon was magnificent. I took at least 500 pictures between Bath and Stratford. They were all taken through the bus window, so I’ll have to see what they look like on a bigger screen than my phone.

wpid-img_20150526_114913080_hdr

When we arrived in Stratford, we were led on a tour of the city. Stratford is known as the city of Shakespeare, so much of what we covered were things about him. We saw his gravesite, the house he grew up in, and his school. We also learned about the Tudor architecture style and about how, like London, most of the wooden buildings were burned down in fires. Stratford is also the hometown of Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the modern toilet. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

wpid-img_20150526_144331916

We also toured the Holy Trinity Church. I feel like we should have toured all the churches in reverse order, so that they would be getting bigger and more magnificent, instead of smaller and more lack-luster. Compared to Westminster and Notre-Dame, this wasn’t much to see. There was, however, a window inscribed “The Gift of America to Shakespeare’s Church.” This was given to them by the American ambassador in 1896.

After we checked into our hotel, a number of us went to have dinner. Most of the guys wanted to have the “Shakesbeer” that one pub was advertising, so we went there to eat. I was expecting it to be super touristy, but it seemed like an authentic pub for locals, so I was pleasantly surprised.

After the meal, we decided we wanted to get ice cream, so we wandered around the city for about fifteen minutes. Its incredible how when you aren’t looking for something, it seems to be everywhere and when you are, they all disappear. In Bath, there was at least 4 ice-cream shops on each block. Here, nothing. Eventually, we end up walking past the pub we ate at. Lo and behold, if we had turned the other direction in search, we would have seen a gelato shop right next to the pub…

Then, we saw The Jew of Malta at The Swan Theater of the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was the most comfortable theater we’ve been in yet. I had plenty of leg room (when I was sitting back in my seat, my feet didn’t touch the floor—fantastic)! There was a bar to lean forward on to see over the balcony. Because of my height, I could see the stage perfectly from my seat. The play itself was entertaining too. I think I’m the only member of our group that thought this was better than The Merchant of Venice, though.

wpid-img_20150526_221101098

 

+5 Faith, +1 Hygiene. England, Day 15.

+5 Faith, +1 Hygiene. England, Day 15.

“Time crumbles things; everything grows old and is forgotten under the power of time”
–Aristotle

This morning, we hopped on a coach and traveled out to Stonehenge. The English countryside is beautiful! Full of green. With trees I’ve never seen before!

I am already highly familiar with Stonehenge, due to my favorite game series Civilization. An excerpt from Civilization V‘s Civilopedia (the in-game encyclopedia): “Stonehenge is perhaps the most astounding construct of pre-history still standing. Though largely in ruins, this mighty relic still has the power to incite amazement, awe and wonder” (http://civilization.wikia.com/wiki/Stonehenge_%28Civ5%29). With all the pictures I’ve seen, though, nothing could top seeing the real thing–standing at this Wonder of the Ancient World was surreal.

wpid-img_20150525_111440258

We were each given an audioguide to give us information about Stonehenge. Good thing, too, because that left the field open, not requiring plaques of information scattered about the lawn.

How the audioguide worked was you pushed a number and then hit start. I assumed it would start at 1, so when I saw a sign that said “2 – 8” left, I assumed that meant number 1 would be right. I was wrong, and apparently I went “backwards” around the monument. The audioguide had a lot of great information, though. It talked about how it was probably built, who probably built it and why, and what had been done to conserve it. We also saw burial mounds and the “bush hill,” a mound with a single large bush growing on it within sight of Stonehenge.

After seeing Stonehenge, we drove to Bath. I wanted to ask the driver to stop every 15 seconds or so to take pictures, but I held my tongue and took pictures out the window.

wpid-img_20150525_124943988_hdr

This afternoon, we had a walking tour of Bath. Bath was built entirely out of creamy amber colored brick, quarried out of a nearby mine. We went by Bath Abbey, their (much smaller) version of Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame. We went by some bathhouses, saw some circuses (round buildings surrounding a circular plot of land), and toured the Assembly Rooms.

wpid-img_20150525_162448599

The assembly had three main rooms, a beautiful ballroom, a tea room, and a room called the “octagon room.” The ballroom had a balcony for the musicians, so as to avoid playing in the mass of dancers on the floor. I would love to be able to go to a ball here! I wonder if they still host balls occasionally?

After the tour, I found a bookstore selling incredibly inexpensive books. I think I’ll go back and pick a few up tomorrow.

We then went to a fun restaurant where we were all had a fun time chatting about our trip and about the world going on around us. Some of us were a little bummed we weren’t able to make it to see Spamalot in the theatre here. It wasn’t planned, though, so we weren’t too sad–maybe we can make it another time.

Now having seen the English countryside, I see easily how writers like Tolkien was able to create such fantastic worlds. A lot of the things I originally thought unique wasn’t nearly as unique as I had believed—the Barrow Mounds are a supernatural form of the burial mounds, Weathertop is Stonehenge placed on a hill, The Shire looks exactly like the land surrounding Bath. It still magic to be able to be here, though, and see all the inspiration.

Theatre, Gardens, Museums. Days 11 – 14

My days sure seem to be blending together! Its incredible how busy we’ve been the last two weeks.

Day 11

On Thursday, the theater group participated in a workshop at a studio owned by the National Theater. We worked with an actor from War Horse, and we learned how to work in a team to create a realistic-looking horse. I was complemented on my horse lore. When encountering big scary monkeys, they tend to backpedal when approached. If the big scary monkey has food, though, they follow tentatively if the scary monkey’s back is turned to them.

After the workshop, a group of us wandered the city a while. We ate food (an American-style burger and malt shop, if I’m not mixing my days up), rode around on the public transportation, and eventually found ourselves at a tea shop.

wpid-img_20150521_171434923

Some of the tea smelled nice, but I wasn’t much for trying to haul tea back to the states, nor do we have the facilities to prepare it at the hostel. We happened to run into another group at the shop. The others wanted to go back to the hostel to get ready for the play. I was already ready, so I stayed with the others at the shop. Once everyone was done at the shop, we headed out towards The National Theater.

We found a park to sit in, and I played “guess the nationality,” my new favorite game while in London. The game is simple: listen to someone nearby, and try to guess where they’re from based on how the look and talk. Its super difficult, and I suspect I usually guess wrong, since my answers have basically only been “She sounds French,” “He sounds German,” and “I think that group is from Canada,” so far.

We then meander over to the theater, where we watch The Beaux Strategem. I read the synopsis beforehand so that I would have an idea of the storyline before the play starts (I realized after Les Mis that it was important!).

The play was brilliant! I was laughing throughout the entire show–good thing, too, since its a comedy! I loved the music, too. It wasn’t really a musical, but it had a bluegrass Celtic-sounding band playing during scene changes. A couple of short songs were in it, as well–mostly for humor. It had a semi-realistic plot (looking at you, Merchant of Venice). Overall, this was the best play I’ve seen in London so far. Note that I said best so far. It’ll be important later.

After the play, a handful of us went to find a bite to eat. As we were walking, we were talking. In fact, we were even having a discussion. We discussed that we wanted pizza. We didn’t find a pizza place. So we hopped on the underground, hopped off at a random station, and selected to turn right (at random). The first restaurant we found: a Pizza Express. What good fortune!

We were incredibly loud in the restaurant. We knocked over the water jug. We spilled the tomato sauce. We asked the waiter to split the bill between the five of us, even though we only had two appetizers. He refused. It was fun.

Day 12

Friday. We slept in a little bit today. I woke up around the same time as I usually do. We had breakfast. (If Rachel says one more thing about those ham sandwiches… I jest, I jest.)

Today, we tour the Royal Court Theatre. This theater only performs plays that have not been produced anywhere else before. Because of this, they have a different relationship with playwrights. Instead of going through royalty companies, playwrights directly send material to the Royal Court. Play-scripts then go through a strict process to reduce their options from around 3000 to the eighteen or so that they are able to perform in a single year. In the workshop, we were privy to that process. We even had a mock script discussion!

wpid-img_20150522_1055470313

Most of us didn’t like the play we were instructed to read, myself included. One person even gave it an “over my dead body” rating… mine was only a simple “no” rating. Lo and behold, this was a script that they had actually performed!

The Royal Court Theatre only performs full-length, contemporary plays. Full-length in England, though, is only 60 minutes of run-time–60 pages. American full-length is usually at least twice as long. Usually longer.

I will definitely be writing plays and sending it to them.

Day 13

Saturday. My aunt and uncle, who live in Germany for the time, visited me in London for the day. My uncle’s folks came down from Edinburgh too! As I had some time before they arrived, I took some time to meander through Regent’s Park. It was gorgeous. A beautiful pond, lots of flowers (I can only imagine what they look like in full bloom! Just like the Rose Garden in Duluth, I suspect), and I even got to peek at the Open Air Theatre. It was locked up, unfortunately, so I couldn’t look inside. I suppose they take their Peter Pan performances seriously.

wpid-img_20150523_085650276

wpid-img_20150523_090121322

wpid-img_20150523_090734485

I found where the color scheme for the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter came from. That awesome green? It was ripped right off the Regent Park underground station. I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff from the movies that I thought was super original and now am seeing that it was already somewhere in the city…

wpid-img_20150523_092507089

After I met up with everyone, we took the underground to Kew Gardens. We tried, at least. The underground wasn’t running all the way out this weekend due to maintenance, so we had to shuffle between a few trains and then get on a bus. We only got turned around 3 times, so I consider it successful.

The area that the gardens are in are gorgeous. Huge beautiful flats, little stores, all the charm that I expected.

The gardens were super pretty. They have 30,000 different plant species in the gardens, if I remember correctly. Giant 10-metre holly hawk bushes, coffee plants, trees from the 1600s, all of it. We even walked along the treetop tour. I was hoping it would actually be a tour along the treetops, like a treehouse, but it was a walkway that simply was up at treetop level. Oh well.

wpid-img_20150523_133220125

We then went to a pub called “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese,” but it was super busy and I was on a time crunch, so we didn’t stay and wait for a table. Instead, we went to another place that I cannot remember the name.

We played “Guess the Nationality” here, too. The target this time was the pretty waitress. I guessed German, everyone else guessed Russian. This time she was actually asked, and the result was Ukranian. I had sweet potato and lamb pie. It wasn’t all that good. Great veggies, though.

After eating, I said my goodbyes to everyone and my aunt went with me back to the hostel. I then went to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap with two of the others on the trip. I’ve read the script before, but nothing compared to watching it in London. When I read the script, I didn’t understand most of the cultural references (like the meaning behind the name Christopher Renn, St. Paul’s, or Edinburgh). Having spent two weeks in London, it was like watching a totally different script. I was really excited that the script I read had omitted the last scene, so I didn’t know how it ended. And keeping tradition, I won’t spoil the ending to anyone.

wpid-img_20150523_215954453

This is now the best play I’ve seen so far, bypassing Les Miserables and The Beaux Strategem. There’s a reason The Mousetrap has been running for 63 years non-stop. It’s a shame I can’t say more about it without giving anything away. Go see it. Book a plane ticket to London just to see it. Right now.

…You haven’t done it yet.

Day 14

Sunday. Do I go to the Science Museum, or the Natural History Museum? I decide to wait until the last minute to decide, as they both are at the same underground station. I decide on the Natural History Museum. Why? I dunno. Maybe because it was on the left instead of the right.

The NHM was awesome. Not The Mousetrap awesome, but still pretty cool. I saw some dinosaurs, a whale, a neat film on photography, and the largest laboratory in the UK called The Cocoon. I would love to be able to tour the inside of the facility, since tourists are only allowed on the tourist-floor.

wpid-img_20150524_122016916_hdr

wpid-img_20150524_151127636

After the National History Museum, I made my way over to the Imperial War Museum, since that was what I found the most interesting in the Museum of London. I spent 2 hours there (they close for the day fairly early, unfortunately), and I wasn’t even able to make it through half of the WW1 stuff. Its amazing how differently the war appeared to the British people. An incredible amount of history occurred before the United States entered the war that isn’t covered in American history classes.

wpid-img_20150524_165218111

wpid-img_20150524_175617081

There was a ton of stuff I didn’t see, and I will definitely be going back again.

War, Accents, Quoi? London Day 10

Breakfast. Sandwiches. Spilling tea on white shirts. Eating yogurt. There seems to be a habit forming.

This morning we journeyed off to the Museum of London. We show up at 9:50 and discover that it doesn’t open until 10 o’clock. No problem, we just chill on the foyer for ten minutes discussing The Merchant of Venice.

The museum is pretty cool, lots of old pots and some spearheads and stuff. Some dinosaur bones. A helmet or two. Then we reach the Roman stuff. There’s a model of city. And tons of coins. Now this stuff is getting interesting.

wpid-img_20150520_101758090

There’s a bunch of cool maps, some rifles, and other stuff. Like a neat chest! There’s even a Victorian-style city block to walk through.

The World War exhibits. Now these are really something. The whole museum should be about this. Its interesting to see how differently the war went from the British perspective.

wpid-img_20150520_112807737

There was also an exhibit for the 2012 Olympics in London and a replica of the queen’s carriage.

wpid-img_20150520_113903471

After the museum, Thomas and I hustled back to the hostel to change for high tea.

The tea was excellent. The sandwiches were pretty great. Most of the desserts were crazy good—the jam was great, the scones not so much. (Don’t tell any Brits I said that.) And there was way too much food. I must be getting used to European portions.

wpid-img_20150520_153650003

This evening was pretty laid-back. I did some souvenir shopping and accompanied a few others who did laundry. I even stayed at the hostel and got a panini. Then I had a super-cool, awesome experience.

The girl sitting next to me was talking to the person working at the cafe (Would he be called a barrister?), and I asked if she was from France. Note that everyone involved is talking in English the whole time. She didn’t understand what I asked her, so she asked me to repeat it. I oblige. She still doesn’t understand, and turns to the Australian barrister and asks him to “translate” what it was that I said. He repeats what I asked, and she then answers me. I don’t remember what she said exactly–something along the lines of talking about her accent. But what was important was that I was finally on the opposite side of the “hard to understand accent.” Now I’m the one with the thick American-midwest accent that they have a hard time understanding.

That was pretty cool.

Chanson á mes pieds, London Day 9

Ode to my feet…

Today was a long one. Longest one yet, aside from the one that had 25 hours in it (time-zone jokes, har har).

This morning, we visited the British Library. Its only a few blocks from where we’re staying, so we walked. We toured the facility, but we couldn’t see any of the books. The books are all kept in a vault underneath the library. Only certain employees are permitted to handle the books in the vault, since part of the hiring process is a fitness test. In case of an emergency, you have to be able to get out of the building in under 5 minutes. Not an easy task if you have a hard time with stairs.

wpid-img_20150519_123842730

The library is a Legal Deposit library, which means that a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom is sent to be stored in the British Library. It is also structured differently than most libraries. Because most of the books are stored in a vault underneath, prospective readers must request books be brought above ground by a member of staff. The library has a system of conveyor belts that bring the books to the surface, preventing people from running up and down stairs all day. The books are then brought to a reading room specified on the ticket where they can be perused. Unfortunately, this system prevents people from perusing the shelves themselves.

This was a lot of walking, and my feet were already sore. Its about 1 o’clock now.

wpid-img_20150519_170321857

After walking around the library, we ventured to the British Museum. This museum is far larger than I anticipated, and I saw less than 10% of the displays in my 3 hours there. I went through part of the China exhibit, where I found a fantastic temple model.

wpid-img_20150519_133225781

I also went through some of the Southeast Asia exhibit, and went on a tour through the Egypt one. I saw one of the Enlightenment rooms, and found an interesting exhibit on life and death. The centerpiece of that exhibit was a mesh that had every pill and supplement that the average British person takes over the course of their life. There was one for both a man and woman.

wpid-img_20150519_161824366

The last exhibit I had a chance to look at was the Parthenon and Ancient Greek exhibit. I remember in high school discussing the fight between the Museum of Athens and the British Museum of who should get the statues from the Parthenon. It looks like they may have compromised and allowed each to have just a few fragments of the statues. I never found the Rosetta Stone, unfortunately. I never found the exit we were supposed to meet at either, for that matter. I ended up finding a few others in my group and following them to the exit.

Now my feet hurt. This has already been a long day, and its only about 4:30.

After the Museum, we took the subway system over to the Globe Theater, where we were able to sit (finally!) through a “Setting the Stage” speech. The orator spoke about the economics of Merchant of Venice, the play we were about to see. He gave a synopsis of the plot without giving away the ending. He also discussed what he believed to be the reasonings of why the various characters acted the way they did. Most of us struggled to stay awake. It was warm in the room, most of us were hungry, and all of us were tired from walking.

After grabbing a bite to eat at the local Starbucks (where I nearly bought a sparkling water instead of a still water by mistake), I experienced a little bit of what it was like for the peasants of the 17th century to see Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theater. We had yard tickets, which meant we stood in front of the stage, under the stars (or clouds, in today’s case).

wpid-img_20150519_210619213

The play was well-performed. It was also a great piece of work, as I absolutely loathed all the characters (except for Shylock, of course!). I mean it, too–this is one of the few plays that actually brought out an emotional response from me. I take to be a highly successful play. Either that, or I was upset that my feet hurt so much from standing. It is by far more difficult to stand for hours than to walk around for hours. Thus, I didn’t appreciate the awesomeness of the performance until hours later, when my feet finally felt like normal feet again.

After the play, a few of us split off to have another bite to eat, as we had only been eating small portions over the day. After much debate (note, it was a consensus from the beginning), we decide to look for a pizza shop. We found an underground station and took it to a random stop—as luck would have it, we found desired pizza shop–that was still open, mind you, just around the corner of the station.

I dunno what it is about Europeans being unable to split checks.