Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Edinburgh

Literally the craziest week of my life, I’ve been so busy. Edinburgh was AMAZING!!! It is such a beautiful city with so much culture and so much life. Public service announcement: having 4 changes on a journey is awful, never do it. I had one train from Notts to Newark Castle, had to switch train stations and go to Newark Northgate, take a train to York, and then from York take a train to Edinburgh. I can’t believe I made it there in the first place, except for two very kind strangers who helped me out. I didn’t know the way between the train stations, except that it was about a mile long walk, and no one at the train station seemed to know directions, until some guy said that he was walking that way, and so me and several other people followed him to Newark Northgate. We chatted the entire way there—he’s doing his doctorate at Notts and lives in York, and he was actually from Edinburgh! So he gave me tons of tips and also showed me on my map the best way to get to my hostel. We waited for our train together and talked the whole time. I never even found out his name! But I never would have been able to find that train station in the dark.

My train to York was late by over 10 minutes, and I only had 8 minutes between when my train arrived to York and when my train left for Edinburgh. A very nice man waiting by the door of my train overheard my problem and as we were getting close to York, told me that I was probably going to miss my train to Edinburgh. He looked up the next train headed there (another train would be going to Edinburgh in 20 minutes), and then as we were pulling into the station he checked my train again for me. By some miracle, it was still there! He gave me directions on how to get to my platform to catch my Edinburgh train, and made sure I was the first one off the train. I literally sprinted when the doors open and was only able to say a quick thank you, but I ran and I did actually make my train. Scariest moment of my life! The kindness of strangers is truly overwhelming.

I made it to Edinburgh and, after spending an hour of the train ride memorizing my map, made it to my hostel alone and in the dark. Couldn’t have been prouder of myself! My hostel was pretty nice, I was in a 6-bed dorm and my only complaint was that the beds were pretty creaky and loud, so I felt bad when I got in late at night. But it was clean, the bathroom was clean, and I felt very safe there, so I can’t say anything bad!

Saturday: I went to Edinburgh Castle first thing in the morning (I was one of the first people in through the gate…) and since I paid £16 to get in, I was there for over 3 hours. The castle is amazing! It’s so old and so beautiful! It’s set up on this hill and you can look out over the city. I saw the Royal Honours of Scotland, which are the oldest Crown Jewels in Europe! I also saw the Royal Apartments, which was really exciting because that’s where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI and I! The Scottish National War Memorial was very touching and sad, the building it was in was beautiful. There were services in the chapel until about 1:00, and since I paid so much money, I was going to stay and see the oldest building in Edinburgh! It was a tiny chapel, but beautiful. I’m glad I waited the extra hour or so to see it. Every day at 1:00 they fire the One-O’Clock-Gun, so I also got to see that!

View of Edinburgh Castle from the street below

After the Castle I wandered up and down around the Royal Mile. I was cold (it was so windy up on the hill in the castle!) so I bought a tartan scarf, and then I bought some shortbread (31% butter!) and ate the entire package by myself. Fuck da police. It was so refreshing to have so much time there, I didn’t feel rushed to do anything! Taking time to wander around and explore on your own is the best feeling ever. I went to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which was also pretty expensive but soooo cool. I only got to taste one whisky on the tour, but I think it was worth it. You learn about how the whisky is made, and then you get an explanation of each of the four regions producing single malt scotch whisky—Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay—and then based on what they smell like, you get to choose one to taste! Then you go through this room and see this scotch whisky collection that belonged to this Brazilian guy. It is unbelievable. I was in heaven. So much whisky! It was an incredibly rare collection. 




That night I went out to a pub with some people I met in my hostel—a guy, Dan, from Colorado, and two Aussie girls. One of them was Madi and none of us could remember the other girl’s name, even though she was so nice and friendly. It was so cool meeting different people and hanging out with strangers! Making friends and branching out and shit. It was awesome. Definitely a great part of my weekend! Staying at hostels is seriously the way to go when traveling. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Sunday: I basically went to this garage sale that took place in a parking garage. It’s called the Omni Car Boot Sale, and seriously if you go to Edinburgh you HAVE to do it!!! It was just like Bryn Mawr Garage Sales (ahh! Heaven!) but it was in a level of a parking ramp. People just drive their cars in and sell stuff. They had everything and anything there! I wish I could have bought more, but I didn’t have a lot of money, and I also needed to carry anything I brought back home with me in my small backpack. But anyone who goes to Edinburgh! Sunday from 9:00-1:00! Don’t miss it!

I went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse afterwards, which was amazing. Like Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, it’s a residence of the Queen. It’s a beautiful place and full of history. I got to see Mary Queen of Scots’ apartments, and the spot where her secretary, David Rizzio, was left to die after being dragged out of a dinner with her and stabbed 56 times. They also had a ton of amazing portraits—including one of Mary Boleyn!!!!! What?!?!? I walked in and my immediate reaction was, “what is she doing here?!” It was amazing! The ruins of the abbey were also beautiful, and unfortunately the palace gardens are closed in the winter so I couldn’t see those.

Outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse
  
Arthur’s Seat was my next stop: 251m and it felt like I climbed a fucking mountain. It was amazing though, walking through the hills and seeing the views, it was just so Scottish. By the time I finally made it to the top, I was sweating and panting, but it was so worth it. The views were out of this world incredible, and, incredulously, the weather behaved itself and it didn’t rain until I got all the way back down. 

My walk up to Arthur's Seat

The view from the top!



I did some Harry Potter stalking afterwards, seeing the café where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of HP and the commemorative plaque on the wall on the street corner. That night I went out with people from my hostel again, Dan and Madi, to a pub that had live music. It was so awesome! The band was good and super funny, trying to get audience participation and cracking jokes.

Monday: More HP stalking! This time I went to this graveyard where, thanks to a tip from Madi, J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for some of the names in HP. After wandering and searching through this graveyard, I successfully found the gravestones of “Thomas Riddell” as well as “his son, Thomas Riddell” and a man named “William McGonagall.” 

At the grave of "Thomas Riddell" !!!!!
 
After that I walked up Calton Hill, which also had an amazing view—not as good as Arthur’s Seat, but definitely worthwhile. Next stop: National Portrait Gallery!!! Obviously it wasn’t as great as my true home in London, but they had a bunch of great portraits of Mary Queen of Scots and various Stuarts, as well as focusing a lot on James III “The Old Pretender” and Bonnie Prince Charlie “The Young Pretender.” After that I pretty much wandered around looking for anything that was free—I had just bought a nice bottle of scotch whisky (I can’t go to Scotland and NOT buy scotch whisky!) so I was basically running out of money and needed a few quid to be able to eat. Getting to the train station was just fine, and then there were no problems with any of my trains on the way home. I was tired (and sooo hungry considering I had barely eaten all weekend!) when I got home, but it was so great to come back to the flat and feel at home.

This weekend was incredible—I felt so accomplished and independent! It was my first time being on my own in a truly new city. I made friends and spent time with strangers and couldn’t have been happier. I saw some amazing historical places in Edinburgh and got in several decent walks. I did so much and had enough time that I never felt rushed. Scotland is beautiful and the people there are so friendly, have such unique accents, and are in love with whisky. I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing and enlightening experience.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

London: Take 3

Wow! This past week has been super busy and this upcoming week is only going to be just as busy, if not busier. It was nice not having classes for reading week, since it gave me a lot of extra time to work on a paper that was due today. I really needed to get it done before the weekend though, since I was in London and obviously not doing any homework.

It was definitely different going to London with our group, as opposed to me just going by myself. But the good thing was, Bob really just let us loose in the city and we could do whatever we wanted. Free hotel and money for food! What could be better! Friday night we went to a play in the West End, the Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. I really liked it, even though it was kind of depressing. It’s a satirical play about Hitler and how his rise to power could have been prevented, and the ending was really powerful.

Saturday I took Sarah on my official London tour!!! We had an excellent time. We got up early and walked everywhere. It was tiring but totally worth it! We walked past St. Pauls on our way to the Tower of London, so she could see that. And then the added bonus of hanging out with me in London: “Hey Sarah, want to go to Diagon Alley?” We were right by Leadenhall Market, where they filmed Diagon Alley in Harry Potter, so I took her there too. The Tower of London was, of course, amazing. Sarah took her homework seriously and not only did she ace her quiz, she also got bonus points!!! We were there super early, so before we went on our Yeoman Warder tour we were able to wander around basically by ourselves. Our tour was probably my favorite that I’ve had so far, he was hilarious and great and just all around awesome. 

 
After that we did my Tower of London tour stuff, and then walked across Tower Bridge to the south bank of the Thames. I made sure Sarah saw Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and we stopped and got pizza at this great place in Gabriel’s Wharf, the same place Sigrid and I ate at on my first ever day in London! It was just as delicious as I remembered. Then we went across Westminster Bridge, making sure to take pictures at my preferred place, and saw Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Then it was up Whitehall and to Trafalgar Square for the National Portrait Gallery! Back home. It was wonderful.

Sarah and I basically decided that we’re going to live in London together in a flat with our dogs. We’ll go on runs by the Thames together but have our headphones in, and take our dogs on long walks to all the parks. This weekend, more than ever, I really felt like I belonged in London. I have a feeling I’ll end up there someday.

Saturday night our group had another play, the Potsdam Quartet, in a smaller theatre near Piccadilly Circus. I really liked this show too! It was about a quartet playing for the major players at Potsdam. There was a Russian soldier whose only lines were in Russian, and I understood almost all of what he said! Saturday night Kailey, Sarah, and I went to this great little place called the Cider Tap. It’s super small, but the cider was excellent and delicious and it was such a cool place!

Sunday I went to the British Museum. Holy shit, so many asian tourists. And large tour groups. It got annoying. It was really cool to just wander around and look at stuff, since I didn’t have anything in particular I really wanted to see besides the Rosetta Stone. Peter met up with me there, and it was great to see him once more before we head to Wales together in a month! It was such a gorgeous day on Sunday that I decided I couldn’t stay inside, so I walked to the Mall and Buckingham Palace. I had some issues getting there, since I kept finding all these used bookstores on the way. I would walk out of one, and then two stores down there would be another one right there!!! It was amazing!!! They were all super cool, quintessential used bookstores. Really small and cramped, tall ceilings with lots of shelves, and semi-creepy basements that had even more books. It was only with great restraint that I ended up buying just two books. That’s the amazing thing about London! There’s so much to see and do off the beaten track of classic touristy stuff. I’m so lucky I got to do that and I had time to explore.

I did finally make it to Buckingham Palace, and spent some time in St. James’ Park. It was Remembrance Sunday, and I accidentally stumbled upon a parade of veterans (I think) laying a wreath of poppies at the WWI memorial. It was really touching and I bawled my eyes out, I don’t really know why. Everyone here wears poppies (you can get them pretty much anywhere, just by donating some change or something) and it was really emotional in a unifying way to see so many people, especially in London.

St. James Park

Monday was super laid back, since I didn’t have too much to do. Our train to Notts left at 3:15pm, so I didn’t want to try to do too much. I went to the Museum of London, which was free and it was cool, but probably not something I’d do again now that I’ve already seen it. Also there were a ton of little kids on field trips and they were loud and obnoxious. Thanks to a tip from Peter, I jipped Sainsburys out of 20p when I was buying rolls!!! At the self-checkout, you say you’re buying a bakery item that is cheaper than what you’re actually buying!!! Got rolls but said they were cheaper! Saved 20p!!! Thug life! Fuck da police! After that, it was back to the train station, back to Notts, and straight to my bed for a resting period.

This week is going to be even busier than next week: I actually have classes this week, including Bob’s class tonight. Wednesday night I have Russian lessons, Thursday I have a meeting for volunteering in the late afternoon and then we’re seeing Richard III Thursday night. And then I’m headed to Edinburgh on Friday for the weekend!!! I’ve got a lot to do, lots of practicing and flashcards (Polish) and reading and preparing a seminar presentation (Russian culture). I feel like I’m going to have literally zero time this week, but hopefully I can make it through and head off to Edinburgh without a lot of stress! I’m really excited to explore the city on my own—it’s my first solo trip to a new city (I’ve been to London by myself, but technically I had already been there before), so I’m a little nervous. But the best part about traveling by yourself is that then you can do whatever you want!!!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Bosworth Battlefield and Bonfire Day

Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder Treason and Plot
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot

Today is Bonfire Day here in the UK! There have been fireworks going off pretty much every night since Saturday, which has been lots of fun (kind of annoying sometimes, but fun). Tonight, as per my custom, a bunch of us are watching V for Vendetta and I will, of course, be giving a brief historical overview of Guy Fawkes/the Gunpowder Plot beforehand. I have no idea why I have friends. They are saints.

Last Saturday we (finally) didn’t have a flat trip, but I was busy adventuring anyway! Bosworth Battlefield was my destination. On August 22nd 1485, Henry Tudor defeated Richard III to become Henry VII and form the new Tudor dynasty. So obviously the battlefield is on my list and I had to go. John came with me on my adventure and it was lots of fun but super exhausting.

First off, we woke up at 5:45am to get to the bus station and catch our 7:00am bus to Leicester. After an hour-long bus ride (John fell asleep), we got to Leicester and then sat at the bus station and waited for bus #153 to Market Bosworth. After another hour-long bus ride, we got off in the small village of Market Bosworth, which is a 3-mile walk from the battlefield. The area we were in was so pretty—classic English countryside, rolling hills, sheep, green pastures, everything. It was a nice bus ride! (John fell asleep again.)

It was kind of confusing getting from the village onto the road that would get us to the battlefield—we got lost and had to ask for directions. We were trying to follow some signs that had swords on them (we hoped it meant battlefield) but they were meant for cars, not for people walking… the very nice man we asked directions from told us where to go and wished us good luck, and said “hope the weather stays fine for you!” Because obviously “fine” weather means cloudy, gray, misting rain, and freezing. It was way colder than either of us thought it would be (or we thought it would warm up, which it never did), and John had brought one hat that we shared between us. Our walk to the battlefield, once we got on the right road, was scenic and great and so much more rewarding than taking a car could ever be! Good ol’ Shenton Lane went almost all the way there.

We did finally make it to the battlefield! The reason we got up so early was because I wanted to do the guided tour at 11:00, and I’m so glad we did it. The entire journey was worth it just for the tour, I got so much more information than I would have had I gone without a tour! Our tour guide explained a lot about the battle itself: who was fighting, where they were coming from, and how they all met at this spot of the battlefield. A couple years ago they found some cannon balls and a boar badge (the white boar was Richard III’s symbol, and this badge was worn only by his personal guard) in an area that they’ve now basically determined was the final phase of the battle. It was really cool to learn about the different commanders of the battle, besides just the main opponents. During the tour, our tour guide had banners with the coat of arms for each of the major players. Me and some 8-year old kids got to carry them on the tour :)

The Tudor banner!

It started raining right at the end of our tour, so we went into the battlefield exhibition. The exhibition was nice and informative, but the tour was so much better. It started pouring like no other and so we waited it out for a bit in the restaurant there. Finally it let up and there was a beautiful rainbow—it was literally the best reward ever for our adventure.


 
After that, it was nice and sunny for our 3-mile walk back (no need to share our one hat), and we celebrated our reward with a pint at the pub in Market Bosworth. Market Bosworth is just such a quaint, stereotypical English village, and I loved it. We also got some half-price ice cream bars which was awesome. After that, it was another hour-long bus ride to Leicester (John fell asleep), half an hour wait in the bus station, and then another bus ride back to Notts (John fell asleep again). We were literally starving by the time we got home (walked 7+ miles!), and we got off the bus and legit ran to the flat and stormed the kitchen.

It was another successful adventure and I just loved it! Going on day trips like that, adventuring in the country is so nerve-wracking and can be a little intimidating, especially this time when we had different buses we needed to catch. But it is so rewarding! When I got to the battlefield I just felt so accomplished, and by the time I got back to the flat I felt even more accomplished. It was fantastic. Going on random journeys like this just makes me love England. It is an amazing place.

Shout out to the British transportation system—my trip to Bosworth could never have happened in the U.S. There just isn’t this kind of infrastructure at home to make it all possible. Buses and trains make getting around so easy! It’s amazing.

This week is going to be another super busy one. We have a “reading week” this week at uni, so I don’t have either of my classes. I have a paper due next week though, and a project I need to start working on. This weekend our group is headed to London—we’ll be seeing plays on both Friday and Saturday night, but basically the rest of our time should be free time and we can do what we want. But first I need to have a productive next couple of days beforehand!

Remember remember the 5th of November!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Kenilworth Castle and Coventry

So I guess I’m getting consecutively shittier at blogging. Sorry.

Last weekend we had a group trip to Kenilworth Castle and Coventry. Both of them were on my list of places to go to!!! I’m so lucky. Bob just seems to keep picking trips to places I want to go! Free trips what what?!

Kenilworth Castle was great—it was this beautiful castle, dating back to the 1100s that was used through the years by the Normans, John of Gaunt, Henry V, and finally Robert Dudley. Obviously this last one was the main reason I wanted to go here. Robert Dudley made elaborate (and very expensive) improvements to the castle, including a beautiful garden, in order to try to finally win Elizabeth I over and convince her to marry him. She visited in 1575 for nineteen days and it was basically Dudley’s last attempt to marry her. She (as we all know) never did marry, and Dudley then married Lettice Knollys (who actually was related to Elizabeth). It’s such a sad and romantic story and being there was great.

Kenilworth Castle ruins

The castle is in ruins now (they blew it up in the Civil War) but it was still awesome! They have a recreation of the Elizabethan Garden, looking exactly like it would have when Elizabeth visited. I wish we had had more time, or that I had been on my own, because there were a lot of walking paths that I would have liked to explore—the area is beautiful. After that, we got back on the bus and went to Coventry, which was pretty close by.

The main reason I wanted to go to Coventry was because of the cathedral. During WWII, Coventry was heavily damaged by the Germans and basically just devastated. During the Blitz, November 14 1940, the city was so heavily bombed that the cathedral collapsed and was essentially destroyed. The Germans coined a new word, coventrieren, which meant to flatten. Ouch. To me, Coventry has always been one of those symbols of British resilience and strength. Especially during WWII, when Britain stood alone. Something about that kind of strength never fails to make me cry. It was amazing.

The ruins of the old cathedral are so stunning and beautiful and sad. Apparently after the bombing, someone saw that two charred beams had fallen down into the shape of a cross—the Charred Cross is on display inside the new cathedral, and there is a replica still in the ruins. The whole story of the cathedral is just so touching. The new cathedral was finished in the 1960s, with a beautiful stained glass window and huge tapestry. Countries from all over seemed to help and give materials to Coventry for the cathedral—Sweden, Norway, Canada, Germany, France. It was beautiful to think of how this building helped unite people. It was just beautiful. I’m so glad I finally got to go here! Maybe I did a really bad job of explaining it. But it was just really emotional.

Inside the ruins of the old Coventry cathedral
Not much else is exciting. I live in England and that’s cool. Classes are good but hard. I’m really enjoying both of them though! I’ve been going to Russian lessons every week, which are hard but I can tell it’s really good practice, and it gets a little better every time. Hopefully if I’m speaking it regularly I won’t forget everything! Tomorrow I’m going on an adventure to Bosworth Battlefield. We’ll see if I make it there, it will be a journey. I have one more week (but since I have a reading/project week for my two classes, I won’t actually have class) and then we’re going on our group trip to London! November is going to be a very very busy month!