Sunday, 30 March 2014

Stratford-upon-Avon/Manchester

Well this past week hasn’t been all that interesting, just classes and homework, the usual. Last weekend we were in Stratford-upon-Avon for about 24 hours, which was fun! I’ve been there before, so it wasn’t super exciting. We got there on March 21st in time for dinner at our B&B before heading to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to see Henry IV Part 1! The play was AMAZING. The set was fantastic, the actors were awesome, everything was just so high quality. Walking out of the theatre, I thought to myself, “now that’s how theatre is done.” The actor who played Hotspur was probably my favorite, he just played the character so well and was so passionate. All the actors were so passionate! It was a great show. Some of our group went to a pub after, and saw a couple of the actors there! I was too tired from my Polish party the other night to go out, but I’m sure it was awesome.

On Saturday, we spent most of the day walking around and visiting Shakespeare’s Houses. The exhibition leading to Shakespeare’s Birthplace was pretty cool, and in the courtyard outside the birthplace there was a woman who could perform Shakespeare scenes/sonnets on demand! That was awesome, it’s real talent to be able to do that. Next we saw Shakespeare and his family’s grave in Holy Trinity Church, then saw Hall Croft and Nash’s House/New Place. None of them were super fantastic on their own, but it was nice to visit them and say I’d been there. Kailey, Kula and I had a nice lunch in a cafĂ© and spent the rest of our time wandering around Stratford.

Shakespeare's Birthplace
Shakespeare's grave in Holy Trinity Church
 Again, this week hasn’t been super interesting. Next week is the last week of official classes for my history class, so things are winding down for break. I’ve spent a ton of time (and money) planning my spring break, since I’ll be traveling for another month. It’ll be a great trip/month/break I know, but right now it just seems like so much work! So much to finalize and so much to plan! We’re finishing up with our Luther-related class (Bob’s Class) and presenting our final projects on Tuesday. It’ll be nice to get that stuff done before break.

On Tuesday we went to our first football game and watched Nottingham Forest get shit on by Charlton. We lost 1-0, and it was a rough game. Forest had fired their manager the day before, so it was going to be a bit brutal. I cheered on my new official #1 Football Crush, Jamie Paterson, but Forest lost anyway. Wednesday I was in London for the day, dropping off stuff for my Russian travel visa. It only took me 20 minutes though, so I spent a good 2 ½ hours at the Tower of London, just hanging out.
At the Nottingham Forest game!
Yesterday (March 29th) I was in Manchester for the day. I met up with my friend Ashley from Polish class, who lives near Manchester, who took me around for the day. My first stop and the number one reason to go to Manchester: Taco Bell.

The best day of my life
 My Taco Bell radar has never served me wrong, and I sensed where it was in the Arndale Center before Ashley could point me in the right direction. It was an amazing moment. It has been 6 months (our longest separation!), so I was looking forward to it more than ever. It did not disappoint. I got a bean burrito (classic!) and since they didn’t have cinnamon twists (only some weirdass Mexican fries) or soft tacos (wtf?!) I got a cheesy fiesta pocket. It was basically a quesadilla with the gross nacho cheese folded in half. My bean burrito, however, was exquisite. 

My first bean burrito in 6+ months!
 After I enjoyed my greatest meal since September 9th, Ashley and I went to the John Rylands Library, which was so gorgeous! It’s this huge library (I think it’s used by the University of Manchester? Maybe?) with so many old books, it was so quiet and wonderful and I loved it. What a beautiful place. 

Historic Reading Room in John Rylands Library

Then we wandered around, hit up the Manchester Museum (pretty cool but a bit too kid-oriented for me) and the Museum of Science and Industry (not that cool and too kid-oriented for me), before getting back to Manchester Piccadilly Station where I headed back to Notts. There are tons of museums in Manchester (and most of the are free!) but honestly, I really didn’t want to cram stuff into my day. I needed to spend as much time as possible savoring my Taco Bell.

This week will definitely be different from last week! My best friend Evan/Ivan/Vanya will be arriving tomorrow and I am so SO excited to see him!!! We’ll be hanging out around Notts (and I have class) the first few days, then going to London for two days (he’ll get my tour, and then I’ll go on an adventure to Hever Castle for one of the days), before a few more days in Notts. I have so many bars/clubs/pubs to take him to here, and so many places to explore together! And then after that, one last week of Polish class and then spring break! This year has gone so crazy fast, I can’t believe it’s close to being over!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Stress Week

Well, it’s safe to say that this last week has been one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I came back from a great trip to Holland to tons of commitments and things to do. Last Wednesday I started my 3000-word essay, managed to have a solid draft done by Friday, and submitted it yesterday. They are so high-maintenance about essays here, besides submitting a version online, you have to turn in two paper copies to a special drop box, both with a coversheet that has the exact word count and all sorts of information on it. Too much work.

This last Friday we finally found out our exam dates for the spring, which has been stressing me out like crazy. Since I found out I was accepted into Luther’s Nottingham program, my plan has always been to go to Russia for the last two weeks after my spring exams, before I go back to Minneapolis for the summer. Exams start on May 19 and go until June 6. This semester, I’ll be writing an additional 4000-word essay instead of sitting the exam for my history class, which is nice not to have to worry about that quite yet. Unfortunately, I have my Polish exam on June 5, which sincerely fucked up my plans.

After finding out that there is no possible way for me to take my Polish exam early, on Tuesday I finally got my shit together and bought all my plane tickets. I’ll be heading back to the 612 come June 22, a grave error since I just realized today that, since June 22 is a Sunday, liquor stores will be closed in MN!!! This is a terrible travesty, since my first stop home from the airport was going to be East Lake Liquor, so I could buy my first ever legal 6-pack of Nordeast. I’ll probably be too jetlagged to drive to Hudson and buy some booze on my first 21+ day in the US, so my first ever legal alcohol purchase will have to wait until Monday morning. Life’s not fair. I’ll be coming back so late in the summer, but there’s really not much I can do about it. In some ways I think it’ll be good, since I’ll be able to really enjoy the last of my time here in England.

Besides my plane ticket home, I also finally bought my tickets to Russia. I’ll be flying to Moscow on June 7, and then flying back to London from St. Petersburg on June 20. This will be the most nerve-wracking but exciting solo trip of my life!!! There are a lot of things that are out of my control, particularly everything that has been happening in Ukraine/the Crimea. Things like that are so unpredictable, it’s really impossible to tell what the situation will be like by the time I’m going to Russia. I’ve accepted that by the time I’m leaving, it might be seriously unsafe for me to go, or I might not be allowed to travel there. These are both possibilities that I have considered, and if I blow money on a trip that might not happen, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Russia is it for me: it’s the dream. Russia is my dream. I can’t really even imagine what it will like when I’m finally there, hanging out in the Kremlin and walking down the staircase in the Hermitage. It’s the dream.

I’ve had a lot of people either tell me not to go/essentially try to scare me out of traveling to Russia by myself as a woman. But I refuse to let “being a woman” stop me from following my dream. Not to turn this trip into a battle of Maja vs. The Patriarchy, but there are women in Russia who walk around by themselves every day. There are probably even women in Russia who aren’t Russian who walk around by themselves every day! I have gained indispensable experience as an independent female traveler this year, and my trip to Russia will just require more caution than my other solo trips. If I didn’t think I could do it, I really wouldn’t be going.

Okay, I’m pretty much done justifying why I should be allowed to go for my dreams. All this being said, I really appreciate love and support as I get ready for this trip and as I follow my dream! Since I have to have a visa to go to Russia (and have to be invited to apply for the visa), this trip is already more stressful than most. I’m kind of under a time limit, since I have to have it all figured out and have my passport back by the time I leave for my month of traveling over spring break, which is April 11. Hopefully the process will go smoothly and I can get my visa/passport without any major problems! Prayers and good thoughts for a peaceful solution with the situation in Ukraine/the Crimea wouldn’t hurt either. There are so many things in the world we can’t control, but positive energy is always possible.

Now that I’ve finally had a few days in Notts, I’ve been able to catch up on homework and start seriously planning out my spring break. Tomorrow we leave on a flat trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, which I think will be really fun. Then I have one more week until my best friend comes to visit me! And then once he leaves, only a few more days before my next month of travel! I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. Just a few more months until I’m back home in the 612!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Holland

I am finally back in Nottingham after three consecutive weekends of traveling, I am exhausted and crabby and stressed but so happy to be home! It’ll be the first time that I’ll be in Nottingham for 10+ days in a while, so it’s nice to have time to relax. LOL just kidding I have to write a 10-page essay that’s worth half my grade by next Wednesday, so it’s crunch time. I also need to seriously start figuring out my spring break plans, since as of today we leave in a month and I have absolutely nothing booked. All this on top of the fact that on Friday we find out our exam dates, so not only do I have to buy my plane ticket home to the great 612 (which will also determine when I start work this summer), I also need to figure out everything for my Russia trip, aka mainly figuring out how to get my travel visa and everything.

So I’m pretty stressed out right now, and I should be writing my essay but instead I thought I’d procrastinate a bit more.

I had an awesome trip to Holland this past week! I flew out of London Stansted to Amsterdam on Wednesday, which was fine except that Stansted is about a 5-hour bus ride for me from Nottingham. So I was at the bus station by 7:00am and, of course, obscenely early for my 15:10 flight. My first time flying EasyJet was a success, I was worried they’d try to make me cram my backpack into the little crate thing but they didn’t. My flight was only 40 minutes, which was awesome! It was a bit confusing getting on the right train from the airport to Amsterdam Central station, all the trains seemed to leave from different platforms and I kept missing them. But it was a short train ride and I made it in the end!

There are three things Amsterdam is proud of: its beer, its weed, and its prostitutes. I walked out of the train station and BOOM all of a sudden I got hit with this wave of weed smell. My hostel was super close to the train station so I didn’t have far to walk. I had a really nice time walking around the city that night, just exploring and seeing what Amsterdam was like! I really have no idea where all I walked, Amsterdam is super curvy and after a while all the canals looked the same. I also ended up in the Red Light District, I didn’t realize that’s where I was until I looked over and there was a prostitute in the doorway. Oops.

Thursday I set off early in the morning to see the Anne Frank House, one of the main things I wanted to do in Amsterdam. The queue is notoriously long, but it took me less than 20 minutes to get in. It honestly was really emotional and very depressing being there. You walk through the whole house, through the moving bookcase and through the empty rooms in the Secret Annexe (Otto Frank wanted the rooms left empty of furnishings). At the end, the tour goes through the stories of the people hiding in the Secret Annexe—all of them died except Otto Frank, Anne’s father. It was really, really sad. Anne Frank’s actual diary is on display, as well as certain pages from all her notebooks. I cried a lot. I first read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was in 6th grade, and it was pretty astounding to see how one girl’s story could captivate the entire world. 

  
After I finished crying, I set off to see more of Amsterdam. I walked to the Rijksmuseum, which is in a magnificent building, with a park on the other end. It was 15 euro and the queues were horrendous, so I decided not to go in. I walked around Vondelpark, which is simply huge and really pretty. It was really relaxing being there, by this point I think I had managed to learn how not to get hit by bicyclists. I have literally never seen so many bikes in my life. Everyone bikes. It’s crazy.

 
Outside the Rijksmuseum with the I amsterdam sign!
My next stop was the other main thing I wanted to see in Amsterdam: the Heineken Brewery. The tour is really expensive (18 euro) but definitely worth it. First, the tour takes you through a history of the company and its founders, and through the brewing process on this cart thing that moves (kind of like a ride). After that, you get your first tasting session, and thanks to answering the guy’s questions right (Q: What does it smell like? A: Hops. Q: How does that taste? A: Good.), I got extra beers! What what?!?! Then you can lie down and watch Heineken commercials from 1955, and at the end finally you get your beer. I chose to pour my own pint, so I’m now an officially certified Heineken pourer! The certificate will go with my Jameson one :)

Happy 150th Birthday, Heineken!
I walked around some more, saw a guy doing head spinning as part of street dancing, then headed back to my hostel and had a great resting period and a shower. I met this kid who had just dropped out of uni in Nottingham (Trent), and he and I went to a coffeeshop and smoked and drank and then got kebabs. He was a pretty cool guy, probably stoned the entire time I was around him, but nice.

On Friday, I checked out of my hostel and headed to the top floor of the public library of Amsterdam for a really nice view of the city (thanks for the tip, Makoto!). I really didn’t have too much else I really wanted to do, but I saw the flower market, then got some amazing waffles at this other market, and sat in Remembrandtplein watching tourists take pictures with the statues. I saw the theatre that was formally the place of deportation for the Jews in Amsterdam in WWII and the Newmarket, and then headed to the hostel to get my bag and headed to the train station to catch my train to Eindhoven.

I was in Eindhoven to meet up with two of my friends, Nick and Rens, and I had such a blast with them! I met them when I was in Latvia and they invited me to hang out with them if I get to Holland. Friday night was awesome, for anyone who cares I would definitely recommend partying in Eindhoven. All the bars and clubs are conveniently located on the same street, and none of them have a cover charge! We had such an awesome time and didn’t get back until 4 in the morning, but it was definitely worth it.

Saturday we were all tired and feeling lazy, so we ate breakfast late and then went to a park and laid in the grass. The weather was literally AMAZING. I wore jeans and a tank top and I was totally fine. The sun was shining, there were flowers blooming, it was spring and I was loving it. Sucks to suck, everyone who’s in Minnesota right now! I left Sunday early afternoon from the airport in Eindhoven, Nick and Rens dropped me off at the airport and after waiting for 1. My delayed plane and 2. My bus that was late, I made it back to Notts safe and sound but totally exhausted!

I also have great news, one of my best friends from school, Vanya (real name not Russian name: Evan) is going to be coming to visit me in Nottingham starting on March 31! I am so, SO excited to see him and hang out with him! We haven’t seen each other since Nordic Fest at the end of July, and I miss him a lot. He’s in St. Petersburg for the semester, and so I can’t wait to hear all about Russia from him in person! Our reunion is long-overdue, so get ready Nottingham we’re taking over. Okay, time to work on my essay and figure out spring break plans and stress out about my Russian travel visa and get my life together!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Durham, Hadrian's Wall, and York

How the hell is it already March?! Where did the time go?? Things have been crazy busy for me the last couple weeks, and I honestly think it’ll be just as insane up until spring break. I had a daytrip to Durham, flat trip to Hadrian’s Wall and York over the weekend, and on Wednesday morning I’m leaving for another long weekend to Holland!

Thursday: I went to Durham and had the wonderful company of Sarah for my 6-hour total train trip. I’ve been wanting to go to Durham for ages, mainly because of the cathedral. In Bill Bryson’s book, Notes From a Small Island, he goes to Durham and says this:
“I got off at Durham, intending to poke around the cathedral for an hour or so, and fell in love with it instantly, in a serious way… I couldn’t believe that not once in twenty years had anyone said to me, “You’ve never been to Durham? Good God, man, you must go at once! Please—take my car.” So let me say it now: If you have never been to Durham, go at once. Take my car. It’s wonderful.”

So ever since that I read that I’ve been wanting to go.

I knew Durham would be good, I just didn’t know it would be that good. We literally had the most perfect weather possible, all sun, no rain, just a bit of wind, blue skies. Unbelievable. The cathedral is at the top of the town and Sarah and I walked along the river to get up there. We looked up and saw it and both started laughing because it was so beautiful. I started crying and Sarah started crying and we walked along the river crying and laughing. It was wonderful. 

Durham Cathedral and Castle overlooking the river

Finally FINALLY at Durham Cathedral!
 The cathedral was well worth the money on the train tickets and the 6-hour trip there and back. It is simply magnificent—two smaller towers at the front and then one main tower at the crossing in the nave. Besides housing the shrine of Saint Cuthbert, the cathedral also has the grave of the 7th/8th century monk and historian Bede. And on top of all of this, Durham Cathedral was used in filming scenes from Harry Potter 1 and 2! The Chapter House (which was closed, and I’m pretty sure I broke the handle) was used as Professor McGonagall’s classroom in HP 1. The Cloisters were used as the setting of the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch confrontation in HP 2, where Ron’s curse backfired and he started throwing up slugs (no, I did not find any slugs). Sarah and I also climbed the tower of the cathedral (375 stairs up!) and got some pretty amazing views of the surrounding area. 

Perfect place for Ron to belch some slugs

View from the top of the tower
 We got a tour of Durham Castle once we were cathedral-ed out, which is now used by Durham University. There are some lucky students who get to live in the castle as their student accommodation! I will be putting in a word to Luther about installing medieval castles for the next round of dorm renovations. After that, it was 3 hours back on the train to Notts!

Our flat trip to Hadrian’s Wall and York left at 7:30am on Friday morning. I was unamused. It was a 4-hour drive up to Housesteads Roman Fort on the Wall. Again, it was a beautiful day—legit the perfect weather. I didn’t really believe in fate or destiny or that kind of shit, but after this weekend I think I have to. I got three days of the best weather possible for my trips, and if I ever needed proof that England truly loved me, I have it now. It’s like they knew I was coming.

The area around the Wall was gorgeous—green fields, hidden lakes, rolling hills, everything. Hadrian’s Wall really is a superhuman feat of Roman strength. It’s unbelievable how long it is and how much work they put into constructing it. It really is the last frontier of the Roman Empire. I was the first of our group to set off, and had a really good hard walk along the wall. I had some staring contests with sheep and almost fell in mud several times, but it was great nonetheless. The scenery is something I’ll never forget!

  
From there we spent more time on the bus back to York, got settled into our hotel, I took a shower, and then a couple of us went to a pub for dinner. My bacon cheeseburger was amazing. I’m still dreaming about it.

Saturday: The morning was spent at Fountains Abbey, some of the most spectacular abbey ruins I’ve ever seen. Fountains Abbey was found to be quite corrupt by Cromwell’s surveyors in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, so after the abbot took a large pension and surrendered the abbey, they basically ripped the roof off of this magnificent structure to ensure the monks wouldn’t come back. I just walked around crying, I really don’t know why. It was just so beautiful and so haunting. The grounds at Fountains Abbey are gorgeous as well, so I had a great time walking around and exploring all the different places. We had gorgeous weather again, since England loves me. It was so nice to be there in the morning, before a lot of the people came, when it just seemed so quiet and deserted.

Fountains Abbey

We had a free afternoon back in York, so I went to the Micklegate Bar Museum (the top floor focuses on the Wars of the Roses, which I thought was super interesting. Also, fun fact: Richard, Duke of York, was killed in 1460 and his head was set on a pike on Micklegate Bar in York. Supposedly someone put a paper crown on his head as well). I spent the rest of the time walking around the city walls, which was great! The walls are so old, leftover from the Romans, and give a nice view of the city. That night we had a play in York, and afterwards a couple of us went to a pub. After the first pub, Kula, Jacob and I went to a bar in an old church! Two of my favorite things! Old church buildings and drinking! What what!!

Sunday we had another free morning in York before finally going to York Minster. I wandered around the city more, went to Barley Hall (done as a museum on 15th-16th century life in York), went to York Minster for the 11:30 service, and then met up with the group again. York Minster (the cathedral) is second only in importance to Canterbury as the top Archbishopric in England. It is one of the top cathedrals in England, and has the largest medieval stained glass collection in Europe. Of course, that stained glass collection was under construction when I was there. From the Disneyland Castle circa 2004 to York Minster in 2014, it’s always under construction when I go. Assholes.

The cathedral is great, it has a large stained glass window (destroyed by fire in 1984 and painstakingly replaced piece by piece afterwards) commemorating the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York and the union of the Houses of Lancaster and York, a beautiful Chapter House (with beautiful stained glass windows), and a large row of statues depicting the Kings of England up until Henry VI. We climbed the tower (only 275 steps, super easy compared to Durham), which gave amazing views of the city, but it was windy as hell and I was cold. My favorite part was probably the crypt, which has an exhibition on the history of the buildings on the spot. They’ve excavated the remains of the Roman fort, as well as the Norman building. The Roman part even has a creek that is still fully functional and bringing water to the river! What! Shit was crazy!

York Minster
Stained glass in the Chapter House
Post-cathedral we got on the bus and headed back to Notts. It was a super busy weekend, but so worth it. And now, after Durham and York, I only have one major cathedral left to see in England!!! Gloucester, I’m coming for you. Once I see that one, I’ll have to finally decide which one is my favorite! It’ll be a tough choice, that’s for sure. Now I’ve got another day here in Notts, and then headed off to Holland early Wednesday morning! Here’s to the next week of adventure!