Sunday, December 5, 2010

Winter Wonderland

This may possibly be my last post. I have been busy in the last week finishing up everything around Harlaxton and tying all those loose ends. We had our last day of classes on Thursday and this coming Wednesday afternoon we leave Harlaxton for good. It is all extremely bittersweet, but this week has been packed with awesome activities that have kept everyone from feeling down about leaving.

Classes were pretty normal for the most part, aside from simply finishing up before finals. Monday night we had a really fun "Nerd" Party in the Bistro where we all dressed as nerdy as possible and kept up nerd persona's the entire night. Wednesday afternoon, all the RAs walked the mile drive to the Greg for a lunch together, and that night we had our choir concert in the Great Hall.. I sang a solo in one of our songs which apparently astounded everyone because they didn't know that I sang. Did anyone here get to know me at all?!? Just kidding. After Wednesday we all hung out in the Bistro again for another party (had to fit in all the last minute gatherings!) which was also fun. Thursday was our last day of classes which was quickly followed by a Valedictory Convocation, fancy-schmancy dinner, and Going-Away party in the bistro.
Hannah and I at the Lovable Nerd Party.

What I failed to mention was that throughout this week, it snowed every day. At the peak of our snow accumulation, it was at about 7 inches or so. In between classes, studying, and the parties, everyone was out in the snow taking pictures, sledding down the hills on whatever they could find to use as sleds, and building snow people and animals. The manor looked gorgeous in the winter wonderland and looked the most like Hogwarts than ever! The snow definitely made the week a little more difficult if you were trying to get anywhere, but luckily, most people had no reason to leave the manor and carriage house.
Our Winter Wonderland

We did all have to get bussed to the church in Harlaxton Village on Thursday for our Valedictory Convocation, but it all went okay. I actually played the prelude and postlude for the convocation and sang my solo again. It was a bit like the Erin Music Show. Following the convocation was our fancy dinner in the State Dinning Rooms. We enjoyed good food, wine, "smart" dress, and lots of awards to students. During the dinner, I also lead singing in "Amazing Grace" which is apparently a tradition to follow the meal at Harlaxton. It was kind of weird, but it went well. Directly after the dinner we all headed down to the bistro where the "real" awards were handed out to students. We had winners like, "Most likely to miss a school trip", "All around great person", "Person most likely to sleep in an airport to save money", etc. The awards were hilarious and a great way to wrap things up. One of the funnier moments of that night was the shift in the British Studies faculty's attitudes toward the students. Somehow, I was at the right place at the right time and was invited to tea with other students the next morning!
The RAs before the Valedictory dinner

I attended the "tea time", or tea party with a few other people and chatted with Dr. Green and Dr. Taylor for a good hour and a half, enjoying their tea. Dr. Taylor actually got his degrees in music, so we chatted a bit about music therapy. It was cool because he had studied it for a bit, even completing a case study, which he found for me to read. I was a little bummed that it wasn't until the last week that I learned there was someone around the discuss these things with! But oh well. The rest of the day was spent studying for my first final (which I think went pretty well) and simply hanging out with people.
Jessica and I with Father Christmas

Yesterday was full of Harlaxton Christmas. We spent the evening in the Great Hall with a fire in the fireplace next to the Christmas tree with our Meet-A-Families for the last time. Everyone looked extremely festive in their Christmas outfits and sang lots of Christmas carols - both the American and English versions. Afterward, a group of us trekked through the snow out to the village to carol to a few houses and were treated with amazing baked goods and mulled wine. We came back to enjoy hot chocolate in front of the fire in the Great Hall and chatted with students and professors. We ended the evening by watching Elf, of course.
My Meet-A-Family: Ashley, me, Sarah, Pat, & Ray

Now, we're all at the point where we have 3 days left and not much to do except pack and study for British Studies. I've had no motivation to do anything today simply because nothing is really pressing. It is definitely going to be extremely bittersweet to leave Harlaxton and the people that I met here. Luckily, many of the friends I made go to UE, but so many others go to different schools around the country. I can't believe that this much time has flown by and that I will be home this time next week. I'm looking forward to being home and returning to UE, but Harlaxton will always hold a special place in my heart. It truly changed my life by helping me grow and understand who I am, how I perceive the world, and how I fit in it. Watch out USA - you have a new, mature, individual headed your way!
Leaving our mark

Monday, November 29, 2010

Harry Potter's Birthplace

This weekend, I headed to the very chilly city of Edinburgh, Scotland! I left Thanksgiving evening, in the pitch-black hour of 5 pm, and spent about 4 hours by train traveling north. My trip started out horrendously when I realized my return-ticket never got processed and I had forgotten my directions to the hostel. I ended up having to pay 50 pounds for a return ticket since it was only three days before the return date and everything was super pricey. I was so mad at myself and was very unhappy with the train ticket man who tried to make jokes about things; it was no laughing matter to spend an extra $80 on a train ticket I thought I had already purchased. Luckily though, my train did not have any delays or issues and I was able to call my hostel for directions from the train station.
Maren and I on Castle Hill.

I was in a bit of a foul mood on the train but realized there was nothing I could do or change, so I just needed to get over it and focus on having a great weekend. I was so excited to meet up with Maren and meet her friends! I relaxed a bit and knew that I would just have to trust that things would go well from there on out, and they did! Once I got off the train (around 10:30pm), I realized how beautiful the city of Edinburgh was. They had all their Christmas lights out and about and had just opened their Christmas Market down by Princes Street. Everything was lit and so many people were out; it was gorgeous!
A view of the Christmas Market on Princes Street.

I easily found my hostel (with a little help in pointing the right direction from a nice couple) and checked in without any problems. The hostel sat at the base of Edinburgh Castle with an awesome view of it. The hostel itself was stylized after the castle and very cool. It was ranked number 1 in Scotland, and number 5 in the world! It was the nicest hostel I've stayed in yet and I felt very comfortable there. I didn't have to wait long for Maren and her friends' arrival. It was great to see her and meet her friends! We chatted a bit and then headed to bed in our Brain-themed room (my bed was "Brainless" and Maren's was "Brainiac"...I wasn't quite sure what that was insinuating!).

The next morning we headed out on a three-hour free walking tour where we saw most of the city and froze off all our fingers and toes. It was absolutely freezing, but we enjoyed it anyway. We enjoyed a lunch at a nice cafe afterward and then did some great souvenir/touristy shopping until we had dinner. Maren and her friends were excited for non-Spanish food so we tried to please everyone in our food choices. That night we decided to visit a few different pubs (so they could experience true pub culture) by partaking in a pub crawl, but immediately realized we had wasted our money because there was a pub every other building and simply could have found our own nice pubs and saved the 8 pounds. But oh well; now we can all say we've been on one.

The next morning we had a nice breakfast and headed to the castle. Because Edinburgh was celebrating St. Andrew's day (which is actually tomorrow) everything was free! It was the most perfect timing ever! I wasn't super impressed with castle, but I loved the views from the top. You could see the sea, as well as a few mountains, and this time, everything was covered in snow! It had snowed the night before and hadn't really stopped. We then checked out The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote the beginnings of Harry Potter. We didn't eat there because it was super crowded, but the atmosphere reminded Maren and I a lot of Batdorf, so that was fun! We then headed down to the Christmas Market and explored. There was so much to do from shopping the market stalls, eating lots of really yummy food, ice skating outdoors, and going on lots of different rides. We figured we had to go on the Ferris Wheel, which gave us an awesome view of the city at night. Afterward, we split the group with two of the girls heading off to do their own thing, and Maren, Lindsey and I to see Harry Potter. It was a great night and I think Maren and Lindsey were very happy to see HP in English!
Lindsey, Maren, and I playing with wands in a graveyard; i.e. being HP nerds...

The next morning I headed out before noon to catch my train. I became extremely worried that my train was going to be canceled due to the "adverse weather conditions". Luckily, mine was right on time and I was able to board easily. Even more luckily, I had been able to check my bank account and had learned that I never was originally charged a return ticket, so I only had to pay about an extra $30 for this ticket. Another plus, it was first-class. I had a very comfortable ride back and was able to see the countryside covered in snow the entire way, as well as view a lot of the east coast. I even watched the sun set. Everything about that return trip went so well because we were one of the only trains that wasn't delayed or canceled due to the snow. So many things to be thankful for!
A view from the castle as the sun was setting Saturday afternoon.

As for now, I'm upon my last full week of Harlaxton. I can't believe it, but I head home in 11 days! I'm pretty much done in all my classes, which end on Thursday, and don't have much else to do. Lots of last minute gatherings planned for this week before finals begin in Saturday morning. Hopefully Ashley and I get to visit with Matt one last time this weekend before we head out. Then we leave Harlaxton next Wednesday where we'll spend two nights in London before I fly home. I really can't believe that this much time has flown by and Christmas break is so near. I'm very aware of the fact that I've definitely entered into stage five of culture shock: readjustment, and I can't say that I like it! I'm pretty sure I'm going to have more of a culture shock returning to home than I did coming here! Be prepared!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Costume Ball

This weekend was slightly different than the other weekends of being here at Harlaxton.  Most people were here, about 100 of the students, and we had an actual normal week of classes - five whole days! I spent the week running around getting things ready for the Costume Ball that was organized by the six RAs.  Along with having a dinner and a dance, the Costume Ball is done to raise money for a charity chosen by the RAs. This year we decided to sponsor Make-A-Wish UK. We also decided to change the way we raised the money from all of the years past. We switched from having a date auction to raffling off a dinner with 3 candidates and a dance at the ball with another 3 candidates. Our goal was to raise 350 pounds, which we completely surpassed! We ended up having a final total of 450 pounds by last night! We were all really pleased with the results and extremely relieved that we could stop badgering people at meal times to donate money and buy raffle tickets.
All of the RAs with our dean and assistant dean of students.

We also had awesome results of our dinner winners who got to enjoy our fancy meal at an even fancier table. Our dance winners were hilarious as well because they opened the ball dancing the "waltz" (or something like it) to the song from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's Yule Ball. Our youngest manor inhabitants, my environmental science teacher's 2 year old and 8 year old, stole the show by dancing with one of my old roommate's, who was dressed as a bunch of grapes.
We were really proud of our board, even though it wasn't updated to our final tally.

The rest of the night was an extreme success having the ball in the Great Hall with a DJ who brought cool lights that completely changed the look of the manor. It definitely looked like something out of Hogwarts! We danced for hours to music from all kinds of decades and enjoyed everyone's costumes. We had a huge range of outfits which was really fun. By midnight, everyone was exhausted and were asleep. When my fellow RA Caylin and I did our rounds for the evening, the manor was completely silent. It was actually kind of eerie.
Me with Rebekah and Sarah (and Collin as a unicorn).

Other than that, the weekend has been spent finishing up all my homework for the rest of the semester. I'm officially done with everything except my final art project and two final tests. I'll be home in 2 1/2 weeks which is crazy! Tomorrow, my family arrives (they arrived in London today) and so we'll adventure around the manor, Grantham, possibly Nottingham, see Harry Potter (finally!!) and who knows what else. After that I head to Scotland for the last weekend (my last trip!) to meet up with Maren and her friends! It should be really exciting! After that, last week of classes and finals! It's going to fly by!

P.S. My costume was originally an authentic hippie (leftover from Halloween) until I put on Caylin's HP glasses and everyone told me I looked like Prof. Trelawny from Harry Potter. I went with that the rest of the night!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

15th Century Newark

Yesterday, Ashley and I were taken to the town of Newark for the afternoon, about a twenty minute drive from Grantham, by our meet-a-family parents Ray and Pat. They wanted us to experience a "real" English town full of history so that we weren't under the impression that all English towns were like Grantham - dull and poor. As far as English towns and villages go, Grantham is one of the most unheard of around the country, and for good reasons. There is nothing there except charity shops, a few stores, and lots of people in the Royal Air Force.

Ray and Pat picked us up before lunch and drove us to Newark, a town that was in the county of Nottinghamshire, that had been in existence since the 15th century. They took us on a "Civil War Walk" that lead us to all the historical buildings and a fallen down castle that dated back to the English civil war with Charles I. We walked around the tour, with Ray and Pat giving their commentary to certain architectural differences between the old and new buildings. We explored the town and enjoyed the beautiful November day. Ray and Pat were very funny in that they needed to comment on everything around us, even though Ashley and I both new a lot from British Studies. But we still enjoyed it.
Remnants of the castle in Newark destroyed in the Civil War

The Beal's treated us to lunch in a small cafe that was in one of the buildings from the fifteenth century. We really enjoyed that because the lunch was not only delicious, but we had fun being inside a building that old. The stairs to the upper level were slanted and all the original oak paneling was still there. We sat and enjoyed our lunch and had great conversations as usual. Our main points of discussion were times around WWII because that's where we're up to in British Studies and Ray and Pat both were alive, though young, during that time. It was great to discuss with them things that they remembered in reference to what we had been learning. We also had great discussions over racism and the difference between Americans and Britons from now and then. Ashley and I had noticed whilst in Paris that mixed-race couples were extremely common and un-thought of. Again, our conversations were extremely enlightening and thoroughly enjoyable.
The upper floors of the cafe we ate in dating back to the 1400's

We finished our afternoon exploring the town center and listening to a jazz group that was hanging out in the square. Both Ray and Pat thanked us for being here because they would never have done the tour if we hadn't been there! Last time we met with them, they had said that they felt really lucky with having Ashley and I paired with them, but I think the opposite is true! Ray and Pat have been some of the most generous people I've met and I've absolutely loved the few times we've gotten to spend together. We have one more meeting with them at the end of the semester (a mere two weeks away!) which will be bittersweet. I definitely know that I'd like to keep in contact with them after I leave, even if it's just a letter here and there. They've certainly helped shape my experience while being here at Harlaxton!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

La Parisian Ghetto

This weekend (or long weekend, I should say), I spent in Paris with Ashley and Kate. We arrived Wednesday evening and stayed through Sunday afternoon. It was an intensely long, long weekend on the European continent but it was great! I'm not even sure I can begin to describe all of my experiences, and I figure it's best to not write a novel as this post. Instead, I think I'll briefly list the things we did and saw with a few added commentaries to the most important. When I come home in less than one month (!!) you can ask me for more details!
The view from La Sacre Coeur

Wednesday evening: We arived  at Chales de Gaulle after spotting the Eiffel Tower at night from the plane. We then took the metro to our hostel toward the center of Paris and realized that Paris is a very dirty city (hence the title of the post). Wandered around the area of our hostel and had dinner in a petit restaurant where the servers were very friendly. Headed in for an early night to start our day bright and early.
L'Arc de la Defense

Thursday: Headed on the metro to Le Louvre to view the sights. Saw L'Arc de Triomphe and walked through the Tuilleries gardens. Crossed through the ten-lane roundabout - the biggest intersection in Paris - and to the Champs-Elysee. Meandered through Gucci and Dolce & Gabanna (when in Paris, right?) and watched an Armistice Day parade with French soldiers. Walked down the Champs-Elysee whilst shopping a bit and saw L'Arc de la Defense at the end. Had lunch and headed toward La Notre Dame. LOVED the cathedral and sang some Hunchback of Notre Dame whilst there. Walked along Le Seine and through Left Bank seeing the area toward La Musee D'Orsay - a famous French art museum. Saw Van Gogh paintings and lots and lots of sculptures. Headed toward the Eiffel Tower and saw it lit up at night, including the flashing lights that go off for five minutes every hour on the hour left over from the Millennium. Had wonderful food in another petit restaurant and enjoyed true French wine. Saw the Eiffel Tower up close and personal and absolutely thought it was fabulous at night.
La Notre Dame

Friday: Headed to Versailles to visit the Chateau de Versailles. Ran into other Harlaxton students (twice) and enjoyed an audio tour of the Louis XIV and Marie-Antionette's castle, but got separated among the thousands of people from Kate and Ashley. Found each other again and headed toward Le Louvre. Explored the giant museum that took up more than just a glass pyramid (like I originally thought) and wandered through the Palais de Louvre realizing that we only had energy and patience to see specifically the famous art. We saw Venus de Milo, the Sphinx, Ramesees the II, and of course, the Mona Lisa. We were exhausted from our collective days of walking so we had an early evening back at the hostel.

Saturday: Our destination was the Cimitere de Pere Lachaise to visit the grave of Oscar Wilde at Kate's request (she's a creative writing major). We got a bit lost but eventually found the hundred acre cemetery only to be more lost once in. We found Oscar Wilde's grave and Kate was able to leave her kiss with it, as is the tradition. We then headed toward Monmarte, the Bohemian artist area with the destinations being Le Mulin Rouge and La Sacre Coeur cathedral. The area was really odd because it was full of tourist markets, but we found awesome prices for the things we wanted. The cathedral was incredible and a beautiful monument sitting atop a giant hill that overlooked the city. One of my favorites. Then headed back to the area around our hostel for some shopping and dinner. We ended up having sushi at a Japanese restaurant where no one spoke English. It was actually one of our best meals! We spent the evening (after dessert from a brasserie we passed) hanging in our hostel talking to the internationals that were also staying there; most specifically, dancers from Venezuela and Cameroon. We discussed the world and all of its differences and all that other intellectual stuff!
La Sacre Coeur

Sunday: Packed up and checked out of the hostel and headed back to the Eiffel Tower. Kate and I went up the Eiffel tower, me stopping at the second tier and she all the way to the top. The view was AMAZING and the rain let up enough during our weekend for me to get awesome pictures. It was definitely great, but the Eiffel Tower is at it's best at night completely lit-up. We headed back to the airport to head home afterward, reminiscing about the long weekend we had gone through.
A view from the Eiffel Tower

Overall, Paris was not at all what I expected. It was neither better or worse, it just was. The sights were awesome and so fun to see, but I'm not sure what else Paris had to offer? If I were to go back and not see any of the sights again, I'm not quite sure what I'd busy myself with! The Parisian people were extremely friendly, as long as you began your conversation in French. Good thing I knew enough elementary French I could begin the conversation and ask my question, or at least say, "parlez-vous anglais?" in which case, they usually did.

Paris was also full of disparity, espeically beneath and around the Eiffel tower. I've never encountered gypsies like I did this afternoon and so many immigrants without a real job. It was very bizarre to be around, especially so close to places like the Champs-Elysee. The French also have no sense of personal space and so metro travels were not always pleasant during rush-hour. My slight claustrophobia was never helped and I became very huffy toward people that pretended my presence was non-existent. But once again, I deeply appreciated the laid-back sense of the English and their posh-ness as I began to experience the French culture. The English accent has never been as welcomed by me as it was when I landed in East Midlands this evening!

I feel like to get a true sense of the city of Paris, a second trip will have to be made at some point, and definitely in the summertime. I don't feel like I can make a final decision toward my thoughts on the city simply based on this one experience. I definitely had a wonderful weekend and a great time with Ashley and Kate. We have wonderful collective stories and inside jokes from all our experiences together. We all went through tired, crabby and irritable moments, but what's a trip to Paris without the crankiness? We simply had to remind each other, hey, we're in Paris!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Guy Fawkes, WWII, and Solving the World's Problems

This week has absolutely flown by due to the amount of activity that filled it. I began my week with strenuous studying for the second big British Studies exam and did nothing but focus on that. Once Wednesday came around, the manor relaxed and rejoiced at 4pm when the exam finally finished. After the last exam, everyone had scurried off onto a long weekend of travels, but this time, everyone hung around the manor breathing calmly and doing nothing but socializing.

We had our celebrations by celebrating an early Guy Fawkes day (November 5th) that evening. We all went down to the sports field as an angry mob and threw our Guy Fawkes mannequin into the giant bonfire. We spent the evening watching the bonfire, making "s'mores" even though they don't exist in England, and hung out with one another with the ease of finishing the exam. It was a great night of socializing and represented the marking of our 2/3 of the way done with British Studies. The last few weeks have been the toughest academically because everyone has been crammed with presentations, term papers, tests and projects, but now, we've passed that time. This weekend has been full of nothing, and everyone has felt very odd about that.
All of the RAs with Lauren, our dean of students, in the middle at the bonfire.

Friday, we woke up early and all loaded the coaches for the drive down to London. It was our third and final field trip for British Studies, and it was very relaxed. Half of the students headed to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Sqaure, one of the most central areas of London. We had required viewings of particular paintings in the National Gallery, but we had already been tested on them, so there wasn't more information that needed to be learned. It was simply a free wander of seeing the "real deal" of what we had been talking about for so long. I especially liked the National Portrait Gallery best because it was less confusing and overwhelming. I really enjoyed looking at the portraits of Elizabeth I and Victoria. There's something about the women monarchs in England and their genius power....

After we were done there, we headed for a half hour long walk down the Strand, toward St. Paul's Cathedral. We were to meet up with our British Studies professor to have a guided tour of the place. We began in the crypt, learning about how the cathedral was built more as a political statement and not as an actual church. The church itself is the burial place for war heroes and political figures, such as Churchill and the Romantic poets. But the real interesting information began, I thought, under the dome and behind the altar. The dome was absolutely stunning and enormous. I thought Olympia's dome was pretty, but it is incomparable to St. Paul's. My professor lead us toward the back of the altar, spotted a table with a cloth covering, and uncovered. He had revealed two handwritten books of every single name of the American soldiers who had died on British ground during the second World War. It was all handwritten and signed by Eisenhower. It was absolutely fascinating and shocking that it was sitting unlabeled, on an bland table and covered by a cloth. We asked if it was something that was revealed on normal tours, and the answer was no. It was revealed to us simply because our professor is a historian, not a tour guide, and he's teaching Americans. He then lead us to the back of the altar to show us the dedication to the Americans after WWII. There was an inscription on the floor thanking the Americans, and every state flag was represented in the stain glass behind the altar. It was oddly amazing to me to see that.
St. Paul's from the Millennium Bridge.

The rest of the tour was spent climbing 234 stairs to the bottom of the dome to the whispering walls. It was really crazy to be up so high but still see the majority of the dome above you. You could also climb to the top of the dome and walk along the outside of it. I decided I wanted to sit on the ground level and look at the inside of the cathedral and save my heights for the Eiffel Tower next weekend. After the cathedral, I walked a bit to the Millennium Bridge to spot the Tower Bridge and see the ugly Thames river. In reality, I only wanted to go to that bridge because they filmed it in Harry Potter. But it was still cool! I then headed back to Trafalgar Square to meet up with Kate and Ashley (Rebekah was with me) for dinner. We went to a nice Italian restaurant and rested considering we had been walking nonstop all day.
A picture of the inside of the top of the dome I may have snuck...

That night, we went to see Stomp(!) in the West End. We had gotten decently priced tickets and had fabulous seats! We were in the second level (there were only two), front row middle and at eye level with the performers. It was an incredible show and we loved everyone minute of it. It was one of my favorite things I've seen. After the show, we headed toward a nearby pub to wait out the last hour or so before the coach arrived. Then we headed back to Harlaxton, arriving around 2am. It was quite a long evening.

Yesterday was spent being completely unproductive (because we've all finished our work!) and it was a bit of a bummer because we were originally supposed to spend the day with Matt in Stamford. It didn't work out, but that was okay. Today though, Ashley and I went to our meet-a-family's house for a traditional Sunday lunch and met two of their very close friends of 47 years. The food was absolutely delicious and filling. Along with Sunday lunch is the goal to drink more wine than water, which balanced out nicely with the amount of food we were eating. We started Yorkshire pudding, the continued on with a roast lamb (it was incredibly tasty) with mint sauce, roast potatoes, cooked carrots, cabbage, leeks in a cheese sauce, finishing with an apple pie with cream as the pudding. But don't forget your coffee and mint at the end (which usually follows fruit and cheese if it were a true dinner party). The whole lunch made Harlaxton Sunday roast dinners look, and taste, like a joke!
Just wanted to include Bob the Swan, our Harlaxton pet who died last weekend. He was seen wandering far way from his home a lot in the week prior to his death and I talked with him a bit during my RA rounds the weekend before. He always let us pet him and the lake doesn't look the same without him hanging out there.

Conversation around the table was great and constantly changing. We talked a lot about British Studies, old stories of Yorkshire (where the Beal's and their friends had grown up) and lots of random cultural things, especially since Cath and Brian (Ray and Pat's friends) had not had as much experience with the American (and Bahamian) college students like the Beal's had. But the dinner table got very interesting when we began to discuss global warming, which I'm currently studying in Environmental Studies, which lead to a lot of political talk. It was great to have the older views on politics as compared to Ashley's and my younger view. The four older adults decided that Ashley and I were destined to changing the world, and Ashley and I decided that we need to spend time with older, English adults to boost our confidence more often!

It was an overall great afternoon and Ashley and I are feeling very fortunate of our meet-a-family pairing. Next week Ray and Pat are taking us to a nearby town, Newark, to see something more pretty and historically interesting than Grantham. It should be another great visit with them. But before that, we head to Paris with Kate for 4 days of jam-packed sight-seeing! And lots and lots of cheese...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween and Stuff

It's been awhile since I last updated my blog, but things here haven't been too exciting. Two weekends ago, I had RA duty for the entire weekend and couldn't leave the manor. My time was spent researching and writing a term paper for British Studies and watching movies with a few people around the manor in my downtime. It was a pretty boring weekend, but I was glad to catch up on all of my studies.
My RA educational board on Dreams in my hallway.

This last week flew by, but also without anything too exciting. I had dinner with my meet-a-family, the Beal's again this week for the first time in a month. It was great to see them again and hear about their travels to Cyprus. This time, their granddaughter was visiting because she was on half term break. She is about 9 years old and very sassy. She was really intrigued with our conversations and asked a lot of questions about the states. We had a really yummy dinner of traditional English foods (that I've forgotten what they're called now) and had trifle in the most traditionally English way Pat could make it for pudding. It was all so tasty; especially after a weekend of refectory food! We are seeing the Beal's again for this Sunday's lunch (a BIG traditional English meal) and may possibly meet their son and daughter-in-law. In a couple of weeks they're going to take us to a nearby town, Newark, for the afternoon to experience something a little more pretty and exciting than Grantham....It should be fun!
My friends Jake (blue) and Mikey (silver) in their new morph-suits they've been tormenting people with around the manor!

The rest of the week was very normal in school-work and hanging around the manor with people. We've started to arrive in that Culture Shock phase of being super comfortable with your surroundings and wanting to branch out and be with people more than just in your little group. I've been spending time with a wide range of people, and it's been great. I hung out at the manor on Thursday night with people and went into town on Friday with Ashley. We had a great time exploring Grantham a little more than usual in search for stores that could supply us with our costume needs for Halloween! We were heading up north to visit Matt for his birthday/Halloween and needed our costumes to look great! Surprisingly, we found everything we needed in Grantham and so I spent my Friday evening being crafty and putting together my costume.

Saturday morning, Pete, Matt's younger brother, picked us up from the manor and we headed off to Sheffield. It was only about an hour and a half drive so it was fun chatting with Pete and getting to know him a bit better. Once we arrived in Sheffield, our directions went off the map and we simply drove in the direction that "felt right". Sheffield is a large, industrial city (that we so conveniently had been learning about in British Studies) with really bizarre road structures. We passed Matt's uni and simply happened across his house. We never actually got lost and found it in good time! We arrived with the whole day to spare and quickly began to catch up. But the first thing we did, of course, was drink some tea.
Ashley, Pete, and I wearing some of Matt's hats we discovered.

Matt lives in a house with 5 other boys who were all really tall. It was kind of odd...But they have a great system of sharing all of their groceries and dishes so that they rotate a schedule for cooking dinner each night. It was a fabulous system because apparently all of the boys are good cooks! That night we were there we had a delicious roast chicken and potatoes. Their only downfall is that no one cleans, so the house was a bit of a mess. Ashley, Pete, and I all met the housemates as the morning went on and were always introduced as the American and the Bahamian. Lots of conversations ensued from that point on.
Ashley and Matt in the gardens where we picnicked.

We spent our day looking around Sheffield and such. We went out into the peak district to see the area as well. It was a beautiful day (as it always seems to be when we travel!!!) and the area around Sheffield is gorgeous. We had lunch in one of the gardens near the university which was also very pretty. We explored some of the university district and the neighborhoods around Matt. In an odd kind of way, the university atmosphere reminded me a lot of UW. But maybe the only similarities were lots and lots of hills and cool college type shops. Otherwise it was pretty English.
Pete, Johnny, me and Ashley downtown Sheffield.

We also explored downtown of Sheffield, which was surprisingly pretty and cool. Another of Matt's friends from home came over from Leeds to visit for the weekend, so he joined our group as well. We headed back to Matt's house for that roast chicken and potatoes dinner and in time to get ready for Matt's birthday party. He was sharing his party with another girl who lived in the same housing area as him and their theme was "Not our Generation". I went as a 1960's hippie and Ashley as Slash from Gun's and Roses (because they have the same hair, apparently). Matt decided he wanted to be very old, and walked around with a walker the entire evening. It was pretty ridiculous.
Slash and Willow the hippie.

The next morning we celebrated Matt's actual birthday and hung out for awhile. We had gained an extra hour of sleep (a week earlier than the states!) but still had to head out in the early afternoon to get our work done for the week. It had been a great weekend of catching up and seeing Matt's school life that isn't UE. It was great to meet his friends and put faces to names. We came back to the manor and jumped right back into getting work done. We have our second British Studies exam tomorrow so I've been studiously working on that. Afterward, we're having an early celebrations of Guy Fawkes day at the manor which should be a lot of fun. Friday morning we head out to London for a British Studies field trip and more Guy Fawkes day events. Saturday, Ashley and I are going to hang out with Matt again for the day because he's visiting home for the weekend. Sunday we have our afternoon lunch with the Beal's.

Basically, now that it's November, I have something to do every single day! We're cramming in events, work, and travels as our last 5 weeks here nears. Hopefully I'll be able to keep up with everything!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Campus" Life

I really felt compelled to write again, even I wrote a new post just a couple days ago. But I've had some great experiences in the last two days that I wanted to share! Yesterday, all of the students had another British Studies field trip (our first was to the city of Lincoln) but it was a very obscure one. Half of the students went to the Southwell Workhouse (more on that later) and the other half stayed behind to tour Harlaxton. It was very bizarre to tour the place we are living in, but also so much more interesting! We are currently in the Victorian era of British Studies (so in the area of the 1830's-1905) which is when Harlaxton was built. We went around to four different sections of the manor to hear each of the British Studies professors talk about different things. The theme of the tour was how the manor was built structurally for the organization of the classes.
One of the 3 chandeliers in the Long Gallery

We began our tour in the State rooms (which include the State Dinning Room, the Long Gallery, the Great Hall and the Gold Room) where the architecture was discussed. Gregory Gregory was the one who built the manor for himself (he had no family) and had two distinct designers. We were then lead to the Blue Corridor, up the Cedar Staircase, to the guest rooms. The manor was designed to split the halls and rooms into gender division. The Victorians were obsessed with paradoxical morals and never wanted the genders to mix. One of the professors pointed out the set of "Bachelor Rooms" where the single men were housed as guests. We also got to see the hidden staircase from the Butler's room in the basement to the two upper floors. (I may have already discovered that and taken it once before...). Exploring all of these areas lead us to the 400 corridor (where I live) and the "servant's area" of the house. The tour became absolutely fascinating to me to imagine a house for a 5-person family and their guests, supported by at least 30 servants that could never be seen or heard. We toured the library corridor which was once the kitchen and the stone corridor that was architecturally plain with high windows so the servants could never been seen or see the upper class. So many new hidden pathways and staircases were revealed to me which was so cool! It was so bizarre to imagine life as it was when the manor was first built, and not as a college house as it is now.
The ceiling of the Ante Room

After that tour, I headed to the Southwell Workhouse, which was a poor house first created in the early 1800's. Because the Poor Law created by Elizabeth I in the 1600's could no longer support the over-population due to the industrialization in England, they created a place called the workhouse. The Victorian belief was that you were poor due to your laziness and your lack of morals. The workhouse was open to you to provide you with food, shelter, and clothing, in exchange for menial, and meaningless work. This work was thought to force hard work and discipline, as well as morality, into you. If you worked hard, it was easy for you to get outside work, and your family could leave.
The top floor of the Cedar Staircase

The catch with the workhouses was that families were separated. Again, genders were divided, living in separate sections of the house, and children were kept in their own quarters. Even couples who had been married for 20 years could not be seen together. There were so many downsides to this structure, but it did get paupers out on their feet again. The workhouse was rather creepy to tour (it didn't help that it was thundering outside) and I still don't know who I feel about the whole concept. But it has made me intrigued over the social justice issues of the time period.
The conservatory

Anyway, I found the field trip overall fascinating because it was like seeing the manor for the first time again. It made me appreciate the rooms within the manor more and it's fun to think about the amount of history that walked the same staircases and corridors as I do now. On a lighter note, tonight was the talent show that I participated in with Ashley and Kate. I accompanied the two on the piano as they, ironically, sang "Ebony and Ivory". Their costumes were fabulous and the audience loved them. They were hilarious! It went over so well that we won second place for the competition! (Our first place winners were tough competition - it's hard to compete with two boys who sang a song about "Pumpkins of the Night" with costumes and lighting). It was great fun and I've been feeling very sociable this week! Tomorrow I'm having lunch with the new UE president as he visits Harlaxton for a few days! I somehow seem to be participating in everything!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Black Sheep and Peter Rabbit

The view of the Ambleside area and Lake Windemere

This last weekend, I went with the school 4 hours north of Grantham to the Lake District. We left Thursday night, hopped on the coach and drove north. It was the first school trip I had gone on since London in September and it was amazing how relaxing it was. I didn't have to worry about anything! There was a decent sized number of us on the trip so it was a lot of fun to travel with people I was friends with, but didn't necessarily hang out with around the manor. We arrived at our hostel, which was directly on Lake Windemere, late Thursday evening. I roomed with 6 other girls, but got the one single bed in the room (whoo!). The hostel was giant yet all of the girls from Harlaxton were in one corner of the hostel, which made the weekend's bonding even more easy!

Our hostel on the lake.
Friday morning I bought a ferry ticket to the nearest town, Bowness (we were staying in Ambleside) with Ashley, Jake, and our friend Lauren, to see the Beatrix Potter attraction! Beatrix Potter had based all of her stories in the Lake District so Peter Rabbit memorabilia could be found everywhere. We went through the attraction, reminiscing over the characters we remembered best, and being the only ones there who were older than 4 and younger than 30. I still found it absolutely fascinating to read about Beatrix Potter and her life, as well as the people she wrote her stories for. It was a well spent morning! We also explored the quaint town of Bowness that was very obviously a tourist attraction. We went to a tea room for tea and scones. It was absolutely delicious and relaxing.

We headed back to the hostel to change into some hiking gear to trek the "mountains". Surrounding all the lakes in the district were beautiful, what I would call, hills that made for great hikes. The four of us were joined by our new friends Sam and Jessica, and half-way up the hill, Karen and Christi. We had an awesome time hiking on the public footpaths through sheep pastures, viewing all the black sheep (I've never seen so many sheep in my life!) and gorgeous sights! We reached the top within an hour and a half and have an incredible view of Lake Windemere and the surrounding area. We felt quite proud of ourselves for finding the trail and making it to the top! It was wonderful.
My hiking group: Karen, Ashley, Jessica, Christi, Sam, Lauren, and Jake.
Jessica, Lauren, Me, Ashely, Christi, and Karen at the top!

That evening, after dinner with my hiking group in the town center of Ambleside, I hung out in the manor (too exhausted to even think about doing anything else!) and chatted with a lot of girls from Harlaxton that I've never gotten the chance to know. We had a great time just getting to know each other! The girls were all mainly from Western Kentucky University (the next biggest school fed into Harlaxton) so it was great to hear about something different to UE and even when it's so near!

Saturday morning came quickly after a very deep sleep and was full of our outdoor activities! I had signed up for "Ghyll Scrambling" provided by a company in Langdale, about a half hour away from Ambleside. The other options were mountain hiking, kayaking, and rock climbing. All sounded very appealing to me, but I knew I could do the other things at home, so I took the opportunity to try something I had never heard of! About 20 of us from the group had signed up for the activity, so they broke us into 3 teams. My team consisted of all girls, and girls that I was friends with, but not great friends with. We put on our gear, harnesses and helmets, and headed out with our guide, Ian.

Ghyll, our guide told us, is a Norse word for "mountain stream" so, in essence, ghyll scrambling meant that we were to be hiking through a mountain stream and rock climbing up waterfalls. We began our adventure straight away by hopping into the stream, completely soaking our shoes through! We were all prepared in wearing boots and various waterproof attire, but it was obvious once we began that there would be no stopping our getting wet. Our guide was awesome and our group worked incredibly together! We were all at the same fitness level and naturally encouraged one another. We had an absolutely blast and constantly were laughing. We all challenged each other in taking the harder routes, even if it was completely unnecessary! Our guide was great because he stopped every so often and took pictures of us. Check out the link below for all the amazing pictures!! Also, be sure to ask me later about more detail from the adventure; it was the most fun I've had since being here, and that's saying something!!!
I was being an ape over the shoulder-deep pool of water!

The afternoon, after finding feeling in my feet again, was spent with the girls from my team as well as couple others. We went to tea together (and more scones) and walked around the area for a bit. We began to realize that we all got along so well together and were amazed we never knew each other before! Everyone I spent my afternoon with all went to UE. We had a range of sophomores, juniors and seniors, but UE is not that big, so it still surprised us. We went to dinner together as well and a wine bar with live jazz. It was an absolutely wonderful evening with "the girls". Without this weekend's adventures, we probably would not have bonded as much as we had, so we were all thankful for the opportunities that arose for it! It is so awesome that we can all become friends this semester and continue to be when we return to UE in January.
At the lake in Keswick with a mixture of UE and WKU girls.

Sunday morning we left the hostel and drove to another nearby town Keswick (pronounced: Kez-ick). We walked around the area, exploring the "most beautiful" lake in the Lake District and had lunch at a cafe called Ginger and Pickles. Again, it was more time spent in the gorgeous area of the district and with people I was quickly getting to know and love! We made it back to the manor in really good time. For the first time in weeks, I wasn't bogged down with homework upon arrival so that was great. This week I have my floor event to look forward to, as well as the Variety Show in which I'm playing piano for people. This weekend I stay here at the manor for RA duty and will be studiously working on papers. Good thing not many people will be here to distract me! Time in this semester is quickly escaping me as we near the end of October!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Daily Half-Marathons

This last weekend, I adventured to Brussels, Belgium to visit Elizabeth, who is studying abroad there for the semester. I took the Eurostar train from London to Brussels which was very odd. I didn't want to think about the fact that I was on a train underwater while I was on the train, so I still don't even know exactly how it worked! It was a quick journey (2 hours) to the city and I arrived around dinner time in Brussels. Elizabeth had been working (she nanny's for a family in her neighborhood) so she wasn't able to meet me at the train station, but gave me directions to her apartment. It was very odd upon arriving because I realized I was in my first country where English was not the preferred language! Good thing I took enough French to know the basics of reading the signs and being able to ask simple questions! I made sure to also practicing saying "I speak French really badly!" just in case.

Elizabeth's apartment was very simple to get to and I got to take many forms of transportation to get there. The city was huge and had tons of things to look at. Elizabeth lives in an upper-end of Brussels so when I got off the tram, I was surrounded by high-end stores. I easily found her apartment and was greeted by one of her friends that also lives there. The apartment has a few rooms that are taken by people in her program. I hung out with her friend, Brielle, until Elizabeth returned home from nannying. That evening we spent hanging around her apartment, making dinner, and catching up! We had both finished an exhausting week so it was very relaxing.
Elizabeth and I in front of the historical arch I forgot the name of...

Elizabeth's roommate, Catherine, also had two friends visiting for the weekend, so the apartment was full starting Friday morning! Elizabeth had one last class to go to Friday morning so I hung with her roommate and friends. I felt much more American in the city than I had in England, simply because everyone was speaking French. One of the girls with us is studying in France (the other, in Prague) so she was much better at communicating than the rest of us. Elizabeth met up with us while we were out and we headed to lunch at an Irish pub, ironically. We spent the rest of the day exploring more shops and seeing parts of the city.

That evening, I met even more of Elizabeth's friends from her program in preparation for going out that night. Her program was hosting a party at a nearby club which was a lot of fun. It was cool to meet most of her friends of the semester and experience the night life in Brussels. It was a lot different than England! Our late evening turned into a very late morning the next day, so Saturday seemed very short. We ended up eating at a cafe in her neighborhood that lasted hours upon hours. It took the restaurant 40 minutes to take our order, and then an hour and a half to get us our food! We were absolutely starving and did not appreciate the lack of service. I had even ordered ever-so politely (Je vousdrais le London et le cafe, c'il vous plait) yet the waiters could not have cared less about us. It was extremely bizarre and most aggravating. The only upside was that when the food finally arrived, it was delicious. But I probably would have thought the same of McDonald's by that time!!
Elizabeth and I on the metro headed toward "Les You"

The rest of the day was spent exploring their neighborhood and all the eclectic shops and unique boutiques. I was quickly learning that Brussels is extremely expensive and was beginning to be very thankful for the prices in England. Elizabeth and I headed downtown later on to see some of the most historical sights (that I can no longer remember the names of...I was so brain dead from the week that I pretty much floated around all weekend long!) and sign her up for the big half-marathon that she was going to participate the next morning. That evening we went out to meet up with some of her friends again, but kept it an early evening due to her plans for the next morning.

So on Sunday, we woke up early and headed out to the beginning of the marathon! Elizabeth had always wanted to run a half-marathon and was so excited that her first would take place abroad. It was bad timing that it was happening the weekend I was visiting, but I didn't mind. I was excited to see her finish! I saw her off at the beginning under the historical arch, and then took the metro to the finish line. It was finishing in another historical place, Grand Place (you have to say it in the French accent even though it looks English), so I got the chance to look around the market and shops as well as the beautiful buildings. To pass the time, I watched the winners of the half-marathon and all the race's crazy happenings. It was pretty entertaining. However, Elizabeth's guesstimated finishing time came and went, and no sign of her. I began to panic about making my train but tried to wait patiently. Eventually, I gave up, knowing that I needed to head out to leave in order to make my train!
A monument on the walk to Grand Place

It was a mad rush getting back to the metro to get my things from Elizabeth's apartment. Luckily, we met up at the same time at her apartment. It ended up that people at the marathon had completely misdirected her in the opposite direction to collect her things and it took her over an hour(!) to locate her belongings! We ran to find a taxi to get us to the train station, and I ran through security and customs (well, I stopped at both to take care of them) and ran to the train. Although the Belgique people had not been very friendly toward me during the weekend, they were surprisingly very nice at the train station in my efforts to make the train. I arrived onto the train at 1:57 with the departure time being 1:59. I was dripping with sweat and wheezing. Elizabeth was not the only one to run the half-marathon that day.

It was definitely one of my most stressful moments, but I knew I would have one of those experiences while being here and so I'm extremely thankful it's over. Phew. The only other hitch to my day was that my train from London to Grantham broke down and so I was two hours later arriving than planned. But hey, it could have been much, much worse.
One of the main buildings in Grand Place

This week has been going on pretty normally for the most part, except for the extremely thick pressure of stress, homework, presentations, tests, and papers around the manor. I've kept mostly to myself this week for fear of the stress outbreaks amongst the rest of the student body. Today however, I head to the Lake District, 4 hours north of the stress and out into the most beautiful area of England! It should be quite the experience!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Country With My Name Everywhere

This last weekend was our first long weekend at Harlaxton. We finished classes on Wednesday with our first British Studies exam (two solid hours of essays) and then the weekend began! I left immediately after the exam, which I feel I did pretty well on, considering it covered 1600 years of history, and headed off to Ireland! I ended up sharing my travels with another Aaron from Harlaxton, even though it was completely unplanned. The timing of hitting the school shuttle, the train and the flight was a little off so we spent a lot of time hanging around the airport. We were flying to Dublin on RyanAir which is definitely not the most high-class airline. But as a traveling student, you take what you can get for really cheap! Luckily, Aaron and I managed to get in the front of the line before boarding the plane and got to choose nice seats. As the nice Irish lady behind me in line informed me, "This is RyanAir. You don't get assigned seats". It was literally a free-for-all rush to the plane to get the "good seats".

I arrived in Dublin roughly around 9:30pm on Wednesday and was greeted by Ian! (I left Aaron to meet up with the rest of his group who were arriving on the flight from London, five minutes later, rather than East Midlands like we had come). We headed to Jen's parents house where they have been living since Lazy F, in a Dublin suburb that I've already forgotten what it's called (it's hard when everything is in Irish!). I was greeted by Jen and quickly offered tea as we caught up for a bit. It was great to bring back the old Three Amigos from Lazy F!

[Side Note: I'm very aware of the fact that Ian and Jen will eventually read this blog post, so if you want to know the REAL story of my weekend, make sure to ask me about it later...

Just kidding! They were fabulous hosts all weekend!]
One of the mounds at Knowth

Thursday morning I was greeted by a traditional Irish fry cooked by the Englishman, Ian. The fry consisted of sausage, "white pudding" (whatever that is), mushrooms, tomatoes, a poached egg, some other things that I think I forgot, and toast, if you wanted it. It was a very delicious and filling meal! We then got ready to meet up with Jen and Ian's friends to head off north to a historical site of Irish tombs older than 5000 years! These mounds are older than Stonehenge and Jen and Ian had never seen them before. I was their excuse to do all of the touristy Irish things! We visited two of the main mounds, Knowth and Newgrange and explored the informative museum. The mounds themselves were pretty bizarre and kind of odd to explain. Basically, the people of the Neolithic Age built giant rings of stones and made them into large mounds as a burial place, or tomb for their people. We couldn't go in the first mound, Knowth, but in Newgrange we were able to walk inside. It had a claustrophobic-style entrance that lead into a large tomb area. It was very interesting, but hard to fathom how much history had taken place in such a weird structure. Fascinating!

Whilst at Newgrange, we enjoyed a delicious meal of home-cooked hot dogs from a backpack, courtesy of Jen and Ian's friends, on the top of one of the mounds. We also got to enjoy the view of the countryside from the top, which was very cool. The day also consisted of lots of paparazzi and photo shoots by Ian and Jen because of their new fancy-schmancy camera. This also meant that we had to pose for a lot of pictures, no matter how many takes it took!

That evening, Jen managed to get the three of us into an Irish Night show at the pub she used to work at. It is normally an expensive evening of dinner and the show so it was awesome that we got to see it for free! We watched Irish dancers, a tenor and a soprano, as well as a comedian. The whole show was great and I definitely enjoyed it a lot.

The next day, we headed into the city center, via the Luas (apparently it's Irish for "tram"), and met up with another one of Jen and Ian's friends. They showed me around Trinity College (where Jen went to school) which I found very fascinating. We checked out the Book of Kells - a VERY old Latin translation of the four gospels. I thought it was really neat to read about in the little museum and then to see. But I really loved the old library that was above it that was full, floor to high ceiling, of hundreds of years old books. We then explored more around the campus where I happened across giant male deer skeleton in one of the buildings that I think has been giving me nightmares....After visiting the college, we went to Dublin Castle, Temple Bar, The Dublin Spire (which was the most ridiculous tourist monument I've ever experienced), and viewed the city from a rooftop! We also had some adventures in the tourist shops, which are, of course, inescapable. We headed back to the house to enjoy another delicious meal with Jen's parents (food with the families here are so spoiling!) and relaxed the rest of the evening.
Me and the Leprechaun!
Our view of the city from a rooftop

Saturday morning, before I headed back to Harlaxton, we took a drive to see the scenic areas of Dublin. We went up one of the "mountains" to view the area and drove to the coast. I enjoyed learning about the Dublin suburbs (which are all Irish names so it took me forever to be able to pronounce them, let alone spell them) and seeing the different areas. We walked along a boardwalk area in Dun Loaghaire (spelled right??), which is pronounced, dun-leary, and I enjoyed an ice cream as we watched a lot of dog-walkers and an outdoor, by-the-sea, workout class. After that, it was time for me to go! So we said our goodbyes and I journeyed the "long" journey back to Harlaxton!

Since then, I've been glued to my desk chair with hours upon hours of studies and homework. I gave an AWESOME British Studies presentation on Monday (my professor said ALL presentations should be like mine!), took an Environmental Science exam yesterday, and have been drawing flowers and fish like there's no tomorrow. I still have a bit more to do, but all will be well because I leave for Brussels, Belgium tomorrow to visit Elizabeth! But before then, I'm off to Peterborough with the school to visit the "big" city in the area. So much to do in life!