Friday, June 5, 2009

Italy is not the end

Yes, this is late. I think I have postponed this update in hopes of never truly closing this chapter in my life. My routine while I was traveling was to not open the computer until I unpacked my backpack. This made me move pretty quickly. I couldn't wait to share with others what I had seen, experienced, and learned over the past three or four days. I broke this rule when I returned from Italy. The suitcase couldn't fly open fast enough. Filled to its maximum weight, I had carried the things that represented the last four months of my life. These things surround me in subtle ways now. After I returned from any trip, the last step was always a blog post. I never wrote a post about Italy. The never wanted to finish the last step.

The orange "Publish Post" button at the bottom of the screen equals "living without traveling every weekend, not pretending to be a
n extra in a Harry Potter movie, and facing the realities of life with responsibility." In some ways it feels like I was never in England. Jewell swept me right back up with no punishment for abandoning her for a semester. Some days she even tries to trick me into believing that I am the same person. No, I am not the same. Not today, not tomorrow. My experience abroad are now permanently part of me. Nothing can be undone or wished away, and for this I am grateful. Let me tell you the story of my favorite place, Italy.

It was a strange night. The departure instructions were lengthy as nearly every person had a unique itinerary for the last 10 days of the semester. Some were on their way home as soon as they marked the last period on their final British Studies exam and others had multiple weeks of travel ahead.

The hour was late and I was ready to leave the manor. It didn't matter that I will likely never make it back to that place again, I was tired and ready to go to Italy and more importantly, go home.

The coach pulled away from the manor in the early hours of the morning. By mid day were we in Venice, Italy. We were met by the rain as we ran quickly with luggage in hand over two bridges. There is a large bus station where several coaches pick up and drop off passengers. After this point there are no motor vehicles on land. Even emergency vehicles are boats! It was very strange. After spending fourth months dashing across streets and reading the pavement to know which way to look, it is very nice to just walk in the middle of the street.

We soon found out that Venice would be the most difficult city to navigate ever! You basically just have to follow these signs that get you to big land marks and then go from there.
Obviously, we did a lot of walking and wondering. I was amazed at the peaceful nature of Venice. Some say that this place is a bit touristy and whimsical, but I thought the canals were absolutely gorgeous.

On the second day we went to Murano, the glass island. There are several islands around Venice and you can take a water boat to them. This was one of the first days of the semester that it was actually warm. I just remember the warm sun and beautiful streets. The shops all had amazing glass. The artistry was amazing. We spent sometime watching some demonstrations, and, of course, I had to make a few purchases.

Venice was also the beginning of the gelato feast that lasted the duration of the Italy trip.
At first I limited myself, but then I just gave in and ate as much as I possible could! Who knows when I will go back? I someone kept saying that gelato was not as bad for you as ice cream, but I think I made up for that by eating so much!

Also, we did the traditional, touristy Venice things-gondala ride, San Marco, and the Rialto bridge. These two days were fun, but not rushed. What a nice feeling. I also got to hang out with a few more people than on my other trips. It was great to meet more people even this late in the semester (actually the semester was over!). We went to a piazza had some gelato, spritz (a local drink), and loved just enjoying Italy and each other.

We woke up early and drug our luggage back over the bridges to the bus station to meet the coach. A lovely ride through the Italian countryside began we day, and by afternoon we were in Tuscany (a region in Italy). I was most excited about going to Florence. I had heard of the huge markets, beautiful leather, amazing art, good food, and the list goes on.
The days in Florence were amazing, but honestly, a combination of rain and excess time lead to mediocre days. I think Florence needs to go on my Europe Trip II list. We did do some wonderful thing, though. I spent lots of time in the markets purchasing and looking at lots of nice things for my family and friends. The market is streets and streets long. Right off it, we found a wonderful gelato place with awesome flavors. We went multiple times a day and made friends with the woman who was always working there.

My favorite part of the Florence was the Accademia where Michelangelo's David sculpture is. It was amazing. I stood in awe of the detail as well as the massiveness of the statue. It was also amazing because we didn't have to pay to go into the museum since it was culture week! Sweet deal.

I also had some great food in Florence. Bronwyn, Ian (the courier for Italy trip 1), his daughter, Chuck (my professor) and his family, and the normal Monica, Lindsey, and Laurel group went to eat at a lovely restaurant. It was so fun! We had three courses, and there were all wonder
ful. I enjoyed it so much. We spent almost 3 hours eating and talking. I loved it.

Is there a more interesting and exciting place than Rome? I fell in love with the whole city of Rome. The combination of ancient ruins with the huge metropolitan vibe created a unique feeling that cannot be replicated. We found another amazing gelato place, this time with over 100 flavors! It goes without saying that we went here multiple times. The prices we reasonable as well. AND it was very close to my favorite ruin-the Pantheon. The Pantheon is a large dome that was built during Roman rule and still stands well preserved today. The first time we came upon it I was scared. It was so massive and nearly out of place with all the (relatively) new shops and restaurants. Somehow I became attracted to it, and couldn't help but return several times throughout the visit.

One morning we got up very early and went to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain.
You could hear the fountain from several blocks away. These places are usually very very busy, but not at 6:30 a.m.! It was an awesome feeling and I wished I had experienced more cities at that hour. We also made it to the Vatican City that day. What a crazy place! The museum was packed with people, but I did get an illegal picture of the Sistine Chapel.

We were moving the whole time, but still it was not rushed. I can truly say that I will return here again some day, hopefully with others who will enjoy it as much as me!

I could write pages about Rome, but I will spare you.

The beginning of the end...
We spent nearly four days in Rome and they were all wonderful. The city was amazing and I know that I would be coming home very soon.

We gathered in the late afternoon of the last day at the hotel. Chuck, Maria, Monica, Lindsey, Laurel and I had one last Italian meal and glass of prosecco. It was all very bittersweet. Of course, my mind was on my family and getting home, but I knew I would miss it all.

We went to the airport for a final session of "lets wait for hours in the airport." The flight was late and we didn't get to London until nearly 2:00 a.m. This was alright as again I had to wait for my flight from London to Chicago. It didn't leave until midmorning. I spent these hours repacking, trying to sleep, and just thinking about all the wonderful things I would do when I got home.

Although it felt like years, soon enough I was back on American soil. I had to rush through customs, check my bags again, and get on my flight to St. Louis. I had booked this in January and the airline had changed the time, but I didn't know until I got to the check-in counter! No worries. The shuttle from the International terminal to the American Airlines Terminal was so slow and I was afraid I would miss the flight, but I walked right on and took my seat. The flight attendants barely poured the Diet Dr. Pepper before it was time to exit. Since my flight was early, my family didn't even have to wait. I beat them to the airport! I used Nina's phone (friend/sorority sister from St. Louis) to call them and they were so surprised I was already in St. Louis. We met at the luggage claim. Luckily, all my bags had made it from Rome to St. Louis and they were under the weight limit! I was so excited to see my family. I didn't even know where to begin. I had talked to them a few times in Italy, but not as much as normal. Honestly, I didn't even recognize Mary Grace. She looked so big. We didn't even have to pay to park because we were only in the airport a few minutes. Dinner at Chili's and then a drive home. I was so tired, but I wanted to talk about Italy and home, the two biggest things on my mind.

My room was as I remember it. Everyone had cleaned just to make sure it looked good.

The days went on and I slowly got back on the right time zone and remembered what it is like to know so much about a place. It was nice to be able to not have to work so hard to understand everything.

So, here I am today, September 19th. Someday I wonder if I ever even went. Did I really do all that? Yes, I did. I can't say I loved it all. I can't say I do have regrets, but I can say that by taking this leap, I have set a tone for my life. There are no limits. I always generally thought this, but today and everyday since Harlaxton, I know it. I know nothing is too big or too crazy.

Thanks for following along. I will not be writing on this blog anymore since I can't run off to Italy or Germany or Ireland for the weekend. I hope to start a new blog soon, and I will post the link as soon as I set it up. For now you can read the Hilltop Monitor, William Jewell's student newspaper. I am the editor-in-chief, and I have a column on page two. I hope you read and enjoy!

So, I guess this is where I say "the end," but I am not going to. This is not the end for me. Everything I learned, felt, and discovered while I was abroad will always be with me. This is not the end.

Monday, May 18, 2009


What a strange bit of time the last few weeks have been. It seems like Harlaxton was so long ago. Today is May 19 and I have been in the United States for 17 days now! WOW! I haven't really had time to reflect. Hopefully I will begin printing out some photos and putting together a photo album and that will allow for me to revisit all my wonderful memories. Lately, I am having trouble deciding when to talk about my study abroad experience and when to just say that I did it. Not everyone is quite as excited as I am about all the things I saw and experienced, yet others want to know lots of details. Often it is clear whether they want to hear lots or just go on. It is odd to think that someday soon my trip to England won't be the most recent news (this makes me think that I will have to do something else wonderful and exotic to top this trip!).

Real life has definetly taken over all my time. I began my job with the Department of Conservation last Monday. There was lots of paperwork and introductions. Funny enough, each day I worked last week a different person that I know from another place came to my office to say hello. Each one worked in the complex that I do! There are several walking trails, ponds, and picnic tables which are a wonderful place to spend some time outdoors. This is the Department of Conservation after all! Mom, Mary Grace, and Rachel are going to come eat lunch with me soon I think! I worked over eight hours Monday - Wednesday last week at MDC and then made the drive back to Liberty on Thursday morning. It was a bit surreal to be back on I-70 with semi's on either side barrelling down the bumpy highway on my way back to the hill. I wasn't sure how to approach my return. I found it difficult to just walk around like I had never left. Without a doubt, I am not the same person that left that campus just last December; nonetheless, I don't look that much different, and it is only in my new even more ambitious outlook that someone would see a change. The fall seems only a few days away although I know I have months to prepare for my new position as Editor in Chief of the Hilltop Monitor and VPII of ZTA. Lately I am feeling anxious and ready to dive into it all. I think I need to pace myself. I think I maybe working on this for the rest of my life!

If you know me in real life (not just in cyberspace), you would know that I am not an animal lover. In fact I really dislike pets especially! Yes, your furry companions would not get much love from me. Despite this extreme dislike, my family was coerced into getting a dog this past December. This protested addition to my family most importantly proves that Mary Grace, my 12 year old sister, really has control of the family. For over two years Mary Grace has begged for a dog, so it was an inevitable occurrence (Rachel and I tried to put it off, but our combined powers are nothing compared to MG). I bring up this issue only to set the stage for an event that may define a greater change than any trip to Europe could initiate. I attended a pet parade on Saturday, May 9th. The mysterious, yet wonderful town of Jefferson City, Missouri hosts a pet parade once a year. Ironically, I had been a witness to the event at least one year previous to this year as I worked downtown many Saturdays and would see the chaos slowly prowl down the street. This year I would have a much different perspective. This year I was a participant! Yes, me, pet hater, walked along side hundreds of pets. They barked and pooped the whole time and their owners loved it all! I had to laugh at myself. This was really a downgrade. Only one week ago I had been in Europe and now I was braving the pet parade! I made it without too much trouble. Our dog Truman is growing on me, so naturally he was one of the cutest dogs there. Here are some photos and a video of the big day! Enjoy :)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Home again!

I am happy to report that this blog comes to you from the futon in my bedroom in Jefferson City, Missouri in the United States. This is a really long way of saying that I am home! Since you last heard I have done so much. I could write thousands of words and never truly explain all that has happened in the past three weeks. So, in true "Jessie Newman fashion" (this would be well organized and methodical) first an update on the end of semester is in order and then another post about my wonderful trip to Italy will follow.

In the last few weeks at Harlaxton I spent lots of time preparing to leave, but the preparations reach much farther beyond packing my suit case and selling back my textbooks. As April 23 (my departure date from the manor) quickly approached I found myself out of my room more than ever. I wanted to spend as much time as I possibly could around wonderful Harlaxton Manor and with the great people who made it a home. Emotions of excitement always overpowered the underlying twinges of sadness. This place was finally familiar. These people were finally something beyond a friendly face. I miss it all.

The last day of classes, April 16, was not nearly as triumphant as a traditional college semester. The excitement of home was especially controlling that day, and May 2nd (my return date) still seemed like an eternity. Luckily, it turned out to be a wonderful day. It began with a graduation ceremony at the local Harlaxton Village Church. The last time I had been to this place was the first weekend when I attended a welcome service. It was as if I stepped back about 4 months because nothing had changed. The 900 year old church building was still cold despite the 140 students that were packed into the congregation. The service was quick, and Dr. Kingsley gave a lovely message that included his trademark speech-giving tactic: repetition! I received my certificate, and it marked one of the many beginnings to an end. A reception back at Harlaxton in the Great Hall followed, and eventually dinner was served in the Long Gallery. The reception was a gift of laughter and picture taking fun that was much needed. Some of my favorite pictures were taken as all of Harlaxton scrambled to snap a few last shots with the people that had become their stand-in-family. These are some fabulous friends from my Marketing class and our professor, Chuck. He is one of nicest people I have ever met.
Dinner was surprisingly good (much better than normal refectory food)! Dr. Kingsley gave a short presentation that included student awards and recognized the amazing faculty.
The evening ended with a super fun party in the Bistro. It was a graffiti party! Sounds illegal, but it was really just a shirt signing time. Lots of people came and it was the best way to end what was a wonderful night, day, and semester.

Friday was all about the catch up. I caught up on sleep, studying, and real life. I began my day at 6 am to register for classes next fall. Normally we would register at midnight, but since I was six hours ahead I had to register at 6 am. The rest of the day included short tours of the clock tower and the railway. This is me on the balcony of the clock tower at Harlaxton.
Did you know that Harlaxton has a rail way system? Basically it is important because it is on the ground level. When deliveries came to the manor (a long time ago) they would be taken to the railway tunnel and then through to the correct places in the house. This was unique and it is one of the best preserved in England. Another interesting fact is that there are bats that live in the tunnel. One of the these bats is endangered, so it is illegal to disturb the bat while it is in hibernation. You are forbidden from going into the tunnel until the bat leaves! The bat really rules the manor.

Saturday was the beginning of finals we at Harlaxton. Since when do you have finals on a Saturday? Shakespeare was first on the list, and Sunday brought a Marketing final. Both were doable and I am pretty sure I aced them (grades aren't in yet, so I can't be 100% sure). It always feels good to finish up a class knowing you did well and that it is over.
On Sunday after my marketing exam some of the other girls in my class and I took pictures around the manor. It was a gorgeous day! That day was wonderful-good friends and good weather.

Monday and Tuesday we filled with going to the gym (which I did every day I didn't travel in April-a gold star for me!), packing, and studying for the ominous British Studies final on Wednesday. These days were strange in that I didn't have any set schedule. That nearly never happens in my life. I can't say I like it honestly. I was actually happy to see Wednesday morning come. The final was as I expected. The biggest challenge for this test was the endurance factor. It was three hours long and included three essays. The Gold Room has always been my friend on these tests, and it came through again. I spent the full time given, three hours, on the exam. As I turned in my papers (I had filled up several), I looked around to see the other final students, but there were none. I was the last one finished. You can't say I didn't use all my time! British Studies provided me with a array of feelings. Often I was overwhelmed by the vast amount of information, frustrated by the small amount of assignments to make up the 6 credit hour class, and excited by the opportunity to prove myself.

Another semester down. When I go to the gym I have to find the halfway point because I need motivation to know that the end it near. I have hit the halfway point of my unde
rgraduate career. This is a bit of a large bit to swallow. I won't spend too much time thinking it over and wondering what the future holds because I don't have enough time for that, but I did take a minute to realize that I have come a long way since high school. Most exciting is that the road in front of me, the second half, looks prosperous and I am excited.

At this point my hours at Harlaxton were literally numbered. I left at 3 am on a coach. The manor was barely visible, but I knew it well. My mind filled in every bit that I couldn't make out, and I said good-bye to four months stand well outside of my regular life. They were special.

The next part of the story will come soon enough. Be prepared for some beautiful scenery, amazing food, and sun!

Real life update: I am unpacked and in the process of organizing everything from the past four months. Monday marks the first day of my summer job! I am working for the Missouri Department of Conservation in the Digital Communications area. This is exciting! I am sure I will have many stories and things to share about this new opportunity. Don't worry-the blog doesn't end even though I left Europe!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Just a few thoughts

Busy, homework, travels-none of the usual excuses even apply because I have just been neglecting my blog. I apologize deeply for not keeping all the avid readers up-to-date in a timely manner. I haven't traveled to any exciting, far off regions of Europe, so I suppose in my mind nothing I could write would top the other experiences I have had so far. Of course, the past few weeks have brought me as much joy and happiness as the first three months even without the travel.

April has brought a some wonderfully happy, memorable conversations, lots of random laughter, and several fun events. All these great, everyday moments can be attributed to my friends here at Harlaxton. It is so nice to write about my friends at Harlaxton. As many know, I came overseas knowing Laurel Harrold and we have travelled everywhere together, and I have loved it so much. I am so lucky and blessed to have had such a understanding and positive person as a travel companion, but I found it difficult to branch out and meet others. This month I has proven that I have accomplished this. This week I sat at lunch for about one and a half hours, not because the food was very good, but because I enjoyed talking to my friends so much. That was the first time I didn't eat and leave. It was so nice to laugh.

In the past few weeks I have been a ladybug at a costume ball, been filmed for a Harlaxton promotional video, taken a bike ride along the canal with friends, seen two live theater productions, and celebrated Easter. School is winding down (tomorrow is the last day of class), and I haven't had that much homework. This sounds so strange to write, but I am going to say it: I have had some free time. Often my life doesn't allow this much and I really can't remember the last time I could say that I had a few weeks of time that weren't jam packed with homework and other activities. The time has been filled with reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. The book made its way across the ocean with me, and I intended to read it while I was here. Little did I anticipate that I wouldn't get to it until the last two weeks of the semester. I am nearly half way done with the almost 1,000 page paperback, and so far I would recommend it to anyone. It may have special meaning in my eyes, as the setting is Medieval England, a time I have studied and a place I have come to dearly love.

As I mentioned, some of the activities that have filled up my empty time are theater-going and some fun around the Manor. Last Saturday I went to London (all by myself!) to visit the British Museum and see the matinee of Spring Awakening. First off, London was as packed as I have seen it. The British Museum was the busiest museum I have been in ever. Families were everywhere. In England and Europe, the Easter weekend is often a time for travel and vacation (or holiday, as they would say). Every major tourist destination is busy. In the British museum I tried to ignore the screaming children and make my way through the throngs of tourists to see the amazing objects. My favorite area was the Enlightenment Room. This housed lots of objects from a period of change and discovery. There were famous thinkers and scientists that were revolutionary for their time. The room itself is quite beautiful as well as it was a King's reading room at one time. After a few hours at the museum, I ventured on for a walk through London's streets. I have found that one of the best ways to discover a city is just to walk and look around, listen to the sounds, notice the people. So many times (I am so guilty), tourist just want to hit all the hot spots quickly, but there is something almost magical about getting to know an area through its people. I finished the walk at the Novello Theater just in time to collect my ticket, buy a program, and have a cup of tea at the cafe next door while reading up on the show history and cast.

Spring Awakening has murmured though the halls of Harlaxton as the musical to see. Many students have taken it in and loved it. I talked to several about their opinions and never heard a negative comment. After hearing the rave reactions, I had only one question, where should I sit? In most situations I would look at the ticket price that would determine my seat, but Spring Awakening offers a unique opportunity for audience members to sit on the stage. A few of the people I spoke with cautioned me against doing this for my first viewing as the view may be obstructed a bit, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to be that close to the actual cast.

On the stage, an actor or actress was always next to me just waiting to go on to the main part of the stage. I could see the spit fly out of the the actor's mouth as they enunciated every word! When the music gained speed and the volume grew, the stage shook and so did I. I was part of the show. What a great feeling to be so close to a production, yet it went on as if I was not even there. It was the most unique way I have ever seen a show in my life.

I have never seen such truthful, raw theater. The young actors and actresses who danced and sang upon that stage shared the questions and issues that young people faced. Laced with sadness and fear, the show creates a dynamic that is honest and music that has no limitations. Basically, it is one of those shows that keeps playing your mind long after you have left the theater. You ask yourself and others questions, and that is what good theater is.

Last night I had another theater experience that was memorable. I went to Nottingham to see the Royal Shakespeare Company on tour perform, The Tempest. The production was in collaboration with the Baxter Theater Company from South Africa. It was set in Africa which is not the normal setting for the show. The costumes of the spirits were reminiscent of The Lion King. It was obvious that the director and producer were looking to make a comment on the colonial overtones associated with the production. I am not sure where Shakespeare's actual text and play fits in with all these extra elements of the production, but it was entertaining! Visually, it was very appealing and I most enjoyed Ariel's portrayal. Between the traditional African masks, puppets, and music it was quite a production!

Tonight was the last outing for my Meet-a-Family. This is a British family that Harlaxton matched me up with to have simple dinners and outings. Their kindness and hospitality was so much appreciated. We went out to a family restaurant tonight and it was a nice ending to a wonderful aspect of my semester.

Before I sign off this post I want to give a bit of an update on my other life (the one that goes to school at William Jewell and calls Jefferson City her home). I have been offered and accepted the position of Editor-in-Chief of the Hilltop Monitor, the William Jewell campus newspaper. I a so excited to take this position. In the past semester, the Monitor has provided me with lots of wonderful experience, fun, and skills. I am looking forward to leading the whole staff for a year. I know that I can propel change if needed and provide support for other campus organizations. This is of course a big job, so I will need lots of prayers and support as I take on this challenge that has countless opportunities.

For the summer, I am so excited to live in Jefferson City in my own room with my family. So many of my friends from home have secured jobs in places all around the nation, and I am sad that I won't have them to provide a little fun in my life. On the other hand, I can't wait to live at home no matter if they aren't there! I am working at the Missouri Department of Conservation with the Outreach Program in the Digital Communications shop. I will continue to blog throughout the summer, so you will be updated.

Everything seems to be withering away, but I can't let my guard down quite yet. I have three finals and an eight day trip to Italy!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Munich and Since

Bavaria. What comes to mind? sausages, pretzels, BMW, castles, churches, lederhosen...maybe even the Olympics? I hadn't thought much about the culture of Germany (bavaria in particular) before venturing off for the second long weekend of the semester to Munich. Laurel and I did and saw so much that I can't possibly share it all, but I will highlight some of my favorite moments.

Munich is a beautiful city with character that permeates everything from the buildings to the food and especially the people. Marienplatz, the city center is overpowered by Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). This foreboding, somewhat overpowering, neo-Gothic style building houses the world-famous glockenspiel that plays a fifteen minute carillon depicting a wedding between the Duke of Wilhelm V to Renate von Lothringen in 1568 as well as the Coopers' Dance, a medieval dance performed in 1517 to avert the plague.
On Friday, we joined the hundreds of spectators who gather underneath the glockenspiel perched
high above on the facade of the Neues Rathaus to view this iconic show. Don't get too excited. The first five minutes only feature a chorus of the 43 bells while the remaining ten minutes are repetitive and lack the excitement the crowd waits for. It is definitely "one of those" tourist must-sees that probably will be a bit of a disappointment. Oh well, you take a picture and move on to the next hopefully, more fulfilling site.

If you are wanting to see to high points of the city and you are in between meals (food literally is a site in of itself), the next place you will most likely head is to a church. Munich is chalk full of churches of grandiose style and importance. We went to Asamkirche, Burrgersaalkirche, Frauenkirche, Peterskirche and Michaelskirche (did you deduce that "kirche" German for church?). All of these churches are near the city center and each is unique.
My favorite was Asamkirche because of its incredible rococo style and detail. I am also amazed by the story behind this church. The architects, brothers Agid and Cosmas Asam (the church is named after them), built the brilliant building as their private chapel right next to their home, but eventually gave it to the citizens of Munich even though the brothers footed the very large bill.
No surface is left undecorated. I was surprised by the small size of the "chapel" while being overwhelmed with the ceiling fresco and walls dripping with gold. The impressiveness of the rococo style featured in Asamkirche captures the lavish, unrestraint nature of the builders. The other churches we visited were all impressive as well Frauenkirche is home to the twin onion-domed spires which have becom
e an icon of Munich.

Munich also has a wonderful museum scene. There are too many to take in on one trip, but I visited the Deutsches Museum (German Museum), Alte Pinakothek (Old Picture Gallery), and the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Bavarian National Museum). They all had large, interesting collections. The Deutsches Museum was a unique place as it housed amazing scientific and technological exhibits. There were several kids visiting, and I can see why!
The presentation of dry topics such as the making of paper and glass are displayed and explained in fascinating ways. I saw a V8 engine, turbo jet engine, and a 19th century sailing ship. There are several do-it-yourself experiments and stations. Basically, the science-guru and the art and literature person can find lots to learn within these walls. The Alte Pinakothek was one of my favorite art galleries thus far. The museum is organized by country and period so it makes contextualizing the work easier (especially since every sign and caption is in German!). I especially enjoyed the very large collection of Peter Paul Ruben works. His works are have movement and are fluid as well as colorful and fascinating. You could spend a lot of hours with his works. I found myself getting lost
in the painting and asking lots of unanswerable questions. I love to wonder and let myself lose myself in the unknown, even if just for awhile.

One of the most influential reasons for going to Munich was to see Neuschwanstein Castle. I had heard this was the castle to see in Europe. King Ludwig II had built a masterpiece in the mountains that was literally fit for a fairy tail as it is the inspiration for the Cinderella Castle in Disney World. The castle is located just outside of Fussen, Germany in the Bavarian Alps. To get to Neuschwanstein from Munich there is a two-hour train ride, a bus ride, and then a thirty minute walk! This trek was not for the fair weather traveler, but it is so worth the time.

You can purchase a train ticket that covers up to five people's journey and this is much cheaper than individual tickets. Since just Laurel and I were traveling together it would still be a little pricey. Luckily we met two girls, Chen and Vivian, in our hostel who want to go on the same day, and we decided to travel together and split the ticket. These girls were from China, attended college in Shanghai, and were exchange students in Sweden for the year!
Chen and Vivian were so nice and we had such a great time discussing the differences in our study abroad programs as well as our homes as neither of us had been to the other's home. I was so surprised to find out that they had never driven a car! I loved meeting them (yeah for hostels and meeting people from all around the world!).

Ok, back to the castle. Once we finally got there, we were greeted with a traveler's best gift: good weather. Not just good weather, but beautiful, breathtaking weather. We toured the castle and took lots of picture. The interior of the castle was interesting because it is completely dedicated to the operas of Wagner. King Ludwig loved Wagner's operas and every room has paintings and sculptures from his operas. It was so interesting to learn that the castle was never complete. The second floor is not finished because King Ludwig II died before the castle was complete and the construction and interior decoration ceased. Even more amazing, were the surroundings. Pinned up upon a rich blue sky, dolloped with white fluffy clouds, the mountains were indescribable.
While standing among such a phenomenal visual representation of God's creation on this earth, I felt liberated and happy. It felt great to feel truly happy to be there, breathing the air and feeling the warmth. The pictures are wonderful, but my memories of this day are everlasting impressions in my mind of a place that is another world away which I
was blessed enough to visit.

Another very important trip we made that was a 25 minute subway ride outside of Munich was to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. I can only begin by saying that I am so happy I went to this place, stood on the grounds, and allowed myself to begin to process such atrocities. This place is not scary or frightening; instead, it is truthful. I began by walking in the front iron gates which read, "Arbeit macht Frei," or 'work makes freedom.' What a way to be greeted. This lie and many others lead to devastation that is much larger than my intelligence can comprehend. The actual barracks that housed the prisoners have been leveled and the only original structures that remain are the maintenance house and the crematorium. Filled with more information than one brain can retain, the old maintenance house provides a much needed background on the rise of the Nazi part and the propaganda as well as lots of information regard the use of Dachau specifically.
I won't reel of all the facts I found surprising because this would only solidify the horror that is alive within a concentration camp. After the museum, I stepped out onto the gravel and saw a lot of emptiness. The space that was once filled with over 206,000 prisoners during its 12 year operation is now empty. This emptiness signify their release from a life of fear, but it is also a blunt reminder of the 32,000 people who died on those grounds. Their bodies were burned in the crematorium that occupies a corner of the camp. Only their ashes remain, now in a grave marked with the phrase "Grave of Thousands Unknown." I live in Jefferson City, MO, a town with a population of 39,000. Within the 12 years this concentration camp was in operation, the whole population of Jefferson City, MO would have been imprisoned about 5 1/4 times and 82% of the 39,000 people would be dead.

I found it very important to realize that Germany allows visitors to learn about t
heir darkest days in detail. This memorial is open to all without charge.
"Never again" is clearly written in five languages underneath the memorial. So much can be learned from places like Dachau, but how much is changed is determined by individuals. Let this example help humanity to learn the value of freedom and respect that must be given to every human with no qualifier.

Such a heavy topic required quite the meal to follow. Bavaria is undoubtedly known for its food and drink. If the annual Oktoberfest isn't enough to prove their love of sociable eating and drinking, their beer halls are. The importance of sociable eating cannot be emphasized enough. They all love to crowd into traditional halls and have a good Bavarian meal complete with white sausage, potato salad, pretzels, and a Dunkel beer. We ate at the very touristy, yet so famous, Hofbrauhaus. Most people would say that didn't go to Munich unless you went to the Hofbrauhaus. I did enjoy my Bavarian meatloaf (which is like a thick piece of bologna), potato salad, pretzel, and beer. The next night we tried a more local and traditional hall, Weisses Brauhaus (they even have their own brew). It was a wonderful experience. These beer halls are packed full of people, so no one has room to move. You share a table so that every seat is full. We had a great time chatting with the people seated at our table. We met Lena and her boyfriend. They spoke pretty good English (so many times better than my German!). I loved talking to them! It was so fun. I would highly recommend checking out a few of these places if you ever get the chance to visit Munich.

After the day at Dachau, however, we decided to try something a little different. In Europe, Mexican food is not on every corner like at home. You must seek it out. This we did. I had read that Joe Pena's promises to be the best Tex-Mex in Munich (I don't think is too difficult to accomplish as I never saw another Tex-Mex joint in the city!).
They don't disappoint. I had wonderful chicken enchiladas that were amazing. This place was also packed to the gills! The people at our table laughed at how excited we were to eat our food. We explained our love of Mexican and they laughed lots more. I just don't think European people understand the wonders of Mexican. It was so great to have a taste of spice and a taste of home all in the same dish!

I think I should end on that note! What better way to tie up this post than with some Mexican.
Since Munich I have been busy working on classwork, going to the gym (I have been everyday this week!), and have a little bit of fun too. This week has gone by so fast. I look at the calendar multiple times per day, and I am always amazing to calculate that in 30 short days my plane will have landed and England will be an ocean away again. I am determined to make these days the best ones.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

London, Cadbury and Birmingham

At Harlaxton each student is required to take British Studies, a six credit-hour class that covers British history, politics, and culture. The first week began with the Roman invasion of 43 AD and we haven't looked back! Last week was a turning point in this class. We had an exam on Wednesday. This marked the end of the Victorian period for our class. Finally, we are in the 20th century! I am excited to cross this point because I have a contextual knowledge of the events that occurred in the 20th century. After all, I was born in that century! Last week was also a special one for British Studies because we took a field trip to London. The sun shone down all day and the tulips were in bloom. This is what Europe is supposed to be like! I enjoyed myself immensely. With about 150 students on the trip, we were split in to groups to explore the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and tour St. Paul's Cathedral. I began the day at the Nation Portrait Gallery. I had been to this gallery the first weekend in England,
but this experience was even better. There are several extremely recognizable works and it is especially amazing to look at them in person. I was excited to look at portraits and understand who is pictured, what they are doing, and what is going on in history. It is an amazing feeling to know something about art and not just wonder, "What going on here?" The ability to analyze art has been one of the greatest skills I have gained from this class. I especially enjoy the National Portrait Gallery because I am so fascinated by people and their lives. That may sound slightly strange, but I find it incredibly interesting to examine the lives of individuals and their experiences. You can learn a lot about people through their portraits.

The next stop was the National Gallery, an art gallery housed next door the National Portrait Gallery. The National Gallery is home to many famous works that span hundreds of years. Our British Studies professors had prepared a list of paintings that we should find as well as looking
at other of our favorite works. Most of the paintings that we found on suggestion from our professor had been discussed in class. I had such an understanding of the historical context of the painting, and the work became more that just "a nice, pretty painting." It was a very fulfilling trip to some wonderful art galleries.

Did I mention that these are FREE? Seriously, this is why we love London so much!

After a morning of art and culture, we leisurely walked down the London Strand, a street that is close to many of the famous London theatres, toward to St. Paul Cathedral. The Londoners seemed even more trendy and stylish as the sun warmed up the sometimes dreary city allowing an outer layer to be shed. Even though my old New Balance shoes and common cotton button-up didn't compete with the cutting edge looks of the locals, I still enjoyed snacking on my lunch upon the steps of the most gorgeous cathedral I have seen yet (and I have seen a lot of cathedrals!)

After a nice break in the sun, we entered into Christopher Wren's masterpiece,
St. Paul's Cathedral.
This was the first Protestant cathedral, and it was built to rival St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, a Catholic cathedral. Nothing was spared in the grandeur of this place. The dome is amazing. Dr. Bujak, my British Studies professor, explained during the tour that the cathedral does not have monarch or upper class people buried in it; instead, the common people who have contributed to society are honored. There are several war memorials and remembrances. In actuality, the cathedral has very little to do with God and more to do with representing the common people, especially those who have participated in war.

My favorite part of St. Paul's was ascending to the galleries. The whispering gallery is the first level of the dome. If you stand one side with a friend on the other you can whisper and talk to one another from across the dome! It does work (I tried it!). In the next gallery up you can go outside.
This was amazing. I am so happy that I got to see so much of London from such a great view. I saw the Tate Modern, the Millennium foot bridge, the Globe, and the London Eye all from atop St. Paul's.
As I have said several time, the weather was amazing, so my photos have lots of sun, of which I have been severely deprived.

After such a fun day I was sad to part with such a great group of people, but I had to make my way back to the Trafalgar Square to meet up with another group for an evening of fun.

Next stop was Abbey Road. I didn't know what this was (gasp!). Apparently, the Beatles had a very famous photo taken here in which they are crossing the street. I was expecting something to actually be there, but there was literally just a road with lots of cars. Tourist come from all over just to take a picture while they are crossing the road.
Cars must get awfully annoyed by all this craziness! Ironically, the cross walk was moved after the picture was taken, so there is no way to actually recreate the picture! I find that so funny that so many people go out of their way for only a photo. Of course we were one of those people. It was truly a stop in which you concluded by saying, "well, we've done that now!"

Back to the tube for a ride to dinner. Despite such a wonderful day of sun and good friends, the best part was yet to come. We saw WICKED! Yes, let me say it again. While I was in London I saw WICKED for the first time. This is a picture of the stage.
Before I get too much into the production, let me tell you about dinner because that was so good. We at close to the theatre at Wagamamas, a noodle bar. This is a chain that is well known, especially in London. It had lots of types of Oriental noodles. There is
ramen, udon, and kare noodles as well as dishes over rice. I had ginger chicken udon and it was awesome! Fairly cheap too :) It was a great start to a great night. After dinner we walk a block to the theater. I was nearly jumping up and down I was so excited to see this show.

We purchased these tickets about four weeks before the show. They were 20 pounds, which in London theatre pricing context that is cheap. We sat in the front section in row N on the left. Our view was very good! We could see everything on stage except our far left, and nothing really important happened back there anyway! This show was worth every penny and more. From the first note I had goosebumps. There voices were strong and their characters were perfect. I felt as if I were at a concert as well as a musical. My absolute favorite part was Defying Gravity. I was nearly in tears it was so good!!! The woman who played Elphaba was the the standby.
I think this is similar to an understudy although the program listed an understudy as well. I LOVED her performance. She was better than Idina Menzel, the woman on the original Broadway recording. If anyone out there ever goes to London, this is THE SHOW to see. I could go on for days describing the things I loved about the whole experience. I met a girl line to buy a program who said this was her eighth time seeing Wicked in London. She had every t-shirt they sold at the souvenir stand. People truly love this show.

After such an exhilarating day, what else could I possibly want to do? Cadbury Chocolate! After a long coach ride back to the manor and only four hours of sleep, I was back on the coach and off to Cadbury World and Birmingham just the next day. This was a school trip to the Cadbury factory and visitor's center. The whole exhibit explains the evolution of chocolate as well
as how Cadbury came to be formed. Don't be fooled, Cadbury chocolate is much more than just those creamy eggs. I really love their chocolate more than any other main stream chocolate I have had at home. The best thing I can compare the taste to is Dove Milk Chocolate. The Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate is so creamy and rich. They have several varieties. With a ticket to the somewhat cheesy exhibit you get two full size chocolate bars as well as one package of chocolate buttons and a curly worly! Additionally, at one point you get to choose from a variety of gummies, cereals and marshmallows to have warm liquid chocolate dumped on top!
It was so delicious!
I also got to write my name in chocolate on a marble slab!
After an extreme chocolate fix, the best way to finish up the day is to hit England's busiest shopping center, the Bullring (there were 36.5 million visitors in 2004!). I was so shocked at the amount of people in the center and around for a normal Saturday. One of my favorite British inventions is Primark. This is a clothing store that could be compared with Forever 21, but it is so much better since it is British! The store was absolutely jam packed from one end to the other. All the floors were filled with people. It was an experience just to see so many people doing a very common weekend activity: shopping. One swimsuit and three hours later, we left Birmingham (they don't completely pronounce the "ham." It is more like "um").

I was left with Sunday to recover from four straight weekends of travel and get control of the homework situation.

This coming weekend I am going to Munich, Germany. I will be gone from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening. I am sure I will have lots of great stories to tell from that trip. Munich will be my last big one until Italy (and you know what comes after that...)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lake District

Instead of conquering another big, European city, this weekend I ventured into a beautiful national park and loved it! In the northwestern part of England is the Lake District, a national park that welcomes over 12 million tourists a year and is only 1/4 the size of Yellowstone National Park. This place has something about it that can't quite be described, and can only be felt as you walk through its woods and take in the fresh air.

After dinner on Thursday, we boarded the coach and made drove the 6 hours to the Ambleside Youth Hostel, our home for the next three days. The accommodations were simple, but everything that we needed. Friday morning brought a nice cooked breakfast. Laurel and I decided on a walk to Grasmere for the day's activity. The hostel had information and maps on several walking/hiking paths around Ambleside. We left the hostel at about 9 am got to Grasmere around 11:30 am. It was about a 4 mile hike through some wooded areas and alongside beautifully still lakes. Everyone has scene a lake or stream before, but these lakes were so peaceful and calm. I walked right to the edge of the water and saw the stone, big and small, that made up the floor.
The crystal clear water was surrounded by the cloudy mist that made the edges of everything slightly fuzzy and hazy. The lakes were stunning and stood as a peace of nature that was untouched by
man's hurried creations. It was as if they were just shrugging off the world's stress and demonstrating a lifestyle that is perhaps a bit more fulfilling. In this case the journey became the important aspect of the trip. As you can tell this walk was more than just a walk, it was a cleansing.

Grasmere was quaint lakeside village with charm. There was an antique sale going and lots of outdoor shops. We first had to hit the famous spots, although there weren't that many! Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread was a shop that couldn't fit more than two in the door, yet they have been selling world famous gingerbread for years. I could walk by the wafting smell of spices without going in for a taste. The gingerbread was very cookie like and the outside was crumbly. I enjoyed it so much. The flavor was distinct, but in a good way. It was a cheap snack and I still have a piece left which I am saving for a day this week. The next must-do stop was William Wordsworth's grave. He loved the Lake
District and spent many years in his multiple homes in the area. His whole family is buried simply in the Grasmere Cemetery. There is a daffodil garden below the graves in honor of Wordsworth and his famous poem "Daffodil." After popping into a cute tea shop for a cup of herbal tea, we proceeded to explore the town and then Dove Cottage. This is one of Wordsworth's homes. He lived here with his sister.

On the way back to the hostel Laurel and I got a bit confused, and just when we decided that we were more than confused (perhaps lost!), we spotted Bronwyn, Matt, and Dr. Green, all of our trip couriers from Harlaxton. Bronwyn and Matt work in Student Affairs and Dr. Green teaches British Studies. They had been to Grasmere as well and were heading back to Ambleside. We had a wonderful time following them back to Ambleside.
I had an especially "Lake District-y" experience. As you must walk along the lakes, the paths tend to be muddy. I was looking to cross over a large portion of mud, when instead, I fell face-first into the mud! It was a really funny experience and I am glad that it at least happened in the Lake District, a place where so many people are getting dirty all the time with their outdoor activities! I stood up, and found that my pant legs and one arm was covered in mud, but everything else was fine! Matt, Bronwyn, Dr. Green, Laurel, and I stood there laughing at my fall for quite a while. We finished the hike at a pub. I had a half pint of cider. It was really fun to visit with everyone for a little bit before getting back into town. When we reached Ambleside, Laurel and I stopped at the grocery store for some ingredients for spaghetti and meat sauce. The hostel had a self-catering kitchen which was a nice change from going out every weekend and the refectory during the week days. I really loved just cooking a simple meal. Frozen raspberries were on the menu for dessert. So good!! We made lots so we even had left overs the next day for lunch.

The day ended with some good Tazo chai tea (thanks to the family for sending me that-I love that tea!) and reading. It was also fun to hear where everyone else had gone for the day. So many great stories and memories are made in the Lake District.

Saturday began with a slow start. Originally we were going to take the bus to Bowness, but the times didn't work with our schedule, so we stayed at the hostel and just read some more. I am happy that we didn't try to do too much in the morning because the afternoon required all the strength I had!

When in the Lake District we had the option of doing some outdoor activities. The options were kayaking, rock climbing, Mountain hiking, and ghyll scrambling. I decided to do ghyll scrambling. I didn't know what this was until someone told me, so don't feel bad if you don't know either. Ghyll is actually a local word for a stream or river. So ghyll scrambling is actually walking up a waterfall. At first you say, "why would someone want to do this?" Then you do it and find the rush of excitement and energy that comes when you can look down at a waterfall and know you walked up it! We began by splitting into groups of 6-8 people and putting on harnesses and helmets. Then we just got going by getting in the waterfall! The water was REALLY cold. I was freezing the whole time. We had to help each other the whole time. At one point the only way to get to the top was to hold on the person in front and back of you walk up the rushing water in a line. Twice our instructor just walked up a big fall without any ropes or anything! He was awesome! Then he would secure ropes through them down and we would just scale the waterfall. It was hard at times, and I am still really sore. The final waterfall was quite large and the water just poured right on top of you, yet you still had to get to the top. Since the activity was so wet, I didn't take my camera, so I have no pictures of this crazy activity I did! This all probably sounds crazy, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. The 3 hours we were trudging through ice cold water, rushing down the hill, which was as deep as I am tall in places, were some of the best hours of this semester.

I came off the hill numb and sopping wet. My shoes are still drying as I write this post! I changed clothes but didn't really regain complete feeling in my hands and feet for another hour. We got back to the hostel and ate a quick dinner and ran a mile into town (it was cold and our coats were still wet from ghyll scrambling, so we ran to keep warm and get there faster). The evening's activity was seeing "The Young Victoria," a new movie. I think it is a British movie so it may not be in the States. A few weeks ago we went to Belvoir Castle (only 10 minutes away from the manor) for a school field trip. A good portion of the movie was filmed in Belvoir Castle and there we lots of the movie costumes on display while we were there. I really loved this movie. It centered on a young Queen Victoria as she was choosing her husband and trying to get he reign off on the right foot. I was captivated by the historical aspect of it especially since I had learned about several of the historical figures in British Studies. I loved the costumes and the actress who played Queen Victoria was extremely well casted. It was such a great end to an day of adventure and fun.

Sunday was beautiful. The sun peaked its head out from all the clouds which had been concealing it all weekend. I spent time by the lake which was right outside our hostel's front door. We left mid-morning for Harlaxton and made a few stops along the way. Our lunch time stop, Keswick, had a pencil museum! There was a pencil factory as well.
We didn't pay to go in, but we did walk by the building. I had a cup of tea at a cute cafe as well as a few chocolate dipped strawberries! They were delicious!

Now I am back at the manor and realizing that my time at Harlaxton has gone so quickly. At first the time seemed to pass somewhat slowly, but now it has picked up speed and I am struggling to keep up with it all! I love talking to any and everyone from home, and I will be so excited to see "the cookie jar" as well as my family and friends, but it will be a bittersweet moment. It is not easy to leave such a life as I live now. I have four more weekends with travel opportunities. All my trips have been satisfying and I have seen and experienced so much. What a way to spend four month.