Monday, January 26, 2009

Coventry and Stratford

After a field trip to Lincoln, it was time to discover Shakespeare.  Dates and times are getting incredibly confused in my head because in British Studies we are about 300 years behind my Shakespeare class.  So fast-forward 300 years from yesterday's Cathedral and find yourself in Stratford peering into the life of Shakespeare.  On Saturday I boarded the coach once again (this is a weekly ritual by now) to make our way through Coventry and then to the prized destination: Stratford.  This was a school day trip and is required by my Shakespeare professor.  She is wonderful and I really enjoy going on trips with her.  She actually received her PhD in Stratford, so she knows the town well.  Before we went to discover Shakespeare we made a stop at Coventry.  

Coventry has nothing to do with Shakespeare.  Conveniently on the way to Stratford, Coventry is the site of bombed out cathedral ruins and the modern rebuilt cathedral.  We only spent an hour here, but it was enough time to feel the eeriness.  The ruins consist of the outside of the cathedral.  It is bare and stark.  What remains has moss growing and has become a lasting symbol of what war is capable.  The feeling that falls over the people roaming around the bare middle of the cathedral is one of despare and disbelief. The wind blows freely through the walls and it is another reminder of the loss and emptiness.  It was only yesterday that we visited beautiful Lincoln Cathedral.  The majesty of that building is amazing and it only
 further emphasizes the impact that the bombing of the Cathedral at Coventry has had on all who visit.  At one end there was a cross assembled from wooden rods and the words "Father Forgive Us" was on the wall behind.  This simple alter becomes for all of us a way to see the brokenness that characterizes humanity.  We can only live again through the Father's reconciliation.   
I think those people who lived and worshiped at Coventry understood this as well.  Although the ruins still stand, next door also stands a beautifully modern and dignified Cathedral.  

The new Cathedral is unlike any I have ever seen.  It has stained glass panels that capture a sense of peace and tranquility.  The structure is still majestic, but the feel is one of reconciliation.  Images of the old cathedral are prevalent.  There stands a cross made from nails saved from the old Cathedral and reconstructed stained glass also are on display.  

This part of the day was short, but the impact will last much longer. 

While eating our lunches on the coach, we departed for Stratford-Upon-Avon.  As I said earlier, this is Shakespeare's birthplace.  This a tourist site-the best of its kind.  As part of the school trip we were given a ticket for admittance into Shakespeare's Birthplace, his daughter's home, and his granddaughter's home.  We also went to the church in which he is buried.  The three properties we went to were all interesting, but semi began to mold together in my head.  All of them were very old and sparsely furnished and they each had gardens.  These were very touristy, but the houses did provide lots of contextual information about Shakespeare's life.  In between getting to these properties the girls that I walked around with and I went shopping.  There are tons of small specialty shops.  I bought truffles for my Meet-a-Family as a gift.  I even got to pick out the ones I wanted from the counter.  I enjoyed the day and it was nice not to be too rushed. 

This is me in one of the gardens we saw at the Shakespeare properties.

As dinner time approached, we decided that after the sack lunches from the refectory (cafeteria) we needed a good dinner.  Cafe Pasta to the rescue!  The pasta was excellent.  I had a gorgonzola and spinach penne dish.  It was wonderful.  The atmosphere was quite nice as well.  

After dinner it was time for the main point of the trip: the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Romeo and Juliet.  I didn't realize until we got to the theatre that the company was placing Romeo and Juliet in the 1940's.  The costumes and attitudes of the characters reflected that time.  Since it was the Royal Shakespeare Company, the dialogue was still Shakespeare's original words.  I was amazed at how much more I noticed with in the complex workings of the play as I watched the skilled actors.  Kim Harris, the theatre director at Jewell, always tells people that it is not the audience's fault if they can't understand Shakespeare; the understanding is completely the actor's responsibility.  The Royal Shakespeare Company truly followed this statement.  I understood so much.  It was a wonderful performance that brought a fresh perspective to a play that is over 400 years old!

Overall the day was wonderful.  I am happy to say that I have shown my love for Shakespeare by experiencing the place that takes his life to the max (everything is some how related to Shakespeare in Stratford)!  Although it was a good experience, I was very happy to see Harlaxton Manor even if it was at 1:00 am!  Needless to say, I slept in on Sunday and awoke to lots of homework and preparations for this week. The academic rigor is not compromised around here and one cannot take any time for granted.  Hence, I must conclude this post and study for some of my upcoming exams.  Good Night!

Saturday, January 24, 2009


British Studies, the cornerstone of a Harlaxton educations, brings together historical, cultural, and political aspects of Britain in one course.  We begin in 8000 BC and go on from there.  Obviously we don't have too much time to go into much depth on anything, but we cover lots.  In the four lectures and seminars that we have had we have actually discussed events that happened over 4,000 years! That is a lot to swallow.  We have a textbook and LOTS of secondary sources and you would never have time to read and comprehend it all, so we are encouraged to pick and choose those sources we find most important.  This can be difficult!  So much to choose from.  The course even has a booklet (written by the professors who teach it) that is 126 pages long.  The booklet is just to explain the basics of the course!  Despite all this, I am really loving British Studies.  I especially love this class because we can live what we learn.On Friday we traveled to Lincoln.  This has nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln is about 40 miles away from Harlaxton and it is a wonderful town.  With cobblestone roads, tea rooms, and cute shops galore, Lincoln has lots to offer.  I should add to the list a magnificent Cathedral and Castle as well.  The latter two are why our British Studies professors insist that we take a field trip to Lincoln.  

After a bit of a delay (our coaches were late), we venture into the rainy, cold morning.  Once exiting the coach it is very cold and very windy and very rainy!!  This makes for a miserable start to the day.  I am very glad that my first group is the Cathedral.  Even though the Cathedral is very cold, it is inside, out of the rain.  

On a trip to Washington D.C. with my family we went to the National Cathedral and that was my favorite part of the trip.  I loved the grandeur and majesty of the building.  I had never seen anything like that building.  I can remember it vividly-the stone columns, the huge stained glass windows, and the overall large scale.  It was amazing. I really had no idea that a land far away had even more buildings like this.  

In England there are lots of Cathedrals and they easily rival the National Cathedral.  First, England's Cathedrals are very old and were built to show the King's power and his connection to God.  The bigger the Cathedral, the better the King.  Here you can see some of the views from inside the Cathedral.  It was amazing. 

We learned some basics about the architecture and the different parts of the Cathedral and then we moved on to the next tour.  

Long time ago (50 AD!) the Romans invaded Britain and established a society here.  They lived here peacefully (well eventually it was peaceful) for about 400 years.  They they had some problems and had to pack up and go home.  In the years that they were here, the Romans left their mark.  In Lincoln you can see Roman ruins and understand a bit how the towns were set up.  This part of the day was very cold because we were outside the whole time!  Here is a Roman arch that was made about 1500 years ago! 

Did you know that the arches would be about 8-10 feet higher than they stand today?  This is because of the roads, powerlines, and water systems we have put in the ground.  We pilled 8-10 feet of stuff on the roads since the Romans were here.  That is pretty crazy!  

The last part of the day was a tour of the Lincoln Castle.  I was expecting to go to a castle like in Cinderella's Castle in Disney World, but this Castle is nothing like that!  Lincoln Castle was were the ruling King could look out over his land and watch for invaders.  The castle was on a large hill and had mounds around the edge.  There were also look out posts where one would watch for enemies.  If you were in the castle walls you were safe, but if you were outside you were at risk for attack.  The castles symbolized the strength of the King and his people.  Our tour pretty much stuck with the edge of the castle.  We walked up to look out posts and walked around the wall.  It was high up!  Here are some good pictures of the Cathedral from upon the Castle wall.  
This is the end of my day at Lincoln.  Overall, it was a great field trip because I saw so much of what I had been studying!  Today I am off to Coventry to see another Cathedral.  This time it is going to be a contemporary one though!  I am also going to Stratford.  This is where Shakespeare was born so that should be great!  I am seeing a production of Romeo and Juliet by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Check back for more on that!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

History is History Even Across the Ocean

As the afternoon turned to evening and England focused its eyes on the television, America was posed to mark another milestone in history.  Of course, I couldn't watch the ceremonies on American channels, so I tuned into the BBC with other members of the Harlaxton community ready to witness this event.  Our principal, Dr. Kingsley, had invited all to the Bistro (the eatery/bar area in the basement) for a big screen viewing.  It was so fascinating to listen to the commentators excitement for the inauguration.  BBC broadcasters couldn't stop talking about the crowds and how monumental this day would be.  Echos of John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were murmured as people compared this day with other outstanding inaugurations.  

Honestly, I wasn't even sure if the BBC would carry the event.  I thought it was possible, but it wasn't until I sat watching the energy of the British newscasters that I understood yesterday's global impact.  The broadcasters said there were people in attendance from all over the world.  This surprised me.  I may be a bit politically apathetic, but I always classified myself as competent enough in regard to politics.  I had little understanding of the way that the rest of the world watches the United States.  

I have been skimming the British newspapers that come to the manor everyday.  President Obama has been front page news for days.  One even used his good health and exercise regimen as a lead into a story about New Year's exercise plans!  Again, this surprises me.  

Last night I went to a briefing for Meet-a-Family program.  I am assigned a British family with whom I will eat dinner, visit their home, and share a bit about my life as an American with them.  The retired local man that came and spoke to us about the program began by saying that he remembers four major events in history.  I can't remember two of them (sorry!), but the last two were the fall of the Berlin Wall and the inauguration of Barack Obama.  He gave such importance to this event and it wasn't even his country.  He congratulated us all and was thrilled to visit Americans on such an important day.  

As I learn more about the United Kingdom, my home for four months, I am overwhelmed by the amount I learn about my actual home, the United States. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


After one week of classes, lots of reading and a major time adjustment it is time for a weekend in London!  I know this sounds quick but here at Harlaxton there really isn't much time to waste in terms of travel at least.  The school held a trip briefing in which I learned all the tourist spots to hit and received a great little plan that we could follow.  London was sounding easy enough.  I was going to hit all the hot spots with time to spare for the all important shopping adventures.  Since this was a Harlaxton trip (we paid Harlaxton to do all the travel arrangements) all I had to do was show up with my backpack ready and board the coach.  After the 3 hour coach ride to central London we were forced to take a "coach tour," otherwise known as "lets drive around in the London traffic while the leaders check the group in."  Ahh the joy of traveling in a group of 150 people.  Finally the boring coach tour came to an end and we took our things to our room.  After one week of trekking myself up and down the stairs to the fifth corridor at Harlaxton, I was extremely happy to find that my room was on the first floor!  Excited for the prospect of a new adventure, Laurel and I hastily assembled our maps and trusty plan from Gordon (our principal) began to conquer London.  Out the front doors of our 1600 room hotel we go and the conversation begins:
"Which way do we go?" said Laurel
"I don't really know.  We just need to get to the British Museum because that it is the first thing on the plan," I reply
"Well where is that?" 
"I am not sure.  Gordon said something about a square and then seeing the British Museum
.  Do you see a square?"
"No," answer Laurel
"Well I lets go right.  That has to be right because it is in the right direction," I conclude.

This is how the first few hours 
of London go.  We obviously have not totally got a hold on the street system and it doesn't help that the street signs are on the buildings periodically instead of clearly marked.  The fact that we have tickets for the London Eye at 4 pm doesn't help things either.  We are running a circle around our hotel and don't really know how to get much of anywhere except this underground stop we seem to keep running into.  By now the time is getting late and we really need to get to the Eye to take our "flight." The walking thing has obviously failed and we must move on to another plan.  Remember that underground?  The Tube to the rescue!!  Laurel and descend to the underground station and quickly figure out a whole new world.  We buy what we think is the right ticket, ask the operator the route to take, and hop on the next train.  Strangely enough, this worked!  We emerged from the tube station to see that the Eye was right there.  We board the wheel and take a "flight."  All of London is visible from so high in the sky and we are amused by the Russians who make up the rest of the people in our pod.  Finally it hits me-I am in London.  This city is teeming with energy and buzz.  I have a day to take
 advantage of it.  This flight revealed the multinational flair that is London.  There were no other Americans within this glass pod, yet we all enjoyed the ride and all were bubbling over with excitement to em
bark on the places we saw from behind the glass of the pod.  

As the sun set over Big Ben, my flight c
ame to a stop.  Here we were again.  Where to go?  What to eat?  How to get there? 

With less time pressures, Laurel and I walked across the bridge and saw Big Ben up close and personal for the first time.  Of course it was dark, but the city was just waking up to the excitement that night brings.  We eventually found a pub with an open table. We sat down figured out the way things work.  I never tasted food so good!  (this may be an exaggeration as I hadn't eaten since 11 am!).  The atmosphere was unmistakably British.  More walking followed that dinner and eventually we found our way back to the hotel.  A little planning for the next day was necessary and we quickly fell asleep to the sound hum of the city.  Sometimes the hum grew to a complete shout or siren, remember that we were on the first floor of the hotel!  

Day two was as full as a day can get.  Every hour, every minute was all about soaking in London.  First matter of business was to buy an all day pass on the Tube.  The single we purchased the day before was 4 pounds while the all day pass was only 5.60 pound.  If any of you are going to London soon you should buy a Tube pass.  Through the trains that ran underground we saw all of London.  The locals use them at all hours and they often provide much needed entertainment as local thoughts and exchanges are overheard.  

Laurel and I did it all (at least it seemed like we did!).  I won't bore you with the play by play of every nook and cranny of London we discovered. Here are some highlights:

1. Visiting Buckingham Palace before the crowds descended on the area.  We walked through a green space that was lovely and it just reminded me the grandeur that is all around.  
We saw the palace and large fountains, but I was just as impressed by the sun pouring through the trees on the way to the palace. There is a picture of the trees below.
2. Piccadilly Circus was fantastic.  I felt like I was in New York City.  The big electronic billboards surrounded by a few thousand ways to spend lots of money.  Like I said, it felt like home.
3. Visiting Paperchase.  A three-story store of just stationary!  My dream come true.  It was a cool place.  This leads me to my next thing...
4. Eating at Nando's.  You all need to eat at this place.  It is Portuguese and it is so good.  The
 chicken was amazing!!  I also had corn on the cob and spicy rice.  Very reasonably priced too!  That was recommendation from the man working at Paperchase (another reason they are so fabulous: good restaurant  recommendations!)
5. Hoping on a tour at the Globe Theatre.  We were confused and accidentally ended up on a non-free tour, but we didn't pay!  Ooops!  Oh well.  We honestly didn't know!  
6. Know that we could get around London!  It is a great feeling to know that you are never really lost and understand that everything around you is interesting.  

On Sunday we went to Hampton Court Palace. This is outside of London and has house several different monarchs and their families. The most famous is of course Henry VIII.  The house is a mix of styles because so many people lived there at different times and had different tastes.  The most impressive part to me were the gardens. The whole ground is full of gardens that are kept in pristine condition.  It was a cold day, but overall it was interesting and a nice change from the bustle of central London.  

That is about all I have for this trip. Keep check back for more posts and more stuff!  Check your mail too :)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Catch Up

Hello all!  Sorry I have been neglecting this.  It is crazy you can find to do in a new place!  Let me just start at the beginning.  

One week ago from today (I can hardly believe it!) I left my house at 6 am. It was difficult to know that I won't be returning to that place until May 2nd.  After being here only a week I am excited about all the things that lie ahead, but I still look at the calendar and think that four months is a long time to be away.  It is a good sign that the days I have been here have gone very quickly!  I am trying to keep up.  Well, back to the travel.  After a drive the St. Louis airport and some anxious waiting, I boarded my first flight alone.  It was a strange feeling to know that I had to do the rest on my own.  I had been planning this whole trip myself, but to know that I didn't have the regular people to answer my questions was a little scary but even more empowering.  After landing in the Chicago airport, I found my good friend Laurel! She is at Harlaxton this semester too.  It was so nice to see a friendly face.  We had lunch in the airport with another girl from William Jewell, Stephanie.  I was very happy to see both of them.  Of course I couldn't hear them very well as my ears were still popping from the flight!  After lunch we made our way to the international terminal.  From this terminal you could go so many places.  Korea, Japan, France...just to name a few.  Our airline, Virgin Atlantic, has a wonderful red theme going.  All the stewardess' are dressed in red suites. The plane is red.  The stuff they give you is red.  It was a long process, but Laurel and I did a really good job mastering all the lines and waiting you have to do to get your boarding pass and get through security.  Eventually we did get to the plane.  I hadn't really thought much about the fact that I was going to be on an airplane with hardly any room for 7 hours.  This was a surprise.  I had to sit in the middle of four seats.  It was tight.  I made it though!  This is also where I had my first true encounter with British people.  Our steward and stewardesses were British.  For awhile I just listened to them asking people about their drinks.  This could provide hours of entertainment.  After having a "lemonade" which is really like a Sprite, I went to sleep.  They mess with your concept of time while on this flight too.  The captain turns the lights off to signal "night" but that only lasts about 4 hours because then it is "morning" and the lights come on.  I think they want you to pretend your body is on the British time clock but really you aren't.  

After the airplane landed, we began the wonderful process of claiming luggage and going through customs.  This part of the trip was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  I was imagining some awful questioning process as I tried to enter the UK, but the officer just looked at my letter of intent and then at my passport.  Suddenly I was really there! I was really into the UK for the next four months.  Wow!  Now I have a stamp in my passport!  It was a pretty amazing feeling.  I won't bore you with the luggage claim and the waiting for the coach (bus is what we call it).  Eventually I rode a coach with all the other students from Harlaxton from London to Harlaxton.  It was a two and a half hour drive and I slept some more.  I was expecting to see some great things on the way there, but the greatest thing were the livestock that were in the fields we passed.  

Finally, we were here! I didn't feel tired or jet-lagged when I saw the 170 year old mansion in the distance.  I was home. It felt like home when I entered the manor to receive my packet and I didn't even have to look for my name.  A familiar face, Dr. Dunham, handed me my packet and his wife Betty asked how Laurel and I were doing.  It was such a relief to see both of them.  The Dunhams are retired professors and are staying at Harlaxton for January.  It will be a sad day when they must return.  I see them most everyday and they are always so friendly.

The manor was finally a reality.  I could touch the stone, taste the food, and explore the grounds.  I found my room.  I will get my exercise as I live on the top floor of rooms! There was so much to learn in the first few days and I felt overwhelmed, but blessed to know that I had traveled so far in such a relatively short time and safely.  I have so much to do and see.  I can already feel the time just melting away!  

Since I have not been good at posting this account of travel is nearly a week in the past.  I have done so much more since I arrived, but that will have to be left for another day.  I hope everyone at home is doing well.  Always appreciate all the mexican food you eat (they don't have any of that here!).