Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Catch Up and Robin Hood

Sorry I haven't updated this in a bit.  This weekend Laurel and I didn't go anywhere too far away because we had been traveling every weekend thus far and we had lots of homework (sometime I forget to mention that I actually do go to school here!).  Friday was a great day around the manor.  I work on some British Studies (the class that everyone here must take) homework.  I also worked on gathering lots of information about trips and places to go for next weekend and our second long weekend.  This takes a lot longer than one may think!  Travel information is vast and it can be hard to understand it all especially when traveling to other countries. 

Saturday was also a good day.  Laurel and I went to Nottingham, a town about 40 minutes away on the train.  Nottingham is known for Robin Hood and shopping.  There are over 800 shops in and around Nottingham.  We tried to get to them all, but didn't quite make it :) I did enjoy going to Primark, a British store in the style of the American Forever 21.  They are all over England.  In London we saw one that was a block long, but was closed when we were there.  It is cheap and there is a huge selection of clothes, shoes, and accessories.  I really loved it! While we were around town we did notice that there was huge police force out and visible.  On the way back to the train station the police were pushing big groups of men to the side of the rode and it was chaotic!  Turns out that there was a big football game going on that day and people were really passionate about their teams!  

We also visited the Nottingham Castle, but didn't pay to go in.  The grounds were really beautiful and we did take pictures of the Robin Hood statue outside.  
Sherwood Forest is about 22 km outside of Nottingham and there is lots of folk lore surrounding Robin Hood and the forest.  We didn't go there because it was another train ride away.  When we returned to the manor the sky was a beautiful red and orange.  It was unlike any other day I had seen in England thus far.

Sunday was another day of homework and travel details.  I also made it to the gym and took a walk!  Yeah for exercise :) 

We booked plane tickets and hostels for Prague (Feb 27-March 1) and Munich (March 26-29).  I am very excited about these trips.  I now have every weekend booked from now until the last weekend in March.  Traveling helps me to be focused during the week and the time passes so quickly!  

After this week I will be exactly half way done with class!  This is a big mile stone and I am really happy with myself for experiencing such new and not dwelling on being so far away from home.  I can hardly believe that I have been here 7 weeks!  The next 7 are going to be wonderful too.

Next weekend: Prague, Czech Republic

Sunday, February 15, 2009


What a week! I can hardly believe that on Wednesday I was sitting in the Gold Room scrambling to write down all I could on our first British Studies exam.  I worked very hard on Monday and Tuesday to get ready for the exam and a paper in Shakespeare.  This short week felt like it was a few hours, not three days, but there was "treasure" to be found after all that hard work.  After the exam I grabbed my backpack, ate dinner in the refectory, and boarded the coach.  Time for Ireland!  I was so excited to see it all.  Four days in a great country!  Before we could embrace the riches of Ireland's magic and splendor we had to get there.  Normally, I don't love to give such specific times as this, but to fully understand the trip you must understand the transportation times as well.  Here was the time table...Wednesday 
6:30 pm-Leave manor
2:00 am-Board Ferry
2:45 am-Ferry departs
6:00 am-Ferry lands
7:00 am-Breakfast at a hotel
12 noon-Arrive at Blarney Castle
After many hours on the coach and ferry we were finally in Ireland.  What do you think of first when you hear Ireland?  Kissing the Blarney Stone right?  That is what we did first off!  This is a picture of me leaning over to kiss the stone.  The man that is holding my legs just sits up there all day and holds onto people who want to kiss the stone. 
To get to the stone you must make your way up the stone steps that wind endlessly up the castle.  This could be a difficult place for some people to get up to! The castle was actually very beautiful and I enjoyed the lovely grounds.  We even had a picnic lunch (with sack lunches from the refectory of course!) After a little bit of souvenir shopping, we were back on the coach, driving to Killarney, our destination for the night.  We stayed in Killarney two nights.  It was a fun town that was easy to get around and provided lots of good night life.  We stayed above a pub at a family run hotel.  The rooms were nice and it was fun being close to all the restaurants and pubs, but the room was super humid!  Ireland is very wet.  That so
unds funny, but it is true.  Everywhere we went was pretty humid, but nothing wa
s as bad as our hotel room.  Even the walls were moist!  The breakfast was good and I really liked the location, so perhaps that made up for the incredibly moist surroundings.

I was so excited about Friday!  After the trip briefing all I wanted to do was to go on the Ring of Kerry.  This is a path around the western side of Ireland that has many of the best views Ireland has to offer.  The journey last all day.  I was not disappointed.  We saw the greenest grass ever and lots of beautiful water.  I had a really good Irish Coffee (it was delicious!) in the morning.  It was so nice
to just visit all these sites.  This is Laurel and I ate Dingle Bay. At one point we looked out at some water and Matt, our dean of students who was our trip courier, told us that the next body of land was North America!  I couldn't see it, but I was the closest to America that I have been since I left.  My pictures don't do the views
 any justice.  I have lots pictures of me with mountains, green grass, and water, but there was something more to the day than those things.  The open and clean nature of the countryside was unmatchable.  This was one of my favorite days of travel so far.

Saturday brought another few hours on the coach.  We drove to Dublin and had from about 2:45 pm until the early the next morning in Dublin.  About 1/3 of the population of Ireland lives in Dublin, so you can imagine that it is a busy place.  The first thing I did was visit the Guinness Storehouse.  This may sound like a strange choice because I didn't have that much time, but I cannot emphasize enough what a big deal Guinness beer is in Ireland.  Everywhere you turn there is some sign of Guinness.  We had bought our tickets for the storehouse ahead of
 time and were able to get right in.  The storehouse is a really big (7 stories) place that tells how Guinness is made, how it is advertised, and the history.  It was actually really interesting and I really enjoyed walking around.  The top of the place is a really cool bar that has glass all the way around.  You can take in 360 degree views Dublin while drinking up a cold Guin
ness (each person gets a free pint).  On the way out we asked the lady at the coat check said it had been a very busy day.  She said that 4,500 people had been though the storehouse that day!  WOW! Honestly didn't get to see that much more of the city.  We briefly went by Christ Church Cathedral as that was directly across from our hotel.  I also saw the General Post Office.  That was the major site for the Easter Rising in Ireland (ask Laurel for more information about this historical event.  She is in a History of Ireland class).  I had a really good dinner at this place called Gruel.  The menu was just on a chalk board and it changed everyday.  It was a fun place to have a local meal.  We walked around the Temple Bar area which is where there are lots and lots of restaurant, shops, and pubs.  It was really fun to see it in action.  We had some great gelato. We went back to the hotel fairly early because the coach pulled out at 6:45 am the next morning. 

Sunday was our travel day back to the manor.  We got on the 8 am ferry and this time I was actually awake.  I went out on the observation deck and waived good bye to Ireland.  
I may never see that beautiful place again (maybe I will get back another time though...who knows!)  After the three hour ferry ride we rode in the coach to have lunch in Wales.  We stopped at a village in Wales with the longest name in Europe- Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!  That is the nam
e of the village.  There isn't much of anything there, but it was one of the those places you go to say you went.  We got back on the coach and watched "Far and Away," a movie that is about Irish immigrants.  It was a good ride back to the manor.  I loved the weekend!  It was so much fun to see the beautiful scenery and the people of Ireland are so friendly and courteous.  I also got to know some more people from Harlaxton even better.  There was lots of coach time on this trip, but I enjoyed it and I read about 200 pages of Shakespeare (I read all of Richard III and half of Macbeth.  I would really recommend Richard III.  It was so intriguing.) 
I don't have a big trip planed this weekend.  I think Laurel and I are going to Nottingham on Saturday.  This will be my first weekend without a trip.  Part of me is looking forward to the down time and another part of me wishes I was running of to another wonderful place.  Someday I do have to work on all that school work, so maybe a quite weekend is a good idea.

Monday, February 9, 2009


This weekend was a wonderful change from my past three weekends.  First of all we had class on Friday (we normally don't) making this only a two day weekend.  This is because we only have class for three days next week, so we were making up for that.  

All the traveling I have done so far was with school.  Although we get some information and the school gets us to our destination we are on our own.  If you have been reading previous posts you know that Laurel and pretty much do the tourist thing.  We try to get out of the box some and try some different food or do a local thing, but generally we just spend time getting lost and seeing cool things that you may have seen on a postcard because they are so famous.   This weekend we didn't have to be aimless tourist because we had tour guide Cody!  Cody is going to school at Cambridge.  He is a year older than Laurel and I.  I had wanted to visit Cambridge and Cody offered to be our host, so it was perfect.  
We rode the train to Cambridge and that was quite the experience in of itself.  We had purchased our tickets online a few weeks ago and then we picked them up at the train station.  First, the machine spit our 9 tickets!  We were confused.  The arrival/departure board only has the final destination of the trains not the stops in between, so it was difficult to know which one was our train since we weren't familiar with the routes.  We figured it out and came to really like the train.  It has nice seats and it is smooth.  Our train ride was only an hour and a half total (we had to take two trains to get to Cambridge), so it was a good ride.  Once we arrived at Cambridge Cody met us at the train station.  It was so nice not to be completely lost right from the beginning.  We went back to the Queen's Wing where Cody lives and dropped off our stuff.  
We spent the day going around to the different colleges and seeing Cambridge.  It is a very cool place.  They had craft shows and markets and lots of very old colleges.  Cambridge has 29 colleges and they are all over the city. I had a cornish pasty (traditional English food) for lunch with Blackcurrent juice.  It was very good!!  We had lots of fun and it was so nice to have the wonderful Cody to show us around.  Mid afternoon we met Ashton Botts who is studying at Oxford.  She had ridden the bus from Oxford.  It was like a Jewell reunion!  The rest of the day consisted of catching up and meeting some of Cody's new English friends.  We went to a pub called the Flying Pig and that was fun too!  We ended the night by watching V for Vendetta-I think I need to watch it again when I am not so tired. 

Sunday was a wonderful day as well.  We went to church at King's College Chapel.  The chapel was amazing.  The largest vaulted ceiling  in the world(according to Cody)! 
I didn't take an pictures because it was a service and you weren't supposed to.  There was a boys choir.  They were amazing.  I really can't put into words how much I was in awe of the choir.  Their were boys age 7 or so up to college age.  They younger boys sang the alto and soprano and the older ones carried the base and tenor.  There was also a string quartet that was amazing and they played with them.  We even took communion.  I was in awe of the whole service.  I was so happy that we just didn't sleep in and miss something like that.  The picture to the right is King's College Chapel-where we went to church. After church we ate at Nando's.  Laurel and I had eaten at one of these in London and really liked it.  This one wasn't as good as the one in London, but still it was a good time.  
After that we just walked around a bit more and then went back to the Queen's Wing and chatted until we all had to go back to our real lives.  
It truly was such the perfect weekend.  I got to see some familiar faces which I really needed after this past week.  I also met more British people and that is always funny! Thanks to Cody for having us.  We really loved it all!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Snow, Paper, and British Family

I promised a post about Harlaxton in the snow, so here it is.  As you may have heard in the news, England was graced with many inches of beautiful snow on Sunday night into Monday morning.  Grantham, where I live, got about 3 inches I think.  I didn't really think that the snow was that bad until I started to read the newspaper and found out that this was the worst snow in nearly two decades!!  I am so accustomed to four wheel drive and snow plows that I don't really think it monumental when we get a few inches of snow. Here no one has four wheel drive and snow plows don't really exist either.  School was cancelled for the middle and high school students. This was the view out my window on Monday morning.

London experience nearly a foot of snow.  It debilitated the city.  The underground was practically shut down and none of the red buses ran.  Papers were calling this a "National Snow Day!"  The whole thing was funny to me because people really don't know what to do with this much snow!  

Harlaxton students, many of which are from Wisconsin, just go out and play!  Tomorrow is an all school snowball fight and many students have already made snow men.  One was 8 feet tall!  The manor looks beautiful blanketed in white.  Really it is like I live in Narnia.  I haven't had much of a chance to go play, but I did get out and take a few photos.  I guess 
these are pretty priceless since this much snow probably won't come around again. 

I also wanted to share with you that I am writing the overseas column for the Hilltop Monitor for the beginning of the semester.  I would love for you to read my column (and the rest of the paper) online at www.thehilltopmonitor.com

Finally, I just wanted to share a bit about dinner with my British family tonight.  Part of the Harlaxton experience is the option to be paired up with a local British family. This family often has dinner with the students and they do activities together.  My British family is Marcus and Maureen Pettman.  They are retired and live in Grantham.  I had meet them at the Meet-a-Family reception last Thursday.  That event was at Harlaxton, but tonight was at their house.  There was some concern about the weather, but still got to the manor without trouble to come get me and my "sister."  We ate talked for a while and then ate dinner.  I was surprised how interested they were in American politics.  We talked about Barack Obama and alternative energy!  This isn't really my type of conversation, but it was interesting to hear their perspective.  
The family is a bit more formal than at home, but not much. This is a picture of me, Ashley (my sister) and Maureen.  Marcus took the photo. 
We had a chicken pot pie type dish for dinner with vegetables and potatoes.   To drink I had a cordial which is a type of drink that is diluted.  I had never heard of this, but I think it is very popular here.  The one I had was a local variety.  I really liked it.  
They also have an electrical piano and I played a few songs.  Marcus can play piano.  He is very interested in the song of each state from home.  He has the music for the state song for most states.  
On Thursday they are going on a holiday to the Caribbean!  Sounds nice right about now.  They will be gone for a few weeks.  They like to travel a lot.  When they return we are going to walk around Grantham and eat dinner together.  
It was interesting to eat with a British family.  You really get a sense of their normal lives.  I was rather satisfied (that is something they would say).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Destination: Edinburgh

Here I am, back at the blog again.  After quite the demanding academic week, I was pleased to be embarking on weekend trip #3.  Destination: Edinburgh!  It is becoming more real every time I say "This weekend I am going to ________".  Before I actual got here I knew where I was going to go, but it was still hard to really understand all I would see and do.  Honestly I didn't even know what I was going to see in Scotland besides a kilt!  Don't worry-I saw a lot more than men in plaid skirts.Friday morning at 8 am we loaded the coaches.  The ritual is familiar and it is somewhat nice to know that I will have time for a nap and a good read before hitting the Scottish Highlands.  The coach ride was about 6 hours and we hit lots of traffic coming into the Edinburgh City Centre.  I think there was an accident close to our hotel which prolonged unloading and checking in.  Once all that was sorted out, Laurel and I decided to go to the National Gallery first.  This was only a block from our hotel and was free.  There was lots of Scottish art and other art as well.  After we were culturally fulfilled, we went up to the Royal Mile.  Edinburgh is very easy to get around and walkable.  

Scotland is known for lots of distinctive things-shortbread, family clans, kilts, bagpipes, wool, cashmere, plaid.  One of the most distinctive things is whiskey.  There are pubs everywhere and the people are very proud of their whiskey. So to get the full Scottish experience, Laurel and I went to the "Scotch Whiskey Experience." Normally this is an exhibit where you learn about how whiskey is made and the history behind the drink.  It even includes a ride in a whiskey barrel!  We were awfully excited about the ride in the whiskey barrel! Sadly, when we arrived at the place, the man at the counter told us that the attraction was under renovation and it was only a presentation and tasting-no ride.  Disappointed we still did the presentation and the tasting.  It did turn out to be interesting and I learned a lot about whiskey production.  We tasted two whiskeys-both were so strong!  The leader showed us how to examine the color, swirl the drink in the glass, smell the flavor, and then drink up! I haven't really gained an
 affinity for the whiskey, but it was an experience and we even got a souvenir whiskey glass-can't go wrong with that take home prize.

By this time our stomachs were wanting a little more than a sip of whiskey.  It was dinner time.  Now eating while traveling is very much an art.  Everywhere we have been so far American chains line the streets.  Burger King, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and KFC are all around and oh so tempting, but I determined to withstand them.  I refuse (at least so far) to eat at these places (I have only had one Starbucks drink too!).  I want to get a feel for the culture and the best way to do that is to eat where the locals do.  The other trick to this tedious task is to find a place
 within a traveling college student's budget.  This can prove difficult, but it is doable with some careful preparation.  Like I said, Edinburgh is an easy city to navigate and so it makes it even easier to find eateries just a bit off the beaten path.  I had read online about this place called the "Mosque Kitchen."  The review claimed that this place provided large amounts of food for cheap prices-right up my alley!  After a little bit of a directional challenge we found the Mosque (yes this place was literally in a mosque), but we were unsure about where the food was.  Laurel asked a man coming out of the Mosque and told us it was around back.  We eventually found it.  You went in to order and ate outside in a covered, yet exposed area.  
It was so interesting.  This was right on the edge of the University of Edinburgh and there were a few tables of college students as well as other locals and some people just finishing worship at the Mosque I think.  
The food was very good.  I had chicken curry and vegetables. The bowl of food was more than I could eat and I was happy to find a place that was a unique, hidden gem.  We get a gold star in the "Experienced Cultural Diversity" box!

We wanted to get a taste of true Scottish culture too, and what better way to do that than a pub with live music.  By this time is was about 7 pm and we were ready for some music before going back to the hotel.  I had read about a pub that was supposedly the best place to hear Scottish music in Edinburgh.  We quickly found it, ordered our drinks and sat down.  The place was so little!  There was no music and I was highly confused how a band of any kind would fit in here, but here we were experiencing Scotland.  After a time we asked when the music would start.  The bar tender said 9:30 pm!  That was in 2 hours!  This was a great people watching place, but not for 2 hours.  So we went back to the hotel and watched some hilarious British TV and
 waited until 10 or so to go back.  Once we got back the pub was quite full and there were some musicians stuffed in the back corner.  We kind of just stood around (remember we have been here once already and this is a small place-we stick out!).  Soon enough two older men start talking to us.  They wanted to know where we were from, why we were here, and on and on.  They bought us a drink (although we didn't really want one because we had had one before) and we talked for quite awhile.  It was one of the most hilarious hours of my life because the accent is so hard to understand and the people are so funny-this made for an interesting conversation.  These men had an opinion about everything, and truly provided a look into a normal Scottish mindset.  Eventually we left there having made new friends and laughing all the way back to the hotel.  Another gold star for "Chatted it up with crazy, old Scottish men." 
The Royal Mile is situated between the most visible landmarks in Edinburgh, the castle and Arthur's Seat.  Day 2 first item of business: Climb Arthur's Seat.  Arthur's Seat is an old, inactive volcano and provides wonderful views of the city from on top.  I had read that the hike to the top only took 20 minutes.  Looking at the big hill and reading the guide book you wouldn't think that is would be that difficult to reach the top-you would be mistaken.  After taking a path that wasn't really necessary, we finally got going the right direction.  We walked around the base of the hill and eventually started to look at the literature from the park service and realized that it was 20 minute hike from a certain path to the top.  It had taken us about an hour to get to the path.  Still, we wanted to get to the top!  Off we go.  It is pretty steep all the way up and it gets fairly rocky as well.  The  main factor that made this trip such a struggle was the wind.  Oh goodness.  The wind was CRAZY!!  Once we got to the top I had to hold on to the rock so that I didn't fall over.  It was nearly impossible to take pictures.  My hat flew off as we were trying to snap a picture.  
You can see Edinburgh Castle in the distance. It took a bit to get down from the top, but we did and it was worth the amazing view of the city.  That took quite a while and by now we were hungry (somehow it always comes back to the food).  I had read about a cheap place called Tempting Tatties.  We found it easily.  We first tried to open the door and were baffled that it was locked (if we would have read the sign we would have known that the place opened in 10 minutes).  The owner let us in and pondered the menu.  There were so many toppings and they all went on a baked potato.  I finally decided on a potato with Chicken, sweet corn, red onions, and mayonnaise.  Imagine a well cooked potato with lots of butter, cheddar cheese, and three scoops of mayonnaise salad-that was my lunch.  It probably weighed at least 2 pounds.  I could hardly eat 1/3 of it.  It was delicious and I was happy to have found the place.  The whole meal was only 4.50 pounds (that included a bottled drink).  Yep-I should have my own tv show. 
A little shopping and a long trip to the Edinburgh Castle filled up the afternoon.  The castle houses the Scottish Crown Jewels and has lots of other great things to see.  It also provided a good view of the city.  Back to the hotel we went.  Nap time followed by a good dinner at Pizza Express.  This place is a lot nicer than it sounds and Laurel and I both had great food.  
Day 3.  Destination: Harlaxton Manor w/detours.  We boarded the coach early the next morning (only after we overslept a bit...oops!).  The first on route stop was a stone that said Scotland on one side and England on the other.  It was very cold and windy again, so we think as a group that we probably had a record for the most pictures at the stone in the least amount of time.  On to Hadrian's Wall.  This wall was built nearly 2000 years ago around the time of the Roman invasion.  It marked the northern boarder of England.  It is amazing to think that the stones I stood on had been there for thousands of years!  You can see the wall stretch across the countryside.  The wall is shorter than it was in its time, but the magnitude of the structure is amazing.  Of course, this was cold and windy too! Back to the bus.  
This is me at Hadrian's wall.  You can see how the wall keeps going into the distance.
Next stop: Durham.  This was the lunch stop and you could also go see the Cathedral and Castle or just shop and look around.  We had a good lunch at an Italian place and made our way to the Cathedral in time to snap a few photos, grab a take-away (this is how they say to-go) mocha, and hit the road back to Harlaxton.  Throughout the whole day we traveled through the beautiful Scottish countryside.  I had trouble focusing on my reading because it was so nice just to stare out the window and enjoy the tunes on my iPod.  
This is me in front of Durham Cathedral.  
Edinburgh was a place preserved in time through the traditions that make it unique.  I enjoyed the people so much and loved the scenery as well.  Despite the wind it was a wonderful trip!  Coming up next on this blog: Harlaxton in the Snow.