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.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Here I am, nearly a week after going to Paris and I am just now blogging about this wonderful trip. Partly, it has been difficult for me to write this because I knew if would be impossible to script into words everything I saw and experienced. I feel lots of pressure from this one because it is PARIS! I will just try to do my best to tell the story of the weekend. This week I have also thrown myself into finding a job this summer. This takes lots of time and energy. I will keep you posted on this.Exactly one week ago, Laurel and I boarded a train in Grantham (the town close to the manor) and rode to London King's Cross Station. From that station we boarded the Eurostar. This is a train that runs from London to Paris. It run underneath the English Channel. I was worried about this because I really don't care for anything related to underwater, but I never even knew that we had gone under! After awhile I asked where we were and we were nearly in Paris. It was a much easier than flying. You don't have to check your bag and you just check in on a computerized machine. How easy! I can't emphasis enough how helpful everyone has always been to us. On the train we were seated behind a woman had overheard us planning our trip and offered to answer any questions because she is very familiar with Paris (and she was English, so much easier to understand than the French!). She helped us understand how to use the metro to get to our hotel. We made it to our hotel with only one problem (we went the wrong way one time on the metro, but it was easily fixed). The hotel was fairly easy to find, and the front desk people were helpful and welcoming. Our room was very small, but worked for what we needed: sleep! In actuality, this travel was so much less draining than the train and flight to Prague the weekend before.

As I explain all the places we went and things we saw, I may not explain it all because it would take thousands of words. So, know that there is more I could say, but I will save some to share with all of you when I return. You may also wonder how Laurel and I knew all these things existed in Paris. The big landmarks are well known, but don't be fooled by thinking that the Eiffel Tower is the only wonderful sight in Paris. I carried around Rick Steve's guide to Paris. This proved to be invaluable. He provided you information, walking paths, and eateries that were recommended. I would highly recommend carrying a travel book just for Paris when going to a city with so much to see and do.Friday was a beautiful day. The sun shown its face all day and brought warmth to the brisk winter wind that still hung on as spring tried assert herself. The day began at a lesser known (at least I never had heard of it) part of Paris. The Rue Cler is a pedestrian street that has so many cute market shops. Most of them have lots of fruit and vegetables, bread (there is bread everywhere!), and cheese. One cheese shop we went into had over 400 different varieties. There were several outdoor cafes where the locals were just sipping their coffee and eating a croissant. How fun! The last shop that we went into on this street was called L'Epicerie. They had lots of French made food items. There were so many jars of jellies and sauces in this small place. The woman working was so nice and very helpful. She explained where the foods were made and how you would use them. I enjoyed talking to her. Some of you should watch your mailboxes (hint hint).From here we walked to the Orsay Museum. To get here we walked along the Seine River and saw all the river vendors where you can buy an original painting or an old book in French. At the Orsay we bought the Paris Museum Pass. This pass gets you into over 60 museums and monuments! It is 32 euros, but if you plan on going to more than 2 or 3 museums the pass is worth the price. After purchasing the pass, we ran quickly to get to the starting point of a Free Tour of Paris. This had been recommended by a friend. It really is a free tour and it was very informational and funny (the guides are college age people), but our group was large. I found to be a bit slow, so at the lunch stop we left. From here we ate a bit of lunch by the Opera Garnier and walked toward the Orangerie and the Orsay (these are both art museums). On the way we saw so much. Just walking around in Paris can provide wonderful entertainment and a good feel of the city. We saw the obelisk of Luxor. Which at one end of the Champs-Elysees. It is a big monument to honor Louis XVI that was beheaded at that spot during the Revolution. It was also a very interesting spot because it was fashion week in Paris, and all the important fashion people were walking to a show at that time. They were dressed up! There were also people protesting the use of fur (I think-their signs were in French).
From there we went to the Orangerie where I saw Monet's water lilies. I have always been fascinated by Impressionism. I am not sure if it is the music or the art (or Chet Monet Bakery in Jefferson City that has Monet's Water Lilies on the wall) that pull me into the era. These were some my favorite paintings that I saw all weekend, and I saw a lot of paintings! The Water Lilies had their own rooms which were circular, so the paints were mounted and curved around the room. The room was created for the paintings, as Monet painted them for that type of space. They were huge paintings! The largest one was 6.5 feet by 55 feet. I also find it amazing that Monet painted these as he was going blind.Next on the list was the Orsay museum. In this art museum we went through the progression of 19th century art. You may think that in 100 years art hasn't changed much, but you would be mistaken. This museum picks up where the Louvre leaves off and has some amazing pieces by such artists as Degas, Renoir, Moneet and Van Gogh. I found the Van Gogh paintings to be most captivating. I had seen some of his work in London, but this collection seemed to tell the story of his life more clearly. There were two very different and recognizable self-portraits as well as his famous bedroom painting. Finally, I was much interested in his "The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise." This painting was done while Van Gogh was in a mental hospital and it is very calm and full of spirituality. This is a super fascinating painting.
From here we continued on down the Champ-Elysees and saw all the big names in fashion. You could drop a bunch of money really fast on this street. It is an awesome place because although the elite actual do the shopping around here, everyone hangs out and walks up and down this street. At the end of the street you are meet with the glorious Arc de Triomphe. This is a monument to honor Napoleon and his victory at Austerlitz even though he was vastly outnumbered. There is an eternal flame and a grave of the unknown solider underneath the arch. One the best things we did in Paris was to climb the 284 steps up to the top of the monument. The view was unmatched by any other that I saw. The traffic swirled beneath the arch and the sky was a crisp blue. I most enjoyed taking wonderful photos of the Eiffel Tower from the high vantage point. It was perfect day for a climb to the top. Here is a picture of me and the Eiffel Tower from on top of the Arc de Triomphe.
From the top of the Arc de Triomphe the Eiffel Tower appears so close, but in reality it is quite far away. Regardless of the distance, the Eiffel Tower was next on the list. We find the tower and get into line. The line doesn’t appear that long, but it takes quite awhile to get to the second level. You take an elevator to the second level and from there views of Paris are endless. By this time it was after dark which was wonderful. Paris lights up at night and although night time pictures are difficult to capture, I was pleasantly surprise by the turnout. We waited in another long line to get the elevator to the top. Finally we were there! It was very windy and cold, but so very worth the time, money, and temperature. I took some quick photos and walked around the level. In every direction landmarks were lit for the night. I could even see a rugby game going on beneath us. It was a Paris must do, and it was most definitely worth it. I really can’t image this place during the summer though; the lines must be hours long. The Eiffel Tower took us 2 hours total. This picture is during the light show that goes on for five minutes every hour on the hour.
After two museums and two climbs to the tops of monuments, as well as a tour and LOTS of walking, we were hungry. It was after 9 pm and I had barely eaten anything all day long. We found a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves. Surprisingly, I was much more thirsty than hungry! I had a wonderful meal of sea bass fillet and amazing mashed sweet potatoes with truffle oil. It was a great place with lots of locals. They even had to bring us our own menu in English. The French menu was on a board on the wall, so we got our own board in English. There were French men to our left and a group of Italians to our right. The waitress talked to all of us in perfect French, English, and Italian-so impressive. At the end of the meal we headed back to the hotel via the metro. It was time to plan another day in Paris.
Saturday was go time. Travel can almost be like a game at times. You read the books and look at the website and find that there is so much to do. The challenge is how much can you get done in the amount of time you have. Today was a big challenge. We got up earlier and walked a brisk 40 minute walk from our hotel to the Louvre. We were in line before it opened. This turned out to be a good move because it just keeps getting busier throughout the day. Were we following Rick Steve’s tour of the Louvre. He pointed us in the direction of all the famous stuff. Don’t be fooled by thinking that the Louvre only has the Mona Lisa. There are over 35,000 objects to see! You could never see them all, but we weren’t going miss much! The Louvre used to be a palace where the king lived, so just the building was a piece of art. I was amazed at it all. We spent about two hours in here.
The next major thing on the agenda was Sainte Chapelle. This is a chapel built just for Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. It has the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen in my life. There are over 1,000 Biblical stories told in the colorful window of the chapel. I was completely blown away at this place. Picture really give it no justice. This place is so amazing that it was built in 1248 and it only took FIVE years! That is unheard of in those times. Compare that time to the 200 years it took to build Notre Dame.

Next was the Pantheon, a Neoclassical building that honors the “Champions of French Liberty.” Inside is Foucault’s pendulum that demonstrates the rotation of the Earth, as well as monuments describing and celebrating struggles of the French people. There is also a large crypt in the basement where a pantheon of greats are buried including Voltaire, Roussau, Marie Curie, and Victor Hugo. Everything about this place reflected the radical change and revolution that has characterized so much of French History.
Up until this point in the trip we have only gotten lost in the sense that we have taken a wrong turn that has easily been corrected, but getting to Versailles would prove to be a bit more challenging. I had a fairly strong desire to see Versailles, especially since it was only a train ride away from the city. Rick Steves said to take any train whose name started with a “V.” This sounds quite simple and easy. We buy our tickets go down to the platform and see that a train to Versailles is coming in the next few minutes. This will be very good! We can get on the train without much wait at all. In a rush of thinking we board a train that seems to have come at the time the train to Versailles should have arrived. After several stops we figure out that the train is not going to the Versaills. We exit and try to fix this mistake, but that is not as easy as going back down a street. After about an hour and a half we make it to Versailles (the train ride is only 30 minutes!).
Versailles is huge, opulent palace of King Louis XIV. He built it outside of Paris to avoid the bustle of the city. It is a huge place that has housed only three Kings (primarily because the last one was beheaded during the revolution!). It is an amazing place to which Rick Steves recommends allotting two hours. We arrived with only 40 minutes until closing! We did Versailles with speed! We saw the famous hall of mirrors as well as the King’s apartments. Let me just say that these people were living large! The gardens are open until dusk, so we spent more time in the gardens. It take an hour to walk from the palace to about the 2/3 point in the garden. Like I said, this place was huge! There were lots of people here; even a wedding couple was having their picture taken! We walked around the surrounding town and grabbed a sandwich for dinner. Getting back was so much simpler than the first trip!

Not wanting to waste a minute, even though we were really tired we still walked around the Notre Dame area of Paris after returning from Versailles. The cathedral is beautiful at night. We entered the cathedral to find that an amazing organ concert was occurring right then! What an wonderful find! The organ filled the vast space, yet the gigantic instrument could be quite and intentional as well. I think there were nearly 1,000 people in the Cathedral listening to the glorious music. After some more walking we heading back to the hotel.
For our last night in Paris we had to make a quick stop at the Moulin Rouge for pictures. This wasn’t far from our hotel. This strip is known as the “red light” district, but don’t worry-it was always safe, just a bit shocking! A great end to another amazing day in Paris.Sunday, our final day, was a “catch it all” type of day. We started early at Sacre Coeur, a beautiful church that looks straight out of Turkey! It has gypsum that gets whiter with age. The inside of the cathedral has a breathtaking mosaic of Jesus exposing his sacred heart, burning with love and compassion for all of humanity. Since the its completion, there has been someone praying for Christ to understand the world’s sins 24/7.

After this stop we got on the metro and went to Pere Lachaise cemetery. There are over 70,000 dead people in this place! They even have their own crematorium (and it is really big!). Some of the most famous graves we saw were Oscar Wilde, Moliere, Jim Morrison, and Frederic Chopin. Call me strange, but I enjoy a Sunday morning cemetery visit (we went to one on Sunday morning in Prague too!).
Back to metro and the city center to see the final monument on our trip. By this time Friday’s sun had turned to Sunday’s rain. I was pretty wet! It wasn’t cold, just wet. We saw a huge marathon of people running through the downtown streets of Paris. They were wet too. I am not sure what this was for, but there were hundreds of participants. Finally we went to the Deportation Memorial. This is in memorial to the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camps. As you walk underground in the memorial you become a prisoner. The hallway in front is lined with 200,000 lighted crystals and there is an eternal flame of hope. As you leave the message is the same as you will find in all Nazi sites: “Forgive, but never forget.” This was disturbing, sad, and necessary. Throughout Europe there are signs of destruction from a time not too long ago. It is very important to visit these places and learn about the activity that occurred. How can you ignore something like this?

With a little more understanding and having seen lots, we departed Paris for London and then Grantham. This was a jam-packed trip. I enjoyed every minute. It was different than I expected, but in a wonderfully refreshing way. I can’t say enough about the joy I found in talking to the people and trying to live, if only for a two days, like the French. It was so fun.

Another great surprise was a small spontaneous stop we made at the British Library in London. Between the Eurostar arrival in London and another train’s departure to Grantham we had about an hour to kill, so we walked out of the station and we suddenly back into the thrill of London. We saw a sign for the British Library and went to check it out. There is a room called “Treasures of the British Library.” In here are the original manuscripts or first editions of writers such as Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, and Chaucer. Also, this exhibit houses Shakespeare’s Quarto and Folio, as well as original copies of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s the Well Tempered Clavicord, and Purcell’s theme for the coronation of James II. They also had a section that housed scrapes of paper and envelops on which the Beatles had written some of their most famous tunes. This was such an interesting room! I could have looked at these things for hours.

After such a cool stop, we got back on the train and went to Grantham and then the manor just in time for Sunday roast. I keep thinking that this trip was perhaps my favorite, but then I have trouble comparing any of trips to one another. None have been bad or even slightly disappointing! I have enjoyed so much of what I have seen and experienced. In about an hour I am off to trip completely unlike any previous ones. I am going to the Lake District in northwestern England. I am climbing up a waterfall on Saturday afternoon! This is a beautiful national park that has scenery more amazing than anything I have ever seen (at least that is what they told us!). Of course, I will let you know what I think!

I really have to go! Sorry this post was soooo long. There was just sooooo much to tell!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I am back at the manor after a wonderful weekend. It always a bit tough to return to a pile of homework and another week of work (I know I sound spoiled! Those of you at home would probably say that you have work all the time and don't get to run off to great places like Prague on the weekend). Before I get into this week too much, I think I should back up and tell about Prague (that is probably why you are reading).

Last Friday I greeted the morning at an earlier hour than I like (5:30 am shower began the day!). After a taxi, three trains, and plane ride, we were in Prague! This was my first trip to t
he continent of Europe (in England they would just say "the continent"-like it is some far away place). From the airport we took a bus and then the metro to our hostel. We never even got
lost (that is really good for Laurel and I)! Once we arrived at "Miss Sophie's," our hostel, we
were really impressed. First the hostel was easy to find, was on a quite side street, and was very clean and cute. Second, we had made reservations to stay in a dorm, but when we checked-in
the receptionist told us that we had been upgraded to a private room for no extra charge! We found our room and bathroom to be very nice. The beds were great too! After we got settled, it was time to go exploring. I had made a list of all the places I wanted to go, but we like to just get out and walk around the different parts of the city and get a feel for the orientation and stuff. We walked around the National Museum, Wenceslas Square, and the Old Town Square.
Wenceslas Square was a huge place lined with commercial shops and restaurants that we would mostly recognize. The Old Town Square was my favorite place. It literally is a huge square, flanked by the Tyn Church Towers (pictured) and the Old Town Hall (which houses the famous astronomical clock).
The middle is occupied by several food vendors selling sausages and sides as well as these wonderful sweet, dough things. There is also an impressive statue of Jan Hus, the country's most famous martyr. At night it is really amazing to watch all the people eating and drinking amidst the wafting smell of sweet vanilla and open fires. By this time it was evening and we were hungry (especially with all this good food surround us)! We ate at a restaurant on the square and it was very good. I had a chicken with mango sauce. The menu was in at least 8 languages. It was huge! The waiter was very hesitant to give us tap water to drink. Most people order a beer (it is VERY cheap), juice, or wine to drink. I just wanted water! After dinner we walked across the Charles Bridge and it was a wonderful place to see the beautiful city at night. We stopped in a cocktail bar close to our hostel and had a drink. I had a "Jessie" (it was calling my name). It had been a long day of traveling and lots of walking, and I was tired.

The next day was filled from beginning to end with sightseeing. First thing was the "Dancing Building," a place that was designed by an American architect and some people think it is a
complete eye sore while others think it to be a wonderful nod to postmodernism. I like the design and thought it was unique. It didn't really go with the rest of the area's architecture
though. I was completely in love with the cute streets around the Dancing Building. They w
ere washed in different colors and unique. As it was along the river, it was a wonderful place to see the city across the river. After a mini-picture shoot, we explored that part of Prague a little bit more and eventually made our way across the Charles Bridge. During the day, the bridge was filled with sketch artists, jewelry vendors, and a jazz band (there was also a woman singing opera on the side of the street...she was really into her opera sining!). Next to see was St. Nicholas' Cathedral. This place was absolutely amazing.
I can't even explain how ornate and beautiful the interior was. The pictures I took (and I took a lot) don't even begin to give it justice. Here is just one of the many alters. If you go to Prague, this is the church to visit.

Finally we made it to the castle. Prague castle overlooks the city and has wonderful views, but it is a bit of a hike up the hill.
We had wonderful timing and arrived just in time to see a changing of the guard. It was really cool and lots of people were around. There was music and the guards had really fun looking hats. I was really glad to see this ceremony.

It took us a bit to understand the idea that the castle was just an area enclosed by a large wall. The castle is not just one building. Within the wall there are several building and churches. We bought a ticket to some of the attractions, but the Old Royal Palace was closed, so it wasn't was neat as it could have been. After a sufficient photo shoot of the city, we grabbed a hot dog from a street vendor and continued on with the day.

The remainder of the day was filled with a visit to the John Lennon Wall, a graffiti wall that originally protested communism, but has become a symbol of peace and love (pictured below), as well as
another church and the Old Jewish town. The Child of Prague Church has an amazingly ornate wax statue of the Baby Jesus. It is only 48 centimeters tall, yet it resides in the huge case that has gold and decoration everywhere. For some people, a pilgrimage to this church in Prague is a big deal.

The day's sightseeing was finished up with another trip through the Old Town Square. There was a jazz band here too! We walked around the Jewish Quarter of Prague. The history behind this place is what makes it interesting. Jews lived in this area from as early as the 10th century. Between 1893-1913 the area was demolished as part of an initiative to model the city after Paris. All that remained were six synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall. With only that small amount of Jewish remains left, the Nazi occupation would have been expected to demolish it, but it was preserved to represent "an exotic museum of an extinct race." The Nazis assembled a museum of Jewish artifacts from all over Europe and made the Jewish museum. That museum can still be toured today with many of the same artifacts that Hitler chose to be included in the museum. I didn't tour it because it is a bit expensive, but I did see the Old Cemetery which was really creepy. Gravestones are just pilled one on top of the other.
This cemetery has nothing to do with the holocaust. It was just an old cemetery in the
Jewish quarter.

After a late afternoon nap, we went out for dinner. We had really good personal pizzas for dinner at Prague's most famous pizzeria. Mine had spinach, tomatoes, and ricotta cheese.
Yum! They gave us free ice cream too! It was a great end to a wonderful day. After a substantial walk back to the hotel we went right to bed.

We still had a few hours left in Prague on Sunday. Our flight didn't leave until 3:45 pm, so we spent the morning exploring Vysehrad. It is a castle used for protection. There is a beautiful cathedral within the walls. There is also a cemetery in which over 600 famous Czech are buried. We looked at Antonin Dvork's grave. He is a famous composer. The cemetery had some very beautiful headstones and mini-monument type constructions.

We then went to the Petrin observation tower. It basically is a mini Eiffel tower (I am going to visit the real one this weekend!). We didn't go up into the tower, but we did take a lift to the top of the hill and looked out onto the city. Prague does not fail in the "great views" category.

Considering my love of food and eating while on trips, it was fitting that we ended the trip with a fabulous meal. We went to Bohemian Bagels, a local chain that is very popular and fairly cheap. I had a turkey club on a bagel and it was huge and so good! We made our way back to the hostel to get our bags and then retraced our steps to airport. This picture is a view from the plane ride home.
There weren't any problems in immigration. The longest part was the train ride back to the manor. It was over 3 hours! Need less to say, I was glad to be back.

School work has taken over the past two days more than normal. I am working hard on a paper and presentation for British Studies. We had an all day field trip today to a beautiful castle and a 19th century workhouse (they were serious about getting rid of the poor around here). Today was a long day, but it is still amazing to discuss aspects of a historical period and then go experience it only a few miles down the road.

I should finish my paper tonight just in time to catch a train to Paris tomorrow! I am so excited to go! It almost seems surreal. Don't worry I am sure reality will hit once I actually get there.

Check back in a week or so for a really great post about Paris!