Living in a Castle.

My summer trip abroad at Harlaxton College in England.


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London.

Hi, again. Just a couple more blog-worthy posts remaining, I promise. I have just really come to enjoy the idea of recording down my memories on here and sharing them with the few family and friends that take the time to read them. So thanks to anyone for putting up with me as I go about my fairy-tale life.

Our final class trip was down to London. We packed up the bus early Friday morning, saying our very last goodbye to our glorious manor. (Bye for now, at least. I swear that when I am rich and famous, I will be renting out the gatehouse apartment.)

ImageWe headed down the road about two hours and arrived in the streets of London, and the bus dropped us off at the St. Giles Hotel. It was…less than ideal. The set-up seemed great from the exterior and the lobby, but the moment I stepped off the cucumber melon scented elevator, I could tell the hotel wasn’t exactly how I had hoped. Picture…a meth lab, except one where you have to insert your key card into a box in order to turn on the lights (Yeah, Danielle and I did not figure that one out right away and had to ask reception for help.)

We were set free to do whatever our London hearts desired, so for the first few hours we just roamed around the city. I had my first experience on the Tube (underground railway system) as we zipped over to the Westminster area. It wasn’t awful, but I definitely would have been exponentially more confused had I not figured out Boston’s T back in the fall. We ain’t got one-uh dem things in da cornfields.

So we stepped out into the beautiful sunshine and were faced with the towering Big Ben. The weather was the complete opposite of Danielle’s and my first excursion there–hardly a cloud was in the sky and temperatures were in the mid 70s. Could not ask for a more perfect atmosphere to spend our days in the city.

ImageOur group was composed of about seven people, and we sat outside Westminster Abbey before going in for Evensong, a free, daily worship service. I cannot even begin to describe how beautifully moving of an experience it was. Once we were seated inside near Poet’s Corner (http://www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/highlights/poets-corner –I wish I had read up on this beforehand, because it is simply fascinating), my eyes could not stop moving all over the expansive cathedral as the choir sang hymns. Again, words cannot capture how amazing the singers’ voices were, all coming together and echoing throughout the Abbey in perfection.

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I’d say my favorite song was the anthem they sang, written by poet John Donne and later put to music by William Harris (which Danielle and I later tried to replicate singing in our hotel room in our best falsetto opera voices…I think we will leave it with the pros).

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling but one equal light, no noise not silence but one equal music, no fears nor hopes but one equal possession, no ends nor beginnings but one equal eternity, in the habitation of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.

I also just loved hearing how they resolved “Amen” every time, because it was always ended with different chords that left me feeling kind of uncertain, until the very last song finished with a glorious major chord. Just a wonderfully put together service.

We were all getting fairly hungry at that point and headed out in search of sustenance. Our group ended up splitting in two, but after doing much more walking than the others, we somehow ended up at the same exact restaurant, Spaghetti House. Although none of us ended up having spaghetti, we had a delicious two course meal for a reasonable price. I devoured bruschetta and then chicken and rosemary potatoes.

ImageThe remainder of the evening was just spent walking around the city some more (Oh, and getting ice cream…but that should go without saying by this point) until we were exhausted enough not to mind sleeping in our coat closet of a room.

Saturday morning four of us got up fairly early to make the most of our day. Our first notable endeavor was visiting the National Gallery, home to so many famous paintings. I found several that I recognized and others that I just really enjoyed viewing. The best part about this gallery and the majority of others in London? Free of charge!

We then revisited what kind of became my favorite quick lunchtime spot, Pret A Manger. I had a lovely brie, tomato, and basil sandwich as well as a cup of nectarines slices and raspberries. We snagged a bench on Trafalgar Square to eat, talk, and people watch.

ImageNext we made our way over towards the River Thames and took a lovely stroll along the riverside. That area (and all of London, as far as I’m concerned) is just so full of life. People everywhere, seeming to all be living a very enjoyable life. It reminded me of a few lines from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, my current literary undertaking.

In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.

Change that last word to July, and you’ve got a pretty accurate depiction of myself.

So we walked along, Anna graciously bought us some roasted peanuts, and we ended up at the Tate Modern. I have never really seen any modern art before, so I really had zero idea what was going on in the few exhibits we viewed. But, it was still cool. I just had more of an understanding of the baby Jesus pictures in the National Gallery than the chessboard made out of money there.

Then it was time for the pinnacle event of London, as far as I’m concerned: seeing Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe Theater. We joined the rest of the class as groundlings, standing in front of the stage for the performance’s duration. Here we are, extremely excited with our tickets and fashionable sunhats they distributed.Image

The play was absolutely hysterical. The actors did such an incredible job and had me in stitches on several occasions. My favorite line: when Bottom arrived late and explained, “My cockadoodle…didn’t.” Hah!

ImageAfterwards, our aching feet and legs carried us over to the connected pub, The Swan, where several of the actors were hanging out. Some were not awful to look at (When Lysander declared that he would be Helen’s knight, I was like, “Heck yeah you will.” Sorry, Jordan…).

Danielle and I soon departed the class and made our way through the Tube back to our absolute favorite place…Burgers and Cocktails. Yum yum yum yum. This time I went for the Matador: a beef patty topped with pulled pork, roasted red peppers, and manchego cheese. We also split a bowl of sweet potato fries, and I had my last legal drink for a year or so.

ImageWith satisfied tummies, we departed the restaurant and did a little last minute souvenir shopping. Then we got, you guessed it, ice cream.

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The two of us just chilled (haha, chilled…ice cream…funny.) in a park, watched some break dancers, and people watched, taking in our final sights of the country. It was absolutely perfect.

Returned to the hotel, packed up, and got some sleep before awakening early to head off on a charter bus to Heathrow International Airport. Since the professors and Tilda were staying to do a little more traveling, this is where we had to say goodbye, which was incredibly sad. Getting to know their family has just been such a rewarding experience; I have learned so much from them both inside and more so outside the classroom.

We arrived at the airport and went through all the joys of security and whatnot, then had a couple hours to wait before boarding. Then, oh joy, we had to sit for almost two additional hours on the airplane before taking off, because apparently they had bad water and had to wait for the caterers to bring more. However, we were eventually airborne, soaring above and away from the beauteous country I have fallen utterly in love with. I know that my return is inevitable.

But it feels good to be home. The past couple days have been spent in the company of my family and best friends, something I definitely missed dearly while I was away. Them and my cats. And Bob’s Dairy Dream. Ice cream obsessed.

 


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Greetings from the good ole’ US of A. I am here back in the comforts of my bedroom, realizing that I have quite a bit of catching up to do. The last week in England was fairly hectic as I prepared for my return and said goodbye to all the wonderful things that country offers. I have several posts to write in the next couple days, so I’ll begin with the final day at Harlaxton.

Thursday morning we were offered the really neat opportunity to serve as American ambassadors and be interviewed by the BBC Lincolnshire radio in honor of the 4th of July. So I, along with about five other students and Dr. Hanlon, got up a little too early and after a chaotic setup, spoke with one of the reporters. She asked us how we would be celebrating the Fourth were we home, and she was also interested in our course at Harlaxton and our travels throughout England. I gave fairly standard answers–England’s great, it’s so picturesque, I love it. Here is a link to one segment of the interview; scrub to about 2:53.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/p01b3800

It was still fairly early in the morning, so Danielle and I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and go on one final run around Harlaxton village and on several of the public footpaths through the countryside. I could not get rid of the goofy smile on my face as I took it all in, but that smile eventually gave way to the hint of some tears in my eyes as we walked the mile stretch leading to the manor for the final time.

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At one point, my playlist shuffled to Jimmy Eat World’s song Just Watch the Fireworks, which seemed wholly appropriate considering the date and its content (“I promised I’d see it again, I promised I’d see it with you now.”)

By the time we got back and showered, we were ready for lunch. Whatever they were serving in the hot line did not appeal to me, so I had a salad as my big finale refectory meal. Yum.

Later in the afternoon, Danielle and I walked around inside and outside the manor taking a plethora of photos, which I plan to share in a later blog post.

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In preparation for our Fourth of July and farewell dinner party, we got all dolled up and took some cute pictures out on the front lawn.

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Here is another one of my favorites, featuring Danielle, the professors’ daughter Tilda, and me acting as wizards–them both in the midst of a duel and me doing my Percy Weasley impression of, “Excuse me, I’m head boy.”

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Then we loaded into some cabs and headed off to Chequers (or Crackers as someone mistakenly called it on the radio that morning). Our food wasn’t being served for another hour, so we grabbed some drinks (for me, Gaymers pear cider, which was probably my favorite drink of the trip. Very good stuff.) and sat out in the back for a while. Here my favorite candid shot was snapped of Anna and me laughing and looking all sophisticated. DSCN5174

Now for the food. Oh baby, was it good. We had a multitude of dishes to select that composed our three course meal. My belly was delighted to have…

Feta, watermelon, and pine nut salad.

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Crab crusted salmon, potatoes, and (insert name of whatever vegetable thing this was. No idea, but it was tasty).

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And best of all…sticky toffee pudding! OM NOM NOM.

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The principal at Harlaxton happened to be dining there as well, and in the middle of our meal, he came in and asked if we would like to sing to a Rotary group having an American-style dinner in honor of the 4th. Heck yes we would! So we crashed their party to show off our patriotic spirit in a rendition of God Bless America. They honestly loved it, and we had a great time performing.

Following our meal, the professors got up gave a very heartfelt speech. Dr. Hanlon shared a couple of poems, including one of my favorites, Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” So much truth. They also distributed awards to everyone. What was mine, you wonder? Excellence in Vomiting: Honoring both productive vomiting but also that practiced with a certain style and dignity. Yup, story of my life.

Upon our return back to the manor, the majority of the group headed down to the bistro to hang out for a while. However, there was packing to be done and sleep to be had before our early departure to London.

Sitting here and thinking back on this perfect last day at Harlaxton as well as many of the other wonderful memories that occurred there, I am just so happy. I think a large part of this is due to the amazing group we had. Along with Drs. Hanlon and McGregor, it was just such a cohesive and fun class to be a part of. I know that whenever I see any of these folks roaming around campus this year, they are sure to receive a big, “Ay you…I love you!!”


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Yorkin’ it up, round two.

As our final free weekend approached, Danielle and I spent some good time deliberating over how we wanted to spend it. We didn’t want to do anything too expensive and crazy, but a lastlittle trip was a must. Every time we thought about possible day trips, we kept comparing them to our time in York. Then it dawned on us: why not just go there again? So we did, along with a couple other gals, Mackenzie and Anna. Such a good decision.

One of our main motives in York was to accomplish some must-do souvenir shopping. When we entered the town, our first plan of action was to hit up the market that we loved so much the last time. However, when we reached that part of town, we were disappointed to find that it was drastically smaller; upon asking a local in a shop, he said that the vendors we had encountered previously were part of traveling market. Instead, this weekend the spot was hosting a festival of local concert bands.

So even though we were somewhat let down, we had the opportunity to visit many more of the town’s little shops, done while hearing some bands toot their horns. It reminded me of the good ole’ Arts in the Park days in downtown Peoria. Likewise, last weekend Harlaxton hosted the Nottingham Youth Orchestra. There were junior high aged musicians running around the manor when they weren’t heard rehearsing their pieces. It definitely felt like something a young Helen would have been involved in, were I a British child.

Anyways, we did a lot of shopping in York. A LOT. But I ended up with some really nice gifts for my family and several neat stories to accompany them, which I cannot wait to share.

Lunchtime rolled around, and we decided to stick with what we knew was good by returning to Georgina’s. This time I had a hot, open-faced sandwich of sun-dried tomatoes, onions, and cheese on granary bread. Absolutely delicious. I am not always the biggest fan of some of the meat they serve in England, so I have been able to discover some really good vegetarian options that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise chosen.

ImageNext up, we were drawn over towards the Fudge Kitchen, where we proceeded to spend the entire next hour. The workers there were so fun and entertaining, as well as generous–many a fudge sample was devoured. When we first arrived there, they were pouring out the mixture for strawberries and cream fudge onto the cooling table, and we were told that if we stuck around for a while, we could watch the demonstration. And so we did.

We leaned up against the banister in front of that table for quite some time, waiting in giddy (probably sugar-induced) anticipation for the coveted demonstration. We talked for a while with the king of fudge himself, Ian, who recognized our Americanness by our “accents and nice teeth.” He was quite a charismatic fella, and surely kept us entertained. Let me be the first to extend my congratulations to him and Danielle, as she claims they are getting married.

So finally it was time for the big demonstration, and it was actually quite fascinating. A large crowd of both kids and adults gathered around us to view the spectacle as well. It started off as this hot, runny liquid and cooled into a sticky, crystallized rectangle. Then as Ian worked at it and kept air moving throughout, it became more malleable (fifty point vocab word right there! Thanks, Earth Science.).

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The guy continued to interact with the crowd while he worked, noting that while all of the British audience members reacted passively like, “oh yes, he is making fudge…”, us four American girls were loudly enthusiastic with his every move, such as, “OH MY GOD! This is amazing!! He’s making fudge!!! He is so handsome!!!!!” I’d say that is a pretty accurate depiction; we were having a very good time. And finally, after all of our devoted waiting, we were rewarded with the first samples of the delicious strawberry fudge.

I received the first piece, and jokingly hollered out, “Oh my god, this is amazing!!” The other girls took the plunge and commented on his handsomeness as well. So yes, it was a good time. And Danielle is in love.

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So. Five paragraphs later…the rest of our day was spent walking around town, doing some more shopping, and enjoying the beautiful weather. For dinner we stopped at a fish and chips takeaway place and ate outside on a grassy area.

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We once again finished off our day by walking around the old castle walls to view for the last time the simple beauty of York before boarding the train back to Grantham. I don’t think I could ask for a more perfect final day trip.

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Welcome, dear friends, to the Lake District, one of the most beautiful places my eyes have ever had the pleasure of viewing. This week’s class adventures were inspired by the poetry of William Wordsworth. We spent three days in Grasmere where he resided many years (but no, we did not visit his giggle-inducing birthplace of Cockermouth), and we wandered lonely as clouds, just taking in the amazing natural landscapes.

Our bus took off early Wednesday morning, and we traveled about four hours to the northwest corner of the country, nearing the border of Scotland. I found it fascinating just to watch the changing scenery along the countryside as it started off flat, developed into some rolling hills, and finally became expansive mountains as we reached the Lake District.

After checking into the Wordsworth Hotel, “the greatest place man hath ever known,” we walked around the village and visited Wordsworth’s and his family’s gravestones.

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Then it was off to Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s old home, which appeared incredibly well preserved. We were led on a tour through the house, learning several interesting facts about his life. We even got to see the couch where he supposedly laid “in vacant or in pensive mood,” which I thought was pretty neat. Again, when they open up the fabulous Helen Museum, it will probably feature such artifacts as my foldable fish-patterned chair/bed where oft I lie watching TV and eating Doritos.

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Following Dove Cottage, we walked over to the Wordsworth Museum to look a little more into not only his life but his family’s as well. One piece that particularly stood out to me was a writing by his sister Dorothy on how she preferred walking to any other form of transportation. I am with ya on that one, sista! Those narrow, windy roads our charter bus had to maneuver were a little bit frightening. But no worries, my sore legs will attest to the fact that plenty of walking was done on this trip as well.

Next we headed over to Rydal Mount, his later home. This one was comparably larger to accommodate his growing family and is actually still in use by a family today.
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The property also included an expansive backyard, wooded area for us to explore, and it provided some wonderful photo opps.

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However, as we discussed the picturesque views England offers in class this week, we talked about how often we focus the lense of our cameras instead of mentally focusing on the experience–or, at least, that is what I got out of the conversation. So I truly did try to take some time to just breathe in the air and enjoy my surroundings without being hindered by technology.

Speaking of technological hindrances, I apologize in advance for a few of these pictures that refused to rotate for me. Still pretty though! The following is from our walk back from Rydal Mount to Grasmere along the Coffin Trail.

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Along our walk, a lady behind us noticed somebody’s EIU Study Abroad backpack and took a moment to talk with us, because she was from the St. Louis area, which was the first of several connections we encountered during this trip. People always seem genuinely interested to hear about our studying abroad, and it reminds me how truly fortunate I am to partake in this opportunity.

We returned to the hotel, and I spent some time just chilling out for a while before going out to dinner with a few other girls. I was completely starving at that point and very happy when we found Potted Out, a cute little Italian-ish cafe. When our waiter heard our accents and recognized we were American, he asked if we knew about the Stanley Cup, because one of his best friends growing up is number 26 on the Bruins. So that was cool, and the food was amazing. The other girls each had a pizza, and I had a burger sandwiched on Italian bread and chips (look at me, not even thinking twice over the chips/fries deal!).

We finished dinner and then just hung around outside, enjoying good conversation and watching the beautiful sunset over the mountains. We headed in fairly early, and falling asleep was not a problem in the slightest that night.

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The following morning started off with a nice breakfast at the hotel; I wasn’t feeling daring enough to order black pudding again, but I did have scrambled eggs and some thinly sliced salmon. I am going to credit that fish for giving me the energy to power through Friday’s big endeavor–climbing a mountain.

A fairly large group of us rode the bus a couple towns over and got dumped off at the foot of a mountain. We followed the professors and began our ascension along a relatively steep slope up a rocky path. The trail wasn’t awful, but I did have to take a few breaks to catch my breath. The scariest part for me was crossing over a stream of rushing water via some big boulders spread far enough apart that I wasn’t sure my little shortie legs would make it, but instead of pausing to think about it, I just powered ahead and made it fine. Here are some of my classmates during the ascent.

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We finally reached our initial goal, Stickle Tarn, and took a break to admire the incredible view and take a few pictures. Clearly, Danielle and I were happy to be there.

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But that wasn’t all just yet. Anyone who was up for it was invited to go even further to the summit, and the majority of the class accepted the challenge. This part of the trek had a less distinct path, but I took it slow and steady to find a safe route of sturdy rocks. There was a bit of a haze and some rain upon us, and it was getting increasingly chilly. But that didn’t stop us from going up, up, up, up, up, and up until finally reaching the very top.

My lungs were already out of breath from the climb, but they were rendered even more so upon looking out into the vast view we were rewarded with. My pictures clearly cannot do it any justice.

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Here’s the group at the very top, looking accomplished, wet, happy, sore, and fashionable–some more than others (cough cough, manpris).

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Eventually we had to return down, down, down. This half was easier on the cardio but harder on the legs as they searched for the best path down the slippery, wet rocks. Whenever I paused for a break, I could feel my legs shaking uncontrollably. I may or may not have witnessed somebody tumble completely down face first, which was absolutely terrifying, but she got up laughing and relatively okay, despite a couple scratches and bruises.

A little over three hours later, our feet gratefully hit flat ground. Later on Dr. Hanlon posted this official record of our trek: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/334415071 .We took a well-deserved break at the nearby pub, and I divulged in some excellent cheesy garlic bread.

Then it was back to the hotel, where I didn’t do much of anything except lay in bed and enjoy some lovely British television (including this fantastic game show, Tipping Point. Basically it is an entire show based off of that quarter pusher game from carnivals with some trivia included. It has to be the slowest paced game show ever, but Danielle and I got really into it, to the point where we erupted in cheers and high-fived when the jackpot coin reached the bottom and the final contestant won £10,000! Woooo!!).

For dinner our same group from the previous night as well as several others returned to Potted Out. I feel like my food pictures have become decreasingly appetizing in quality. I tried to get artsy fartsy and include the cute wall decor with my margherita pizza in this shot…but you can be the judge of how well that worked out.

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So as we were sitting there eating, a man at a nearby table heard the American accent and asked where we were from, because he was from Chicago. As some girls were talking to him, the couple sitting next to my table overheard their conversation and asked me where we were studying. When I told them “Harlaxton, near Grantham,” her eyes lit up, because she and her husband were from Grantham! It was quite a small world inside that little restaurant, and it made for some great dinnertime conversations.

Friday morning after breakfast, we had to say goodbye to the beautiful Lake District. On our journey homeward, we first went up through the town of Keswick to see a stone circle. It’s not as renown as Stonehenge, but it was still interesting to see a structure that has stood perfectly for such a long time.

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Five hours later, we once again saw Harlaxton out of the charter bus windows. Home! But not for too much longer. Only a week left of this incredible trip abroad. I was doing a bit of journaling Friday morning, reflecting on my time here, and I truly feel like I have grown so much. There have just been so many things I have seen and accomplished that I would have never imagined possible a year ago, maybe even a month ago. It has been a crazy journey, and I am loving every minute of it so far. There is still plenty of excitement in store this final week, and with a bittersweet heart, I am ready to enjoy it.

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A Draculatastic, Potterific Time around Whitby.

‘Ello, loves! This past Thursday and Friday was our first overnight class trip; we spent the first day exploring Whitby, stayed the night at an adorable hotel the next town over, and had a pleasant hike the following morning.

Here is just a brief description of Whitby, from the character Mina’s narrative in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, our text for the week.

“This is a lovely place. The little river, the Esk, runs through a deep valley, which broadens out as it comes near the harbour. A great viaduct runs across, with high piers, through which the view seems somehow further away than it really is. The valley is beautifully green, and it is so steep that when you are on the high land on either side you look right across it,unless you are near enough to see down. The houses of the old town the side away from us are all red- roofed, and seem piled up one over the other…”

That account still remained entirely true. After 199 (although I counted 197) steps up, the view of Whitby was absolutely beautiful, despite the rainy weather.

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A view of Whitby as several of my classmates follow behind up the steps.

ImageWe first took a self-guided tour through the historic ruins of the Whitby Abbey. The Gothic structure was already partially ruined at the time of Stoker’s writing but became even more destroyed in a WWI attack. The parts of the Abbey that remain are still beautifully striking, making it easy to see how Stoker was so inspired to write the creepy tale of Dracula.

ImageAfter the tour, we were set free to explore the town for a while. A few of us headed off together to venture the narrow streets and peruse a few stores. Eventually we met up with another group and found ourselves at the beach before the North Sea.

Last week it became a known fact that I have actually never been to the ocean before (minus a brief stop at the Gulf of Mexico in Texas when I was about three years old…doesn’t count!), so there was big hullabaloo as I took my shoes off, rolled up my jeans, and had my first steps in the 11°C (51.8°F) ocean water.

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The historical moment when my feet first touched the North Sea water.

It was quite chilly on my toes, but I loved every moment of it. We ended up having a spontaneous jumping picture photoshoot, and many turned out wonderfully. Here’s one of my favorites:

ImageI should note that my feet feat (hah) was nothing in comparison to the brave souls that took the (literal) plunge and submerged themselves completely in the water. Bravo to them!

After all that excitement, a few of us decided we deserved a little treat to celebrate. Coffee sounded like a wonderful way to warm up, but there were so many ice cream stands around that tempted us as well. Then we had the brilliant idea: both. I was therefore double-fisting through the streets of Whitby–a coffee in my left hand, a cookies and cream ice cream cone in my right hand, and a smile on my face. It had to be the best combination of taste my mouth has ever experienced.

Side note: Danielle and I have been attempting to rank all of our ice cream endeavors throughout this trip, and here’s my outlook so far: York had the best cone–it was a waffle cone and not one of these dinky little stale things we’ve had otherwise. London was amazing because it free of charge as well as delicious. But Whitby, in my opinion, is the winner as far as the ice cream itself goes; the cookies and cream wasn’t Oreos like I’m accustomed to but rather a gooey, chocolate chip cookie smushed throughout the vanilla. SO GOOD.

This awesome experience resulted in me being a bit wired as we entered our hotel in the next town over, Goathland. That state may explain why I was so zealous about how amazing the hotel was and why I felt compelled to take pictures of every little thing Danielle’s and my quaint room contained.

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Beds!

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A bathtub!!

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A sink!!!

I managed to settle down after a while to relax in the backyard of the hotel to enjoy nice conversation and the beautiful view of the surrounding landscape.

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It was time for dinner, so we wandered around Goathland in search of a pub, when we stumbled across the Ford Anglia used as the flying car in Harry Potter 2! How cool.

ImageAbout half of the class ended up going back to the hotel’s pub for dinner, where I split a steak burger and chips with Danielle and drank a Becks, and we hung out there for the remainder of the night.

The sun rose Friday morning, bringing about a new season as well as a new experience for me…black pudding. There was an excellent breakfast at the hotel that included not only a cold bar with multitudes of fruit and spreads for toast but a Full Yorkshire Breakfast as well. What does this entail? Sausage, bacon, egg, potatoes, beans, mushrooms, tomato, and, of course, black pudding. For those of you fortunate enough to not know what this is, look it up…if you can stomach it. I tried my one bite to say be able to say I have tried it, and that was quite enough.

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A bit apprehensive about some of the plate’s contents.

After checking out of the hotel, we took to the moors for another walk. It was at this point that my camera battery became exhausted, which was completely my fault; I knew it was getting low, but I had been too lazy to charge it before the trip. So now you are stuck with my vivid descriptions.

We got a nice expansive view of the area under some misty, hazy cloud coverage. At one point we accidentally stumbled into a group of snakes, which Dr. Hanlon was brave enough to approach and take a picture of despite their hissing.

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Turns out they were addlers, a deadly species. Luckily nobody was harmed!

After the moors we descended a dangerous, slippery slope down to a stream and followed the rocky trail to a waterfall. We spent some time around there before trekking back up the steep climb for lunch.

A group of us ate at a little tea shop. I wasn’t too entirely hungry so I ordered a cheese sandwich, assuming it would probably be a grilled cheese. Nope, I was wrong. It was literally a sandwich of wheat bread and a heaping of grated cheese. Probably my most disappointing meal so far…but I made up for it with more ice cream! This one is the winner of my most unique flavor, toffee apple. Yum yum.

Finally, we ended our trip by heading to the train station from Harry Potter and boarding the North Yorkshire Express steam engine. After some confusion and intense back-and-forth walking action, we were able to sit in the compartments in the back, just like Harry, Ron, and Hermione! I had never been on a train until this trip, so the Hogwarts Express has always been my mental image of a train; it was pretty cool to actually take a fifteen minute ride aboard it.

Once we got off the train, we immediately got on our charter bus and headed back to our little castle. It is hard to believe that three weeks have already passed, but I feel like our time allotted here is perfect. I have had some incredible experiences so far, and I am looking forward to returning home and sharing them with my family and friends after only two more excitement-packed weeks.


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Winning London.

Why yes, that is a reference to the cinematic excellence that is Mary-Kate and Ashley’s British adventure. This past weekend has undeniably been one of the best of my life. However, there are a few other blog-worthy notes to make before recounting the London trip.

Searching for a rock.

A while ago on a walk through the country, Dr. Hanlon pointed over to a hill and mentioned that there was a rock up there that former EIU students had signed and left; anyone who found it could split ten pounds. Challenge accepted. Last Wednesday a group of us decided to spend our free time wandering over to where we vaguely remember the hill being. Only problem was: we couldn’t find a way to reach the hill, which resulted in poor Danielle leaping into a rather potent batch of stinging nettles. Ouch. We disgruntledly returned back to the manor.

However, after a little discussion over dinner, we were provided some more information on the rock and its whereabouts. After looking up the route of public footpaths, we regained our spirits and set back out. We found the right path…which ended up being in the middle of a field of cows. They were all over together in one corner by the fence as we started to cross, but next thing we knew they were moooving right towards us! Not just a little lazy cow saunter but a vicious, wild swarm at our innocent little selves, who therefore took off running.

The evil things lined up when we passed them earlier in the day.

The evil things eying us when we passed earlier.

Luckily we made it over the stile onto the hill safely, but they legitimately stood there and stared at us the entire time we searched through the rain-soaked, muddy grass, only to be again unsuccessful.

Haworth.

On Thursday we took our next class trip up to Haworth to learn a little more about the depressingly short lives of the Bronte sisters. The road to get there was…not my favorite. The charter bus twisted and turned and bumped and stopped and started and loopdelooped all the way up this road in a manner that was less than agreeable to my stomach.

Regardless, the view from up there was incredible. We got a chance to visit the Bronte Parsonage Museum, located in the family’s old house, which was filled with all different kinds of photos and artifacts from their lives. I found it fascinating to see all the little stories and doodles the young girls created in their kitchen. I realized that if anyone ever makes a Helen museum, it will include drawings of Spongebob and the classic watercolor illustrated book, Helen’s Goose, which don’t exactly compare to this genius family’s creations.

Bronte Parsonage.

Bronte Parsonage.

We then got a chance to wander around the village for a bit, where I was able to pet a cat for the first time in two weeks. Words cannot even describe my excitement.

One of the two cats. Our friendship had a rough start, but eventually he let me brush away the junk on his face and pet him. Such a sweetie.

One of the two cats. Our friendship had a rough start, but eventually he let me brush away the junk on his face and pet him. Such a sweetie.

Our final activity was a walk through the moors, which have been so beautifully described throughout their novels. It was a very hilly, leg-testing climb, but the views were completely worth it. Here are a few of my favorites:

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London-day one.

For several reasons that should be evident throughout this post, Danielle and I are the perfect travel partners. Reason number one: we are both total cheapskates and will do anything to save a couple pounds. The first example of this is how we woke up early enough to take the free shuttle from Harlaxton to the Grantham train station instead of paying for a cab, even though our train wasn’t for another four hours. That did not bother us though, because we spent our time sitting in a little nook, reading Dracula, eating our delectable cream crackers (which we had been hoarding up all week in preparation for the trip), and people watching.

We also saved some money by packing up PB&J sandwiches and apples for lunch. I felt like Ron Weasley in HP1 when they’re on the train and the snack trolley comes by, and thus attempted to take a picture looking like such.

My smushed, hairbrush indented sandwich is inside that wad of napkins.

My smushed, hairbrush indented sandwich is inside that wad of napkins.

Our next Harry Potter moment occurred when we arrived at King’s Cross station and went through the wall to Platform 9 3/4.

 

I went with the Ravenclaw scarf. This has always been a major inner debate in my life (either that or Gryffindor), and I really felt the pressure when it got down to those crucial last moments. My deciding factor was that blue matched my outfit better. Classic.

I went with the Ravenclaw scarf. This has always been a major inner debate in my life (either that or Gryffindor), and I really felt the pressure when it got down to those crucial last moments. My deciding factor was that blue matched my outfit better. Classic.

Upon our returning from Hogwarts, it seemed like hardly a minute had passed, and we were left with an entire afternoon to gallivant throughout London. Walking was the name of the game this weekend. Not once did we utilize public transportation but instead carried ourselves across the entire city on our feet with the help of the trusty map we printed out beforehand. That thing ended up being quite a big help. We had a couple of spots hilighted that we wanted to visit, but really Danielle and I just enjoyed wandering around to see what we could find.

And what a find this was.

Free ice cream!

Free ice cream!

We encountered this lovely little Ben and Jerry’s truck at the Covent Gardens Market. I didn’t believe Danielle at first when she said they were giving away ice cream, but oh baby it was true! I guess they were doing this whole hullabaloo to promote humanitarian cow rights, which the UK is lacking. I would sign that petition a million more times if it means I got more Blondie-Brownie ice cream. Delicious.

This was also the location of Danielle’s first gentleman suitor, a little German boy asking to take a picture with her for “a memory photo!” She was completely befuddled and just kept blurting out, “I’m not from here!” until the boy went running and laughing hysterically back to his friends. Hilarious.

Whilst at Covent Gardens, we also looked at the multitudes of vendors, and I ended up purchasing this adorable watch for a great price. image

Having a watch shut me up from having to ask Danielle the time every five seconds, since I was without my phone the majority of the weekend, unless we had wifi accessibility. That was kind of a refreshing experience for me; it was nice to go to bed at night and just journal my thoughts away, instead of being distracted by sending texts and crushing candy.

We continued on our journey and eventually realized we had hit a body of water, which was the majestic Thames River. Who knew. We were able to stop on the bridge and take a few pictures of the classic London skyline.

The London Eye to the left and some of Westminster on the right.

The London Eye to the left and some of Westminster on the right.

All of our wanderings resulted in some pretty hungry tummies, so we treated our frugal selves to a nice Italian dinner. Because we are essentially the same person, Danielle and I both had the penne pepperoni, which was pasta with tomato sauce and little Italian sausages. It was an incredibly large serving that left us both full and smiling.

The first of many food shots.

The first of many food shots.

We spent some time digesting on a bench in the Russel Square park, where we had free entertainment for the night of a guy carrying his lady through the fountain, slipping in the water, and dropping both the girl and himself to the ground. Despite their soakedness, they got up laughing. I wanted to applaud.

Then it was time to settle in for the night in our hostel, the Smart Russel Square. Here Danielle looks pretty darn excited to be spending the night in this place.

I should have taken a before and after shot the next morning.

I should have taken a before and after shot the next morning.

Actually our first hostel experience really wasn’t that bad. The accommodations were pretty much what you would expect for £16: a bunk bed, sheets, and some nasty communal bathrooms. We had four other roommates: two Spanish speaking girls who spent hours doing their makeup, pre-gaming, and talking too loud before finally heading out for their big night on the town and a couple of gentlemen with “un dialecto muy raro” from Italy. Once the girls were gone, I actually managed to have a fairly decent night’s sleep. We packed our belongings up in the morning and ate our complimentary toast and cornflakes (a meal I didn’t exactly find worthy or appealing enough to deserve a blog photo) before embarking upon…

London-day two.

Truly the only downside to our trip was the lugging around of all our “essential” belongings. My back and shoulders will attest to the fact that I am not exactly one for packing light. However, we had the great idea to check in as early as possible to our Saturday night hostel, the Smart Hyde Park Inn, and put in the extra pound and a half to secure our luggage in a locker.

En route to the hostel across town, we encountered Danielle’s second lover: a man with a huge grin carrying a hookah who kept calling out to her, “Ay you!…Ay you! I love you!!” That, of course, is our new favorite line to say to each other.

We had time to kill before check-in, so we took a stroll through Hyde Park, which was enormous and full of life. It also had the best bathroom facilities in all of London.

DSCN4384Some time was spent sitting on a bench and watching the various birds that inhabited the pond. Just a warning to all my Facebook pals, get ready for an unnecessary amount of bird and flower pictures; everything was so beautiful, I couldn’t resist.

We were also situated right by this statue, and even though I am not a big Peter Pan fangirl, I do recognize the spot from Winning London (I really hope at least one other person is with me on my lame obsession with that awful movie) and had to take a picture.

DSCN4411After checking into our hostel (and becoming slightly worried at the exponential increase in its sketchiness and dinginess compared to our other one), we trekked back through London, stopping occasionally for a little shopping. One place in particular was having a close-out sale, and I cashed in big time on some excellent gifts.

Rain started spitting out a little bit, so we deliberated for a little while on where to eat lunch. Like I said, Danielle and I are the same person, which means we are both very indecisive. However, we always seem to make good final judgments, and this was one of them. We ate at Pret a Manger, which seems fairly similar to a Panera. I had a fruit salad that included the best cantaloupe I have ever devoured and a hot crescent roll with melted cheese, tomato, ham, and bacon. Once again, delicious.

DSCN4422Another great decision we made: heading back to Covent Gardens for more free ice cream. We faithfully stood in the line, even as the rain started to fall harder and harder (Side note: I am an idiot. Despite the 60% chance of rain in the forecast, I failed to bring my rain jacket and umbrella. I thought I could out-will the rain or something. Stupid, stupid wet girl.). It was entirely worth it, and this time I tried out Karamel Sutra, which was just as tasty as the previous day’s. Danielle and I decided that next year when we are living at Eastern together and it rains, we are running out to Walmart and sending a little business Ben and Jerry’s way to relive the memory (And now that the pact is in the blog, it is legit!).

So worth it.

So worth it.

To get away from the rain for a while, we thought it would be a good idea to hit up one of London’s many free museums and decided on the National Portrait Gallery. It was really neat and we saw several recognizable faces…but we were both so exhausted at that point that we weren’t fully engaged in the experience and headed out after about an hour.

National Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery.

So the next part is kind of a blur, probably because my mind was essentially numb at this point. A light rain continued, but we made our way out to see Big Ben, which was huge and beautiful.

DSCN4434Then it rained. And rained and rained and rained. We stood in a slightly covered doorway for at least a half hour, just waiting and wishing for it to clear up. When it finally let up for a while, we needed a little rejuvenation in the form of tea, which did just the trick. We spent some good time in the basement of a Caffe Nero. I had an unexpected and short-lived meltdown, before curing myself with some uncontrollable laughter. There were just a lot of emotions running through me, and they all seemed to come out in a span of about five minutes.

It was getting late in the afternoon and we were anxious for some dinner. We walked through the crowded London streets and ended up amongst the same strip of restaurants off Oxford Street we had lunch at. Again, we did a classic Helen and Danielle walk around and indecisively deliberate. We had reached a point where nothing we saw really sounded that appealing, and then (dramatic pause) we saw it. Burgers and Cocktails. For whatever reason, we hadn’t given it a second thought on our first walk around, but we crossed the street, looked at their menu, decided it was in our price range, and went inside.

It was perfect. So perfect that I am going to dedicate an entire three pictures to its perfection.

Danielle was really, reeeally happy.

Danielle was really, reeeally happy.

I had a rodeo burger (beef patty with bacon, BBQ sauce, and onion rings), and we shared a bowl of sweet potato fries. Commence drooling now.

I had a rodeo burger (beef patty with bacon, BBQ sauce, and onion rings), and we shared a bowl of sweet potato fries. Commence drooling now.

With its eclectic and friendly staff, adorable interior, and wickedly delicious food, this place rules. Love, Helen-your international food blogger.

With its eclectic and friendly staff, adorable interior, and wickedly delicious food, this place rules. Love, Helen-your international food blogger.

Seriously, Morton people. I think this place even beats Burger Barge. I know. Must return soon.

After a loooong day, we again ended it by walking through Hyde Park. We stopped by this pond to watch birds and an adorable little boy feeding them (Okay, the majority of our attention was focused on that cute, laughing, happy lil dude, but that just makes us sound like creeps). Another reason Danielle and I make a great team. Who else wants to stand by some water and watch ducks for an extended period of time? It even sounds lame as I type it, but it was the perfect end to a perfect day.

DSCN4453So then it was in for the night at our hostel…which proved to be not the greatest time. The grimy, stinky, hot mess of a place made our previous night’s stay look like a palace. We were in an eight person room, four of whom did not show up until about 1 a.m. only to realize that there were not enough open beds and therefore brought in a staff person to stomp around with the lights on and sort it all out–or, at least, this is what my groggy middle-of-the-night mind comprehended. Not the most pleasant night’s sleep, but we got ourselves out of there fairly early in the morning.

London-day three.

Sunday morning was spent–you guessed it–walking across town. I got some juice from a convenience store and we later stopped at a Costa coffee for much-needed sustenance. I had the best blended iced coffee ever. I’m tellin’ ya, we really scored high with our food this weekend.

Then we frolicked about Regent’s Park, which I have decided was my favorite of the three parks we visited. Many many bird and flower pictures ensued, especially as we walked through the Queen’s Garden. Simply beautiful.

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DSCN4567Our final stop for the day was the Camden Market, a bustling plethora of vendors and customers selling pretty much everything imaginable. We each found a couple of good gifts, although after a while the products being sold started seeming fairly repetitive. But the food. Oh the food. Let me tell ya about the food. Disregard all the deliciousness I have ascribed to all of our previous meals, and get ready for this.

Once again, we walked past all the vendors to wage our options and taste the samples they offered us before deciding on jerk chicken. Mama’s jerk chicken, to be exact.

Thanks, Mama.

Thanks, Mama.

I had mine in the form of a salad box with plantains as well. Included in the salad were cold peas; only my sister really understands the magnitude of that statement, but we kind of have an obsession with cold peas in salad bars because they are the best thing ever.

Mama done good.

Mama done good.

Later on it was time for a treat, and I followed Danielle’s instinct to the churro stand, where they made those hot, doughy, cinnamony, caramel and chocolate filled sticks before our eyes. So, so good. Not sure my Taco Bell cinnamon twists will ever be able to live up to this (and by not sure, I mean absolutely positive).

Maybe not the most eye-catching treat, but trust me. Amazing.

Maybe not the most eye-catching treat, but trust me. Amazing.

For those of you who have stuck around through this way too long blog post, thank you. I have just one more story left, and it’s a good one.

After the market, our feet insisted that we were done for the day, so we headed back towards the train station to hang out until our train departed. When we entered the building, I decided that I wanted to check out the Harry Potter gift store again. I remembered it being somewhere around Platform 11. So I searched around with Danielle loyally following behind, and we reached Platform 11, which was nowhere near a store of any kind. Nothing looked all too familiar, but I figured I was just thinking of the wrong number. Soo I wandered some more, continually convincing myself that it was somewhere right around the corner. It wasn’t. Eventually Danielle said, “Uh, Helen. I think we’re at the wrong train station.” I refused to believe her.

She was right. We were across the street from King’s Cross at St. Pancres International (Or was it St. Pancras? I dunno; I therein referred to it as “the pancreas place.”) So we walked over to the correct station and spent some time there…until we had to pee.

One lesson Harry Potter did not teach us, friends, is that it costs 30 pence to use the restrooms at King’s Cross. Bloody hell! Not for us. We went back and relieved our bladders at the pancreas. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip with the perfect friend. DSCN4425


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Eat, read, sleep, repeat.

Yesterday and today have been some much needed chill days for Danielle and me. As we recovered from our York trip, we began thinking ahead to next weekend’s adventures; I believe we have finally decided on a little London overnight action (This is our new, obnoxious phase–adding “action” to the end of every sentence.)
This afternoon we took the shuttle into Grantham to run some errands and hang at a Costa coffee shop for a while. I’m thinking this is the Brittish equivalent to Starbucks because we’ve seen them all over, although there have been a handful of “the bucks” (obscure Michael Scott reference) as well.

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Whilst fashioning my official Harlaxton sweatshirt, I enjoyed a mocha and got a decent amount of Wuthering Heights read. It was a bit difficult to get into at first, but I have slowly started becoming more interested in the story. I am nerdily looking forward to our classroom session tomorrow.
Afterwards we just walked around for about an hour, making note of some establishments in Grantham we want to visit in the future.

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Happy days!

Crazy to believe, but Danielle hasn’t seemed to get completely sick of my company yet. I am definitely missing my friends and family at home, but I know I am so blessed to have a full month left of this incredible opportunity here. And, as I am habitually reminded by this work of art card by the one and only Catrina…

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