Living in a Castle.

My summer trip abroad at Harlaxton College in England.


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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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The best day…

So far.

All throughout yesterday, Danielle and I could not stop obsessing over how perfect of a day we were having. It began with taking my first cab ride immediately followed by my first train ride. We rode for a little over an hour before arriving in the lovely town of York. Four other girls had invited us along, and we decided that it sounded like a great place to go and check out.

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It was the absolute perfect place. York has a lot of medieval history and offers several museums and other touristy activities, but we just delighted in walking around to take it all in. The streets were filled with restaurants and stores, there were musicians performing around almost every corner, and (best of all) a Saturday market was going on with rows of vendors selling food and unique products.

We stopped in several stores to do some shopping, and I am thrilled to announce that I found the absolute best gift possible for my sister–so perfect that I am going to resist posting pictures of the store to keep her in suspense. Get excited, Han!

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The Shambles was another street we walked down several times, which dates back to the Viking times. Although the storefronts are now overtaken by modern shops, the original crooked structures still remain. It was just really cool to view and imagine the history that happened in that very spot (although I have been getting that sense throughout the entirety of England; there is more historical significance in everything than I could have ever imagined before being here and experiencing it.)

Danielle and I couldn’t help but stop and watch this artist just standing on the sidewalk sketching the street’s beauty. We creepily stood behind him and tried to take artsy pictures (I should note, the moment I stepped off the train and tried to take a picture, I realized I had forgotten to replace my camera’s memory card the other day, so I was left snapping photos with my phone.)(This is only a day after I freaked out about bringing the wrong camera charger, when i was really just plugging in the wrong port. Technology, I tell ya…)

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And now…let me tell ya about the food. Not that what they serve at Harlaxton is awful, but I was ready to get out and try some real English food. For lunch we met up with the group and went to Georgina’s, which was a little tea shop. We sat on the second floor next to a window overlooking the street (and getting an enticing view of the ladies across the street serving brownie samples, which we later took advantage of).

I enjoyed a cup of earl gray tea, chips, a side salad, and an apple and brie sandwich in a pita pocket. Delicious.

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Later on, Danielle and I decided it was time for a little treat and found a cafe serving ice cream in waffle cones–not those weirdly shapen cones Danielle was so strongly opposed to. We then made the pact that we will try ice cream everywhere we go and decide who has the best; I think that’s a pretty fantastic quest.

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Now comes the part where we inadvertently lost a couple of girls and accidentally sent them searching York for a pub that didn’t exist…whoops. In the meantime, four of us tried to follow Rick Steve’s advice and visit York’s oldest pub, the Blue Bell. It ended up being an extremely tiny room that did not bode well with groups, and a minute after we decided it was a bad idea and left, they covered the door with a “Private Party” sign. Instead, we ventured a little further down the road and found The Five Lions pub.

I tried a pint of Strongbow cider (which I thoroughly enjoyed), and we were able to sit outside in the back next to a little river. It was nice way to hang out and relax after a looong day of walking around.

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We finished off the day by walking along the City Wall, the original walls that encompassed the town in medieval days, back to the train station. Eventually we found a little fish and chips place, and I devoured the entire huge serving of haddock.

It has been a week since I pulled out of my little Morton driveway; I am finally beginning to feel settled and comfortable in this new location. Next week we study a little Bronte action, so my plans for this quiet, cloudy Sunday involve finding a cozy spot to read Wuthering Heights.

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This one goes out to the band geeks.

Recall that classic Grainger piece for band, Lincolnshire Posy? Welp, his inspiration for the song was derived from the folksingers of Lincolnshire. This is essentially where I have been venturing the past couple days, and I have found myself humming catchy little parts of the tune–especially my favorite, the fourth movement, with it’s tricky but crazy fun clarinet part.
IV. The Brisk Young Sailor

Thursday was our first trip as a class, and we went about an hour north to Lincoln to visit the Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln Castle, and Lincoln Cathedral. The Research Centre was a small room in a library filled with the most complete collection of Tennyson related material, including letters, diaries, and even his father’s books from which a young Tennyson would have been educated.

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One of my favorite findings was a letter written to Tennyson from a mourning woman who lost her dog (she was convinced someone poisoned it) and was asking him to write a couple lines of poetry in the dog’s honor. I found it funny how the extent of Tennyson’s fame and adoring fans closely mirrored our celebrities of today.

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After the library, it was time to clamber up Steep Hill, the most accurately named road I have ever heard.
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I think Nathaniel Hawthorne did an excellent job describing the trek:

“We ascended a street which grew steeper and narrower as we advanced, till at last it got to be the steepest street I ever climbed; so steep that any carriage, if left to itself, would rattle downward much faster than it could possibly be drawn up…And still the street grew steeper and steeper. Certainly, the Bishop and clergy of Lincoln ought not to be fat men, but of very spiritual, saint-like, almost angelic habit, if it be a frequent part of the ecclesiastical duty to climb this hill; for it is a real penance, and was probably performed as such, and groaned over accordingly, in monkish tones.”

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But like the bishops and monks, we finally reached the top of the street and were able to enjoy the overpowering beauty of the cathedral up close. I have such a hard time comprehending how such immaculate and intricate details were incorporated into these buildings without the precise technology we take for granted now.

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It is clear to see how musicians, sculptors, and writers alike were inspired by the surrounding beauty. Our thirteen mile hike today immersed us completely within the nature of the land. We began on a similar path as my earlier run, then we trekked right through fields of wheat, waving gently in the wind. I was luckier than several of my classmates in not encountering any nettles, a poisonous plant in the UK. We stopped on the top of a hill in the shadow of Belvoir Castle to eat lunch and do a dramatic reading of Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot then spent a little while at a nearby pub before turning around for the long journey home.

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In other news…Danielle got her first case of the hiccups in England today. Congrats!

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