Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Winter Break Traveling

 Well, I'm finally getting ready to go off on winter break. I'm leaving Friday early evening for the first leg of my adventures! Break is from Dec 13-Jan 12, so I'll be gone the entire month. I'm really excited, but really nervous. Four weeks means this will be my longest trip to date! I have a lot of logistics to take care of: packing, lists, train tickets, getting all my info, etc. Luckily I just did all my laundry today, so I'll at least have clean clothes for the first few days! Traveling for so long can be a bit intimidating, but at the same time, this has been my dream for forever.

In case anyone wanted to know details of my break plans:
-Dec 13-18: I'll be in Wales (first Cardiff, then Abergavenney, and a night in Holyhead) with my good friend Peter.
-Dec 18: I get to see my family, including MY SISTER!!!!!!!! This is the longest we've gone without seeing each other, and I'm so excited that I get to see them this break! Also, I'm going to get to spend Christmas with them, which means so much to me.
-Dec 18-Jan 1: My family and I (including MY SISTER!) will be in Dublin, before heading to England. Stopping in Liverpool, Notts, and then the last six days in London.
-Starting on Jan 1 I'll be heading off on my own going to a lot of places in southern England! When I first started planning it, I sort of felt bad—so many of my flatmates are jumping all over Europe, and I decided to stay in England. But then at the same time, I am madly in love with England. I love it more than anyone else I know, and so I'm going to be doing what I do best, exploring new places in the country that I love. So I'll be in a couple main cities and then making some day trips.
-Jan 1-2: Penzance
-Jan 3-5: Exeter
-Jan 6-7: Portsmouth (with Winchester)
-Jan 8-12: Canterbury (with Rochester and Dover)
-Jan 12: Back home to Notts!

I should maybe add that exams are after winter break here (which is literally the fucking stupidest thing I have ever heard of), so I have a month of no class and then have to take my finals. Also, my Russian Culture final is conveniently on the first day of finals, Jan 13, also known as the day after I get back from a month of traveling. I’ll have 23 hours in Notts to study before I need to be taking my exam. At this point though, I just don’t give a fuck. At least I’ll have a fair amount of time to study for my Polish exam, which is on Jan 21!

Anyway, I won’t be bringing my computer with me on my trip so I won’t be blogging or putting up pictures or anything, since I won’t really have access to a computer. Once I’m back from my trip I’ll probably try to put up a couple posts about all my adventures! I’ve got so much to do before Friday so I had better get started! Here’s to a new month of traveling and exploring and adventures and living out my dream! Cheers :)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Latvia (Riga)

To sum up: I went to Eastern Europe by myself and it was the scariest, most amazing experience of my life. I headed out to Riga, the capital of Latvia, on Saturday afternoon. My first Ryanair flight was quite successful, except literally every screaming and crying child/baby in the UK happened to be on this flight. It was so obnoxious. Reason #487 I hate children. I took a bus from the airport into the city centre, and by some miracle I made it to my hostel! Now officially 2/2 getting to my hostel walking alone at night in the dark! I was way too tired to try to do anything that night, and I really wish I had had a real weekend night there! Riga goes hard and parties like no other. Most people stay out until 6:00am or 7:00am on the weekends. Latvia…

Sunday I had my main tourist day, and of course it rained basically all day and I never saw the sun. First I saw one of the main churches, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, and Ratslaukums, the town square, to see the Blackheads House. It’s hard to describe but basically it’s this house place that was connected to guildhalls and trading? I honestly have no idea, I could be totally wrong. BUT it’s a classic Riga tourist site and honestly it was completely stunning. The house has a big clock and all this gold weather vanes and little touches. It was so crazy and so different and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

Also looked amazing at night!

After that I really just wandered around Old Town and the rest of Riga. I saw a lot of beautiful churches and saw some pretty parks. I went to my first ever Russian Orthodox Church, which was totally different than anything I’ve ever experienced. First of all, the church itself was so beautiful. All the walls were this bright blue and gold, and there were so many icons and candles everywhere. I sat down and just watched people as well—I’ve never been in a place of worship like that before. People were crossing themselves (usually three times), bowing, kneeling, kissing the icons, lighting candles, everything. It was so fascinating to watch. People there had so much conviction about their religion and their beliefs, it was really something I’ve never experienced before. I also was told by a priest not to sit with my legs crossed and I don’t know what that’s about… I’m not sure if it was because I was a woman (he also told another woman sitting by me to uncross her legs) or what. Very interesting.

Riga is famous for it’s Art Nouveau buildings, and even though I don’t care too much about art I wandered around that section of town. I’m so glad I did! The buildings were gorgeous and just walking there I felt like I was in a different world. By this time it was raining pretty heavily (my favorite warm mittens got soaked through, which hasn’t happened in the 3 Minnesota winters I’ve had them) and I was cold and my feet were wet, so I decided I needed to go somewhere inside. Riga was pretty cold, about the same temperature as it usually is in Minnesota around this time of year (although Latvian winter doesn’t start until later, so it gets colder). I’m really okay with that since being Minnesotan means you’re tough, but I’m not used to being outside for 7+ hours a day in the Minnesota cold. So I decided I wanted to not be in the rain anymore.

I went to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, and first I went up to see the view of Riga from the tower. It was an amazing view—you could see so much of the city! But it was insanely windy up top and made it even colder, so I wasn’t up there all that long. Then I decided to just sit down for a bit, and somehow by some miracle, there was a choir and orchestra Christmas concert soon and I just happened to be there. The church eventually filled up and by the time the concert started it was totally packed—tons of people were standing in the back. The first two songs were orchestra only, medleys of the usual Christmas songs. Then they sang two songs in a language I assume was Latvian (I didn’t understand it, and it wasn’t English or Russian), and the rest of the concert they did songs in English!!! They did several of my favorites, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, my sister’s favorite Christmas song of all time O Come All Ye Faithful, and Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas. I definitely cried throughout the concert, especially during Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas. That song always gets me, I’m still not entirely sure why. And just being in this beautiful famous church, in the middle of fucking Latvia, hearing my favorite Christmas carols sung by a choir, missing my family and knowing I won’t get to be with most of my relatives this Christmas, I just felt like it was so surreal. I’m still not sure how I ended up being at the right place at the right time for this concert, but it was unbelievable.

St. Peter's Lutheran Church
View from the top!
After that I wandered around some more, but that got boring since it was dark and still raining, and the rain was now turning to freezing sleet. So I had a brief resting period at my hostel, and then went to a coffee shop for food and relaxing. Also got asked for directions—23 hours in a new city and already looking like a local! A new record! I met some guys at my hostel, a couple of guys from Holland and one from Detroit, and we all hung out at the bar in the hostel and then went out to another bar later. It’s one of the main reasons I love hostels and I love traveling by myself—you meet people from all over the world and just get to talk to them and hang out! Also the people I’ve met at hostels are basically awesome. It’s so great and refreshing to talk about cultural differences and the way things are in our countries in such a relaxed setting. And I always love talking to people about traveling and finding out where people have been. Those discussions are the best. The bar we went to did live music until 11:00pm and then they did karaoke, which I have to admit I did after I had enough to drink. My song: I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys. Classic.

 Monday I took it easy since we were out until 3:00am or so, so I stayed in bed and then checked out right before check-out time. The hostel I stayed at (the Naughty Squirrel) is literally one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at. Ever. Everything is clean, they have computers with internet you can use for free, two common rooms, 24/7 reception aka 24/7 bar, and some of the friendliest, most helpful staff I’ve ever encountered. As I was checking out, one of the women working there had just made chocolate cake and offered me a piece. Free cake! Best hostel ever! Oh, and they gave me a free shot of the Latvian spirit, Balsam, when I checked in. Again, best hostel ever.

First I went to Riga Dome Cathedral (Lutheran). It was a pretty church, with beautiful light fixtures and its organ, during the time it was done, was the fourth largest organ in the world at the time! I wandered around inside the church for a bit, and then I went into the courtyard. All through the sides of the church around the courtyard there were artifacts and items sitting there with descriptions. For the first time, I really felt like I was in Eastern Europe. It wasn’t that it was sketchy or not taken care of, but it was a little old and random and not paid attention to. Maybe that’s a super shitty way to describe it, but this church really seemed to represent Eastern Europe to me. The worn floors, cracks in the walls, it just seemed very old and very much like I was in Eastern Europe.

Dome Cathedral

After the Dome Cathedral I wandered around some more, walked past Riga Castle (of course it was under construction when I was there), and went to Lidos, a must for any trip to Riga. There are a couple of them in the city centre, and it’s basically a classic Latvian place, done buffet-style. The tourists love it because the women who work there are dressed in the traditional Latvian dress, and it’s cute and has that old-timey feel. The food was excellent and just so delicious. I ate a ton and then walked to the Central Market. It was definitely an experience. It was cool just to walk around and look at stuff—I didn’t buy anything, but they had everything you could ever want there. All types of food (pastries, bread, dairy, fruit, and ever different type of meat possible), and then stalls outside had hats, mittens, socks, etc. I explored a lot of the Christmas markets around Old Town after that. Riga (and probably Latvia) seemed to be super obsessed with Christmas, but that might just be me, who just finished up with Thanksgiving. Fun fact! Riga is home to the world’s first Christmas tree, 1510! The Christmas markets were quaint and so cute, and it just made me so excited for Christmas! I also went into this Catholic church, which was a really weird experience. The whole place was super dark (there were barely any lights on), there was only one other person in there, but I just looked around and sat down for some thinking time. The woman there asked me if I was Latvian when I was on my way out, and I used my Russian and we had a brief interaction in Russian! УРА!

Christmas market in the square!

By that time I was cold and tired again, so I went and hung out the hostel until I left for the bus for the airport. My flight left at 10:00pm, and I was due to arrive Nottingham time 11:00pm. So then it was waiting for my plane, a 2.5 hour flight back to East Midlands Airport, waiting 40 minutes for a bus, a 45 minute bus ride back to the city centre, a cab ride since it was 1:00am and none of the city buses were running, and finally home.

I have never been more exhausted during travel, but I can honestly say that this weekend was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life. Not only had I never been to Europe by myself before, I had never been to a country where I don't speak the language before. I was so scared that I almost started crying at the bus station, waiting for my bus to the airport on Saturday. However, I can say without a doubt that it was one of the most rewarding experiences ever. Never have I ever felt so accomplished, so independent, so invincible, so amazing, so strong, so brave.

A word about traveling on your own: it is scary and it can be hard at first. But the reward will be worth it. I strongly encourage everyone to do it, at least once in your life. And also a word to any female friends: they will try and stop you. They will tell you it's too dangerous, it's unsafe, that you shouldn't go. Do it anyway. Be smart and be safe and go anyway and prove them wrong. The experience will be so worth it!

I literally just went to Latvia by myself. I couldn't be more proud!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Literally the craziest week of my life, I’ve been so busy. Edinburgh was AMAZING!!! It is such a beautiful city with so much culture and so much life. Public service announcement: having 4 changes on a journey is awful, never do it. I had one train from Notts to Newark Castle, had to switch train stations and go to Newark Northgate, take a train to York, and then from York take a train to Edinburgh. I can’t believe I made it there in the first place, except for two very kind strangers who helped me out. I didn’t know the way between the train stations, except that it was about a mile long walk, and no one at the train station seemed to know directions, until some guy said that he was walking that way, and so me and several other people followed him to Newark Northgate. We chatted the entire way there—he’s doing his doctorate at Notts and lives in York, and he was actually from Edinburgh! So he gave me tons of tips and also showed me on my map the best way to get to my hostel. We waited for our train together and talked the whole time. I never even found out his name! But I never would have been able to find that train station in the dark.

My train to York was late by over 10 minutes, and I only had 8 minutes between when my train arrived to York and when my train left for Edinburgh. A very nice man waiting by the door of my train overheard my problem and as we were getting close to York, told me that I was probably going to miss my train to Edinburgh. He looked up the next train headed there (another train would be going to Edinburgh in 20 minutes), and then as we were pulling into the station he checked my train again for me. By some miracle, it was still there! He gave me directions on how to get to my platform to catch my Edinburgh train, and made sure I was the first one off the train. I literally sprinted when the doors open and was only able to say a quick thank you, but I ran and I did actually make my train. Scariest moment of my life! The kindness of strangers is truly overwhelming.

I made it to Edinburgh and, after spending an hour of the train ride memorizing my map, made it to my hostel alone and in the dark. Couldn’t have been prouder of myself! My hostel was pretty nice, I was in a 6-bed dorm and my only complaint was that the beds were pretty creaky and loud, so I felt bad when I got in late at night. But it was clean, the bathroom was clean, and I felt very safe there, so I can’t say anything bad!

Saturday: I went to Edinburgh Castle first thing in the morning (I was one of the first people in through the gate…) and since I paid £16 to get in, I was there for over 3 hours. The castle is amazing! It’s so old and so beautiful! It’s set up on this hill and you can look out over the city. I saw the Royal Honours of Scotland, which are the oldest Crown Jewels in Europe! I also saw the Royal Apartments, which was really exciting because that’s where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI and I! The Scottish National War Memorial was very touching and sad, the building it was in was beautiful. There were services in the chapel until about 1:00, and since I paid so much money, I was going to stay and see the oldest building in Edinburgh! It was a tiny chapel, but beautiful. I’m glad I waited the extra hour or so to see it. Every day at 1:00 they fire the One-O’Clock-Gun, so I also got to see that!

View of Edinburgh Castle from the street below

After the Castle I wandered up and down around the Royal Mile. I was cold (it was so windy up on the hill in the castle!) so I bought a tartan scarf, and then I bought some shortbread (31% butter!) and ate the entire package by myself. Fuck da police. It was so refreshing to have so much time there, I didn’t feel rushed to do anything! Taking time to wander around and explore on your own is the best feeling ever. I went to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which was also pretty expensive but soooo cool. I only got to taste one whisky on the tour, but I think it was worth it. You learn about how the whisky is made, and then you get an explanation of each of the four regions producing single malt scotch whisky—Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay—and then based on what they smell like, you get to choose one to taste! Then you go through this room and see this scotch whisky collection that belonged to this Brazilian guy. It is unbelievable. I was in heaven. So much whisky! It was an incredibly rare collection. 

That night I went out to a pub with some people I met in my hostel—a guy, Dan, from Colorado, and two Aussie girls. One of them was Madi and none of us could remember the other girl’s name, even though she was so nice and friendly. It was so cool meeting different people and hanging out with strangers! Making friends and branching out and shit. It was awesome. Definitely a great part of my weekend! Staying at hostels is seriously the way to go when traveling. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Sunday: I basically went to this garage sale that took place in a parking garage. It’s called the Omni Car Boot Sale, and seriously if you go to Edinburgh you HAVE to do it!!! It was just like Bryn Mawr Garage Sales (ahh! Heaven!) but it was in a level of a parking ramp. People just drive their cars in and sell stuff. They had everything and anything there! I wish I could have bought more, but I didn’t have a lot of money, and I also needed to carry anything I brought back home with me in my small backpack. But anyone who goes to Edinburgh! Sunday from 9:00-1:00! Don’t miss it!

I went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse afterwards, which was amazing. Like Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, it’s a residence of the Queen. It’s a beautiful place and full of history. I got to see Mary Queen of Scots’ apartments, and the spot where her secretary, David Rizzio, was left to die after being dragged out of a dinner with her and stabbed 56 times. They also had a ton of amazing portraits—including one of Mary Boleyn!!!!! What?!?!? I walked in and my immediate reaction was, “what is she doing here?!” It was amazing! The ruins of the abbey were also beautiful, and unfortunately the palace gardens are closed in the winter so I couldn’t see those.

Outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Arthur’s Seat was my next stop: 251m and it felt like I climbed a fucking mountain. It was amazing though, walking through the hills and seeing the views, it was just so Scottish. By the time I finally made it to the top, I was sweating and panting, but it was so worth it. The views were out of this world incredible, and, incredulously, the weather behaved itself and it didn’t rain until I got all the way back down. 

My walk up to Arthur's Seat

The view from the top!

I did some Harry Potter stalking afterwards, seeing the café where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of HP and the commemorative plaque on the wall on the street corner. That night I went out with people from my hostel again, Dan and Madi, to a pub that had live music. It was so awesome! The band was good and super funny, trying to get audience participation and cracking jokes.

Monday: More HP stalking! This time I went to this graveyard where, thanks to a tip from Madi, J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for some of the names in HP. After wandering and searching through this graveyard, I successfully found the gravestones of “Thomas Riddell” as well as “his son, Thomas Riddell” and a man named “William McGonagall.” 

At the grave of "Thomas Riddell" !!!!!
After that I walked up Calton Hill, which also had an amazing view—not as good as Arthur’s Seat, but definitely worthwhile. Next stop: National Portrait Gallery!!! Obviously it wasn’t as great as my true home in London, but they had a bunch of great portraits of Mary Queen of Scots and various Stuarts, as well as focusing a lot on James III “The Old Pretender” and Bonnie Prince Charlie “The Young Pretender.” After that I pretty much wandered around looking for anything that was free—I had just bought a nice bottle of scotch whisky (I can’t go to Scotland and NOT buy scotch whisky!) so I was basically running out of money and needed a few quid to be able to eat. Getting to the train station was just fine, and then there were no problems with any of my trains on the way home. I was tired (and sooo hungry considering I had barely eaten all weekend!) when I got home, but it was so great to come back to the flat and feel at home.

This weekend was incredible—I felt so accomplished and independent! It was my first time being on my own in a truly new city. I made friends and spent time with strangers and couldn’t have been happier. I saw some amazing historical places in Edinburgh and got in several decent walks. I did so much and had enough time that I never felt rushed. Scotland is beautiful and the people there are so friendly, have such unique accents, and are in love with whisky. I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing and enlightening experience.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

London: Take 3

Wow! This past week has been super busy and this upcoming week is only going to be just as busy, if not busier. It was nice not having classes for reading week, since it gave me a lot of extra time to work on a paper that was due today. I really needed to get it done before the weekend though, since I was in London and obviously not doing any homework.

It was definitely different going to London with our group, as opposed to me just going by myself. But the good thing was, Bob really just let us loose in the city and we could do whatever we wanted. Free hotel and money for food! What could be better! Friday night we went to a play in the West End, the Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. I really liked it, even though it was kind of depressing. It’s a satirical play about Hitler and how his rise to power could have been prevented, and the ending was really powerful.

Saturday I took Sarah on my official London tour!!! We had an excellent time. We got up early and walked everywhere. It was tiring but totally worth it! We walked past St. Pauls on our way to the Tower of London, so she could see that. And then the added bonus of hanging out with me in London: “Hey Sarah, want to go to Diagon Alley?” We were right by Leadenhall Market, where they filmed Diagon Alley in Harry Potter, so I took her there too. The Tower of London was, of course, amazing. Sarah took her homework seriously and not only did she ace her quiz, she also got bonus points!!! We were there super early, so before we went on our Yeoman Warder tour we were able to wander around basically by ourselves. Our tour was probably my favorite that I’ve had so far, he was hilarious and great and just all around awesome. 

After that we did my Tower of London tour stuff, and then walked across Tower Bridge to the south bank of the Thames. I made sure Sarah saw Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and we stopped and got pizza at this great place in Gabriel’s Wharf, the same place Sigrid and I ate at on my first ever day in London! It was just as delicious as I remembered. Then we went across Westminster Bridge, making sure to take pictures at my preferred place, and saw Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Then it was up Whitehall and to Trafalgar Square for the National Portrait Gallery! Back home. It was wonderful.

Sarah and I basically decided that we’re going to live in London together in a flat with our dogs. We’ll go on runs by the Thames together but have our headphones in, and take our dogs on long walks to all the parks. This weekend, more than ever, I really felt like I belonged in London. I have a feeling I’ll end up there someday.

Saturday night our group had another play, the Potsdam Quartet, in a smaller theatre near Piccadilly Circus. I really liked this show too! It was about a quartet playing for the major players at Potsdam. There was a Russian soldier whose only lines were in Russian, and I understood almost all of what he said! Saturday night Kailey, Sarah, and I went to this great little place called the Cider Tap. It’s super small, but the cider was excellent and delicious and it was such a cool place!

Sunday I went to the British Museum. Holy shit, so many asian tourists. And large tour groups. It got annoying. It was really cool to just wander around and look at stuff, since I didn’t have anything in particular I really wanted to see besides the Rosetta Stone. Peter met up with me there, and it was great to see him once more before we head to Wales together in a month! It was such a gorgeous day on Sunday that I decided I couldn’t stay inside, so I walked to the Mall and Buckingham Palace. I had some issues getting there, since I kept finding all these used bookstores on the way. I would walk out of one, and then two stores down there would be another one right there!!! It was amazing!!! They were all super cool, quintessential used bookstores. Really small and cramped, tall ceilings with lots of shelves, and semi-creepy basements that had even more books. It was only with great restraint that I ended up buying just two books. That’s the amazing thing about London! There’s so much to see and do off the beaten track of classic touristy stuff. I’m so lucky I got to do that and I had time to explore.

I did finally make it to Buckingham Palace, and spent some time in St. James’ Park. It was Remembrance Sunday, and I accidentally stumbled upon a parade of veterans (I think) laying a wreath of poppies at the WWI memorial. It was really touching and I bawled my eyes out, I don’t really know why. Everyone here wears poppies (you can get them pretty much anywhere, just by donating some change or something) and it was really emotional in a unifying way to see so many people, especially in London.

St. James Park

Monday was super laid back, since I didn’t have too much to do. Our train to Notts left at 3:15pm, so I didn’t want to try to do too much. I went to the Museum of London, which was free and it was cool, but probably not something I’d do again now that I’ve already seen it. Also there were a ton of little kids on field trips and they were loud and obnoxious. Thanks to a tip from Peter, I jipped Sainsburys out of 20p when I was buying rolls!!! At the self-checkout, you say you’re buying a bakery item that is cheaper than what you’re actually buying!!! Got rolls but said they were cheaper! Saved 20p!!! Thug life! Fuck da police! After that, it was back to the train station, back to Notts, and straight to my bed for a resting period.

This week is going to be even busier than next week: I actually have classes this week, including Bob’s class tonight. Wednesday night I have Russian lessons, Thursday I have a meeting for volunteering in the late afternoon and then we’re seeing Richard III Thursday night. And then I’m headed to Edinburgh on Friday for the weekend!!! I’ve got a lot to do, lots of practicing and flashcards (Polish) and reading and preparing a seminar presentation (Russian culture). I feel like I’m going to have literally zero time this week, but hopefully I can make it through and head off to Edinburgh without a lot of stress! I’m really excited to explore the city on my own—it’s my first solo trip to a new city (I’ve been to London by myself, but technically I had already been there before), so I’m a little nervous. But the best part about traveling by yourself is that then you can do whatever you want!!!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Bosworth Battlefield and Bonfire Day

Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder Treason and Plot
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot

Today is Bonfire Day here in the UK! There have been fireworks going off pretty much every night since Saturday, which has been lots of fun (kind of annoying sometimes, but fun). Tonight, as per my custom, a bunch of us are watching V for Vendetta and I will, of course, be giving a brief historical overview of Guy Fawkes/the Gunpowder Plot beforehand. I have no idea why I have friends. They are saints.

Last Saturday we (finally) didn’t have a flat trip, but I was busy adventuring anyway! Bosworth Battlefield was my destination. On August 22nd 1485, Henry Tudor defeated Richard III to become Henry VII and form the new Tudor dynasty. So obviously the battlefield is on my list and I had to go. John came with me on my adventure and it was lots of fun but super exhausting.

First off, we woke up at 5:45am to get to the bus station and catch our 7:00am bus to Leicester. After an hour-long bus ride (John fell asleep), we got to Leicester and then sat at the bus station and waited for bus #153 to Market Bosworth. After another hour-long bus ride, we got off in the small village of Market Bosworth, which is a 3-mile walk from the battlefield. The area we were in was so pretty—classic English countryside, rolling hills, sheep, green pastures, everything. It was a nice bus ride! (John fell asleep again.)

It was kind of confusing getting from the village onto the road that would get us to the battlefield—we got lost and had to ask for directions. We were trying to follow some signs that had swords on them (we hoped it meant battlefield) but they were meant for cars, not for people walking… the very nice man we asked directions from told us where to go and wished us good luck, and said “hope the weather stays fine for you!” Because obviously “fine” weather means cloudy, gray, misting rain, and freezing. It was way colder than either of us thought it would be (or we thought it would warm up, which it never did), and John had brought one hat that we shared between us. Our walk to the battlefield, once we got on the right road, was scenic and great and so much more rewarding than taking a car could ever be! Good ol’ Shenton Lane went almost all the way there.

We did finally make it to the battlefield! The reason we got up so early was because I wanted to do the guided tour at 11:00, and I’m so glad we did it. The entire journey was worth it just for the tour, I got so much more information than I would have had I gone without a tour! Our tour guide explained a lot about the battle itself: who was fighting, where they were coming from, and how they all met at this spot of the battlefield. A couple years ago they found some cannon balls and a boar badge (the white boar was Richard III’s symbol, and this badge was worn only by his personal guard) in an area that they’ve now basically determined was the final phase of the battle. It was really cool to learn about the different commanders of the battle, besides just the main opponents. During the tour, our tour guide had banners with the coat of arms for each of the major players. Me and some 8-year old kids got to carry them on the tour :)

The Tudor banner!

It started raining right at the end of our tour, so we went into the battlefield exhibition. The exhibition was nice and informative, but the tour was so much better. It started pouring like no other and so we waited it out for a bit in the restaurant there. Finally it let up and there was a beautiful rainbow—it was literally the best reward ever for our adventure.

After that, it was nice and sunny for our 3-mile walk back (no need to share our one hat), and we celebrated our reward with a pint at the pub in Market Bosworth. Market Bosworth is just such a quaint, stereotypical English village, and I loved it. We also got some half-price ice cream bars which was awesome. After that, it was another hour-long bus ride to Leicester (John fell asleep), half an hour wait in the bus station, and then another bus ride back to Notts (John fell asleep again). We were literally starving by the time we got home (walked 7+ miles!), and we got off the bus and legit ran to the flat and stormed the kitchen.

It was another successful adventure and I just loved it! Going on day trips like that, adventuring in the country is so nerve-wracking and can be a little intimidating, especially this time when we had different buses we needed to catch. But it is so rewarding! When I got to the battlefield I just felt so accomplished, and by the time I got back to the flat I felt even more accomplished. It was fantastic. Going on random journeys like this just makes me love England. It is an amazing place.

Shout out to the British transportation system—my trip to Bosworth could never have happened in the U.S. There just isn’t this kind of infrastructure at home to make it all possible. Buses and trains make getting around so easy! It’s amazing.

This week is going to be another super busy one. We have a “reading week” this week at uni, so I don’t have either of my classes. I have a paper due next week though, and a project I need to start working on. This weekend our group is headed to London—we’ll be seeing plays on both Friday and Saturday night, but basically the rest of our time should be free time and we can do what we want. But first I need to have a productive next couple of days beforehand!

Remember remember the 5th of November!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Kenilworth Castle and Coventry

So I guess I’m getting consecutively shittier at blogging. Sorry.

Last weekend we had a group trip to Kenilworth Castle and Coventry. Both of them were on my list of places to go to!!! I’m so lucky. Bob just seems to keep picking trips to places I want to go! Free trips what what?!

Kenilworth Castle was great—it was this beautiful castle, dating back to the 1100s that was used through the years by the Normans, John of Gaunt, Henry V, and finally Robert Dudley. Obviously this last one was the main reason I wanted to go here. Robert Dudley made elaborate (and very expensive) improvements to the castle, including a beautiful garden, in order to try to finally win Elizabeth I over and convince her to marry him. She visited in 1575 for nineteen days and it was basically Dudley’s last attempt to marry her. She (as we all know) never did marry, and Dudley then married Lettice Knollys (who actually was related to Elizabeth). It’s such a sad and romantic story and being there was great.

Kenilworth Castle ruins

The castle is in ruins now (they blew it up in the Civil War) but it was still awesome! They have a recreation of the Elizabethan Garden, looking exactly like it would have when Elizabeth visited. I wish we had had more time, or that I had been on my own, because there were a lot of walking paths that I would have liked to explore—the area is beautiful. After that, we got back on the bus and went to Coventry, which was pretty close by.

The main reason I wanted to go to Coventry was because of the cathedral. During WWII, Coventry was heavily damaged by the Germans and basically just devastated. During the Blitz, November 14 1940, the city was so heavily bombed that the cathedral collapsed and was essentially destroyed. The Germans coined a new word, coventrieren, which meant to flatten. Ouch. To me, Coventry has always been one of those symbols of British resilience and strength. Especially during WWII, when Britain stood alone. Something about that kind of strength never fails to make me cry. It was amazing.

The ruins of the old cathedral are so stunning and beautiful and sad. Apparently after the bombing, someone saw that two charred beams had fallen down into the shape of a cross—the Charred Cross is on display inside the new cathedral, and there is a replica still in the ruins. The whole story of the cathedral is just so touching. The new cathedral was finished in the 1960s, with a beautiful stained glass window and huge tapestry. Countries from all over seemed to help and give materials to Coventry for the cathedral—Sweden, Norway, Canada, Germany, France. It was beautiful to think of how this building helped unite people. It was just beautiful. I’m so glad I finally got to go here! Maybe I did a really bad job of explaining it. But it was just really emotional.

Inside the ruins of the old Coventry cathedral
Not much else is exciting. I live in England and that’s cool. Classes are good but hard. I’m really enjoying both of them though! I’ve been going to Russian lessons every week, which are hard but I can tell it’s really good practice, and it gets a little better every time. Hopefully if I’m speaking it regularly I won’t forget everything! Tomorrow I’m going on an adventure to Bosworth Battlefield. We’ll see if I make it there, it will be a journey. I have one more week (but since I have a reading/project week for my two classes, I won’t actually have class) and then we’re going on our group trip to London! November is going to be a very very busy month!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Eyam and Crich

 This last weekend we had a flat trip on Saturday to two villages in the Peak District, Eyam and Crich. It was a long day but definitely worth it! Eyam is a quaint little place, most notable because its population was devastated by the Plague in 1665-1666. The Plague came from fleas in cloth sent to the tailor in Eyam from London, and wiped out huge numbers. It is simply a beautiful area to be in—green pastures, rolling hills, totally England. There are great walking paths in Eyam (and in the Peak District in general), and one of the ones I went on was to see the Riley grave site. It was away from the village up on a hill, in order to contain the infection, and the time we went it was so foggy you could barely see! It made for a great walk.

Derbyshire fog
I visited Eyam's church, which was beautiful and had that quaint village feel about it. Classic small town, it even had a sign that said “Welcome to Eyam Church, money for purchases from the bookshop can be left in the box in the wall to the right of the door.” It was super cute. After I went through the church I decided I needed to get some more walking in, so I followed the path to Mompesson's Well, up and away from the village, where during the Plague people from neighboring villages would leave food and medicine, and pick up money (disinfected by vinegar) from people living in Eyam. It was a really hard walk! I was a little pressed for time (we were leaving to go to Crich in about an hour) so I was going pretty fast, but it was absolutely beautiful. And I made it!

Once we got back on the coach, we headed to Crich. The Crich Tramway Museum is the most notable tourist attraction there. The museum is more geared towards younger kids, I think, but I rode the tram once and it was cool. The area is simply stunning—the Peak District is unbelievably beautiful, I could spend all day walking (“rambling” as the Brits say) there. I went up to a memorial tower and the views were amazing. Probably the best view I've had in England so far.


We got a delicious dinner at a great pub (Bob treated us to our first round!) and then saw a show in the village. It was a one-woman performance of Nell Gwyn, performed by Lesley Smith, the curator of Tutbury Castle. She was simply fabulous. Her performance was amazing—she's a terrific actress and really seems to understand the characters she portrays. After the show she opened it up for questions and then had time where you could go up and talk to her, so of course I did. I gushed about Tudor history (as a historian, her specialty is women's gyneacology and contraception in the 1580s—fascinating!) and said she'd be happy to send me any of her papers that she's written. Thanks to my enthusiasm, she also invited the group to spend the night at Tutbury Castle, which would normally cost £85 per person, but for us she said £5 each. Amazing!!!!!!!! It was such a thrill to talk to someone in my field who is essentially doing what I want to do. (Not totally sure about the acting part, but the historian/curator part for sure.) She was so friendly and such a delight.

Nothing too exciting has happened this week, just back to the regular routine of classes etc. I've been busy working on my travel plans, both for winter break and before then! I've officially booked my trips between now and winter break, so I'll be heading to Edinburgh the third weekend of November. And then today (!!!!!) I booked my plane ticket and I'm heading to Latvia the last weekend of November/first weekend of December!!! Ryanair flies to Riga from the East Midlands Airport here in Notts, when else am I going to go to Latvia?! I'm nervous and scared but really excited. One more day of class and then we have another flat day trip this Saturday!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Fate of Joy

As most of you know, I am deeply passionate about the story of the Romanov's, the last royal family of Russia. For years, I have been captivated by Joy, the dog belonging to Alexei Romanov, the Tsarevitch. This spaniel was well-known throughout Russia, as he was frequently featured in photographs of Alexei for the public. It is not known in precisely which year Joy became a part of the Romanov family, but it was known that Joy followed Alexei faithfully into exile and imprisonment, following the first revolution in March 1917 and Tsar Nikolai II's abdication. There are so many touching pictures of Alexei and Joy. Some of my favorites:

The rest of the story has been portrayed across the world stage: the Bolsheviks, the Ipatiev House, the basement, the bullets bouncing off the bodies, the acid, the inept burial of the bones, the missing bodies, Anastasia's possible survival, the discovery of the bones, the state funeral, and finally the discovery of the last two bodies, the DNA testing, and peace.
Throughout this saga, I had always thought that Joy had died during the execution on that fateful night, July 16-17th 1918. I'm not sure where exactly I got this from, possibly because Anastasia and Tatiana's dogs were killed during the shooting. Something about the murder of this innocent dog struck me: I could understand why they killed Nicky—regardless of his character, he was, after all, a terrible ruler and responsible in many ways for Russia's problems. I could understand why they killed Alix—she was a hated ''German bitch,'' haughty and arrogant, responsible for Rasputin and his overarching influence into politics. I could understand why they killed Alexei—after all, he was the heir to the throne, even if he was a hemophilic 13-year old boy who, at this point, was unable to walk properly due to injuries. I could understand why they killed the Grand Duchesses—they needed to wipe out the entire family, in order to ensure that no Romanov resurgence could take place. I could even understand why they killed the four loyal servants—if no one objected to killing the innocent girls, killing innocent servants really isn't all that different, and they would only be a nuisance. But I could never understand why they killed the dog.

Whenever Joy popped up in the books I read, I always felt a twinge that something wasn't right. Searches on the internet weren't very productive, since it was such a specific topic and very little information was known. Then something popped up: someone had referenced an article, titled ''The Final Resting Place of Joy,'' by Marion Wynn and published in Royalty Digest in November 2004.
“Joy, Alexis' spaniel, hid during the murder and, when the bodies were taken out of the cellar room, he ran out into the streets of Ekaterinburg. Later, Joy was found in the home of an Ipatiev House guard, Michael Letemin. When the guard was arrested by the White Army, Colonel Paul Pavlovich Rodzianko looked after Joy who had by then became totally blind. Joy was taken to Omsk with the British Military Mission. There, Baroness Buxhoeveden went to see Joy and the dog seemed to recognize her, despite he was blind, probably because of a familiar smell. Then Paul Rodzianko brought the dog out of Russia with him to a new home in England."

I couldn’t really believe it—I didn’t know this author, the magazine it was published in, where the author had gotten the information, or where the person who posted this had found the information. I didn’t think much of it until the end of this summer, when I was reading The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport. At the end of the book, this same exact story was quoted almost word-for-word. I knew then that I had to find out the truth about what happened to Joy. (Sorry I can't give the exact quote from this book, I don't have it with me since it's at home in the U.S!)

It was awkward timing, since I was leaving for a year in England. The magazine Royalty Digest had been taken over in 2006 by Rosvall Royal Books, in Sweden, and renamed Royalty Digest Quarterly. I emailed the publisher, asking if it was possible to get the article I needed. He immediately emailed me back with the personal email address of both the author, Marion Wynn, and the publisher of the article. I proceeded to email the author, who kindly offered to mail me a photocopy of her article. The day I arrived in England, it was there, waiting for me.

Her article on Joy is fantastic, although it is more a biographical piece on Paul Rodzianko, who was serving with the British Expeditionary Force in Siberia, and who rescued Joy from Ekaterinburg. This led me to two sources: Rodzianko’s autobiography, Tattered Banners, and an autobiography by Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, a former lady-in-waiting to the tsarina, entitled Left Behind: Fourteen Months in Siberia December 1917-February 1919. I most likely could have obtained a copy of these books through the Inter-Library Loan system at Luther (there was a copy of Tattered Banners at the University of Nebraska Lincoln), but I was in England and so instead made two trips to the British Library to get my sources. One of the books was in Document Supply, which meant it would take 48 hours to get to the library for me to use. I obviously didn’t know this before I registered for my Reader Pass, so I was only able to get one of the books on my first trip. On my second trip, I was able to get both books (and since I had remembered to bring my wallet with me into the Reading Rooms) and make photocopies of the pages I needed.

Post-British Library success
From “The Final Resting Place of Joy”: “Joy, the Tsarevich’s spaniel hid [during the murder], and when the bodies were taken out of the cellar room, he ran out into the streets of Ekaterinburg. He was found in the home of an Ipatiev House guard, Michael Letemin, when the guard was arrested. After Joy was rescued, Paul looked after him. The spaniel came, wagging his tail uncertainly, stumbling a little, finally bumping his nose into Rodzianko’s leg. He was totally blind. He seemed to be always looking for his master, and this had made him so sad and dejected that he would scarcely touch his food even after he was lovingly cared for. Joy was taken to Omsk with the British Military Mission, and when Baroness Buxhoeveden was there, she went to see him.”

From Left Behind: “I went to see Joy, and he, evidently connecting me in his dog’s brain with his masters, imagined that my coming announced theirs. Never did I see an animal in such ecstasy. When I called him he made one bound out of the carriage and tore down the platform towards me, leaping in the air and running to me with his forepaws, walking upright like a circus dog. General Dietrichs said that he had never given such a welcome to anyone before, and I attributed this solely to the fact that my clothes, which were the same that I had worn at Tobolsk, had still kept  familiar smell, for I had never specially petted him. When I left, Joy lay for a whole day near the door through which I had gone. He refused his food and relapsed again into his usual despondency.
            What had little Joy seen on that terrible night of July 16? He had been with the Imperial Family to the last. Had he witnessed the tragedy? His brain had evidently kept the memory of a great shock, and his heart was broken.
            It was pathetic seeing this dumb friend, who brought back the memory of the Cesarevitch so vividly. Little Joy was well cared for. He was taken to England by Colonel Rodzianko and spent the last years in the utmost canine comfort, but still never recovered his spirits.”

Eventually Lloyd George ordered all British troops to withdraw and return to England, Paul Rodzianko being one of them. He took Joy back to Windsor, where he lived out the rest of his days in peace.

From Tattered Banners: “With heavy hearts we sailed away from Vladivostok. Joy, the little ill-named spaniel who had seen his master murdered, that fateful night, traveled with me. I have never seen Russia again.”

From “The Final Resting Place of Joy”: “Joy seemed happy enough in his new home, but staring into his limpid brown eyes, Paul often wondered how much the dog could remember. He had been through such a traumatic time in Ekaterinburg, he was such a gentle and faithful friend to his young master. How could he forget such horrors. Joy died at Sefton Lawn and was buried in the garden. His simple tombstone read ‘Here lies Joy.’”

From Tattered Banners: “Every time I pass my garden at Windsor I think of the small dog’s tomb in the bushes with the ironical inscription ‘Here lies Joy.’ To me that little stone marks the end of an empire and a way of life.”

The last line of “The Final Resting Place of Joy” reads: “Joy, you are not forgotten.”

The fate of the Romanov family is full of grief and tragedy. For me, the story of Joy is now the silver lining of this story. They may have killed Nicky, they may have killed his innocent children and his innocent, loyal, servants. They may have killed both Anastasia and Tatiana’s dogs. But Joy survived. He lived through it all and peacefully spent the rest of his life in England, safe. He might not have been the same—he was obviously traumatized. But he lived. In a family that lost most of its members between the years 1917 and 1920, Joy survived. Discovering this small happy ending was well worth the work. It’s the little things in life that make it all worthwhile. Thank you to all the people who have helped me on this journey and who have made solving this mystery possible.

RIP Joy. You are not forgotten.

Because not having citations would be just wrong…


Buxhoeveden, Sophie. Left Behind: Fourteen Months in Siberia December 1917-February 1919. London: Longmans & Co., 1929.

Rappaport, Helen. The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010.

Rodzianko, Paul. Tattered Banners: An Autobiography. London: Seeley Service, 1939.

Wynn, Marion. “The Last Resting Place of ‘Joy’ and the Story of His Rescuer, Colonel Paul Pavlovich Rodzianko.” Royalty Digest 19, no. 5 (November 2004): 147-153.


As of 24 June 2015, it’s been over a year and a half since I originally published my research in this blog post. I haven’t changed or edited my original post, so it still remains in the informal-blog-style I originally wrote it in. Somehow, this blog post still gets hits every week! For anyone who has gotten here by a Google search for Joy and wants to know more, here is the information on what has happened with my research on Joy:

In January 2014, The Siberian Times picked up on this research and wrote a fantastic article about Joy, which credits and links this blog post. The Daily Mail and Topky, a Slovakian newspaper, also published articles on this research and Joy’s survival (luckily a friend of a friend knew Slovak and was able to translate for me!). In April 2015, I presented my research on Joy at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) 2015 in Spokane, Washington (USA). This research is now pending publication in the Proceedings for NCUR 2015. Hopefully my formal paper on Joy and his survival will be available soon!

Here are links to the other articles published about Joy’s story:
The Siberian Times Article
Daily Mail Article
Topky Article 

Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey! I’m continually amazed at how many people around the world this story has reached.