Sunday, 26 January 2014

Exam Weeks

Well, I finally made it through four weeks of traveling, two weeks of exams and trips, and a night in a haunted castle. Now I can breathe and relax for approximately five minutes before I start freaking out that spring semester classes start tomorrow and I have to adjust to a new schedule and actually do real work. Ugh. All I want to do is sleep in my own bed for 3+ nights…

So I came back from break on Jan. 12 around 2:00pm, and had my Russian Culture exam at 1:30pm on Jan. 13. It was not fun. I was able to do some studying over break (I brought the book that half the essay was on, so I could review that part) but really not a lot, so trying to cram everything I need to know into 23 hours when I’m exhausted was pretty awful. The exam was two essays, so besides preparing for those there wasn’t anything concrete I could study. I think it went okay, the first essay (on Vasilisa Malygina, the book I read over break) was definitely better than the second. It could have gone much better if I hadn’t been so tired/stressed/exhausted and if I had had more time to study. Oh well. We don’t find out our grades for another two weeks, and all I have to get to have it count for Luther is a 42%. Shouts of “FORTY-TWO” were quite common in the flat during our exam weeks.

I had a few days to study Polish before heading to London for a quick trip. One of my good friends from Luther, David, was in London for a J-term trip, and his group had a few free days! It was so much fun to see him and show him around the city. 

Hanging out with David in London!
Unfortunately, despite apparently writing it down and studying prior to my arrival, David failed his quiz upon arrival at the National Portrait Gallery. Hopefully this public announcement will shame him into studying harder next time. I took him to a bunch of my spots, and I got to do things that I hadn’t done too! The second day we got a pint at the Blackfriar, a pub that was built on the spot of an old Dominican friary. This Dominican friary happened to be Blackfriars, the scene of my favorite moment in history.

June 21st, 1529: During the divorce court proceedings, Catherine of Aragon is finally given a chance for defense. She went down on her knees in front of Henry and gave a badass speech, basically saying she was a good wife, she sees him as the head of justice in the realm, and she’s taking her case to the Pope. Then she got up and walked out. As the crier called her back, she continued walking and said something along the lines of “this court has no meaning for me. Onwards.”

What a badass.

Anyway, that is a brief summary of my favorite moment in history, and I got to stand exactly where she stood!!! It was an amazing feeling.

Standing where Catherine of Aragon stood, nbd
Then it was back to Notts, where I studied for Polish for a few more days before my exam on Tuesday. This exam was so much better than my Russian Culture one, I knew most of what was on the exam and there weren’t any major surprises. Our professor had given us a practice exam beforehand, and the real exam was really similar. My Polish friends and I had a big Polish party the night after our exam, and that was tons of fun!

The next day I ran around trying to figure my life out and open a UK bank account. The woman at Barclays who set it up was Polish, and so we chatted in Polish a bit! Literally the day after my exam, and I use my Polish in real life! It was kind of awesome.

Jan. 23: Headed to Cambridge to meet up with a good friend Abbie, who had both studied abroad during her undergrad and did a year of grad school in Cambridge. It was SO great meeting up with her!!! I learned so much about Cambridge and the whole system that I never would have learned otherwise, and I actually felt like I was starting to understand the whole culture. It’s so weird to think about, people who actually attend these universities just live in dorms that are 400 years old and go to services in these beautiful chapels. We saw St. John’s College (founded by Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother), Trinity College (founded by Henry VIII), and of course, King’s College. The King’s College Chapel is one of the most spectacular buildings I’ve been in. The fan ceiling is gorgeous, the stained glass is simply stunning, and the number one reason I went there: the organ screen has an “H&A” for Henry and Anne Boleyn, and it is one of two surviving initials after her execution! (I have, of course, seen the other existing one at Hampton Court Palace.) It was such an amazing experience to be in this chapel, so much more magnificent than any other university chapel. Wow.

Abbie and I outside of King's College Chapel
H&A on the organ screen, one of two that is still surviving in England!
Abbie and I went to some gift shops, hung out in a café, got a pint at the Eagle (the pub where Watson and Crick discovered DNA) to avoid the rain, and then went back to her friend’s place (where we were crashing for the night) to get ready for our formal hall. Formal hall is basically like the Yule Ball from Harry Potter, except not as fancy and without dancing. But you eat a meal and the fellows sit at High Table and it’s all very fancy and you buy bottles of wine and bring it in. Because Abbie is awesome, she got us tickets to a formal hall at Trinity College, so I got to eat a 3-course meal underneath a giant portrait of Henry VIII. Amazing!!!

Formal hall at Trinity College, livin' the dream!
Jan. 24: Abbie and I headed out in the morning to see Ely Cathedral. I have to admit that Ely was not on my list of places to go (which is heavily made up of cities that have famous cathedrals), and I am thoroughly embarrassed. Ely Cathedral was one of the greatest cathedrals I’ve seen, and let me tell you, I have seen a lot of cathedrals. It’s massive, with an octagon tower in the middle and the Lady Chapel (heavily damaged during the Reformation) on the side, the quire and altar are gorgeous. Definitely worth the trip. 

Ely Cathedral, it's so big that I couldn't fit everything into one shot, sorry this picture doesn't do it justice!

I headed to Bury St. Edmunds to go to St. Mary’s Church, to see Mary Tudor’s grave. She was Henry VIII’s younger sister, who followed his orders and married an old French king, and then as soon as he died she married one of Henry’s best friends, Charles Brandon. Her grave isn’t extravagant, even though she was Queen of France. Just a slab on the floor with a white edge to give it some height, and two plaques on the wall. Apparently, the church is the parish church with the longest nave in England! It was sweet and quaint and I think it was a nice resting place for Mary Tudor. 

Mary Tudor's grave, St. Mary's Church, Bury St. Edmunds
I wandered into St. Edmundsbury Cathedral, and around the old abbey ruins, which were awesome. The abbey in Bury St. Edmunds used to be the third largest in England, but it was destroyed in the Reformation (Mary Tudor was originally buried there, but when they were going to wreck it Henry gave permission for his sister to be moved to the church. How nice of him.). I met Abbie again at the train station and then headed back to Notts, exhausted. It was so great to see her and so much fun to explore Cambridge with her as my tour guide!

Last night…I had a sleepover at Tutbury Castle!!! Tutbury Castle, unfortunately, was destroyed by an Act of Parliament by Oliver Cromwell in 1647-1648. Fucking Cromwell. First he melted down all my crown jewels, and now he ruins Tutbury for me… We had met the curator, Lesley Smith, at one of her performances a few months ago. I’ve stayed in contact with her (mainly because she’s a fantastically brilliant Tudor historian) and she invited us to spend the night at the castle! Normally they charge £85/person, but for us they did £5 each. Such an incredible opportunity, wow.

Tutbury Castle is supposedly one of the most haunted castles in England, and after the assistant (who stayed overnight with us there) locked the gates, we were literally the only ones there. I saw the ruins of the chapel and kneeled at the same altar Henry VIII kneeled at! We went to the dungeons (with real torture equipment), stood in a circle and turned off our flashlights, and tried to call ghosts, which freaked me the fuck out. I might have gotten mildly claustrophobic, but it was scary as hell. Not a fan. No ghosts though! Wandered around the south range with our flashlights, then headed inside the castle. We slept on the floor in the Great Hall!!! In the same room as portraits of Anne Boleyn, two of Elizabeth, two of Mary Queen of Scots…wow. It is right next door to the King’s Bedchamber, which is supposedly one of the most haunted rooms in England. I wasn’t a huge fan and of course expected that whenever anyone moved in the night, it was a ghost coming to kill me.

south range of Tutbury Castle

The Great Hall, I slept on the floor between the throne and the chair and suit of armor!
 Seriously, getting to sleep in a castle is an experience I’ll never forget. Being the only group at a castle is an experience I’ll never forget! I am so grateful to both the curator, Lesley, for inviting us, and for Bob and Marilynn for prioritizing the program budget to make this happen. Literally living the dream and having sleepovers at castles!

Tomorrow is the first day of spring semester classes, which kind of freaks me out since I haven’t thought about new classes at all. I’m taking two classes at uni again, I’ll be continuing with Polish and taking a British history class, A Protestant Nation: Society, Politics, and Religion 1558-1640. I’m super excited to keep going with Polish and mogę spędzać czas z moją polską rodziną! My history class is basically my dream class, so getting college credit for learning stuff I care about hopefully will be awesome as well.

Also, anyone who is friends with me on Facebook will probably know this already, but there’s been some pretty exciting news the last few days! In October, I did a bunch of research on Joy, the dog belonging to the last Tsarevitch of Russia, Alexei Romanov, and in an article published on Jan. 21st, The Siberian Times credited my blog!!!

The article is excellent, and contains many of my favorite pictures of Alexei and Joy that I had in my blog post! Here is the link to the article:

The Siberian Times would like to thank and salute blogger Maja Proescholdt for her research in bringing the story of Joy to a new generation. You can read her superb account here.

I obviously care very much about this story, about the Romanovs, and about Joy. I am so honored that my research has been credited, but I am mainly thrilled that someone has published an article on this, helping to publicize and broadcast this story to the world! I want everyone to know about this story! The Romanov saga is so entrenched in misery and tragedy, but it is a great comfort to me, and I hope to many others, to know that Joy survived. I sincerely hope that one day everyone who reads about the Romanovs will know this story as well. RIP Joy, you are not forgotten.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me in this journey and helped me in my research! It means the world to me to have family and friends who encourage me daily and, no matter what, always support me in following my heart and pursuing my dreams!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Winter Break: Southern England

Done with exams! Done with exams! Done with exams!!! I had my Polish exam on Tuesday, and just got back from a trip to Cambridge last night. Hopefully I can get the rest of my break into one blog post!

Jan. 1: Of course my car on the 6:30am Tube was the one where a rude drunk man got jumped… of course my coach on the 6-hour, 7:30am train to Penzance had the eight loud, rude, still drunk, still singing, still shouting drunk men… of course I forgot train candy whilst the man next to me had train shortbread… #soberandunamused2014 I made it to Penzance though, dropped off my stuff, and walked about the 5 miles (round trip) coast walk to see St. Michael’s Mount. You can reach the island by foot at low tide, but I was tired and hadn’t planned it out right anyway (it wasn’t open, anyway). It was such a cool experience to be at the ocean! I think it’s one of my favorite things about England—I literally never go to the ocean at home, and here there’s just so much of it! I managed to get absolutely drenched by some waves by a part of the walk (despite the barriers). Again, “I am cold, and I am wet.” Got kebabs, walked back to my hostel (it had, of course, started raining. Honestly though I was so wet it really didn’t matter), put on dry clothes, did laundry (!!!!), and went to bed before 9:30pm. I was tired.

Jan. 2: I had a wonderful bus ride to Land’s End—up and down hills and through the countryside. Part of the route was on one-way country lanes, so whenever there was another car the bus driver had to get creative. I was impressed. I was one of the first people at Land’s End that day, it was pretty deserted early in the morning. It rained a bit, but then I saw a rainbow. It was incredible. Being that far west was such an amazing experience! I felt like I was at the end of the earth and it was awesome. I saw the First and Last House, the iconic sign (Minneapolis was 4191 miles away, but I didn’t want to pay the money for a picture), pretty sure I saw the Scilly Islands in the distance, and I didn’t get blown into the ocean. Success. I went back to Penzance for the rest of the afternoon, since there wasn’t too much to do and I didn’t want to get too far from my bus stop. Ate Cornish pasties in Cornwall. So so good.

Jan. 3: Here’s what was supposed to happen:
I was supposed to take one train at 9:40 from Penzance to Exeter and arrive around 1:00.
Here’s what actually happened:
Due to a lightning strike (that also conveniently knocked out power in my hostel in the morning), my train was delayed. First I sat on the train for 20 minutes, then I got bussed to Plymouth, which was a dumping ground for everyone and I ran around asking everyone where to go to get to Exeter, then got on a bus to Newton Abbott, and then from there switched to a train to get to Exeter. I got there a little after 3:00. I was not amused. I got kebabs (perhaps you are now sensing a common theme?) after checking in my hostel and wandered around, and then went to bed early. #unamused2014

Jan. 4: First real day in Exeter, got a library card so I could use 15 minutes free internet, then headed to Exeter Cathedral! It is a beautiful place, it has the longest unbroken medieval vaulted ceiling in Europe (or the world?), has so many quirky stories, and it was well worth the trip to Exeter. I saw the castle, walked across the Roman bridge and through the ruins, then went out with a girl in my hostel, Tamara, and had so much fun! I met a ton of great people and had a blast.

Jan. 5: I woke up early to go on an adventure to Dartmoor National Park. I took a bus to the small town Ivybridge, and as soon as I got off the bus it started raining. I walked through to the national park in the rain, went up and saw the moor, then decided that it was pouring rain and I was wet and freezing, and decided to leave. However, the next bus back to Exeter wasn’t for four hours, and literally nothing was open on a Sunday afternoon, so I went to the one pub that was open and got a coffee and watched Nottingham Forest destroy West Ham. Jamie Paterson had a hat trick and might be taking over as my favorite British soccer crush. Eventually got back to my hostel and I was soaked through and miserable. A couple girls in my room and I ordered Dominos, and I hung out with friends I made the night before.

Jan. 6: I got up early to get to Portsmouth, dumped my stuff at my lovely B&B and headed out to the seafront. It was gorgeous! Fairly windy, but you can see the Isle of Wight and it felt so awesome to be so close to the ocean. Unfortunately Southsea Castle (built by Henry VIII) is closed in the winter, but I went to the D-Day Museum and that was very interesting. It was so nice having a single room to myself! I even had my own shower, so after I got kebabs (again, common theme…) I had a luxuriously long hot shower and watched TV.

Jan. 7: Walked through Portsmouth to get to the Historic Dockyard, the main tourist attraction, so I could see the Mary Rose Museum. The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s great warship that sank in Portsmouth in battle in 1545, and was raised from the ocean in 1982. It is incredible how well preserved everything was and how much was on board the ship!!! And it was very personalized, which was a nice touch. Everything from cannons (with Henry’s logo), to a complete skeleton of the ship’s dog, to tiny dice that the sailors used for gambling, they had everything. Next stop was the train station for Winchester, to see that cathedral. Winchester Cathedral is beautiful!!! Mary I married her husband, Philip of Spain, here in 1554 and the cathedral is steeped in history (Jane Austen is also buried there!). The other things I wanted to see in Winchester were, of course, closed. #unamused2014

Jan. 8: Checked out pretty early and got to my hostel in Canterbury with the help of some train candy. I literally threw my stuff on the floor and ran out again to finally see Canterbury Cathedral. I’ve been dreaming of going there for so long, and it was well worth the wait! A spectacular cathedral, and well-deserving the title of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in England. Famous because of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in 1170, it was very touching how they set up his shrine, as well as having a candle lit in the middle of the floor to mark the site of the previous shrine. I also got to see the crypt, which was silent and dark and creepy and awesome, the oldest part of the cathedral (built in the 1100s). I saw the Norman Castle and then headed back to the hostel for free internet and free lemon cake!

Jan. 9: Got to sleep in and was well stocked with train candy for my trip to Rochester. Originally I wasn’t even planning on going there, but I am so glad I did! The high street is so quaint, and Rochester Cathedral was free for visitors and beautiful. There was a statue of my guy Bishop John Fisher, and the west door is great. Rochester Castle, the site of the infamous meeting of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, was partial ruins, and you can just wander around each level and make your way up to the top of the keep. It was pretty windy on top but had a great view! I bought used books even though I shouldn’t have, and got new headphones at Poundland.

Jan. 10: Literally lived the dream in my adventure to Leeds Castle today. I took two trains to Hollingbourne train station, then walked 2 miles to the castle. It was a perfect day… blue skies, no rain, so much sun. A miracle. The gardens and lawns had too many birds for my taste, but it was beautiful. Curving around you finally get to see the castle, on an island in the lake/moat and it is simply magnificent. They say Leeds Castle is the most beautiful castle in England, and after finally seeing it I’m inclined to agree. The castle itself was redesigned in the mid-1900s so it was all very new. But it has a rich history of queens: Eleanor of Castle, wife of Edward I, was the first queen to really start the castle, as well as my girl Catherine of Aragon, and I got to see the Catherine of Aragon Bedchamber which rocked. I went through the maze and sat on a bench by the lake, basking in the warm sun and drinking it all in. I slowly made my way out and the weather stayed beautiful, walked the 2 miles back, waited almost an hour for my train back, and then crashed hardcore at the hostel. It was such an amazing day, I got to live out my dream! I’ve been dreaming of going to this castle for so long, and now I finally got to see it!

Jan. 11: Living the dream part two… I saw the White Cliffs of Dover on the most beautiful day I could have ever asked for. Dreams really do come true. I walked all the way up through the harbor to get to the Cliffs, and then wandered 2.5 miles along to see the lighthouse. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the temperature was perfect, and I got to see France. The White Cliffs of Dover are my favorite symbol of British strength and resilience, such a significant representation of England. Walked down the hill, and then walked right back up another hill to see Dover Castle. I got to go on the underground tunnel tour, which was really focused on the evacuation of Dunkirk, which I hadn’t known a lot about. My favorite part is all the “Little Ships,” the merchant and civilian ships that risked German fire to bring the boys home. Cried a lot. I saw the Roman Pharos (lighthouse) and the keep (c. 1189), and then crashed hard in my hostel after so much uphill walking.

Jan. 12: Left early from my hostel, and trained it back to Nottingham. I have never been so exhausted and needed to do laundry and missed my flatmates and in general missed being home.

Final score:
            Castles: 14
            Cathedrals/famous religious places: 11
It was a close one.

Okay, this blog post is super long and I am so done for now. Exams are over and I had great trips to both London and Cambridge! Tonight we’re having an overnight sleepover at Tutbury Castle, and I’m so excited!

Rainbow at Land's End
Exeter Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
Living the dream at Leeds Castle
White Cliffs of Dover

Monday, 20 January 2014

Winter Break: Family Trip Part 2

Still trying to catch up with the blogs after break…everything else keeps piling up in front of me! I’m back from London and I have my last exam (Polish) tomorrow, and then I’m finally done with exams and can relax a bit before classes start on the 27th! Okay so back to my break:

Dec. 24: Car and I had a lie-in and my parents went out to lunch with Bob and Marilynn. I was jealous since I wanted to hang out with Bob and Marilynn. Car and I did a bit of shopping in Notts, then went to St. Peter’s Church for a Christmas Eve service. They had different melodies for some of our favorite songs, but thank god they didn’t fuck up O Come All Ye Faithful, my sister’s favorite Christmas song. Car and I had whisper time in our room and it was a different but good Christmas Eve.

Dec. 25: Christmas Day! I showed the fam around Notts, saw Nottingham Castle and the Robin Hood statue, then walked to my campus and back so they could see where I go to school. Literally everything was closed and the entire city was completely shut down. I watched the Queen’s Christmas Address at 3:00pm, which is my new Christmas tradition for when I live in England. She was so cute! Napped hard, then ate at a Chinese restaurant—it was open! Yay!

Dec. 26: Bus to London. Made sure to steal bus muffins from the hotel for the journey. Took the Tube to our hotel, settled in (I had my own single room!), then got pizza for dinner and walked to Piccadilly Circus. Got Cinnabon. Amazing.

Dec. 27: First full day in London with the fam! It was an early morning, headed to St. Paul’s Cathedral and then to the Tower of London. Back home! Unfortunately it was swarming with tourists and raining, so our Yeoman Warder tour was only ½ hour and in the chapel. For the record, my sister not only aced her quiz but also got bonus points! Mom and dad both failed. Went to the Tower Bridge Exhibition, heavy resting period at the hotel, French restaurant for dinner, and Car and I went out to one of my favorite places, the Cider Tap, and it was closed. We went to a pub around the corner of the hotel and went to bed early.

Dec. 28: Headed out early again to Portobello Road Market and had to resist buying everything! When I’m rich, I’ll go back and spend a lot of money buying cool stuff there. We had a beautiful morning at Hyde Park and Kensington Palace (unfortunately Will, Kate, and George were still at Sandringham), wandered around Harrods, and headed to Hampton Court Palace. It felt good to be home! It was my first tour for other people there, and I wish we had had more time. We did make sure to see the most important exhibits, the Maze, a lot of the gardens, and a special show in the Great Hall of Henry VIII and his court. It was so awesome!!! Dancing, music, drama, trumpets, and of course Henry himself. Quick stop at the Chapel Royal, then headed back to the hotel via trains and Tubes.

Dec. 29: Made it to the Churchill War Rooms right when they opened, and were able to beat the bad crowds. I was able to appreciate it so much more now that I know Churchill so much better! What a man. Walk down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square and to the National Portrait Gallery. As Sam says at the end of the last Lord of the Rings movie, “well, I’m back.” Our tour was a little impeded by a “Portrait of the Day” talk in the Tudor Gallery, but we powered through, and then went to the Jewish Museum.

Dec. 30: We went to Westminster Abbey and were in line before it opened. It was so packed with tourists and so crowded and it was so frustrating. It was so great to see all my people again! I also made sure to see two things I missed when I was there last time: Anne of Cleves’ small, plain, brown plaque on a wall, and the urn containing the remains of the Princes in the Tower. It was amazing! Even though it was raining, we walked to my spot in St. James Park and saw Buckingham Palace. Had a break before heading on our next adventure…the HP Studio Tour. All I can say is: WOW. As someone who has been to both a world movie premiere and Harry Potter World in Florida, this experience was just like those days. One of the best days of my life. Being there, with all the fans and with all my people and with all their things, it was a dream come true. I never imagined it could be so good. During the introduction in the Great Hall, I answered all three of the guide’s questions (no one else said anything! Come on guys!) and she called me a geek. Damn straight.

There was just so much to see and stare at and experience. You can see all the props, Yule Ball costumes, the gates, the boy’s dormitory, Gryffindor common room, potions classroom, Qudditch, the Burrow, Ministry of Magic (complete with Magic is Might statue!), Hagrid’s Hut, the Riddle graveyard, Privet Drive, Knight Bus, Godric’s Hollow, chess pieces, Diagon Alley, and then the finale… the Hogwarts Castle model. It was a dream come true. It was so beautiful and I cried so hard and it was one of the best moments of my life. Blew a lot of money in the gift shop (fuck da police) but I don’t care because I am so deeply in love with that beautiful story that J.K. created.

“The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

Dec. 31: We headed off to Windsor Castle for the last day together before my fam headed back home. The Chapel was just as wonderful as I remembered—it was my first time back at Windsor since the first time I went when Sigrid and I were there. I made sure to find Charles Brandon’s grave, since I missed it the first time! The Castle is so old and has so much history. Then we headed from there to Greenwich to see the Royal Observatory, which (after we walked up a giantass hill) we found out was closed. We had our last fish and chips together at the pub by our hotel and some great cider, and then Car and I rested before setting off. New Years Eve in London! I missed my NYE date Claire. Unfortunately, we both had to be up so early so we weren’t drinking. #soberandunamused2014 We headed to Trafalgar Square and watched drunk people. I just wanted to be them. We talked about our years in 2013 and what we hoped 2014 would bring. The fireworks were honestly kind of lame and anti-climactic. I guess being American, I’m used to big fireworks that last forever. But everyone else seemed to love it! We headed back to the hotel at 12:15am and both went to sleep.

Hopefully I can fit everything else from break into one blog post! I have to run some errands and study for Polish, but hopefully I’ll have more time to catch up once exams are done.

Score so far:
            Castles: 8
            Cathedrals/famous religious places: 6

P.S. If you love Harry Potter, please go to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. You will not regret it.

Hanging out with my sister at Hampton Court Palace


Dreams really do come true!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Winter Break: Family Trip Part 1

So I’m trying to keep these posts coming, but it’s really hard since even though there’s two weeks for exams, I still have so much to do and so many errands to run and so much shit to make sure I get done before classes start again! So I’m working on it. Tomorrow I’m going to London for a few days, and then next week I’m going to Cambridge, both trips to meet up with friends of mine who will be there! I’m really excited. Okay so about my break!

December 18: I woke up early and nearly drowned/got blown into the ocean on my way to the ferry terminal in Holyhead. My ferry ride was fine, really nothing too exciting except there were a bunch of terrible obnoxious little kids throwing shit around and I wanted to chuck them overboard. I made it to Dublin, and a very nice taxi driver offered me and another man a free ride into the city centre, since we had just missed the bus and he was going that way anyway. It was so nice of him!

I got out of the taxi and my sister was sitting on the stoop of our hotel, waiting for me. MY SISTER!!!!!!!!!!!! I really missed my family and I am so happy they were able to come visit me and spend so much time with me. I truly am one lucky girl. They brought me peanut butter and fudge. Best family ever. They were all super jetlagged, so we went on a walk, ate some food, and then they all went to sleep early while I just hung out in our hotel and read my book.

Dec 19: Carlye and I set out early to get a bus to Wexford, in the hopes of getting to the Kennedy Homestead which was (we thought) relatively close nearby. The bus ride to Wexford was beautiful, Ireland truly is the emerald isle. Unfortunately, we would have had to take another bus for 16€ (each) and a taxi for 25€, and we just decided it was too much money to spend at the beginning of the trip. I really wish my sister would have been able to get to Her People, but it’ll just be another trip. That night we got dinner at a place down the street where Sigrid and I ate a couple times when we were there. We all had our first Bulmers (not everyone could finish theirs so Maja the Tank had to pull through in the end), and then went to the Celt, a pub that does live music every night. Everyone finally tasted Guinness in Ireland, we listened to great Irish music, my parents left, my sister and I got hit on by a 50-year old man, and after requesting it, my sister and I got to hear our song, 500 Miles by the Proclaimers, live. In Ireland. Livin’ the dream.

Dec 20: #iwishihadrainpants We went on a day tour to the Cliffs of Moher, and I literally don’t think we could have picked a worse day to go. The weather was simply awful. It was so windy, the most wind I’ve ever been in in my life. We went through Galway, passed through a small village, drove through the Burren, stopped at Corcomroe Abbey (which was beautiful), spent a little bit of time at the “Baby” Cliffs of Moher, stopped at a pub in Doolin, and finally, finally got to the Cliffs of Moher. It was raining and blowing and almost a little unsafe at times, I really didn’t want to get blown into the ocean. My parents had rain pants; my sister and I did not. Grave mistake. I have never been so wet in my life (or so I thought at this point). We ended up in the gift shop, dripping wet, jeans totally soaked, probably with standing water in our shoes, and then got to sit on a bus to Dublin for another 4 hours. “I am cold, and I am wet.” It was totally worth it though, even with the bad weather. The Cliffs were awesome and I guess it’s just typically experience of Ireland.

Dec 21: We had our first real day in Dublin together, so we did a lot. Trinity College and the Book of Kells, Christ Church Cathedral, long walk to see Kilmainham Gaol, and then walked past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Stephen’s Green, and Grafton Street on our way back to the hotel. The Gaol was so cool! A lot of the leaders for the independence movement were imprisoned/executed there, and it was really cool to learn about that and about those people. Car and I went out to Temple Bar area that night for our last night in Dublin. My sister legally bought me a drink and I got the musicians to play 500 Miles not once but twice. Successful night.

Dec 22: We woke up super early to get a taxi to the ferry terminal, had a 4-hour ferry ride, then a 3-hour train ride from Holyhead-Liverpool. We got to our place in Liverpool and had a nice rest period and then went out and got dinner in the Albert Docks—first fish and chips of the trip!

Dec 23: My mom was literally in heaven as we spent most of the day doing Beatles-related stuff in Liverpool. We went to the Beatles Story Museum, which is of course amazing. At the end, you walk through a hallway and in a completely white room are the lyrics to Imagine, John’s white piano and his glasses. Imagine plays continuously and no matter what I always have a good cry session there. Next stop was Matthew Street to see the old entrance to the Cavern. My fam went to some gift shops while I walked across town to go to the Walker Art Gallery to, FINALLY see the famous portrait of my guy Henry VIII. It was phenomenal. Larger than life, so powerful, so intimidating, and so Henry. Met back up with the fam, and headed on a train to Nottingham. After checking into our hotel, we took the bus (their first time in a double decker!) to my flat so I could show them where I live. And then, since my sister and I were in a room just the two of us, we sat in bed and watched cable all night. It was awesome.

Okay! Tomorrow is London and then I have my Polish exam and then I’m going to Cambridge and then I start classes. It’s going to a busy next couple weeks!

Score so far:
            Castles: 3
            Cathedrals/famous religious places: 4

Corcomroe Abbey
Cliffs of Moher #iwishihadrainpants
Trinity College with my sister!
Hanging out with Henry VIII

Monday, 13 January 2014

Winter Break: Wales

I made it back home safe and sounds to Notts, and right now I am currently sitting with my liter of Kentish cider and finally relaxing, since I just finished my first exam a couple hours ago. I have so much to catch up on! I had an amazing month of traveling and exploring the country I love most:

            “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”
                                    -William Shakespeare, Richard II

I’ll try to divide up my posts so that I don’t have to stress about trying to write one big one, so if you didn’t catch it this one will be about the first few days of my break in Wales.

December 13: I left Friday evening to get to Cardiff. As the man on his cellphone next to me succinctly put it “Crosscountry trains is fucking me in the ass.” I had 3 connections, and thanks to delayed trains I managed to miss every connection. I ended up getting to Cardiff at midnight, instead of 9:30pm. I was not amused.

December 14: I took a couple trains to get to Pembroke and see Pembroke Castle, birthplace of Henry VII. I was, quite literally, the only person there in the entire castle complex (besides the woman working at the café) and it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. Pembroke is so old and you can climb all the towers and go into rooms and run around ramparts and that’s exactly what I did. I also went into this super creepy cavern, and I was totally alone and starting to get really freaked out so I talked to myself/some pigeons to pretend I wasn’t alone, and then left. The weather got really bad and it was pouring by the time I left, but it was definitely worth the trip.

My brotha from anotha motha Peter met me in Cardiff and hung out with me the rest of my time in Wales. It was so much fun traveling with him! We went out and then got kebabs at midnight to end our only real night in Cardiff.

Dec. 15: Peter and I hung out in Cardiff, I went to Cardiff Castle and had a blast. Peter did something else that I don’t care about, since I was at a castle. We wandered around Christmas markets, watched people fall at an ice skating rink at a carnival, and walked through some nice parks. It started raining and we were getting wet so we decided to pack up and took the next train to Abergavenny. Abergavenny is a super quaint, cute little town. It was Sunday and most everything was closed (Tesco closed at 4pm), but we got pizza and then ate in our hostel that doubled as a B&B that was a pub downstairs. It was a super awesome place, and the people who worked there were so nice. They specially bought us milk for our morning cereal! It was so sweet.

Dec. 16: Adventure time! Destination: Penderyn Distillery, the home of Welsh whisky. We took two trains to a little place called Aberdare, and wandered around the village and the market before catching our bus to Penderyn, an even smaller village, in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It was a really pretty area and we had a nice walk in the woods before getting to the distillery. The distillery tour was amazing! The Penderyn Distillery started up in 2004 after a nearly 100-year absence of whisky distilling in Wales. The tour was really informative and the whisky was delicious. We headed back to Abergavenny and got kebabs and hung out in the pub downstairs in our place with one of the regular’s bulldog.

Dec. 17: Peter headed out in the morning to get back to London before going to Romania, and I spent the day exploring Abergavenny. Finally, FINALLY, it wasn’t raining!!! It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. I saw the ruins of Abergavenny Castle, St. Mary’s Priory (the old/famous church there), and went on a walk by the river. It was so nice to just enjoy the sunshine and relish such good weather! That evening I got back on a train and headed to Holyhead, where I spent the night in a lovely B&B (in my own single room, with my own bathroom, with my own TV, and with my own luxurious shower!). The next day I headed for Dublin on the ferry to meet up with my family!

Verdict: Wales was amazing, I love Welsh whisky, and exploring small villages is wonderful, especially when it’s not raining. For the record, Arriva Trains Wales is spectacular and not a single train I took was delayed.

Score so far:
            Castles: 3
            Cathedrals/famous religious places: 1

part of the walls of Pembroke Castle
Penderyn Distillery
Finally saw the sun in Abergavenny!