Thursday, September 16, 2010

And the rest...

I figured I should finally update this thing with the latter events of my trip. Enjoying the last weeks of summer in Northern Michigan typically doesn’t involve being on the internet. What follows is mostly a summary of events and pretty much omits any particulars.


Definitely worth seeing. A bit touristy, but what else would you expect in Shakespeare’s old stomping grounds. With some lovely old buildings (including The Bard’s childhood house) and at least one world-class theatrical performance a day it is a nice place to spend a summer day.


Incredible. This place puts every college/college town in the United States to shame. Just walking around the city, in and out of the different college courtyards, and the fields and canals around Christ Church College are enough to occupy at least a day and make one wish to stay for much longer. I am going to start grooming Grace to attend the university in 17 years. On a historical and little known note, Oxford was the only city of some size and importance that was not bombed at all during the Second World War. The reason for this was that Hitler, assuming he would eventually conquer the UK, wanted an intact city of some beauty and importance to be his British capitol. Fortunately, Hitler did not achieve that conquest and Oxford remains one of the few British cities to survive the war.


Old, old, old! Even the dirt on the buildings is neat because it has been accumulating for centuries. Edinburgh is the epicenter of Scotland and Scottish history. From the newly established Scottish Parliament (a truly awful building—one of the few) to the ancient graveyards and Edinburgh Castle, the city is a mix of heritage and progress. It is also situated in a perfect place: on a bay of the North Sea and on the doorstep of Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano which offers breathtaking panoramas of the Scottish Lowlands and the city itself. This was the ending location for my program and I spent just about a week there; by my second day I was trying to figure out how I could land a job and spend a few years of my life in that place. Edinburgh is truly one of those places that cannot be described with words and must be experienced in person for an extended period of time.


All about William Wallace. The downtown area is a jumble of old and new. At one end of town the roads become very steep and lead right to the castle (the chapel within happens to be the only surviving structure other than Westminster Abbey where a coronation has taken place. James VI I believe) which is aptly situated much like Edinburgh Castle, atop cliffs and crags. The views from here were quite nice, with the highlands immediately to the north and west and the river Firth flowing to the southeast. The other end of town has a promenade with many shops, pubs and even a surprisingly modern mall—when there is a castle in town you tend not to spend so much time here. I stayed at University of Stirling which seemed to specialize in the raising and breeding of rabbits. I still wonder how many poor college student, having exhausted their coffers sometime around April have survived there last few weeks on a more “free range” diet. Right next to the university is the William Wallace monument, a tall, gothic-looking spire standing atop a forested hill. Quite a beautiful structure overlooking the site of Wallace’s greatest victory at Stirling Bridge. Immediately behind the university begins the highlands. A lovely, yet steep path lead me to an old stone wall separating the woods from green rolling hills of pasture. Having been in the city for so long it was very nice to be able to walk through the woods again.


It could also be called Little London. York is a very quaint medieval walled city with enough of the walls still intact that you can walk along them around most of the old town. The town was settled by the Romans in their quest to root out those pesky Celts from the north country and has been occupied ever since. Near the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, an early medieval monastery, a Roman tower still stands, having been incorporated into the later city defenses. At the north end of town stands York Minster, a breath-taking cathedral that has gone through numerous renovations ever since a Roman fort stood on the site—the foundation of which can still be seen in the undercroft of the cathedral.
Unlike London, York still maintains much English-ness. It is hard to walk down any street and not come across an antiquarian bookstore or a tea room. On my first full day in the city I discovered that the entire network of old streets became a market, with peddlers selling trinkets and clothing from booths and butchers and grocers preparing and displaying their goods. This was the England I had been looking for and a smile was soon upon my face. A great way to end my trip.

I left York on Tuesday, August 10th and after spending the night across from Heathrow, flew out the next morning. As much as I enjoyed the trip and the experiences I can safely say that North America, particularly the United States is my favorite place to be.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Whoops, I got a little bit distracted the last few days and didn't quite finish my story of Wales.

July 17 - Snowdonia National Park

After catching a bus from Caernarfon at about 9:30AM, we arrived in Llanberis a half hour later. No picture can do this part of Wales justice: it is absolutely breath-taking. (This is after all the place where fairy tales are born and King Arthur reigned). Instead of exhausting, and potentially killing, ourselves Mike and I took a little steam engine to the top of Mount Snowdon. The whole trip took about 2.5 hours, including 30 minutes at the top; being surrounded by singing Welsh people only made the experience better. It is my wish to someday come back to this place to hike and camp in the mountains for some long period of time. Before jumping on a bus to Bangor, we had a bite at a quaint inn with a rather bawdy waitress. Traveling through the countryside on the bus gave us the chance to see some of the very small villages full of 'real' British folk.

July 17-18 - Bangor

Not a whole lot to say about Bangor. It is the home to Bangor University, a University of Wales institution, but as for things to do, basically you can drink, walk around, or both. We chose to do both. It is built into and along a valley, so one is bound to walk up and down steep hills if they want to go anywhere. There is a pretty nice pier at the very northern end of town that allows you to walk pretty far into Menai Srait and look out over the Irish Sea.
When we woke up on the 18th it was raining and predicted to do so for the rest of the day. Although our scheduled train was to leave at 2:30PM, our tickets allowed us to catch any train running that day back to London-Euston, so we boarded the 10:30 and were back in London by 2.

This coming weekend I plan to stay near London, perhaps spending a night in Cambridge and maybe a day trip to the areas west of London: Stonehenge & Bath.


Sunday, July 18, 2010


July 15 - Holyhead

Arrived on Thursday around 2PM without any clue of where I would stay. After some lunch at a dive pub, Mike (a chap from my program) and I wandered the city looking for a cheap B&B. After a few unsuccessful stops, we stumbled upon The Haven, a quaint seaside home run by a friendly older Welsh couple. Once we were settled in and paid up, we walked over toward Holyhead Mountain and the heath along the sea--a truly medieval feeling. After searching (successfully) for a long time for a place that served food after 5PM, Mike and I turned in early to catch an early ferry to Dublin.
However, with the morning brought bad weather and even worse news: the ferry would not be traveling that day. So, after bartering with the inn-keepers to get some of our money back, we bought an all-day public transit ticket and headed to Caernarfon.

July 16 - Caernarfon

After a short train ride to Bangor, we jumped on a slow bus to Caernarfon. Having been slightly unimpressed with Holyhead we really had no idea what to expect, and were feeling slightly wary of northern Wales at this point. The ride to Caernarfon, however, quickly changed those feelings. Our bus weaved through the rural, mountainous countryside, with miles of ancient stone walls, green mountains and mystical valleys. Once off the bus, we soon found the 13th century castle of Edward I, situated on the edge of town right along the Menai Straight and overlooking surveying much the Welsh landscape.(Caernarfon is one of the neatest places I have ever been; I could definitely see myself spending a long time there). Having decided not to book a place to stay prior to arriving, we once again set out to find one. This time it only took two stops to find a very cool B&B with an equally cool owner. The rest of the day we spent snapping photos of the castle, walking around the city and drinking British beer. Mike later regretted doing one of those three things.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Great Charter, The Renaissance, & The Holocaust

Another busy couple days here. On Sunday I wandered over to the British Museum (again) to see the exhibit on Renaissance sketches. Rather than presenting the finished and famous pieces of work from various artists, the museum showed the working process that each artist went through and the evolution of 15th and 16th century art. No pictures were allowed, however, it would be impossible to capture the essence of the exhibit anyway. Scrap papers, notebooks and rough drafts of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and more were available for the most detailed examination, inches from your nose if you so liked.

Having booked tickets to Wales for Thursday, I wandered up toward Euston Station to pick them up; it just so happens that the Royal British Library is only a block from the station. On permanent display are some of the literary and printed treasures of British history: the earliest surviving copy of Beowulf (11th century); Shakespeare's First Folio; two of the four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta; Beethoven's working composition for his Violin Sonata op. 30 no. 3.

Today, after a good lecture on the conditions which precipitated World War I, the class met at the Imperial War Museum. The rather unusual building houses an armory of tanks, planes, artillery, and military-related paraphernalia from the early 20th century; it is also a tremendously depressing and rage-inducing place. The holocaust exhibit is perhaps one of the most vivid and real experiences I've attended. Again, there is very little I can say or show that captures what it is really like to be there. I think that I can safely say, in tempered, gentle vocabulary, that I hate Nazis.

On a final note, I saw a nice play the other night, After the Dance by Terence Rattigan. I would recommend it.

I am now off to take a shower as I just ran through Hyde Park and am very sweaty.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Catching up...

As I had anticipated, I have gotten behind on keeping this updated. Thus I should probably qualify this blog as a very incomplete and sporadic collection of my adventures in England.

First week of classes are done. They appear to be a great supplement to the sites we are visiting and the activities we engage in. Although there was a bit of down time this week, it definitely did not feel like it.

On Tuesday after class I wondered over to the Sir John Soane House Museum, more or less on a whim. If you have never heard of him before, I suggest you do a little google research. To say that his house and collection of artifact was incredible is an understatement. I will probably return to take a few photos later this month.

On Thursday we went to see Henry IV part 1 at the Globe Theatre. It was absolutely amazing; the theater is a nearly exact replica of the original theater which burned down.

Wandered the north bank of the Thames last night and found some amazing and historic pubs along the way. Beautiful area. Planning on going back tonight for some food and drink. This morning all of us went to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. It was both strongly familiar in operations, while being completely foreign in tradition and history.

I am going to have to cut this a bit shorter than I wanted, as I am running out the door right now. I will post some more tomorrow.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

How beautiful is death, when earn'd by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.

Happy Fourth of July from London; a lot has changed in 234 years.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 2: British Booty

It seems that I am adjusted to the time change now; that didn't take long. Got up around 11 AM local time and was out the door at noon. I decided last night that, since one of the greatest collections of world artifacts is found just about a mile from my hotel, I should at least stop in.

The British Museum is basically incredible. It is designed in the style of ancient Greece: lots of marble and columns and big, open spaces. It is a collection of the things the British empire collected over many centuries from mostly the far, middle and near east. Probably the most famous piece that the museum houses is the Rosetta Stone, which I of course walked right passed and only on my way out realized what it was. It is pointless to attempt to describe or detail all that is in that place; one must experience it for themselves. I did take a few pictures, however, upon returning to my hotel I realized I do not have a proper cable with which to upload the photos: I am hoping that someone with MSU will have one. I will be sure to post them when I can.

As for now, I am taking a little break before I take a walk around Regent's Park and grab a bite (I'm thinking fish & chips tonight).