Friday, July 3, 2009

Dramatis Personae

I feel like I name-drop a lot in this blog, so I thought I might give you all a quick rundown of the major players in my worldly travels.
Mary Klayder - Far and away, the most crucial player in this tale. Mary is the main facilitator of the British Summer Insitute, my honors advisor since freshman year, and just a beautiful human being.
Megan- The art history instructor accompanying and teaching us. Fairly young and a grad student, Megan is incredibly knowledgeable, which sometimes overwhelms us all. Her husband and adorable daughter are also on the trip with us.

Loren Cressler - My best friend and the one who convinced me to come on this trip. I will never forgive him ;)
Meg - A fellow London Reviewer from last spring, Meg is way cool and hangs with Loren and I quite a bit.
Kelci- Also a friend from the Review, Kelci is a fellow journalism major and just a cool chick.

Tim - Tim was my roommate for most of this trip and an infinitely cool dude. He is quite musical, and we suspect has the power to apparate.
Colby - Colby and I seem to not get along, but I like the guy. He's a frat guy, which explains the friction between us, but he is a decent, solid fellow, and very intelligent.
Brian - Brian and I are kindred spirits in many ways, sharing a similar sense of humor and taste in many things. He is also one of the most laid-back people I have ever met.

Rachel - Rachel is a soon-to-be sophomore that often tags along with Loren and I. Also, she knows some of my friends from back home, her associations with whom make her pretty cool.
Taryn - A regular hoot, Taryn at first came off as loud and obnoxious to me, but I quickly grew to like her just fine. We have a very playful, banter-filled relationship.
Meghan - I will admit that, at first, I assumed a few things about Meghan based on her membership in a sorority. However, all my preconceived notions of her were wrong, and I enjoy talking with her quite a bit.
Julia - Julia is quite possibly the funniest person on this trip, and one of the most naturally funny people I have ever met. She thinks I hate her, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Abbie - Abbie and I go way back in the J-School, and she is a certifiable badass.
Andrea - Andrea is really sweet and funny Theta girl, along with Taryn. She's pretty chill.
Hannah - One of the most excitable people I've ever met, Hannah could be enthusiastic about nearly anything.

If I mention anyone else in the blog, I will be sure to update this with just who they are. There are only about 10 other people on this trip.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I'm Never Leaving. You All Can Just Deal

It is difficult to express in words just what the last few days have been or meant. The last week and a half has been a whirlwind tour of Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands, both places of true atmosphere and beauty. Now I'm back in Edinburgh, with time to relax, reflect, and write.
We arrived in Edinburgh last Wednesday evening, and found ourselves in comfortable single rooms at the Pollock Halls of Residence, University of Edinburgh. It was nice to have a space to myself, but I have to admit, for those several days and now the next several days, they make for a somewhat more lonely experience. Having come to love each and every person on this trip, it has become custom to spend most of each day in the company of others. Our communal living situation previously has lead to creativity, hilarity, and close bond forming between many of us.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city. I'm not sure I have anything negative to say about it. Like London, it has everything I could ever need, and an incredible sense of history. Very unlike London (in a very good way), it feels much smaller, much less rushed, and it's a university town to boot. The entire city is darkly atmospheric, in a fog and mystery sort of way, especially up around the Royal Mile, where the Castle is at. I really dig all the dark stone and semi-Gothic architecture.
Our first full day here, we got a guided tour of the Royal Mile from Lauren Stewart, a KU grad who is here studying linguistics. It was very interesting to hear about the history of the city and its landmarks. One tale that really struck me was that of Burke and Hare, the bodysnatchers. Google it. It's a pretty gruesome story, but makes great material for budding writers.
After the tour, we went out for a pint at the Southsider, a fairly nice pub, and one we would revisit several times. Loren and I spent the rest of the day becoming acclimated with the city before our group dinner at Karen Wong's Restaurant, a delicious little Chinese place just down the street from the dorms we are staying in.
The next day was one packed with museums. As a group, we all met at the Scottish Museum of Modern Art. Nearly half of the galleries here were taken up with works by Damien Hirst. If you are at all familiar with who that is and what he does, it was exactly what you would expect. Now, if you aren't, let's just say it involved a lamb floating in a tank of formaldehyde, lots of fish skeletons trapped in glass, and cabinets full of medical anatomic models.
Much more impressive to me were the works in the Dean Gallery, which was across the street. It had a number of Paolozzi sculptures which I really love. There's a piece of his called Vulcan, which I thought was going to step on me. As with most works of art, it really has to be seen to be understood.
That night, we ate semi-crappy, but really cheap hamburgers at the Crags, the pub right across the street from our dorms. It is really convenient to be so centrally located in Edinburgh. To be honest, I can't remember much of what transpired between there and the next evening, mostly because nothing really happened. I probably did a lot of reading Wuthering Heights. Oh, and I wrote a couple papers, one for each class. If anyone cares to see a visual analysis of the Yorkminster Chapter House or a comparison of the social roles of male characters in Persuasion and Wuthering Heights, just ask. However, Saturday night, Loren, Meg, Abbie, Meghan, Rachel, Kelci, and myself all went out to a club called Electric Circus, to see a burlesque show. Loren, Meg, Abbie, and I had a lot of fun, but the others did not so much.
The next day it was off to the Highlands for a little trip, and I will leave that for another post.

Unworthy Post

I know I've become very lax about posting here, but we've been a bit swamped with travel and work. Remind me to tell you all about: Edinburgh, the Highlands, Edinburgh again, and Glasgow. Until then, settle for the list of tunes I've discovered/have had on repeat for the last couple weeks.
BSI 2009 Playlist
Alright - Supergrass
My Girls - Animal Collective
Get Older - Dan Deacon
Sushi - Kyle Andrews
Little Secrets - Passion Pit
Search & Destroy - Iggy Pop & The Stooges
Lasso - Phoenix
Murder in the City - Avett Brothers
The Greatest Sum - Avett Brothers
Clawhammer Medley - Steve Martin
Over the HIlls and Far Away - Led Zeppelin
Streams of Whiskey - The Pogues
Eli. The Barrowboy - The Decemberists
Shove It - Santigold (And in the same vein, Brooklyn Go Hard - Jay-Z)
I know it's not much, but there's a lot of feeling there. I'll try to get on it soon, after I get my journals and homework for Art History done.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Lake District

A Tourist's Lament

I long to break free
from this cage of glass and steel
to escape the confines of the coach
and learn again how to feel

Too long have I misread beauty
in false shape and guise
When here now I travel
where the grace of Nature lies

Cast me now from this prison
to wander out among the dales
to climb and conquer the ancient land
and roam here til my body fails

The I shall make my mistress

I never want to leave here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On To York

Still playing catch-up here with the blog. I will try and post pictures as soon as I can, although all the good ones went on Facebook, and the last couple days I haven't been able to take any (on account of forgetfulness).

We left the flats early Friday morning to hop on the coach to York. I was the last person out the door, as anyone that knows me probably could have guessed. Our northward coach tour of the English countryside took us first to Haworth, the small village on the moors that played home to the famous Bronte sisters. This was of course relevant to our reading of Wuthering Heights (which I still need to do). Upon our arrival, a great number of us trekked out on the moors, giving all quite a hike. It was chilly and windy out there, but very atmospheric for a beautiful but admittedly gloomy landscape. When we returned to the village, we went to the Bronte parsonage, which has now been turned into a museum dedicated to this literary family. What I found fascinating is the existence of a Bronte brother, Branwell, which I never knew. Apparently, he was quite a troubled genius, whose alcoholism and opiate addiction lead to a young death.
The village Haworth itself was a quaint little place, where I enjoyed a fantastic cup of tea at a little tea shop on a winding cobblestone street. It was definitely a place I could see inspiring something like Wuthering Heights, though.
After the Bronte parsonage and a few hours in Haworth, we hopped back on the coach for a dizzying, winding, and bumpy ride for the next several hours into York. We unloaded the coach in front of the bed & breakfast and set our gang on York. Meg, Brian, Colby, Loren, and I went to dinner at a nice little wine bar & grill in the city center. I ate a fantastic plate of Italian meatballs, with rice and a spicy tomato sauce. It would probably be possible to do an entire blog just based on culinary adventures, although I probably know as much about food as I do art history (none).
After dinner, we all came back and just chilled for a little bit. I soon passed out watching the BBC News, only to awaken sometime near 8 the next morning, my computer blaring Iggy & The Stooges (Search & Destroy is my alarm). That really got me jacked up for the day. We all ate a deliciously large English breakfast and then headed over to see the Yorkminster cathedral. It was enormous and grand, just as most of the churches we've been to so far. A few of us went up into the tower, which was a bad idea for me. I had no idea how terrified I was of heights until I was climbing the 270-odd steps up to the top of Yorkminster. I was literally shaking (Some of that might have been embarrassment).
The rest of the day I spent wandering around The Shambles (the city center of York), going to the various markets and shops. I managed to pick up a couple really good sci-fi novels for really cheap. I'm going to have buy a whole 'nother bag just to carry back all of the books that I bought. The Shambles is a pretty unique area. As with most of the landscapes on this trip, it is a place that makes me imagine grotesque or Gothic fantasy scenes playing out across it. Here in York, I could imagine markets and shops selling curiosities, mad street performers, and ghosts lurking in the shadows. Most of the rest of it was pretty uneventful though.
That night, I got conned into going to Yates, a club that allegedly had "fun" music and lots of dancing. We got there, and Brian, Tim, and myself found ourselves out of our element and immediately miserable. Parts of it were tolerable (especially after a few drinks), but mostly I didn't like it. When we got back, Tim, Colby, and I got into a political argument. It was pretty rough, but we were all ok with it the next day.
The next day was our trip to Castle Howard. The "castle' was really just a large country mansion, with manicured gardens, an immense fountain in the shape of Atlas, and a really ostentatious Mausoleum with enormous pillars and a self-important aire. Unfortunately, my camera battery died when we got there, so I had no way to photograph it. I thought much of it was very beautiful, and I wish I had some pictures to post. After the castle visit, we came back, ate at nice little pub, watched Colby lose a bunch of money to a quiz game there, and then went back. I tried to get some work done, eventually failed, and that was pretty much it.
The next day was on to the Lake District. Get ready for loads of pictures...

Moving On - Our Last Week in London

Hey folks, I apologize for not having posted in the last week. It’s been a whirlwind tour of the English countryside so far, with loads of work and little internet access.

It all began last Tuesday, when our group took a day trip to Stonehenge and the city of Bath. It was several hours on bus made totally worth it by virtue of the sights. Stonehenge was fairly cool, but made less cool by way of the rope that prevented us from actually going up to the stones. While we were there, Mary made us attempt to form a human Stonehenge, which we (I) failed miserably at. After making about a million Spinal Tap and European Vacation jokes, buying our Stonehenge keychains and trying to find out how to become Druids, we got back on the bus to go to Salisbury cathedral.
The cathedral was fascinating, and it was sort of amazing to visit a place that we’ve seen a few dozen times in our Art History class. In the cathedral gift shop, Loren, Tim, and I found the most amazing Stonehenge shirt, so we of course had to buy it. Its majesty is nearly indescribable.
Finally, we ended our day in Bath, site of the ancient Roman baths and resort town for England’s Victorian nobility. Although I thought the Roman baths were pretty sweet by virtue of still being there, despite being built more than a millennia ago, I wasn’t such a big fan of the city itself or the atmosphere. The economic realities have changed significantly since Austen wrote Persuasion, but the vibe of the city is much the same. It might not be landed gentry going to Bath on holiday, but it is effectively now a tourist trap for the upper-middle class (People who shop in Disney stores).
After bumming around Bath for a while, we came back to London and attempted to get some work done (which of course with us never happens). It must have been a pretty uneventful evening, because I don’t really recall it. I suppose that means it might have been a very eventful one too.

Wednesday was a big day for much of the group, but not so much for myself. We got up, went to class, did the whole routine, and then Loren and I went to sightsee and grab some lunch. After having a Whopper (It’s been a while), we met everyone else at the theatre to watch Hamlet, starring Jude Law, which all the girls went nuts over. Personally, I was happier to see Gertrude played by the actress who did Shaun’s mom in Shaun of the Dead. The play was merely ok in my opinion, as it seemed like all of the other actors held back to let Jude’s star power shine, and he also never really became Hamlet for me. There’s no doubt that he’s a good actor, and that he made for a powerful Hamlet, but he still just seemed to be merely Jude Law.
Once the play was over, I went with Colby, Rachel, and Loren to get dinner, but ended up ditching them to go back and work on my paper. I thought that here I wasn’t going to be as stressed as home was making me, but I still had a stress freakout and abandoned them at the Tube station. I don’t really know what came over me. It was probably a good thing, however, because I got back a wrote a decent paper on the subversion of the idea of marriage in Mrs. Dalloway and Waiting for Godot. When my paper was mostly done, I went to bed way late and got up way early to finish it.

Thursday was our final day in London until we come back to catch the flight home. After a shortened class, a few of us went clothes shopping, at which I spent way too much money and have more pairs of jeans than I really know what to do with. We made a special detour so Taryn could get a Hard Rock London shirt, and then attempted to go find John Keats’ house. It took a long Tube ride and a load of walking around Hampstead to find, but we got there. Only to find that it was closed until the end of July. I snapped a couple photographs of the tree that he wrote under, but was slightly disappointed. Also, I’m not sure how I felt about the Hampstead area. It was nice, and slower paced for sure, but also seemed way upper class and kind of snobby.
The final real event of the day was our group dinner at the Ravi Shankar restaurant. It was coastal Indian cuisine, and it was delicious. While disappointed at first that they didn’t serve any meat, I ordered a Panka Dosa (I believe), and it was simply fantastic. I topped it off with a dessert of Mango Kulfi, and was thoroughly satisfied. It seemed as if many in the group did not appreciate it, which I don’t understand. Some people on the trip are not culinarily adventurous in any way, and I’m baffled. If there’s any time to try crazy new foods, it’s right now, when you’re young and have a strong constitution. Who knows, you might even like it.
We returned to the flat after dinner and went to work on catching up on our journals, which ended up taking the last of us (myself included) until 4 am. Between that and packing to leave Friday, I didn’t get much sleep.

I think I’ll end this post here, with us leaving London, and return to our post-London adventures in the next one. I know you all don’t want to read pages and pages of me rambling all at once.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Playing a Little Catch-up

I know it's been a while, but this week has been super busy. Here's on update on my weekend, and I'll try to follow it up with a written post about the last couple days. We've done Stonehenge, Bath, Salisbury Cathedral, and seen Jude Law in Hamlet, so there's a lot to talk about.