Wednesday, September 10, 2008

From Union Jack to Old Glory

Monday, September 8

When I wrote my last entry, I had visions of being welcomed home to America in style. I would fly over the Capitol and the White House on a glorious sunny afternoon, and there might even be trumpets playing as I went through customs. (Okay, that last bit is an exaggeration.) As I'm sure you've guessed, this idealized vision was not fulfilled.

My flight from Dublin to Amsterdam was delayed by a half an hour. I sat in tense anxiety for the last twenty minutes of the flight, hoping I could make my connecting flight to D.C. I ran through the Amsterdam airport, computer backpack and purse bouncing against my body the whole way. I reached the gate with several minutes to spare. Out of breath but relieved, I passed through security and got in the boarding line. They scanned my ticket but there was a problem and I had to go speak to someone at a nearby desk. Apparently while I had made it to the gate on time, my checked luggage had not. I'd been re-booked for another flight the same day. I was disappointed, but the next flight was just a couple hours later, so I assumed I'd still have a somewhat shortened afternoon/evening with Ann.

No such luck. When I got to the desk to pick up my new ticket, I found out that my flight wasn't direct. I'd have a layover in Newark and arrive in D.C. at 9:50 p.m. I was seriously fighting back tears at this point. My time with Ann was already going to be short, and now it was going to be diminished by a whole day! Plus I was really frustrated about having to transfer yet again and waste more of my life hanging around in airports. (I realized rationally that I was lucky not to have to spend the night in Amsterdam, but I still felt annoyed.)

After a long flight across the Atlantic, I finally made it to Newark. I didn't realize I had to re-check my baggage, but fortunately I figured it out. Even more fortunately, they didn't weigh it so I didn't have to pay the overweight fee (they hadn't weighed it in Dublin either). I waited out my 2-hour layover more or less patiently--or at least resigned. When I found out that this flight had been delayed as well, I was mildly annoyed but too exhausted to put any real passion into it. And I wasn't in the least surprised. It just seemed to be my luck that day.

I finally got on the plane, but it had to taxi around on the runway for a while. The captain announced that we were 25th in the queue to take off and we'd probably be leaving around 10:00 p.m. (That's ten minutes after we were supposed to arrive in D.C. originally.) Again, I was too tired to feel more than a slight twinge of frustration and have the interesting thought that what had started as a half-hour delay had become an eight-hour delay for me. We did end up getting bumped up in the queue, so we got to D.C. around 10:45. Ann and I then spent almost two hours on public transportation (including waiting time) with my massive luggage. We got to her place around 1:00 a.m.

The next day, I realized that the American sunshine I'd been dreaming of was not to be. In fact, I'd chosen to come to D.C. right as a tropical storm was coming up the coast. But I genuinely thought this was hilarious, mostly because I was enjoying being with Ann and was relieved to finally be in D.C. We walked to the Library of Congress (which was really magnificent and fascinating) in the hurricane rain. We were soaked but enjoying ourselves. There was quite a stark contrast between the sites I'd been seeing in the UK and the D.C. sites. For one thing, all the "historical" buildings in D.C. obviously seemed so young! For another, I was a bit amused by their idealized views of America. For instance, the ceiling of the Reading Room in the Library of Congress portrays America as the culmination of western civilization (Greek philosophy, Israeli religion, English literature, French and Italian art or something, etc). The entrance hall was designed to mimic the Italian Renaissance style, and one of the distinguishing features of this style is cherubs lounging on clouds. The designers decided that American cherubs wouldn't just sit on clouds, so they sculpted cherubs that were busy creating, inventing, and working. I thought this was so hilarious, and it was one of my favorite features of the Library.

Later that afternoon, the weather cleared up beautifully and we walked past all the major sites, including the Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, the Capitol, and the White House. They were all quite stately and impressive, and I really enjoyed seeing these icons of American government.

The next day, we went to a church that meets in the AMC movie theater in Union Station. It was a fun location, and it was great to go to church again because I hadn't been for probably two months. After that, we went to the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian, which was an exceptionally good museum. We saw a version of the Lunar Module, which neither of us could believe actually made it in space. There was also an exhibit called "Exploring the Planets" from which Pluto had been recently excluded.

That evening, we went to a show called Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center. It's a humorous murder mystery that involves improvisation and audience participation. At one point,, they have the audience vote on which suspect they think committed the crime. "Whichever way you vote, that's the way we play it," they told us at the end. So whoever gets the most votes is portrayed as the guilty party. The actors were all really good, and it was so fun to see such a unique show!

This morning, Ann and I got up early to come to the airport. My suitcase weighed almost 70 pounds! Needless to say, I had to pay the overweight luggage fee, which was $80. I thought it was only going to be $50, but I'm not complaining since I only had to pay the fee once. I'm now on the plane to JFK in New York City, where I have a 2-hour layover. And then it will be on to Minnesota.

Thanks to everyone who joined me on my "Albion adventures." Throughout my trip, I occasionally saw the word "Albion" and I tried to take a picture of it any time I saw it. To conclude this blog, I will post a picture of a pub called The Albion which I saw in Bristol. I hope you're all doing well, and hopefully I can see you all soon!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Facebook Photos--Bristol, Stratford, Glastonbury

Bumming Around in Bristol
"Mecca" x2

The Land of Eire

Written 4 September

My second day in Sligo began with breakfast in Molly's Diner. This thoroughly Irish breakfast was served with ambience of the American South. There were bumper stickers that said things like "American By Birth, Southern By the Grace of God" and there were pictures of other typically American things like Harley Davidsons and the cartoon '50s woman. It was all rather amusing.

Then I went to the Sligo County Museum that had rooms devoted to Countess Markievicz (heavily involved in the Easter Uprising of 1916, promoting Irish nationalism), Yeats, and other random Sligo claims to fame (like they had teeth from a whole that was beached on the county's shores). Of course, I thought the most interesting room was the Yeats room, and the most interesting thing in that room was Yeats's Nobel Prize for Literature.

After that, I went on a cruise on Lough Gill past the Isle of Innisfree, immortalized by Yeats:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

While a beautiful poem, I think many of Yeats's other poems are even better. I really like The Second Coming and some of his poems about Maud Gonne (a political revolutionary involved in the Easter Uprising of 1916, like Countess Markievicz). Yeats loved her for years, and he proposed to her twice and was rejected both times. (She apparently preferred men of action to poets.) This poem is called No Second Troy:

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

On the Lough Gill cruise, we also passed Church Island with its ruins of an old Celtic monastery (think Patrick, Brigid, and Brendan). The whole area was absolutely gorgeous, and I'm bummed that none of my pictures do it justice. The lake was peppered with lovely islands and surrounded by rolling mountains, interesting rock features, and foliage in every imaginable shade of green. Because Irish weather frequently involves sun and rain at the same time, the lake reflected many different hues on its mildly choppy waves. The cruise director quoted some of Yeats's poetry and played some Irish music to further set the mood.

Before and after the cruise (for a half-hour each time), I got to visit Parke's Castle. It was rather small but still picturesque with Lough Gill and the mountains in the background. Once back in Sligo town, I visited the ruins of an abbey. They were fun to explore and find "hidden treasures" carved on the crumbling walls. That evening, I ate in a pub and had a half-pint of Guinness. (Ireland is world-renowned for its Guinness beer.) It was really strong, so it wasn't my favorite. But I can see where some people would like it because it had a rich taste and was actually quite refreshing.

The next morning (this morning, actually), I got a train back to Dublin. After checking into my hostel and arranging for a taxi to the airport tomorrow morning, I went to the James Joyce Centre. It had a few interesting artifacts of Joyce's life and it had quite a bit of good infomation on Joyce and his works (especially Ulysses) and on the publication of Ulysses (different editions, the controversy the book caused, etc). The best item the museum had was the actual door from No. 7 Eccles Street, the house where the Blooms lived in Ulysses and where Joyce's friend lived in real life. I touched the door knocker, thinking how Joyce had assured it touched it as well about a century ago.

Next, I went to the Dublin Writers' Museum which had quite a good audio guide and collection of artifacts from a ton of Irish writers, some of whom I hadn't even heard of before. I decided for the second time in my life that I need to learn more about the Irish Literary Revival, connected with Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats, and the Abbey Theatre. Then I went to Merrion Square, which is a nice park surrounded by houses where a lot of writers lived, including Yeats and Oscar Wilde. There was also a clever memorial to Wilde in the park with a lot of his best quotes written on it.

And that, my friends, concludes not only my time in Ireland but also my time in the British Isles (for this trip, at any rate). It's been such a good trip and I can hardly believe it's coming to an end. But I really can't afford to keep travelling, so I better go home and find a paying job. That will be kind of exciting but I'm sure it will feel mundane and boring after a while. (Probably a short while.) But I'm trying to learn to enjoy whatever I'm currently experiencing instead of always dwelling on the future. So for now, it's on to Washington D.C. and a much-anticipated visit with Ann!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Free Internet?!?!

I'm currently in my hostel in Sligo and you'll never guess what they have! (Well, you probably will, if you've read the title of this post.) That's right; they have free internet! (Of course, they don't include breakfast, so I guess there's always a trade-off.)

So since I have unlimited internet, I will pick up my story where I left off in Edinburgh. The next day was Saturday and, after a huge breakfast, I went to another Festival event. It was the matinee concert of the Beaux Arts Trio (piano, violin, cello) playing Mendelssohn, Kurtag, and Beethoven. I decided that I like listening to small ensembles better than full orchestras, in some ways, because I can listen to all the voices at once, whereas I have to focus on the voice playing the melody in orchestras. I guess I don't think I'm very 'skilled' at listening to classical music and I'm certainly not one of those people who can say things like, 'Ah! Listen to how the composer is echoing his original theme in this countertheme, blah blah blah.' But I really enjoy it nevertheless. In fact, this trio made me think that classical music is the Platonic ideal of music because it's in such a pure form. Of course, it's probably ridiculous to classify one type of music as more 'pure' than another, but that's what I thought in my enraptured state in the middle of the concert.

After that, I went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the ruins of the Holyroodhouse Abbey. The palace is the Queen's official residence while in Scotland, so it's still a 'working palace,' which was pretty interesting. (I think I'm becoming one of those weird people who are unduly interested in the royal family.) I also toured the new Scottish Parliament building. The Scots had been ruled solely by the Parliament in Westminster (and Wales still is) from 1707 to 1999. Then some of the powers of the UK Parliament were 'devolved' to Scotland, and their Parliament reconvened. The new building was completed in 2004. It's a prime example of modern architecture, which I always think is interesting.

A lot of people complained about its appearance--and granted, it is quite different from the grand buildings that surround it. But I'm always pleased when people in the 21st century build something that isn't just economical or practical but something that is artistic and will be something people will find interesting in 200 years. The tour explained all the symbolism in the building; it's meant to physically represent the four pillars of the Scottish Parliament--accessibility, accountability, transparency, and equality. Some of the unique features of the building have no fixed meaning because the builders wanted to emphasize the power of the people; each person can decide for him- or herself what these features mean (hence, it's a postmodern building, not just modern!). Just as a sidenote, in the Scottish Parliament, each person who speaks must limit their remarks to four minutes in order to prevent filibustering. This seems like such a simple solution, and I don't understand why we haven't implemented it in America (or England, for that matter).

That evening, I went to a choir concert called 'A Child of Our Time.' It was written during World War II about Kristalnacht, when a Jewish boy shot a German officer for persecuting his family and then the Nazis retaliated by pillaging Jewish homes and businesses and killing a bunch of people. It had some really good ideas in it (Sir Michael Tippett, the writer/composer, drew heavily on Jungian ideas of the shadow, which was interesting), and the music was fabulously performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. He also inserted African American spirituals at key emotional points of he piece, which I thought was really powerful. However, the lyrics themselves were not the greatest, I didn't think. Unbeknownst to me when I chose to go to this event, Tippett was friends with T.S. Eliot and asked him to write the final lyrics for the piece. Eliot originally agreed, but then read Tippett's stuff and thought that his words would be too 'poetical' for what Tippett was trying to do. That might be true, but I think it would have been nice for them to sound a little bit more poetical. Maybe Robert Frost's type of poetry rather than Eliot's, but still. Eliot's ideas definitely influenced the piece a bit though. There was a particularly interesting line that said something like, "Beyond the desert lies the garden." This line further confirms one of the main points I was trying to make in my senior thesis, but I'm not going to go into that now.

On Sunday, I had a rather laidback day. I ate a leisurely breakfast and then went back to my room and slept some more. Then I went to the Balmoral Hotel and asked the concierge in a kilt if that was the hotel where J.K. Rowling had finished writing Harry Potter (as if I didn't already know that it was), and he confirmed that it was. I asked if they still had the bust she had signed which said, "J.K. Rowling completed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (652) on this date (she wrote the actual date)." He said that they did and that it was in a glass case in the room where she stayed. I said, "Oh, so I suppose there's no way for the public to see it?" And he said there wasn't. So that was too bad, but oh well. Then I had a late lunch and then climbed the Walter Scott monument, the tallest memorial ever made for an author. It gave some really good views of the city, so it was worth climbing up another narrow spiral staircase. (This one got even narrower than the one leading up to the top of York Cathedral.)

After that, I just went back to my room, relaxed a little bit, and spent a while packing up. Then I went to the Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert, the concluding event of the Festival. It was really fun because they coordinated the fireworks with classical dances (Brahms's Hungarian dances and Dvorak's Slavonic dances). So when there was an emphatic part of the music, there would be a few big fireworks. And when the music was fast, there would be a bunch of swirling fireworks or something. Best of all, the fireworks were shot off from the castle, which is up on a high promontory. This castle background distinguished these fireworks from any I've ever seen celebrating American Independence Day because, of course, we don't have any castles.

Then I had my awful travel day on Monday. I got up at 5:15 a.m. and was picked up by a taxi at 6:00 a.m. I got to the train station and paid my taxi driver. With the earliness of the hour and the preoccupied state of my mind (because I was ridiculously anxious about something going wrong in this lengthy day of travels), I managed to walk off with my purse and large suitcase, leaving my backpack behind. I hadn't put it on my back before paying the cab driver, but I must have thought I did. I got to my train platform rather early and moved to take my backpack off, only to realize that it wasn't there. Of course, I was freaking out but not letting myself fully freak out until I knew that my laptop and all my essentials had been irretrievably lost. I asked the first train worker I saw where my luggage would have gone if it had been found. He said the "left luggage" office, which I thought was incorrect because "left luggage" means luggage people have purposely left behind to store there for a while, not luggage that was accidentally left behind. Plus the office wasn't open. Of course, I went back to the taxi rank and, sure enough, the backpack wasn't there anymore. I asked someone else who worked there and they said, "Well, no one has turned anything in here, but maybe security..." and as he was talking, a security officer walked in with the bag. Of course, they had checked it to make sure it hadn't been left there with a bomb inside or something. When it was safe, they brought it to reception and I could have it back. So that was terrifying, but thankfully turned out just fine. I had to catch three trains (carting my huge heavy suitcase), each of which were only about an hour so I wasn't able to really relax or try to sleep.

Then I had to wait around for my ferry to Belfast. Once on the boat, it was a lot of fun! It must have been like a mini-cruise ship because it had shopping, restaurants, a place to get your nails done, lounges, coffee shops, video games, places for children to play, etc. Then I got to Belfast and took a taxi from the harbour to the train station. I couldn't believe I had taken two taxis in a day, but I was really glad for both of them. Sometimes it's worth it to pay a little extra money for something like that. I took the two-hour train from Belfast to Dublin. Upon arrival in Dublin (at around 8:30 pm), I had been planning to store my large suitcase in the left luggage facilities. Usually, these facilities are an actual office. In this case, they were just lockers right out in the open that didn't look that difficult to break into. And the large ones cost 6 Euros per day. I thought that was a bit steep for such shady facilities. So I decided to take my luggage to my hostel. I went out of the train station and could not get my bearings from the crappy map I had. A construction worker asked if I was lost and I said I was. I showed him my map and he couldn't figure it out either, but his friend knew the place I was talking about. They said, "Oh yeah, it's not that far, but since it's dark out, you should probably take taxi." I thought that was a little creepy because I'd gotten the same Dublin-is-a-shady-place song and dance from the Irish family I met in Wales. So I ended up taking a third taxi in one day! I was so exhausted, but my splitting headache (from all the stress) kept me up half the night.

Anyways, I was able to leave my large suitcase in that hostel's luggage room for the two nights that I'm in Sligo because I'm staying there again for one more night before flying back to the States. So that was a relief. The train to Sligo takes three hours, which was longer than I was expecting. After checking into my hostel, I ate a wonderful toasted tuna sandwich at a pub. Then I took a train to Drumcliffe and saw Yeats's grave and the famous mountain/plateau Benbulben. (Sligo's main claim to fame is that Yeats was from here.) Benbulben and the Bay of Sligo are really beautiful! I'm glad I came here, but some of my passionate enjoyment of my trip is wearing off due to exhaustion and stress. It's like I can't make the effort to really enjoy something right now, so I just enjoy it halfheartedly. That sounds depressing, but I don't mean it to. I'm still enjoying myself, but travelling solo is rather exhausting because there's just so many things to think about and so many problems to try to prevent. I'm really glad that I did this trip independently because I have gained confidence that I am able to do something like this on my own. But, like any challenge, it is tiring, and I'll be ready to go home when the time comes.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Making Up for Lost Time

**Note: This is the third of three new posts (posted tonight but written at various times). Scroll down if you're interested in reading all three of them in order.

I know it's been forever since I've posted anything and most of my "regulars" have probably stopped checking due to having been disappointed too many times. :-) In Wales, I didn't have any internet access. Since then, I've been staying with my cousin Anna (I believe we are technically second cousins) who lives in Manchester. She has dial-up internet which I could use for a bit of communication but it tended to freeze up after just a few minutes. I'm now in Edinburgh, staying in some university accommodation. I can get a whole day's worth of internet for just 3 pounds, but I haven't used it yet because I've been going to Edinburgh International Arts Festival events in the evenings. Right now, I'm writing this in my journal on a coach bus, going on a day trip to the Highlands of Scotland. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On my remaining two days in Wales, I visited Caernarfon Castle (which is remarkably well-preserved), the Roman ruins of Segontium Fort, and a picturesque seaside village called Portmeirion. It was rainy for most of those days, but the sun hesitantly peaked o ut for an hour or two when I was at Portmeirion, which was glorious. I also got to hear the Welsh language spoken all over the place, and it was a lot harsher than I was expecting. I guess I thought it would be soft and flowing like Gaelic or like Celtic music, but it had quite a few guttural sounds. It was also interesting because everyone spoke English perfectly (of course), but they also spoke Welsh to other Welshmen. I think most of the people there are truly bilingual instead of just speaking a second language.

I spent half of the next day travelling to Manchester to visit Anna. I was greeted with warm hospitality and lots of wonderful English tea, which can soothe any care-worn traveller. Staying with Anna has definitely been one of the highlights of my trip. We had fun getting to know each other better and discovering that we have quite a bit in common. I was actually supposed to go to Durham halfway through my stay in Manchester, but the people I was supposed to stay with (whom I have never actually met) were being rather uncommunicative, plus I was having such a great time with Anna, and she graciously invited me to stay longer with her.

On our first afternoon together, Anna took me on a tour of Manchester. It was really fun to see a city from the perspective of someone who lives there because I got to see some things that would never have been in a guidebook. For example, we went to a teeny bopper paradise with stores selling quirky clothes and paraphernalia, unique costumes, and Gothic attire. It was quite interesting to see! We also went to a museum that had exhibitions on roof gardens, fashion, and Anime. Perhaps most interesting of all was the food section of Selfridges. In addition to selling every imaginable flavor of sushi, gourmet wedding cakes for 500-1000 pounds ($1000-2000), and candy made from real bugs or parts of rodents, it also had highly overpriced American food that you can't get anywhere else in England. For example, boxes of Lucky Charms were 7.50 pounds ($15), and boxes of Macaroni and Cheese cost 4 pounds ($8)! I was also introduced to British junk food including prawn crackers and bacon crisps. They were both very good, but bacon crisps would become my signature snack if I lived here (much like Cheez-Its in America). During my time in Manchester, I also got to see some British TV shows, including the British version of The Office and Miss Marple.

The next day, we went to the Lake District and it was a gloriously sunny day! We took a train into Windermere and got to see some of that town's lovely scenery from the top of an open-top bus (with the wind in our hair and the sun smiling down on us) on our way to Grasmere to see Wordsworth's home. Dove Cottage, as it was called because it was once a pub named the Dove and Olive, is a cozy white house with only a few rooms, even though it used to have many occupants. At its highest occupancy, it was home to Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, his wife, his wife's sister, a few children, and possibly a long-term guest like Coleridge. The ground floor rooms were rather dark (but they supposedly did their sewing down there!) while the upstairs rooms were fairly light and airy. There are now other buildings surrounding Dove Cottage, but it is easy to imagine how glorious the view of Grasmere Lake (mere=lake, so it is redundant to say Grasmere Lake but it is clearer because it is also the name of the village) and its mountainous border.

After a quick walk through the Wordsworth museum, we made a beeline to get back out into the sunshine. We hiked through the wilderness to Rydal Mount, where Wordsworth moved after his family outgrew Dove Cottage. It's more secluded and wild than Dove Cottage, and I think its surroundings are probably closer to how they would have been in Wordsworth's time. Ann and I enjoyed having tea in the beautiful garden.

The next day, we visited Tatton Park, a mansion with gardens and parkland. It was another gorgeous sunny day (which was a pleasant surprise). On th eway to Tatton Park, we went through Knutsford, which is where Elizabeth Gaskell was from. We saw a triptych tapestry made by the community for the millennium. Anyone could stitch their own house, but the lady in charge of the tapestry stitched the outline from a photograph and supplied the thread to make sure that all the separate pieces would fit seamlessly together in size and color. We ate at a little cafe that was decorated with penny farthings (those bikes with one tiny wheel and one huge one). The mansion itself was beautiful and elegant, the gardens were huge and fun to walk through (you could imagine wearing a nice dress and "taking a turn around the garden"), and the parkland was even larger, filled with sheep, trees, and lakes.

I spent the following afternoon in Liverpool, home of the Beatles. I went to the Beatles museum and the Tate Liverpool, both of which are located on the famous and distinctive Albert Dock. Liverpool is the 2008 European Capital of Culture, and it really feels like it has taken on the role well.

I went to York the next day. This walled medieval city was quite nice (even nicer than Canterbury, I think), and its cathedral was truly fantastic. I feel like I'm becoming a snob, but after seeing so many amazing old buildings, it takes rather a lot to impress me now. Well, I was very impressed by York's cathedral. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the UK, and it has almost half of the country's medieval stained glass windows. Some of the most notable include the Seven Sisters (made by the Cistercians out of silvery glass; they didn't believe in having images in the stained glass so it's just patterns), the Rose Window (created to celebrate the end of the Wars of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York), the Jesse Window (depicting the lineage of Christ in the middle pane with the patriarchs on one side and the prophets on the other), and the great East and West windows (one of which was sadly under construction when I visited).

I also saw the Jorvik Vikings Museum. The Vikings conquered the city in the mid-800s and named it Jorvik, which is where the name "York" comes from. Archaeologists discovered part of the old Viking settlement underground and have now restored it using as many original artifacts as possible. They have even created wax figures of the Vikings who lived there based on skeletons that they found. Visitors tour the city in moving compartments, kind of like a slow amusement park ride. It was quite an interesting, unique museum.

I went to the Peak District on my last full day in Manchester. I wandered along a public footpath through the Pennine Mountains to a small trickling waterfall. This area was designated "access land," which means that you are allowed to leave the path and walk freely through it. Well, of course I couldn't resist that! I walked up the mountain next to the stream. It looked like a much easier climb than it was. For one thing, all the plants made it impossible to see the terrain I was actually walking on. For another thing, it was quite muddy in places and I didn't want to get my shoes horribly wet as they are my best walking shoes. Plus it was just a lot steeper than it looked. But I had fun going partway up, crossing the stream, and then coming back down on the other side.

I went a little farther along the trail and saw another mountain I thought I would try to climb. Apparently I had learned nothing from my first experience of discovering that these mountains were a lot more difficult to climb than they appeared. I started up what seemed to be a dry stream bed. Soon enough I started to hear a trickling sound, but I couldn't see anything, no matter how much I tried to look under and around the plants. It sounded like it was coming from right below me, so I thought maybe it was an underground stream. I kept going up the mountain. Eventually I felt my foot slip much farther than it should have. Yes, I had discovered the stream and I was standing knee-deep in a muddy ditch. Fortunately, the water was only at the very bottom. Unfortunately, when I had instinctively grabbed for something as my foot slipped, I had grabbed a sticker plant. I pulled myself out of the stream bed and plucked the stickers off my hand and clothes. I searched for the stream, but really could not see it; that's how dense the foliage was. Everywhere else except right near the stream was too steep to climb down, so I just carefully descended and hoped that I wouldn't slip into the stream again. I did eventually make it back to the path, quite wet and muddy. But it was fun anyways. The mountains are really pretty, and I enjoyed getting to walk through sheep fields as well.

That afternoon, Anna's mom Jan had returned from her trip to America, and it was fun to get to see her. She, Anna, and I had tea and crumpets and then a nice dinner. The next morning, we relaxed and chatted and then had to rush a bit to get me to the train station on time. I arrived in Edinburgh, once more burdened with my over-large, ridiculously heavy suitcase. I was trying to navigate my way to my accommodation based on a crappy map and the incorrect and conflicting directions I had recieved from a police officer and from a person who works at Travelodge. Eventually, I got good directions from a taxi driver who had just accepted a different job and couldn't drive me. After an hour and a half of walking around hilly (compared to London) Edinburgh with a large purse, heavy backpack, and monstrous suitcase with a breaking zipper, I arrived at my hotel, sweaty and exhausted. It's very basic university accommodation, but I have my own room (which covers over a multitude of sins, haha) and there is a lovely view of an extinct volcano called Arthur's Seat.

After taking a shower and organizing my life a bit, I walked the mile and a half or so to the city centre to see my first Arts Festival event, the world premiere of Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray ballet. It was really well-done and had a lot of depth, emotion, and intensity as well as exploring the interesting themes of celebrity and the relation between the surface image and what is underneath. All the costumes were modern, and Basil (the painter in the book) was a photographer of models while Dorian became a highly successful perfume advertisement model. In a lot of ways I really enjoyed it but its graphic sexuality made me a bit uncomfortable.

Yesterday, I saw the Writers' Museum about Scottish authors Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. It was a really good museum--and it was free! I ate lunch at the Elephant Cafe, which serves good food at a reasonable price and promotes fair trade products. But the real reason I went there is that J.K. Rowling ate at this cafe to start scribbling down her ideas for the first Harry Potter book. After that, I spent hours at the Edinburgh Castle. Needless to say, it was quite a good castle with several interesting exhibitions.

That evening, I went to a staged concert called I went to the house but did not enter. The lyrics were all from different 20th century literary works by T.S. Eliot, Maurice Blanchot, _____, and Samuel Beckett. The only one I knew anything about was, of course, Eliot. The text was "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Four men sang for all the pieces, sounding sort of like a modernist barbershop quartet. Each of the works was chosen because the speaker is ambiguous and has multiple voices (so I personally don't know why Prufrock was selected out of all of Eliot's works). For Eliot's section, the four men were all dressed in vests, top hats, and coats. Before any singing, they took a long time carefully wrapping up a tea set and methodically putting away the rest of the things on stage (2 pictures, a table, a rug, curtains, and a half-mannequin). Then halfway through the singing of the poem, they methodically replaced the set in reverse order. There were a few minor changes (black tea set instead of white, mannequin on the other side of the stage) and it came out of a different box so it was clearly supposed to be a different set of items. Obviously they were trying to show that Prufrock is persnickety and overly concerned about seemingly unimportant things. Also, I'm sure they were acting out "decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse." But beyond that, I'm not really sure what this musical/theatrical setting added to the text of Prufrock.

Sadly, the things I wasn't really sure about increased exponentially as the piece went on. Imagine encountering three notoriously difficult modernist texts for the first time by hearing them sung barbershop-style and acted out in modernist theatrical style that doesn't add to one's understanding but rather throws more ambiguous and complex ideas into the mix. It was still kind of fun to try to analyze, even though I'm sure I failed miserably. It was also fun to observe the people in the theatre. Some were pretentiously acting as though they understood, but I'm pretty sure most of them didn't because I did not hear anyone make any sort of insightful comment about the productino during intermission or afterwards. (And that's pretty rare because you can usually hear almost everyone discussing the production at those times.) The guy next to me clapped only twice after the first half, I think because he didn't want to pretend to be enjoying something when he didn't know what was going on. He also pointed out that more people than usual seemed to be coming back from intermission with drinks. I definitely wish I could have seen this production with another English major to be able to discuss it with them afterwards.

Today, as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, I have been on a tour of the Highlands. I have been writing in my journal during the down times. We have seen some beautiful lochs, mountains, and glens but it's been more of a bus tour than I would have liked. I thought we would be out of the bus more often, but I guess that's okay. We've covered a lot of ground this way, and we did get to go on an hour-long boat cruise on Loch Ness (no sign of Nessie though). I'm really glad that I'm getting to see the Highlands, even if I can't experience them fully in the amount of time I have here.

I'll be in Edinburgh until early Monday morning. Then I will spend all day travelling to Dublin. My train leaves Edinburgh at 6:45 a.m. (I'm taking a taxi to get there) and then I have to change trains twice to get to my ferry. The ferry takes me to Belfast and then I take a train to Dublin. I'm going to store my extra-large suitcase in the Dublin train station until I fly out a few days later. I'm spending my first night in Dublin, then two nights in Sligo (Yeats's home town), then one more night in Dublin, and then I fly to Washington, D.C. I'm sure I'll have to pay the $50 fee for overweight luggage, but oh well, I guess.

Before this blog post gets as large as my suitcase, I'm going to sign off. If you made it to the end, congratulations and thanks for reading!

A Great and Terrible Beauty


I really like nature, being outside, basking in the beauty of God’s creation...but somehow nature and I do not get along when the unexpected occurs. Even when the unexpected should be expected. Like rain in the UK. Today I planned to take the Snowdon Sherpa bus from my hostel to a little town called Waunfawr (pronounced ‘wine-var’), where there is a nice riding stable. However, I didn’t realize how infrequently the bus comes. I probably should have realized that I’m not in London (or Bristol or any other major city) any more and the public transportation just might be as bad as Minnesota’s! (Just kidding.) So I was like, ‘Well, it’s only four miles to Waunfawr, I can certainly walk that.’ Unfortunately, the only way to get there (that I know of) is by walking alongside a narrow road (typical of small towns and rural areas in the UK). This means you have to pay very close attention so that you can move off the road (or when that’s not possible, just cross the road...or if cars are coming from both directions, just try to make yourself as skinny as possible alongside the stone walls lining the road). I definitely don’t plan on doing this again because it was slightly terrifying. :-) But the drivers are usually pretty nice and aware, so it wasn’t absolutely awful. But anyways, this would have been loads better if it hadn’t been raining. Every time I had to walk on the grassy parts next to the road, my feet got soaked. And every time I had to lean against a stone wall, my pants got soaked.

But I finally got to the Snowdonia Riding Stables and I got to go on a one-hour ride. My guidebook said nothing about pre-booking, but apparently that would have been necessary in order to go on a better ride. The one-hour ride I went on was for beginners only, and because of the weather, we didn’t go very far. I was hoping to take one of the rides that went down to the coast and/or Caernarfon Castle and that included cantering, but as I said, I didn’t pre-book. I probably would have called anyway, except that I can’t top up my cell phone until I get to Manchester (when I can either find some place that can top up Lebara phones or where I can buy a new SIM card) and even if I could, there is almost no cell phone reception here. But it was, of course, fun to get to go horseback riding, even if it wasn’t everything I had hoped it would be. I was reminded once again of how much more I like English than Western riding. You just have so much more direct contact with your horse through the reins and your seat, plus I think the saddles are so much more comfortable. Plus, I like being ‘allowed’ to post while trotting. Not that we did any trotting on this particular trail ride. Oh well.

After the trail ride, I decided to stop and eat lunch at the first pub I saw in Waunfawr. I had already decided that I would not be walking back; I would just hang out in the pub until the next Snowdon Sherpa bus would be coming. Seeing as this is the UK, I assumed I would see a pub very soon. Every third or fourth building is generally a pub. However, I didn’t find one until the very edge of town! This could have been due to the fact that I couldn’t see anything out of my rain-covered glasses, however, since the rain had picked up in intensity. My waterproof jacket got drenched (and somehow even my shirt underneath got wet), and my pants, shoes, and socks were utterly soggy. I’m sure I was quite a sight to cause sore eyes by the time I entered the pub at the end of town. I went to the loo and tried to use the hand dryer to dry whatever I could (but obviously I wasn’t going to remove anything that would make my appearance even more unseemly). I ate lunch and then went out to nearest bus stop. Unfortunately, I didn’t know which stop it was. I’m always a bit bamboozled by buses, even this simple system which has a bus that runs up and down one road between the towns of Beddgelert and Caernarfon. I still think the bus stops should say which stop they are though, even if it is a simple system. Also, there were little dashes through two of the stops which might have been the one I was waiting at, seeming to indicate that the bus would not be stopping there at that particular time. I thought that seemed weird because, as I said, the bus basically goes up and down one road. So I decided to wait and hope that a bus would pass and that it would stop when I flagged it down. Wonder of wonders, that is exactly what happened! And it was a very good thing too because right as I got on the bus, it started pouring again. I was still wet and freezing from my last excursion in the rain, but I didn’t want to add to it by being out in another downpour.

I think I pressed the ‘stop’ button at the correct time to get off at the Snowdon Ranger stop, but the bus driver may have just remembered to stop there anyways (since I had to tell him where I was going when I bought my ticket). But I was, of course, worried that I would not manage to press the button at the right time because, well, that would be just my luck with buses (for more information on a previous bus adventure, see the first several pictures of this Facebook album). But in any case, I got off the bus at the right place...but the hostel was locked up. I had forgotten that this middle-of-nowhere hostel closes in the middle of the day. I knocked and fortunately, one of the workers was around to give me the code to get inside. I struggled with putting the code in correctly too because you had to turn a random lever clockwise and anti-clockwise. Yes, I do sometimes have dyslexic troubles with clockwise and anti-clockwise, but that wasn’t the problem this time. For some ridiculous reason, I kept trying to turn the door handle instead of the lever because I didn’t notice the lever at first! (I was very tired and out of it by this time due to the ‘trauma’ of the day.)

I got back and took a shower (I was afraid that the hot water would be shut off, but fortunately it was fine). And now I’m just sitting in the hostel room because my one pair of shoes are too sopping wet to go anywhere else. Yes, you did read that correctly: I only have one pair of shoes. When I narrowed my stuff down to ‘essentials’ and ‘non-essentials,’ I only included one pair of shoes in the ‘essentials.’ And usually that would be enough. Even on the other days when I’ve been out in the rain, my shoes have mostly been dry the next day. Plus most hostels have hairdryers ‘for hire’ that I planned to use if necessary, but I’m not sure that this hostel has anything of the sort. Maybe it does though. I’ll just have to ask tonight when the reception opens back up again.

So, all in all, it was not the greatest day. It was an interesting day that will make for a good story, but I didn’t enjoy it all that much. But it certainly wasn’t the worst day either...I never experienced Brighton-level despair or anything like that. I am a little sad that I am wasting half a day of my trip, and I’m a little frustrated that the public transportation is so difficult. And I really wish it would just stop raining! I want to be able to experience the great outdoors of Snowdonia National Park, but it’s really hard to have a good time when it’s pouring all day. And I don’t even want to try doing an all-day hike tomorrow if it’s even a bit cloudy because I don’t want to get stuck out in the rain again. So if it’s sunny, my plan is to hike up Snowdon (the tallest mountain in Wales and England, which happens to be right outside my hostel). But if it’s cloudy or rainy, I will take a bus (I know what time it comes to the hostel now) to the town of Caernarfon and see its lovely castle. Being in a town will also ensure that there will be pubs and other places to take shelter from the elements.

I believe I am much more cut out for city life than rural life. I always seem to be caught off-guard or without certain necessities when I’m out in nature. It was like that at the dude ranch too. I had a full suitcase for just a week and I still managed to forget essentials like sunscreen! So in conclusion...nature is wonderful but it is also an unpredictable force. It is, to steal the title of a book I haven’t even read, a great and terrible beauty.

To change the subject, I met a bunch of nice people from Ireland last night. I just randomly sat with them for dinner in the hostel, and then we played Scrabble afterwards (along with an English guy who works in the hostel and is about my age). I ate breakfast with them this morning as well. There were two couples, one of whom had a young daughter (with traditionally Irish red hair), and there was a single woman who was my only roommate in a six-bed room last night (tonight I’m the only person in the room). The mother of the young daughter obviously knew a lot about literature, and we talked a bit about Yeats’s poetry because I told her I was visiting Sligo due to Yeats. The other married woman has two daughters: one aged 23 and the other aged 21. The 21-year-old daughter is apparently very similar to me because she also goes travelling all by herself. This woman lives between Dublin and Sligo, and she gave me her work number and her mobile number and told me to call her if I have any problems in Ireland. I thought that was very nice, and I know it will make my mom happy when I get a chance to tell her.

Well, I guess that’s all for now, folks!