30 September 2010

September 30

            Today, I fell in love with paper.  After class, we went to this café/paper store that makes its own paper.  It was so beautiful.  I feel really silly about freaking out over a piece of paper, but the pages were so delicate!  They had intricate designs, textures and even leaves and flowers pressed into the pages.  It was absolutely fantastic. 
            Lauren and I broke off from the group when we decided we were dangerously close to wanting to buy random pieces of paper that would serve us absolutely no purpose and went to the grocery store.  We bought the food that we needed to tide us over until our next food allowance, and I was brave and bought a meat and potato pasty pie.  This is apparently a pretty British food.  It was delicious!  Basically it was like a pot pie with just beef and potatoes, but it was fantastic. 
            At 2:00 that afternoon, our group set off to go visit the British Museum for the first time.  We got to see the Rosetta Stone and the artifacts the British had recovered from the Parthenon in Greece.  The sculptures and pieces from Greece were amazing.  I’m going to do a very poor job of trying to explain this, but the pieces felt like they were actually moving.  The fluidity being their motions, despite the rigidity of the stone, was really just captivating.  I think I could have looked at those pieces for a really long time.  That, and the fact that I was looking at something over three thousand years old really got to me.  The best part is secretly touching something from the exhibit.  You’re not supposed to, but the temptation to touch a part of history, just a rock or a stone that so many other countless people have touched was too much for me sometimes.  But we should keep that in the cone of silence…I don’t want the Royal Guard after me. 
            We only caught a glimpse of a tiny portion of the British Museum.  It’s completely massive, and I’ll have to go back several times to be able to see everything that it has to offer.  Lucky for me, it’s free.
            After the museum, Lauren, Brad and I went to Oxford Circus where a lot of the shopping is.  If you are ever in London, make a point to go to Primark.  It is like a combination the Target clothing department and the Forever 21 of London.  There are tons of really cute clothes for really good prices.  For example, I got a skirt for 5 quid.  That’s London speak for 5 bucks.  It was amazing.  I also got a shirt, which I’m extremely excited about.  And then I bought a coffee mug that has a map of the Tube system on it.  So I went a little crazy today.  But, these are the first things I’ve bought except for post cards, so I was actually pretty proud of myself.
            We got back to the flat and had dinner pretty quickly.  Then Lauren and I showed the guys how to get on the roof.  It was completely dark by this time, so we figured we had a lesser chance of getting caught.  The city is really pretty at night, even though you can’t see much of it from our flat.  I love sitting out on the ledge.
            When we came back in (it gets pretty chilly at night), we watched a classic movie we had rented from the library.  The librarian was really excited when we checked it out, and even started quoting his favorite lines from the movie.  What movie was this?  Gladiator.  So good.  So epic.  Absolutely fantastic.  It was the perfect end to a really long day of walking around shopping in London.

September 29

            I feel like I am in a mix of Shakespeare in Love and Harry Potter.  Today, we went to the Globe Theater.  Yes, the actual Globe Theater.  This is right up my alley, because I not only love theater but also am extremely interested in this era in history.  In the 1500s and 1600s, when Shakespeare was really popular with the king and the common people, the Globe Theater was built as a hugeeee open air theater to put on his plays and other plays that were less popular. It's a circular shape, with the stage at the back and seats built into the circular walls (that's where the rich people sat...it costs more to sit). The bare ground is in the middle of the theater, and that's where the poor people (aka all of us) stood for 3 hours to watch the play. Even though I'm short, I could see the stage really well. It was amazing. And this is the same theater from that time period, except that it burned down in the late 1600s I think during a performance of Macbeth. That's why even today it's bad luck to say "Macbeth" before any type of show. I NEVER ever said it when I did musicals and plays in high school. And yeah, they've restored some parts and things like that, but oh man. It was so awesome. I was freaking out the whole time. The play we saw was Henry IV, which was written by Shakespeare. It's basically about the power struggle behind the English throne in the 1500s, and it was in Shakespearan language and all that. But it was really good! And I laughed pretty hard several times. I was kind of scared that I wasn't going to be able to understand what was going on, but I really got into it.  The only bad part was when it started to rain in the middle of the show.  Since there’s no roof, everyone busted out their rain jackets.  I, unfortunately, didn’t have a rain jacket so I borrowed Lauren’s plastic trash-baggy poncho.  Yeah, I was styling.  You would have been pretty jealous if you had seen me. 
            Another cool thing that I got to experience was walking across the Millenium Bridge.  For those of us that have seen Harry Potter, this is the bridge that the Death Eaters basically destroy in the latest movie.  Remember at the very beginning when this walking bridge is made to toss and turn until it breaks over the water?  Yes.  That bridge.  Oh man, I felt pretty legit. 
            However, when we were making our way back to our flats, somehow Brad and I got separated from the rest of the group.  And then, I somehow got separated from Brad.  It was kind of tense, just because I was a little worried about everyone making it back.  I was perfectly fine; I knew exactly where I was.  It just wasn’t necessarily something that I want to happen again.
            That night, we all stayed in and did homework.  It had piled up mysteriously on us, and we all had soooo much to do.  Basically, in the girl’s flat we all sat around the living room or at the kitchen table, trying desperately to understand the foreign language that is the philosophy of religion.  Again, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m terrified of that class.  Hopefully it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be.

September 28

            So, I have officially been to all of my classes.  After sitting through speech and philosophy of religion, I think it’s safe to say that I will not like B Day’s classes…or B Days in general. 
            Today was pretty slow.  We went on a coach tour of London after classes.  Our guide, Suze, was hilarious as she showed all the girls where Prince Harry goes clubbing and the infamous military men’s bar, Paxton’s Head.  The military bar is actually very safe though, since the men are required to be absolutely respectful towards young ladies or they run the risk of being severely punished or even kicked out. 
            After the tour, a group of us traveled by Tube to Camden where all of the charity shops are.  The charity shops are basically good will stores that donate a huge portion of their profits to a specific charity named on the front of the store.  Everything there is pretty cheap, so you can find some really good deals if you get lucky.  It was exciting to see what we could find.
            Beyond that, there really wasn’t much that happened.  I had to read a chapter in one of my philosophy books, and I can already tell that it will not be a party. 

28 September 2010

September 27

            Ah.  The first day of classes.  What joy, for the college student studying abroad.  Actually, school wasn’t bad at all.  The only class I had today was Humanities, and it was really interesting.  I think I’m going to end up really liking this test.  We had a quiz the first day and a reading assignment due, but I aced the quiz so I’m fairly confident in my ability in this class.  We had chapel after class, and as a result we were done with “school” by noon today.
            After classes, our sponsors had planned a scavenger hunt for us to get us more comfortable with the city and the Tube.  I was in a group with Caroline and Lyndsey, and our team name was Spain.  Each team had ten clues that they needed to follow to arrive at the same final destination.  Our sponsors told us we should be done by 2:30, and then let us loose on the unsuspecting city. 
            Our first clue led us to King’s Cross Station, home of Platform 9 ¾.  It was absolutely amazing for a Harry Potter fanatic like me.  My whole group basically loves Harry Potter, so we were pretty excited about our first stop. 
            Next, we were sent to Covent Gardens to take a picture by the new Apple store.  Covent Gardens is ridiculously huge, with tons of stores and lots of people everywhere.  We had to get a random person to take our picture, which was kind of awkward, but so far we were feeling really confident about our group’s chances of winning.
            I’m pretty sure the next stop was to Leicester Square.  There, in the middle of the square, is a discounted ticket booth for shows playing in London.  Our task there was to get one person in our group to do ten push-ups  in front of the ticket booth.  Well, one girl was wearing a dress and she opted out.  I was wearing a skirt and I tried to opt out, but the other girl absolutely refused to do the push-ups so I was the lucky one that got to do them in a huge crowd in the middle of Central London.  Lucky me.
            Our next clue sent us to Piccadilly Circus, where we took a picture in front of the massive digital screens they have in the middle of the street intersection.  I have to say though, the next stop was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in London.
            Clue number five sent us to Harrods.  Harrods is massive and amazing and beautiful and crazy expensive.  We were supposed to go to a French bakery named La Duree to meet up with two of our sponsors who had a treat waiting for us.  After eating our lovely macaroons, we went back through Harrods to the Tube.  I promise you, the whole place was like a dream.  The cosmetics center smelled beautifully of perfume.  In fact, our group agreed that we wished we could smell like that every day.  It was amazing.
            By the next clue, we were starting to drag.  We had done a lot of walking, and it was getting really close to 2:30.  After taking pictures with Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and doing cartwheels in Green Park, we were REALLY tired.  We headed off to our final destination, the London Zoo.  The zoo is not on any map we ever saw, and we looked at plenty of them.  We ended up guessing correctly where the zoo was, but once we got off at the Tube stop we literally had to walk like between two and three miles to get there.  After walking all day, this was not a party. 
            We came in second place by ten minutes and reached our final place at around 4:30, two hours later than we were supposed to.  It was fun, but not the last 4 stops.
            That night, we really just stayed in for the most part.  I got to eat Chinese food, which I had been craving desperately.   But beyond that, we didn’t do much.  Just rested our feet and prepared for classes the next day.  I did however have an epic conversation with Josh about whether Ohio or Texas was the better state.  I think it goes without saying that I won :)

26 September 2010

September 26

            This morning we had our first church service in London.  The Tube was out of commission, so we had worship service in the Organ’s flat (our professors).  The singing was actually really good today, and I loved the songs we picked out.  Dr. Organ’s lesson also really got me thinking.  He started off talking about how there’s an ongoing debate at several churches about how money should be used.  Many people have no problem using the money to fix up the church building when it’s needed, but others think that it’s not Biblical to do so.  Then he told us the story of this man hundreds of years ago who was painting the massive stained glass window at York Minster.  This window is as big as a tennis court…literally.   The man in the story was painting the very top window, but he was using the tiniest brush strokes imaginable in order to show as much detail as possible.  Another man was talking to him and asked him why he was bothering with the small details since no one would be able to see it.  The painter replied that God would be able to see it.  That really hit home with me…about doing your best for God even if He’s the only one that’s going to know about it.  There are so many massive, beautiful, and intricately decorated churches from hundreds of years ago that are so different from our church buildings now.  While many of those churches were quite possibly built because of the vanity of a church figure, like the clergyman or the pope or whoever, the people that actually worked on the church or donated money to the church’s construction were giving their all for God.  They were using their talents or giving their wealth to bring praise to God, while living in dirty hut-houses that were far less beautiful.  I’m doing a really bad job of explaining how this blew my mind a little, but it was a really good lesson.
            After church and lunch, Lauren, Mindy, Mary, Travis, Brad, and I all went on the Tube and went to Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, and several other places.  The coolest thing though was getting to see Big Ben for the first time!  Seeing Big Ben and Parliament and things of that nature is what really makes me realize that I’m in London, in a different country, overseas.  Unfortunately, it started to rain about then, so we headed back to our flat and got our umbrellas. 
            We reconvened to go get hot chocolate at a nearby café, and then we just walked around for a bit.  Our group kind of split off into different factions when half of the group decided to go back to the flat.  The group that I was in went off to walk around and find Brad a cheap watch.  This was easier said than done.  It took forever to find a place that sold watches at all.
            Later that night, we went to Wagamama’s for our group meal.  This is basically a noodle and rice bar, and it was fantastic.  I had been craving Chinese food since I left home, and while this was not exactly food that I was used to it did satisfy my craving temporarily.  I got teriyaki chicken and rice and it almost made me cry it was so good.  We had fun trying to eat with chopsticks, and I’m pretty sure I’m going back again soon.
            When we got back to our flat, I had a skype date with my family and got to talk to Brooke and Josh, some friends from Harding.  Even though I love the group I’m with and I’m getting closer to them all the time (figuratively and literally), it’s so great to talk to people that I’m really close to from home (and yes, I’m including Harding in that “home”). 
            Mindy and I were hanging out in our room, procrastinating reading for class and going to bed, and before we knew it everyone else was asleep and it was 1:00.  I think I see us as the crazy, outgoing, loud faction of our group, like the girls that live down the hall from you that never stop moving or never seem to sleep.  You know what I mean?  It’s kind of fun being “that girl” for a semester, because when I live in the real dorms that’s really not me at all.  It’s taken me so much less time to get in my element with this group of people than it did when I first moved into the dorms a little over a year ago, and I think that’s a very good thing.

September 25

Today, I finally did laundry.  And it made me soooo happy.  I sadly woke up at 9:00 in the morning, even though I was planning on sleeping for forever.  But, it turned out to be good because there was no one in the Laundromat.  Lauren, Mindy and I went walked down to the laundry room and just hung out and talked for a little bit while we were washing our clothes.  After that, we ate lunch in the flat (I am in love with peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches right now.) and then Lauren and I set out to explore London.
In all honesty, we didn’t go very far.  Lauren needed an adaptor, so we got that and then we went to Sainsbury’s, our local grocery store, to pick up bread and tea.  Yes, I have become addicted to English breakfast tea.  I put milk and tons of sugar in it and it is fantastic.  We headed back to our flat and made tea for ourselves.  While we were sitting at the table drinking, I figured out that you can actually get to the roof of the flat from the window of our sitting room.  Lauren and I then decided that the most Londony thing we could possibly do is sit outside on the roof of our London flat and drink tea.  Epic? Yes it is.  We climbed out onto the ledge of our window and sat there for a good half hour, completely out of the line of sight of the average passerby on the street.  Once we had gotten comfortable sitting so high up, we stood up and took pictures on the roof.  I took my classic jumping picture, which you will have seen at almost every location I have been at if you’ve been looking through my pictures.  Unfortunately, that’s right about the time the Director of our facility was walking by on the street and saw us on the roof.  She apparently sent a security guard to come tell us to get down, but he was obviously used to dealing with college kids.  When he poked his head out of the window and told us to get down, he added that if we were going to get on the roof we needed to do it at nighttime.  I think the guys were slightly jealous that we thought of getting on the roof before they did. 
I stayed in for the rest of the day, mainly because I was still feeling a little sick.  However, later that night Lauren and I dragged Travis and Brad out of their flat to come exploring with us.  We rode the Tube for the first time, which is their subway system.  The rest of my group is very comfortable with the Tube system now.  I, on the other hand, will never EVER be able to ride them by myself.  I would end up in Scotland somehow, I just know it.  We went to Picadilly Circus, which was like the Broadway Street of London, but mostly we just rode the Tube to random places, walked around until we got bored, and then got on the Tube to go home.  We had a lot of fun though.  When we got back to the flat, we made the guys tea (they’re scared of their kitchen) and watched British crime shows.  Just when we were about to all go to bed, the fire alarm went off.  It was just like living in Sears dorm last year.  We all had to evacuate the building for a few minutes.  Most of us were barefoot and it was cold.  Thank you random person in our building who doesn’t know how to use a toaster oven.

25 September 2010

September 24

Today was yet another long day of driving.  Like, I think it was the same distance from York to London as it is from my house to my grandparent’s house in Arkansas.  It felt like we were in the bus for forever.  However, it was all worth it because we’re in London!
            On the way to London, we stopped and ate at a service station that had many restaurants attached to a hotel.  I’m sad to say that I ate at Burger King.  It was my first real American food that I’ve had this trip, but the alternative was KFC so I think I made the right choice. 
            When we finally arrived at London, we quickly put our stuff away and then went straight to orientation, which was basically telling us how to log on to the wireless internet and all of that stuff.  We figured out where our classroom and the library are located.  Then Lauren, our sponsor, showed us where the local grocery store is.  Guess what….I GOT A STRAIGHTENER!  It made me so happy.  We bought the basic necessities that we would need for our apartment, and then we got to explore our flat.  I’m rooming with Mindy in the smallest room in our entire flat, aside from the bathroom.  When we saw our room, we immediately began to rearrange the furniture to create more space.  I think we’re going to get along well.  Neither one of us have major issues with personal space, and while we’re not slobs we’re not neat freaks either.  We were both in choir and we both love music and singing.  Besides all of that, this whole trip we’ve been saying and thinking the same things at the same time and we both have toy poodles named Cocoa.  Yeah…we have a really weird connection.  So I’m thinking this will end up being awesome.
            The rest of the night was dedicated to facebook, putting up pictures, unpacking, eating dinner, and watching The Kingdom of Heaven with the guys.  It has Orlando Bloom in it, so I was happy.  Unfortunately, I think I’m sick.  Or I have really bad allergies.  Either way, by the end of the night I looked like death and sounded like a man.  We’ll see how I am in the morning, but my plan is to dope myself up so much that it will all just go away.  Just kidding…but seriously.

September 23

Today, we drove for a pretty long time.  We got to York at around noon and had 45 minutes to find something to eat before we went on a walking tour of York.  Mary and I found a cute little sandwich shop and decided to stop there.  After we ordered, the tiny restaurant was overrun by tons of private-schooled, middle school boys.   I actually though it was really cute that they all had to wear brown blazers and ties and slacks and really pointy shoes as their uniform, so maybe they saw me looking at them?  I’m not sure.  Either way, when we had our food and we were leaving the shop, Mary kind of looked at me weird and then pointedly looked back to the boys.  I turned around and about three of the boys were very obviously looking me up and down.  Needless to say, I was thoroughly creeped out that I had been checked out by a group of middle school boys.  It ended up happening again to Mindy, another girl in our group.  What creepers.
            After we ate, we met up with our walking tour guide, Warwick, who took us through York Minster.  The old church was really beautiful, and there was stained glass everywhere.  It had been built over two or three times, and in consequence was several feet off of the ground level.  There were full body statues of several of the kings of England, and my favorites were King Edward I and King Edward II.  These were the kings portrayed in Braveheart, and if you’ve watched that movie you know that they play up to Prince Edward’s…sexuality.  In real life, he was bisexual.  So, while the statue of his father looks mean and intimidating, his statue is of him looking at his nails.  I found it hilarious.  We also got to go to the crypt underneath the church and see the Doomstone, a stone carving of what it might be like in hell.  The Doomstone really freaked me out.  The faces that were carved onto the demons were grotesque and slightly terrifying.  It was one of those things that I had a hard time looking away from…fascination of the abomination as Mrs. Jay would say.
            We started the real walking tour after we were finished with the church.  Our guide took us to a street in the middle of the city that looked like Diagon Alley and on top of the city wall that had been there for hundreds of years.  We learned that William Wallace and his group of rebels did not actually “sack York,” and that is why many people from York (Yorkans?  Yorkers?  Yorkies?) don’t like Braveheart. 
            After the tour, a group of us decided to go to Evensong, and singing service at York Minster.  They had a choir of boys and men, and it was fantastic.  I was in heaven the whole time I was there.  I think a lot of other people got bored, but I was enthralled by how good they sounded together and their blending techniques and other nerdy choir things.  It felt slightly bizarre, just because this church service was different than anything I had ever been too.  Nevertheless, it was very pretty and I enjoyed it.  I did decide though that I wouldn’t ever be able to be Catholic or Anglican because I wouldn’t be able to sing during worship service.  Since that is my main outlet of worship, I don’t think I would take it very well.
            That night we ate at the hotel, and then watched Prince of Persia, which I had never seen before.  It was good, but I was so tired that I didn’t really take much of it in.  Tomorrow we’re going to be in London!  I’m so excited.  I can’t wait to unpack and even be able to do laundry.  I think that might be a first for me.

23 September 2010

September 22

Today we have officially been on this trip in Europe for one week.  For some reason, it feels like so much longer…maybe a month.  We had another busy day.  At breakfast, our group was told that we needed to be ready to leave at 10:30 to leave for a tour of Edinburgh Castle, so a group of us left to go explore the city early that morning.  Unfortunately, about five minutes after we left the rest of the group realized that we were actually supposed to meet at 10:00.  By the time they realized we had left the hotel, we were long gone in the twists and turns of the city streets.  Our exploration didn’t really even amount to anything either.  We ended up just wandering the streets until we came across the city to the residential area, and then we turned around and came back.  We made it back right on time for the time we thought we were supposed to be there.  It was just the incorrect time.  Lucky for us the tour guide waited on us and we had no problems after that.  The castle was gorgeous, just like the others we had been to in the past week.  The castle is at the end of the Royal Mile, a street that leads up a hill to the castle.  The Royal Mile is filled with many historical sights, so our tour guide took us on a walking tour of the street and its many alleys and side streets.  We ended up going over time, and by the time we were done we were all starving.  The itinerary didn’t have anything planned until dinner, so we had quite a bit of free time planned for the day.  Mary, Lauren, and I went to a local bar for lunch.  The food was really cheap, but unfortunately I didn’t know what most of it was.  I think my family would be really proud of me…I’ve come a long way from the picky eater I used to be, the one who only ate chicken nuggets or fish sticks.  I ordered lamb mousaka, and in all honesty even after eating it I really have no idea what it was.  Thankfully it wasn’t bad. 
After lunch, we met up to tour the Queen’s home in Edinburgh.  This is where she stays when she comes to visit every June or July.  We had actually just missed her because she had been down a few days before us to see the Pope when he came to visit Edinburgh.  Although it would have been really awesome to be there while they were both in Scotland, I’m kind of glad that we weren’t.  We saw footage of it on the news and the roads and the whole city were a zoo.  As it is the city can be overwhelming, and I don’t think that would have been for the greater good of our group for the city to be more crowded than it already was.  Anyways, the Queen’s house was very interesting.  We got to see her room (which I find very creepy by the way…someone going through my house and wanting to tour my bedroom? Creeperrrrr.) and her bed was enclosed in a glass box.  Our theory is that it’s bullet proof for added security.  I would not want to have to live like that.  Our tour concluded with the ruins in the Queen’s backyard and her gardens.
            When we had finished the tour, Brad, Lauren and I decided to climb a mountain.  No big deal.  Just kidding…it was really REALLY cool.  It’s called Arthur’s Seat, and there’s a path that you can hike up to the top.  We told stupid jokes the whole way up there and listened to my iTouch to keep our mind off of the actual hiking.  It was actually extremely difficult.  When we made it to the top though, it was definitely worth it.  You could see the entirety of Edinburgh stretched out all around you, plus the ocean and several islands to one side.  It was beautiful.  I was excited because I got to make a video of myself yelling “FRRREEEEEEEDOOOOOMMMMM!” on a mountaintop in Scotland, which made me feel like I was in Braveheart.  In case you haven’t caught on yet, Braveheart is basically my favorite movie right now.  It’s been the theme of my whole Scotland experience.  It took a long time to climb both up and down, but by the time we got down we believed we had enough time to get back to the hotel for dinner on time.  Incorrect.  We would have had enough time, but we got extremely lost in the middle of the city.  The sad thing was that we actually passed our hotel across the street, but didn’t recognize it because we were coming from a different part of the city that we hadn’t been in yet.  I think we ended up being lost for a good twenty minutes, which seemed like even longer because we literally had NO idea where we were at all.  We eventually found the hotel though and met up with the rest of the group to make our way to the restaurant where we were going to eat.
            What restaurant did we eat at?  THE BIRTHPLACE OF HARRY POTTER! That’s right.  We ate at The Elephant Room, where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book.  It was amazing.  People think that the Edinborough University was the inspiration for Hogwarts, and looking at it it’s easy to see why.  It’s a castle-like structure that could very much be a magical place.  For a Harry Potter fanatic like me, this was really awesome.
            After dinner Lauren and I walked around the city some more, then came back to the hotel and made ourselves tea.  I am from the south, so sugar in my tea is an absolute necessity.  I ended up putting six packets of sugar into my tea, plus some milk.  I was so hyper it was kind of ridiculous.  I had an experience with another hotel guest in the elevator, and I’m pretty sure he thought I was drunk.  For very good reasons, I thought the man in the elevator was one of our group, so I was like calling his name and then I charged into the elevator only for a man to look at me like I was insane.  So that was fun. 
            To top off our evening, Lauren and I went to Brad and Travis’ room to watch The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise.  None of us had ever seen it before, and we all liked it a lot.  Unfortunately, that movie is forever long.  Me being tired, plus all of us being hyper amounted to us not going to bed until like 1:30.  And we had to get up at 7:30 for breakfast.  Mm, tomorrow will be a party.

September 21

Today was quite possibly the busiest day we’ve had.  We started out in Stirling, Scotland this morning, got up at 8:15 for breakfast, and had left the hotel by 9:15.  Lauren, our sponsor, bought a CD of bagpipe music that was possibly the most glorious thing I had ever heard in my life.  It was just funny to be listening to bagpipe music in Scotland.  Our bus drive, Robbie, was not pleased with our choice of music.
We drove the short distance to the William Wallace Monument and got to explore it.  I was really excited to see it since we had just watched Braveheart the night before.  The monument was massive and impressively tall, built on a pretty high, very steep hill.  There was a shuttle that could take you up to the top, but the shuttle is one of those things that you leave for the sponsors to take.  You don’t want to be the wimp that didn’t hike up to the top, you know?  Anyways, I got pretty dizzy halfway up the hill.  I don’t know exactly what happened, but in all honesty I wasn’t too worried.  I get dizzy fairly often.  That just meant that Brad, Lauren (another student, not our sponsor), and I were the last ones to the top.  Once inside, there are 246 stairs up to the top.  All but about ten of those are part of a very narrow spiral staircase with thin steps.  It was especially cramped and scary when there was one person trying to go the opposite direction of you on the staircase.  Not a party.  There were two landings with different exhibits that you could reach before you got to the top:  the Wallace Room and the Hall of Heroes.  The Wallace Room was basically the history behind William Wallace and his uprising.  In it is housed the actual sword that Wallace carried with him.  The Hall of Heroes has different busts of people famous to Scottish history, including Robert Burns and Robert the Bruce.  The very top of the structure was the most impressive part, though.  Once you reach the top, you can see for miles.  I know I went on yesterday about how far you could see from Hadrian’s Wall, so I won’t do that again.  Just know that it was absolutely gorgeous, especially with the mountain rising in the distance, hidden by mists and fog.  I ended up taking a 360-degree panoramic shot of the view that I could see from the top, which I was very excited about. 
We made our way down from the monument, and I must say going down was so much easier than going up.  As soon as we got to the bus, we were off to St. Andrew’s, known for its ridiculous obsession with golfing.  We had basically four hours of free time here, and it was a blast.  Most of the students went to the same place for lunch, but then we split up afterwards depending on where we wanted to go.  Lauren, Brad and I went to the ruins of a cathedral by the beach that was pretty awesome.  It’s surrounded by a graveyard on all sides, but the ruins themselves have a Narnia-esque feeling to them.  We took a few pictures, but then we headed to the main attraction:  the beach.  You see, poor Brad is from Kansas and had never seen the ocean before this trip.  Therefore, he had never been to the beach.  Lauren and I decided it was our duty to take him to his first trip to the beach, despite the freezing cold water and the lack of warm sunlight.  On the way there, we found some rocks that we could climb that hung out over the ocean.  That was really fun, and I think we all secretly felt like adventurers as we scaled the rocks.  We didn’t stay there long though, because we were very anxious to get to the beach.  Once we got there, we took off our shoes and socks, dumped our jackets and other stuff, rolled up our jeans, and took out our cameras to document the occasion.  The water was soooooo cold.  I think that it had been about 55 degrees that day, so the water was actually cooler than that.  Oh man.  I really can’t even express how cold it was.  But it was so worth it.  Lauren and I took pictures of everything, from Brad writing his name in the sand to Brad going into the ocean for the first time.  We felt like such moms.  Then, we decided that we couldn’t leave without making a sand castle.  Seeing as how we were on such a historic trip, we determined to make a model of the fort at Hadrian’s Wall.  Nerdy, I know.  It was pretty awesome, especially when we made an arch for the front gate out of sand and decorated it with seashells.  Needless to say, I think Brad had an amazing first beach experience. 
When our four hours were up, we drove to Edinburgh, which is where I am now.  We had more free time, but by the time we had eaten dinner and walked around a little bit we were tired.  Mary, my roommate, and I came back to the hotel we were staying at only to realize that there was no free wifi connection here.  We were both deeply upset.  In the end, we opted for a lazy night in and we both bought some chocolate and picked out a movie to watch.  It had been a really long day, and climbing all over rocks and ruins and steep monuments had worn us out.  As true girls, we picked out Tristan + Isolde to watch, which I had never seen before.  Oh dang.  It was a tragic, beautiful, girly mess of a movie that went along perfectly with our chocolate.  In all, a wonderful night.

20 September 2010

September 20

Hadrian’s Wall.  This epic, ancient site is truly amazing.  We woke up this morning extremely excited to drive across England to get to this incredibly significant part of British and Roman history.  In case you don’t know, Hadrian’s Wall is about 2000 years old.  It was built by the Roman British empire to separate and protect their land from the Barbarians, Woads, and Celtics to the north in Scotland.  To get there, you have to climb a pretty steep escarpment until you reach the top where the fort and the wall were built.  Once you are at the top, you have the most amazing view of the English countryside.  It’s unbelievable how much you can see.  We were so high above everything, as you will be able to tell from my pictures on facebook.  Actually, I’m going to go ahead and apologize for those.  To you, it may look like I took the same picture over and over again, but I just couldn’t get past how amazing everything looked from where we were.  Anyways, we got to tour the main fort that was built on the English side of the wall.  Then, we got to walk on part of the actual wall, which was my favorite part.  The wall was high up on either end, so that if you were to fall you would atleast 45 feet to the rocky bottom.  You could see for miles on top of the wall, and there wasn’t anything except maybe trees to block your view.  I’ve never seen a that type of land before…just land without any buildings or really any sign of modern civilization except for the random car that passes by on the highway a mile or two away.  It was fantastic to touch the wall and realize how many hundreds and thousands of people had stood where I was standing, whether they, too were visiting the wall or guarding it back in a more ancient time.  The history major in me about had a heart attack while I was there.
            After our excursion to the wall, we came back only to discover that our coach (also known as a bus in America) wouldn’t start.  The battery had died.  We ended up catching another bus back to town to eat, but it wasn’t the same without our driver Robbie.  It’s funny how attached we’ve gotten to him since he started driving us around a couple of days ago.  Anyways, we were at the restaurant for a rather ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out what we were going to do about transportation into Scotland.  We had a good time though.  Caroline, the Grad Assistant that came with us, told us riddles and then we baffled people playing Snaps from the movie “P.S. I Love You.”  Finally, we came across a very nice man who called just about every bus company he knew until he found a coach to take us to Scotland.  Just as we were about to load up his bus though, we got a call from Robbie saying that he had been able to start our bus again.
            Once we were reunited with him, we drove to Stirling, Scotland.  There we found our hotel, The Golden Lion which opened in the late 1700s, and found dinner at a local pub.  But, after dinner is when the party started.  We all piled into one of the hotel rooms and watched Braveheart, one of my all time favorite movies.  It actually might have moved up to my favorite movie now that I’ve watched it in Scotland.  It was so much fun.  A group of us have already decided that we want to stand on the Scottish Highlands somewhere and record ourselves yelling “FREEEDOOOOOMMMM!!!!” to the world after watching it.  I’m very pumped.  I have to say though, the best part of the night was when I got to skype Mommy, Rachel, and Hannah for the first time.  We had a lot of fun catching up!

September 19

            Have you ever seen “A Muppet Christmas Carol?”  Well, if you’re like my family, then of course you have and you watch it every Christmas.  Guess what.  If you look outside my hotel room, it looks like the opening credits of that movie.  You know how it opens up on the rooftops and old chimneys of England?  It looks EXACTLY like that and it makes me ridiculously happy.
Today was an interesting day.  In comparison to the rest of the time we’ve been here (which feels like forever, by the way…even though this is only Day 4), it was a relatively slow day in that we didn’t have very many things planned.  This morning we went to a bakery/café for breakfast called the Apple Pie Bakery.  While we were there, I realized how comfortable the group is with each other, considering that we all really started talking to each other four days ago.  It’s comforting to see the group grow as we become close enough to tease each other. 
After breakfast, we went to the house of Beatrix Potter, the author of the Peter Rabbit books.  In case you were wondering, it is a very easy slip of the tongue to say Bellatrix instead of Beatrix.  For the Harry Potter fans, you know that Bellatrix’s house would not be a party to go visit.  We all thought we were pretty clever when we were talking about that.  Anyways, her house is really cute.  It had been preserved to look exactly as it did when she was living in it.  Her belonging and furniture were all on display, and they placed the books that she wrote in strategic places around the house.  The books were open to different pages depending on the room that they were placed in.  It turns out that Beatrix’s illustrations are based on things she saw in her house.  Looking at the picture and realizing that you were looking at the real life version of it was really cool.  I’m not entirely sure that I’m making myself clear because I’m writing this pretty late, but I hope you get what I’m saying.  It’s also pretty cool to know that in the future if I read a Peter Rabbit book I’ll be able to look at it and say, “See that room right there? I saw the real room in person!”
After touring her house, we traveled to William Wordsworth’s house.  The cottage we visited was not the place where he lived when he was famous.  However, he wrote all of his famous poems in or on the grounds surrounding that house.  That was pretty cool, too.  There we got to see the kitchen and how a cellar keeps various foods cool and fresh.  It was pretty gloomy though because it had been raining all day and of course there was no electricity in the house.  The gardens were beautiful though, even in the rain.
Next, we went to lunch at an Italian restaurant.  After the delicious meal, we visited the graves of William Wordsworth and his family.  Then, we had free time until 5:00.  A bunch of us ran to the café we had eaten at this morning and took advantage of their free wifi.  We had church service in Dr. and Mrs. Organ’s hotel room after free time.  It was both weird and interesting to realize that while we were having church, even though it was late that day, most of our friends and family were at their morning service of church.  It actually made me miss my family a little bit.  Not that I don’t miss them of course…it just made more aware of it.  Following church, we were given more free time.  A few of the girls and I watched a few episodes of The Office because it was raining outside, and then suddenly we had the whole group in my room talking.  I think this was the first time we really all talked to each other as a group.  A bunch of people opened up about their families and their private life, but mostly we just told funny stories about things that have happened to us over the years. 
Tomorrow, we travel to Scotland and Hadrian’s Wall.  Of course, I’m really excited about getting to see it…it’s the history major in me coming out.  But I’ll talk more about that tomorrow. 

19 September 2010

September 18

            Today, I almost cried.  Why would I cry when I was in such a wonderful place having a fantastic time?  Well, we went to go visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral on our last day in Ireland.  We all got up early to go see it so that we could catch our ferry later on in the day.  It was a drizzly morning, one where it was kind of raining, but not hard enough to really have a legitimate reason to use your umbrella…the annoying kind of rain.  Anyways, I was taking a picture of a plaque built in honor of James Joyce (Mrs. Jay, in all of her English wisdom, would have appreciated it.) when I felt a rain drop on my hair.   I reached up to brush it off, only for my hand to come back white.  Yes.  A bird had pooped on my head.  I think you might have cried, too.  I stood there just in shock for a few seconds until Mrs. Organ, one of our sponsors, came over and got it out with hand sanitizer and a tissue.  Needless to say, I was not pleased.  I ended up giving washing my hair later with a hand-sanitizing wipe that I had in my purse.  However, the cathedral was beautiful.  We didn’t get to go inside, but I got to see what flying buttresses look like in real life, so that was cool. 
            After the cathedral, we all wandered around Ireland for an hour or two before we had to catch the ferry to Wales.  It’s freeing to wander around aimlessly, not really knowing where you’re going or if you know how to get back to where you’re supposed to be.  Freeing and slightly terrifying.  But, I figure that part of the experience is getting lost.  As an added bonus, I’m getting a crash course on how to actually read a street map and figure out where I need to go.
            At about 11:45 in the morning, we loaded up all of our stuff onto the bus and drove to the ferry.  The ferry was actually very nice.  There was free wifi, so I was able to get on the internet for the first time since I had been overseas.  It was nice letting everyone know that I was still alive.  The ride lasted about two hours, and by the time we got to Wales it was raining pretty hard.  We weren’t in Wales very long; we actually were just driving through until we reached England, which is where I am now.  Wales, despite the storm, is really pretty.  There are rolling hills everywhere, rocky beautiful beaches, and random castles hidden in the mountains.   I must say though, I think there are more sheep than people in Wales.  They were everywhere!
            I am sad to say that I fell asleep on the bus.  Apparently I didn’t miss much though since it rained the whole time we were driving.  We arrived at Ambleside, England at almost 8:00 p.m.  It’s a really cute village that attracts a lot of tourists, and all the stores close at 9:30.   Therefore, our nightly exploring excursion was basically just us walking around until we got too cold.  But, out of the nasty weather came a blessing.  Tonight one of the girls and I talked for quite a while and had a bonding experience talking about boys (haha of course).  Although I’m feeling really lame saying this, I was actually pretty scared that when I got here I would have a hard time talking to people.  I’m pretty shy if I don’t know anyone and I’m not in my element.  However, this group of people that I’m with is so great.  It feels like you can hang out with any person and not feel awkward.  I know it’s only three days into the trip, but I feel like we are going to get along really well.  Plus, I found out that several people like The Office and 30 Rock, so we definitely have a similar sense of warped humor.  I’m thinking that it’s going to be pretty freaking awesome.

18 September 2010

September 17

Horror of horrors; my straightener refuses to turn on in Ireland.  I think it’s safe to say that it won’t work in England either.  What a pity.  Therefore, I will have to buy one over here.  In all, it’s a small price to pay for what we get to experience here. 
Before we began our day, we all met up for a cold continental breakfast at 7:30.  I was pretty tired as I had woken up at around 4:45 in the morning and hadn’t been able to get back to sleep…worthless jet lag.  Anyways, we convened at this place called The Buttery.  Did you know that they ask you if you want butter on your sandwich?  Like just a ham sandwich!  What are you supposed to do with that? And if they ask you if you want a salad on your sandwich, they really mean lettuce.  It’s pretty confusing, but don’t worry.  I’m getting kind of used to it.
Today we went to Glendalogh Monastery and Blarney Castle in Cork.  This meant that we were on the bus for FOREVER.  Like the majority of the people went to sleep on the bus.  I didn’t, but that was only because I fought to stay awake.  I didn’t want to miss anything on the way there.  We stopped first at the Monastery, which turned out to be built in the 900s.  It was incredibly beautiful.  Words aren’t even going to begin to describe this place.  It was founded by a hermit named Saint Kevin, which was slightly hilarious to me.  The grounds that we saw consisted of a massive graveyard, St. Kevin’s Kitchen, a very tall pointed tower, and the church.  The graveyard was interesting in that there were so many people crammed into a small space.  In fact, there were even more people there than you would think because in Ireland it’s legal to bury up to three people in one grave.  That way, families get buried together.  Or right on top of each other.  Either one.  The reason for the high demand in the burial plots in St. Kevin himself.  St. Kevin is buried in the church’ burial grounds, and a strong belief of many of the Irish is that if you’re buried in the same cemetery as a saint, you will make it to heaven for certain.  Unfortunately, the room is limited on the grounds and in the 1980s the government basically cut off access to the burial plots.  However, there were several families who only had one or two bodies in their family burial plot.  Since there could be up to three bodies in the grave, the government compiled a list of people who are allowed to be buried in the graveyard.  Each family had to pick which members of the family would be buried there.  Today there are only 7 names left on the list.  The second part of the grounds is St. Kevin’s Kitchen.  Long after the church and its grounds were abandoned, the locals decided to explore the area.  They looked at the church where the altar was and determined that because of a chimney-like structure on top of it that it was a kitchen.  False.  However, that name stuck with the history of the grounds and is still known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen.  The pointed tower is the tallest part of the monastery.  It’s height represented how rich the monks were in that area.  The entire monastery is surrounded by mountains, placing Glendalogh in the middle of a valley.  It’s truly amazing to just look at, let alone actually realize that you’re in the middle of it. 
After another long drive, we ended up in Cork where Blarney Castle is.  The main attraction of this beautiful castle is the legendary Blarney Stone.  According to folklore, if you kiss the Blarney Stone you will be given the gift of eloquent speaking.  It’s basically a necessity to kiss the stone if you go.  Therefore, I climbed all the way to the top of this massive castle to stand in line and kiss a rock.  I figured it couldn’t hurt.   Even the Great Orator himself, Winston Churchill, kissed the Blarney Stone early on in his career.  The stone is placed in a really weird location, though.  They have attendants to help you reach it.  Basically, you have to lay on your back, grab two iron bars above your head, and pull your head downward where there is really nothing to stop you from falling.  You lean your head all the way back and then you kiss it.  Voila.  Keep in mind that this is at the very tip top of the castle.  It was pretty intense.  After kissing the stone, Brad and I wandered about the castle.  I’m pretty sure we explored every square inch of that thing.  We went into hole in the wall places, crawled into places we probably weren’t supposed to, and took pictures of everything.  It was so amazing.  Then, we went to the gardens outside of the castle and found the Withch’s Kitchen (basically a little cave), a forest of trees straight out of a horror movie (Lauren and I definitely ran through them screamind like someone was chasing us and we were running for our lives), the Whomping Willow (or what I think looks like the Whomping Willow), and the Wishing Steps.  The Wishing Steps are obviously a place where you can wish for something to happen.  However, the wish will only come true if you start at the top of the stairs and climb down and then back up backwards and with your eyes closed, all the while thinking only of your wish.  That was easier said than done.  The steps are made of hundreds of years old stone that had been smoothed away by rain, wind, and millions of other wish makers.  Walking backwards without thinking of falling was not a simple task…especially when I very nearly fell off the side of the steps.  But, in the end, the mission was accomplished.
Later that night, we arrived back to Trinity College around 10:30.  Since curfew was at one, we decided to go out and explore the night life a little bit.  After walking around for probably 45 minutes, we found a small Irish pub with live music.  We went in and sat down for about half an hour, listening to the Irish music and watching drunken Irish people dance and stumble and sing uproariously to music that they all seemed to know.  It was very entertaining.  After a brief moment of panic (mainly on my part), we figured out where we were and made it back to Trinity. It's a good thing too....none of us have working phones over here. It would not have been pleasant trying to ask drunk people for directions in a place we really don't know anything about.

September 16

I’m HERE! After a long, nerve-wracking, more than seven-hour flight, we made it to Dublin, Ireland.  Unfortunately, there is a six-hour time difference between here and the Mo.  This basically means that when it should have been 1:00 in the morning, it was really 7:00.  We landed around 8:05ish and I think it’s safe to say that no one got more than two hours of sleep on the plane.  They also served us breakfast and dinner on the flight, but let’s face it…airplane food is sketchy at best and this was not its best.  This tidbit of information is important later on in the story.  Just remember that.  Anyways, we landed and immediately went through a passport and customs check.  Even though there were atleast four lines of attendants checking non-European passports, it still took us an hour and forty-five minutes to clear the check.  Due to our zombie-like attitudes and the fact that the attendants had such awesome Irish accents, no one seemed to really mind the long wait too much.   The funny thing was that I would look at someone that worked at the airport and all of a sudden I would think, “Hey, that guy’s Irish.”  It was kind of bizarre actually.
After we collected all of our bags (I did not bring the most stuff, by the way. Although my backpack is the largest, there are some people who simply have more bags than me. It made me feel better.), we met up with Lauren and Tyler Knight, who have helped plan our two week trip before we actually arrive in London.  They had arranged for a bus to pick us up and take us to our next destination.  Ok, I’m basically from Houston.  I know what aggressive driving is.  But compared to Dublin and I’m sure the rest of Europe, Houston drivers are incredibly sane.  Besides the fact that it was weird watching the driver drive on the wrong side of the road and turn into the wrong lanes on the rode, we would stop literally an inch away from the car in front of us, weave and swerve in and out of traffic, and really go into any lane we want to with the full confidence that the driver next to us would move out of the way.  Since no one honked at us, I’m assuming this is normal behavior.  We rode the bus to Trinity College in the middle of Dublin.  This massive building is incredibly old and a huge tourist attraction, and we get to stay in it.  It’s pretty awesome, but there’s no free wifi. 
By the time we had everything in our rooms, it was around noon and we were supposed to take a walking tour of Dublin.  Thankfully, Lauren figured we were probably hungry so we stopped at a coffee shop and got a snack and some caffeine to wake us up.  After this, we walked to a pub in Dublin called the International Pub.  The pub (which I would like to add was the first official sight-seeing thing I saw at Dublin haha) was the base of our walking tour centered around the Revolution of 1916 when Southern Ireland formed a band of rebels to overthrow British rule right around the time of the potato blight.  Our guide was hilarious, and he as an Irishman had deep respect for the Alamo, which I, of course, appreciated.  He said that even though on paper it looks like the men fighting for Texas at the Alamo lost, they really won.  That battle went on to become a rallying point in the Texas Revolution.  He then continued to say that even though Ireland has never really won any battle (even though they have tried countless times), they still believe in their hearts that they won.  It was pretty funny.  As we continued on the tour though, it got to the point that most of us were dead on our feet.  In all honesty I don’t think I remember anything he said towards the end of the presentation.  He did accuse me of not clapping for him hard enough….that much I do remember haha. 
Next, we were given an hour to do whatever we wanted to do for lunch so a group of us decided to go exploring.  We found Dublin Castle, which has a beautiful church inside of it.  As the exploring continued, we found a “modern” garden and the free Revenue Museum and then proceeded to get lost.  We wandered around the streets of Dublin for a while, half hoping to find our way back and half hoping to just find something to eat.  See, by this time we were all running on less than two hours of sleep and no food since about 7:00 the night before.  We were all rather impressed that we were still coherent, much less participating in walking tours and having energy to explore.  Luckily for us, we used a map to figure out where we were and ended up finding a Noodle Bar to eat at.  Win win win. 
After our hour break, we went to see the Book of Kells, which is a Bible written and illustrated from the 800s.  It was really cool getting to see that bit of history, but the amazing thing was the Long Room.  Do you remember the scene from Beauty and the Beast when the Beast shows Belle the library for the first time?  That’s exactly how I felt.  Oh dear goodness the library was massive.  It was one of the longest rooms I’ve ever seen, and it was covered front to back with shelves of the oldest books at Trinity.  The shelves went all the way to the really high ceiling, and there were dozens of busts of famous philosophers, scientists, and other great minds.  To me, that was the best part.
            After that exhibit, we were given the rest of the day to do what we wanted.  That meant that I wandered around Dublin with Mary, the girl with whom I’m sharing a room, looking for a place with free wifi.  Guess what…they don’t have free wifi anywhere.  What a pain.  But, in the process of wandering we found the next best thing and quite possibly a better thing…a shake bar!  There were so many things to choose from, and it was delicious.  So what did we do after this packed day?  Did we continue to get to know this new city that we are only in for a short time.  Why no we didn’t.  That is because at precisely 7:15 pm, we had all crashed and were in bed.  That’s 1:15 Houston time.  In other words, our bodies couldn’t handle being up more than 30 hours at a time.  Oh jet lag.