Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A First for Everything...

Coming to Europe has been characterized by many firsts….the first time being abroad, the first time flying, the first time being truly and completely independent. While at times it has been challenging and filled with unsuspecting obstacles, it has also held the most amazing experiences imaginable! One such experience was my first trip to Scotland…

This past weekend, I and two friends had the amazing opportunity to travel to Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands independently. For me, this trip would be my first time traveling independently, and would include an endless list of first experiences! Though exceptionally nervous, I was excited to discover this new country and culture and looking back now, can’t help but reminisce on how truly wonderful the experience was.
For the first time, I would ride a train, visit Scotland, live in a hostel, call a taxi, go to a pub, and see a hairy coo (Scottish cow). For the first time, I would explore a city rich with both a beautiful yet dark history in the depths of night, stand on top of a volcano (dormant of course) watching the sun set and the stars appear, look out over the glowing lights of an ancient city while at the foot of a towering castle, walk amidst the tomb stones that inspired great literary works including A Christmas Carol and the infamous Harry Potter, and see tributes to people and creatures, including dogs, who have forever changed the past of this beautiful nation. For the first time I would live with people from around the world, talk with people from countries on nearly every continents, and learn the stories of these strangers who now I am forever connect with in the time we shared together. For the first time, I would begin to understand the vastness of the world and witness its immeasurable and unimaginable beauty. 
In the hopes that this might help others who someday travel to Scotland for their first time, I have added a list of a few of my favorite things, but encourage you as well to be open to discovering new opportunities as you explore the city and area.
-Take a Sandeman Tour (Free tour around city covering history)
-If time permits, take a Hairy Coo Tour (Free tour to Scottish Highlands)
-Try Haggis and Irun Bru (World’s End Pub is reasonably priced, delicious, and historic for Haggis while grocery stores all carry Irun Bru for the cheapest price you can find)
-Climb Arthur’s Seat at sunrise or sunset
-Visit Carlton Hill (Wonderful place to see the stars)
-Explore the city at night as it is a place with a unique culture and atmosphere different from the day
-Go to a pub to watch the sports games and talk with locals
-Wander down the small roads and staircases as Edinburgh is a city full of hidden pockets which are less touristy and contain the true history, and culture
-If you are looking for a hostel, consider Royal Mile Backpackers (It is a very friendly hostel with a great atmosphere while being centrally located in the heart of the city)
-MOST IMPORTANTLY: Embrace and try every opportunity you can…studying abroad is all about new experiences, embracing new opportunities, and seeing the world in a new way…be open to it as it will take you places you never imagined! J


-Mandy Feagans

British Studies

Greetings!  My Name is Noah Richard and I am a University of Kentucky student in my second year.  I’m the only person from UK at Harlaxton College (I like to be different).  Despite going in this alone, I have enjoyed every second of my time here so far.

I’m study journalism and history at UK, so coming to Harlaxton with its focus on British History was great for my interests and also allowing me to stay on track curriculum wise.  Enough of the boring stuff.  My blog topic is British Studies.  Oh wait, that may in fact be more of the boring stuff (to those of you who aren’t a fan of history).

As many of you may already know, British Studies is a 6-hour class that covers the questions of British identity and what it means to be British.  That’s basically the entire history of one of the greatest countries in the world in a semester.  No big deal.

The idea of British Studies is great.  While spending your semester in England (a country in the United Kingdom), you get so much about the place you’re living.  Everything you see and every place you visit soon becomes much more than a sightseeing experience, it becomes living history that is palpable.

As you may be able to tell, I really love the class.  Not only am I interested in the subject, the great professors we have make it even more interesting to me and at least mildly entertaining to those who loath the class.

 We have Dr. Edward Bujak (I also have him for World War II), Dr. Bianca Leggett (I am in her seminar/review class), Dr. Graham Baker and Dr. David Green that serve as our fearless educators. Each one of them is brilliant and hysterical. Even at 8:30 in the morning on Monday and Wednesday, they can even make the most mundane topic interesting.  Our professors even travel with us at times, acting as trip couriers on school-sponsored adding a bit more security and information to make travels successful.

British Studies is a real class though.  It covers lots of material very quickly.  And we have exams. Difficult ones. And term papers.  These less fun aspects of British Studies take up a lot of time, not to mention the readings and presentations that come weekly, but I can sense myself growing academically every week.  I can undoubtedly say that I would be lost in Britain without the knowledge we have gained thus far.

There’s something about being immersed in a foreign culture and learning about it at the same time.  That’s what set Harlaxton out from all the other study aboard programs.  It makes you dig deep into what it means to be in the United Kingdom and provides understanding beyond what you may see on the surface.  We’re not just having fun traveling.  We are having fun learning as well. Now, I'm off to prep for a presentation and study for a quiz, all due tomorrow (Wednesday)! 
 

(As you may see, we are very fond of our professors.) Dr. Leggett is in the bottom left, Dr. Bujak is in the centre, Dr. Green is in the top right and Dr. Baker is in the bottom right next to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. (Photo credit: Jay Humphrey)

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Four Days on the Emerald Isle (Patrick Henry)








On arrival in Dublin, I had no idea what to expect. Part of me thought that Ireland would be exactly as it is portrayed in Movies and T.V. shows. There would be people singing and dancing in pubs that had been unchanged since the 1800s. Another part of me thought that Ireland would be modernized with new architecture, only containing remnants of its charm. I was partially incorrect on both of these things.

                Wednesday night we packed in the Abraham House Hostel with time to spare, thanks to the shortest flight I have ever been on. After settling in, I immediately hit the streets of Dublin in search of pub food and a Guinness. I noticed that the streets were darker here, and I sensed an eerie vibe. At first I was irritated. How could this be the friendly and beautiful Ireland that I read so much about? When walking around, a group of friends and I heard the faint sound of Irish folk music. I know from experience that whenever you receive an opportunity to follow good music, you do it!

                The sound of a fiddle and guitar was coming from The Celt Bar. It looked fairly small and packed, but I wanted to experience Irish music in a pub. It was exactly as I had imagined, quaint and simple with lots of clinking glasses. The music was spectacular and the bartenders were friendly. Most of the pub was standing room, and the chairs that were available looked as though they came with the place.

                It is not to say that people in the UK aren’t nice, I’ve met a lot of good English and Scots, but they tend to keep to themselves unless they know you. In The Celt I learned quickly that people in Ireland behaved like people in the American South. If it weren’t for the accent, I would’ve thought that I was inhabiting a bar from my Grandpa’s hometown in Kentucky. Not only did lots of people approach us, but they asked us questions about where we were from and what we studied. I’m sure the fact I was with females helped the situation, but they actually talked to me as well!

                We ordered pints and chatted with Irishmen while clapping our hands to some very talented musicians. Needless to say, we haunted The Celt Bar at least three more times during our stay. From Scots dressed as Frenchmen, to a full house yelling Irish drinking songs, The Celt did not disappoint.

                Apart from The Celt, the remainder of my time in Dublin was spent exploring. We visited the Book of Kells and the library of Trinity College. The library was extremely cool, but I was honestly surprised at how little build up the Book of Kells had. I know this isn’t possible but I wish there were ways to turn the pages.

                No stop in Dublin would be complete without an alcohol tour, so naturally we stopped at The Old Jameson Distillery. For 19 pounds, we had a full tour with a few drinks included. Now when I am back in the States I can spout off useless information about malt and how many times certain whiskey should be distilled.

                The final few days of the trip revolved around nature. We rode on the Paddywagon tour bus that included a very informative and fun driver. On the first day we visited Giant’s Causeway and a rope bridge overlooking the sea. The causeway and rope bridge alone were truly spectacular! Day two included the Cliffs of Moher. I have always loved nature, and something about giant cliffs mixed with lots of water is heaven to me. I hiked around in awe for around an hour, which wasn’t nearly enough time. The Paddywagon trips not only provided amazing destinations, but stops on the way that included great food and culture.

                After traveling to various parts of Ireland, I now understand why it is so iconic. It is a place with beautiful scenery and attitudes to match. It is astounding to me that the Irish have endured lots of conflict and oppression but are some of the friendliest people I’ve met. Maybe I’m biased because of the American flags I spotted everywhere, but I feel that Ireland is a must see during European travel. The culture alone is worth a stop, but as a bonus you receive breathtaking views. St. Patrick’s Day will take on an entire new meaning for me, because now I truly know how special Ireland is!

Irreplaceable Ireland (Erin Bosman)







Hello!

 

Ireland - the luck of the Irish. Well, I know that I am definitely lucky to be here. 
 

Wednesday night, we arrived at our hostel and immediately went out into Dublin to experience the Irish culture (and roughly 1/4 of my heritage). We made our way into Celts Pub, enticed by the live music and vibrant individuals- they danced, they sang, and they loved Americans. With both an Irish flag and American flag hanging in the window, we were given an incredibly warm welcome. The live band played Johnny Cash among the traditional Irish music, someone standing at the bar rambled on about the Minnesota Vikings (The Packers are so much more wonderful) after I mentioned being from the Minnesota/ Wisconsin area, and many more Irish people found great interest in talking with us. 







Thursday morning, a few of us ventured out, and got quite lost along the way, to Kilmainham Gaol which is an old prison that has been transformed into a museum. Irish revolutionaries were held at Kilmainham Gaol, and many were executed either by being hung or a firing squad, from the Easter Rising and The Civil War among other rebellions. There were also two escapes. It was highly interesting to visit, and creepy to see the inside of various cells. After that, Emily went on a Jameson Distillery tour with me, which was absolutely fantastic. We were given 3 1/2 shots to compare Scottish whiskey, American whiskey (Jack Daniels), and Jameson Irish whiskey and Jameson was by far the best. After learning about how it is made, we went to lunch and enjoyed a glass of Jameson, Ginger ale, and lime.


After leaving there, and getting lost again, we went on a tour at the Guinness Storehouse, which was fantastic as well. At the top of the Guinness Storehouse, there is a 360-degree view of Dublin and it is absolutely beautiful.

We ended our day with wandering the streets back towards our hostel and venturing into random stores along the way, as well as getting slightly lost once again. We discovered that however stressful getting lost could be, it allows for an adventure and for us to see so much more. The best way to travel may in fact be to get lost (as long as you have a map, phone, or taxi money of course)! 

Friday was our day tour of Northern Ireland and Giants Causeway! We had to be awake at 6 AM to get to the tour bus by 7 AM, which was slightly horrible to have to do but definitely worth it. Northern Ireland is absolutely gorgeous. We visited Carrick-a-Rede, Giants Causeway, Belfast, and a couple filming locations from Game of Thrones. Carrick-a-Rede was incredibly terrifying (at least for me) but absolutely worth the risk! Giants Causeway was a spectacular site and there is a great story to go with it! I suggest you look that up. The sites from Game of Thrones were of course a fantastic stop. We only spent an hour in Belfast where the group I was with wandered into a couple stores and got some excellent gifts and souvenirs! We pushed through our exhaustion and went back out to the pubs that night as well, only for a couple as we had to be up early again on Saturday!

Saturday (Valentines day!) we took another bus tour out to the Cliffs of Moher, which were absolutely incredible! Along the way there and back, we stopped at the "baby" cliffs, a couple castles, passed by Galway where parts of P.S. I Love You was filmed, and another cute little Irish town. That night, we went out again because it was our last night in Ireland and it was Valentines Day, so there was a lot going on and it was quite a long day.

Who knows when or if any of us will be back to Ireland, and we had classes to get back to Monday, so why wouldn't we take advantage of all the time we had there and take in as much of the culture and beautiful landscapes as we could? Having the opportunity to spend time with such a variety of different individuals and cultures just by going out and immersing yourself into a place, is absolutely spectacular.
  
 

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

SHOCKED (Culture Shock Pt. 2)


Greetings! My name is Kristen and I’m a sophomore communication major from Normal, Illinois. It’s been roughly a month since I left my normal world and began my adventures in the UK.
Grantham, England is a wonderful place. Everyone has been extremely welcoming and made me feel right at home. Studying in an English-speaking country is great – I don’t have to worry about learning a new language! However, there are some drastic differences that I had not anticipated.
In the first stage of culture shock, I noticed:

Toilets. Every time I need to use a toilet, I have to concentrate on not accidentally saying bathroom or restroom. Also, go to the toilet when you can, not when you have to. Seriously. Whenever you really need one, it’s not there. Or it costs money and it won’t accept your 20 pence.

Food. British food is great. If I could eat a meat pie every day, I would. Seriously, why are these not in the states?? There is one downfall, though… mozzarella sticks. Mozzarella sticks (deep fried mozzarella cheese) is amazing pub food in the U.S. and it’s one of my obsessions. However, they’re nonexistent here. While in Edinburgh, my friends and I were desperate for a cheap meal, so we popped into McDonald’s and to my amazement, they sell cheese bits! It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. In the beginning, I was delighted with all of the food options, but then I started really craving American food – Taco Bell, mozzarella sticks, Qdoba. After a while, the cravings dull because you remember that there are new loves – CafĂ© Nero, Cadbury, and tea at every meal.

Driving. The other day, I realized how far I had come in my quick progression through culture shock. My friend commented on how it was still weird that people pass on the left. It suddenly hit me that I couldn’t remember which side I pass on while driving back home. It was both frightening and amusing that I couldn’t remember this simple task.

However, the second stage is the worst stage of culture shock. This is when everything about the country frustrates you. Instead of just noticing differences between home and the new culture, these differences can seem negative and problematic. For me, this was when homesickness was the worst.
Remember, everybody gets homesick and is affected by culture shock, but you can work to push through it. Get involved in activities at Harlaxton, meet new people, hang out with friends, Skype your parents, do something you’re passionate about, pick up a new hobby, and one of my favorites – TRAVEL! It’s really hard to get frustrated with a new environment when you have the opportunity every weekend to leave and get to explore a new city.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

6(Tea) + GBP = CULTURE SHOCK

To be honest, I am actually rather impressed with my math skills. It’s been almost a full month since I packed my sweet ol’ (new, actually), Indiana-bargained, Nicole Miller luggage and set off to spend a semester studying and traveling (and drinking tea? We’ll get to that later…) in Grantham, England. Since then, I have constructed a formula, not only for Foster’s beer, but for the true meaning of British culture shock, as well!

Seriously, though. Let’s get this straight: Yes, I have officially encountered the meaning of “culture shock” in the UK, and, yes, there are exactly six words beginning with the letter T that quickly define my experience in the UK.

DISCLAIMER: You WILL want to drink tea. Also, “tea” is not real tea… But you’ll thank me later!

Let’s start with perhaps the most obvious T-word:


Time.  Before I flew across the pond, a six-hour time change didn’t seem all that intimidating.

What was I thinking?!? I’ll tell you what: It’s not easy. Talking to the ‘rents and (wait for it…) even the significant others is far from an easy task.

Picture this: It’s 8 o’clock in the morning in England. The sun has just barely risen, shimmering her golden rays onto our fresh faces, as the roomie and I trot our way through the snow and up the hill into the refectory to eat a tired breakfast before Monday morning’s lecture begins…

Meanwhile, it’s 2am back in the States, and mom’s rolling over in bed to tell dad, once again, to “stop that snoring!!!”

Oh, the sentiment! The good news is that you don’t have to hear from mom at 2 in the morning.
 

Toilets.  Ah, my personal favorite: toilets. What would we do without ‘em? Studying abroad certainly answered that one for me! Oddly enough, finding a bathroom (eh hem, toilet) has truly transformed into a full-time job, especially in the public setting.

Now, I will be straightforward in admitting that I have a water-drinking problem, so it is possible that I need to use the Ladies more often than the average human. Regardless, there are definitely less toilets in the UK, and I would know! 

Upon my first-time arrival in London, it was only fitting to immediately find a bathroom. Relieved when finally spotting a “toilet” sign in The Tube, I ran to the entrance, only to be greeted by… a toll? There was a fee to pee! Of course this was an interesting experience because I still didn’t know the difference between a pence and a pound.

Speaking of prices… On a lighter note, we have


Tips.  …or do we? Whether or not to tip the waiter, waitress, or bartender and, if so, how much seemed to be a continuously floating question for a while. However, thankfully, due to the Brits’ pretty hefty minimum wage, tipping is completely unnecessary.

Yep, that’s right! And, of course, this could mean only one thing: Drink more!


. . . Tea?  You know what they say about the Brits? Me neither. But I do know that the British habit of fast-talking is most likely to make up for the lost time we spend drinking! And, by now, you’ve hopefully caught on that I’m not just talking tea, people.

Speaking of booze, it’s expensive.  Which brings me to the “GBP” part of the equation, more commonly referred to as the British Pound.


I may be a mathematical genius (as clearly demonstrated by the very title of this post), but currency conversion is an entirely different story.

According to XE.com’s nifty currency exchange rate app, I can tell you that one British Pound is equivalent to one US Dollar and fifty-two cents.

But check back in 10 minutes, and it may be different! The exchange rate system is something that still often catches me off-guard. At least I know that a pence is like the British version of a penny… Right?? Right.


Talk (& Telephone, if you’re lucky).

“Talk is cheap.”a beautiful quote, written by someone who has yet to encounter an International cellphone plan.

Can Wireless Internet fall under this category, too? Facebook and Skype are supposedly the ways to go about Study-Abroad communication, but no one mentioned the scarcity of a free Internet connection! This is when our American-beloved Micky D’s and Starbucks come in clutch. They are often the only public settings to offer wi-fi service, free of charge. 

Aaaand we’re back to the Pound!


Trust.  Fear not, parents! You can trust these tea-drinking Brits with your wee ones… When Sally leaves a pound or two extra on the pub counter as a tip (or maybe even her Passport and credit card… Yep, guilty…), you can at least be sure that the kind, young bartender will run after her in order to safely secure the “misplaced” change.

Indeed, I will be the first to admit that it is not uncommon to feel a bit misplaced, here, in my new home. However, waking up to an alarm clock is particularly less painful when I look out my dorm window, only to gaze upon the dewy English hillside, accompanied by the old, yet powerful, beauty of castle-structured Harlaxton Manor.

Yes, it is undoubtedly during such moments that I realize the rare privilege I have received by spending a semester abroad.

Sure, a few extra pounds may have been sacrificed, but this culture-shocking experience is a priceless one, for sure. 


Jasmine Maletta

University of Evansville, Harlaxton College

BFA Theatre Performance '17

Harlaxton Manor

Assistant, Special Projects & Events

jm590@evansville.edu

Business Contact:

jmaletta@harlaxton.ac.uk

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

"I am not an adventurer by choice, but by faith." 

-Vincent Van Gogh


Hello all! My name is Mina Thomas, and I am a sophomore from Western Kentucky University currently studying at Harlaxton College. I am so honored to be a member of our blogging community here at the Manor this semester! I would like to share with you my favorite - and busiest - day of my first London weekend! Enjoy!

16 January, 2015
After reaching the hotel last night, we headed to bed in preparation for an early morning. We started today with a meeting in the hotel lobby at 8:50a. Then, our group traveled to the tube together, and began the day with my first “first” – the use of public transportation. The first train that came to the platform could fit everyone in the large group but four of us, so we were left waiting for the next one. Everyone else was incredibly nervous, but I felt confident, so I took charge and led us on. Though it wasn’t incredibly difficult, we made it safely to the transfer stop, where our group stood on the platform, waving at us. After that, one of the professors stuck close to us, promising not to lose us again.

As we exited the underground, we made our way up the stairs, chatting and admiring the local posters and graffiti of the walkway walls. At the top, we turned the corner to view an incredible skyline of London; The Tower of London on our left, with modern, glass buildings across the Thames. It was absolutely breathtaking, with ravens and seagulls sharing the currents above us.


Upon entering the Tower, we discovered there was only a 15 minute wait until the next beefeater tour. So we talked with the professors and one another, taking loads of selfies with the Tower wall and of course, Tower Bridge. The beefeater arrived and after a few jokes, (I’ve noticed that the British enjoy making fun of the French), he informed us that more people had been to the moon than had worn the beefeater uniform, and explained how incredibly prestigious his job is; to serve the Queen. One of the requirements to become a beefeater is to serve in the Royal Army for at least 22 years; this man had done 25. I also learned that they have expanded the housing to include families, so the beefeaters can continue to live with their families while they serve in the Tower.



He took us around to show us the glass pillow fountain, marking a spot where only 6 people have ever been executed, including Henry VIII’s second wife, Ann Boleyn. We got to go into the Queen’s chapel, and though it was small, it was a powerful experience. After leaving the beefeater and thanking him for a lovely tour, our small group went to see the Crown Jewels. I had never realized how vast the Jewels collection was! It was not limited to jewelry, crowns, and swords, as I had anticipated, but extended to golden plates, mugs, even spoons! There was even a drink basin large enough to hold 144 bottles of wine! *hiccup* As we picked our jaws up off the floor, we continued across the street to White Tower, to see the armor/weapons on display. The armor was incredible (Henry VIII was a huge man!) and the sight of the soldier’s armor next to the armored horses could be appreciated by anyone, if for no other reason than it was shiny.

As we made our way out, we were all starting to grow hungry, so we decided we would try to make our way to Buckingham Palace and find food there. Unfortunately, this was the point of the day where we displayed our American ignorance by assuming Buckingham Palace was anywhere close to Tower Bridge. Not. Even. Close. As we walked around, trying to find it, we made our way onto a pier, where there was a pop-up market with all sorts of food and drink. We bought some empanadas, (they were divine!), and continued walking about, completely clueless. Once we had finished eating, we realized we had no idea what we were doing, so we asked someone for directions, who smiled politely while directing us to the nearest underground stop. Puzzled, we consulted our handy-dandy tube map to discover we were about 8 stops away, so we took the lady’s advice and hopped on the Tube to Westminster.


























We took the Westminster exit, and arrived 15 minutes before 2 in the afternoon. As we walked out into the day, our first sight was of the London Eye. As we ran to take pictures on the steps in front of it, we turned to see Big Ben in all of its glory, connected to the majestic Parliament. We crossed the street (being sure to look right!) and each took plenty of pictures with the lovely skyline. Then we waited to listen to Big Ben, and we all agreed that it was one of the most beautiful sounds we had ever heard.
Once we had recovered, we began to make our way down the street, and walked right into the entrance for Westminster Abbey. I took pictures there with each of my red towels, before walking up to the entrance. There was a charge to enter, so no one in my group wanted to go in. No worries though, I have promised myself that I will go in the next time we visit the city, whether I go alone or not! Instead, we went into St. Margaret’s next door, the chapel open to the general public for services. As I walked up the center aisle, quiet as a mouse, I felt the power of the building surround me, and began to cry at the velvet rope. I longed to approach the altar, but accepted defeat, as I walked around the rest of the chapel. It was an incredible sight, with the stained glass and antique benches. I cannot even fathom how it would feel in the grander scale of Westminster.

After leaving the tourist shop connected to the Abbey, my friends and I continued down the way, assuming, once again, we were close to Buckingham Palace (we were once again mistaken, and did not make it there on this trip). Instead, we found a number of interesting side streets, complete with street performers, vendors, and of course, a book store. We made a lot of stops, exploring and killing time until our Parliament tour (where we needed to be at 4:00 for a 5:00 tour). Around 3:45, we began to make our way back to Parliament, retracing our steps back past Westminster and up to Big Ben and the London Eye. Despite the backtracking, nothing seemed even the slightest bit less impressive; still shining in our eyes with absolute glory.

As we entered Parliament (after numbing our butts on the freezing stone wall outside), they led us through security. Once through security, it was back out to the bitter cold, where it had begun to rain. We then sprinted the 50 or so feet to the door of the visitor’s entrance, opening the doors into the Great Hall; the oldest remaining section of the original building.

While walking through the building, I loved looking at the architecture and decorative art used throughout the building, including one room decorated with elaborate paintings of each of the monarchs from the Tudor and Windsor lines. For those of you who like to play cards, I learned a fun fact about the Queen of Hearts: King Philip and Queen Mary were the only two monarchs presented to be truly and deeply in love. (They are the only two in the hall to face one another.) When Queen Mary died, King Philip wanted to commemorate his wife, so he contacted a playing card painter, and asked that her portrait be included as the Queen of Hearts. Hers is the only face based on a true monarch.

When we had gathered again in the Great Hall, our tour guide stopped us on the stairs to talk. As I looked around the room, I noticed a small, gold plaque on the center of the steps. The plaque was marking the spot King Charles I stood to hear his execution sentence. So of course, I had to stand on it.


Leaving the building, we noticed the rain had stopped, but the night was already dark. It was an incredible sight to walk out of Parliament to see Big Ben and the London Eye lit up. We had already discussed going to Trafalgar Square after the tour, so we made our way up the same street that led us straight to the center of the Square. It was absolutely beautiful!


As we made our way up to the glowing fountains, it began to sprinkle again, and fearing a downpour, we scanned to find the nearest place to explore. The National Gallery was directly ahead, so we walked across the Square until we reached the steps. The building was not incredibly spectacular, but the artwork it housed was incredible! As we strolled about, we saw works by Monet, Rembrandt, and Da Vinci. One of my friends realized that his favorite painting was on display here, (The Arnolfini Portrait by Van Ike), so we went to see it.

When everyone was feeling like moving on, I saw an advertisement for Van Gogh. (For those of you who do not know, Van Gogh is my favorite artist, and one of my favorite people, of all time). I approached one of the servicewomen and asked where I would find the Van Gogh display. She directed me, and I took off sprinting down the halls to the opposite side of the building. As I turned the corner and began to walk down the hallway, my mind was racing and silent all at once. It was as though my thoughts had been muted, and though I could feel my brain working, I couldn’t speak its language.

I walked for what felt like ages, though it was probably only minutes, through large, open rooms, with arches instead of doors, eyes frantically searching for the right room number. At the end of the hall, I caught a glimpse of the number as my eyes slid down, landing on the painting in the center of the wall in the next room. At that exact moment, my legs became disconnected from my body, and I moved forward as if in a dream. All I could think was, “is this real?” Am I really standing in a room holding the careful brushstrokes of the greatest impressionist painter of all time? Suddenly, I noticed I was stopped right in front of the painting, close enough to see each individual line and each layer of color. I looked to the center of the vase, and began to weep, as I saw “Vincent” in elegant script. There were twenty or so strangers in the room, and my new friends, who may have thought I was crazy. But as I stood there, I was overcome by the beauty and majesty captured in a simple vase of sunflowers, and there was nothing for me to do but weep.

And I am glad I did. Because the pain I felt in my chest, as I held my breath to stop, and the puffiness of my eyes, as all of the happiest and saddest emotions in the world raced through me, proved to me that it was real. I was no longer looking at a photocopy; I was looking at the canvas that had once been touched by Vincent Van Gogh himself. I was in the same room as his fingerprints. Me.


After that, there was nothing left for me to do. Nothing could top what I had just experienced. So we walked around the Square a bit more, enjoying a sit-down dinner at a little Italian restaurant - run by a family from Naples - and hopped back on the Tube to head to the hotel. All the while, I reflected on my day, memories floating in and out of focus, certain ones brighter than others; the National Gallery blinding in glory. 

It was indeed a full, rich day in London!

Mina Thomas