Friday, 30 December 2011

Introducing Cassie Gutman

8 December 2011

One month.

Actually, less than a month. Less than a month from this moment, I will be on a plane, going to Harlaxton. I am literally living out my childhood dreams of living in England and going to Hogwarts (it's a little later than I originally thought, since I expected my letter on my 11th birthday, but I'm finally getting to go to England).

It hasn't really hit me that I'm leaving yet, and as finals week officially strikes tomorrow, I'm going to be focusing on how to survive the rest of this semester. But the thought that I'm leaving is always in the back of my mind, making it difficult to focus anymo
re on classes here. My mind is constantly making lists of things I need to do and things I've already done, and I just pray that I don't forget anything.

Flight ticket? Check.
Passport and all kinds of weird immigration forms? Check.
Tons of new winter clothes? Check.

And I keep wondering about little things. I think my brain doesn't want to focus on the fact that I will literally be out of the country for four months. I keep wondering about how inconvenient doing laundry is going to be, or how I'll live without a diet cherry coke in the morning, or how wet my feet will get since I decided not to bring my rain boots because they'll simply take up too much packing space.

But I'm also equally excited for the little things. I can't wait for hot tea-drinking to be the norm. I'm thrilled that dressing up is acceptable for no reason whatsoever because I hate wearing jeans. And I'm hoping that if I'm there long enough, I'll develop a really lovely accent that overpowers my Floyds Knobs, Indiana one. And as a former soccer player and current soccer fan, I am beyond ecstatic to be going to a country that actually cares about the sport. I also keep hoping that Harlaxton will look like this when I arrive. I fear I will be disappointed when it's about 20 degrees and misting a light, yet still freezing rain. But I can hope, right?

The packing, though, I haven't given much thought to. I imagine I'll wait until the last day to pack (though I'll have sworn to my mother that I start weeks in advance), and I'll probably regret waiting until the last minute to try and cram as much as I can possibly fit into my suitcases as physically possible (even using vacuum space bags).

But mostly, I keep thinking about how this upcoming semester is going to be the greatest so far in my life. I already know it, and I haven't even gone. I keep calming myself down because I don't want to expect too much and then be disappointed, but so far, I've failed at remaining calm. And the closer January 5 gets (my official flight date), the more unbearable my excited-ness becomes. Sometimes I literally hyperventilate from anticipation. My mom always told me when I was a little kid that I needed to be excited on the inside. She still tells me that. Well, for Harlaxton, it's not working. I cannot contain the enthusiasm I feel for being so fortunate as to be able to spend an entire SEMESTER studying abroad at a fantastic manor and being able to travel across Europe.

This is literally the adventure I've been waiting for my whole life. And it hasn't even begun yet.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Introducing Gina Filo

1 December 2011

There are a lot of things that I should be doing right now. There is a massive German paper lurking guiltily around the edges of my conscience. There are three upcoming exams for which I really ought to be preparing. And there's a healthy pile of Ramen-encrusted forks lying on my desk, waiting to be washed and silently indicting me for my neglect.

But I can't.

A college student procrastinating at the end of the semester, how novel, I know. This time, though it is more than just the run-of-the-mill Facebook, stumbleupon.com, and aimlessly prowling the hallways hoping to run into someone with whom to share my time-wasting.

Today was the last meeting before we leave for Harlaxton, and my head will not stop going! Most thoughts are full of excitement and anticipation for sure - I'm going to ENGLAND! - but every once and a while, my euphoria is undercut by nerves and worries. Some very trivial (How will I survive four months without Diet Coke?) but some very real (How am I going to manage both school and travel?).

I've been overseas once before. After my senior year of high school, I spent three weeks in Germany with a school group. It was a fantastic experience. But compared to this trip, it was a piece of cake. It was summer - no schoolwork. Our entire trip had been pre-planned - we didn't have to stress about arranging day trips. We lived with families, and the homey atmosphere was relaxing. And my German was good enough that, other than an unfortunate incident in which I said "Gift" (poison) instead of "Geschenk" (gift), the language wasn't really a problem. The whole trip was three weeks of soaking up the local culture, meeting new people, and eating delicious bread, cheese and chocolate.

But this time is different. This time we're adults. This fact is exhilarating (FREEDOM!), but a little scary. And I know that the wonderful staff at Harlaxton is not going to abandon us in the middle of the woods. And my brain is aware that I'm fully capable of taking care of myself. These facts don't stop me from worrying, however. While I know this experience will be worth every penny and more, I have real, grown-up concerns about the resilience of my bank account. I've also got worries about the balance of schoolwork and travel. Will I be so focused on schoolwork that I forget to have fun? Conversely, will I be having such an incredible time traipsing through the United Kingdom that I let my grads fall by the wayside? And even contemplating the packing process is stressful - four months in one suitcase and a backpack. What clothes will I bring? More importantly, what novels can I bring? Mind-boggling.

For the most part, these worries don't weigh too heavily on my mind. My daydreams revolve around exploring London with my friends, living in a real manor house, shopping at Topshop, and seeing a Shakespeare play at Stratford, and my preparations are largely practical - calling my credit card company and buying all-weather boots are on my to-do list. But every once and a while, anxiety begins to creep in. At the end of the day, I'm a little nervous, but even more, I'm excited to experience a new culture and a way of life with some of my best friends. About one month from now, I will be in England. Fancy that.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Introducing Amanda Oaks

1 December 2011

Harlaxton Preparations: The Expectation, the Excitement, and Mostly, the Nerves

Just a few days ago I received what is, quite possibly, the most exciting email of my life - my plane ticket to HARLAXTON! The sight of it sitting there, tangible and official, in my inbox left me almost without words. In fact, in a Facebook status typed up just a few moments after I opened the email, all I could say was "Oh my gosh. Plane ticket. Electronic plane ticket. But still, there it is, in my inbox. It exists. It's happening. Oh my gosh." As you can clearly tell, I'm incredibly excited about the upcoming semester.

In fact, the closer it gets, I find myself getting more and more excited, but I also find myself scrambling to make preparations and to be sure I have all the information I need, which means I'm also getting more and more anxious. Whenever I think about it, my heart starts pumping so that I'm almost certain other people have to be able to hear it.

Added to the usual stress of getting prepared to travel is the fact that I have never been out of the country, or even flown on an airplane. I have to admit, the idea of getting into this giant

metal contraption and soaring across the ocean terrifies me. Heck, I'm even afraid to brave the legendary terrors of airport security. I imagine taking off shoes, having something been in the metal detector, getting on the wrong plane, and many other disasters, and that's nothing to how I expect I'll feel once I'm in the sky, of all places. I know flying is a routine thing for some people, but for me it's this impossible thing hanging between me and my semester abroad. Even so, all of these (largely illogical, I'm sure) fears can't curb my enthusiasm.

In a few mere months - provided I survive the flight without succumbing to full-on panic - I will be overseas in Europe! I have dreamed of going to England since I was very young, a desire no doubt fostered by growing up with the Harry Potter books and going through an intense
phase where I read series and the Mates, Dates series -light, fluffy reading I confess, but I enjoyed it and became somewhat infatuated with England. I want to see it all with my own eyes, form my own opinions, perhaps even have an adventure or two.

It is probably partially due to this infatuation that the entire thing still feels a bit unreal - even though I have gotten a passport, purchased a ticket, made down payments on various trips, and have a set of bright purple luggage sitting in my basement, a part of me still doubts that I will ascend into the sky and then descend in another country. A part of me stares in disbelief at the pictures of beautiful Harlaxton Manor, thinking surely I could never actually be in such a place. As I passed around a picture of the manor at Thanksgiving, finding myself the center of attention, I felt every bit as surprised as my family was that I would be living there, studying there, in a matter of a little over a month.

Yet it will be real, and it's approaching rapidly. Time is passing more and more quickly, the information meetings becoming more and more vital as I scramble to understand everything I am going to need for the journey and for my time there. My classes are scheduled, my trips booked, and I am using the idea of a different climate as an excuse to buy myself a few new wardrobe additions - even though I cringe at every little decrease in my bank account because I want to be sure it's prepared to survive the excited spending I anticipate in every single new place I visit.

Despite my misgivings about planes and my worries about being prepared, the emotion I feel most strongly as I get ready to study at Harlaxton is excitement - I can't wait to learn about another culture, to live in another country for a short time, to catalog hundreds of new experiences, as well as take what I'm sure will turn out to be thousands of new pictures. Terrifying death trip across the ocean aside, my Harlaxton semester is drawing near, and I think it's safe to say I have never been more excited, or more anxious about what's to come. Regardless, it's sure to be a memorable and wonderful semester.



Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Introducing the Spring 2012 Bloggers

Over the next four months, you will get a first hand account of life at Harlaxton from five student bloggers. They will talk about what it is like to live and study at Harlaxton, share their experiences travelling, and much more!

The Harlaxton Student Bloggers for the Spring 2012 Semester are:

Amanda Oaks



Kelley Vrevich



Rachel Hoge



Cassie Gutman



Gina Filo


Over the next few days, they will introduce themselves and share how they are preparing for their semester at Harlaxton!


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A Farewell

A month ago, I was excited to go home. Now, I’m feeling the same trepidation about getting on the plane as I was in late August.

Pretty soon, I’ll be back in the States. I’ll get funny looks when I ask for hot tea with milk. I’ll have to stop spelling words with extra “u”s, and change all of my “s”s back into “z”s. Pence will be cents again. Everyone will drive on the wrong side of the road, that is to say, on the right. The dry wit will disappear. The Indian food won’t taste right and the fish and chips won’t even come close.

No longer will I play sardines in a Victorian manor on boring nights. No longer will I take spontaneous weekend trips to the continent. My christmas tree at home will be less than half the size of Harlaxton's. The streets won’t be cozy but wide, and parking will actually exist. So will indoor heating that works, but I won’t wake up to a view of the English countryside.

I am leaving England, and it’s more surreal than arriving was.

It’s hard to measure how far I’ve come this semester, but writing a farewell blog, it seems appropriate to try. I can quote all kinds of European history that I never knew before, and I’ve read more literature than I care to even think about. I’ve made some amazing friends. I feel stronger. I guess surviving the gauntlet of moving to a foreign country, having travel fiascos all semester, school work, homesickness, drama, and going hungry in the refectory can do that. This semester has proven to me how much more I am capable of.

Well, I’m happy to be going home soon (visiting Paris first!) but I wouldn’t trade this for anything. In trying to keep the trite yearbook-ish sayings to a minimum, I’ll be short. There is little I have done for myself in this lifetime more worthwhile than these past four months. I will miss everything about this place, and carry it with me throughout my life. As Dr. Kinglsey has famously made us sing this semester, “Someone bless these seeds I sow…til the rains come tumbling down.”

Well, England weather has started in earnest now, so I guess our time has come.

Farewell, Harlaxton.

May you see many future generations.


-Katelan King

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Prepare for Boarding

There are too many things to say as I fight my souvenirs into my suitcase. So, for lack of a better goodbye, I’ll condense everything I feel and learn into a list…or two…one for the good and one for the not-so-goods about studying abroad at Harlaxton.

The Good

1. Harlaxton is a great base camp for travel
2. Harlaxton allows you to relax (USA!)
3. 3 Months abroad allows you to enjoy leisure time and not feel like you need to cram everything in
4. Being from UE, I immediately had something in common with a majority of the students
5. The course-load isn’t that bad
6. Meet-a-Family (while I didn’t do it), according to most, is a very positive and worthwhile experience
7. All of the staff (the grounds crew, maintenance people, and drivers) are very friendly
8. You can choose how much you want to spend, and if you’re smart you can do a lot with a little
9. My outlook on American culture and our future has become more optimistic
10. I’m well prepared to travel anywhere!

The Not-so-Good

1. The food…no offense, Refectory, but we’re not used to potatoes and rice 5 times a week
2. Grantham has a fun nightlife, but besides that and ASDA there isn’t much to do (and it’s expensive to get into town once the shuttle stops)
3. 3 Months is a long time
4. Travelling is exhausting, but well worth your time, except when you have to balance it with school work
5. While the Bistro offers an alternative for going out and a fine study break, it breaks the bank and is only open on weeknights
6. The school-sponsored journeys are over-priced field trips, but allow you to travel with lots of people and not deal with logistical issues
7. The exchange rate blows…
8. Yes, it is comfortable to be around Americans, but if you’d prefer to study with more immersion I’d pick somewhere else
9. These…walls…are…closing…in
10. Packing sucks


This list is nowhere near exhausted and is comprised of only my personal opinion. As I prepare to depart for home the great experience I’ve had is starting to all come back to me. Living in the UK has made the greatest semester of my life happen, and as I look back I’m glad to know my experiences will only become more apparent as time passes.

-Brennan Girdler

Thursday, 1 December 2011

How to Feel a Goodbye

At the beginning of one of my favorite books, The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist Holden Caulfield explains that he is “trying to feel some kind of a good-by.” He says, “I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it.” I’m not sure I completely agree. I’d certainly rather my last days at Harlaxton were good ones. But he has a good point. After spending three months in a completely new world, how can we make it real to ourselves that we’ll be leaving? In seventeen days, I will be sleeping in my own bed, feeding my own cats, and stringing lights on my own Christmas tree. It seems impossible! In seventeen days, everyone around me will talk funny, and I will no longer have an accent.

I, like Holden, am trying to feel a goodbye. Perhaps tonight will help—it’s the Valedictory Dinner, where we all get gussied up one last time and sit in assigned seats in the Long Gallery, enjoying Harlaxton’s finest catering. Some of us will attempt to get drunk off the wine, and my table will, inevitably, be the one asking for more water. But there’s more to it than that. Tonight we’ll hear from Dr. Kingsley, and from our own students and faculty. We’ll share memories of England and our travels around Europe, and hopefully we’ll be making a few last memories to take home with us.

I don’t really know how to sum up this entire semester, what we’ll be leaving behind and what we’re coming home to. So I’d like to open it up the rest of Harlaxton. I hope some of you will comment on this blog and say a little about your own experiences. What will you miss? What can’t you wait to do/see/have again when you get home?

I’ll start: I think I’ll miss the everyday things the most. The weight of a one-pound coin in your hand, good notebook paper and binders with two holes, pubs. I’ll miss trains that run on time and the way every town has a cathedral, a market, and a distinct accent. Reading the newspaper on the Tube, decent television, Indian takeout. And I’ll miss the extravagant things: a plane that can reach Amsterdam in an hour; a view of the ocean from the beach in Normandy, or the bay in Cardiff; London from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. And I’ll miss our Manor—our idiosyncratic, spectacular Manor, which, I’ve only recently come to appreciate, might not be here at all if it weren’t for us. I’ll miss the library, with the best selection of Shakespeare films I’ve ever found, as well as everything you ever wanted to know about the English country house. I will miss literature classes in the Gold Room, which are often so interesting that it’s not even tempting to look up at the ceiling. I’ll miss the Christmas tree in the Great Hall and the smell of a fire in the fireplace. I will not miss the food. But I will miss getting to act in a play and sing in a choir when I never really thought I had any talent, and I will miss watching potential disasters turn into good performances in the last week. I will miss exploring the bunker in the woods and playing hide and seek in the Manor (which might have been against the rules…sorry). And I will miss you. I wish all of you the best in your studies and your travels. Thank you for everything.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Thanksgiving Abroad


Thanksgiving is typically a family holiday. We get a dayaway from school or work, gather around family tables, eat copious amounts offood, and generally enjoy each other’s company. Though my biological family iscurrently thousands of miles away in Indiana, I still got to enjoy all thesethings (accept the day off, of course!) with my other family, my Harlaxtonfamily. Though we may not be related by blood, I am fully convinced thatHarlaxton creates families away from our biological ones.

When I first signed up to study aboard for a semester, I wasworried about being away from my family over the Thanksgiving holiday. Eventhough I knew that I would be home by Christmas, Thanksgiving is a wonderfulgathering for my family, and I would be the first person to miss it in years. Iwas worried that I would simply spend the holiday going to school andforgetting that there even was a holiday.

It’s not even that far-fetched of an idea to forget aboutThanksgiving over here. As soon as Halloween was over, the Christmasdecorations started coming out. While I was in Bath the last full weekend ofOctober, I saw some people busily hanging lights over the main roadways. Whenasked about it, out taxi driver assured us that they wouldn’t be turned on justyet, but it was still so interesting to consider. No Thanksgiving leads to avery interesting start to the Christmas season.

Just as we were beginning to get into the Christmas spirit,I was reminded of Thanksgiving, thanks to Facebook of all things. My variousfriends from home were commenting how ready they were for Thanksgiving break tobegin; there were status about driving home and seeing family that they hadn’tseen in a year. And it was challenging. Hearing of family gatherings is always hardwhen you can’t be a part of them. But we did what we always do at Harlaxton: wemake it work.

After a normal Thursday full of classes and meetings, wegathered in the Great Hall for a short Thanksgiving service. The atmosphere wasperfect. There was a fire crackling in the fireplace for the first time thisyear, and we participated in a simple service led by students. As the servicedrew to a close, people were invited to stand and share something that theywere thankful for. It was really touching, as people commented about beingthankful for their families, both back home and here at Harlaxton, for (mostly)warm beds, and for friends that put up with you through the thick and thin.

When the moment was over, we all filled into the StateDining Room, where the kitchen staff had done their best to make an American Thanksgivingdinner. We gathered our food and sat in the Long Gallery with our families awayfrom home. We talked, poked fun at one another, and simply enjoyed being ingood company, just as we would on a normal Thanksgiving day. As the eveningbegan to wind down, my little Harlaxton family and I played our own round of “Whatare you thankful for”. The responses were incredibly touching, and I would belying if I said there weren’t a few tears shed.

So yes, I had a new Thanksgiving experience this year. Ispent it thousands of miles away from my biological family. But I also learnedthat Harlaxton gives you a new kind of family where the bonds are just asstrong as the ones you have with your family back home. So I’d like to closeout this blog post with a quick note to my Harlaxton family about how thankfulI am for them, and I invite you to leave your own things that you are thankfulfor in the comments.

I am thankful for my family, both at home and here atHarlaxton. We’ve been through so much together over these last 3 months (canyou believe it’s really only been 3 months?). But through thick and thin, we’vemanaged to grow so much closer. Sure, sometimes we get on each other’s nerves,and we think that we can’t wait to get out of this place. But isn’t that whatfamily is all about? Thank you so much for making this an experience I’ll neverforget, and giving me a true home away from home.

Friday, 25 November 2011

An American in Paris (and Normandy)

November 24, 2011
Happy Thanksgiving!

The long weekend of the Paris trip was the first time I travelled alone in a foreign country. When I say this, I’m not counting the UK as a foreign country: by now we’ve acknowledged that, yes, they do speak a kind of English there; and have trains that run on time; and there is nothing like returning to our Manor on the hill and knowing that it is temporarily ours. England, we like to say, is practically our home.

But France is scary. In the words of the security guard I know as Grumpy: “I don’t like France. It’s full of French people.” Quite a problem if you, like me, don’t speak a word of fran├žais but do feel like eating.

Nevertheless, on the night of November 9th, there I was in Charles de Gaulle Airport—which, like all sensible airports, is at least an hour from civilization—trying to find a train. After a lengthy session of pacing the terminal, asking directions from employees who pointed me in opposite directions, and talking to random strangers—one of whom was convinced I couldn’t speak English, probably because of the horrified look on my face when I heard his accent—I boarded an intercity train to Paris. From Paris Gare du Nord (North Station), I took a very old Metro train to Lumiere, the nation nearest to my hostel.

Stepping outside in Paris for the first time, I was met by a man jabbering at me in French. I was sure he was hitting on me. (Myabe I’m paranoid, or maybe I’d just like to believe that a French man, even a creepy one, might find me attractive.) Walking along the dimly lit streets, clutching my directions, I thought about how I must look to people. A shivering stranger in a bright red coat with a poppy on the collar, carrying a Barnes and Noble shoulder bag with very obvious English text. (Oops.) I wondered if people thought I was American or English, or if they noticed me at all. It had been so long since I had been in America, and Indiana was the farthest thing from my mind. And besides, no one really wants to admit to being an American in Paris.

The more I travel, however, the more I realize that the rest of the world does not necessarily look down on you for being American. Not even all of France does. Granted, the woman at the restaurant where I bought my first sandwich did not take kindly to my “Bonjour, ham sandwich please, merci” routine. And according to the guide on my walking tour of Paris (but don’t quote me on this), there is a national council of some sort to protect the French language from the onslaught of English loan words—apparently, "le week-end" is not acceptable, though the people say it anyway. But there is a striking amount of both British and American influence on French life.

I noticed this particularly the next day, November 10th, when I went on a tour of the D-Day beaches in Normandy. Our tour guide was an Englishman who had made his career there. When he wasn’t giving tours, he went metal detecting with his sons; they still found ammunition, shrapnel, helmets from both sides. The only girl in our group, and the only one who knew nothing about military technology and next to nothing about military history, I felt a little overwhelmed. (To quote my notes from British studies lecture: “Stuff built—in GB? Pillboxes—reinforced concrete machine gun thingies.” And that was an epiphany.) But what struck me as it never had before was the scale of the war. Standing near the shore Omaha beach, as our tour guide drew squiggling maps in the sand, I tried to imagine how many people would have stood where I was standing, how many would have fought and died there.

As we all know, it’s impossible to imagine it, partly because we can never put names and histories to all the men. The American Cemetery, which we visited at the end of our tour, tried to do just that. The dead are marked by “crosses, row on row,” just as the poem describes. Some markers, of course, are the Star of David, but most are crosses. (And those seem to represent the only two religions you could be.) Each marker was largely identical, with the same four pieces of information: name, rank and division, state, and date of death. I thought it was particularly interesting that their state was deemed worth mentioning. Would a man from Indiana be that different than a man from Kentucky when they fought together on the same beach? Maybe not, but it’s a particularly American kind of identification, and I’m glad someone considered it important.

And, of course, the date of death. After a while, I lost track of how many crosses said June 6, 1944. You could fill rows on rows with the dead of D-Day. You could fill further rows with the unidentified men, remembered only with that famous phrase: “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.”
The cemetery holds only a third of the Americans who died in Normandy; the rest are buried elsewhere, mostly in the United States. But those buried here are also on US soil, as the cemetery is owned and maintained by the American government.
Before we arrived, our tour guide had warned us that we might be asked to help lower the flag. Usually, he said, they look for a veteran, but there are fewer and fewer veterans coming, especially this time of year, and often they will ask anyone from the United States. He said it was a huge honor. And believe it or not, as our group was exploring, a young man with an American accent asked if we would be willing to help him. We weren’t actually lowering the flag, it turned out, but we did help fold it, a task whose difficulty you can appreciate only once you’ve tried it. I felt strange folding such a sacred object, on such a sacred day, one day before Armistice Day. I’ve never been much one for patriotism, and my own country’s version of Armistice Day is a poor excuse for a day of remembrance. But that day, I think I could feel the presence of those people we try so hard to remember, and, in France of all places, I felt proud to call myself an American.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Homeward Bound

It’s only the latter half of November but it feels like I’ve been in the UK for a year.

The first month is epic — you’re in the exploratory phase of traveling abroad. Learning the layout of the Manor itself takes a few weeks, and after the preliminary trips (London in my case, then Wales) you’re ready to enter phase 2: homework, with as many trips as you can during the weekends. It creeped on me, really, when I realized I didn’t realize I was abroad anymore at Harlaxton.

Harlaxton does such a good job of creating a home-like atmosphere that I only feel I’m in foreign lands when I’m off campus. I didn’t mind phase 2 at all. That’s when the big things happened, but also the first rounds of exams and projects. But now that I’m through the initial struggle it’s all about keeping busy, something I feared would never happen during my first weeks when there were things to see, names to remember, and trips to plan. But now everything on campus is like background noise, sorta like it was at UE for me. I enjoyed it when I had the time, and was part of it when I didn’t.

But now we’re in the tail-end of phase 3, the homestretch, and things have picked up. I guess it would have to have been the costume ball, which I recall I didn’t think too highly of when I first saw the posters, but when you know everybody during the reception, and now that you have so much in common with these once-strangers, you realize how far you’ve gotten. Maybe it was the wine? Anyway…

For once we had a chance to celebrate campus and all it had to offer, together, and forget about term papers and group presentations for a weekend. But now that’s the past, and all I have left is Ireland this weekend, finals, then a grueling plane-ride to Chicago. I’m torn between leaving, as I assume most are. On one end I’m thinking, “It’ll be great to be home, have taco bell, and not sound like a tourist.” But on the other it’s “wow, has it been three months already?”

But I’d have to say I have no regrets, and plan to make the most of the homestretch ahead and enjoy the States as much as I can.

Until then,

-Brennan

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Memmingen…not Munich

This past weekend of traveling was interesting to say the least. I have been fortunate enough to not have any issues traveling…until this weekend. The trip sounded like a great idea-fly into Salzburg, Austria, spend a day and a half there, then take a train to Munich, spend two days there, and then fly home from the Munich Airport with 3 of my good friends. What we did not know, was there are two Munich Airports, which is an incredibly important thing to know.

We got to Salzburg pretty late in the afternoon, so it was beginning to get dark. We decided to just take a walk around the town and see a few of the sights. After being lost for about 45 minutes, we finally found the main part of town and it was absolutely beautiful. The next day we got up early and checked out of our hostel. We each bought a Salzburg card which was 22 Euros and allowed us to take public transportation all day and get into most of the tourist places for free and the others at a discounted rate. We then hopped on a bus and headed to the famous “Sound of Music” pavilion. It was off season so all the workers were setting up for the Christmas Market that goes on there. It was very festive and still beautiful. Next we went to Mozart’s birth house. It was very interesting and full of items from his lifetime. The most amazing part for me was getting to see his childhood violin from when he was six years old, since I started playing the violin when I was six years old. After that we just moseyed around town for a while and looked inside the little Christmas shops. We then went to the Museum of Modern art and got to see Salzburg from a panoramic view. It was beautiful. The last stop for us was the Stiegel Brewery where we got 3 free beer tastings and a free gift. We found it to be a successful day and decided to get on the train to Munich.

Our 2 hour train ride to Munich was only 6 Euros, so we were off to a great start. We got to our hostel around midnight excited to start our adventure in Germany. The next day, we woke up and went to Dachau Concentration Camp. This may sound odd, but I have wanted to go to a concentration camp ever since I could remember because of my huge interest in the Holocaust. We were there for 4 hours and we didn’t even see everything there. It was one of the most moving things I have ever experienced. That night when we got back, we walked around the Marienplatz and had a traditional German meal that was delicious. Our last day, we woke early and went on a walking tour of the city that was free through the hostel that we stayed at. We were able to see the town hall and experience the Glockenspiel first hand. We then got to see a few churches and hear a lot of the city’s history from our American tour guide. Unfortunately we had to leave the tour early in order to catch a train to the airport. This is when the trip went terribly wrong.

Every single sign that we saw just said “airport”, but did not specify which one. So of course, we assumed there was only one airport. After getting to the airport about an hour and a half before our flight was supposed to leave, we learn that we are at the wrong airport (Munich Airport) and that the one we were supposed to be at (Memmingen Airport) was a good 2 hours away so we missed our flight. After freaking out for a good ten minutes, we finally gathered ourselves and went to the last minute ticket desks. We found flights ranging anywhere from 300 Euros to 150 Euros. As poor college students, we obviously could not afford that. So we found an internet lab and began to look up tickets on the cheapest websites we know. We finally found one on Ryanair, but it did not leave until Monday afternoon which meant we had to miss a full day of classes, but really had no other choice. So we spent the next 24 hours sitting an airport hungry because we didn’t have any money left for a meal. $200 extra later, we made it back to Harlaxton Manor unharmed. I guess after so many successful trips, it was our time to have a hiccup.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt, Germany has been one of my favorite cities in Europe so far. A friend of mine and I decided to go on a whim. We arrived without a map. Neither of us spoke German. Our airport turned out to be two hours outside of the city. We had to stay overnight for one night in Stansted. All in all, this could have been a disaster.

Frankfurt's Historic Square

Somehow, we both survived and had a good time.

German food was fantastic. We stopped everywhere for cheap pastries, pretzels, and brauts. The underground system took a few tries to figure out, mostly because it was in another language. Our favorite part of town was the historic square, which was surrounded by restaurants, souvenir stands, and churches. From the center, the church bells seem to echo off of each other on the hour.

Frankfurt is also famous for the “Museum Mile,” which is literally a mile of museums on the Main River. We only had time to see one and it was the Museum of Applied Arts. It was pretty cool, and if you have time to do more than one there is a cheap day-pass that allows entrance into all of them.

In one afternoon we stopped at Palmengarten, Frankfurt’s botanical garden. The autumn leaves were just starting to show their colors and the flowers were gone, so it wasn’t as pretty as it could have been, but it was still worth the trip.

View from mall
At one point in our wanderings we came across an eight-story mall with a viewing platform on the roof. We and all of the other tourists were there taking photos.

Speaking of viewing platforms, we spent the first night trying to find Main Tower. This is a big tourist attraction according to google, but few of the Germans we spoke to had ever heard of it. Unfortunately we only know the area of town it was in, not the actual address, so we were wandering in and out of buildings asking “Main Tower?” throughout Frankfurt. Eventually we found it, despite all language barriers, and the views were worth it.

View from Main Tower






One last thing we ran into on accident was Occupy Frankfurt. What began as Occupy Wall Street in New York City has spread across the pond, as well. Occupy London may even interrupt our field from next week to St. Paul's Cathedral. It's not generally dangerous but it is something to be aware of--strikes and protests happen in some parts of Europe all of the time, and generally tourists should try not to get caught in the middle.

Our airport being so far away did give us a chance to see the German countryside, which we were happy about. The expensive bus ticket wasn’t as exciting, but these things happen in travel.

Germany was absolutely beautiful. Getting out of a tourist town is one of the best things I ever did. Things were relatively cheap, and no one was trying to sell me anything. Plus, it gave us a picture of actual German culture as opposed to the glossy whirlwind of tourism. So my advice to you is to act on a whim every now and then, and try to avoid the traps that only want your money.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Espana

I won’t lie. I was a little skeptical about going to Spain. I had heard so many horror stories about things getting stolen and the locals not being helpful at all. However, I already had two trips booked to go there so I didn’t really have a choice. The two trips were very different, and I’m happy to say both trips went very smoothly and I couldn’t be happier that I made the decision to go!

The first place I went was Ibiza with five other girls. It is known as the party capital of the world, but it was off season when we went there so we didn’t really experience much of that. We still had an amazing time. We ended up finding an apartment for all of us to stay on really cheap online. We were skeptical about how nice the place would be, but when we showed up, we were pleasantly surprised. The apartment even had a balcony that overlooked the beach. It was also a nice change to go to a place in the high 60’s-70’s rather than England with low 50’s. We spent most of our time laying on the beach and walking about the town. Neither was very busy since it was off season. It was a very relaxing trip and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

My trip to Santander, Spain was much different. One of my friends here has a best friend who is studying abroad there at this time, so we had our own personal tour guide, which was especially lucky for me because I do not know one word of Spanish. I felt that I experienced more of the Spanish culture while in Santander rather than Ibiza. Ibiza is mostly centered on tourists so it is a little more “Americanized”. Santander is not. This time we stayed in a hostel that really felt like Grandma’s house. It was an apartment building where an older couple lived and they rented out a few rooms. Each day the lady of the house would clean our room, make our beds, and give us clean (free) towels. We even had our own personal bathroom that was cleaned daily as well. The culture in Spain is very different from most. The three things that are mainly focused on there are sleeping, eating, and night life. They also have a totally different concept of time. A typical day for the Spanish includes a nap, or siesta, in the middle of the day and not eating dinner until about 10:00 or 11:00 at night and then going out to the clubs until the wee hours of the morning. Even the little shops around town close for a few hours during the day so everyone can get their nap in. It is very different from what I’m accustomed to, but it is something I could definitely get used to. Once again, this was a very relaxing vacation. We saw many of the sites (we even saw penguins and seals!) and ate traditional Spanish dishes, such as seafood paella, but we never felt rushed and we always felt rested.

Spain is such a beautiful country. I would highly recommend a trip to Spain for a nice relaxing time and a taste of a different culture than your own.





Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Grantham Weekend Trip

Half the campus is on a sponsored trip, homework is piling, and it’s Friday (or any night…). What is there to do? Well, luckily, Grantham offers only the finest clubs, pubs and entertainment.

Whether it’s a cab of four or four cabs of four, there’s plenty to do in Grantham on a weekend. Most frequented by Fall 2011 students is the Goose, a cozy pub in the middle of town. There’s plenty of seating, a large drink selection and food until late. The Goose has become a meeting point for students who prefer to go out on the town with students. This goes both ways, of course. On one side you are safer in small groups of friends, and have less chance of deciding to walk back to the Manor at 3am to save 2 pounds. But sometimes groups attract attention and deter the locals, but whenever it’s a pound a shot (a rising price, unfortunately) or 2 pounds a pint, who really cares?

After a few at the Goose we walk two blocks to the nightclubs. Now, for many of us under 21 (US-illegals), clubbing was an abstract and disturbing thought. But in Grantham it isn’t so bad. They are inviting, cheap, and accommodate both the outer-ringers (those who prefer to watch the fun) and the party people. Most of all they are relatively safe, each featuring at least two door-men for ID checks and turning away the incoherent and undesirable.

Grantham clubs and pubs, because they are so close, often illustrate migratory patterns. For example — most nights at the Vibe start slow, so many will go across the street to Late Lounge or Gravity, both respectable, or Taboo (the not-so-much club). It isn’t uncommon to visit several establishments in a single night to see what there is to see and meet up with others. And the best part about late-night Grantham are the take-aways, eateries often unfamiliar to Americans. They are grease-buckets, who sell pizza, burgers, sandwiches, or anything a person 9 pints deep will find satisfying. Better yet? They’re cheap.

So it’s closing time. You’re friends are grinning, slobbering and laughing all at once, and it’s time to go home. Easy — leave the building you’re in, walk towards a (parked!) cab, and more often than not they’ll recognize you from the drive in and get you home safely.

Not saying I speak for everyone at Harlaxton, but going out is fun, but don’t limit yourself! I’ve been several local friends going out, most of which I see every few weekends. Going out in large groups prevents such mingling, most of the time, because what’s more intimidating than 27 boisterous American’s taking the floor? Not much. So keep an open mind, meet people, and (here’s the PSA) be safe.

-Brennan Girdler

p.s. Don’t bring more than 30 pounds on a night…because you’ll often leave with less

(and sorry — pictures and images better not to be included)

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Saving and Spending at Harlaxton

Money is a pretty big concern for college students, doubly so for the ones who travel abroad. At Harlaxton things get even weirder as students cross currency lines throughout the semester. Right now I’m going to give a few tips on how to save money while you’re here, when you should spend money, and basically what to expect from a student’s point of view.

Thinking ahead is the single biggest way to save money here. Research your destinations. Pick a hotel near an airport, or near the attractions you want to see. Order a packed lunch ahead of time (you’ve already paid for them anyways). Many places have free attractions—find some that interest you. Travel in groups to split some costs, along with staying safe. Get a youth railcard—it will pay for itself if you take one trip by train while you’re here. If you want to go to an airport, ever, you will take that trip.

Lies.
Saving money is alluring, but there are times when it is not the best option. My experience with Ryanair is pretty much the prime example of this. Ryanair and Easy Jet are the two cheap, inter-Europe airlines that college students frequent. However, I and others have discovered that one reason they are so cheap is that sometimes they fly to an airport an hour or two outside of your actual destination, then charge you for the bus fare to get to civilization. I bought into one of the ten-pound sales for Ryanair, going to Frankfurt this weekend, and ended up paying eighty or ninety in transportation costs.

Another time one should be willing to spend extra cash is when buying a hotel room or hostel bed. This is another place where research comes in. I’ve had friends who paid for their stay in a hostel, and couldn’t last through the night there because of the conditions. Staying safe is worth the money, and being comfortable is sometimes worth it too.

One final time when students should be willing to spend money is on the school trips. It is true that it’s often possible to travel to the same destinations at a better rate than the Harlaxton-sponsored trips. However, the school offers stress-free travel and stops at places you could not otherwise see, such as Hadrian’s Wall on the Scotland trip or Hampton Court on the way back from London. Independent travel is worth it by all means, but it may be worth the peace of mind and lack of stress to let the school occasionally book your hotels and travel.

Scottish-English border, which we stopped at on the Edinburgh trip.
The pound-to-dollar rate is something else Harlaxton students must take into account. Currently, it isn’t in our favor. However, it fluctuates, and the best time to buy is when the pound is at lowest possible value. Students who pay attention to this might go far.

Euros are also frequently encountered in Harlaxton travels. Despite the current unrest concerning the Euro, its value is still relatively high. Also, it is not unheard of for Harlaxton students to travel outside of the Eurozone to countries on other currencies. For example, Morocco uses the Dirham, Russia the Ruble, Poland the Zloty and Sweden the Swedish Franc. The easiest way to acquire these currencies is to pull cash out at the airport. Most people get bank fees for every overseas transaction; getting a lump sum (and storing it in small increments in different places for safety) helps to avoid these fees.

The Business Office at Harlaxton can exchange American dollars for pounds, but keeps no other currencies. Bureaus de Change are readily available, but they will keep a large portion of whatever you give them, and should only be used if you’ve already withdrawn a lot of cash and don’t want to deplete your bank account even more.

One last thing to be aware of is that, in Europe, swipe cards are going out of style. They are being replaced by chip-and-PIN cards for added security. This is usually not an issue but some students have had a hard time paying with their US swipe-style debit or credit card. This is another reason to keep cash on-hand. This is especially easy to do since Harlaxton has a no-fee ATM on campus.

Overall, try not to panic about money. Budget for travel, plan, and research. Know what you're getting into. Decide when being comfortable is worth the money and when it isn't. All of these will go a long way into making your travel more afforable and more pleasant.

-Katelan King

Monday, 24 October 2011

Experiencing Wales in Cardiff


This past weekend, my friends Margie and Miranda (also a fellow blogger) headed off to Cardiff, the capitol city of Wales. The school was headed to Northern Wales, but we decided that we would rather see the city where one of our favorite TV shows, Doctor Who, is filmed, in addition to experiencing the Welsh culture. So, we booked our train for 10 am on Friday morning and, with a quick train switch in Nottingham, settled in for a 3 and a half hour train ride.

We arrived in Wales with a plan- find our hostel, see Cardiff Castle, find some food, and then hike down to the Bay that night, and then hit up a few museums the next day. But, while asking for a food recommendation for the evening, we discovered that the Welsh rugby team was scheduled to play France the next morning at 9 am. We were assured that it was not to be missed. The hostel worker who was helping us even called a local pub that he enjoyed to make sure they would be open for the game in the morning and gave us directions. We were hesitant, mostly because we knew nothing about rugby and had a limited time in the city, but the hostel worker reminded us of something very important- “Don’t spend all your time in museums. You can watch history being made tomorrow.”

We promised to watch the game and headed out. Cardiff Castle was absolutely worth the 9.50 student ticket price. It was the perfect culmination of everything we had studied so far in British Studies. From the Romans to the Normans to Tudors to the Republic- this castle had it all. It was even used as an air raid shelter in World War II! After the castle, we grabbed a bit to eat at a modern pub called Zerodegrees. I had some of the best pizza there that I’ve had the entire trip, in addition to my first taste of beer (if you go to this place, the mango beer is their specialty. That’s what I tried). Finally we were off to the Bay. Not only is the Bay beautiful, but it is also a main filming location for a spin-off show of Doctor Who called Torchwood, so we were excited to see the Tower that is prominently featured in the show. It was a long walk, and, when we arrived, we discovered that the tower and most of the bay were roped off for event prep. Slightly disappointed, we made the most of the pictures that we could get and walked around the chilly bay for a while before heading back to the hostel.

The next morning, we woke up at 8 am to a mass of red outside our window. Our hostel was positioned right next to Millennium Stadium and, even though the game was being played in New Zealand, thousands of fans were gathering in the stadium to watch it on the big screen. We carefully tried to pick out clothes that would at least make us not seem like supporters of France (we had sadly all left our red at home), and grabbed some breakfast before making our way to the pub recommended by our favorite hostel worker. It was only when we arrived that we realized how local this pub was. The name was in Welsh and the TVs were all giving commentary in Welsh, but at least most of the people were speaking English. So we grabbed a spot at the back of the pub and settled in to watch the game.

The atmosphere was electric. Not only was everyone in the place (and probably in the entire city) wearing red, but they were all extremely passionate about their team. And it was infectious. Not even halfway through the game, we found ourselves cheering and booing right along with the locals, even though we often had to guess at what was going on. At one point my friend Margie shouted something about a touchdown, which led to a few strange looks, but no one said anything else about it. Sadly, Wales ended up losing the game 8-9. We carefully snuck out the back of the pub, not wanting to intrude on the national mourning. And mourning it was. We made our way back towards the stadium and everyone that left looked a little down-hearted.

But we decided to continue with our day with some shopping, a visit to the Cardiff Market (well worth the visit), and a stop at the Cardiff National Museum. In the evening, we acquired some food from a local sandwich place and ate at our hostel. The evening was spent experiencing a British cinema for the first time as we saw Tinker, Taylor, Solider, Spy.

The next morning we spent in the park, getting a little homework and some last minute shopping done before another lunch of sandwiches (this time eaten in the park) and catching our train home. Overall, my favorite part about the trip to Cardiff was the rugby game. I’m so glad that we listen to the locals and watched.

Travel Tip: Talk to the people who work at the hostels. They often know what they’re talking about.

Do I recommend Cardiff?: Yes. Whole-heartedly. The Welsh people were very friendly and, even though they are not an independent country, have so much national pride. It’s so interesting to just immerse yourself in. Plus, it’s pretty easy to find your way off the beaten tourist path and into the places that the locals actually go to.