Thursday, 29 March 2012

A Journey to Edinburgh

Last weekend was the second long weekend, meaning we had no class on Thursday or Friday. Four whole days of freedom from exams, readings and the British Studies papers which have been looming over our heads with increasing urgency as we approach the end of the semester. For many of us, this was the last big trip—we leave in less than three weeks! While most of the school headed off to Paris, two friends and I decided to go up to Edinburgh, Scotland for our last hurrah, and ended up having what was quite possibly the best trip of the semester.

For one thing, we have this travel thing down by now. Navigating public transportation? Nothing to it. Choosing a non-sketch hostel? Easy-peasy. Finding cheap, delicious food? Kein Problem.  And the less-tangibles, too, have become easier. Choosing travel companions wisely, finding the right balance between museums, shopping, exploring and relaxing, and realizing that it’s just money—all these too are nearly second nature.

Venus Rising
Shannon, Lesley and I arrived in Edinburgh late in the evening on Thursday after a three hour train ride. Finding the hostel was no problem whatsoever—it was maybe a ten minute walk from the train station. The hostel itself, Castle Rock Hostel, was fantastic. Great location, tons of cool artwork, clean and safe, it also had an interesting character. All of the rooms were themed, the whole place was decorated and inviting and people were friendly. Anyway, exhausted, we checked in and went to a small pub just down the road. Nothing special, but hot food was very welcome at this point.

Friday we headed out bright and early to the National Gallery, a free art museum. This is right up my alley, especially as most of the art was 17th and 18th century European, a period in which I have much interest. We saw so many beautiful paintings; my favorite was a Titian called Venus Rising from the Sea, painted around 1520. He captures such an uncertain beauty in her face and body—twas simply glorious.

After exploring the entire museum, we were feeling a bit puckish. We scrounged around for inexpensive, good food, finally finding the “Snax Café” down a dark alley. It looked like it could possibly be a front for a drug ring, but offered hot sandwiches for 2.50 and seemed clean enough. Turned out to be a delightful little place and I had a delicious panini. I’ve turned into a panini addict this semester, but they’re cheap, hot and filling—just what I want.

Being three twenty-year-old girls, we then spent the afternoon shopping. Not really tourist shopping, but rather clothes shopping. Edinburgh has a Primark and a Topshop, and let us just say that both received our custom that afternoon. Being the good little nerds that we are, we then proceeded back to the hostel and spent the remainder of the afternoon industriously working on homework, eagerly anticipating the coming evening.

Hunger Games Excitement!
Why, you might ask? That night was to bring two exciting events: Middle Eastern food and going to The Hunger Games! Ready for a night of adventure, we headed to a Kurdish restaurant around 5:30. There we had what was probably my favorite meal of this entire semester—vegetable shish kebab with chili and yogurt sauce and SO MUCH delicious naan. Lesley, our local expert on Middle Eastern cuisine, pronounced it not only delicious, but also authentic. Absolutely stuffed, we waddled over to the movie theater for an 8:00 showing of The Hunger Games. And while Lesley and I were a little worried that Shannon would literally die of anticipation, we were finally let into the theater fifteen minutes before the film. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone, but suffice it to say that we were all very pleased with the adaptation.

The following day, we got up rather late and spent the morning wandering the old town. We walked along most of the Royal Mile, which is essentially a massive agglomeration of tourist shops, but with fantastic architecture. Also, St. Giles’ Cathedral, located along the mile, is well worth a look; the stained glass inside is very pretty. Requisite souvenirs—postcards, backpack patches, a sheep scarf—purchased, we discovered Auld Jock’s Pie Shop and had another delicious and inexpensive lunch. Afterwards, we explored the Scottish Writers’ Museum, which was not so much a museum as it was three cramped rooms with a few objects vaguely connected to three Scottish writers, but at least it was free.

In front of St. Giles
Shannon was feeling a little unwell, so she wended her way back to the hostel and Lesley and I kept exploring. The weather was cool and misty, and we found an old graveyard. Rendered mysterious and picturesque by the fog, the graveyard featured such sights as David Hume’s grave-cum-mausoleum and a large statue of Abraham Lincoln; apparently a sizeable number of Scots fought in the American Civil War. We then climbed up Calton’s Hill, which had a lot of monuments on top. This would have been much cooler had we been able to see anything, but the fog made it a bit hard to see. Either way, everything was very pretty.

That night in the hostel, we did something we’ve been talking about all semester: we cooked. That’s right. Homemade food! Nothing fancy, just chicken breasts, root vegetables and a fresh baguette, but it was perfect. Otherwise, we had a quiet night; the three of us would rather curl up with a mug of tea and a good book than go out and engage in shenanigans. Most of the time, at least.

Atop Arthur's Seat
Our last day in Edinburgh dawned bright and early; we decided to climb Arthur’s Seat at sunrise. Arthur’s Seat…well, it’s not really a mountain, but it’s what passes for a mountain here. And was a fairly good trek. Getting to the top, however, made any strenuousness worth it. It was beautiful. And the fog had started to dissipate, giving us a beautiful view of the city. We rested at the top a while, but even so, reached the city long before we had even been awake either of the two preceding days. We had no major plans for Sunday; we wandered quite a bit, explored some of the “closes,” or terrifying little alleyways, and got a couple of gifts for our families in yet another tourist shop. Incidentally, we heard a bagpipe rendition of “We Will Rock You,” which I found more than a little amusing. I found a little Indian shop and Shannon and I got harem pants, for which we are very excited.

The intrepid explorers on their last day in Scotland
After yet another lunch in a café (I will never tire of paninis!), a trip to the sweetshop and a visit to a shop that may or may not have been run by a cult, we realized that we weren’t cold! In fact, we were legitimately warm outside! I cannot impress how rare this is here. Taking advantage of the weather (and frankly, having very tired feet from having spent three days trekking about the city), we camped out in the park and spent our last afternoon in Edinburgh napping, reading and talking in the sun.

This was my last trip of the semester; the next three weeks are going to be beset by stress, papers, German novels and a general panicky, nervous mood. I am so grateful for getting to experience Edinburgh with two of my closest friends. We saw the city, ate some incredible food, climbed a (quasi-)mountain, shopped till we dropped, and got even closer as a result of our three days together. What a perfect final trip. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Magical Mystery Tour

Step right up!  Step right up!  All aboard the Magical Mystery Tour!  No... really.  If you're as huge of a Beatles fan as I am, then Liverpool is the place for you!  Down by the Albert Docks is everything you need, whether you're a day tripper or plan on staying a long, long, long time.  But enough Beatles references.  Even for those of you who don't know much about The Beatles, you may enjoy some of the things Liverpool has to offer, both Beatle related and non-Beatle related. 

The main stop for Beatles fans should be the Beatles Story Museum.  This is a great museum for those who know a lot about the band as well as those that know very little.  Each room is set up to represent a time in the band's career.  For example, one of the first rooms is a street scene from Hamburg, Germany, where The Beatles spent a decent amount of time in their early career.  The floor was made of cobblestones, and the wall was a replication of the front of the club they used to play at.  Even all of the signs were in German.  And I mean all of the signs.  Even the ones explaining what the room represented were in German.  Following the Hamburg scene were scenes from the Cavern Club, the Abbey Road Recording Studio, the airplane they took to America, and--what we affectionately refer to as--the hall of screaming girls.  After the hall of screaming girls, which was a hallway with the video of The Beatles' arrival at JFK with mirrors so you felt surrounded by fans, was the room that ended their early career.  It had a wall of their singles from the time, and against one wall was a replica of Shea Stadium, the venue of one of their best known concerts.  After leaving the world before Revolver behind, you entered the psychedelic years.  It starts off with Eleanor Rigby's grave in front of the gates of Strawberry Fields (both real things in Liverpool) before you turn to see a life size, three-dimensional cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and a cardboard cut-out of the Magical Mystery Tour bus, complete with walrus.  And if that wasn't enough to blow your socks off, there's a yellow submarine.  An actual yellow submarine.  That you can walk through.  Complete with periscope and portholes.  I must admit that it is entirely too awesome for words.  When you exit the submarine, you come to the last stage in The Beatles' legacy.  The break-up.  The room is pretty bare except for memorabilia and photos from their early career on one wall, and a giant photo of the concert on top of Apple Studios on the other.  The story continues in the next room, however, with each corner of the room dedicated to each Beatle.  Paul's corner is set up like a stadium and focuses on his continuing music career; Ringo's corner focuses on his acting career and has movie posters all over the walls; George's corner is set up to reflect his involvement with Indian culture; and John's corner is about the protest in bed, complete with protest signs and pillows to sit on.  The final room is a memorial to John Lennon.  Everything is white, and a replica of the White Room from his New York apartment is set up with the song Imagine playing in the background.  I almost cried.  I restrained myself, though.

The front of the yellow submarine
The tour bus
The Beatles class at Penny Lane
And if that isn't enough Beatle activity for you, might I suggest taking a Magical Mystery Tour?  For those of you who have seen and remember the movie of the same name, it looks exactly like that bus.  But without all the odd characters and strong drug influence.  This tour takes you around to all of the Beatles related sights in the city such as all of their houses, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, and the Cavern Club.  It's chalk full of information about the Fab Four and their lives before they were famous.  It's completely worth the journey, believe me.

And now for those of you who aren't Beatles fans.  There's still a lot to do in Liverpool.  Down by the Albert Docks is a Maritime Museum, the Museum of Liverpool, the Tate Liverpool (an art museum), and the International Slavery Museum.  And if you're just a fan of architecture and design, than you should definitely visit the Anglican Cathedral and the Catholic Cathedral.  The Anglican Cathedral, built in 1901, has one of the tallest towers in the UK; on a clear day, you can see all the way to Wales!  In direct contrast, the Catholic Cathedral, or the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, is a modern building that was recently voted one of the ugliest building in the world by CNN.  Apparently, the voters never saw it in sunlight because the stain glass is simply breathtaking.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

So there you have it.  Liverpool has a little something for everyone no matter what you like.  However, if you're a Beatles fan, Liverpool is heaven!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Travel Confessions

I’ve lived at Harlaxton Manor for almost three months now, and I’ve traveled every weekend. My trips have varied between daytrips to nearby towns, like York and Lincoln, to weekend trips to foreign countries, like Sweden and Ireland. In all of this, I’ve learned that travel can be exciting and wonderful— but, I’ve also learned that it can be exhausting and stressful.
There are definitely some things I wish I had been better prepared for before traveling Europe. To help upcoming Harlaxton students, or just inspiring travelers, I’ve compiled a few tips from my own travel mistakes.

1.      Don’t travel in large groups.

Traveling in a group of more than five gets tricky for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s difficult to get everyone to agree on travel plans. Secondly, huge groups of Americans carrying maps and cameras definitely stand out in a foreign country, and the local people will know you’re tourists (which is bad for pick-pocketing). Thirdly, trying to keep track of everyone is hard to do in a busy train station or city street— and since not everyone is navigating, you certainly don’t want to leave anyone behind. I’ve traveled in large groups and small groups, and small groups (2 to 5 people) are undoubtedly what I’d recommend.

2.      Wherever you’re going, always check hours of operation.

When my friends and I went to Sweden for the weekend, we flew back to London late Sunday night (opposed to the morning or afternoon) because the flight was over $100 less expensive. The problem was, King’s Cross doesn’t have any trains back to Grantham between midnight and 6 a.m. We figured that was no problem— we would catch a 6 a.m. train on Monday morning, and just sleep at the train station. Imagine our surprise when, at almost 2 a.m., we arrived on the dark street of King’s Cross to find ourselves locked out. Because we were the first train of the morning, we were essentially homeless for four hours, and almost everywhere in London was closed.

Thankfully, we had stayed at a nearby hotel a few weeks prior, and were able to keep warm and safe in the hotel’s lobby. Though everything ended up fine, it was honestly one of the scariest experiences I’ve had, and definitely taught me a lesson: don’t assume things, especially when you’re traveling. If you’re not sure, always check. 

3.      Plan some, but not too much.

On my trip to Switzerland, we visited the Swiss Alps, which was a two hour drive from our hostel. We were all excited at the prospects of skiing, sledding, and paragliding. We discovered it would be cheaper to drive there instead of taking a train, but we waited until the morning of to try to rent a car. By the time we reached the airport to pick-up our rental and complete all the necessary paperwork, we were behind schedule— just to get lost on our way to the Alps. We didn’t arrive at the mountains after 2 p.m., and when we went to sign up for our activities, we were disappointed to find out that the ski slopes closed at 4 p.m. With the cost of skiing in Switzerland around $80, we couldn’t justify the price for only two hours of time on the slopes. Though it was still a great day just seeing the Swiss Alps and exploring, I’m definitely regretful that we didn’t plan more thoroughly.

Alternatively, though, avoiding planning too much as well. The first trip I took into London, I was intent on seeing everything in the city— and though I practically did, I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much because I tried to do too many things, and was exhausted by the first day. Flexibility is a good trait of a traveler. It’s great to be well-researched and have some concrete plans, but don’t be upset if they fall through. Some of the best experiences I’ve had— like going to a nice pub in Ireland, or taking a drive into Germany— weren’t planned at all.

4.      When you pack, remember you’ll spend time carrying it around.

If you expect to be walking around the city a lot with your luggage, take a backpack, not a suitcase. I had this problem in Sweden— we checked out of our hostel at 11 a.m., but our flight didn’t leave until 10 p.m., so I had to wheel my suitcase through the city all day (which gets inconvenient quickly). And speaking of backpacks, after some soreness and a few backaches, you learn not to over pack. You can go one weekend with just the bare minimum (and afterwards, you’ll start to appreciate all the things you have that much more).

5.      Sometimes it is better to pay more.

Here are the things that, within reason, you should pay more for: a safe or clean hostel/hotel, better flights, authentic food or drinks, and good quality souvenirs.

                                            Authentic Bangers 'n mash (sausage and potatoes) from Ireland!

                                           Swiss chocolate from Switzerland (I wonder how much will
                                                    make it home?)

Remember, though, that no matter how well you plan for a trip there will be a few snags along the way. But don’t fret! These make you a better and smarter traveler, and despite all the mistakes I’ve made, I’m glad I experienced them. They’ve only made me a more responsible adult, and I can go home next month knowing that I’ve not only had extraordinary experiences and seen beautiful things, but I’ve grown as person as well. And really, what more could you ask for?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Hostile Hostels?

Hello and welcome to another edition of Mythbusters: Studying Abroad!  Today we will be looking at the much discussed topic of staying in a hostel.  The American perception of hostels is not entirely a good one.  We tend to picture a large, open room with two to three dozen beds and malicious people lying in wait to steal everything we own.  This is not entirely true.  Hostels do often put several bunk beds in every room, but I haven't been in a room with more than 14 beds.  This may seem like a lot to you, but just because there are 14 beds does not mean there are 14 people staying in the room.  Also, most people staying in the hostel won't give your things a second glance.  When travelling you should really only have toiletries and clothes, and who's really going to want your dirty laundry?  90% of people staying in hostels are poor, travelling college students who just need a place to stay for the night and, let's face it, it would be a waste of time and energy trying to find anything expensive in a broke college student's backpack.  Of course, this doesn't mean that you should leave all of your things strewn about your bed.  You should always keep your money, passport, and other important documents on you at all times, but this doesn't mean you have to sleep clutching your purse.  Putting it right next to your bed, or (if you're in the top bunk) by your head should be enough to deter any would-be thieves, especially if you're a light sleeper.  However, if you're still worried about it, hostels usually have lockers or cubbies with padlocks that you can rent.

YHA hostel in Cardiff
Still don't believe that hostels aren't as scary as they seem?  Maybe you just need to find the right hostel for you.  YHA (Youth Hostel Association) hostels are geared more toward families and college students.  The rooms aren't mixed (meaning there are both boys and girls sleeping there), so you never have to worry about catching cooties.  The rooms are always very clean, and the staff is very friendly.  Sometimes, these hostels are even themed to bring out your inner nerd.  For instance, the YHA hostel we stayed at in Cardiff had rooms named after the actors who had played various doctors in Doctor Who (my friends got it.  I didn't).  Beds in places like these are usually £15 a night, but that's the usual rate.  However, YHAs sometimes have a minimum stay requirement (meaning you have to stay there at least two nights), and they might not be in the city you want to travel to.  Therefore, you might have to be more adventurous in your hostel booking. 

Hootananny Hostel and Pub
If you like having a good sense of community, you might want to try a hostel that offers both temporary and semi-permanent bookings.  In places like these the people are very friendly and out-going.  As soon as you walk in there are half a dozen people making your acquaintance and showing you incredible hospitality.  You won't meet a nicer bunch of people than the group at the Hootananny Hostel in Brixton (near London).  Before you know it you'll be swept up into a dinner date with some of the other hostel residents.  Not homey enough for you yet?  The walls are painted with beautiful designs and the bedding actually comes in colors and patterns.  Still not enough?  Did I mention there's a puppy?  A very happy, fluffy puppy that never stops wagging?  There is.  However, semi-permanent hostels can usually be slightly run down or double as another venue to bring in more revenue.  The Hootananny, for instance, is above a pub that has live music over the weekends.  While you can't really hear the music in your room, you can feel the floor vibrate under your feet.  In short, if you don't like the night-life or are a very light sleeper these sorts of places might not be for you.

Heroes Hotel with the Heroes Fish and Chip Shop below
Finally, we come to the final option I've run across in my travels.  The hotel that's so cheap it can't really be considered a hotel and should, therefore, be referred to as a hostel.  You can find a super cheap room in a hotel if you look hard enough.  In places like these you can get a private room for you and your friends and, sometimes, even have your own bathroom.  You're the only one with a key so you don't have to worry about anyone coming in and taking your things while you're gone.  It give you a nice peace of mind if you get overly stressed when you travel.  However, there are draw-backs for these places as well.  The old phrase "you get what you pay for" comes to mind, and, since you don't pay very much, you don't get very much.  The Heroes Hotel in Newcastle is a perfect example of this.  You get a private room with a bathroom, but that's where the amenities end.  There is no hot water (both faucets were labelled cold, and they were), no soap, no towels, no heat, and no room to move.  Likewise, the window was broken, and the top bunk was held together with what looked like chicken wire and plastic ties.  But again, you get what you pay for, and you get peace of mind.

So, the myth that hostels are super scary and should be avoided at all costs: busted.  As long as you book the hostel that's right for you, you can have a very enjoyable experience.  Also, don't believe everything you see on TV.  I blame Eurotrip for this myth...

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Oh, The Places You'll Go

In honor of March being the month of two of the most important birthdays in literary history--Dr. Suess' and my own (of course) I've given this post a nice Suess-ian title. It also happens to be an incredibly relevant one.

By now, we're more than halfway through the semester and we've all got a lot of traveling under our belts. I'd even like to think I'm starting to understand the things I never thought I would--how to properly purchase a train ticket, how to book flights with Ryanair, and how to pack light enough to get ON said flights with Ryanair. I'm even getting the hang of the constant activity involved with jetting off to other countries or far off cities every weekend.

In front of the Roman Baths
It's still so difficult to believe the opportunities I've had when it comes to travel this semester. Already I've been to Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. I've gone to countless cities in England, including London, Bath, Nottingham, and Stratford Upon Avon. Just today we hopped in a shuttle and drove off for the D.H Lawrence birthplace museum for a little weekend field trip. It's amazing what simply being in another country can inspire you to do.

In just a few short months, I've had a world of firsts--my first time on a plane, my first time on a train, and my first time leaving the United States. I've seen things that, a few years back, I would never have imagined. I've seen Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge, the Roman Baths, countless castles and cathedrals and things older than I ever could have imagined.

But as I'm learning, traveling isn't just about what you see, hear, eat, and occasionally touch. It's also about learning a new way to relate to the world around you. It's about talking to people in shops, in pubs, on the street. It's about getting to know the people you travel with in a completely different way than you get to know people on a day to day basis. It's about taking things slow, spending days at a time off the internet, and getting to know the sound of your own thoughts as you experience a world of firsts.

Chilling with Falstaff in Stratford Upon Avon
I've seen a lot of things. I've been a lot of places. And there's so much more on ahead--this weekend, I'm heading to Germany, where my friend and fellow blogger Gina will be the only one of us who speaks German. The weekend after that, I'm going to turn 20 in London, of all places! After that, I'm flying to Spain to see how much good those high school and freshmen year Spanish lessons will do me. Maybe I should have given myself time to stop and breathe and take a weekend off in the manor, but if I've learned anything thus far, it's that I love going to new places, seeing new things, and yes, even meeting new people.

Those elementary and middle school teachers who said I needed to "come out of my shell" would probably be shocked if they could see me now, and I'm genuinely loving every minute of it. No, it doesn't always go smoothly, but it's always an adventure and I can tell I'm going to be a lot more independent from now on. When it gets down to it, going places doesn't just teach you about those places--it teaches you a little bit about yourself, too.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Living the (British) Life

I feel like I've done it all.

I've mixed myself into the British culture, and it's no longer weird that I'm in England. I can go into Grantham on my own and find the grocery. I can even navigate the grocery itself! It's not strange when I see cars on the left side of the road. I've finally figured out which coins are worth 50p and which are worth 10. I've decided on the fastest ways to class with the least amount of stairs. I've taken a train (successfully, I might add) from London back to Harlaxton all by myself.

And now I've seen a Shakespeare play.

I can go home happy.

As a literature major, I was ecstatic that our Shakespeare class was "required" to go to Stratford. I use the term "required" loosely because I'm almost certain that everyone in the class would gladly go even if it weren't mandatory.

Though I was disappointed with the commercialized look of Stratford-Upon-Avon, I still was overjoyed by the fact that I got to go and walk on the same floors Shakespeare himself did (as well as some really other awesome folks like Tennyson, Emerson, and Twain, to name a few).

(To the right is Shakespeare's Birthplace, or his family home. I was there! I was at Shakespeare's house! I don't care how cheesy it was, it was still really amazing that I was in the same building the Bard himself was!)

 I was a super-tourist and am now the proud owner of not one, but two Shakespeare T-shirts. It's a good thing my friends dragged me out of the store when they did, otherwise I would also own a big mug covered in Shakespearian insults and a few other oddities that I really fell in love with.

(To the left is me with the King Lear statue in the gardens of Nash's House, who was Shakespeare's last descendant - his granddaughter I think. King Lear is my absolute favorite Shakespeare play!)

That night, we saw Measure for Measure, one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays because of its controversial subject matter, in which premarital sex is outlawed, and you can be punishable by death for breaking this law. I absolutely loved it. From the actors to the costumes to the weird S&M-style production, I loved every minute of it. The costumes were modernized, but added so much to the play itself, exhibiting who had power, who was evil, and who the audience should fall in love with. I found myself literally almost falling out of my seat (we were on the second-floor gallery around on stage left, so it was a bit hard to see at times) to see what was going on and how certain characters would react.

After my wonderful experience in Stratford, I truly feel like I've done it all. I've conquered England. I can go home.

Of course, I'm not entirely ready, as I still have Germany and Italy ahead of me that are waiting to be explored. It just feels strange at this point, 5 weeks to the end of the semester, because I am starting to think about America again. How weird it will be for cars to be back on the right side. How I'll have to drive if I want to go anywhere. How (thank goodness) I won't have to calculate currency differences when buying something. It just seems weird that when things will supposedly be going "back to normal," I won't think they're normal at all anymore.

My friends at home wanted me to come home with a British accent. While I don't think that would ever happen (courtesy of my oh-so-stereotypically southern family), maybe I am really starting to assimilate into the culture here. It's very strange and exciting at the same time.

Harlaxton really is becoming home, and it's a place I can come to and collapse in my bed after a long weekend of traveling and feel completely relaxed. It's really wonderful knowing that I have this comfort and this ease in a place that's so far away from southern Indiana.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Friendship: The Best Link to a Culture

As a student who lives in a manor with other American students, British friends are hard to come by. During the week, schoolwork is such a priority that we often stay on the college grounds, making sure our to-do lists are completed for the weekend ahead. Because of this, we rarely get submersed in British culture like I imagined. Thankfully, an organization on campus found a solution to this.
The organization is called BASIC— which stands for Brothers and Sisters in Christ. It’s a Christian group that studies the Bible, sings worship songs and hymns, and provides support and accountability for one another. During one of our first meetings, a pastor from a local church came and led a Bible study. Afterwards, he casually mentioned to the group that one of his church plants in Lincoln, Lincolnshire was having a Christian retreat. He then offered us an opportunity that many American students don’t have: to spend an entire weekend with over one hundred college British students. Though I was nervous, and had no idea what to expect, it was an opportunity I would never have again. I knew I had to sign up.
I’m so thankful that I did; the retreat was phenomenal. The weekend was full of laughter, music, hot chocolate, and snow! My first night there, I played a card game called Pitt and ate sweets with my British roommates and their friends. We had fun learning about each other's culture. In England, rain boots are called “wellies,” minstrels are a type of chocolate (not a variety show), and candy is always called sweets (one of my friends asked, “What do you consider a candy bar?”). I ate toad in the hole— which is sausage in batter with potatoes and gravy— and learned how to make squash, a sugary liquid that only requires a cupful and then is mixed with water and deluded. (My first time making it, I filled the entire pitcher full of squash— only to find my British friends horrified that I almost drank it!). I learned more about British culture in those two days than I had in the entire semester.

Apart from the many cultural differences, though, I learned that no matter where you’re from, friends are such an indispensable part of life. This past Saturday, I traveled back to Lincoln to spend the day with my friends from the retreat. That morning, they met me at the train station (they knew I was nervous about traveling alone) and we took a quick tour around their campus. I saw two of their flats (what Americans call apartments), and we compared them to my college dorm back home. Other than their teapots and drying racks (they rarely use tumble dryers), we live similarly, just trying to do the best we can in small, but cozy space. Next we had lunch at a café (I had a delicious tuna pasta), walked around the shops, saw the Lincoln Cathedral, and stopped for a leisurely tea break in the late afternoon. We grabbed a quick dinner before going back to the train station, where they graciously— and quite expertly— helped me arrange my train ride back to the Grantham.

It was a lovely day, and though I’ve spent weekends traveling to other countries and seeing magnificent sights, the time I’ve spent with my British friends will be something I cherish above it all. The friendships I’ve made here are something that I can hold onto when I return home, and my breathtaking pictures become… just pictures. My friends have linked me with this culture, and it’s been wonderful learning so many new things.

So, to my brilliant British mates— Judy, Rachel, Minnie, Rei, Sophie, Olivia, Beth, and Emma— I’m so happy to have met you. Thank you for everything! (Or, as you guys would say, cheers!)