Sunday, 30 September 2012

Living Life on the Edge [Edinburgh, Scotland]

How a weekend getaway turned into a lifetime experience.

By: Gloria Atanmo

When I booked this trip to Scotland, I didn't know what to expect. Sure I’d run into a couple men in skirts kilts and bagpipes; but I had no idea exactly what type of treat I was in for. Besides being forewarned about their "indecipherable accents", I had to prepare myself and learn some key words from the Scottish language. So I asked my friend Josh (who had gone there the week prior), what the percentage was of Scottish people who spoke English. He gives me the blankest stare and says “About 100%”. Oh ignorance, how cute it can be sometimes. Surely I wasn’t the only ill-advised, misinformed, and culturally-challenged soul out there. Leave it to Google to restore some faith in myself and my shared ignorance :)

So as I’m perusing Princes street, I start hearing scattered chants.  Camera in hand, I walk down the hill to the blue sea of Scottish flags and I’m completely floored by what I see. The people, the skirts kilts, the flags, the passion -- all so empowering! I stayed for a couple hours listening to the speeches, making small talk with the locals, and taking in the fact that I am experiencing history as it’s being made. Who knows what will come of this in the future, I just know I picked a good weekend to visit!

Now, living in a place that's constantly compared to the castle of Hogwarts, I thought I’d drop into the Elephant House cafe, which was the very place J.K. Rowling wrote her first couple Harry Potter novels -- getting inspiration from looking out the window towards Edinburgh Castle. How cool is that? It’s a very cute and quaint coffee shop and I'm glad I spent all of 1.5 hours trying to track down this overpriced notorious place. Worth it!

After I’m all rallied out, I decide to go ahead and make that visit to see Arthur -- or his seat, rather. For those that don’t know, Arthur's Seat is a mountain that was once a volcano, and is currently the highest point of Edinburgh, Scotland. A view to die for (almost literally), as it overlooks the entire city and neighboring seas, on the oh-so-very steep climb to the top. The hour-long hike it takes to get there is absolutely NO joke. And when I titled this Living Life on the Edge, you will soon see why.

Sidenote: I have been deathly afraid of heights for as long as I can remember. So I didn’t have any idea how steep the climb would be, nor how close to the edge I would be for a long, long stretch. I had a large tote back on me, less-than-able boots, and my bulky Canon SLR camera to capture the moments along the way. What I thought would be a cute, little stroll through the park mountain hike wasn't at all what I ended up experiencing...
It wasn’t until I got about a third of the way up there (on the steepest stretch) that I started to panic. That vulnerability of being alone while facing your biggest fear, on a mountain, and two wrong steps to my right from experiencing my last moments on earth... it all kind of hit me at once. Mind you, there was still subsiding mud and residue from the rain the prior days, and I had already slipped a few times on the lower steps. What looked like an amazing venture turned into a death trap. There was nobody out in front of me for a few hundred yards, and if there was anybody behind me, they were nowhere in sight either. I was alone. I was exhausted. I was falling into a deep and dark mental hole of fear and doubt, while my emotions are running rampant at this point. The same emotions I had been trying to bottle up for the past month come rushing through my eyes in their salt-water form.

Most people don't know this, but about a week before I departed for Harlaxton in August, my father passed away in a diabetic coma. But during the time, I had to be strong for my mother as she was in the most pain and I knew my emotions wouldn’t help the situation. So I held it in. I stomached the pain. For her. And Harlaxton served as a great way to occupy my mind ever since. But on this day that I climbed Arthur’s Seat, was the same day as my Dad’s Wake-Keeping ceremony back in the states. I know I should’ve been there. All of a sudden, I feel this big hole inside. I missed my family. And all the people who came to Arizona today to celebrate his life and mourn his death. And here I was -- alone. An emotional wreck. Ready to give up on a seamless hike up a mountain. 

Get it together, Glo! 
You didn't climb this far to let your fear and doubt take over -- you MUST continue! And I did. Not for me. For him. MY DAD. Thirty minutes later, I am feeling the victorious flows of energy throughout my body. I am again overwhelmed with emotions; this time a mix of joy and sorrow. I knew coming to Harlaxton wasn’t a mistake. What I didn’t know, was the personal growth and spiritual journeys I’d be encountering along the way. Not everyone gets a chance to experience a "mountain-top" kind of moment. And I am so thankful I did. It was the exact closure I needed and I hope he looked down and saw the message I made for him. What made it even more special was the connection to the internal mountain I've personally been trying to climb in life, and how I was able to live out the very thing I'm battling inside. The feeling is indescribable. 

After I'm done reflecting, I start making my way down, another thing I underestimated the difficulty of. Fast-forward a couple bad decisions later, and I’m straddled between two rocks on opposite sides (because the genius inside saw a small hole of opportunity in this). A very nice lady calls out to me, asking if I need help. Wondering how God answered my silent prayer so quickly, I respond and toss over my large carry-on bag that easily added 30 pounds to my one hundred and blah-blah pound self that I had been lugging around all morning. I’m able to catch my balance and steady myself from there.

We make small talk on the way down and I decide to just follow her because 1) she clearly knew what she was doing and probably had a better route to the ground and 2) I needed someone on stand-by to call the ambulance if I suddenly operated with two left feet again. I’m not sure what it is about traveling independently that I enjoy, but I would say a part of it is forcing myself to come outside of my comfort zone and experience things on my own. The familiarity with the U.S. is nice and all, but I love a good adventure. I
’m getting a great vibe from Laura (life-saver from the mountain); she was super sweet and we continued to converse as she insisted on carrying my heavy bag all the way down with her. What a Godsend! She then invited me over for some home-cooked haggis (a traditional Scottish food I would’ve overpaid a restaurant to cook for me) anyway. YES!!! She was also hosting a foreign exchange student, Charlene from Beijing, who was with us on the climb down as well, so it was cool for two out-of-towners to experience a home-made Scottish meal together. Later on, she invited me to a pub with her and her friends that night to watch a local live band -- they were AMAZING! Not to mention she lived in a flat that was 5 minutes from my hostel! Seriously, who set this up behind the scenes. The friendliness I experienced with her was reflected on all of my other encounters with Scottish people. I love how warm and welcoming they are.

Words fail me when it comes to how much I've fallen in love with the European culture. My friends back home joke around that I better not mess around and end up staying here. And while the sentiment is funny, wouldn't it be something to see that come into fruition? Relying on my less than accurate sense of direction, locals, maps, and wi-fi pubs, is a bit more than just a thrill. It's living life on the edge! I’ve met so many amazing people in the last month from Australia, Poland, Italy, Brazil, Paris, Ireland, Scotland, and Spain. And their cultures, their accents, their lifestyles just fascinate me to the highest extent. I’m aware not everyone in their life will get to experience this -- which is why I take in every single moment and capture every single picture I can. Because it’s not about what I experience personally, it’s about what I can pass on to the next person to inspire them to travel, explore, or take a leap outside of their own comfort zone and do something remarkable in life.

Don’t forget to leave comments and feedback! I love hearing from you all and hope you're enjoying this exciting period of my life. Until next time...



Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Search for King Richard III of England

The Search for King Richard III of England

           Richard III ruled England from 1483 until he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, fending off the invading army of Henry Tudor. This battle is considered to be the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses. His body is believed to have been taken to the church of a Franciscan friary known as Greyfriars and buried. However, the location of the church was lost when, in 1538, King Henry VIII abolished the monasteries.

Today archaeologists believe that a car lot in Leicester was once the site of Greyfriars. On 24 August 2012, the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society, joined forces in the search for the mortal remains of the King. The archaeology team is led by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), and they are working with British historian Dr. John Ashdown-Hill. Dr. Ashdown-Hill has tracked down the bloodline of Richard III in the 21st century through the use of genealogical research. The archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to determine the best spots to break ground and during their excavations, they discovered the remains of what they believe to be Greyfriars, the cloisters, and chapter house. Their excavations were focused on the centre of the church, typically the choir area, where it was indicated that Richard was interred.
            The Archaeologists’ Goals:
·          To determine the location of the church on the site and where Richard III’s body might be in the church.
·         To learn more about medieval Leicester as well as learning about Richard III's last resting place.

           It was announced on 12 September 2012, that the archaeologist discovered two skeletons, one female and one adult male. The male skeleton had an arrow-head embedded in its back and received blows to the skull consistent with injuries received in battle. Some sources record Richard III being pulled from his horse and killed with a blow to the head. The skeleton also showed severe scoliosis or curvature of the spine.
            Evidence that this skeleton may be that of Richard III is starting to mount up, prompting more investigations and testing. The best clue that links this skeleton to Richard III is the severe scoliosis, which would have made the right shoulder appear higher than the left when the man was alive. However, the skeleton does not have kyphosis, or a hunchback as Richard III has been portrayed in historical, literary and media works. Even if the skeleton does not have kyphosis, the severe scoliosis could in fact be what people at the time thought was a hunched back. Philippa Langley, a member of the Richard III Society, stated that if the skeleton is Richard III his remains will be properly buried in Leicester Cathedral.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Adventure is worthwhile. --Amelia Earhart

Adventure is worthwhile?

I have proof.

Every day, every moment has been an experience.  My journal, camera, facebook page, and mind are overflowing with memories.  Some are small (two British ladies told my friend and I that our accents were lovely!) and some are rather large (I went to the Paralympics!).  I've been here nearly a month, and the priceless memories I've had are already too many to count.  I'll share some of my favorites, showing that adventure is truly worthwhile.

I'll start with my semester home.  I don't mind bragging about my British Castle.  I actually live here, in the grand Harlaxton Manor!  It's still hard to believe.  I walk through history every day and have classes in gorgeous state rooms.  I study in the stunning conservatory and outside, overlooking the manor and beautiful Harlaxton grounds.  Pictures don't even do this building and grounds justice.

My camera is my almost constant companion.  I never know when a photo opportunity may arise!

Although my summer was mostly filled with talk of travel, I am also excited about my classes.  Call me a nerd, but I love learning.  And here, it isn't difficult; in fact, it's impossible not to learn from simple everyday experiences!  I am becoming more familiar with English customs and word differences.  Now I top up my mobile instead of adding minutes to my cell.  I don't jump the queue instead of not cutting in line.  I now respond appropriately when asked "ya alright?" instead of wondering if I look blue.  A new country sure comes with fun challenges!

My first travel experience (except the trip over the ocean!) was to London.  I took a train for the first time, as well as the underground train system in London, the tube.  And I completed one of my London goals:  ride on the top of a red double-decker bus!  The red buses, red telephone booths, and Pret a Manger restaurants were everywhere!  If I try to sum up London in a word, I come up with FABULOUS.  I saw so much but yet so little!  I'm convinced I would have to stay at least a month to see it all.

The first evening there, my friend and I walked the less than 10-minute walk from where we were staying to Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, Big Ben, and Parliament.  I was pleasantly surprised it was all so close together!  Seeing these places at night was simply beautiful.

On Friday, I spent the entire day at the Paralympics!  This was definitely an opportunity of a lifetime.  My friends and I watched sitting volleyball, judo, table tennis, and powerlifting.

 There was high energy and country pride galore in the venue!  I was truly inspired by these athletes.  They completed great feats, and several events left me with my mouth hanging open.

I was fortunate to get to see a medal ceremony following a judo competition (though even after watching a couple of hours throughout the day, I still do not understand the sport!).  Witnessing the athletes receive their medals, watching the flags of their countries lower, and hearing the winning national anthem play was a priceless experience.

The next day, I was able to continue my Paralympics excitement by attending a celebration in Trafalgar Square.  Live bands rotated with live coverage of the events.  It was awesome to be amongst the shouts of "team GB!" and to see so many people gathered together for the great event.

I'm convinced London can never get boring.  We simply walked through the streets, through Piccadilly Circus, on Regent Street, and through central London.  The buildings were just beautiful, and I simply loved the atmosphere.  It was cheap, cultural entertainment!  One of my favorite moments was meeting an artist at the Covent Garden marketplace, buying one of his prints, asking him to sign it and getting a picture with him.  We had a lovely conversation, and this is one of my favorite parts of studying abroad:  connecting with others, bonding over the fact that we are unique individuals and valuing and learning from our differences.  Ah, souls interacting!  I love it.

We ended our visit by seeing the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.  Just writing that makes it hit me again.  I saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.  Holy cow.

I'm being silly and holding a Buckingham Palace guard!
Back at the manor, life is anything but ordinary.  Yes, I go to class, but the learning continues in every moment.  I always have something to look forward to.  Later posts will continue the excitement!

Signing out from Harlaxton Manor--

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Our first 3 weeks in England!

Yes-- that's the view from my new bedroom window. WOW is all I can say. Words can't even do it justice so I'll let the picture talk for itself. It's only been 3 weeks into the semester, but it feels like I have been here for months. We have already done so much in such a short period of time, and there is still so much to come before this amazing semester ends. I still cannot believe I'm living and studying in England, the place I have always dreamed of visiting. I never imagined I would actually be living here.... and in a MANOR! Or as I like to refer to it as my castle (which everyone back home HATES, but I love it). I'm still trying to get used to waking up for 8:30am British Studies lecture, which is quite difficult for someone who has never had a college class before 11am. And living in the same room with 3 girls is definitely different. But honestly, who could complain. Just take a look outside your window and any little problem you think you have feels like it doesn't even matter.

Harlaxton Sunset
After settling in after a long and exhausting Thursday and Friday, we had a High Table Dinner on Saturday. We were introduced to the faculty and staff of Harlaxton. Also, the students got to talk and know each other with the random seating arrangements. This is where I met almost all of the friends I have today. I'm very thankful that we had this dinner because I came here not knowing anybody, and I met people that night I know will be life-long friends.
(from the left) Morgan Stone, Me (Courtney Leer), Dayna Johnson, Nikki Woolston
Bag Pipe at Dinner
And of course after the dinner ended, we decided to venture out into Grantham to see what the night life was about. We went to Gravity (night club), Bar Code (which was recommended by our Street Car driver), and then The Late Lounge. We met many some new friends from Grantham that night, too.

The next weekend after classes started, we left for London. On Thursday night, we departed from the manor and drove to London by coach. Once we got to London, we marched up the hill to our hostel. This was my first experience staying in a hostel. From the movies and stories others had about hostels, it was safe to say that I was not only nervous, but pretty scared! Luckily, my hostel stay was neither scary nor nerve-wracking. Our room fit 12 girls, with bunk beds 3 people high. It also had one shower, two sinks, and two outlets-- definitely not my favorite part about the hostel, but we were so busy having fun it didn't even matter. 

After we got settled in our hostel (more like threw our stuff into the cubby and took off) we were all starving and wanted to find a place to eat. Then, realizing it was nearly 11pm and all the pubs were closed, we decided on McDonald's. And that was probably the best idea of our entire stay because guess who else decided to eat McDonald's... in London..... at the same time......and same place. HARRY STYLES. Yes, of One Direction. My roommate, Emily, even has proof.

The next morning, Rebecca Kish and I decided to explore London. We took the tube, bright and early (6AM), to go to the Paralympics. Sit-down volleyball, men's judo, and table tennis were the Excel events we decided to watch. 
sit down volleyball

After spending a few hours there, we took the London Underground to the Camden markets. This is where we ate and shopped. And let me say- the markets in Camden were GREAT.

After we were done exploring Camden, we made our way to the heart of London to take a ride on the London Eye. The views and photographs we got while riding were absolutely beautiful. And luckily the waiting time was not as bad as we thought, considering the line was extremely long.

And on the way back to the hostel from The Eye, we were figuring out which train we needed to take back to the hostel and saw a man that was letting people hold an Olympic Torch from the London 2012 games. How cool?! Of course I HAD to get a picture with it! 

On Saturday we decided to take the Red Bus Tour and visits various sites, such as the Houses of Parliment, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and of course, my favorite, Buckingham Palace. I was so excited to see the changing of the guards, but it was not happening the day we went. I'm hoping when I go back with my mother in early October I will get to see them, and maybe Prince William & Harry (I could only wish).... But then again we did run into One Direction, so ANYTHING is possible in London!

Riding around London on the Red Bus

Buckingham Palace

And what is coming to England and NOT taking a red phone booth picture. You just have to.

So then after a full day of London sightseeing, we decided to have a little fun and attend the Camden Pub Crawl. We heard it was the best pub crawl in London, so our course we had to make an appearance. We were nervous after hearing it was mostly just tourists who attend the crawl because we wanted to meet people from England, too. That was not the case, though. There were people from London and surrounding areas, too. 

Finally, we left London early Sunday morning and made our way to Hampton Court Palace and Runnymede (Magna Carta). After spending a few hours at those places, we came back to our home to get ready for classes bright and early Monday morning. It was a great weekend in London. I am in love with the city and I cannot wait to go back!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

If This is a Dream... Don't Wake Me Up!

Life on the other side of the pond. 

You know those dreams you have that are so real, you usually end up on the floor of your bedroom? You know, when you're in this mystical land riding your bike and all of a sudden a tree jumps in your path (something like that) and you're swerving out of control, only to in actuality, make a jerking move towards the floor of your bed? No? Yeah, me either. At any rate, if all this has been a dream, don't you DARE wake me up! There's really no simple way to definitively describe what an impact Harlaxton has had on me so far.

Home, Sweet Home :)
Everyday feels like a Friday here, because you never know what adventure awaits you. Not a day goes by that I don't stop in a hall, or look outside a window and think to myself "Wow, this is MY life right now." I REALLY live here!!! So bare with me as I attempt to walk you through a few of the most memorable moments from the last couple weeks!

Let's first talk about how I've never had to wake up earlier than 9AM for, oh let's see, ALL of my college career so far! I have never taken an 8:30AM class, let alone it being the subject of History, as I can't even name dates of anything past last year. And for those that don't know, there is a 6-credit British Studies course that's mandated for all students here. And surprise, surprise, it starts at 8:30AM. Reality check #1. Not to mention, I can't miss my beloved breakfast! So you have to tack on another hour earlier, so I can wake up in time to look somewhat presentable in this beloved facility of grounds I'm far from worthy to walk on. To the right, is an idea of the many alarms I have to set just to get myself up in the morning and ready to function on a day-to-day basis. 

The Conservatory
Speaking of class, you have to check out my favorite rooms in the manor. The Conservatory is by far the most relaxing place to be. You have an amazing view that overlooks the backyard garden and can catch the nice breeze through the openings while still having an indoor feel.
The Gold Room

The Gold Room to the right is where my Contemporary Leadership seminar is held with Professor Dan Harris. Between lectures, I often find myself gaping at the ceiling, hunting down the many intricate details of the artwork and inner architecture. I mean, the chandelier alone is enough to keep a toddler entertained for a couple hours. I'm sitting in a room fit for a king, worth more than Justin Bieber my life's savings will ever accumulate. Remember, I still kinda feel like I'm dreaming.

Now the picture on the left are my new friends Chelsea and Sara doing their best impersonation of a typical "American Tourist". We joked about how easy we are to spot as we carry these life-sized maps with us everywhere, staring at them, trying to interpret the foreign language of tubes and routes. In the middle picture, that's us having dinner at a cute and quaint restaurant off High Street Kensington called BALANS. And even though we were aware that in Europe, service charges are already added to our bills negating the need for gratuity, we thought it'd be nice to tip anyway since our waiter was so fun and accommodating. In the center, we included an American penny for them to either throw away given its uselessness, or cherish forever with the memories of those awesome Americans that came by -- probably the latter.

Oh and here I go again on the left; doing my best statue personification of the 2012 London Olympic Games Mascot. I could spend a good 30 minutes arguing the combination of animals this creature probably represents, but I don't want you to be taken back by my vast knowledge in zoology. So I'll spare you. And of course, one can't simply go to London without taking multiple pictures with the classic RED TELEPHONE BOOTH! I picked this up in Ways To Spot An American 101 ;-). Also, whatever Einstein-decendent decided on these helpful "Look Right" and "Look Left" street signs, you have saved more lives than you know! Everytime I crossed the street, I found myself looking the wrong direction, since their roads are the complete opposite of the U.S. So I started making it a habit to either look both ways, double-check the ground, or get behind a local and follow their lead. Needless to say, I'm alive thanks to those 3 strategies of foreign pedestrian survival. Holla!

Speaking of locals, man are they a pleasant bunch of people! Even as I'm roaming the streets, in my own little world, dazing at the breath-taking architecture, I'm getting honks, waves, a thumbs up, and all types of friendly gestures from random drivers and cars. As creepy as that may sound, it was about 13:00 in the afternoon, which is 7 hours earlier than the prime creeping hours (please do take note and commend my use of a 24 hour clock as the transition has been rough). I don't even remember how many times I stopped a local to make sure I was going the right way, or ask about a local attraction, and they completely dropped what they're doing, answered my question, offered more advice, and then engaged in some small talk. Who does that? Brits apparently! That type of hospitality is a rarity these days; once again restoring my fluctuating hope for humanity. And then I found it hilarious how some pointed out that I had such a strong accent. I thought to myself "actually YOU, SIR, are the one with the accent!" Fascinating how intrigued some people were with the "American dialect", and it was a mutual perspective as I can't get myself to call french fries (CHIPS) to save my life. Despite my mental lapses, I do know that whatever they do to their potatoes to make their fries chips come out so amazing, I. Am. Hooked! YUM.

Another highlight from my weekend in London was getting a chance to attend a Paralympic Event at the North Greenwich Arena -- something I will proudly share with my kids (assuming I don't go the 70 cats route). When you think about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it's so surreal until you're actually there. I was so inspired by all the athletes, not only physically, but mentally as well. It takes a certain type of person to pick up a pen and write a new chapter of their life, despite pages being torn or the cover of their book being destroyed (catch my drift here). These athletes didn't let their circumstances define their greatness. I left completely amazed and with a greater appreciation for the Paralympic Games. Now for the sake of your eyes and my fingers (mostly my fingers), we shall come to an end... for now at least. Thanks for reading, be sure to leave some comments so I can connect better with you all! I look forward to sharing more and I can't wait to continue this journey of non-stop excitement, thrill, and adventure. The picture below is pretty self-explanatory and now that I think about it -- you can go ahead and wake me up, because at this point, my reality is better than my dreams anyway ;-)