Friday, 30 November 2012

There's More to England Than London

It’s so hard to believe that my semester at Harlaxton is coming to an end. In just 5 days I will leave the manor for the last time to go home. As I look back on my time here I have all of the wonderful memories of the trips that I took and the friends that I made. Before I came to Harlaxton I kept getting asked when I was going to London. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, people at church, friends, and anyone else who happened to know that I was coming would ask me that question. I would smile and politely respond that I was going to GRANTHAM on August 24th. As I went through this I began to realize that many Americans don’t really know anything about England other than London. I would like to use my last blog post in England to share what England means to me and how my semester has shaped that.
                To start with, I should probably share my perceptions of England prior to my time here. For me England has always been simply the country that America ran away from. England was the place of pomp and circumstance and afternoon tea. After living in a beautiful manor house in the English countryside for 3 months, it’s fair to say that that has all changed. Now I see England as a place of history. It is a place where everything I see has more history than my entire country. The things I’ve seen here absolutely blow my mind. I’ve seen castles built by the Normans, forts built by the Romans, and legal documents that predate the United States by several centuries. Living here and seeing the history up close and personal has given me a great sense of what England really is. Still though, there is a difference between what England is and what it means to me.
                First and foremost, England will always mean the community that I’ve lived in here. Taking all of the trips that I’ve taken to see all of the things I’ve seen has been awesome. To be honest though, none of those trips would mean anything without the people I’ve gotten to share them with here. The community at Harlaxton College is the most unique and special group of people I’ve ever gotten to meet. I feel so blessed to have been a part of such an amazing group. When I got here, most of these people were strangers. Now that I’m leaving, they are my family. I love each and every one of them and I will miss them after we’ve gone home. The other thing that England means to me is personal change. While I’ve been here I have gotten involved with so many things that I never would have imagined. At the variety show, I performed on the piano. The thing that most of the crowd didn’t know is that I had never played any musical instrument for an audience before. I also got involved with the Harlaxton players. I ended up acting as Mr. Jackson in our murder mystery. Again I was doing something new as I had not been in any theatrical production since I was in elementary school. Just this week even, I performed with the Harlaxton Players improvisational comedy group. I had never considered myself to be a comedian and had never done comedy for others before. Being at Harlaxton has gotten me out of my shell. Looking back, I think that opening up and sharing my talents (or lack thereof) with my peers has been the best thing that’s happened to me at Harlaxton.
                That’s what England means to me. To all those reading this who have been to Harlaxton: I challenge you to really take a look at what it means to you. It is my deepest hope that England means as much to you as it does to me. To those who’ve never travelled here before: I challenge you to find something that means as much to you as England means to me and cherish that thing or the memory of that thing the way I will cherish my time in England. After living here for 3 months I can definitively state that Harlaxton is and forever will be my English home. To all of the students and staff of Harlaxton fall 2012: you have made my time here worthwhile and for that I thank you. Goodbye Harlaxton, you will always be in my heart.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

die Wiesn - München, Deutschland

It's 11:09 am and I’m in a plane somewhere above Germany. In an attempt to make it to Oktoberfest, we booked a Ryan air flight for "Munich West", without using Google maps to realize that the airport that is an hour and 30 minutes west of Munich, in a town called Memmingen. While Ryanair, is inexpensive, I’ve realized that you have to both Google map the airport to see if it is near the city you intend on going to and you also have to print your boarding passes out online before arriving at the airport, to avoid the 95 USD fee (because of this, I’ve mostly gone through Easyjet or even Wizzair).

In the lines (or queues, as they say here) for boarding, I was stuck behind two American girls from the states, going on about how their dads were funding their 1,000-euro per night (!) hotel.

Once on the ground in Memmigen, Jared and I began practicing our German to each other, half jokingly, considering my knowledge of the language is very limited. A few Americans soon asked us if we were German and could help them with the language.

Once our bus from Memmigen dropped us off in the heart of the capital of Bavaria, we were greeted with crowds of people and the occasional cross-eyed or stumbling morning goers of the fest. The first day we got there we walked around town visiting Frauenkirch, an old cathedral dating back to the 12th century. We stopped to grab sandwiches and pastries; to my surprise, the food in Germany was probably the best in comparison with any other country in Europe (my opinion). Accordingly, I splurged and wrecked my budget this weekend thanks to bratwurst, currywurst, walnut bread, tiramisu and pastries.

The process of getting into a tent at Oktoberfest without first having reservations was rough. First, you must pry past anyone in a crowd that is shouting to enter and holding up the fingers to show number of people in their party. After scooting to the front, we managed to assertively gain and entrance into the outside wall of the tent, where you can purchase a drink but must continue standing unless a table opens up. Once we were tired of the crowds, we went to restaurant nearby to avoid restroom queues. Here we met a group from Copenhagen, Denmark, who spoke English and one guy from South Africa who was living in London. They were pretty goofy and began telling us about life in Denmark and their travels so far. The following night the a similar chain of events happened with a group from
The United States who were working as military in Germany (some of which who were born in Philippines before moving to the States).

This group of Americans, wanted us to play the “random picture” game with them, which involves trying to be the most successful at walking up to a random group of people and asking them to take a photo with you. While in any other circumstances this might be seen as an extreme disruption of social norms, because it was Oktoberfest, people half-willingly stood in these pictures. With the help of our some-what local American friends, we found that the restroom signs in Germany are marked by "WC" not the box with a stick figure man and woman (which points out an elevator).

While we spent our nights bustling around Oktoberfest, we made an effort to explore Old Town and to see the National Theatre and The Residenz Museum, during the day. The Residenz Museum was a look into 16th century royal life and the Italian architecture that permeated Germany.

Another festival was in full swing while we were there, Ander Art Festival, which was held in Odeonplatz square, right by Theatine Church. There we were able to listen to German folk music and browse the foreign food tents (At the American food tent there was chili, American fries, and hamburgers). We wondered into Marienplatz (New Town Hall) in time for the 11 am, 43-bell ceremony, a tradition of dates back to the 17th century—where Germans celebrated the passing of the plague-- but we quickly moved on during the show in order to walk all over central Munich. We took the metro stop to Olympia Park to see the location of the 1972 Olympics. The park was a nice break from the city, with quaint racquetball courts, coffee shops, bikers and a couple of teenage kids on skateboards. 

While we saved money by booking the trip in advance, it is still a costly venture to go to Munich for Oktoberfest, and there were also a huge amount of crowds. Given the eclectic amount of people (having conversations with people from Denmark, Spain, Germany, South Africa) and being able to take in some of the culture of Germany, it was well worth it.

The weekend in pictures:

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The City of Lights: Parieee!

Having dreamed of visiting Paris since, well, forever... or at least since the age of 8 when I saw the beauty of the Eiffel Tower in a magazine, I finally got to visit the city. I never thought by the age of 21 I would actually visit the city filled with fashion, art, and love. Pictures of Paris make it seem like it's the best city in the world, and I would agree, it definitely is just that. As someone who loves fashion and art, having been an art major for 2 years, I was more than excited to visit Paris. 

Before leaving Wednesday afternoon on the Eurostar, we made a bucket list of all we wanted to experience in Paris. Some of the items included going to the sommet of the Eiffel Tower (the very, very top), cruise on the River Seine, visiting the Louvre, going to Notre Dame, climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, visiting Chateau de Versailles, drinking wine in the Champ de Mars, visiting the Eiffel Tower at night to witness the light show, having a French style picnic with wine, eat street Crepes, and see the Moulin Rouge. I can say we checked off almost all of them off our bucket list.

Once we arrived in Paris late Wednesday night, we realized we had not looked up directions to get to our hotel, which turned out to be no where near we had thought it was located. With no wi-fi connection, of course, we decided to start walking and hopefully run into someone who could speak English. We took a metro line, which we thought sounded like our street name, and luckily it was! The metro station workers were not the nicest people in the world, so we thought we would have better luck trying to find it ourselves, and we did. We stayed in a part of town known as Voltaire, which was quiet and had a few cafes to eat at. And this part of town had no where near as many beggars, homeless people, and merchants forcing you to buy their one euro Eiffel Towers ( and when I say forcing, I mean in your face and following you and attempting to compliment you in English- and saying you have HOT eyes.. I still don't know what that even means....)

On Thursday, we decided to take a double-decker bus tour of Paris, where we ended up going to the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame. Then, that night, we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower- the BEST IDEA we ever made. We went up at 4pm and left at 7pm. While we were at the top, the sun began to set.. and by 6pm it was completely dark. It was one of the prettiest sights I've seen.

   The next day, we visited the Louvre, where we saw the Mona Lisa. We had to push our way to the front to see her. After walking around for a couple of hours, we explored the city some more.

The Louvre
Arc de Triomphe

The Lock Bridge in Paris

On Saturday, we decided to make our way to Versailles to see the Chateau de Versailles, or the Palace of Versailles. We decided to travel on our own, by train, which turned out to be the cheapest way. We ended up spending less than 10 euros each, as opposed to the tour by coach bus, which would have been 42 euros. It only took about 40 minutes to get there. We only saw the outside of the palace, which was beautiful.

Later that day, we decided to visit the Moulin Rouge, but only the outside of course. Actually seeing a show would have been awesome, but it was out of our price range. We then decided to make our way back to the Eiffel Tower for our last night in Paris. Mackenzie and I ate at a cafe in Trocadero, right in front of the Eiffel Tower. So beautiful.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

When Life Gave Me Lemons

Oh my, it seems like just yesterday I pulled in the manor drive for the first time and now I've only got a month left. My last month here has been fairly uneventful in the travel department. I went to Oxford and Cadbury World on day trips as well as a field trip to the Jaguar plant, but that has been all. I'll start with Oxford. When I went there I wasn't expecting much. I mostly went because I was curious to see the university. The university itself was not particularly spectacular though. The highlight of my day was eating lunch at the Eagle and Child. Getting to sit in the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien along with several other writers met weekly for nearly 30 years was truly amazing. Other than that Oxford didn't hold my awe like Ireland. Not long after Oxford my American Corporations class (the irony of which has been often noted) traveled to tour the Jaguar plant in Birmingham. Quite honestly I could have done without that trip. Seeing the production of cars neither captivated my attention nor bolstered my knowledge. This past weekend I returned to Birmingham for a trip through Cadbury World. I was literally a kid in a candy shop. Cadbury chocolate is the most famous chocolate bar in Britain. Learning about the production of the chocolate was fascinating, and the free samples didn't hurt.

In between all of that fun, though, I've had to deal with some issues. The big issue is that British hospitals (just like all other hospitals I'm sure) are not fun to visit as a patient. A few weeks ago I was kicked in the hand during the House football competition. I had a small bump and was told to ice it and it would be ok. Not bad logic right? Wrong. I knew something was definitely wrong with my hand so I went to the emergency room the next day. After 5 hours and some x-rays, I was told that I had broken my hand. Later that week I got to have surgery to put a plate in my hand. Now my hand (which happens to be my right hand which I use for everything) is in a cast until Thanksgiving when it will be re-x-rayed before a decision is made as to whether or not more time in a cast will be necessary. In the mean time I've been learning to use my left hand to do everything. I even took a British studies exam (3 essay questions) using only my left hand (fortunately they let me type it). The experience of breaking my hand in England has taught me far more than any trip or lecture could. I have learned over the past few weeks how much I took my hand for granted. That pretty much sums up this entry. I shall leave you with this quote from Vince Lombardi, "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get back up." I've been knocked down a bit in my time here, but I got back up. Until the next time, keep it classy internet.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Waterfalls, Mozart, and Stonehenge

On Saturday, 13 October, I climbed a waterfall.

I'm not kidding.

My trip to the Lake District was one of my favorite weekend adventures.  It didn't involve seeing famous sites in a city, like most of my other trips have, but consisted of outdoor activities in beautiful Northern England.  One such activity was ghyll scrambling--one of the best things I've ever done! Ghyll scrambling is hard to describe, but basically you make your way upstream, traversing rocks, walking through small rapids, and climbing waterfalls.  Surprisingly, I was warm, for the most part, except for my feet.  But they became numb to the cold and I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure!

I also went rock climbing!  REAL rock climbing!  I've been indoor rock climbing in Evansville, but this was the real deal.  Our instructor said she goes rock climbing every week--now that would be the life!  I loved the challenge of mixing strategy and strength to make it to the top.  My sweatpants were too wet from ghyll scrambing, but luckily my jeans sufficed.  :)

My weekend in the Lake District was so relaxing and beautiful.  We stayed in a hostel in Ambleside right on Lake Windermere, and we hiked through the mountains to Grasmere, home of William Wordsworth.  The scenery was gorgeous and peaceful.  Once in Grasmere, we visited William Wordsworth's home and grave and ate some famous Grasmere Gingerbread.
The view of Lake Windermere from the deck of our hostel.

Alyssa Thorp, Meghan Messer, and I taking a break during our hike to Grasmere.

After an amazing weekend in the Lake District, I spent the next weekend in a different environment:  Germany and Austria!  I took German in high school, and I could hardly contain my excitement that I was actually going to a city we had learned about!  I completely enjoyed trying to read everything in German and trying to communicate as best as I could.  I could understand quite a bit, but responding was another story.  I also come from a small Southern Indiana town, where most people have a strong German heritage.  Most of my ancestors came from Germany, so I was excited to be in my "homeland." 

This trip, we tried  We were a little nervous, but ended up liking our experience!  We rented a bungalow in the Olympic Village, which is now student housing for a university.  We stayed where a female athlete lived during the 1972 Olympics!  A plaque with the names for each section of bungalows was posted, so all we know is that our athlete had a last name starting with P.  The time I most needed my German was when I had to ask another student to help us open our bungalow's door, but we won't talk about that . . .

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting Dachau Concentration Camp.  My great uncle was among the first Americans to liberate Dachau, and I wrote a research paper my junior year of high school about the camp and my uncle's experience.  It was powerful to stand where he stood and where so many suffered and died.  The camp had a detailed museum in the former maintenance building, and we toured the barracks and crematoriums.  The beautiful day mocked the hurt in my stomach.    
The gate to the camp.
A view of the grounds where the barracks used to be.

After Dachau, we changed the atmosphere completely by going to the famous Hofbräuhaus!  I saw firsthand the humungous beer steins and the beautifully painted dining areas.  We sat right in front of a quartet:  a euphonium, accordion, and two trumpets.  I liked the jolly atmosphere, and the food was great.

Jennifer Wetzler, Sean Lovellette, and I stand in front of the Hofbräuhaus.
The rest of our Munich experience included seeing sites and shopping around the city.  We saw the Glockenspiel on the Marienplatz (town square), many beautiful churches, the BMW World Headquarters, the 1972 Olympic grounds, an open market, and we even stumbled across the grand opening of a four-story Abercrombie and Fitch store.  This grand, grand opening consisted of about 50 shirtless, ripped, male models on the balconies and in front of the store.  I must admit I took a few pictures, but I spent most of the time laughing at the staring crowd.  

The next day we took a train to Salzburg.  Being a music major, and a violin major at that, made Salzburg a great choice for me!  There was violin stuff everywhere . . . pencils, t-shirts, magnets, even soft pretzels.  Of course we visited Mozart's birth house and museum, and we saw three sites where The Sound of Music was filmed.  Yes, we did skip through the hedge tunnel in the Mirabell Gardens while singing "Do Re Mi."  It was something we just had to do.  I loved being in this musical city!  Jennifer and I hoped that we would absorb some musical genius to take back with us to the States.  
In the Mirabell Gardens

Mozart's birth house
Last weekend, I went somewhere again completely different than the Lake District and Germany and Austria.  My aunt and uncle came to visit, and we went to Glastonbury and saw Stonehenge!  Glastonbury is a small, interesting town.  We stayed in a hotel built in the 15th century for pilgrims who came to Glastonbury Abbey to see the grave of King Arthur and his wife.  We toured the Glastonbury Abbey ruins and saw the site where apparently King Arthur is buried.  We also saw the Chalice Well, where legend says that Joseph of Arimathea buried the Holy Grail, and climbed the Tor, a natural hill that has been a place of worship for thousands of years.  It was so windy up there, I'm glad I didn't blow right off the top.
Glastonbury Abbey

The Tor
Next came Stonehenge.  I actually saw Stonehenge.  Let's face it--that's awesome!  I've known about this awesome creation for as long as I can remember, and it was great to see it in person.  We battled the wind, cold, and crowd but enjoyed being in such an important place.  I'd love to know everything about this incredible feat.
My uncle and aunt, Rock and Kris, and I in front of Stonehenge.  My hair shows
how crazy the wind was! 
It's not an exaggeration to say that the past few weeks have been life changing.  Each trip and experience was extremely different, but I will take away something valuable from each.  I've been to places I had only imagined seeing some day, and after experiencing waterfalls, Mozart, and Stonehenge, I've learned that "only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." --T. S. Eliot

Scotland's Road to Independence

Scotland’s Road to Independence 

On 15 October 2012, First Minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron came together in Edinburgh, Scotland, to agree there would be a referendum on Scotland’s independence. A referendum is a general vote by the electorate on a single political question that has been referred to them for a direct decision.
Earlier in October, the two governments came to an agreement to let 16 and 17 year olds in Scotland take part in the vote. This is the first time that voters of this age will be able to participate in a national poll in the UK. There have been mixed views on allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote. Some agree that it is a great idea since they are the future of Scotland and are already allowed to work full-time, pay taxes, join the Army, and get married. However, there are people who disagree with this decision claiming that they are children who will vote without proper consideration. The Scottish National Party, Scottish Youth Parliament, and the Liberal Democrats support the decision to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the referendum.
            There are some significant reasons that the Scots might vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence. At the moment the recession creates a fear of economic risk and the Euro is struggling. If Scotland becomes independent it will either keep the Pound Sterling or join the Euro. If it joins the Euro that will mean Scotland will have to become part of the European Union, which might not accept another small state. If Scotland keeps the Pound, it will make it dependant on using British money and financial institutions. This would hardly be independence. These reasons could sway Scottish voters to vote ‘No’ in the referendum in 2014.

First minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron

What Independence Might Mean

  • Will Scotland keep the Pound or adopt the Euro? If Scotland keeps the Pound it will still be tied into a form of ‘monetary union’ with the remainder of the UK. However, the weakness of the Euro does not make membership an attractive Scotland defences would also change. The Trident nuclear submarines would return to England while alternative.
  • Scotland focuses on having a Navy of 20-25 ships. Scotland would also try to have a standing army of 15,000.
  • Scotland might also try to forge an alliance with the Scandinavian countries.
  • Travellers between England and Scotland would just have to carry a photo ID, which would be checked at the border and at the train stations. Drivers would have to learn new speeding and drink-drive limits once they entered Scotland. The Scottish government may consider lowering the drink-drive alcohol limit.
  • Scotland might replace the BBC with a National Broadcaster.
  • Will the Queen remain as the Scotland’s Head of State? Alex Salmon has stated he would hold another referendum to determine if they should keep the monarchy in its present form.

Scotland Independence to Wales
  • If Scotland becomes independent, Wales would like the Barnett formula to be revised. The Barnett formula is a mechanism used by the Treasury in the United Kingdom to determine the amounts of public expenditure allocated to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales if the Barnett formula is revised it is possible that Wales will receive more money.