Friday, September 19, 2014

First week in England

Hello everyone! It's hard to believe it's been only a week since I flew into Heathrow Airport in London! So much has happened! There is a lot to tell, so I'll try to keep it short. 

Sunday-Monday: after a long and rough drive to the airport (rain and a traffic jam), I met Gabby and her family at the airport. I said goodbye to my dad then worked my way through the airport with Gabby and her dad. The flight was very nice; they provided a pillow, blanket, two meals, and movies! I was so excited that they offered X-Men First Class, because I missed seeing it over the summer and it hasn't been realized on DVD in the US yet. It was a great movie! I tried sleeping the rest of the flight but didn't have much luck. It hardly mattered, though, because once we arrived I was too excited to be tired! We took a cab to our b&b in the Kings Cross area, grabbed a coffee, then explored the rest of the day, hitting up several parks and The British Museum. I remembered lots of the Greek art pieces from my classics and art history classes- my professors would be so proud!
View from the airplane. If you look closely you can see the London Eye!
Tuesday started off a little scary. We went to Kings Cross in the morning to catch our train to Penrith...but then I realized our train left from Euston Station, not Kings Cross! We booked it across town (about a 12 minute walk) and caught our train with minutes to spare! Definitely a close call, but fortunately everything worked out in the end. The train ride was long but lovely. The further north we got, the more beautiful then landscape. We arrived at Penrith in the afternoon then bused to Keswick. We checked into our b&b, which was very pleasant and run by even more pleasant people. After checking in we had just enough time to take a hike around Lake Derwentwater, one of the lakes in the Lake District. I knew the Lake District would be beautiful, but it surpassed all of my expectations. It looked like something from a fantasy tale- maybe Narnia or somewhere in Middle Earth. I think the Lake District is the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen in my life.
We spent all of Wednesday in charming Keswick hiking and exploring. We trekked ten kilometers up a fell called "Latrigg". We moved slowly but surely, and all of the older folks overtook us easily! I don't know how they do it, but when I'm older I want to be like all of the old-timers who take walking holidays around England. The hike was long and tough in some parts, but totally worth it. The view was breathtaking. I know I've already said how beautiful the landscape is, but there is no description I can give to do it justice. I don't think there is a word in the English language which can capture just how lovely and majestic the area is. I wish we could've stayed there forever, but we had to move continue on!

Thursday was our trip to York with a short stop in Carlisle along the way. We visited Carlisle Cathedral and Carlisle Castle, which were both super cool. The cathedral was beautiful, especially considering it was the first cathedral we saw in England. While we were visiting the castle there was set-up going on for a television show called "Outlander". It's based on a series of books and I'm pretty sure last time I was at the dentist my hygienist was telling me about them. The world is full of strange little coincidences. Once we arrived in York we met with a family friend of the Lastrapes' and his wife. They live in a little village outside York and generously welcomed us into their home during our stay in York. They took us to see York Minster (so awesome!) and medieval York (the walls, guild hall, etc.), and on Friday we all visited the stately home Castle Howard (where two versions of Brideshead Revisited were filmed- a book I hope to read soon) then drove across the Yorkshire Moors to Whitby (where Count Dracula landed in the book). In Whitby I got to try Yorkshire pudding and mushy peas for dinner- a dish I've been wanting to try for a long time! In an interview Patrick Stewart listed Yorkshire pudding as one of his favorite foods, and I've wanted to try it ever since! It was very good, but not what I was expecting! Again, there is so much more I could tell- ducks, pizza, and "snooker (spelling?)", but in the interest of time and space, I must move on to my account of Saturday.
Carlisle Cathedral

View from Carlisle Castle
York Minster

Guild house in York
Famous house in Thornton-le-Dale
Castle Howard
Garden at Castle Howard
Yorkshire Moor
Heather on the moor
On Saturday we said goodbye to our friends in York and boarded our final train back to London. The ride was nice and we sat next to a very cute family with a little toddler. We chatted with them a bit until the train arrived, then parted ways. Once in London we made our way to our accomodation for that night, then set out to see the most famous sights of central London- Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, and so on. As we walked along the Thames River I could hardly believe we were actually walking in the city that I've seen in movies and read about in books so much! The ringing of the bells of Big Ben wasn't as loud as I expected (Mrs. Dalloway made it seem like it would be louder), but it was still a very special thing. We made our way to Westminster Cathedral (a Catholic cathedral unlike Westminster Abbey) for the vigil mass, which was nice and very incense-y. Many of the main sights in central London are very close together, so on our way to mass we got to walk by Buckingham Palace! After mass we headed back to our hotel, passing Trafalgar Square and some kind of military band playing American hits. 
Buckingham Palace
Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square
On Sunday we woke up bright and early to go see the Tower of London. To get there we took our very first bus ride, which was a success! (From outside the Tower of London you can also see the Gherkin/bullet-shaped building, which was cool.) We got there just in time for the first Beef-eater tour, which turned out to see awesome! Our guide told us lots of historical tidbits, interesting facts, and gruesome stories about the fortress' long history. Thomas More was imprisoned there, as well as Sir Walter Raleigh and many others. The most famous building is the White Tower, which actually isn't very much like a tower, but I supposed it was considered very tall when it was built. Inside there is a large collection of armor, including that of Henry VIII, and other historical artifacts. It was amazing being in a building so old; it was begun by William the Conqueror in 1066! We got to tour the fortress but skipped the crown jewels. Seeing everything at the Tower of London would have taken several days! After visited the Tower we called it a day and headed back to our accommodation for the night near Heathrow. 
The White Tower
View of Tower Bridge from outside the Tower of London
WWI Memorial poppies outside the Tower of London
The next morning Gabby's dad left, and Gabby and I spent a leisurely day in London. We rode the tube for the first time (Piccadilly line) to Kensington Gardens where we explored the grounds then visited the Victoria and Albert Museum. Unfortunately we didn't spot Kate or baby George at Kensington Palace, but it was a great day nonetheless. 

On Tuesday we met up with the St. Mary's study group and settled into our dorm rooms, which is where we are now. Everything is wonderful so far, and I will write about week two in the UK soon!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

San Antonio & D'Hanis

It's about a week until I leave for London, and things are starting to get busy! I've started packing and making sure I have everything I need for the trip. So many blogs and articles I've read have provided detailed packing lists and tips, but the best piece of advice I've gotten has come from my dad, who always seems to know what's best. When I came to him with questions about what I should bring from home, my dad told me to leave as much as I could at home. Part of the fun, he said, will be shopping for the UK versions of things back home and finding new things. I had never even thought of this, but what great advice! It'll be part of the study abroad experience shopping UK style. After having this revelation, I've been waaay less stressed about packing. I'll pack for the first week and bring basic clothes, but then if I need another pair of jeans, no problem- I can just buy a new pair in the UK. No wool socks (on almost everyone's packing list)? No problem. I'll just get a special new pair in England.

Right now my packing process is paused while I'm out west visiting my grandparents and some of my extended family. Yesterday I went out with my younger cousin to throw out hay with my Papa, then we all had a lovely family dinner. This morning my uncle took my cousin and I out to shoot the 22 rifle. Considering I don't get target practice very often, I did alright! All fifteen bullets I shot hit the target and one hit the edge of the bullseye. It made me feel like a true Texan. Earlier in the afternoon I rode in my uncle to San Antonio and met with my aunt and ran some errands with her. 

Right now I'm sitting in a Starbucks off Broadway St. waiting for Caitlin to pick me up. I'm going to be spending the next two nights with her at her apartment and it should be a lot of fun. 

Well, that's all for now! I'll update this later with some pictures.
1 week later...

Well, I never finished this post like I said I would- things were very busy! I'm actually finishing this post from a train in England! (I'll write another post in a few days about my first week in the UK.) Anyways, back to my trip to west Texas. Spending time with Caitlin was and always is great. No matter what we're doing, and even if we're doing nothing, we always have fun. On Friday evening after Caitlin picked me up we went to eat at Panera with her super nice and cool roommate. After that we went back to the apartment and watched 22 Jump Street. Watching movies like that with Caitlin always makes them waaaay funnier! On Satuday we got a late start and had lunch at a little family owned Pizzeria near her apartment named Sorrento's. We had been there once before and the food was just as delicious the second time. We ordered a mushroom pizza to share- yum! In the late afternoon we headed to Caitlin's cousin Stefanie's house to visit her and her family. I've known Stefanie for quite a while, and now she is married with three wonderful kids! It was great to spend some time with them and we had a wonderful evening. Added bonuses: we learned the "Cups" song from Pitch Perfect and Stefanie lent me some winter clothes to take with me to England. 

On Sunday we ate at Freddy's (not healthy but so delicious!) then stopped at Old Navy for some shopping. I got a cute dress and a few other things for my trip. We visited my Aunt Mary, who is recovering from a car accident, then headed to my Aunt Sherrill's house. After saying goodbye to Caitlin, Aunt Sherrill and my two cousins Julie and Justin did a little more shopping for my trip, ran a few errands, then finished with a shrimp dinner at their house with my mom and Uncle Joe. It was wonderful to spend a little time with them all. That evening we headed back to D'Hanis, and the next day we returned home. 

I wasn't sure how this trip would work with my study abroad timeline (considering I had so much to do), but I'm so glad I went. It was great to see some of my extended family before I left and I always forget how much I love D'Hanis. 

Anyways, after I got home I was busy busy busy, but now I am here in England! I'll post more soon about my flight and adventures from my first week abroad. Until then!