Wales, Castles and Manor Houses

My latest bit of traveling I managed while my belt is getting tight (metaphorically speaking, unfortunately) I spent three days staying with my flat mate Cat at her parents’ house in Cheshire from June 6-8. It is some of the most beautiful country side I have ever seen; the northwest near the Welsh border is quintessentially England with lush green rolling hills, gray stone walls, horses and sheep dotting the fields.

Wales: June 7

  • Conway Castle in Conwy, Wales
  • I enjoyed trying to pronounce all the Welsh signs on the drive there.
  • I don’t think Cat appreciated my butchering the archaic Celtic language.
  • Conwy is the closest to a fairy tale story castle I have seen so far.
  • One of Edward I’s many castles, completed in the 13th century.

Knutsford, England: June 8

  • Cat’s house is one of two of four remaining Victorian guard houses, to a demolished manor house.
  • Visited her mom’s and sister Josie’s half Arabians horses Sunny and Heidi.
  • Watched English saddle riding
  • Tried to kick neighbor chickens out of the corral, but they kept coming back to eat the horses’ grain.
  • Lots of old fashioned boutiques and inns in the ‘city center’
  • Many big league football players live in outside Knutsford in grand neighborhoods.
  • Home to the beautiful Tatten Park

Disley, England: June 8

  • Lyme Park Manor House:
  • Site of Pemberly, Mr Darcey’s house, in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.
  • I had to watch the entire 5 hour-long film once we got back home.
  • My first time inside an old manor house.
  • Exquisite Elizabethan interior, portraiture and furniture

Manchester: June 9

  • Before catching my coach back to Leeds, I took a few hours to look around the city.
  • Home to arguably England’s greatest football teams, Manchester United
  • I spent my time inside the Manchester City Art Gallery, my usual stop in a new city.
  • Found China Town on accident and bought some oriental goods there.

London, Bath, Jane Austin and French lessons

What a perfectly adequate first trip to London I had! I did not dare leave England without visiting that great city. I have to say, it is one of my favorites, minus the rain. If London came with sun and pleasant weather more often, I would undoubtedly move there. As it is, I think I may opt for France or Spain for a post graduate job, or somewhere with a pleasant clime… not to say that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to live in London any day!

Since my travels this spring I have gained many things: a different perspective on the world, greater understanding of different people and governments, and appreciation for European culture and British intelligence, just to begin… I know I will travel more, but now I have no doubts about moving somewhere where English is not the first language. I would really like to go live somewhere for a year where I have to learn the language. That is what many young foreigners I have met do. They move to England for a year or so just to practice their English and they work in the meantime and engage in a culture not their own. I am through with being part of the narrow-minded American society of bigots and experience absorbing another culture, no matter how similar or different from mine, rather than expecting everyone conform to us.

I have been questioning the uses of becoming a homogenous society like America claims to be. How much would be lost from each of the distinct cultures! How much has been lost already because of British and American influence and technology. But that is not a question to wear out on this blog… I think I will relate some of my favorite things about my 3 day stay in London, and my subsequent trip to Bath, from where I am writing this. Tomorrow’s plans are to go to see Stonehenge, the famed ancient stone monument.

Because of my decommissioned camera, again I will be relying on Google images or friends’ photographs.

London: May 29-June 1

  • Uneventful bus ride from Leeds to London. As expected, I slept most of it.
  • Proper London welcome: pouring rain when I arrived
  • Had to call Rachel in Leeds to give me tube directions to my hostel.
  • Finding a location in London is a mission, especially when streets get split up and half of the street with the same name is a block away, surrounding another square of grassy park.
  • No one in my hostel room snored – always a relief.
  • Met two other Americans I toured the city center with.
  • Walked across all the important bridges including Millennium Bridge and London Tower Bridge on the River Thames.
  • Met a lady from NY at the Globe theatre. Didn’t get tickets for a play that night, but gained a friend to spend a lively night with.
  • Danced to a street musician’s music, singing and snogging until the tube had closed. Whoops.
  • Next day, I met two French students also in my hostel I practiced my French with and went to the theatre.
  • Saw Les Miserables at Queens Theatre in Piccadilly, with my two French friends.
  • Had a really neat conversation with the African hostel cleaner who I thought hated me because he yelled at me the day before for not washing my mug. Discovered he is actually a very brilliant man with a Masters in Business Management, and we have something in common: we both have lived in Boston.
  • Tasted the sweetest cider ever in a Piccadilly pub.

Bath: June 1-3

  • Met my old time NM neighbor Catherine and her daughter and two daughters for high tea at the Royal Pump Room.
  • The fountain was filled with bubbles when I arrived.
  • Bazaar Bath tour: no history, just comedy. Real British comedy: dry, cruel humour.
  • Stayed in an amazing flat which Regan had rented in a posh Bath lane and imagined all the people who lived here during its popularity during the 18th century.
  • Jane Austen!!! Visted the Jane Austen Museum and the town houses and flats in which she and her father, mother and sister had lived after her brothers had all gone away.

  • I ought to mention some of the other 18th Century lit in which Bath the setting: Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Burney’s Evelina, Austen’s
    Northanger Abbey and Persuasion
  • Visited the Roman Baths: relics from a Roman city there over 1,000 years ago, where the hot springs were seen as a miracle from one of their gods.
  • Therma Spa: modern-day version of the Roman baths – Catherine generously treated me to go with her.

Stonehenge, June 2:

  • It’s a mystery who built it and why. These prehistoric Britains have been dubbed ‘the Beaker’ people, probably of Celtic or Saxon origin.
  • What is most impressive to me is how they managed to transport those massive stones from Whales, chisel them to fit together, and hoist them up into position. After more than 4,000 years, half of them are still standing.

Laycock, June 2:

  • We visited the little village of Laycock on the way up to Stonehenge, where many films were shot, including Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter.
  • We saw Harry Potter’s parents house, Professor Sloghorn’s house, and the street from the first scene in the first film.

On the way back:

  • I did manage to miss my bus from Bath, so I was forced to buy a train ticket which was much more expensive, but got me to London to catch my next bus faster!
  • I can’t wait to spend time with Regan’s little girls again when I return to London; and I will have to, in the next month, to see a ballet and more theatre.

European Tour 1

So much has happened in the last couple weeks; I decided to just highlight what I could remember from each city:

Scotland March 20-23: Edinburgh, stop in Newcastle, back to Leeds for one day

  • Stayed in a kinda sketchy backpacker’s hostel w/murals painted on all the walls and staircases that clearly indicated the artists were high.
  • Skyped my family from a pub somewhere in Edinburgh. Strange, I know.
  • Chatted with a little boy, Sean, from Portugal and showed each other our homes on Google earth.
  • Toured the city and wandered into a beautiful old church on Sunday where I spent an hour talking to an older Scottish woman named Audrey who has gone to that church since 1949!
  • Went into my first real live castle!
  • Didn’t end up meeting up with the girls but had a good time with new Australian friend
  • Met up with my other girl friends coming to town in our rented flat – very nice!
  • Danced around our flat to my ITunes before they arrived.
  • Took a picture with a bagpiper(in a real kilt)!
  • Went out on the town with the girls and was shocked at all the locals staring at us.
  • Cooked spaghetti and pasties, drank wine, and decorated our new ‘home’.
  • Watched TV in our flat for the first time in years, literally.
  • Did a Scottish ‘jig’ in the grass with Pri on top of the train station.

Italy March 25-27: Venice

  • Met a fellow Leeds student from Canada on our flight, and his friend Sophie from New Zealand, who missed the flight because security called her back to check her visa and couldn’t decide if she needed a stamp or not. So we made a new friend and stayed a traveling three-some for most of our time in Italy.
  • Wandered around that maze called streets and admired all the beautiful bridges and tiny streets (there is no point in taking a map. It will only confuse you more).
  • Politely refused gondola drivers who prodded us to get into their boat, ‘very relaxing, only 60 Euro’. I’m sure it would have been relaxing, but we were on a tight budget.
  • Ate all the pb and j sandwiches I packed and found a market to buy cheese and bread to make more sandwiches.
  • Ate out once, Italian food, for Pri’s birthday.
  • Romeo and Juliet lived here!
  • Danced in San Marco’s square to an outdoor orchestra band that was playing. I entertained them and a lot of onlookers. I should have gotten paid. Left before we had to pay them.
  • Joined a free tour inside the palace because we were too poor to pay to go to the islands with Phil.
  • Spent a good amount of time practicing ballet steps with Phil on our hostel’s wooden floors.
  • Met a fourth Leeds student in our hostel room, from Brazil. Crazy.
  • Met two sweet British girls sharing our hostel and went out with them one night.
  • Got the party started in a local bar by dancing to the reggae music inside. Once we started dancing, some of those Italians caught on and one guy broke out his Samba moves!
  • Lay in the sun on the harbor.
  • Learned a short vocab of Italian, including, ‘mi scuzi’, ‘grazie’, ‘por favore’, ‘vorrai una cappuccino’, ‘Dov’e del gabionetti/toletta?’ My favorite thing about the Italian language is you say ‘ciao’ for hello, goodbye, see you later, just about anything. What easy-going people.
  • Bought glass rings to remember Venice by.

March 27-29: Rome

  • Paid to stay in a hotel last minute because my planning/organization/couch surfing plans failed. Hard lesson learned. But the old man who owned the hotel was so kind and helpful.
  • Stuffed our faces with chocolate croissants that morning so we wouldn’t get hungry later. It worked.
  • Agreed to forget our first crazy night getting to Rome.
  • Stayed in a cramped hostel up 5 flights of marble stairs that seemed more like 10. We got lots of workouts!
  • Went to the Vatican and the Basilica in Saint Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday. There were swarms of people carrying olive branches, what a sight! Too bad we missed the mass given by the Pope.
  • Joined another tour inside the Vatican for free. This time it was given by an American theology student studying to be a priest in Rome.
  • Imagined bloody gladiator fights that took place in the Coliseum, and how much excitement must have filled the stalls for the games in Nero’s day.
  • Vowed to return to Rome one day with a lot more time and money to see everything we missed.
  • I was surprised and dismayed to see a McDonalds across from the Pantheon. As poor as we were, we did not bend.
  • Ate more pizza, like we did in Venice, because it was the cheapest. Oh, and the gelato is to die for!
  • Every 5 minutes you are hounded by some street vendor though, that got annoying.
  • I am still in awe at the amount of history in that place, and the normality of the life of the locals there, as if they are unaware that this stone structure they’re sitting on is thousands of years old.

Spain March 29-April 2: Barcelona

  • Lots of angels put in our way to help us out on our trip, and lots of crazies who seemed to be after us:
  • Man who conveniently showed up at the train station to help us figure out which train to take, and even ran down to the platform with us.
  • Older gentleman who worked in the airport and promised to mail our postcards for us in Rome.
  • Harassed by a drunk guy on the plane who threw M&M’s and ice cubes at me. Oh, Ryanair!
  • Chased by a schizophrenic man on the subway and all the way to our hostel. Luckily a nice young Mexican man on the subway noticed him and walked us to our hostel, where he was staying too.
  • Met two lovely girls, one Mexican, one Columbian, who interpreted for us.
  • Random van driver who gave us a lift to the city, although we couldn’t understand a word he said.
  • The friendly gay manager in our hostel, Yarid, a Masters student from Mexico, who greeted us and helped us with everything we needed, from directions, to steaming strong café in the morning, to blankets when we slept on the couches the last night.
  • Myuki, a Japanese chef, and our roommate, who has been travelling the world for 10 months now!
  • I was surprised at the amount of Spanish I picked up in a few days there. Although it’s different from the Spanish I grew up hearing in New Mexico (which I never made an effort to learn), it came almost faster than Italian did.
  • Decided I need to move to a country to learn the language for a year.
  • Spanish people impressed me with their friendliness and openness.
  • Flamenco dancer in the streets stole my heart. He was too good to be dancing on the street to make money, but I’m glad he did, or I wouldn’t have had the chance to see him perform.
  • The harbour was filled with love-struck couples, and I thought Venice was the city of love.
  • Subsisted on canned tuna and toast this time around. Tapas will have to wait for our return, because we are returning.
  • Listened to Spanish guitars around every bend in the colourful mosaic Guëll Park, created by fanatical artist Antoni Gaudi .
  • We were running pretty low by the end of our trip. Finally ate one Spanish meal our last night there: split Paella: skillet-fried rice with seafood with our combined left over cash of 11 Euros.
  • Visited the one and only Picasso museum. That man started off normal and got stranger and stranger.
  • Caught the last musical fountain performance of the night in front of Spain’s National Fine Arts Museum palace. Perfect ending for our trip.

Update from Italy!

I will make a comprehensive blog post (or several) for our travels and some of our photos once I get back on Easter Sunday. This is turning out to be the most exciting spring break I have ever had! It is nice that we have 4 weeks off for Easter from University of Leeds…

Ciao, friends! I am writing from Rome, Italy! My attempts to blog about each city I visit have been thwarted by undependable wireless internet and time constraints while travelling. We (Pri and I) have had a few set backs to deal with, disappointment because of our tight budgets, and lessons learned the hard way, but for the most part we are just thrilled to have the privilege to be travelling and seeing Europe! On our limited budget, we have been staying at borderline sketchy hostels and subsisting on bread and cheese.  I have to say though, the pizza, espresso/cappuccinos, and gelato are to die for!

Today I spent Palm Sunday at the Basilica in Saint Peter’s Square, where the Pope (Benedict XVI) gave mass.  Although I’m not Catholic, it was impressive to see and hold in reverence the thousands of years of history of the Romans, and the early Christian church. I can’t take credit for planning that out;  it just happened. In fact, I didn’t realize it was Palm Sunday until I saw thousands of  people swarming out of the Vatican people carrying olive  and palm branches.

That’s all for now. I need some sleep and energy to walk more of Rome tomorrow before we leave for Barcelona. So far: York, Edinburgh, Venice, and Rome.

Ciao! xxx Becca

Charleston, baby!

The only place in the state of South Carolina to get my biometrics done for the UK is in Charleston. Lucky for me it’s Thanksgiving week and I could take time off, my sweet friend Lauren was driving to Charleston so I hitched a ride and payed a visit to my expecting friend Christin. It’s such a treat to hang out and relax with her and her family. Pregnancy is such an intriguing process; I keep asking her about it, and trying to get her to reveal her baby boy’s name to me, but she won’t do it!

I’m amazed at everything that’s normal about her being pregnant – she can do just about everything she used to except bend over to pull on her pants and tie her shoes. Mostly she said, you’re just very aware of changes in your body and bodily functions. I don’t believe women who say they “never knew they were pregnant”. Ya, right! You’re just not aware of this gigantic beach ball that forms right under your inflamed breasts?

Well, I have to say this is the first baby I can truthfully say I am looking forward to being born. I guess I have a reason to be interested in him since his Mom’s my friend. I am planning on being in England when he’s born, so I will be relying on sharing photos online. Baby Verkaik, on the way!!

Christin, Michael and I had some good conversations/discussions over lunch at Poe’s in downtown Charleston. Here’s what I can take away from my visit:

Edgar Allen Poe lived in Sullivan’s Island for awhile, and there’s restaurant named after him.

Charleston and Columbia are the only places to do things in South Carolina.

The only thing to do in Clemson is drink or hunt.

The gamecock is a stupid mascot.

We all identify ourselves with a group of people to a certain extent so we should go easy on Southern frat boys and sorority girls. We just don’t pay for our friends.

I can’t do anything stupid because the UK government has ALL my finger prints (not that I would).

Dachshunds are sweeter dogs than I thought they could be, although they can bark out a hyena.

There’s nothing wrong with a girl asking a guy out in our society.

That doesn’t mean it’s the norm.

Would prefer he asked her to marry him though.

Men like to feel they are men, but that doesn’t mean women need to wait on them to make all the decisions.

Yes, our economy sucks. And our healthcare system sucks. And our education system sucks. (at least paying for it does)

It’s free in most of Europe.

Why am I going to England then, except to meet some hot prince, right? Ha. The castles, for sure…And soccer, or football, so I’ve heard…