At the Roman Baths…in Bath.
I’ve officially been home from my year abroad for a week now, and I’m so happy about life. I’ve found that the way I’ve been able to transition best is by focusing primarily on the now and the future, and only looking at pictures/reminiscing in short spurts. It gets a little overwhelming, and, honestly, I get a little homesick for Ireland, if I spend too much time at it.
It’s funny how things here remind me Ireland, since it was always the other way around there. I try not to be “that person” always talking about her travels—for my own sake as well as all my friends’! But I smile and tell little anecdotes all the time, all about my amazing friends and the life I got to live.
In the short time that I’ve been back, I’ve already gotten lots more tan and less sickly looking (thank you, Alabama sunshine!), and I’ve gotten a job stage-managing for a show this June.
One thing that makes me really happy is how easily, in a way, it is to fall back into the places and people of your life. One thing that is hard, however, is realizing that there are almost nine months of conversations, events, and references that you’ve missed out on. It’s a little disorienting.
I think as the summer goes on, I’ll be able to pull my thoughts about my abroad experience into more cohesive forms…right now it’s a little surreal.
But between theater this summer, road trips (going to St. Louis next week!), and getting ready for my senior year of college, I have plenty to think about.
When you just packed up nine months worth of stuff into two suitcases and a Salvation Army donation dumpster…
When you have one more essay to write, but you might die if you read one more article about the politics of desire in the Renaissance…
When you alternate between looking at swimsuits online because you’re finally going to be somewhere warm, and putting on tights and a sweater to go outside because you’re still in Northern Ireland…
When you keep randomly bursting into tears because, guess what, you really did make amazing real-life friends abroad, and you’re just now realizing what that actually means…
When everything you do has “good-bye” attached to it. Good-bye dinner, good-bye movie, good-bye Primark trip…
When you think you might explode with happiness or sadness at any second, but you aren’t even a little bit sure which at any given time…
When OED.com feels like the only thing in the world you can trust…
When you contemplate throwing away your dishes rather than washing them, boxing them up, and donating them…
When the circles under your eyes look like canyons…
That’s two days left of study abroad, one more essay to write, and the knowledge that you have had an experience so strange and hard and wonderful that you may never fully process it, because you blinked and it was gone.
Just writing from the Villa St. Exupery Gardens (#1 hostel in France!) where there are tons of free computers and it is hoppin’. This trip has been amazing, overwhelming, and such an adventure. But it’s only half over! After two nights here, we’ll be moving on to Italy!
The Cote d’Azur is as beautiful as one could imagine. Today we walked along the pebble beach and saw the sun set. Then we found the building where the Fitzgeralds lived for three years, and Tender is the Night was mostly written.
I keep having flashbacks to when I was sixteen and in a production of The Boy Friend. All that talk about the French Riviera, and now I’m here!
Elizabeth-Anne just arrived in Belfast today, and one week from today, we are leaving the Emerald Isle for a massive no-holds-barred adventure of epic proportions. In case you want to follow along, here is our itinerary (accompanied by vague, mostly facetious, comments on our proposed activities).
April 15th: Fly from Belfast Int’l to Leeds-Bradford. Spend the night at the Haworth Youth Hostel.
April 16th: Hike some Yorkshire moors. Spend the night at the Haworth Youth Hostel.
April 17th: Take a bus to Oxford. Be veryvery Oxfordian. Spend the night at the Oxford Backpacker’s Hostel.
April 18th: Take a bus to London. Explore. Go to Platform 9 and three quarters. Never be tired of life. Spend the night at the Astor Kensington.
April 19th: Mo’ London. Take the ferry to Calais. Spend the night at the Hotel Meurice.
April 20th: Head to gay Paree. Make Mona Lisa smile. Spend the night at the Lucky Youth Backpacker’s Hostel.
April 21st: DISNEYLAND PARIS.
April 22nd: More Paree. More cheese and bread. More magic. Take the overnight train to Nice.
April 23rd: Because it’s so much nicer in Nice. Pretend we’re the Fitzgeralds. Go to the beach. Spend the night at Villa St. Exupery Gardens.
April 24th: Easter Sunday. Wear pastels and walk along the boardwalk. It’s still so nice here.
April 25th: Head to Florence (the one in Italy, not Alabama). See David. Spend the night in the Archi Rossi Hostel.
April 26th: ROMA. Spend the night with the holy Sisters at the Suore di Carita di Santa Maria convent guesthouse.
April 27th: More Rome. Lots of architecture, lots of Romans, lots of Vatican City.
April 28th: POMPEII.
April 29th: 12 hours on a train. Rome to Zurich to Salzburg. Many rounds of Uno will happen. William and Kate will be happily wed. Spend the night at the YoHo Youth Hostel.
April 30th: Salzburg. The Sound of Music. THE SOUND OF MUSIC. And Mozart was from here too. Late night train to Vienna. Overnight train to Prague.
May 1st: Prague. Easter Markets. I don’t know any Czech, for the record. Not even “Help!” or “Thanks!” Train to Berlin. Spend the night in the Eastern Comfort Hostelboat.
May 2nd: Berlin. Walls, Weimar Republic-esque debauchery, and Bratwursts.
May 3rd: Fly to Edinburgh. Stalk J.K. Rowling. Spend the night at the Castle Rock Hostel.
May 4th: Bus to Glasgow. Kelvingrove and mad Scotsmen. Train and ferry back to Belfast.
May 5th-6th: Sleep for 48 hours solid. Have the most beautiful dreams of our lives.
But really. I am so blessed. So incredibly blessed.
I have no idea how people can go on tours of Europe and say things like: the cities all blurred together, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all etc, etc. They clearly didn’t minutely plan and book every aspect of their trip. They didn’t do historical research.
I am trying so hard to be worthy of this opportunity.
Today there was a march in Belfast for not raising university fees, and for peace in Northern Ireland. In case you haven’t heard what’s been going on:
By DAILY MAIL REPORTER An extraordinary show of unity was mounted at the funeral of murdered Irish policeman Ronan Kerr today. Images that would have been unimaginable during the Troubles were seen at the moving ceremony in Beragh, County Tyrone. In a major departure, First Minister Peter Robinson became the first Democratic Unionist Party leader to attend a Catholic mass. And he stood alongside Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the ceremony. The head of the Catholic church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, called for an end to the futility and evil of violence during the service. He said the people rejected those blamed for killing the new recruit and pleaded with parents not to allow their children to become violent. Police Service of Northern Ireland officers and senior Gaelic Athletic Association members stood side by side to help carry Pc Kerr’s coffin. He was killed when a booby trap device exploded under his Ford Mondeo at his Omagh home, near Beragh, as he got in to go to work. His funeral at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh, Co Tyrone, came as police revealed they had arrested a suspect. The arrest of a 26-year-old, in Renton, Dumbartonshire in Scotland, came after officers seized a ‘significant’ haul of arms. The arsenal found in Coalisland, east Tyrone, included Kalashnikov rifles, rocket launcher components and possibly Semtex explosive. Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris described the haul, found in stolen cars at a garage, as the ‘most significant in recent years’. Back in Beragh, the small village ground to a halt as local schoolchildren and members of the officer’s boyhood Gaelic football club flanked the cortege led by his mother Nuala, who days ago appealed that his loss not be in vain. A police hat and gloves were poignantly placed on top of the coffin. Cardinal Brady told mourners: ‘The people have said no, never again, to the evil and futility of violence. They have said an emphatic no to the murder and mayhem of the past. Let there be no doubt that the killing of Ronan Kerr was totally unjustified. ‘It was an evil deed, an offence against God and a complete rejection of the belief that human life is sacred.’ His killing, blamed on dissident republicans opposed to the peace process, has sparked unanimous cross-community condemnation. He added: ‘Parents and grandparents, I beg you, plead with your children and with your grandchildren not to get involved with violence. ‘Never let them be deceived by those who say that Ireland will be united or the union made more secure by war. They are wrong. It is an illusion. Violence has nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer except misery and destruction. ‘Choose life, I say, choose goodness, choose peace. That is what God is asking of you. That is what the people of all traditions have been saying to all of us, loud and clear, since the moment of Ronan’s tragic death on Saturday last - ‘We do not want this. You do not act in our name.’ In God’s name stop - and stop now!’ He was greeted with waves of applause.
‘In God’s name, stop now’: Plea for peace as figures from all sides turn out for murdered PC’s funeral in Omagh
Last updated at 5:52 PM on 6th April 2011
By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
An extraordinary show of unity was mounted at the funeral of murdered Irish policeman Ronan Kerr today.
Images that would have been unimaginable during the Troubles were seen at the moving ceremony in Beragh, County Tyrone.
In a major departure, First Minister Peter Robinson became the first Democratic Unionist Party leader to attend a Catholic mass.
And he stood alongside Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the ceremony.
The head of the Catholic church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, called for an end to the futility and evil of violence during the service.
He said the people rejected those blamed for killing the new recruit and pleaded with parents not to allow their children to become violent.
Police Service of Northern Ireland officers and senior Gaelic Athletic Association members stood side by side to help carry Pc Kerr’s coffin.
He was killed when a booby trap device exploded under his Ford Mondeo at his Omagh home, near Beragh, as he got in to go to work.
His funeral at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh, Co Tyrone, came as police revealed they had arrested a suspect.
The arrest of a 26-year-old, in Renton, Dumbartonshire in Scotland, came after officers seized a ‘significant’ haul of arms.
The arsenal found in Coalisland, east Tyrone, included Kalashnikov rifles, rocket launcher components and possibly Semtex explosive.
Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris described the haul, found in stolen cars at a garage, as the ‘most significant in recent years’.
Back in Beragh, the small village ground to a halt as local schoolchildren and members of the officer’s boyhood Gaelic football club flanked the cortege led by his mother Nuala, who days ago appealed that his loss not be in vain.
A police hat and gloves were poignantly placed on top of the coffin.
Cardinal Brady told mourners: ‘The people have said no, never again, to the evil and futility of violence. They have said an emphatic no to the murder and mayhem of the past. Let there be no doubt that the killing of Ronan Kerr was totally unjustified.
‘It was an evil deed, an offence against God and a complete rejection of the belief that human life is sacred.’
His killing, blamed on dissident republicans opposed to the peace process, has sparked unanimous cross-community condemnation.
He added: ‘Parents and grandparents, I beg you, plead with your children and with your grandchildren not to get involved with violence.
‘Never let them be deceived by those who say that Ireland will be united or the union made more secure by war. They are wrong. It is an illusion. Violence has nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer except misery and destruction.
‘Choose life, I say, choose goodness, choose peace. That is what God is asking of you. That is what the people of all traditions have been saying to all of us, loud and clear, since the moment of Ronan’s tragic death on Saturday last - ‘We do not want this. You do not act in our name.’ In God’s name stop - and stop now!’
He was greeted with waves of applause.
We’ve pretty much reached the end of (fairly) consistent blog updates from me. I have 7 weeks left in Northern Ireland. This week my friend Brittany is coming to visit from France, and next week Elizabeth-Anne will be coming from Alabama for our grand adventure (over three weeks of traveling). Somehow in the middle of all this, I have to research and write three papers (of about 3,000 words each) for my classes.
I will try to post now and again what I’m up to, and I will finish out with reflections on everything—this might not happen until this summer, though! Mostly, I’m just going to need to focus thoroughly on school, friends, and adventuring.
After all, I am going to be taking this little journey…
But this blog has been an amazing experience, and helped me keep grounded during all these crazy times. Thanks to everyone who has read along so far!
So, it’s been a happy seven years since I took my first Latin class and learned all about “o, s, t, mus, tis, n t” to the tune of “Rock Around the Clock” and now I have finally seen evidence, with my own two eyes, that these crazy guys called the Romans existed.
The baths were absolutely beautiful, the exhibit was well done, and as much as I detest audio tour guides, I really liked the one done by Bill Bryson enough to listen to some of it. But mostly, I was just as fascinated as I was when I was fourteen about the idea of public and communal bathing as the center of social life. I especially liked the idea of the Romans, far from home and surrounded by (in their perspective) provincial and barbaric Celts, creating a little oasis of Italy in the middle of Brittania.
I was really impressed by a lot of things at this site (even though it is kind of exploitatively expensive, for the record). But I remembered from way back in high school studying the Roman settlements in Britain, and reading about these curses that were inscribed in soft pieces of lead and thrown in the spring at the temple of Sulis Minerva (a British-Roman hybrid goddess who, of course, provided the healing waters for which the area was famous). Lo and behold:
How cool! Those vindictive ancients.
This face was one of my favorite pieces remaining—the audio guide suggested he looks like a friendly guy you could get a pint with…but he reminded me of when the knocker in A Christmas Carol turns into Marley’s face—sort of pleading and a little terrifying.
The spring itself might have been my favorite part however—I could see the magic and awe it might inspire, the hot water pouring out of rock, and the orange color it dyed everything it touched. I couldn’t really capture the steam rising off the water, but it was spooky and filled the whole dark chamber.
Then I met the pontifex maximus and we had a brief chat in Latin which I’m pretty sure made his day. He was fantastic, for the record. Totally in character and great at encouraging people to participate.
Ultimately, my trip to Bath was absolutely wonderful. It is a beautiful city, and a great place to end my solo adventures in England.
The second part of my mini-England trip was one I’ve been thinking about for a long time—to Bath. The summer of 2007, I was meant to spend a day in Bath while I was doing a summer study at Oxford, but it rained so much that summer that the train tracks were flooded the morning we intended to go. I hadn’t initially planned on making it a part of my trip this time, but one really important event happened that changed that completely. I read Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
Now, I will be the first to admit that as much as enjoy Jane Austen’s novels and the movies based on them, I never really quite got what all the hype was about—what really gave her such a place in the literary canon and people’s hearts.
Persuasion made me get it. That book is heart-wrenching, Anne Elliot is a truly admirable heroine, both of and ahead of her time, and the book just made me ache the way books by George Eliot and Edith Wharton do, every time, without fail.
If you haven’t read it, Persuasion is mostly set in Bath, a place where Austen herself lived for five fairly unhappy years. I didn’t have very much time in the city, but it hasn’t changed overly in the past two hundred years—you can still follow the novel’s locations throughout the city’s streets.
The Pump Room, where socialites walked then and now.
The gravel walk, where the big romantic scene of Persuasion takes place.
25 Gay Street, where Austen lived for five years.
Gay Street—and yes, all the buildings in Bath are this same color. It matches, and I’ve never been in a more pedestrian friendly city. I was really taken with it, to be honest, just walking around, it seemed like a city at its leisure. Which, actually, was what Jane Austen hated about it, but that’s a story for another day.
Of course I visited the Jane Austen Centre, which was worth it for this guy alone.
And also for the lecture which is delivered by one of the curators to each group coming through.
While in Bath, on a non-Austen note, I ate at the best themed restaurant I’ve ever seen outside of, say, a theme park. I give you, the Walrus and the Carpenter:
“The Walrus and the Carpenter” is really special to me because ever since we were little my best friend Hannah and I have quoted lines of it back and forth to each other at random times. Yes, they also do that in Harriet the Spy, although I’m pretty sure that’s not why we do it…not that I could tell you why we do.
But yes, it was such a happy little cafe.
So, next post, lest you think I forgot, I will tell you about the Roman Baths of Bath in all their glory. There may even be a video of my new best friend, Pontifex Maximus, delivering a benediction for Aquae Sulis…if we’re really lucky.
This past week I took a little trip to Somerset in the southwest of England, and spent my first day in Glastonbury, seeking King Arthur and ancient magic.
It was absolutely beautiful, properly warm and breezy, and clear cloudless skies when I hopped off the bus. Now, there are three main things in Glastonbury that one must see (presuming that you come for the town itself, and not for the music festivals in July and August): the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, the Chalice Well, and the Tor. I spent about six hours in Glastonbury, and saw all three.
Glastonbury Abbey has many legends associated with it, including that it was the first church in England, founded by Joseph of Arimathea himself. But it’s probably most famous for being the site at which some enterprising monks claimed to have discovered the bodies of Arthur and Guinevere. The abbey was one of the wealthiest in England, until it was dissolved by Henry the Eighth.
Now, I’ve never cared much about the “historical Arthur.” I’m considerably more compelled by the mythological Arthur, the one who lives in stories and poems. So, you see, it doesn’t really matter to me whether the “real” remains of Arthur were found here or not. The point is, people have believed that they were for hundreds of years. It’s a powerful place, a place of calm and pilgrimage, and you can feel it in the very air.
As lovely as the ruins were, I had a great time wandering through the Abbey grounds as well, communing with nature and all—
At any rate, after that, I went and ate lunch at the End of the Rainbow cafe. The name of which, by the way, should give you a sense of Glastonbury. It is the biggest hippie town in the country, with goddess temples, sound and past life therapies advertised, and every sort of New Age esoteric or occult phenomenon represented that you can imagine.
Now, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at some of the things I saw. I love magic and legends so much, probably more than most—but I love them in a literary way, not a life-choice way. To each their own, however.
But one thing I kept thinking, as I saw all the happy little hippie children running all over the place, was what kind of effect the stereotypes of the place you grow up in has on your as a person. I knew, even as a small child, that people from Alabama were thought by many to be racist, ignorant, and unintelligent—and I know that a lot of who I am has formed in defiance of those stereotypes, but with a strong knowledge of place and history.
But what would my life have been like if I were born in Glastonbury, if the stereotype of my home was a place of magic, alternative lifestyles, and yes, oddballs? I’m glad for my background and how it has affected the person I’ve become—but I wonder…
After lunch I visited the Chalice Well, sometimes called the Blood Spring because of the high iron content in the water, which makes everything it touches a bright red orange. It was another peaceful place, especially with all the flowers beginning to bloom.
The real, visceral power of a place like this, like the Abbey grounds and the Tor, struck me as almost painfully juxtaposed against the new (and seeming, to me, more artificial) mysticism that the town has embraced. But I was heartened to see some of the actual people of Glastonbury, the Somerset natives who put up with all the “newcomers” (as they call the new age sector) lounging in the Chalice gardens and standing in the healing waters. It’s such an odd mishmash of a place—but it seems to have its own harmonies as well.
My last site of the afternoon was Glastonbury Tor, the medieval tower that literally towers over the area on a high hill. It is a hill, although that word does not fully describe how long and steep the walk up to the top is, nor how vast the views are from the zenith.
All in all it was a gorgeous day. I even got a little sunburned on my face, which was a happy ailment indeed after the horrors of no-sun-February.
The funniest part might be how the day ended, however. As I was following the signs to the Street Youth Hostel, which, contrary to what the name suggests, is apparently three miles out of Street Village, along dark unpaved country roads, I met a farmer boy on his tractor (I say boy, but he was probably my age). He asked where I was going, and laughed out loud, saying I’d never get there before dark and I’d probably break my ankle in a hole or something. Now, I wasn’t arguing, because I was already pissed off that there hadn’t been any sort of note of this sort on the YHA website, but I didn’t really have another option but keep going.
Except then my new friend James told me that his dad would be along in a second in the Land Rover and he’d be happy to give me a lift for the last mile and a half since they lived near there anyway. So, disregarding all I ever learned about getting into cars with strangers, I hopped in the Land Rover and made it to the hostel as dusk set in.
I love how the kindness of strangers pops up every where, even on the most deserted country roads of Somerset at sundown on a random Wednesday in March.
In honor of just returning from my last solo trip of my study abroad experience, I thought I’d share some wisdom I’ve learned along the way—from London to Dublin to Paris to Yorkshire to Galway to Killarney to Glastonbury to Bath.
1. Plan ahead. Know where you’re going to end up, and how you’re going to get there. For me, what I do in-between I like to keep flexible—that’s one of the best things about traveling alone! But I believe in having a transport and accommodation plan. It’s a safety thing.
2. You can’t be shy. Another amazing thing about traveling by yourself is how open it makes you to the rest of the world. Because you aren’t tied to a group, you are less intimidating to approach. People will approach you. I have had truly inspirational conversations with people on buses, taxi drivers, store clerks, people everywhere. A smile and a genuine interest in the people around you goes a long way. Smile and the world smiles back, etc, etc, etc.
3. Be aware. When you’re alone, you need to watch your own back. There’s no one to keep an eye on your bag or your drink but you. It pays to be very aware—a wise man once told me that only someone who wants to get robbed pulls out all their money at once. You should think about the consequences of your actions.
4. Trust yourself. I always give people the benefit of the doubt. You never know where a friend can emerge. But sometimes you can tell if something is just a little off about a person—not in a humorous, non-threatening way, but in an unsafe way. It’s okay to remove yourself from a situation—just get up and move to a different seat on the bus. This is also when it pays to have chatted with everyone around you—that way other people can be aware of your discomfort and help you if you should need it.
5. It’s not like a plane taking off. Unless it is, literally, a plane taking off, most events don’t have to have a precise timeline. Things will happen, opportunities will arise, and if you get too stuck on a schedule, you will miss out on experiences. This was a hard one for me to learn, but sometimes it pays to chill out and follow whims.
6. Know your happy place. Traveling alone can be really stressful, especially in crowded or unfamiliar places. I’ve learned the hard way that I won’t enjoy the things I’ve come to see if I’m in the wrong state of mind. You have to know what calms you and makes you happy, and then take time to do it. For me, it’s having either a big hot latte or a really cold diet Coke and sitting still for a few minutes to sort out my thoughts. Even though these minutes in cafes or on park benches could seem wasted, they enable me to enjoy everything else, and are invaluable to me as a traveler.
7. Always have a pen. This one’s prosaic, but true. You never know what you will need to remember or take note of, so a pen and a little notebook (or at least the back of some receipts) is absolutely key for getting people’s email addresses, a phone number for a taxi company, the name of a book that looked interesting but you can’t afford right now…or if you’re J.K. Rowling, the plot of a multi-billion dollar book series that comes to you on a train.
8. Eat good food. Try to eat some vegetables and fruits, something with protein. You will be happier and your energy will last longer. Every time I have bottomed out while traveling it’s been because I realize I haven’t eaten in ages, and now I have a migraine and feel sick. Don’t let this be you—bring peanut butter crackers, an apple…something!
9. Take in the moment. You are by yourself. You can spend as much time as you want staring at the ruin, or that painting, or that crowd of people. Don’t let your internal critic tell you that you need to hurry up—there’s no one to please or consider but yourself. Take advantage of it.
10. Don’t listen to your friends. This is the key one. Everyone in the world will tell you that you can’t do this, or shouldn’t do that. They will judge you for traveling alone, they won’t understand it. They will mean well—but you absolutely shouldn’t listen to them. Decide what you want to do, and make it happen. There’s a huge world out there, and you don’t have to wait on other people’s convenience to see it for yourself.
In the past seven months, I have figured out the Parisian commuter train system at rush hour with no French. I have taken an overnight bus from London to Glasgow. I have gone on seven mile hikes. I have exhausted every type of public transportation known to man. I have done so many things on my own.
It’s not because I’m really special—it’s just because I’m lucky, in the right circumstances, and determined. Anyone can do this, really.
So go forth and adventure!
Today I took an spontaneous hike from Elms Village down to Shaw’s Bridge and then on the Giant’s Ring trail and back. It was about five miles altogether. And by going only two miles south from where I live, I visited ancient standing stones, walked through a field with grazing cattle, and felt like I was miles and miles from civilization, leaving all my worries behind. This is the magic of Ireland, y’all. I’m tired but happy—this has been a glorious day.
The River Lagan
A gorse bush…spring is blossoming despite the odds!
The dolmen in the middle of the Giant’s Ring
The view from the rim of the Ring
This picture makes me laugh—I look exactly like my youngest brother, Joseph when he wakes up in the morning. Oh, that Irish wind.