Harlaxton Trip: The Final Days

A lot can change in a month. What was once foreign slowly can become familiar, and what was familiar can become foreign. I’d never thought there’d be a day when endless fields of corn would throw me off, but after living in England for a month, I became accustomed to its rolling green hills spotted with sheep, wheat, and barley. I’ve been home for about a week, and I’m still not used to seeing the tall cornstalks surrounding my house when I walk outside. But even though I’m still on a “trip high” and my mind and heart are still somewhat in England, I’ll admit seeing my family and friends again has been great. I just hope they don’t get sick of me blabbing about England all the time. It seems to be all I can think of or talk about.

I apologize for my tardiness in filling everyone in about my last days there. Our final weekend in Europe was probably our busiest and most eventful. I’ll try my best to fill you in on what all we did. Ugh, looking back at these pictures is already making me emotional! Here we go…

As I mentioned we would in my last post, not long after our trip to Ireland, we went to France as a class. Before crossing the English Channel into France, we spent a day and night in Dover, England. Dover is a beautiful port town, famous for its iconic White Cliffs, which I’ll talk about a little later. I was immediately drawn to the town, not only because of its beautiful landscape, but also because of its historical importance. I love history and even considered minoring in it for a while. I am particularly interested in anything related to the World Wars, and Dover has been an extremely important strategic point in many wars, especially World War Two and the Dunkirk Evacuation.
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Upon arriving, our bus driver dropped us off right next to Dover Castle, which was built in medieval times. Because of its defensive significance throughout England’s history—from medieval times to the days of Napoleon to World War Two—it has been described as the “Key to England.” Entrenched into the cliffs with grey stonewalls that have stood the test of time, it was an impressive and imposing sight. When we first arrived, it was cloudy and a little chilly, which really added to the atmosphere of the place, but it eventually cleared up, allowing for a beautiful, sunny day.
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After exploring the area a bit, we went on a tour of the tunnels underneath the castle. The tunnels, which go on for miles and miles, have been around since at least Napoleon’s time, and were used as an underground hospital and Admiral Bertram Ramsay’s headquarters as he directed Operation Dynamo (the Evacuation of Dunkirk) during World War Two. The tunnels were fascinating and I learned a lot, but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.
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When we exited the tunnels and stood on top of the hill, we could see for miles. If you looked hard enough, you could even see France across the blue-green Channel. Being able to see France across the water impacted me in a very emotional way, especially after reading about Robbie being trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk in Atonement and all we learned in our tunnel tour about the Evacuation. I guess I should probably explain what the Evacuation of Dunkirk even was. In late May of 1940, Hitler and his German troops had pushed the Allied troops back across France until hundreds of thousands of British and French troops were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. If the Germans were able to destroy the troops who were trapped, the war would’ve basically been over and the Nazis the victors. Just as I could see France from where I was on the Cliffs, the troops could see England from where they were stranded in France. I can’t even imagine the torture for a stranded English soldier, being so close to home that you can see it, but yet being far enough away that you are unable to make it across safely.
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Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who I mentioned earlier, was the mastermind of Operation Dynamo—the mission to rescue all of the men on the beaches. From his headquarters in the tunnels beneath Dover Castle, he along with his small staff directed this seemingly monumental task. Using 900 naval and civilian ships under the protection of the RAF, the mission was a success and 338,226 people were rescued. Winston Churchill—one of my favorite historical figures of all time—called the Evacuation a “miracle of deliverance” and ended his speech with this defiant message to Hitler that gives me chills every time I read it:

We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.

Anyway, sorry, where was I? Anytime I start talking about anything related to the World Wars, rambling is inevitable. After our tunnel tour and looking out over the Channel, we explored the medieval tunnels for a bit before heading back to the bus and checking into our hotel. The hotel was right along the water and the big, nice rooms were a wonderful change from the cramped hostels we were used to staying in when we travelled. We walked as a group to a seafood restaurant on the beach after checking in. Do I even need to say what I ordered? We went down to the water when we’d finished eating. It was an extremely rocky beach, which wasn’t too fun to walk on with flip-flops, but it was still lovely all the same.
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The next morning, we got up early, got on our bus, and boarded a ferry for an hour-long ride across the Channel. We stood on the back deck for most of the ride, and it was one of my favorite little moments of the entire trip. The white of the Cliffs against the blue-green of the water and the deep blue of the sky was absolutely gorgeous. Add to that a cool, peaceful breeze and I was in heaven.
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We made port in Calais, and from there, had a couple hour bus ride to Dunkirk. On the way, I was able to take in the French countryside. As a whole, it was fairly similar to England’s—very green with rolling hills and lots of farmland. But there were some big distinctions between the two. Unlike in England, where pretty much all of the houses are made of red brick, French houses are made of varying materials, but almost all have very triangular roofs. Also, the French have their steering wheels on the left side and drive on the right side of the road like we do here in the United States. Oh, speaking of driving, our bus driver got pulled over by the French police for not wearing a seatbelt. At first it was kind of scary, but the policeman was nice, even though he barely spoke any English, and it became something we laughed about for the rest of the trip.

When we finally arrived at Dunkirk, we walked down to the beach. There was a memorial on the beach that we spent some time looking at. While we were looking, a couple who were taking their wedding pictures on the beach noticed we were Americans and their photographer took a picture of us with them. It was fun and embarrassing at the same time. But they were really cute.
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After that, we went to lunch at a little diner on the beach. I had a Panini au poulet—a grilled chicken, tomato, and cheese sandwich. The food was delicious and the waitresses who worked their were extremely friendly and accommodating, even though they spoke little to no English, we knew even less French, and we butchered the French we tried to speak. At one point, we were trying to figure out what was on a certain type of sandwich. Not knowing what the correct word would be, our waitress snorted like a pig to let us know it was pork. When we finished eating, we walked down to the beach, which had much softer sand than Dover’s beach, took off our shoes, and walked around in the cool water. We couldn’t stay long, though—we had a bus to catch to Paris.

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When we first arrived in Paris, I have to admit I wasn’t very impressed. The part of town we were staying in wasn’t the nicest and our hostel itself wasn’t too extraordinary, although slightly nicer than the one in Dublin. But, after we got settled in our hostel rooms and changed to go explore the city, we got to see the “real” Paris, the beautiful Paris, and I fell in love. We rode the Paris underground metro to the area near the Eiffel Tower and ate dinner at this elegant café called La Terrasse. It was one of the more pricey places we ate on the trip, but, hey, we were in Paris! It seemed only right to splurge a little. I had a Croque-Monsieur—a grilled ham and cheese sandwich that is dipped into a beaten egg then sautéed in butter. Yum. I quickly decided that French cuisine is my favorite, since it’s largely comprised of bread and cheese. I probably would’ve came back as big as a whale if I’d have spent too much time in France. We ended our dinner with Crème brûlée—an egg custard with melted sugar on top—for dessert. Can you say “heaven in your mouth?”
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Stomachs full, we walked the streets of Paris as the sun set, and headed towards the park and the Eiffel Tower. A childish wonder filled all of us when we saw it for the first time—it was a lot bigger and much more beautiful than I thought it would be. A group of French teenagers laughed at us and our obvious foreignness when we oohed and aahed as we looked up at it. We basically ran through the rest of the park to get close to it and spent several minutes taking pictures when we got to the place where the trees cleared and we were able to see the whole thing at once. Occasionally, I think it was every hour on the hour, the tower’s blue lights would sparkle, which was an amazing sight. We made it to the base of the tower just in time to buy tickets to go up in it. I’m so glad we made it, because seeing Paris from the Eiffel Tower at night is something I’ll never forget and pictures will never do it justice. I guess I’ll just have to go to Paris again to relive the memory.
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Our next day in Paris was a busy one, since we had to head back to Dover around two that afternoon. We spent the morning in The Louvre—one of the world’s largest museums. It was huge. We could’ve spent all day there and still have not seen everything. It is home to the work of some of the greatest artists in history. I saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I had the privilege to see such iconic pieces of art. I would go back in a heartbeat. After lunch, we used the little bit of time we had left in Paris walking the pretty streets and spending a ridiculous amount of money at amazing bookstores that I practically had to be dragged away from. We spent the rest of the day travelling back across the French countryside and over the Channel back to Dover.
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If you’re still reading this novel of a post, you deserve a gold star and a cookie—I told you we did a lot. But, if you are still here, don’t leave just yet, because I’m about to talk about one of my favorite parts of the entire trip—the White Cliffs of Dover. Just like our first day in Dover, it began chilly and cloudy, but eventually it turned out to be a gorgeous day. We walked as a group at first, and then broke off into smaller groups we walked on. Just like on the moors, I was captured in every way by the landscape. The grandeur of the cliffs made me feel small, but this feeling didn’t make me uncomfortable. It was just another reminder of the awesomeness of our God, and how wonderful it is that He created such beautiful things in nature for us to enjoy.
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Some of the walking trails on the cliffs were pretty rugged and difficult to walk. But the sights we got to see made it all worth it, and I suppose we probably needed some exercise after eating all that food in Paris. I couldn’t tell what took my breath away more—the climb up the cliffs or the chalky, white of the rocks, the varying shades of green of the grass, the wildflowers, and the strong breeze that blew through your hair when you looked towards the port. The writer in me, as amateur as she might be, was inspired. More than anything, I wanted to sit on the edge of a cliff, look out towards the Channel, and write and write and write.
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Unfortunately, or I suppose some people would say luckily, I didn’t have any time to sit and write anything. We had to continue to press on if we wanted to see most of it. We made it all the way to South Foreland Lighthouse, which was closed, and then decided to go back a different way than we came—on a gravel walking trail that went through several fields. It was a nice, peaceful walk, but we quickly realized that our “shortcut” was more like a “longcut” and we had to jump a few fences and walk some pretty narrow cliff edges to get us back to where we needed to be. Oh well, it just added to the experience.
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We left Dover not long after lunch, and headed back to good ol’ Harlaxton. Only having a day and a half left in the manor house, we tried to make the most of it when we weren’t packing up our stuff. We spent a lot of time together as a group. I’m really going to miss us all being together. Everyone who went on the trip was a lot of fun to be around.
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After saying our final goodbyes to home away from home, we left Harlaxton early Monday morning and headed for London. We were all pretty exhausted from all the travel we’d been doing, so our final trip to London was a lot more laid-back than the others. We did, however, do some shopping and visit Buckingham Palace. It wasn’t open to the public and we weren’t able to take obnoxious pictures with the guards, but we did get to get a good look at the palace through the gate. We went back to the hotel fairly early in the evening and spent the rest of the day chilling in our rooms.
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We didn’t really do anything else until Tuesday evening when we went out to dinner together one last time at an Italian restaurant and then to the Globe to see Titus Andronicus. I didn’t really know what to expect. I mean, of course, I knew what the play was about since we’d discussed it in class, but I had no idea what to expect as far as the performance itself. All I can say is wow. The acting, effects, atmosphere, everything—absolutely brilliant. It made standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers in a large group of people for over three hours totally worth it. If I ever have the chance to see another play there, I’d go without hesitation. I’d only hope it’d be a less-bloody play, maybe a comedy, so I don’t have to worry about the person next to me fainting because of all the blood… Anyway, watching a Shakespeare play was a very fitting end to a literary study abroad trip.

Well, that’s about it, folks (as if I haven’t really typed too much.) I could talk about the joys of going through airport security and the flight home, but who wants to hear about that? I’ve already talked about all the interesting stuff. It’s kind of depressing—talking about England in past tense. It’s no longer what I’m experiencing, but what I’ve experienced. I could start throwing out all the cliché things people say to try and describe an amazing experience but I’m not going to do that. It wouldn’t do the trip or how I feel about it justice, and if you’re looking for clichés, I’m sure I’ve used enough of them in my posts. I’ll just say that I feel like a different person after that trip. It has changed the way I look at the world, the way I look at my future, the way I read books, and the way I notice things around me. Whether or not I ever have the opportunity to go back again, my time in England will always be invaluable and one of the greatest experiences of my life. If you ever the opportunity to go abroad, DO IT! I’d be happy to talk to anyone who has questions about it. You won’t regret it.

Harlaxton Trip: Days 18-23 – Ireland

In 1959, Johnny Cash took a trip to Ireland. While he was there, he wrote a song about the country called “Forty Shades of Green.” Don’t worry—it has nothing to do with, and is way better than, Fifty Shades of Grey. After seeing Ireland for myself, I can totally see what inspired him to write the song. Everything in Ireland is green; green, green, green—rolling hills, pastures, and valleys, painted with every shade of green you can imagine. It’s beautiful. The green of the landscape also makes the sky look extra blue. I wish we could’ve spent more time there.
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We stayed up all night on Wednesday and a cab came and picked us up at 3:30 AM on Thursday. It took us to East Midlands Airport for our flight at 6. I’ll admit that staying up all night kicked my butt. I haven’t been that tired since being jetlagged in Shanghai on our China trip. But, looking back, leaving that early was worth it. It saved us a ton on our flight and it allowed us to have a full day in Dublin.

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Compared to London (8 million people), Dublin is a relatively small city (500,000 people.) But I think its “smallness” adds to its character. It was a city of cobblestone streets, with a pub on every corner. There are also bookstores everywhere in town, which we soon found out made sense because it is a city rich in literary history. Famous writers like James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and Jonathan Swift were all Dubliners.
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Our hostel, although not the nicest, was in a perfect location—right next to the main road and the river, within walking distance of all of the best pubs and shops. We shared a room with three other people. It was cool to meet people from New Zealand, Wales, and New York. It kind of made up for the sink being clogged and the room being as hot as the surface of the sun.
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Although I don’t drink, I love Dublin’s pub culture. Every night, they are all full of people, and every night there is live music, which was probably my favorite part—banjos, guitars, and Irish accents go great together. The food in the pubs was really good, too. I was sure to try some Irish fish and chips, so I could continue my quest to find the best fish and chips joint in Europe. All of the places I’ve ate so far have been delicious, though, so I’m not making much headway.
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We spent the first day exploring, shopping, and relaxing. On Friday, we went on a free walking tour of the city. It was really interesting. Our guide showed us important historical and literary landmarks throughout the city. He talked a lot about Ireland’s push for independence, the Potato Famine, and the Easter Rising of 1916. I thought the parts about the Rising were especially interesting, because I did a report and speech on it last year in cultural geography class. To hear the stories I’d been taught over the years in history class told from the perspective of an Irishman, who’s family and ancestors lived what he was talking about, was eye-opening and powerful.
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Saturday we took an all-day bus tour across the Irish countryside. It was a perfect day for it— clear, blue skies and fair temperatures. We went through County Wicklow and it’s beautiful mountains to Glendalough. Glendalough is a picturesque glacial valley that was home to an Early Medieval group of monks in the 6th century. We got to see the old monastery and the graveyard surrounding it. It was easy to see why the monks went there for spiritual renewal. Peace and tranquility seemed to permeate the whole area. I could’ve spent an entire day there.
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Our next stop was Kilkenny, a quaint little city with a castle and other medieval buildings. Supposedly, Kilkenny was named one of the world’s happiest cities. Although we’re still unsure whether or not that was true, it was a fun place to visit. There were tons of shops to visit and we ate a good lunch in one of the pubs. We returned to Dublin that evening and spent the rest of the night walking around the city and hanging out in the hostel. Our visit to Dublin wasn’t nearly long enough, and we had to fly back to England on Sunday.
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Tomorrow morning, we’re headed to France. It’s hard to believe this is my final week in Europe. These weeks have felt like mere days. I’m trying not to dwell on it too much, or I’ll get depressed. The rest of this week is going to be hectic, but I’ll try my best to post fairly soon. I hope everyone is having a great week so far!
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Harlaxton Trip: Days 11-17 – The Moors and London: Round 2

I apologize for how long it has taken me to update, and I promise that I didn’t get lost wandering the moors. I’ve had some papers for class to work on (yes, even though it might not seem like it, I actually have done some serious work over here) and we did a lot of travelling over the weekend. On Thursday, we visited the small town of Haworth, West Yorkshire—the home of the Bronte sisters. The sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, were all literary geniuses, famous for novels like Jane Eyre (Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (Emily), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne).
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Our first stop in the village was the Haworth Parish Church, where Patrick Bronte, the sisters’ father, served as vicar. It was a handsome church, with gorgeous stain glass windows, sturdy wooden pews, and beautiful arches. Surrounding the church was a crowded, old graveyard where it is estimated anywhere between 20,000 and 60,000 bodies were buried. We didn’t have much time to explore it, so I’m not sure if the sisters were buried there or not.
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After visiting the church, we walked just down the street to the Bronte parsonage. It was a brick house that was much bigger on the inside than it appeared on the outside. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, which was a pity because there were so many cool things in there. We were able to look into the sisters’ bedrooms, kitchen, nursery, their father’s room, and even the sitting room where the sisters wrote all of their novels and where one of the sisters (Emily, I think?) died on the sofa. They also had several of the Brontes’ personal items on display—dresses, gloves, hats, shoes, mirrors, hairbrushes, etc. It was both a little eerie and fascinating to see the common, everyday things those great women touched and used every day. One thing I didn’t know about the Bronte sisters was that they were also proficient in drawing and painting. They had several of their sketches and paintings on display and they were lovely. It blew my mind that, in addition to writing novels, they had time to create such beautiful, detailed art.
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Following our tour, we had a short bus ride to the moors. Our goal was to walk to the old farmhouse that is believed to have inspired Charlotte Bronte’s Wuthering Heights in the novel. It was a seven-mile hike, all uphill, but we were fortunate enough to go on an exceptionally nice day. It was cool and partly cloudy, which not only helped cool us down when we were hiking, but also made it all even more beautiful, as the clouds cast shifting shadows all across the green, rolling landscape. There were hundreds of sheep speckled on the hills on either side of us. Sometimes we would leave the path, use the public steps over the fences, and cut through the pastures as we made our way up the hill. When we finally made it to the old farmhouse, we were all sucking air, but enthralled by the old place. It was basically in ruins, but some of the stone walls were somewhat intact and fun to climb on. We stayed there for a while, taking pictures, making friends with the sheep, and giving our legs a much-needed rest.
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For the entire hike, I brought up the rear of the group, lagging behind because I was constantly stopping to take pictures or just take in the scenery around me. Something about the moors affected me in a way that I’d never been before. Perhaps it was because I felt like I was actually experiencing the same things my favorite characters did in my Bronte sisters’ or Daphne du Maurier novels. Or perhaps it was the ancient and desolate feel of the moors that did it. Or maybe it was a combination of both. But all I know is that I was so at peace and in tune with my surroundings. I didn’t want to leave.
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Friday was a relax day, and then Saturday morning we went to London for the weekend. This time, two of our other friends came with McKenzie and me. On our last trip to London, McKenzie and I bought two day passes that would get us into most of the major attractions in the city without waiting in lines and buying tickets for each place. The weather wasn’t nearly as nice as our first London outing, but I didn’t expect it to be. We were extremely lucky the first time. Nevertheless, it was still decent out, and we got to see quite a bit of stuff.
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After checking into our hostel, we walked down to a little Italian restaurant on the corner. It was fairly empty, probably because everyone was out gawking at the political protest that was going on down the street. But the food was good and the waitress was friendly and funny, complaining to us about how the protesters had been there every day for weeks and she still wasn’t sure what in the world they were protesting about. Although I’m not a big mushroom person, I had chicken smothered in a mushroom sauce, served with sliced potatoes. It was delicious. Following lunch, we walked down the street a couple blocks to the underground station, and caught the tube to downtown London. The tube is by far the fastest way to get around the city, and we used it a lot this past weekend. I’ve actually gotten to the point where I really enjoy the tube. After going to London again in a couple weeks, I’ll probably be just as good as a true Londoner at navigating the tubes. (Or at least I’d like to think so.)
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Our first stop was Westminster Abbey, the magnificent, old church right next to Big Ben and Parliament. It is where the Royal Weddings are always held, and where several of the old kings, queens, and great minds like Sir Isaac Newton are buried. I really wish I were able to take pictures inside, because it was breathtaking. It amazed me to think that something that grand and detailed could’ve been built in the mid-13th century. The entire thing, from the ceilings to the floors, was a work of art. When we walked in the door, we were given handheld guides that would tell you the history of whatever it was you were looking at. The amount of history within the walls of that church was unbelievable. After that, we were planning on visiting the war rooms of Winston Churchill (one of my absolute favorite people of all time), but the Naked Bike Ride going down the streets of London distracted us. I tried my best to avert my eyes, but it was kind of hard not to see things when there are hundreds of naked butts going down the street. It was disturbing.
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Anyway, then we walked to the Tower of London, the castle that was used as a prison from 1100 to 1952. Walking through the castle courtyard and climbing the different towers made me feel like I’d be teleported to the Middle Ages, which was kind of creepy. We didn’t make it through all of it, because by that point we were pretty exhausted. After sitting on a bench for a while and trying to perfect our British accents, we headed back to our hostel. On the way, we stopped and ate dinner at a pub called The Allsop Arms. I had fish and chips again. It’s getting really close to making my ‘favorite foods’ list. After that, we went back to our hostel, and spent the night eating takeaway cheesecake and talking.
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Sunday was pretty cold and rainy. We got up early to tour Shakespeare’s Globe Theater before the tours stopped at eleven. Although not the original Globe, it’s as close to the original as they think they can get it. They had several costumes and displays about the history of the Globe and Shakespeare’s plays, and the man who led our tour was very knowledgeable. We are coming back to the Globe towards the end of our trip to see Titus Andronicus, but we wanted to be able to see it when it was empty, without all the crowds that will inevitably be there before the play. Shakespeare has never been my favorite, but it was still really interesting and impressive. I’m really looking forward to seeing the play before coming home.
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We were all spoiled with the nice weather the last time we were in London, so this time we didn’t pack the right clothes for a typical cool, cloudy London day. As a result, we were all under dressed and tired from all the travel and decided to go home from London early. Before we left, we ate at The Old Thameside Inn. It was a pub with great atmosphere, and I had—you guessed it—fish and chips for the second time in 24 hours.
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The last few days have been relax and get-homework-done days, which is nice since we’ll be travelling so much in the next week. In class, we discussed some William Wordsworth and E.E. Cummings poems. It’s been a welcome change from reading novels, and I’ve always preferred explicating poetry to analyzing text. We have done some things outside the manor, too, though. This afternoon we went as a group to Liberty Rose’s Tea Room and Fancy Goods Shop in Grantham for “High Tea”—afternoon tea. The shop was adorably vintage themed, and all of the ladies who worked there were super nice. Music from the 1940’s played as we had cream tea. Cream tea is an afternoon tea light meal, consisting of tea with scones, clotted cream, and jam. It was wonderful and I’m considering incorporating a cream tea into my daily routine when I return to the States. The ladies who worked there also showed us the proper way to drink our tea and hold the cups. I’ll be sure to share the proper tea-drinking techniques when we have our Sunday night Downton Abbey tea parties next January. Tonight, we’re waiting for our takeaway pizza to arrive—I think we’ve ordered pizza 5 times at least on this trip—and packing our bags. At 3:30 a.m., a taxi is picking us up and taking us to the airport. We’re headed to Dublin, Ireland for the weekend. Besides England itself, Ireland is the place I’ve been most excited about seeing on this trip. I’ve been listening to my Irish folk music all day to get into the proper frame of mind. It’s also supposed to be nice all weekend in Dublin, so it looking like a great weekend is ahead of me. I’ll try my best to post a little quicker next time, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to gush about after this weekend.

Harlaxton Trip: Days 7-10 – Manchester

These last few days have somehow been simultaneously busy and relaxing. On Sunday evening, we walked as a class to the Parish Church of Saint Mary and Saint Peter in Harlaxton Village. It was a beautiful, old church, and when I say old, I mean some parts of it date back to the late 12th century. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to tour the inside, but we could see some of it through the lovely stain glass windows and everything on the exterior of it was interesting enough. Surrounding the church on both sides was a cemetery. Most of the tombs were from the mid to late 19th century, and we spent some time walking around reading the different inscriptions on the headstones.
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When we’d finished looking around, our professor led us through town and into the country using these walking paths that were hundreds of years old. They fascinated me, because we were literally walking through people’s yards and fields, but as long as we were keeping to the path, we were fine. The paths even went through gates and over fences. The gates and fences that were part of the path were always marked with yellow arrows, and if we couldn’t open a gate, there were steps so you could step over the fence. I can’t even imagine a public walkway like that existing in America.

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Outside of town, we walked through a cow pasture. We had to practically walk on our tiptoes, because it was a minefield of cow patties. The cows didn’t know what to make of us, and they ran back and forth from one side of the pasture to the other. Some people in our group were pretty terrified of them, but I kind of liked being around them. It reminded me of home and the time my best friend and I were chased by a cow—I got my underwear caught on a barbed wire fence trying to escape it. Anyway, after we successfully made it through the pasture without getting trampled, we walked through a field. I think it might have been barley. There was a cool breeze and I walked with my hands outstretched, the barley tickling my palms and fingertips. McKenzie and I talked about how we wished we could’ve just sat in the middle of the field all day reading and writing. We’ll have to bring folding chairs if we ever go back again.
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Early Monday morning, we loaded into a tour bus for a three-hour drive to Manchester. The first place we visited was Quarry Bank Mill, one of the best-preserved textile mills of the Industrial Revolution that is now a museum. We read parts of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, which is largely about the social and economic pressures on the working class during the Industrial Revolution. Coketown, the fictitious mill-town where the story is set, is very similar to Manchester in many respects. By visiting the mill, we were able to get a glimpse into the lives of those people Dickens talks about in his novel.
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It was raining pretty heavily when we were at the mill, so I didn’t bring my phone with me to take pictures.* I’ll try my best to describe what it was like. It was a large, brick building with several stories, huge rooms, and tons of windows—basically a really old factory. After being shown around the outside a bit, a lady gave us a quick tour of the inside. It was a cotton mill, and I was shocked by just how dangerous working with cotton truly was. Workers could develop lung problems and cancer simply from breathing in the cotton particle filled air around them. They also often had hearing problems from working with the machines. One of the men who worked at the museum turned on three machines to show us just how loud they were. With only three machines on, you couldn’t hear the person standing next to you. It’s hard to imagine how insanely loud it would be back in the mill’s prime, when hundreds of machines would be going at once. In addition to being noisy, the machines were dangerous. We were told of some of the tragedies that happened at the mill—people losing limbs when their clothes got caught on the belts and children being killed when trying to clean the machines while they were running.
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Child labor was a big thing back in those days. They especially liked using children, because they were small and nimble, able to do tasks like climbing under machines to clean them. Why did they have to do this? The biggest hazard in the mills was fire. The oils in cotton make it highly flammable, and the slightest spark could’ve set the entire factory up in flames instantly. That’s why they wanted to keep the particles in the air and on the floor minimal, and the reason why there were so many windows, so workers would never need to light candles.

The workers were over-worked, under-fed, and under-paid. They only made two shillings for a week of work. A “week of work” for a typical factory worker was over 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. And what makes it all even crazier is this mill was considered one of the “better” places to work. I found the whole thing both fascinating and depressing, and I kind of wish we could’ve spent more time there.
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After visiting Quarry Bank Mill, we made a jump from a working class location to one of the upper classes. We visited Lyme Park, a 1300-acre estate that had been in the same family for over 600 years, until they were forced to sell when the money ran out after WWII. Someone else owns it now, and we were able to tour it. Although not as extravagant as Chatsworth, it was still very nice inside. It had more of a simple elegance that I think made it seem a whole lot more livable. I wish I had pictures to show, but taking them was prohibited on the inside. I tried to take some before I knew the rule and got reprimanded. I also got yelled at for touching furniture, so I suppose I was probably a big troublemaker in the eyes of the staff there.

Just like Chatsworth, Lyme’s ceilings were intricately detailed and its walls were covered in beautiful artwork. Some of the rooms were roped off, but we were able to see most of them. They also had costumes available so guests could dress up in proper Edwardian attire as the toured the estate. Several people in our group dressed up, but being the party-pooper I usually am, I opted out of getting all fancied up myself. By far, though, my favorite part of the estate was the gardens. They were gorgeous. Just look at the pictures and you’ll see what I mean.
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After touring the estate, we went into downtown Manchester to go visit the People’s History Museum. It was easy to see how, even today, Manchester is a very industrial, working class city. Almost everyone we saw walking around were tired looking people, on their way home from work, wearing business attire. The city was also a good deal less crowded and busy than London, which was a nice change. The museum itself was pretty interesting. It took you through the history of England’s working class’s struggle to gain their rights. It fit really well with the discussions we’d been having about Hard Times and the working class of England.
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We ended the evening eating dinner at Jamie’s Italian, a restaurant located in an old bank in Manchester. The atmosphere was great and the food was even better. The owner of the restaurant, Jamie Oliver, is apparently a big celebrity chef in Britain. Although not too pricey, you could tell it was more of an upscale place. I didn’t know what half of the stuff on the menu even was. Some people in our group were adventurous and tried things like squid and muscle pasta and rabbit, but I played it safe and had penne carbonara, which was delicious.
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Yesterday and today have been free days. We have class in the morning and then the rest of the day to ourselves. Besides class and some trips into Grantham, we’ve been relaxing and working on homework. Tomorrow we’re visiting the Bronte sisters’ parsonage and walking the moors. The moors are something I’ve been longing to see ever since I began reading English literature when I was young. Rain or shine, I can’t wait to walk them and listen for Heathcliff and Cathy calling out for each other.

*The pictures I’ve included in this section are of some beautiful landscape we saw on our bus ride.

Harlaxton Trip: Days 5-6 – London

On Friday, we went on a day trip to London, and it was phenomenal. The city was fascinating and I couldn’t of asked for a nicer day. We took a train from Grantham to London in the morning. The train is by far my favorite way to travel. It’s cheaper than most of the other ways to get around, it’s relaxing, and it allows you to really get a good look at the English countryside. I’ve realized that nearly every house in this country is made out of bricks, and although you’d think that the uniformity of the houses would become boring, I actually like it that way. I love the simple elegance of their houses and gardens. Truth be told, there isn’t much I don’t like about England so far.
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We arrived at King’s Cross around ten. It was quite the impressive, busy place. Several people were practically running up and down the platforms, and even more were standing like statues in the departures concourse, eyes fixed on the monitors, waiting to see what platform their train would be leaving from. All of them were wearing business suits or dresses. That’s one of the first things I noticed about London—everyone is impeccably dressed. I thought about wearing a bright orange top with a black skirt that morning but I’m glad I didn’t; for the most part, everyone wears neutral colors, so I definitely would’ve drawn attention to myself. Everyone’s hair is perfect there, too—especially the men’s. Ladies: if you want a well-dressed man with good hair, go to London.
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As soon as McKenzie and I walked out of the station, we walked right into something hilarious—a ‘Visit Illinois’ informational fair. There was an extremely tall man dressed up as Abe Lincoln, to whom people were flocking to get their picture with, and booths set up selling raffle tickets for a trip to Illinois. There was even a booth promoting the Firefly Grill in Effingham that was handing out free samples. What made it all even weirder was the fact that British people ran all of the booths. We walked away laughing because, number one: How funny is it that we went to London on the day they were having a ‘Visit Illinois’ fair? And, number two: Why in the world would someone who lives in a country as beautiful as England want to visit a state as bland as Illinois? I’m still scratching my head about the whole thing.

After that bizarre experience, we walked around for a bit before realize that getting around on foot is not only exhausting, but also a waste of time. We hopped on a bus to Baker Street. I tried finding 221b, the home of Sherlock Holmes, but I couldn’t find it. (Sorry, Aunt Kathy.) We were planning on going to the wax museum, until we found out there was a two-hour wait for tickets. It was way too beautiful of a day to spend waiting in a line or even inside a building looking at waxen celebrities.
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By that time we were hungry, so we went to this nice, little pub called The Globe. We ate outside and I tried my first plate of fish and chips. I don’t normally like fish, but I thought it was delicious. Or maybe I was just craving fried foods. Who knows? Anyway, I’m sure I’ll order some again before I head back to the States.
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Following lunch, we got tickets for a bus and boat tour. That was definitely money well spent, especially on a day like Friday. We got to sit on the top of the tour bus as it took us around a great deal of London. They provided headphones so we could listen to a commentator talk about the different buildings we passed. Just like everything else in England, London is rich in history. America is a mere baby in comparison. We got off the tour bus near the London Tower, which we are planning on touring next weekend, got some ice cream, and headed to our boat tour on the River Thames.
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The river tour was probably my favorite part of our day trip. We were on an open boat, the sky was clear, and the breeze was cool. Our guide was a ridiculously attractive guy, with a nice voice, dark hair, and a slight beard. He reminded me of James Franco a little bit. Anyway we went down the River Thames as our guide pointed out and gave us the history of several important buildings along the river. We saw Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Winston Churchill’s War Rooms, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and Big Ben. We were actually lucky enough to be right next to Big Ben when it rang at 4 p.m. It was such a deep, powerful sound, and I almost cried.
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We made one more stop in London after our boat tour—the London Dungeon. Set up a lot like a haunted house, the Dungeon was an interactive tour through London’s gruesome past. Actors would walk you through different parts of history, showing and telling you what happened—the Plague, Guy Fawkes, Sweeney Todd, torture chambers, Jack the Ripper, and hangings being some of the events/characters we were introduced to. It was really interesting from a historical standpoint, but somewhat disturbing from a moral one; disturbing in the sense that people are so fascinated by evil and tragedy, and that we flock to things like this. It was very well done and entertaining, but I still had mixed feelings when I left it.

As much as I love London, I’ll have to admit that its transportation is pretty confusing, at least to a big city newb like me. Luckily, McKenzie is fairly familiar with getting around Chicago, and we did eventually find our way to the tube, which we’ve discovered is the fastest way around the city. The tube reminds me a lot of the MetroLink we take to Cardinal games in St. Louis. It was jam-packed, and everyone was playing the “don’t make eye contact and don’t let your hand touch anyone else’s on the bar” game, which was pretty entertaining. We accidentally got off at the wrong place, but we only had to walk a few blocks to King’s Cross. All in all, I think we did really well navigating the city on our own for the first time. We didn’t get terribly lost, mugged, or hit by a bus, so what a great day!

The last two days have been a lot more relaxed. Yesterday, we slept in late, and then spent some time exploring the manor. We discovered a hidden spiral staircase behind a wall in the long room near the conservatory. It didn’t lead anywhere too sinister, but still pretty awesome all the same. Later in the evening, I sat on a bench in the garden and wrote in my journal. I haven’t felt that at peace in a long time. Just like the day before, the air was cool, sun was shining, and the sky was an incredible blue. Perhaps it’s the greenness of the grass that makes the sky seem exceptionally blue. Also, unlike most of the places I’ve been in my life, the sounds of nature seem to dominate everything. You could hear cars down in the village, but only if you listened hard enough. The birds are by far the overpowering sound. Even late at night, the birds are chirping. I don’t think they ever shut up, but I’m glad for it. It’s a nice contrast to what I’m used to. After sitting there for a while, someone started playing the piano in the Great Hall, and I could hear it from where I was. It was a perfect moment, and I almost hated myself for breaking the silence when I had to walk across the noisy gravel to get back to the manor as the sun set.
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Late last night, we were craving American food so badly that we ordered “takeaway” food from an American restaurant in Grantham. We ordered pizza, cheese fries, cheeseburgers, and soda. I probably gained back all the pounds I’ve lost since I’ve been here—I’m talking in terms of weight, not currency, although I have lost a lot of that too—but it was totally worth it. Every last greasy, fattening bite was worth it. I am hoping that that food binge will satisfy my American food craving for the time being, though.

Today was another relaxing day, although we did some fun things as well. I would write about it now, but it’s after 2 a.m. here and I have to be up at 7 to go visit Manchester. I’m really excited to see how it compares with London and all the other places I’ve been in England so far. And it’s also where my beloved Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey was from. (This is why you don’t get overly-attached to fictional characters, children.) I’ll let y’all know how it goes soon. Hope all is well across the pond!

Harlaxton Trip: Day 4 – Visiting Mr. Darcy

Jane: “Will you tell me how long you have loved him?”
Elizabeth: “…I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”

Although Lizzy was obviously joking, after seeing “Pemberley” for myself, I probably would believe and wouldn’t blame her at all for saying it. Today we visited Chatsworth, the house used as “Pemberley” (Mr. Darcy’s home) in the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice. It is speculated that it was what actually inspired Austen’s Pemberley in the novel. I know I talked up Harlaxton a lot in my last post (and it definitely deserves it), but Chatsworth was by far the most spectacular, beautiful place I’ve ever been. I don’t think I have the words to describe it.

It took about two hours by shuttle for us to get to Chatsworth from Harlaxton. Traffic was pretty crazy this morning, so it took us a little longer to get there than to come back. It wasn’t too boring of a ride, though. McKenzie was filling me in on all of the ridiculous things I said in my sleep this morning, and the roundabouts still fascinate me. When we finally got to Chatsworth, I was in a constant state of awe, mouth dumbly hanging open and eyes on the verge of tears. I’m not even kidding. It was that amazing. And I also probably was extra excited and enthralled by it because Pride & Prejudice is one of my favorite movies, and “Pemberley” one of my favorite parts of it. The entire time we were there, I was half-expecting my Mr. Darcy to appear any minute. (I can dream, can’t I?)

Anyways, like I said earlier, the place was so stunning that I truthfully don’t know how to do it justice. I’ll just fill you in on some of the other details and then let the pictures I took do the talking. Outside the house was a small food and drink fair. After touring the house, we walked around sampling and buying some of the wares. I tried this smoked cheese that was awesome—I wish I could remember what it was called—and bought a couple of pieces of assorted fudge. Why is fudge so magical? Chatsworth also had a bookstore full of souvenirs and books that I had to restrain myself from buying. We didn’t get to see all of the house, because they were using some of the rooms to film a TV show. But perhaps it was for the best we didn’t see any more than we did. I’m not sure if my heart could’ve handled it.

I hope my pictures can give you at least a small idea of just how amazing it was. Have I already used the word “amazing”? I think I’m going to have to make up a new word to describe it. I’ll get back to you on that. One last thing—if anyone is feeling generous, I’d really appreciate someone lending me a couple million dollars so I could build my own Chatsworth. I’d name it “Catsworth” and take my cat-lady persona to the next level.

*You can click on pictures to enlarge them.

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Harlaxton Trip: Days 1-3

When I first stepped—or rather jetlaggedly stumbled—off the plane in London, I was surprised by how familiar and non-foreign it felt. It wasn’t like my trip to China, where I was immediately bombarded with loud voices screaming in a language I couldn’t understand and smells that made me want to finally throw up the plane food that had been festering in my stomach for several hours. The airport seemed just like an American one, and the fact that we were mostly surrounded by other Americans all the way to customs probably added to the illusion that we hadn’t really left the States at all. It wasn’t until it was our turn to go through customs that I realized with relief that we had, in fact, reached our destination, and hadn’t just flown around in circles above the U.S. for eight hours.

The man who cleared us through customs was friendly with a thick British accent. While he was checking our information, he told us about how this lady he works with made him a carrot cake for his “tea” (break). Later, after we got our luggage, I noticed a sign that directed people to the “car park” rather than the parking lot, and then I overheard some ladies discussing whether or not one of their friends had “gone on holiday.” I was relieved that PBS hasn’t been lying to me about British culture all these years, and I was smiling like an idiot the entire time.

Our 2-hour bus ride from the airport to Grantham was relaxing. Perhaps a little too relaxing—every one of us succumbed to our jetlag and fell asleep at some point of the ride. In the moments I was able to keep my eyes open, I was entertained by all of the subtle differences between our culture and theirs. They do, in fact, drive on the left side of the road and their steering wheels are on the right side of their cars. The cars themselves are different, too; they’re all generally smaller and nicer than our cars here. I didn’t see any junkers with McDonald’s bags and empty cigarette boxes strewn about like you do in America, which was refreshing. But I did realize that there is no way that I could ever drive here, at least not without serious injury to myself or another person. The roads all seem to be a conglomeration of circles (they call them roundabouts) and sharp turns that don’t have any obvious rhyme or reason. Even on a bus we were required to wear our seatbelt and I can kind of see why. Our bus driver made me feel scared for my life a couple of times. Fun fact: Yield Signs are “Give Way” signs here, which I found entertaining. By far, though, the most striking parts of this country are the green, rolling hills, and the little cottages with red roofs and herds of sheep surrounding them. It was so simple, yet breathtaking.
When we finally made it to Grantham, the village right outside of Harlaxton, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with it. It’s so charming and cute. I haven’t had the chance to go explore it yet, but hopefully I’ll have an opportunity this afternoon. The manor came into view not long after we went through the village. It is gorgeous, just as I knew it would be, but actually standing in front of it after we got off the bus affected me more than any picture ever did.
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After my roommate McKenzie and I dropped our bags off in our room, which is modest but nice, we went exploring. It was the perfect day for it—cool with sunshine—and we spent several hours roaming around the beautiful grounds and the manor itself. Later, after dinner and a much-needed shower, we went on a tour of the castle with a funny, entertaining old man. Despite a limp caused by a stroke he had 17 years ago, he still gets around fairly well, but made the joke that he would always go first up the stairs so we would all be behind him to break his fall. His wit somewhat reminded me of Groucho Marx, and if you weren’t paying attention, you’d miss some of his steady stream of jokes. He was hilarious, but also knowledgeable, filling us in on the history of the house and all of its past owners.
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I still can’t get over how magnificent the house is. It is intricately detailed in every aspect, especially the ceilings. I think I gave myself a small kink in my neck from looking up too much during the tour. Our guide also showed us several hidden doors and closets in the house, which were mainly put in place to ensure that the servants would be heard and seen as little as possible when they went about their work. The complexity of the house increases the possibility of disorientation, which is why I’ll probably never go exploring on my own. I’ve gotten lost in Effingham before, for heaven’s sake. And even though I’m not one to believe in ghosts, some of the rooms are pretty dark and creepy, so it’s easy to understand why many feel that the manor is haunted. After the tour, we relaxed the rest of the evening and tried to go to bed early.
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Yesterday wasn’t as sunny as the first day here, but still nice. It rained in the morning, leaving the air cool, clean, and crisp. Just like our guide said an English rain would be, it was basically a steady, light mist, not heavy enough for an umbrella, but still enough where you’d need a raincoat if you were to go out.

I spent some time outside after class and lunch reading and writing in my journal on the steps guarded by two stone lions outside the manor. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere so peaceful in my entire life. In the air is a calm that compels you to whisper when you talk—if you talk at all that is—and to just listen to the birds. Perhaps it is the foreignness of their songs that catches my attention. I don’t know hardly anything about birds, but I do know, based on their sounds alone, that the birds here are very different from the ones back home. McKenzie and I have heard a dove outside our open window every morning.
Oh, speaking of that open window, not everything that has came through it has been pleasant. Twice while we were in the room yesterday, a huge—and I’m not at all exaggerating when I say this—HUGE hornet flew through our window. It sounded like a tiny chainsaw buzzing around, and it started to get angry when it couldn’t get out. It went out on it’s own the first time after a few minutes, but the second time it wouldn’t leave. It was terrifying. I just lay there on my bed motionless and cackling (danger makes me laugh apparently.) When it finally got too close for comfort, we fled our room and went down to the boutique (gift shop) for a while. It was gone was when we got back. Or I hope so anyways. I thought I heard it under my bed a couple times, but I’m crossing my fingers that it was just in the room next to ours. The walls are super thin so that could be the case, and I couldn’t find it when I looked for it. But if I don’t end up posting again anytime soon, it’s possible that the hornet has been hiding under my bed the entire time, and killed me in the middle of the night.

Anyway, back to things other people might care about, later yesterday evening, we met up as a group and watched the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. We’re reading the novel right now, and we’re going to visit Chatsworth—A.K.A. the house they use as Pemberley (Mr. Darcy’s home) in the film—tomorrow. That house has always been one of the things I love the most about that film, so I cannot wait to see it in person.

All in all, I’m loving it here so far. I’m only 3 days in and I can already tell this is going to be an experience of a lifetime. I’m still not quite on their time schedule yet, but I’m slowly getting to where I don’t feel quite as tired all the time. The food has been alright—not great but not terrible either. I did try some of their candy from the vending machine in the basement that’s really good. It was called a Kinder Bueno—little wafer things with hazelnut cream on the inside and chocolate on the outside. So delicious. I’ll have to bring some home. Anyhow, I’ll try to post more often from now on to spare everyone the pain of reading novel long posts like this. Until next time!