Category Archives: Travel

A month ago . . . up to now

It’s been yet another donkey age since I’ve written/posted/whatever here. And it makes me feel like a real jerk. So, sorry about that. But! In that time I’ve submitted a master’s thesis, taken my friends back to the States with me to do a grand tour of Virginia/Pennsylvania/Delaware/Maryland/New Jersey/New York/Connecticut . . . (major cities D.C., New York, and Philadelphia).

Coming back from America to England, marking the year anniversary of living here, has been interesting. It certainly hasn’t been as easy as it’s been in the past. Not that leaving my family has EVER been easy, but now I’m a bit more jaded about the bureaucracy that’s so prevalent in England (not that we don’t have it ourselves, but it’s taking 5 BUSINESS DAYS to deposit a cheque here. BUSINESS. DAYS. 5. FIVE. We were not amused). As much as England became a real place while I studied at Oxford almost 4 years ago, it’s real as anything now. I’m here longer than I anticipated, or anyone in my family planned, despite my not-so-secret desire to stay here for a considerable period of time. And perhaps that’s why, finally, I feel like a kind of/sort of adult. I’m having dinner parties (small ones) and planning holidays (my first Thanksgiving, albeit on foreign shores).  Everything has a bit more of a grown-up edge to it, as I apply for jobs and sort out my still-new flat. I no longer just like to USE a diary (planner) because it makes me feel smart, I legitimately NEED one (or 3) because I have to keep track of my life.

I’m considering going into greater detail about organizing my flat, but what I’m quite proud of at the moment are my new window boxes. The previous tenant kept two window boxes, with chrysanthemums, rosemary, sage, and other plants. By the time I took over occupation, these plants were dead as a doornail and functioned as an ashtray for somebody’s illegal cigarettes. Lovely.

I’d always intended to re-plant them, but a number of things stopped me. 1) my thesis. 2) my lack of funds. 3) the multiple spiders squatting in various corners of my window.

BUT! Post-thesis, with a bit of coin rattling about, and after a quick de-forestation of spider webs and their inhabitants, I am now the proud proud owner of lovely window boxes! I drove (was driven) to a lovely garden center just outside  on the outskirts of London. My parents always dragged me to garden centers with them when I was younger (or dragged me enough that it was memorable) and, despite my general refusal to help with yard work, I now find gardening and looking at plants to be a very comforting pastime. Or the idea of it, anyway.

I tried to pick out some hardier plants that would survive the winter, or at least survive INTO the winter. I’ve chosen ferns, winter berries (a type of holly, apparently), and calluna vulgaris. I wasn’t sure what calluna vulgaris was, only that I thought it was pretty and looked hardy. Turns out, I have a special attachment to it, because it’s just this:

It was wonderful to get my hands dirty and produce a visible result. It makes my window look much more cheerful and my flat much more homey.

the Lakes

As I slip further and further into the abyss of attempting to write with a looming deadline, I find it harder and harder to disconnect from myself and my own worries. E-mails to friends wait longer and longer in my inbox, and it’s harder and harder to set aside my own stresses to focus on someone else’s. It’s easier to just throw up my hands and say that nobody understands, not even my friends that are doing the exact same thing. Hardly adult behavior.

Continue reading the Lakes

Meandering London

One of my favorite things about London is that it’s so vast you can live there for ages and never see certain parts of it. A random free day, not filled with library appointments or lectures, is best served (I think) by choosing a direction and just heading off . . . you never know what you find, even near your own neighborhood.

When my friend visited, we meandered to a beautiful gothic cemetery that features prominently in Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. We’re both literary enthusiasts (we met in college as English majors), so the grey chill suited us just fine as we walked amongst the dead.

Moss-covered headstones, many ravaged by the elements, tilted at strange angles around tree roots. The carved inscriptions have faded away in some spots, leaving it up to those who come across it to imagine their lives. There’s something so quiet about it, shaded by the trees.

The whole experience made me think of the Edna St. Vincent Millay line–

“… but the rain/ Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh/ Upon the glass and listen for reply.”

 

 

Daytripper

I recently took a day trip to Cardiff. It was largely spent walking around, visiting the castle and some local pubs. It’s nice to get out of London every once and awhile, particular to somewhere like Wales. It’s like Scotland and Ireland in that it’s just different enough to feel like you’re somewhere else entirely (and, in point of fact, you are in a new country). I love to look at all the Welsh words, though I have an incredibly difficult time wrapping around all those consonants.

The day was a bit dreary and grey, as most days in the UK are, but it makes the green seem so much more vibrant.

As much privacy as a goldfish in a bowl

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m fascinated by the idea of these Royal residences. They are amazing pieces of architecture that showcase the history of England and the monarchy, with stunning exhibits and displays–particularly as London/England gears up for the (now past) Jubilee and Olympic Games. However, it’s important to remember that behind a few bricked up doors is where the royal family actually works and lives. This is particularly true of Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria’s childhood home, also the home of Diana after her divorce from the Prince of Wales as well as the late Princesses Margaret (the source of today’s post title) and Alice. It is now the official London base of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (i.e. Will and Kate) among others and the unofficial residence of Prince Harry.

I’d heard a bit about the new exhibits at Kensington Palace and went to visit them with both my parents and later a friend who came to visit. There have been many parallels drawn between Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria recently–with this Jubilee QEII clocks in at 60 years, which means she only has 3 years and 7 months to go to beat out Queen Victoria as the longest reigning monarch in England and the longest reigning female monarch EVER. Which is pretty cool, you have to admit.

 

There were 3 major exhibits that stick in my memory; one about Victoria’s reign, one about the reign of Queen Mary [of William &, because technically they reigned jointly. The fact that few people remember that she was NOT, in fact, a Queen Consort is probably one of the reasons she looks so dour in all her portraits), and one showcasing some of Diana’s more popular gowns. While perusing some of Victoria’s desk supplies (way to excited) I overheard a docent mention that some people would come in from the park commenting that they saw one of the princes going for a jog. The whole thing strikes me as so surreal, looking out your window with your morning cuppa to see random people on your front lawn! But it’s all part and parcel, I guess.

 

The exhibits were very Tim Burton-esque, with lots of interesting quotes written on the walls, these amazing silhouettes and all sorts of amazing things hanging on the wall. They kept very close to the more recent trend of museums being interactive–they were beautiful just walking through them, but in order to see or hear any information you had to crouch down, peer into windows, and sit in the window seats to hear the whispers of gossiping courtiers.

There is so much to see at the exhibit, and these pictures are merely a miniscule fraction of what they’ve showcased there.

Scotland

My parents came to visit in mid-April. They’ve been to London several times already, so they like picking me up and going places we’ve never been before (which I’m totally ok with). This time we spent three days in Edinburgh, taking the train from King’s Cross St. Pancras.

The train ride was stunningly beautiful. The English countryside is so lush and beautiful, particularly on a sunny day.

We stayed in an apartment just off the Mound, visited Edinburgh Castle, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence when she goes to Scotland (though we all know she spends about a week there before high-tailing it to Balmoral in Aberdeenshire.) I can’t say that I blame her. Holyroodhouse is much less private than Balmoral; while Balmoral is a private residence and not a part of the Crown Estate, Holyroodhouse is one of the Royal Residences and thus open to tours and all sorts of things. I’ve always wondered what it must be like to sneak past the gift shop to get to your side of the house! Anyway, attached to Holyrood Palace is the ruins of Holyrood Abbey.

While the palace struck me as a tad drafty and overstated, there’s nothing I love more than some church ruins . . . the dilapidated grandeur is incredible.

I wish we’d had more time to spend there, but honestly it was bitterly cold even in mid-April! We were wearing our winter coats and as we waited for the massive gun to go off at Edinburgh Castle (as it does at 1 pm–I think–every day), the wind sending a chill straight through us, my dad mentioned that Edinburgh was on the same latitude line as Moscow. Very beautiful, but very cold. I still had a considerable amount of work to do on my essays, so I had to stay in our little apartment which was very historic but very poorly insulated.

They also spent a few days with me in London, going around to see my daily life there and meeting a few of my friends. On the way back from the Tate Britain (home to the Lady of Shalott one of my mother’s favorite paintings), a small parade obstructed our way home! It was some small organization, or regiment that merrily walked its way down the road, proudly displaying their banners and colors. My parents got a real kick out of it . . . but this cynical city kid just grumbled at the inconvenience.