All Good Things Must Come to an End

I am sitting right now in my kitchen, back at home in Illinois. It all seems quite surreal. Five weeks ago, I left on a plane for England, and now the whole adventure has come to an end. Even though I felt ready to return to see my friends, family, and my little beastly dog, leaving was a lot harder for me than I was anticipating.

Alright, alright, enough of this sappy business and on to all the fun we had in London for our very last weekend!

Starting off on Friday, the afternoon wasn’t too eventful- we just wandered around, got some food, checked into our hotels, and made a game plan for the night. A bunch of us wanted to go to the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey, so we figured out how to take the underground tube system to get there. For anyone who has taken the tube, I’m proud to say I successfully minded the gap!

The church was incredible. As with all the churches, cathedrals, and abbeys that I saw on this trip, the architecture was so impressive. The cathedral ceiling seemed to be miles high, and everything was full of intricate detail. I was amazed even before the service began.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

I had never been to a traditional Anglican church, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It was so different than the more contemporary churches I belong to at home and in Charleston, but it was really beautiful. The chorus that sang the hymns was amazing, I really could have sat there and listened to them harmonize all day. My favorite part of the service was the Anthem that they sang, written by John Donne (1573-1631)

“Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness, nor dazzling but one equal light, no noise nor silence, but one equal music, no fears nor hopes but one equal possession, no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitation of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.”

The abbey also had this engraved in one of the stones on the outside. I really loved it.

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After the service, we were all pretty hungry, so we walked around the city in search of a warm, hearty meal. We ended up at a place called Spaghetti House. I ordered their two-course meal, with delicious bruschetta and a salad full of all my favorite things. It sure hit the spot!

While we wandered around after eating, we ended up at the National Gallery, and went in for a quick 30-minute run-through before it closed. We were already planning on going the next day, so we just got a little head start. Once it closed, we ended up walking through Leicester Square, and getting some Ben & Jerry’s for dessert before making our way back to our hotel for the night.

The next morning, we got up bright and early to get breakfast right when it opened, so we could get out and start our day in the city. Our main plan was to head back to the National Gallery, but since it didn’t open until 10, we spent the morning getting a little last-minute souvenir shopping in. We got to the gallery just a few minutes before 10, so we sat outside on the fountain in Tragalgar Square, taking pictures and people-watching. But once those doors opened, we made our way in and scattered, each taking our time looking at and admiring all the paintings.

The National Gallery

The National Gallery

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After studying the ideas of picturesque, it was really cool to roam through the galleries and see some of the examples that we had talked about in class. One that I was really excited to see was The Hay Worth, a painting by John Constable.

The Hay Wain, John Constable

Right on schedule, we met up outside the gallery, went and grabbed some lunch, and started heading over towards The Globe, where we had to meet at for our play at 1:30. It was a beautiful afternoon to walk along the river, and of course to stop for something delicious. Anna couldn’t resist the smell of these roasted peanuts being sold by a street vendor, and bought some as a treat for us all.

Love these ladies so much!

Yummm!

Yummm!

We had about an hour to kill before the play, so we stopped in to check out the Tate Modern art galleries. You know, I have always had a special appreciation for art and love admiring great paintings, photographs, and sculptures, but I have to admit, the “abstract-ness” of 99% of the pieces in the Tate were a bit too much for me, meaning I don’t understand how a plain canvas or a tangled mass of ropes hanging from the ceiling can be considered art. I guess it’s just my own artistic ignorance.

After getting lost somewhere in the maze of the fourth floor galleries, I finally found my way to our meeting place. Poor Helen nearly had a nervous breakdown because I was late. But we all made it out, and walked over to The Globe to get in line for the show. Since it was so brilliantly sunny out, we were given these fashionable sun hats to wear. We were all pretty excited about them.

Oh me gawd, SHAKESPEARE!

Oh me gawd, SHAKESPEARE!

I have to say, after all the amazing things I did and saw the past five weeks in England, I think seeing Midsummer Night’s Dream was the perfect way  to end the trip. The cast was so amazing, and I was laughing throughout the entire thing. I had never seen Shakespeare performed, so this was a totally new experience for me, and now that I’m home, I’ve already started looking into getting tickets for the Shakespeare Theater in Chicago. The only bummer of the event was that it got super hot when the sun started beating down on me, and my legs sure felt it after standing for the 3 hour performance. But hey, at least we can say we got an authentic peasant experience at the Globe.

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After the show, our whole class went over to the pub next door, The Swan, to hang out and have some drinks. As we say there, we started seeing some of the actors and actresses coming in for a drink after their performance. It was cool to see them out of character and in normal street clothes.

Soon, my stomach started to grumble, so Helen and I headed out to make our way back to one of our favorite restaurants in London, Burgers & Cocktails! I honor of our return, I stuck with my first meal there and was a repeat offender of “The Matador” burger. It was even better than I remembered! Juicy burgers and a mound of sweet potato fries make this girl one happy camper!

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This last night was such a great way to finish out our time in England. Helen and I walked around, finding our way back to Leicester Square. As we sat in the grass, we made up the life stories of all the people and couples that passed by. At some point, the “well, what should we do now?” question was asked, meaning “so, are you ready for ice cream yet?” We we walked over to B&J’s, and enjoyed our ice cream while remembering back to all the fun times we had on this trip. I am so thankful that I had this girl to share this whole adventure with. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate, sanity-keeper, encourager, travel buddy, and friend.

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The next morning, we all headed down to the hotel lobby with our bags, said our final goodbyes to our professors, and drove off in the coach to Heathrow. I wasn’t anticipating getting emotional about it, but as we rolled away, I couldn’t help the tears from falling down my face. It didn’t feel real, I couldn’t believe that we were actually leaving.

Now that I am home, I am really enjoying looking back through all the pictures and thinking about how much I truly enjoyed this trip. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, allowed me to explore an entirely new part of the world, brought me to meet a ton of new people, gave me an incredible experience in my education, and taught me a lot about myself. A quick shout out of thanks goes to Dr. Hanlon & Dr. McGregor, our amazing professors who dealt with all of us for the past five weeks. I speak for all of the students in saying that this trip would not have been nearly as incredible if we had been led by anyone else. I already miss them both, and their spunky daughter, Tilda, who we all absolutely adored.

For anyone who has ever considered making studying abroad part of their college experience, I cannot encourage you enough to go for it. I promise, you won’t regret it. It will go by way too quickly, you will see and do amazing things that you would never imagine possible, and you will come back changed for the better. For me, it’s been so hard to admit that it is over, that I don’t get to wake up in a manor house every morning and get to hike through the English countryside after class, but I know that I still have a full summer to enjoy before heading back for another year at EIU!

Thanks to all the students who made traveling through England so wonderful, to all my friends and family who supported me and followed my journey on through this blog, and thanks to the study abroad office at EIU for making all of this possible. And a final thank you to God, who blessed me with this amazing experience that allowed me to grow in so many ways.

And with that I say, cheerio.

Celebrating the 4th, England Style

Well, I must say, I woke up this morning in England feeling a bit out of place. Here I am, an American, celebrating our country’s independence in the land we fought it for. However, while at first we all felt a little sad about missing out on the traditional parades, barbeques, and fireworks that we would be enjoying with friends and family back home, we ended up having a great time celebrating  and giving England a taste of our love for the good ol’ U.S. of A.

And, it just happened to be our last official day here at Harlaxton. Tomorrow we will leave for London, and will be there till we fly out on Sunday. It was a bittersweet day, full of celebrating with each other, mixed with tearful goodbyes to this place that we have all come to know and truly love.

My day started with getting a chance to talk on BBC radio! No big deal or anything (it was my radio debut, gotta play it cool. but yes, now I’m practically famous in all of England!) Anyways, 5 or 6 of us dragged our butts out of bed early this morning to take advantage of this awesome opportunity. The woman from BBC radio interviewed us about our study abroad course, how we are liking England, and most importantly, how we normally celebrate the 4th in the states verses how we were planning to spend it here.

Afterwards, Helen and I went on one last run, back through the village and into the fields. At one point, it all just kind of got to me. It was such a perfect morning, perfect weather, I had the perfect song on (Oceans-Where Feet May Fail, Hillsong United. SUCHHHH an amazing song), and I was running through a field of flowers. It was surreal, and I couldn’t quite grasp the fact that I had to leave this place in a matter of hours. In a way, I felt like the run let me say my goodbyes to beauty of Lincolnshire.

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Once I showered and ready, I went down to the refectory to eat our final lunch at Harlaxton. Although the food here wasn’t always the greatest, there’s two things I will miss. 1. Their chocolate chip cookies (dipped in a cappuccino, delightful!) and 2. their carrot sticks. I know, I know, what a weird thing to miss, but ask any of us from this trip and they’ll tell you. The carrots are Mmm Mmm good.

Later in the afternoon, I went around and took pictures all around Harlaxton, trying to capture everything about this place onto my camera’s memory card to bring home. Pretty safe to say the pictures don’t even come close, but hey, a girl’s gotta try. Here’s a pic of my favorite room in the manor, the conservatory. Many lazy afternoons spent reading and journaling in this lovely place.

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And then it was finally time to get ready for our 4th of July dinner at a local pub, Checkers. Everyone got all dolled up for the big event.

The dress code received multiple interpretations. The winners for Best Dressed go to:

crazy American girls

Becky & Mackenzie. I love these crazy girls

And…

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the kilted couple

Once we got to the pub, we all got ourselves a drink and sat outside before our dinner was served. I got myself a glass of white wine, and it was absolutely delightful. And ahh, I can’t even begin to describe how excellent all the food was, so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking for me.

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Feta & watermelon salad

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Lamb with potato something, carrots and peas. First time eating lamb, definite success. And the taters were outta-this-world-delicious.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding. Just as perfect as I hoped it would be.

In the middle of our meal, we got surprised by the president of Harlaxton who was also dining at the pub that night. Not only did he want to tell us how pleased he was to have us there, but also to invite us to share our love for America with some English guests who were partaking in an American-style dinner that night (ribs, burgers, and fried chicken). Led by Becky and Mackenzie, our walking stars and stripes, we sang God Bless America for the room.

Later, during dessert, Dr. Hanlon & Dr. McGregor handed out our class superlatives. I graciously received the Obsessive Quest Award,

“Whose strange fixation upon a rock in Lincolnshire brought the near-annihilation of her dearest friends, people who never asked to be trampled by homicidal bovines”

just to relive that memory

just to relive that memory

And then our laughter was moved to tears, as our wonderful professors gave a wonderful thank you speech to all of us on this trip. All of us softies were emotional wrecks by the time they were finished speaking. Dr. Hanlon quoted from a Robert Frost poem that I absolutely loved. It perfectly reflects on how many of us are feeling about leaving England, our own little piece of gold.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

The rest of the night, we all just relaxed in the Bistro until heading upstairs to our rooms to try and shove as much of our stuff into our suitcases as we could. It’s going to be a real challenge to fit it all- a challenge I leave myself for the morning.

And now, its time for bed. Big day tomorrow, back to London!

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Goodbye for now, Harlaxton. I’ll be back.

Yours, D

(just couldn’t resist throwing in that Dracula reference for one last hoorah!)

Back to York

For those who have been reading these posts, you probably remember how much I absolutely loved our trip to York. In fact, we loved it so much that a group of us decided to spend our last free weekend here in England going back once more.

The four of us (Anna, Helen, Mackenzie & I) took the train there in the morning and got an early start to our day. For all of us, we all had some key souvenirs we needed to find, and the trip was a big shopping success. I got a lot of goodies to bring back to friends and family that I can’t wait to share. I can’t give too much away in this post about some of the awesome things I found that day, cause it will ruin the surprise. But trust me, I have some great things comin’ back to the states with me.

After a couple hours of roaming about through the Shambles and going through some shops , our tummies started grumblin’, so we headed back to Georgina’s Cafe for some lunch. I got a delicious ham and cheddar melt with some salad and crisps. Delish. Nailed it again, Georgina!

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After lunch, we hopped across the street over to Fudge Kitchen, the cutest  little fudge shop. The employees there were so generous, letting us sample all the different kinds. They had so many (caramel, mocha chocolate swirl, maple walnut, raspberry, cappuccino, white chocolate, and so many more) that it was hard to pick a favorite. But I gotta give it up to their best-seller, Belgian Chocolate Swirl. It is literally melt-in-your-mouth heavenly delicious.

We ended up being there for over an hour, sampling all their delicious flavors and buying enough fudge to feed a small army. Everyone back home, you better get ready, cause you’re in for a real treat!

After we made our purchases, they told us that if we wanted to stick around, we watch some of their strawberry cream fudge being made in the back. Yes please! I may or may not have fallen in love with Ian, the nice young lad who chatted with us and showed us his tricks to make the most perfect fudge. Something about these cute English boys and their sweets just gets to me. I blame it on the sugar.

The master hard at work

The master hard at work

Give us some sugar, and you've got yourself four very happy ladies.

Give us some sugar, and you’ve got yourself four very happy ladies.

Watching the fudge being made was actually such a cool process. Ian explained that you have to keep the warm, thin fudge moving to cool it off faster and to break down the sugar crystals that form, creating a creamy, smooth texture. He used the tools to toss and push it around on the block, and eventually fold into the log of fudge that the cut the slices out of. I was really surprised how fast it was shaped and cooled, but fortunate for us, that meant we got to sample it right away, still warm and super sweet!

We were told that our sample size would be in proportion to our amazement at his technique and recognition of his handsomeness. Without question, we were the loudest fans and therefore got the largest samples out of everyone watching in the shop.

Just a little bit giddy about my fudge...and new boyfriend

Just a little bit giddy about my fudge…and new boyfriend

For the rest of the day we finished up all our shopping, sat around and people-watched, and then rounded it out the same way as our first trip, walking the castle walls back to the train station. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

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Love these girls!

Today marks the start of our final week here in England. I cannot believe that in seven days, I will be back home in Illinois. But thankfully, we have a full week of great things to finish out our time here. We have a big 4th of July dinner party planned and then we will be spending our last few days in London, where we will be seeing performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe Theater. Then it will be time to head to Heathrow Airport to board our plane. My, how time truly does fly when you’re having fun!

“the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”

After reading William Wordsworth’s poetry this week, we decided to see for ourselves if Grasmere truly was, as he put it, “the loveliest spot that math hath ever known.” Well, it seems that the man knew what he was talking about; Grasmere and all of Lake District was incredible.

We started our trip by visiting two of Wordsworth’s historic homes.

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Well, lesbehonest, we started by playing our favorite childhood game, “Down by the Banks of the Hanky Panky” while we waited for our bus. Anna was our proud victor.

Anyways, the first home we visited, Dove Cottage, was a teensy tiny little house in Grasmere.  His second, Rydal Mount, was a much larger home with big beautiful gardens. Seems that once his poetry got his name some status and his wife kept having more babies, it was time for an upgrade.

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Lake Grasmere: the view right from Wordsworth’s backyard. No wonder the guy was such a great poet, he was surrounded by spectacular inspiration.

Once we got back into town, we checked into our hotel, The Wordsworth Hotel & Spa, and settled into our rooms. Although this place was pretty fancy shmansy, it didn’t top the Goathland hotel for me. Just wasn’t as cozy. However, it did have a nice big bath tub that I took full advantage of.

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For dinner that night, a group of us girls wandered around town trying to find someplace that was still open. All the shops and cafes started closing down around 4, weird. Anyways, we ended up at a cute place called Potted Out. I ordered their verde pizza: pesto sauce, goat cheese, fresh shrooms, pine nuts, and rocket! yummmmm. While my friends eyed (and tasted) skeptically, I thought it was great. So delicious in fact that I ate the entire thing!

After a restful night of reading and getting to bed early, we woke up ready for breakfast at the hotel and then off for a day of hiking.   Although the winding and swerving bus ride to our trail head made everyone a bit queasy, the clean mountain air and refreshing drizzle was more than enough to re-energize us to take on our challenge, Harrison Stickle.

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Once we reached the top, Hanlon & McGregor invited any ambitious souls to join them with a final climb to the peak. Whereas in past years, only 3 or 4 would take the opportunity, almost all of us in our group braved it out.

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The proud (and soaked!) climbers, chillin’ in the clouds. No big.

The view from the top was breathtaking, literally. With an 2,000-foot elevation gain, it was a tough upward climb, but absolutely worth it.

I gotta say, even though the incline all the way up was a pretty rough thigh-buster, coming down was a lot more challenging. The muscles in our legs were all shaking uncontrollably every time we would stop walking- it was an INTENSE workout. And it didn’t help that all the rocks were slick with rain. One of our girls, Kristin, won the injury card of the day. Starting off with a hurt knee and tripping and banging up her face on a rock, the girl toughed it out. Such a little warrior.

Once we finally reached the bottom, we warmed up and grabbed some grub at the pub before heading back to Grasmere.

Since everyone else on this trip seems to have gotten sick at some point, I guess it was only fair that I got my turn. I sadly ended up laying in bed the rest of the night with a stomach ache. But thanks to Helen, my night wasn’t a total bust. Before going out for some dinner with the girls, we watched the most amusing (and desperately drawn-out) British game show, Tipping Point. Really, it was a pretty lame game show, but we both ended up so invested in seeing Barbara try and win the jackpot. She did. Way to go, Barbara!

Later, after my lovely roommate returned, we both ended our night by journaling and reading Remains of the Day like a cute little married couple, before turning off our nightstand lamps and sinking into our fluffy pillows.

This morning, bright and early, we got a surprise fire alarm at 8 o’clock. Helen and I did not react appropriately whatsoever. We were both already awake and just waiting in our room for it to be time to head to breakfast. Upon hearing the alarm in the halls, we decided very passively that we should at least check it out. We casually grabbed our stuff and followed everyone outside. (Note: do not trust Helen or I to be prepared to handle any type of emergency situation).

Once all the excitement was over, we had breakfast and packed up our stuff. We checked out at eleven and headed to the bus to ride out to Keswick to see the Castlerigg Stone Circle. It was kind of like a mini-Stonehedge deal- just a bunch of large stones placed in a circle, without any real explanation. Most theories suggest it was a Neolithic axe marketplace.

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Some rocks.
I wasn’t super motivated to try get a good picture at this point, but it was still a pretty cool site to see.

And that’s that. Now we are back at Harlaxton, and tomorrow I am off with some gals to return to York. We just loved the town (and its FUDGE!) so much, that we decided to go again.

In honor of Wordsworth and his beautiful Lake District, I leave you with one of my favorite poems of his, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Whitby, Black Pudding, and the Hogwarts Express!

After spending this week in class discussing Bram Stoker’s classic, Dracula, our class headed out early Thursday morning for Whitby, a really cool seaside town on the Atlantic where part of Dracula is set. Now for anyone who has been following this blog, I apologize for the fact that every place I visit becomes my “new favorite place in England”, because this town is definitely on that list.

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The beautiful town of Whitby

We started our day in Whitby by climbing the 197 steps up to Whitby Abbey, the monastery built by the Saxons, attacked by the Vikings, restored by the Normans, dissolved by Henry VIII, and finally struck by German warships. I gotta say, with a history like that, I was incredibly impressed by the grandeur of its ruins that still stand.

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The rest of our afternoon, we got to wander around the town and go into all the little shops. A group of us ended up finding the beach, where we braved walking into the freezing North Sea. The water temperature was recorded at 51.8 degrees, Brrrrr!

And then we proceeded to take about 2845 jumping pictures, trying to get it just right.

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The winning shot

After the beach, we went off to get ice cream and coffee. Cookies & cream ice cream in one hand, coffee in the other- doesn’t get much better than that!

At 3, the class piled back into the coach and rode to Goathland, our home for the night. Pulling into our hotel, I was in love. It was just about the cutest place I have ever seen. Even just on the outside, it was like a cute little cottage in the village, with sheep wandering about outside. And oh, once we got in the inside and started seeing our rooms, we all started running around taking pictures of EVERYTHING! It’s pretty safe to say we all absolutely loved it there.

Mallyan Spout, I can promise you that this isn't the last time you will be seeing me.

Mallyan Spout, this isn’t the last you’ve seen of me. That’s a promise.

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The beds in our cottage-style bedroom. We were obsessed with these.

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Our BATHTUB! I think every girl on our trip took a bubble bath that night. It was wonderful.

The cute little seating area outside. The flowers were so beautiful.

The view from the back. Yeah, be jealous.

The view from the back. Yeah, be jealous.

I relaxed outside and talked with a bunch of students and our professors before grabbing some dinner and drinks at the pub, where we ended up having a “Dracula” accent contest, reading the menu in our best Dracula voice. Then it was time to take a nice long bath and hunker down in my big fluffy bed for the most wonderful night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.

The next morning, we got ourselves up and ready to head to breakfast. Now this was quite an event- I experienced the full traditional English breakfast. We started with coffee, juice, fruits, and toast before our waiter brought out our plates filled with the strangest assortment of foods I have ever eaten for breakfast. I knew this was my chance to try it, so I ate a little bit of everything- sausage, fried egg, broiled tomato, baked beans, sauteed mushrooms, bacon, and yes, I even tried the BLACK PUDDING. For anyone who is not aware of this traditional English delight, black pudding consists of pig blood, oats, fat, and spices. Yumm… In all honesty, the taste wasn’t truly awful, but the thought that I was chewing through congealed pig blood made it a pretty hard bite to swallow. But hey, at least I can say I tried it!

After breakfast, a bunch of us joined Dr. Hanlon & Dr. McGregor on another hike on the moors.

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I’m pretty sure this country has more sheep than people. They are literally everywhere!

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Loved spending every minute with this crazy group!

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The friendly donkeys we found along our hike. They loved the apples that we shared with them.
Mom, can I get a pet donkey?

And then we ended up taking a steep climb down on a trail to a really cool waterfall. The whole way along the stream, we were covered by a canopy of bright green trees. It was absolutely (gotta find some other adjectives to use on this thing, but here it is again) BEAUTIFUL!

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Once we got back, we had about an hour and a half before we needed to be at the train station, so we decided to walk into town. We stopped into a cute little tea and sandwich shop for some lunch. Helen LOVED the cheese sandwich she ordered: a mound of grated cheddar cheese in between two slices of bread. I guess they don’t have grilled cheese here haha! But it was okay, nothing a little dessert treat couldn’t fix

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Getting ice cream isn’t even a question anymore. We see it, we buy it, we eat it, we LOVE it!

Our day ended with a train ride in the passenger cars used in the Harry Potter movies! We were all like little children, running around, being way too excited, and taking a ton of pictures.  But hey, you can’t blame us, this is Harry Potter we are talking about!

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Also, another thrill for all of us HP nerds was seeing the Weasley’s flying car in town the night before.

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Our coach picked us up at the station where we got off, and then it was sadly time to head back to Harlaxton. I wish we could have stayed another week in Whitby and Goathland, I loved it there. But this week we will be kicking our 2-week countdown with reading some Wordsworth and heading to the Lake District on Wednesday, so there is plenty to look forward to!

In love with London

Just a forewarning, this is probably going to be quite a long post- the last four days have been jam-packed with so many things to share about!

Thursday- Trip to the Moors

After an early breakfast, our class loaded up into a bus and began our 3-hour drive to Haworth, where the Bronte sisters grew up. Since we just finished Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, it was really cool to see the home where she lived and even the exact room where she sat and wrote the novel.

Later, whoever was up for a hike went off to see the moors where Emily and her sisters walked and were inspired. It was incredibly windy, but absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, none of the pictures even come close to doing the landscape justice.

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Back at Harlaxton that night, Helen and I packed and got ourselves ready for our big weekend adventure.

Before leaving, I prayed that God would bless our time in London, with good weather, memorable moments, and lots of laughter, and He definitely answered the desires of our hearts. He watched over us and showed His great love for us the whole time we were there, and I praise His name with thankfulness.  It was absolutely the most perfect trip I could have ever hoped for.

Friday- Off to London!

We got ourselves to Grantham Station early and read some Dracula while we waited for our train to King’s Cross. Once we were there, the first stop on our list was to see Platform 9 3/4 and take the classic picture.

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Then we got out our handy map (which was such a lifesaver this weekend!) and found our way to check out our first hostel in Russell Square for the night. There she is, in all her glory.

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For the rest of the afternoon, we just wandered around. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this city, it is beautiful. We ended up at Covent Gardens, a cool marketplace area known for having a lot of street performers. And then we came across one of the first highlights of our trip…

We saw a large area gated off with a line of people leading up to a Ben & Jerry’s truck. It was too good to be true- FREE ICE CREAM! We both enjoyed ourselves a cup of their newest flavor, Blondie Brownie. Mmmmm, it was delicious. While we ate and people-watched, a young little German boy came up to me and asked to take a picture with me, “a memory picture”. But of course I ended up making an idiot of myself and couldn’t understand what they wanted, and sent them running off laughing. Such a funny moment.

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We walked back towards Russell Square and had late dinner at a fabulous Italian restaurant where we both snarfed down huge bowls of pasta and drank 2 pitchers of water (we were REALLY thirsty- there are no water fountains anywhere in this country!)

Once we got to our hostel, we braved the showers and tried to get some sleep.

Saturday- London Day 2

After having our lovely complimentary breakfast at our hostel, the classic toast and corn flakes, we set off for Hyde Park to drop off all our stuff at the second hostel so we wouldn’t have to carry it all day.

On our way, we got to walk through Hyde Park, one of the many beautiful parks in London. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. The park was gorgeous, bright green grass, trees, and paths full of people on a morning run. There was this amazing fountain area with flowers and benches overlooking the river. It was so beautiful.

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And then we walked down by the river, and took WAY too many pictures of these ducks that were swimming around. They were so colorful!

P1010540 After checking into our hostel in Hyde Park (which was incredibly more sketchy…but hey, all part of the hostel experience, right?) we walked back to Covent Garden…with the sole intention of seeing whether the Ben & Jerry’s truck was there again. It was! We are such dedicated ice cream lovers that we waited in line in the pouring rain for it.

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Totally worth it- if not for the ice cream, just to see this guy again, my Ben & Jerry’s future husband, Anthony (spotted in the upper right of this pic. My guy, you know, just laughing with some cute little kids. Yep, the creeper shot was 100% necessary)

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The rest of the afternoon, we went to the National Portrait Gallery (really cool, except we knew only about 9 people of the hundreds of portraits in the gallery). We also walked to the southern edge of the city to see Big Ben, and then got caught in a afternoon shower. Stuck under the doorway of an office building, tired, cold, and hungry, I had a 30 minute mental breakdown. But then, sure  enough, the sun broke through the clouds and all was well. The weather here is just as unpredictable as Chicago.

After warming up and refueling with a much needed tea break, we trudged on. About halfway back to Hyde Park, we wandered around an area filled with restaurants for a place to get some dinner. Finding this place, “Burgers and Cocktails,” we both were a little skeptical but decided a burger sounded really great and gave it a shot. And we were so glad we did! The waiters were so friendly, and the food was amazing. I got a burger with pulled pork and manchego cheese on it, and we split an order of the most amazing sweet potato fries we both have ever had. Delish!

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To close the night, we walked back through Hyde Park and stopped for a good twenty minutes at the pond to watch this little cutie feed bread to the ducks and swans with his dad. He was so precious, and had the most adorable laugh as he chased the birds. Such pure joy.

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Sunday- Last of London

After a really rough, eventful night at the hostel (a story for another time…) we got dressed and checked out, ready to get out of that place as soon as we could. Luckily, the rest of the day more than made up for it!

We stopped at coffee shop to get our caffeine fix and then walked to Regents Park. To anyone that may travel to London, seeing Queen Mary’s Rose Garden absolutely must be on the list of top places to see. There were so many gorgeous, blooming flowers in all different colors. We both enjoyed spending the morning walking through and taking a ton of pictures.

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The rest of the day was devoted to the Camden Lock Markets. This place was overwhelming in every possible way. There were literally hundreds of shops and stands, filled with everything you could ever imagine- clothes, food, knick-knacks, scarves, jewelry, and more and more and more.

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It didn’t take long for the smells of all the delicious food to get the best of us. After taking multiple laps of all the food stands to scope out our options, we both opted for the jerk chicken. My goodness, another amazing meal. Jerk chicken is now definitely on my “to-make” list for when I get home, even though I know it will never be as good as it was here.

We walked around the market for a couple hours, fighting our way through the crowds of people, and picked up a few things to bring back for our friends and family back home. However, it didn’t take long for  us to reach our shopping limit, and we both decided we needed a break- the perfect opportunity for some dessert! We got THE BEST churros I had ever had. Well actually, this was my first ever churro experience, but it was love at first bite. They were deep fried, coated in cinnamon sugar, and filled with dulce de leche and chocolate. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Mmm Mmm good.

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At this point, we both were pretty drained, so we decided to just get back to Kings Cross early and relax there and read until our train at 7:30.

And now we are back at Harlaxton, and it feels so good to be “home”. We got a nice warm shower and a good night’s sleep in our clean beds, and now have a full day here with nothing to do but catch up on our work, finish our reading of Dracula for class tomorrow, and unwind.

Overall, it was such an amazing weekend with Helen. I am so blessed to have her as the perfect travel-buddy. I can’t believe it is already the end of our second week and we only have three more left here in England before we head back to the states!

Rock Hunting

Since I haven’t posted in a couple of days, I thought I’d just do a quick little catch up on what we have been up before getting into the eventful expedition we went on today.

Monday was a reading day for a lot of us here at Harlaxton. We needed to have our first novel, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, finished by class on Tuesday, so Helen and I went to a coffee shop in town for a couple of hours. Coffee and tea just make everything better. P1010410

After class on Tuesday, we decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and go for a run….and then make videos about cream crackers…and then take a walk on one of Harlaxton’s walking trails on the grounds, Blue Bell Trail. It was kind of an aimless, nonproductive day, and I loved every second of it.

Now for the good stuff…

So there’s this rock, apparently named Frederick, that a group of EIU students who took this trip two years back signed and placed in the middle of a field known as Swinehill. The deal with this rock is that it has a 10 pound and personal gratification incentive for any student willing to trudge on up to this hill to find it. Well, us being an adventurous bunch, we of course took the challenge.

Let me start with this mornings attempt. When we left, we thought we knew where we were going. There was a footpath that we had taken on a previous hike from which our professor pointed out the hill to us. Easy peasy, right? Not at all. Sure, we did find the hill, but couldn’t get to it because of a row of hedges that were too thick to cross. But then we saw an alternate route, through a forested area to a gate on the other side of the field. So we trek down towards the gate and see that there’s not really any safe, clear way to get across the fence and through the overgrown foliage to find the gate. But of course I see it as nothing too dangerous for me to handle, and I hop on over and start making my way. It took probably 30 seconds for me to turn around and start jumping back to the other side. I had run into a huge patch of stinging nettles. My morning journey concluded with me shoving leaves of dock (the plant remedy for the stinging nettles) down my pants to heal the burns.

Attempt #2

After dinner, we decide that we absolutely must find this stupid rock. Before we left, we went to the library to look at the maps of the footpaths to find a better way of getting to Swinehill. We suit up in our rain jackets and head out, eager and confident that we will find this rock in no time.

We find the trail and start making our way to the hill in sight. Walking through one of the fields towards the sty (the wooden walk way to pass from one pasture to another) we look down to the other end and see a herd of cow making their way towards us. And then they start running. Me, just a girl from the burbs, was kind of freaked out by this, but Kate, who grew up around farm animals, laughed it off and said they were fine. Then they start getting closer. And faster. I take of running towards the sty, jumping into survival mode. Pretty soon, we are all at a dead sprint for the pass, as the herd of massive cows start getting dangerously close. Rest assured, we made it out alive, but the cows waited in distress for us on the other side of the sty, eying us, the entire time we were on the hill. A true near death experience to add to the list- being chased by a herd of angry cows.

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So after all that, we finally get to the hill, which ends up being a heck of a lot bigger than it did from the path. What we thought of as being a reasonable challenge became like finding a needle in a haystack. After being out there for a little over half an hour in sopping wet shoes, we all agreed it was time to head back and give it another shot a different day.

Because the cows were STILL waiting for us, we knew we needed a different way back. We saw a opening in the hedges of a different field, so we took our chances and headed through the crops. Turns out, the clearing wasn’t. As if anything else couldn’t go wrong, we had to jump over a small, wet, muddy ravine, to get to the other side.

Dirty, wet, defeated, tired, and full of laughter, we made it back to the manor.

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After sharing our story with our professors, it turns out we were looking exactly where it should be. So now of course we just HAVE to go back to find it! Another day, another adventure…hopefully one not involving a cow attack.

Tomorrow, we head to the moors of Haworth!