Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kickin' It In London...Still



So...I'm still in London. There's this volcano called Mount Eyjafjallajökull that's going off in Iceland. Doesn't mean much to you in the States, but to us it means there's a cloud of volcanic ash shutting down UK airspace. Kind of awesome.

Other than the incessant whining of a handful of people, it's been pretty chill here at the BYU London Centre. We just spend our days being tourists. Yesterday I spent the day getting sunburned at Regent's Park with Alyssa, Cam, Laura, and Mary. We also went to Camden Market. Cam and I went straight to our favorite Chinese food stand where the dude with the scratchy voice gave us large amounts of Salt and Pepper Chicken (I'm so hungry now). The day before that Alyssa and I tried to go see We Will Rock You (a musical written by sweet is that?), but it was full, so we went to try and see Jerusalem, but it was full, so we went to China Town and ate at (no, not the Crispy Duck) New Aroma. Wicked good noodles and some of the best lemon sauce I've tasted.

Other than that I'm just kinda chillin'. Today was church, tomorrow is...I dunno. Something awesome. I realize that a few people are in a rush, and my heart goes out to anybody and everybody that has legitimate reasons to be places and can't get there; but as for me, well, the longer this thing lasts the more time I get to spend in London. I had to cancel all my plans for Rome, but I have my kangaroo burgers and my Italian women to keep me company.

Maybe I'll go hike Mount Eyjafjallajökull.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Study? Who studies?

It's going by so fast it's ridiculous.

Sunday was Stake Conference. It was really good.

Monday I wrote a ten page paper about W. H. Auden and war poetry. I can't remember if I blogged about that or not. It was quite the process but I felt pretty good about it. Took roughly six hours or so. After that I went out to dinner with Daniel Tsoi and the young men from my South Kensington Portuguese-speaking Branch. It was me, Daniel, other Daniel, Pedro, Carlos, and Mark. We went to Gormet Burger Kitchen on Daniel. He got us all BBQ Burgers, Oreo shakes, and fries. He also ordered some garlic mayo dipping sauce that was insane. I'll be burping garlic for a week. They also surprised me with a Union Jack flag that they all passed around the table and signed. Pedro's dedication will be forever at GBK because the sharpie bled through onto the table. They're great kids and the world is ready for them. Daniel is an incredible leader and he's doing a fantastic job. Talented man.

Pedro, Daniel, Yours Truly, Mark, Carlos - Photo taken by Daniel Tsoi

Tuesday was a BYU "reading" (aka party) day. People here were starting to hunker down and study for Wednesday/Thursday finals, but with my papers done, two easy finals left (Religion and London Walks) and my portfolio coming along, I was due for some tourism. I left at 9am, mailed some stuff to myself so I don't have to carry it around Rome, and decided I'd hit the British Museum and then the National Gallery. And I decided that I'd knock each one out entirely. If you're not aware, it's kind of an insane idea. I spent three hours at the British Museum and four at the National Gallery. I saw a statue from Easter Island (is there a place on earth that England didn't rape in its colonial period?), a sweet sculpture of Hercules's head, a SWEET exhibit on the history of clocks (clocks are so cool), some skeletons, tablets written on in Babylonian, Albrecht Durer's drawing "The Rhinoceros", a beautiful exhibit on Japanese art including an ivory carving of blind men crawling all over an elephant (I know, right?), and the David Vases.

Durer's The Rhinoceros

Sweetest plate ever. Made in...Japan. Suck it, China.

The Aptly Named Blind Men Crawling on an Elephant

Then I walked to the National Gallery. The weather has finally gotten nice here in London and it is gorgeous. Trees have flowers all over them and everything. The National Gallery is unreal. Here's a list of the paintings that I thought were exceptionally cool (best of the best in bold):

  • Hans Holbein the Younger - The Ambassadors
  • Joachim Beuckelaer - The 4 Elements Series
  • Jacopo Tintorretto - St. George and the Dragon
  • Bartholome Bermejo - St. Michael Triumphant Over the Devil (The Devil is hilarious)
  • Paulo Uccelo - St. Peter and the Dragon
  • Sandro Botticelli - Venus and Mars
  • Peter Paul Rubens - An Autumn Landscape w/a View of Het Steen
  • " " - The Coup de Lance (Powerful depiction of the crucifixion)
  • " " - Samson and Delilah (Beautiful)
  • " " - Minerva Protects Pax from Mars
  • " " - The Brazen Serpent
  • Roelandt Savery - Orpheus
  • Nicolas Poussin - Sacraments Series
  • " " - Landscape With a Man Killed By a Snake (Who wouldn't like a painting with that name?)
  • Karel Dujardin - The Conversion of St. Paul
  • Rembrand - Self Portrait at the age of 63. (Rembrandt is incredible. Hands down the best portrait artist to grace this planet.)
  • Gerrit van Honthorst - St. Sebastian (Finally St. Seabass looks like he's in pain from the arrows that are sticking out of his body.)
  • Cornelis van Haarlem - Two Followers of Cadmus Devoured By a Dragon (Coolest painting EVER!)
  • Annibale Carvacci - The Dead Christ Mourned
  • Salvator Rosa - Witches at Their Incantations (Wicked creepy. And awesome.)
  • Luca Giordano - Perseus Turning Phineas and His Followers to Stone
  • John Constable - Salisbury Cathedral From the Meadows
  • Theodore Gericault - A Shipwreck (Same artist that did Raft of the Medusa.)
  • Renoir - The Umbrellas
  • Pierre Cecile Puvis de Chavannes - Beheading of St. John the Baptist (SWEET depiction).
  • Van Gogh - Wheatfield With Cypresses

After leaving the National Gallery (sorry, no pics allowed), it was gorgeous outside and I didn't feel like going home, so I walked to Big Ben. I freaking love Big Ben. I'm going to miss him when I leave. I could seriously just stare at that clock for hours on end. It's so great.

Wednesday (today) I woke up, ate breakfast, played my favorite time-killer game online called Bowman (stick figures that shoot bows and arrows at each other), studied half an hour for my religion final, owned my religion final, and went to see Les Miserables with Britin. She wanted vegetarian food, and I was not about to go with her, so after we got tickets and before the show I went to my favorite restaurant in Chinatown, The Crispy Duck. I got E-Fu noodles with crab meat and Chinese mushrooms. SO good. I walked to the fountain at Picadilly Circus to sit and eat. I realized just how integrated I am into this city. I have a favorite restaurant in China Town for crying out loud. How sweet is that? Not gonna lie...with Mom and Dad moving out of our neighborhood and away from our ward this summer, London is officially home. I don't think it's hit me that I'm leaving, but I really hope it doesn't until I'm long gone.

That'll make it easier. Hopefully.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Being Me: A Tribute to Myself

My name is Calvin Olsen, and I approved this message.

Yesterday was my birthday, and it was the best birthday I've had in a long time. First we went on a cruise of the Thames as a program to Greenwich, where I stood on the Prime Meridian. Then I ate a kangaroo burger at Borough Market. Then I watched Hot Rod, my favorite movie. After that I ate dinner at the center and then went to see Clash of the Titans with Sarah Shepherd (shoutout to Ed Shepherd, you know who you are), Kalyn, Margaret, Caitlin, and Katie Bruce. Clash of the Titans was pretty much awesome. I needed the testosterone boost in order to finish this last week of London strong. Then I called my mommy (first time while here) and went to sleep.

Enough of the kiddie stuff, let's talk about me.

Me being awesome (and ingesting a marsupial) at Borough Market.

In case you don't know, I'm pretty awesome. But I spent some time yesterday thinking about how blessed I have been my whole life with awesomeness, and came to the realization that much of my awesomeness has come down to having amazing friends. I could honestly count everybody at the centre as one of my friends (in varying degrees, yes, but still friends), and the friends I've made over the years are phenomenal as well. Family goes without saying (I have the best immediate and extended family ever), but friends are essential to me and probably always will be.

Me being awesome inside the Eiffel Tower, pointing to a place of my international awesomeness.

Everybody here made sure to make my birthday fantastic. I even got a few presents when I specifically asked for no presents. Each one was very thoughtful and fit to my personality. And to top it all off, two of my very talented friends sent me messages commemorating my awesomeness through their wonderful gifts. Here they are:

Elizabeth Jenkins (the woman you all can thank for setting up this blog and informing me that I have to use it) wrote me "a list of 25 (actually 26) reasons why I am the best. My occasional comments on her list are inside the brackets []. She says:

1. You don't discriminate against me for not liking Diego's [my favorite restaurant]
2. Your mom is smoking hot [yes she is]
3. You are from Idaho and aren't a hick
4. You are ridiculously smart and use your whit like a super power [true]
5. You aren't afraid to like Shakespeare [correction: love him]
6. You play the guitar, and even make up your own words to songs.
7. You drive a corolla with pride, while some may say it is a "chick's car" [it's my baby and her name is Vanessa]
8. You know where all the cheapest places to eat are in provo
9. You are always down for a fast food run, even if it is midnight
10. You like Miley Cyrus. (Don't deny it.) [I deny it]
11. You are going to grad school in Boston and you are going to freaking LOVE it...and I will come visit.
12. You can do trampoline tricks [I can?]
13. You believed me when I said I had a motorcycle. (when really it was a scooter) [that she won't let me drive]
14. You play basketball no matter what, even if your feet are totally messed up from burning them [also played with a broken my walking cast]
15. You like black high heeled shoes [so hot]
16. You are a BSU fan [isn't everybody?]
17. You like to make fun of Asians [like it's hard...]
18. You agree with me that "writing a letter" is the best way to handle bad customer service, lighting malfunctions, and other annoying things
19. You love Ben's cookies and are going to open one in the USA when you get back
20. You are really good at getting people to do whatever you want them to do...without getting fired in the process [anyone at the Marriott Center can attest to that, I own that place]
21. You let me give you a ride to school on my scooter [walking sucks]
22. You know how to live rent free for an entir e summer [illegal, yes. awesome, also yes]
23. You have strong convictions and perfect diction
24. You have funny relatives [looks aren't everything]
25. You can fight with your brothers RIGHT in front of your mom but because of the tone you use, she thinks y'all are playing nice.
26. You are a really good friend to many people and make people smile wherever you are. I'm lucky to know you! [only true on some occasions, but a mutual feeling]

That's a freaking sweet list, and it made my day. I'm not much of a person to take compliments (I doubt my awesomeness often), but it made my day.

Me being awesome at the Globe with John Cleese, who is also (nearly) as awesome.

Hayley Jackson, the twin sister I never had (although if we had been twins I hope we look like her), wrote me a poem. I'll let her introduce it herself:

A Ballad about Cal (or a Callad if you will... :))

Dear Calvin was a brave young chap
Ambitious and clever was he
He conquered the courts of basquetteballe
A good laugh he could guarantee

He tempered young monsters of efy fame
Brought order to events far and wide
He loved music and movies and Jacques in the Boxe
On beaches he danced in the tide

He scoured his land for a fair young maid
But alas there was none to be found
So he fled far away where the sun rarely shines
And laid waste to an old English towne

But he's soon to come back to make Beantowne his home
To write verse and break hearts every day
He'll cure all the world of its idiocy
And eat nachos til he passes away

Hayley knows me too well. So anyways, although I'm far from perfect and I'm always working on something to make myself a decent person, I do have a few positive character traits. Thanks to everyone for a fantastic birthday.

Me being awesome on the sun deck of a ship carrying my awesomeness to the Greek Isles.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Winding Down in London.

Well kids, today I am officially down to a single-digit number of days left in London (in other words, 9). You know how some periods of your life go by insanely fast and feel like they've compressed to give you the impression that months seem like weeks? Yeah, that's about where I am. Tomorrow I turn 25 (menace to society. boo ya), and then a week and some later we're outta here. Six days in Rome and then back home. Insanity.

Not a lot has gone down in the last little while, but here are some highlights. Monday we had class and then I sat down to write this semester's biggest research paper. I knocked out all fifteen pages in one sitting. It was a very long sitting, and my brain was fried, but it was nice to have all the research I've been doing at the British Library coming together and making sense. Who would have thought that I would enjoy writing an academic text entitled Ministers and Mormons: George Eliot and Outlying Religious Groups in Victorian England? Not me.

TUESDAY we went to the London England temple for the day. And then I went to KFC.

WEDNESDAY. Yesterday was an in-London group fieldtrip. We got the privilege of going through the Houses of Parliament. It's quite the process to get permission to do so, but it was worth any trouble that Roger had while getting permission. My group's guide was Bob Jones and he was awesome. He works pretty high in the system but spends his mornings giving tours. They call England's system the mother of parliaments, and it's true. Their system influenced ours so much, and ours has returned the favor a little bit (only very recently did England divide the governmental branches so that the judiciary branch has its own equal amount of power). The rooms are gorgeous and so much goes on there. My favorite room was the Queen's preparation room, where she goes to put on the crown and heavy clothing she uses during parliamentary procedure. It's a King Arthur themed room, and I am all about King Arthur. Five of the seven major Knightly Virtues are depicted in paintings, and set in the walls were wood carvings showing main events from Mallory's translation of Morte D'Arthur. The two best carvings were Arthur receiving Excalibur, and the scene where Arthur slays Mordred and Mordred mortally wounds Arthur. Oh man, I freaking love Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. (That's not a bad idea for a band name...)

Following the Houses of Parliament, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed to the Cabinet War Rooms/Churchill Museum. The Cabinet War Rooms are pretty sweet. They were the underground base where the Prime Minister (Churchill) and all his chiefs of staff spent most of their time while WWII was going on. Part of the tour is the Churchill Museum, which was phenomenal. I knew some things about Churchill, but the museum had all sorts of things about him. I was a fan before, but I'm a convert now. He didn't have the greatest track record 100% of the time (let he who is without sin...) but as Prime Minister he was unstoppable. Theoretically, you could say that the man won WWII. Obviously he didn't do so by himself, but without him we could very well have been speaking German right now. Dr. Cooper said that when Winston was dying he said something to the effect of, "I am prepared to meet my maker, but I'm not sure whether my maker is prepared for the inconvenience of meeting me." Great leader, great husband, great wit. There is a shortage of men of that caliber in existence.

This week Macfarlane told us that the program had decided to give us all a list of acceptable fine arts performances that they would reimburse us for (up to sixty pounds). So after the Churchill Museum, Kalyn and I went to get tickets to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a play by Tennessee Williams (an American) starring James Earl Jones (James freaking Earl Jones!) and Phylicia Rashad (the mom from the Cosby show). When we got to the box office it was 2:25, and a matinee started at 2:30, so we thought 'what the shell' and bought tickets for the show. It was pretty depressing but very well done. James Earl Jones is freaking awesome. If you don't know who he is then you seriously live under a rock. He did the voices for Darth Vader and Mufasa, and he's the Beast's owner in The Sand Lot (you're killin' me smalls!). He did such a good job and the play got us thinking about a bunch of stuff. It reminded me a little bit of Waiting for Godot, so it wasn't the most entertaining thing in the world, but it wasn't supposed to be. I'll still take movies over theatre, but not by much.

THURSDAY. Today has been sunny and beautiful. We had our last class period for British Literature (wrapping up being a TA soon) and then I headed out of the centre to visit Hatchards. Hatchards is the oldest surviving bookshop in London. They've been in business since 1797 (a bookstore almost as old as my country) and the place is fantastic. Five floors of books about everything. Literally, everything. I've never been in a place where I've wanted to spend so much money, so I must be becoming one of those book people. Lucky for me I went between classes and had to be back to print off the Brit Lit final study guide, so I only spent thirty bucks. I had originally gone to find a collection of W.H. Auden's poetry for my next paper. I held myself to buying two others (a Rome guide book and my second Felix Dennis [British poet/millionaire] collection) but I made a list of others to look up when I get home (including By the Sword, which is about cultures and civilizations that used swords). It was hard to pull myself away from the place, but I did it.

After lunch and more class I decided to go visit John Wesley. John Wesley is the man that invented Methodism. His younger brother wrote "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." He was a good man, a preacher, and a social reformer. Cam, Kalyn, Sarah Shepherd, Alyssa, Margaret, and Reesa decided to tag along with me (we can count this as a write-up for Dave's class). It's a little ways away, so we didn't have a lot of time at the church, but we did get a guide. Her name was Carol and she was very nice. She answered a lot of our questions and took us around back so that we could see Wesley's tomb. It's very simple but nice, and the graveyard buts right up against a glass building owned by Reuters.

Then I came home, then I ate dinner, then I talked with Julie Shuler for a while, then I had class, now I'm writing. The end.

Monday, April 5, 2010

They can take our skirts, but they'll never take our makeup! - SCOTLAND!!!!!

My name is Calvin Olsen and I approve this country. It’s gorgeous. Home of the greatest accent on Earth. Home of my ancestors (some of them). Home of beautiful women (a very pleasant surprise). Home of the Loch Ness monster. Home of men that wear skirts and are still manly. You get the point.

FRIDAY. From Liverpool Cam, Katie, Alyssa, and I ditched the drive home and got on a train to Edinburgh, Scotland. I was absolutely stoked. We had a very large group of drunk men in our train car with us. They sang Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” for almost all of the three hour train ride. It was a bit annoying (thank goodness for iPods) but I knew it would be hilarious in a few days, and now it is. We pulled into Waverly Station, headed up the stairs (there were no customs), and stepped out into Edinburgh.

I had no idea Edinburgh was gorgeous. It was dark and things were lit up, so it was quite the show. I would say it is neck and neck with Athens for the most beautiful city I have ever been to. The main part of the city is the Royal Mile which runs from Edinburgh Castle (set at the highest point in sight) to another palace about a mile down (aptly named, eh?). Then there are a few other major streets parallel to the Royal Mile. Waverly Station is down in a little valley, and so we came out looking up the steep sides of the hill to the tall buildings of Edinburgh. People aren’t allowed to change things (i.e. all the windows are single-paned and uniform) and so it looks pretty much like it has for centuries. I fell in love with Edinburgh at first sight.

First Edinburgh building I ever saw.

We made our way past the Sir Walter Scott memorial and hiked up to the Royal Mile. I took too many pictures (as usual) and we just kind of enjoyed the place and looked for a place to eat. We found a restaurant called the Royal McGregor and I already knew what I was going to order: Haggis. Haggis is sheep heart, lung, kidney, and liver chopped up into little bits and cooked inside of a sealed sheep stomach. I got my haggis with Neeps and Tatties (turnips and mashed potatoes) and after a good chunk of time it came. I loved it. I went in with no expectations and took a fork full of haggis and shoved it in my mouth. It was SO good and I wanted more, but it was gone and I was happy.

Finished our night taking a few more looks around and then grabbing a taxi to our hostel. It was called NB’s and was more of a guest house than a hostel. The rooms were good sized, the beds were comfortable, the bathroom was pristine, and I only saw one or two people besides us the entire time. If you ever go to Edinburgh, look up NB’s guest house. Great place.

SATURDAY. All day Scotland tour. Got up early in the morning and caught a taxi up to Edinburgh Castle where we found four big buses owned by Timberbush Tours. We had all ordered our tickets separately, so Katie was on a different bus than the rest of us. That would not have been cool, so I got on our bus and asked a girl if she was traveling alone. Thinking about it now, I may have creeped her out, but she said yes and I asked if I could beg her to switch buses so Katie could come with us. She had no problem with it and so I talked to both bus drivers and the director guy and after a little work we were good to go. Her name was Courtney Ibstein and she was from Australia (great accent). She works as a nanny in London and was just away for Easter weekend (like us). She was very nice and I’m so happy that there are good people in the world.

Our tour guide’s name was Allistair, but he went by Allie. He was the man. I’m actually convinced that he’s a Mormon (like me). He said that he doesn’t drink at all (crazy for Scotland). He mentioned that he has seven kids (crazy for anyone). He edited one of the songs that came over the radio (crazy since there were no kids onboard and very few fluent English speakers). There were a few other clues that I won’t share, but I’d bet a lot of money that he is. Anyhew, he’s usually a driver but he had logged too many hours for the week, so he was our guide and Stevie (an old bald guy with sweet tattoos) was our driver. They decided that since the whole world does tours in most of the same places it would be a good idea to go backwards so that we could have places all to ourselves. Best idea ever.

First we drove through the Kingdom of Fife and then past Forth Rood bridge, which was freaking sweet. There’s also a railway bridge next to it whose name I didn’t catch that was SO cool. We took pics from the bus and kept on keeping on. We stopped for a quick break in a place called Pitlochry and then got back on the bus. We drove past Killiecrankie, which is where the Highland charge of the Jacobite Rebellion happened. The Scots beat the crap out of the English in the battle of Killiecrankie, which included the charge. Allie put it like this: “The English came out of that glen over there trying to be sneaky, but they gave up the high ground. Never give up high ground to the Highlanders. Imagine a guy my size, running down a mountain, swingin’ a sword. You’re not going to stop me, guys.”

After Killiecrankie we traveled from the Lowlands to the Highlands. It’s not hard to tell when you’ve arrived at the border. The Highlands have massive hills and mountains, and it’s a much more rugged, unforgiving landscape. There’s not much there but heather, and Allie said that although it’s brown in the winter it turns purple, pink, and white in the summer. So I guess I’ll have to come back. As we drove he explained about the clan systems and how families were adopted into clans and their politics and war and how they ate haggis and searched for peat and such Scottish things. He knew a lot and the whole tour was full of information like that. After some time we drove past Culloden battlefield and then through Inverness (nice town) and near the North Sea. Finally we arrived at the place I had come to see: Loch Ness.

Loch Ness is everything I wanted it to be and more. The sky was overcast a bit and it rained on and off the entire time. The lake is 24 miles long and one mile wide. The water is black and amazing. At the shore it looks like Coca-cola for about two yards and then it’s just black. Since we were going backward our bus had a boat pretty much all to ourselves and Allie knows the owner so we got a few pounds discount. You can think what you want, but I honestly believe that Nessie (the Loch Ness monster) exists. Allie told us a few of the theories (my favorite = Nessie is a type of dinosaur that didn’t go extinct) and the stories go as far back as the 7th century. There’s a guy that owns a bed and breakfast on the Loch that was on record for years saying that it was a hoax and that he didn’t believe it whatsoever. He saw it a few years ago and has changed his mind. I didn’t see anything, but I buy the myths. Either way, get on Wikipedia and look up Nessie, there is a great write-up of her.

It's not hard to find the Loch Ness monster. I just used cheese.

We got one-way boat tickets so we got dropped off at Urquhart Castle, which is right on the Loch. It was one of Scotland’s largest Medieval strongholds and the ruins are great. We spent about an hour going through them and taking pictures. We also went down to the shore so that I could touch the water and skip rocks. Alyssa went out on a few rocks for a picture. The second to the last rock was unstable and so Alyssa got to wade with Nessie. She wasn’t in too far, and only her feet and lower calves got wet, but the water was freezing. Her feet dried pretty quickly on the bus, so she was ok, but that’s one thing she’ll never get to live down.

Loch Ness

On the bus and moving down the road, we drove through Fort Augustus. It’s just a small town, but Allie explained the inter-loch canal system that goes through this part of the country. The canals are man-made (or man-improved) and run from loch to loch. There are bridges for boats to go under (we had to stop for a raised bridge and got to see a big fishing boat go through) and there are also a series of gates that open and close for boats to go from one water level to the next. Most of the system runs along a natural fault line, so it‘s pretty sweet.

We got out at Loch Lochy to take some pictures. We also drove past Ben Nevis (the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom) but it was covered in clouds so we could only see a little bit of it and Allie didn’t stop for pictures. After Loch Lochy our next stop was a whisky stop at a shop that gives out free whisky samples (not so cool for us or Allie, but there was a café). An hour or so later we got out of the coach at Glen Coe. Glen Coe is where the massacre of the MacDonald clan happened. Thirty-eight MacDonalds were killed by the guests (Scottish soldiers, some of whom were related to the clan) who had accepted their hospitality, on the grounds that the MacDonalds had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, Mary II and William III. Another forty women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned. It’s a very sad story and the Scottish government wants to keep the place as it was, so there is absolutely nothing commercial allowed at Glen Coe. There were some wild deer in the valley and the snow-covered mountains were majestic and cloud covered (once again). It was a beautiful spot.

Glen Coe was our last stop, but we did drive by two awesome sites. The first was the setting for the Bridge of Death in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (greatest movie ever). I was on the wrong side of the bus, so the pictures sucked, but I’ve seen the film way more than enough to know when I saw the spot. I did a lot of quoting after that. Blue. No! Yellow! Aaaaaagh! It got dark before we drove between Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. If you don’t know who William Wallace is, you’re a terrible person. I’m related to him, and there was a sweet movie about him, so now you have two more reasons to love him. We didn’t get too close to the monument, but it’s huge and all lit up so I got to see it. Gotta love having awesome ancestors.

We got back to Edinburgh a little late, said goodbye to Allie and Stevie, and found some dinner at an Italian place with amazing food. Back to NB’s for a little sleep.

SUNDAY. I woke up in Edinburgh, Scotland for Easter 2010. That’s so cool.

We didn’t have all day to kick around, but we hit up Edinburgh Castle and the National Gallery of Scotland. Edinburgh Castle was sweet. We decided to walk there from our hostel, so we got to see a lot of Edinburgh. When we finally made it to the top of the city we jumped in a very slow-moving line for tickets to get into the castle. They didn’t cost an arm or a leg, but they did cost a few fingers, but it was almost completely worth it. We saw the One o’Clock Gun (shot off on special occasions at 1pm) but apparently Easter isn’t special enough for them to shoot off the cannon. We went through the on-site National War Museum (some sweet kilts up in there) and then saw Mons Meg (the biggest cannon I’ve seen in a long time…shoots two miles) St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh), the Royal Palace, the castle’s military prisons (nicest old school prisons I‘ve seen…prisoners slept in hammocks and drew American flags on the doors), and the Honours of Scotland (aka the crown jewels of Scotland). England’s crowns and scepters are more impressive, but the Sword of State of Scotland was wicked cool. It’s four and a half feet long and the hilt is made out of silver. It has Saints Peter and Paul on it, not to mention some acorns. It may be the coolest sword I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something because swords are sweet. Sadly we couldn’t take pictures, but take my word for it, it’s a rad weapon.

I told you this cannon is huge.
Edinburgh Castle

After a few hours in Edinburgh Castle we went to the National Gallery of Scotland. It’s not hard to believe that it’s nothing compared with the National Gallery here in London (nothing is, really) but there were some big names there. My favorites were Rembrandt’s self portrait at age 51, Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees,” Gustave Courbet’s “The Wave,” Thomas More’s painting of Vesuvius erupting (the dude actually saw it erupt, live and in living color), Da Vinci’s “Madonna of the Yarnwinder” (great name for a painting), and Raphael’s “Bridgewater Madonna.” The building was nice and not too big so I enjoyed it quite a bit.

After the National Gallery we got some lunch and then had to say goodbye to Edinburgh. As usual, I wish I had more time in Scotland, but it was a fantastic whirlwind trip and I loved every second of it. Our train ride back to London was non-stop and we got in half an hour early, with no drunk guys singing “Ring of Fire.” And now I’m home in London. Home in London…I love that.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Northern England, A Roadtrip

MONDAY. Set off from the centre at 7:30am headed for a five day program road trip to northern England. I had the pleasure of sitting next to and enjoying the company of my true and darling friend Mary all day (and Tuesday!) A few hours out we made it to Chatsworth. Chatsworth is another giant house owned by very rich people. If you can’t tell, I’m kind of over giant houses owned by rich people. This one is famous because I guess the Kiera Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice was filmed there. It’s Pemberly, which is Mr. Darcy’s house in the book. It was your basic rich people’s house: portraits of ugly dudes in wigs, curtains that cost more than my life, and lots of naked people painted on the ceiling. It rained the whole time we were there (and most of the trip) and we had too much time (generally the case) but eventually we got back on the coach and headed out.

Our next stop was a few more hours away (during which we watched Pride and Prejudice) at the Bronte Parsonage Museum. I’ve only read Wuthering Heights (not all it’s cracked up to be by any means), but I’m not a Bronte sisters fan. The parsonage was pretty sweet though. The father of the Brontes was a clergyman that ran the church in Haworth, so they lived across from a church. All around the church was a moss covered graveyard, and it was overcast, kind of rainy, and there were crows everywhere. It was a great setting and our guide took us through a couple of Haworth streets and then over to the parsonage house. I learned about the Brontes’ big brother, Branwell. Branwell was supposed to support the family by being a painter or a poet (he had potential in both) but instead he got a drinking problem and they had to take care of themselves and him (which is partly why they started writing). But the dude could write with both hands simultaneously. Think that’s cool? (I did) Well then get this: he could write Greek with his left hand and Latin with his right. At the same time. I can’t even write decent in cursive. So the Brontes may have been good writers, but Branwell was the man.

A poem that I composed at the Bronte Parsonage

Back on the coach and off to York. It was dark and still raining, so we didn’t do much besides go buy food at a pub (I got a burger. Can’t go wrong with a burger) and then headed back to the Hotel Ibis. I wrote the post for my upcoming blog competition (April 13th, I believe. Get ready to vote), then went downstairs to hang out with Kalyn, Margaret, and Sarah Shepherd for a while. Then it was time for bed.

TUESDAY. At 9 we threw our luggage on the coach and headed to York Minster. Most of our walk was along the centuries-old city wall. It was cool and we got over to the church before too long. The cathedral (minster) at York has the widest nave in the country and is built over the foundation of the original Roman church. It faces East/West, which went against the way the city faces (the Romans were organized) and also has the best collection of stained glass in succession anywhere in the country (meaning they’ve got stained glass windows ranging from the 12th to the 20th century. Our guide was an old guy that knew all sorts of good stuff. He had to rush us through a bit, but I’m glad he did because all the information we got was good. One part that I especially liked was the non-religious annex room. The masons were given a bit more leeway in the stone work, so some of it is hilarious. There was a squirrel, a woman nagging her husband, people making faces, three guys coming out of some bushes, Tom and Jerry, and on and on.

At noon we returned to the coach and drove to Fountains Abbey, which was built by the Sistertian (sp?) Monks. Fountains Abbey was a lot like Tintern (ruins instead of a building, sweet landscape, etc) but it’s a little more intact and we were also allowed to roam the extensive gardens. My small group visited the Mill to start. I learned what kind of wood they used for different things (like Elm for caskets) and the signs they used to signify types of food (they weren’t allowed to talk in the cafeteria…maybe anywhere). After that we walked around the grounds. We found a wounded pheasant. I named him Stephen (not a v, a ph) and we fed him some of Macy’s orange (Stephen prefers grapefruit, but he’s not picky). After that we headed over inside the ruins where I took pictures. Hiking back up the little hill to the path the ground underneath my right foot gave out and I proceeded to slip and slide all the way back down. My hands were caked in mud but other than that I stayed pristine. If I wasn’t crazy ninja agile I could have been one dirty mcmurty. I went back into the ruins and washed my hands in a puddle. Then we walked back up the path and got back on the bus, where we finished Pride and Prejudice (the girls just had to watch the alternate US ending [which sucks] but then we were safe). Don’t get me wrong, it’s very well done and I like it well enough, but the joyful squealing and the formation of unrealistic girlish expectations gets old fast.


Around an hour and a half later we got to our final stop for the night: Durham. Durham Castle is where we stayed for the night. You read that right…we slept in a castle. It was so freaking sweet. Durham Castle was commissioned by William the Conqueror around 1066. The Great Hall, where breakfast was, went up in 1284, and the “extensive kitchens” were added in 1499. The students of Durham college generally live here, but they’re on Spring Break so we got to stay one of the towers. Cam was my roommate for the night and our room was one of the biggest, set next to one of the inner hills, and it even had bars on the windows. It’s a pretty big space and the ceiling is high enough that I could jump on the bed (a practice which will never get old). After we got settled we went across the street to Durham Cathedral and listened to Evensong. Evensong was much better in Durham than it was at St. Paul’s last Saturday, mainly because we sat in some of the choir seats and participated rather than being stuck in the nave far from everything.

After Evensong we got pizza, bought junk food at the store, and then headed back to our castle (boo ya). There had been rumors that the place was haunted and so some of the girls were freaking out a bit (and some a lot) about things. Since our room was so big we told anybody and everybody that if they had problems in the middle of the night they could come find us and we’d crash on the floor so they could sleep. Then we spent a few hours hanging out with Kellen, Alyssa, Karalyn, Arrin, Anna, Laura, and Mary. Anna and I quoted Arrested Development and then I asked if I could read her palm. There’s this hilarious joke where you “read” someone’s palm. You start out telling them they’ll live a long time and be successful and then you go “oh, and you’ll have a pool” and then you spit in their palm. It’s great. Anyways, I read Anna’s palm and told her she’d have a pool. She FREAKED. I guess the one thing on Earth that Anna hates it is saliva. I had no idea and I felt horrible but it was so funny. She wiped it on the floor, then on her jeans, then went to the sink, then curled up in the corner. I was laughing so hard my apology sounded fake, but I really didn’t know. That’s one memory she’ll keep for a while. Anyhew, I still can’t get over having slept in a castle. Durham was sweet.

Part of a castle that I slept in. That's right. Slept in.

WEDNESDAY. After an amazing castle breakfast we got on the coach and headed out. Our first stop was Housesteads Roman Fort (Vercovicium in Latin), built on Hadrian’s Wall. History lesson: Hadrian was a Roman general who, in AD 122, built an 73.5 mile long stone and timber wall across the width of what is now northern England. The wall was used less as a fortification (a fortified attack would have taken it out) and more as a customs check (apparently it made cross-border cattle raiding really hard). So anyways, Houststeads Fort was built around AD 124 and it’s up on a hill. We were far enough North that it was snowing, and the wind at the top of the hill was inSANE. It was so cool (no pun intended). Snapped a few pics and then Alyssa and I went on an adventure. I read that Housesteads has the most well-preserved stone latrine in all of England. We had to find it. Everybody except Dr. Cooper had hiked back down and he was off looking at something else, but after a while we found it. It’s great, and there was even a back rest on the thing. We took a couple of hilarious pictures and then…I used it. Yep, I had Alyssa go away, plug her ears, and sing a song while I urinated in a 2000 year old latrine. It had to be done. Dr. Macfarlane gave me a high five when I told him on the bus.

Calvin enjoying the insane wind at Housesteads Roman Fort

Our next stop was Grasmere in the Lake District. Grasmere is the small town where William Wordsworth spent most of his life. At the church in town I went over to see his grave while everyone else was buying the famous gingerbread (I don’t know why. It wasn’t that great). I was bummed because it was fenced off and I couldn’t moonwalk over it. Everybody walked over to Dove Cottage, which is where Wordsworth lived with his wife and his sister for 8 years. He did a lot of his poems there and got visited by cool people like Samuel Coleridge (Coleridge didn’t like porridge and the Wordworths served it two of three meals, so he would send his wife down and then jump out the window and go to a pub for a hearty breakfast. They didn’t find out for years). It wasn’t the coolest place we’ve been, but it was kinda cool. Then we got on the coach for fifteen minutes or so and got to Rydal Mount, where Wordsworth spent 20+ years and then croaked. It was a nice place with a nice view nobody really cared because it was kind of a superfluous site. It’s still used by the direct descendants and most of the stuff there wasn’t even Wordsworth’s. I’ve never been a big Wordsworth fan, so surprisingly I wasn’t stoked to see what his niece’s pocketbook looked like.

Now we’re at a youth hostel out in the boonstickies (a place called Hawkshead). It’s gorgeous and right on a lake, but it’s dark now. We had dinner while the professors worried about Tony (our bus driver, aka employed jackass) and then a few classes were held. I read the X-Men comic I checked out of the library. And I got paid for it. Because I’m a TA. And awesome.

THURSDAY. We started our morning with a good breakfast made by the hostel and then headed to Hilltop Farm. Hilltop Farm was the home of Beatrix Potter, the most successful children’s author ever. She wrote the Peter Rabbit series and stuff. We watched a movie about her life the other day. It was starring Renee Zeelweger (sp?) and Ewan McGreggor, but somehow it still kinda sucked. Anyways, Hilltop Farm was not my kind of party but we got to hike about two miles to get there and the Lake District is just gorgeous. It made me want to go home to Idaho and go fishing, but all in good time.

After Hilltop Farm we got on the coach and went to Preston, where we met our old tour guide Peter (he’s the Mormon guy that took us to Herefordshire weeks ago). Preston was key in the Church being established here in England and our tour was pretty extensive. I thought that the coolest parts were seeing the bridge (over the Ribble River) that two men raced across for the chance to be the first person baptized in England (winner: Brother Watts) and driving by the house where President Hinckley dedicated himself to the work of the Lord after getting the forget-yourself-and-go-to-work letter from his father. The city has a good number of plaques dedicated to the work of the missionaries and the Church and it was a good tour overall.

Next stop down the road was the Preston Temple grounds. I don’t remember the last time I went to visit a temple in my street clothes. The temple itself is simple but impressive and we got some blue skies for pictures. England’s MTC is on the same piece of property. It was nicer than Brazil’s but not nearly as cool.

Our last stop was Liverpool. When original plans were made for the North trip they weren’t planning on coming to Liverpool, but we changed that. Probably by complaining but I really don’t remember. Thursday night we just kinda got there and got checked in to our hotel. Liverpool is the second biggest city in England, but it doesn’t seem as nice. From what we saw from the coach there’s all sorts of cool things about it (5th largest cathedral on the planet, Beatles museum, sweet docks, etc), but we were told we’d have free time for most of Friday so Cam, Aly, Alison, and I went to grab fish and chips (the best fish and chips in England so far) and then grabbed some McFlurries.

FRIDAY. Friday was the last day of our North trip and the first day of my Scotland trip. I spent the morning in Liverpool with my Scotland group: Cam, Katie, and Alyssa. We started at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, which was fantastic. There were a number of fantastic exhibits inside and it put the naval aspects of war into perspective for me. In the same building is the International Slavery Museum. It was very well done and I actually wished that it had been a bit bigger. I’ve learned quite a bit about the trans-Atlantic slave trade in my Portuguese/Brazilian civilization courses, and the practice was much more widespread and heartbreaking than most people realize. Slavery isn’t gone completely, but we’ve come so far (thankfully). After the Slavery Museum we headed to the Beatles Museum. It cost WAY more than it was worth, but we had a good time. The Beatles have some amazing songs (including “Yesterday” which is probably on my top five songs of all time) and a great history. Too bad an ugly woman ended up breaking them up.

Calvin and John Lennon imagining all the people.

Anyways, Liverpool was fantastic and I could have easily spent more time there. But it was time to get our bags and head to Scotland!