Monday, September 14, 2009

London in retrospect

Maybe eventually I'll finish writing about my travels on here; I do have a few more good stories to tell. But for now, this is a short paper I wrote for Literary Non-Fiction about London.

When Misery Has Company

I went to London last semester with 30 other freshmen for Houghton College’s First-Year Honors program. We had to pay for the privilege of living in London for three months by working incredibly hard: sitting through three-hour lectures, spending all afternoon at museums like the National Gallery and the Tate Britain, reading works of philosophy and literature by the likes of Plato and Dante in one evening, and writing a five-page paper every weekend. It was intense, and very often quite stressful. Yet now, I can look back on the experience and honestly say that I loved it.

This is not because I had fun racking my brain every Saturday, trying to figure out what an ancient chess set had to do with faith and reason, or because I enjoyed staying up late reading Hume (my friends know I did not enjoy that at all). But although I was often unhappy and sometimes downright miserable, I never truly despaired, and the reason why is, as I just mentioned, my friends. We were all going through the same things, and we made the most of that. On weekends we would write our papers together, complaining to each other about topics like “With appropriate and specific references to relevant materials, analyze and describe some of the ways in which the Renaissance was a catalyst for the Reformation,” frantically trading papers to read over and critique when we finished our first drafts.

It was this togetherness, this sharing in hard times, that made them bearable. The food at the Highbury Centre, where we all lived, was often unpalatable, but when I sat down to dinner and saw that it was their infamous quiche, I had a table full of friends groaning along with me. One day several of us were out doing our museum assignments, having discovered that we were taking yet another trip to the British Museum, when it began pouring down rain for the first time since we had been in England. For no good reason, except that we were tired and stressed, one of my friends and I began yelling at each other as we walked to the museum, shouting through the rain. We were not mad at each other, but we were able to take it out on each other without actually being mean, and when we reached the BM the situation had become funny, and I felt better.

And when I was really, truly down, someone was always there to notice, to ask what was wrong, to listen while I ranted about the anxiety and pressure of the program—and I knew they understood completely. Often I got discouraged about participating in colloquy, the group discussion we had three times a week. When I told my friends about not having an opportunity to talk because everyone else had too much to say, they could empathize, because they went through the exact same thing. Looking back on the London program now, I see that being miserable does not have to be an awful experience—as long as you have friends who are right there with you, being miserable too.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Journey to Belgium

We left Glasgow and made it to the airport with no problem. Once we got there, though, we found that Adam's and my flight to Belgium had been delayed, so we had to wait around for a while. When we were finally in line to board, alarms started going off. They'd been testing them earlier, so at first I thought it was just another test. But then everyone started walking away from the gate, back the way we'd come, and we ended up in a crowd of people leaving the airport. Outside, we stood around in a walled-in concrete area, no one seeming to know what was going on. We found Dan in the crowd, and then we just waited.

It wasn't terribly long before they let everyone back in; we had to go through security again, though. Adam and I said goodbye to Dan a second time, and then we boarded our plane. Because of the evacuation, though, the flight was further delayed, so we just sat onboard a while before it took off. All those delays meant we would be late to meet my aunt at the train station in Mechelen, Belgium.

An hour or so later we landed at the Charleroi airport. Because I was so hungry we ate before we got a bus to the train station, taking more time, and once at the station we had to figure out the train schedules. We tried asking a French-speaking attendent for help, but ran into what Adam called "not a language barrier, but a language wall". Looking at the schedules ourselves again, we got it figured out, but we had just missed the train to Mechelen.

There was supposed to be another train in a half hour, but it wasn't in the list of soon-to-arrive trains. The only thing to do was wait an hour for the next one after that--we were going to be so late to meet Aunt Karen! But since we couldn't do anything about it, we decided to make the most of our extra time and sat down in the train station hallway to play a game of chess on the board we'd bought in London and that Adam had carried through Ireland and Scotland.

Partway through the game, a man passing by stopped and asked, "Joue de cheque?", which means "playing chess?" in French. He knelt next to the board and watched our game for a while, occasionaly giving advice that we couldn't understand. Once or twice he moved Adam's pieces for him, and they weren't very good moves. Eventually he left, indicating that Adam's position was hopeless, and wishing me "Bon chance," good luck.

When our train finally came we made it to Mechelen fine, but we were two hours late, and we didn't see Aunt Karen anywhere. While I was getting money out of the ATM Adam asked, "What color hair does your aunt have?" He had just seen her riding away from the station on a bicycle.

Although I'd been to visit them in Belgium before, I didn't remember how to get from the train station to my aunt and uncle's house, so we decided the best thing to do was what we'd been doing all day--wait. We sat down on a bench in front of the train station, and--of course--we started a game of chess.

Before long Aunt Karen came riding up on her bike; she'd just left her post at the train station to check on her children, who were at a friend's house. It was a great relief to see her, and after stopping by to pick up the kids we went back to their house and had a delicous dinner of Belgian soup, finally at our destination.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Two cities of Scotland

We left Ireland bright and early Saturday morning and made it to Glasgow-Prestwick airport in Scotland. The only thing I really remember about our arrival in Glasgow (after taking a train from the airport) is being surprised and confused to see that Scotland's pound notes looked different than England's; I was in a daze after getting up so early and the rush of travel. To get to our hostel we took the underground, which was smaller and much simpler than London's.

Our stop was Hillhead, and, true to the name, we had to walk up a steep hill to get to our hostel. But we finally made it, and I went to sleep as soon as I could.

After I woke up I wandered around the neighborhood with Adam; everyone else had already awakened and gone out. We walked through the grounds of a college, in a nice park by a river, and eventually up and down streets, stopping in every bookstore and thrift shop we saw. It was a very laid-back day, taking it easy after the slight stress that always accompanies travel, and it was a nice way to be introduced to Scotland.

While there we also made it to Edinburgh overnight; it was fairly inexpensive to take a bus from one city to the other. The first day we split up and each saw the city on our own (the pictures in my Scotland Facebook album give a better idea of that than my words can). We ate dinner at a Scottish pub; as usual, the pub food was amazing.

The next day was another hiking adventure, this one in the hills just outside of the city. Dan had walked up himself the day before, when it was clear and he had gotten a great view, but as luck would have it, that day was foggy. After we climbed up just a little ways, the city disappeared in the mist, the only proof of its existence the muffled traffic sounds that still reached us. I didn't really mind, though, because the fog made the landscape mysterious, even mystical, like we were in Lord of the Rings. We climbed higher--as in Howth, it was sometimes literal climbing--until we reached something that seemed to be the top. There was nothing around us but the mist; no more hills that we could see, nowhere to go but back down. It was like being on an island. The fog was so thick that I could see it obscuring the others even when they were just a little ways away.

We eventually headed back down and returned to the city, eating at the same pub as the night before. Then it was back to Glasgow, where our flights were booked out of; we spent one night there before leaving the next morning, which was an adventure in itself . . .

Sunday, July 26, 2009


This is so cool I couldn't resist posting it on here. A condensed version of my post on Howth:

Wordle: Howth, Ireland

Thanks to :)

By the way, I will be writing a post on Scotland soon . . . before the end of the summer, at least. I promise!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hostile Hostels

Okay, so that title really isn't true, but it was too perfect not to use. And we did stay in some pretty . . . um . . . interesting hostels in Scotland and Ireland. Regardless of the hostels themselves, sleeping in a room with random strangers is just kind of weird, and maybe just very slightly scary. A few nights the five of us had a room to ourselves, which was really nice. And usually the hostels themselves weren't too bad. One had dogs, the owner's pets, which of course made me very happy. A few had kitchens we could use. At some we got free breakfast.

However, there were also flat pillows, dirty walls and floors, and towels costing at least one pound. The craziest thing that happened at a hostel was when the police came to our room in the middle of the night. We always had all five of us, guys and girls, in the same room, because it was just easier, and seemed safer, to have all of us together. But one night there were no rooms with five free beds, so we had to split up. Us three girls were in a women-only room, which felt safe. But sometime after midnight two drunk French women came into the room, being noisy. I didn't actually wake up then, but I did when a loud Irish policeman came in.

Apparently the French ladies had taken a taxi, and the driver had accused them of not paying. The policeman wanted the money, but one of the women insisted she'd already paid, and both said they had no more money. The policeman argued with them, saying at one point, "You're bothering all these other people!" Finally he took one of the women away. Another lady staying in the room tried to help the other one; she ended up throwing up in the toilet before climbing into her bed, which was unfortunately right next to mine. A little while lady the other lady came back, crying.

During all this I'd been laying there with my eyes closed, just wanting to sleep since we had to get up at 5 the next morning to make it to the airport for our flight to Scotland. In the morning none of us actually got up on time, and Dan had to come knock on our door. All of this just goes to prove that sleeping in the same room as random strangers is never the greatest idea.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Howth, Ireland

So the first place we went after London was Ireland. We flew into Dublin and stayed there for two nights. On our first full day we just walked around, seeing the sights, browsing in bookstores and tourist shops, relaxing in a park. Then we went to Kilkenny, a smaller town, for a night; we walked around there and went to the castle and took a walk on the grounds (you can see all this stuff in my FB pictures).

On our last full day in Ireland we decided to see the coast, so we took a train out to a peninsula near Dublin where there's a little village called Howth ( It was a typical Irish day--cloudy, cool, a little rainy. But that didn't deter us from deciding to hike the cliffs; in fact, we started out intending to walk all the way around.

It was beautiful there, with the sea, two lighthouses, an island not too far away, seals, and of course the cliffs themselves, covered in a yellow-flowered plant (gorse?) and something that might have been heather. To get there we walked uphill through the town, eventually leaving it behind. We walked along the cliff edge, with the ocean, and the seals, far below, and the island always visible in the distance. The paths we took got a little interesting--some very steep, some quite narrow.

We walked for a long time, enjoying it, but when we checked the map we'd brought along and saw that we were less than halfway around (we started by the lighthouse on the top of the map and only made it to the second lighthouse), we decided to turn inland and get back to the train station that way. By then we were pretty cold, and it was raining more, so we were also wet. When we got further inland we stopped at a little store and I got hot chocolate, but it wasn't chocolaty enough, and it kept sloshing out of the cup as we walked, so it didn't really help that much. We kept checking the map to see where we were, and sometimes we really weren't sure. And I was getting pretty tired, since we'd been walking for so long.

That was about where it became a real adventure, meaning it wasn't too fun anymore. But after having to chose somewhat arbitrarily which way to go at a fork in the road, and asking directions at a house, we eventually made it back. Soaked (our outer layers, at least) and freezing, we decided to eat dinner there, and we found a not-too-expensive restaurant where we finally got to sit down somewhere warm and eat good food.

So in the end our adventure turned out well--we got to see a unique part of Ireland, risk our lives on dangerous cliffs, get some good exercise, and, eventually, rest and relax.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Home and photos

Hey everyone, so I am home, as I'm sure all of you know already . . . Anyway, I made it safely through Ireland, Scotland, and Belgium, and here are links to some photos from those trips.

Ireland: and



I've been feeling really unmotivated since I got back, hence the lack of posts until now . . . But sometime in the near future I would like to write about some of my travel experiences. If you're interested and I'm taking too long, feel free to bug me--it may help. ;)