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01 July 2012 @ 05:34 pm
Well, I'm back.

Being in the States is weird. I saw "chips and salsa" on a menu and thought to myself, "Gross! Who wants salsa on chips?" Then I realized I'd confused chips/French fries and crisps/chips.

I don't think it's fully sunk in yet. At times it starts to hit me--that I really am back, and that chapter is over. I'm sure it will be hard when it sinks in.

I've started looking at graduate schools in the UK already. I'm by no means coming back to stay, and certainly not in the south. Nothing against either, but I think I'm quite ready for another adventure.

I've at last made the move to a new blog host. I decided it was high time I graduated myself to Wordpress (gasp!). To continue following my adventures, you can find me there. We'll be having a lot of laughs and tears and valleys and merry times.

Adieu, my dears. Turn the page, this chapter's ending.
Current Mood: calmcalm
24 June 2012 @ 03:12 pm
So, you may have been wondering why I was going to London yesterday. Luckily for you, I'm here to answer that question!

I went to London to check out the Writing Britain exhibit on at the British Library and to see my awesome cousin perform in a concert. Both of these things were exceedingly excellent.

I caught a train at about noon. For some reason the station was packed with guys in top hats (no complaints there) and ladies in dresses and fancy hats. I'm assuming there was a race going on somewhere? Or a wedding? Don't know, but they were everywhere and it was insane. I was glad they weren't going to London!

Train down was fine. The Circle Line was being weird and really confusing, but I outsmarted it and managed to get to Kings Cross (which is basically like my backyard at this point, I know it so well). I skipped merrily down the sidewalk and made my way to the library. I bought my shiny ticket and then was off to the exhibit.

Writing Britain is basically an exhibit exploring how the landscape of the UK inspired great pieces of literature, from the rural farmland to the industrial revolution to the wilderness to the cities, suburbs, rivers and ocean. It was quite cool, and I felt very smart because I'd be reading and I'd think to myself, "They have to have something by someoneoranother! That person totally wrote about this!" And then a few minutes later, there it was! Huzzah for knowing my British literature well enough that I could have put together parts of that exhibit!

I was glad that I went to this exhibit when I did. I don't think I would have appreciated it as much before my trips to the Lake District, Northumberland and the Highlands. I was also glad I didn't try to squeeze it in with Mom. Mom's what I call a "breezer"--she likes to look at stuff in a museum and move on. When I'm interested in the subject, I like to read every single piece of writing I can find. I like to take the time to study the thing I'm looking at. I like to stroke the glass and smile lovingly down at it. (Okay, I only did that twice. Wait, three times. I was really excited about the Gaskell, Tolkien and Austen stuff, give me a break!)

So, yes. There was the painting of Hobbiton from The Hobbit (by Tolkien). I was disappointed they didn't have any of his actual manuscripts. There was a clipping of the original North & South (printed in a newspaper) and a letter from Elizabeth Gaskell. There were several Dickens, mostly from Hard Times and Our Mutual Friend. There was the original Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and some really interesting stuff about Celtic folklore (and about the Green Man), which I obviously devoured. There were a few pieces from both Brontes, some Yeats, Joyce and Wordsworth. Some Chaucer. They also had a little section on G. K. Chesterton, who my sister is obsessed with. His novels actually sound really interesting. And an unexpected but delightful few pages of Persuasion! I thought it was weird that their website hadn't mentioned that they had Jane Austen on display. But I was extremely pleased. There was also a few pages from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which I rather liked because Rowling had drawn random swirly things in the margins of her notebook paper, which I also do.

Anyway, it was a really cool exhibit. I exited and found myself in the shop. I thought to myself, "This is a dangerous place. I should leave now." I stepped toward the way out. I saw a tiny hardback edition of The Hobbit. No sooner seen than it was magically in my hands. It wanted to come home with me!

Then I suddenly had The Man Who was Thursday by Chesterton, and A Gentleman's Guide to Manners, and two postcards and three pins and another book (present for my mom and dad). I put down the Jane Austen tea scented candle, and the Jane Austen mug, and the London's map to writers. Very, very painfully I gave up the Chesterton book and the manners book. That shop is so dangerous, and so, so lovely...

From there, I set off to Southwark Cathedral by London Bridge to meet my cousin, Sean. He caught up with me pretty soon, and after hugs and hellos we went to a nearby market to find something to snack on (as he wasn't going to be able to eat till after the concert). We both ended up getting watermelon smoothies, which were REALLY fresh (I mean, really). We caught up a bit, and he introduced me to several of his choir friends, including the director and his wife. Later I left to go hang out in Starbucks while he rehearsed.

On my walk to the Starbucks, I passed a lady selling artisan breads. If you know me, you know my one weakness is bread (and cheese, and tea, and books, and stuffed animals). So I had to buy a loaf. It was buy one get one free, so I ended up with two. Then the first Starbucks I went to didn't have a seating area, but I was embarrassed so I went ahead and bought a tea. I went back to the church and nibbled my bread and drank my tea. Then I went in search for actual food and happened upon a real Starbucks. So I camped out there and read and ate and drank tea for a while.

I went back to the cathedral in time to catch the tail end of Sean's choir singing on the sidewalk (to attract people in). It was a lot of fun. Then we went inside for the performance.

There were several different bands and choirs playing/singing. The cathedral itself was pretty cool, and the acoustics were great. Sean's choir was easily the best, and I'm not saying that just because he was awesome! It was great.

However, I realized at about 8:00 that I needed to head back if I was going to be able to get to the dorm without any hitches. I wrote a note and sneaked up to where Sean was sitting off stage to give it to him. We whispered hasty goodbyes and I left.

Turned out this was a very smart decision, because the Circle Line was being ridiculous again. At last I gave up on it and took District to Bakerloo, but that was only after several mistakes and delays. (I also got asked for help by a tourist who was with his daughter. I felt bad because it was so confusing trying to explain why the Circle Line makes you get off at certain stops. If I'd thought about it, I would have told them to come with me and taken them to a more convenient stop. Oh well. That was actually the second time a foreigner had asked me for directions that day, funnily enough. I think it's because I was wearing a pretty hat.)

Anyway, at last I did make it to my dorm. A very fun and successful day!
Current Mood: nerdynerdy
23 June 2012 @ 11:21 pm
Do you know what it is to be homesick for a place you haven't left? I do.

Today as I rode the train to London, looking out the window, my throat tightened and eyes blurred. Again on the Tube. Tired, thirsty, hot and sick of the smell of people, I suddenly was struck with a longing that squeezed my chest.

I was playing a choral piece on my iPod from a Celtic CD. It happened to be the song I listened to on the bus as I entered the Highlands of Scotland. Some people say that books take you back to the places you've traveled. For me, it's always been music.

I closed my eyes and I was in the Highlands. I saw the turn of the road, the opening of a view, like a movie, panning into sight. We were on the mountainside gazing down the way we'd come. The lake twisted below us, sheltered by the towering hills, going on and on till haze, mist and rain closed over it in the far distance. The world didn't exist outside the land--outside of the view. Civilization did not exist. I regretted the bus, the tourists. I regretted that I was civilized. For that place deserved the wind and rain and heavens.

Then the bus rounded another bend, and I gazed on the long yellow grass of marshes. The water pooled in mirrors on the ground, perfectly, magically still. The mist came and went, cloaking the mountains in a wedding veil, in a mourning veil. Then the sky was blue, nearly cloudless, and I could see the mountains going up, up, up, till the tops were crowned with boulders and craigs. The hikers were mere specks.

The song changed. I opened my eyes and was back on the Tube, and I had to blink back tears.

Leaving a place you love is a little like dying. But it's also a little like coming alive. The ironwork of Paddington is suddenly beautiful. The inconvenience of travel is suddenly an adventure. The land slipping, slipping past your window is like watching a beloved movie. You want to reach out and stop it, hit pause and rewind, but at the same time you don't. You can't. Part of the sweetness is in the losing.

I told a friend recently that you never really leave a place where you've lived. It's true. The places I've lived have sculpted me. I don't mean just the physical places--though that's true--but the people, the food, the books, the sights, the music. I mean the veteran at the memorial, the run through a downpour of stinging rain, the vibration of floorboards with the stomping of Irishmen, the naan on a hard, hot day.

A part of you is always there, because that moment and place is an inseparable part of you.

This creates a certain amount of displacement. I feel that when people ask where I'm from. I don't have a single place to name.

But it also creates a wider identity, a bigger home, a deeper love and appreciation of the world. A belonging.

Because I'm not just a child of Milton, or of Virginia, or even of the United States. I'm also of the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Ebony. I'll never leave those places. They'll never leave me.

I'll arise and go and go and go.

You can look for me.

But I'm not coming back.
Current Mood: satisfiedsatisfied
16 June 2012 @ 07:19 pm
There’s a pretty specific process to how I write scenes.

When I begin work on a manuscript, I usually have a really vague plot for the entire piece, a more specific plot outline for the story arc I’m in, and a really, really specific outline and ideas for the scenes I’m actually writing.

The first stage might look something like this note card (an overview of themes in my WIP, Blessings):

My brain works best when I talk each of these stages out with people. At the moment, my sister, Laura, is the lucky one who gets to hear me go endlessly on about my plot. (This is in part because she knows I will take my turn to hear her go endlessly on about her comic, The Silver Eye.)

I’ve been thinking about investing in a skull, a la Sherlock Holmes, to take over this duty. Really I just need to talk at something that occasionally responds to me. (An electronic skull, maybe?)

For the following example, you need to know:
Vel (Velimir) = Hero/Romantic Interest
Melle = Female protagonist
Piran = Lord of Winter in the faerie realm (baddie)
Cake = A thing which you eat in the faerie realm that will trap you there forever/alternatively turn you into ash if you try to leave (not good)

So! Once the scene is approaching, I take what I know and discuss it with Laura, generally over Facebook chat. This is what it might look like:

Me: So then Piran comes to Melle and is like, "Here's the dealio. I've got your true name. I'mma gonna make you learn mine. Then we're going to get married and live here forever. Cool?" (lol cool) And she's like, "NOT COOL. NOT EVEN A LITTLE." And he's all, "Welp, I've got your prince in my dungeons and he doesn't have any of your food with him, so maybe I'll just send him a cake and it can sit with him in there."

Laura: ~Cake~ ...Vel: <-<
~Cake~*lick* <u< >3>~Cake~

Me: So Vel's like "oh crap this isn't good" and Corryn breaks him out and is all "I can't help you because of reasons." … So then Vel rushes into the main hall where Melle is with Piran and... something happens.

Occasionally, my sister gets particularly inspired and will make a little comic from this conversation to help me:

With this helpful and hilarious chat to refer to, I then make a For Serious Outline. This is sort of sad, because it means I have to weed out the funny and be professional. There are always things I sort of liked in the chat stage that don’t get to make it to the outline stage. Oh well.

An outline might look like this:

4 (days 10-11): Capture and Escape

  • Vel and Melle run into the hot faerie’s gang and are taken. Vel’s put in some sort of prison. Melle’s treated well.

  • Unknowing to Melle, she gets tricked into agreeing to marry the faerie.

  • Vel has nightmare about Luc; his pocket watch breaks

  • Corryn (who’s been keeping an eye out), with the help of fox, helps Vel escape. Tells Vel he’s Melle’s father. Explains what Melle’s done, and that he can only help from behind the scenes—it’s really up to Vel to get her out. Vel and he make another uneasy alliance to save Melle.

  • Melle realizes just before the “wedding” what’s what and freaks out, refuses. The faerie is dangerously offended that she would break her word and threatens to give Vel a feast or somesuch. She’s torn, doesn’t know what to do, very alone

  • Vel comes and busts some clever moves. Wins or steals her out? Uses his blessings in some way?

  • Vel confronts/overcomes who he is (in a large part), Melle is empowered knowing that she isn’t alone/is worth something/her loyalty’s returned, they tag team andddd:

  • They get out!

From there, I go into rough draft. Here’s an excerpt of that:
“…The faerie tricked her into giving up three of her four most precious memories, memories of what Melle holds dearest—safety, loyalty, belonging. But she didn’t get the last one.”

“What was that?” Velimir asked.

“Love,” said Corryn, looking a little disgusted. “All the other memories were tied up in Melle’s shepherd friend. Morvana [other baddie] assumed ‘love’ would also have something to do with him, but Melle’s changed since then. You’re her last memory, Velimir. If you don’t get her out, and fast, you’re going to be the reason she is trapped here forever.”

I would then take the rough draft and edit it approximately 20.4 times, which I haven’t done yet, because I got excited and decided to blog instead of editing. That’s just how I roll.

And that, my friends, is the bizarre and probably unhelpful way that I write a scene. A practice I should be working on right now, instead of writing this entry.

Bonus (deleted scene!):

Me: So the crow says, "Get a move on this whole trapping the prince biz or else we're gonna give [her] to the hottie with a body lord of winter. Hahaha."

Laura: Make the crow say that. I will pay you five bucks if that gets published.

Me: I don't think it will be published if that's in there.
Current Mood: chipperchipper
Day Fourteen we rested in my dorm in Reading. I think we might have walked to campus or something. It was chill time.

Day Fifteen we went to London to knock off a few things we wanted to see. We went to the British Museum, which was pretty cool because it was like walking through my Art History 101 class. It was less cool because there were a ton of school kids there, and as I've already mentioned I have an increasing abhorrence for school kids. Some of these school kids were climbing on the ancient Egyptian statues. Others just ran around taking pictures with their iPhones.

But it was cool to get a glimpse of the Rosetta Stone. And it was really neat to see pieces of Assyrian and Babylonian art. I felt like a smartypants because while we were in the "Greek" section I was like, "Woah, hold up, that isn't a Greek statue, that's totally Roman!" In small text at the bottom of the info plaque it said, "This is a Roman copy." I was like, "AW YEAH ART EXPERT!"

Then we made our way to Tate Britain. This was pretty disappointing, because they were having a modern art exhibit, so there was about one room of classic art to look at. Some of the modern art was interesting. But my favorite was probably the video of a fire hydrant in a cow field. High quality art there, my friends.

We went to Victoria Station to find a cheap bite nearby. After we ate, we were going back to the station. My mom has been trying to get run over the entire time she's been here. While my back was turned, she walked out into the road. She came so close to being hit that the girls beside me swore (or, as I told my dad, "the girls beside me at the light felt the need to cry out the name of our Lord and savior, which I thought rather appropriate in the circumstances"). Happily my mom made it to the other side, though.

From there we made our way to the Roundhouse, where we had tickets for Twelfth Night with the Royal Shakespeare Company. We went through Camden Town on our way there, which I thought was quite exciting. There were a lot of pocket watches that I really wanted. The Roundhouse itself was really cool. I had one restricted view seat and then another cheap ticket. Ironically the restricted view had a better view than the other one. We were up top and far to the right, but it worked out fine. The production was fantastic. At one point the elevator on stage broke down with a character in it, and they had to ad lib. It was definitely a British production though. When Malvolio comes out in yellow stockings and cross gartered... well, he didn't have any pants on at all. He was absolutely fantastic, though--possibly my favorite in the whole cast.

We got home quite late, but happy.

Day Sixteen was another day of rest. I think this was the day we both slept until like noon.

Day Seventeen we went to Bath. Originally the plan was to rent a car and do Bath, Glastonbury and Wells. But with funds tight, we decided to cut the rest and just go to Bath. It was a rainy and windy day, but actually the weather wasn't quite as bad as we'd expected. We had a fun time exploring the cathedral. I went in the Roman Baths with Mom, which was fun since the last time I'd been in was my 18th birthday. They had a new part where you could drink some of the water. I am proud to say I drank a whole glass by sheer force of will.

We had lunch in the Pump Rooms. Then I took Mom up to the Circus and the Crescent. We nearly bumped into Thomas (my literary guide), but he was busy with another family so I didn't say hello. We popped into the Jane Austen Centre shop, where I got a tea towel that says "Keep Calm and Read Jane Austen." Then we went and had tea. We passed the Awesome Dragon Wind Chime of Awesome, but after much hemming and hawing Mom didn't get it. Then we went back to the train station, where Mom had severe not-buyers' regret over not getting the dragon.

Day Eighteen we set out for the south-east of England, an area I hadn't gone yet. We had one day left on our rail passes, so we decided to do Canterbury and Rye. Canterbury was super awesome and much more alternative than I expected. There were several awesome clothing shops with glorious amounts of tweed.

The cathedral itself was really cool, I thought. The floors were worn with the many steps of visitors. The Crypt was beautiful, but not as creepy as some I've been in. The architecture was lovely. It's really hard to be impressed by cathedrals once you've seen a certain number of them, but this one was impressive. The history behind it just adds to the coolness factor.

We had a picnic behind the cathedral, then wandered a bit. We popped into a few more stores on the way back to the train station. Then we caught a train to Rye, a small town not far from Hastings. Though the main street was crowded, once we started wandering it was pretty empty. I popped into "The Tiny Bookshop," which was indeed very tiny. I startled the bookseller by asking if he had any Welsh mythology. Turned out he did! So I got a cool new/old Welsh stories book, which actually has a few stories I haven't read before in it.

We also went into a craft fair, which was fun and had tons of pretty stuff that I wanted to buy. Curse you, money! I did buy a tiny owl that was a pound. It stayed in my pocket and occasionally I'd pull it out and put it on Mom's shoulder, which would make her giggle a lot. Anyway. The town had a lot of character. We stopped off and had tea and scones, then made the journey back home to Reading. Once there we met Jacqui for dinner. It was a lot of fun.

Day Nineteen we went to Reading Family Church in the morning, which was wonderful. After church we caught a train to Oxford. We tried to find Addison's Walk, which didn't go well because we found out the hard way that you have to be a student or bribe a student to get in. By the time we figured this out, we were quite tired. So we went back to Blackwell's for a some water and to browse the books a little. Then we popped into the Dickens exhibit, which was free and cool. Then we went to the Eagle and Child for a very late lunch/early dinner. It was awesome, as per usual, and we both missed my dad. We toasted Mr. Tolkien and Mr. Lewis (maybe we should have toasted them as Dr...) and my great-grandfather Inkling who was kind of insane. Mom was pretty tired, so we just went home after that.

Day Twenty we went back to London to meet with one of Mom's homeschooling friends. It was really fun walking around with her, even though it was a terrible day as far as weather. But she could point out a lot of things that a local would notice but that we had no clue about. We went to a London history museum, which was really really neat. We walked around St. Paul's and the Globe, took a boat down to the London Eye and snapped some pictures. Then we walked by Buckingham Palace (which I'd never been to), hit Trafalgar Square and the Texas Embassy. It was a fun day. (But this blog post is long and I am running out of words.)

Mom and I had a quiet night. She repacked a bit and then we chilled. I got up with her at 5:30 the next morning because I'm a dutiful daughter, and saw her safely in the taxi. Apparently she had many adventures getting to the airport. But I got to sleep in.

And that's the conclusion to my adventures with my mommy.
Current Mood: calmcalm
Day Eleven we said goodbye to our friendly Dutch hosts and got a bus to Inverness. On the way, we hopped off in what was supposed to be a Loch Ness town. It was really tiny, and over two miles from the Loch. So we didn't really see anything other than the view from the buses. No sign of Nessie, sadly.

We took a cab to our B&B. We'd come in about 20 minutes before check in time usually was. This isn't normally a problem. But there was no one in the B&B. I tried to call and couldn't get anyone to answer. So we waited about 20 minutes. The lady came up with her armload of stuff from town, and was really surprised to find us there. She figured out that she had us written down on the wrong schedule, so she hadn't been expecting us yet. Happily our room was ready, so we got to check in and drop our stuff.

From there we walked through town and explored a bit. Rick Steve had recommended Leakey's Secondhand Bookshop. It is an old Gaelic church turned bookshop and coffeehouse. It was really awesome! Stuffed with shelves and books and maps. We had a tea, then I took forever going through the Scottish section looking for anything on prisoners of war or Edinburgh Castle. I did find a huge prisoners of war book... for the Napoleonic War. Sigh. Only a few years too late.

After that, we wandered through town some more, popping in a few shops. We walked down the River Ness, which was really beautiful. There are some islands down below the city that have bridges connecting them. We wandered around those for a while. I couldn't help thinking how perfect they'd be for engagement photoshoots.

We grabbed tea on our way back to town. Then we went to rest for a few hours. We wanted to do trad music that night. We left early to get a table in the pub, but when we got there it was already full. So we went to a Turkish restaurant around the corner. Though initially Mom was a bit miffed because they didn't want us to split a meal, we worked it out with them and the food was fantastic.

We went back to the pub as the music was starting. It was only a man with a guitar and a woman with an accordion, which was sort of disappointing. They were pretty good. But a lot of the people in the pub were already pretty sodding drunk. At one point a teenage boy grabbed a girl and did some traditional dancing with her, which was really fun to watch. But most of the time the drunk Australians were just hogging the main floor and being awkward. After a little while we left. I felt bad that Mom hadn't gotten to see some really good trad music, but she seemed happy with the experience.

The streets were really crowded with a lot of drunk people (though it was only like 9:45) and a lot of hen parties. I was pretty surprised. I think it might have had something to do with the Diamond Jubilee, but still... it was more than I saw in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day! Long live the queen?

Day Twelve we went to Culloden Battlefield. This was in many ways the reason we came to Inverness, but for a little while we weren't sure we would actually be able to make it out.

The internet wasn't working in the B&B, so we left to find free WiFi. This proved harder than expected, as it was a Sunday morning. Eventually we ended up in McDonald's. After our fill of that, we went to find the bus to Culloden. But the driver told us that the bus actually didn't go to the battlefield, just the town. There'd still be a good three miles to go.

We went to the TI to ask them for recommendations. They said the only way to get out that day would be to take a cab. They gave us the estimated price, which wasn't intolerable but was a bit steep. We talked it over and decided to go for it. I'm really glad we did.

Our cabby was very talkative and friendly, pointing out when there would be beautiful views. He got us there in good time. We paid the fee and went in.

If the Pencil Museum in Keswick was an example of how not to do a museum, this was an example of one of the most effective museums I've ever been to. The history leading up to the battle was presented on two different sides of the main hallway you walked along. Jacobites were on the right and British were on the left. You'd read a portion of the wall on one side, then drift across to read the same part of history from the opposite perspective. Unlike Edinburgh Castle, this presentation was very unbiased. Instead of trying to root for one side or the other, it beautifully showed both stories and allowed the viewer to judge for themselves.

There were some interactive bits with monologues from characters in history. My favorite was the coming of the Bonnie Prince into the city (I think it was Edinburgh). On one side, I listened to a British loyalist woman's perception. Then on the other side I listened to a Jacobite woman. They also had some people in costumes with weapons that you could hold and ask questions about.

There was a reenactment room, which was four screens on the four walls. You stood in the center and watched as the British and Jacobites approached each other, then you were in the middle of all the fighting. It was very real and a little overwhelming--and quite a bit more gory than I think would have been allowed in the U.S. But it was an extremely effective way to show the battle.

One you have all the history up to the night before the battle, and some of the basic facts about the battle itself, you're given an audio guide and ushered out onto the field. The guide was triggered by GPS, so as you wander it would tell you the stories about the place you were standing. There were some really nice monologues from characters on both sides of the field as well.

It was a really haunting place. The sky was brilliant white clouds and blues, and the grass was vividly green, shimmering silver in the wind. There were flowers blooming everywhere. The complete silence of the field was both peaceful and mournful. Walking by the mass graves was particularly sobering, not just as I thought about the soldiers slain but as I thought about the oppression and injustice the British brought on the survivors. Mom and I talked about it a bit--about what makes men kill each other like that. I don't know if I'll ever understand it.

I really wish they'd do something like this for Gettysburg, or other Civil War battlefields. An unbiased presentation with both sides' stories, and a GPS guided audio guide would be so effective and perfect.

After we finished, we had lunch and hung out for a little while digesting what we'd seen. Then we called the cab and went back to Inverness.

That night we went to a bar (read: cheap restaurant) to have WiFi and a snack for dinner. We caught a bit of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee horse show thing, which was fun. Later that night, after Mom had gone to bed, I discovered that my phone was missing. I'd left it at the bar. There was some craziness with me trying to get Dad to talk with the restaurant people for me, as it was near midnight and I was half asleep in my PJ's already. This also lead to me accidentally telling Dad we were staying at a B&B that apparently doesn't exist. Oh well.

Day Thirteen we got up and tried to check my email to see what success Dad had had. But the internet wasn't working again. So we had breakfast, checked out, and hurried to McDonald's once again. We had a 9:40 train to catch, so timing was tight. I checked my email and saw that Dad had gotten through to the people and that we were supposed to call them and the guy opening the restaurant would get the phone to me. All excellent... except we didn't have a working phone. Happily Mom made me just skype call the guy, and we got through to him. He came out and gave the phone to me, and was quite nice.

Then we got on a train to Edinburgh. I spent most of this ride sleeping. At Edinburgh we had a bit of a wait, so we grabbed lunch. Our train was canceled, so we got to wait for the next one. We got lucky when it was time to get on, and found nice seats before the train got overcrowded. The seats were nice and big. There was even WiFi! The ride down the east coast was beautiful. It actually reminded me a little of Wales in bits. Mom was practically in my lap trying to see out the window. We passed a lot of carnivals and such for the Jubilee.

It was a long train ride. Because of the Jubilee, all trains went only to London, so we were going to have to go through London to get to Reading. I was really dreading this. The Tube can be unpleasant enough, but add Jubilee celebrations and baggage and it could easily become a nightmare. But when we got down to the Tube, it was totally deserted. Paddington was also almost empty. I toasted the queen and thanked her for emptying the rail stations.

We finally arrived at Reading, worn out and exhausted, but glad to be on familiar ground.
Current Mood: contentcontent
Day Seven we got up and hit the road. It was a bus and then train ride to Edinburgh. For some reason, the rail line was very bumpy and left me feeling pretty nauseous. We caught a cab to our B&B. The driver was very nice and chatted with us about Edinburgh and gave us tips for getting around the city. It was sort of funny because I did most of the talking--I think Mom couldn't really understand him.

The lady at the B&B was awesome and sweet. Our room was pretty nice and surprisingly big. The B&B was off the main road, and totally quiet. I remember sitting at the desk listening to the birds sing.

After a cup of tea and a bit of winding down, we headed to the city proper. We walked there, which was a bit farther than expected. We wanted to get a decent city map, because the one in our room wasn't that great, so we were trying to find the TI. This took a very long time, and was sort of stressful. We did find it... about five minutes before it closed. And all they had was the same not-so-great map.

We shrugged it off and went to the Royal Mile, a famous walk. We stopped to eat at a nice, almost completely empty Italian restaurant. This sort of caps off my food habits of travel, since I always seem to be eating something not native to the country when I first arrive. Ah, well. It was food.

We went into St. Giles after this, which was pretty cool. The coolest part was probably the random stain glass from several different centuries. It was need to see the different styles. There was a small room in the back where Scottish knights are knighted, which was also really neat.

After that, we wandered down the Royal Mile and popped in a few of the touristy shops. There were a lot of blue police boxes, and many were for sale. Alas, I am not rich. We ended up making our way back via Arthur's Seat, which was sort of out of the way. There was a misty, and it felt very much like Scotland. We got back to the B&B quite tired. We had considered going to trad music that night, but decided we'd put it off till Inverness.

Day Eight we got up and went to Edinburgh Castle. I was really looking forward to getting more research done for the potential American Revolution POW story. But though the prison exhibit was really cool, the whole castle experience wasn't so great. It was overcrowded (even though it was only like 10 a.m.), mostly with school groups. If there's one thing I've learned about myself, it's that I hate school groups. I think I forgot how much I hate them.

The presentations were also extremely biased, even for someone with as little Scottish history knowledge as myself. We went up to see the Honours of Scotland, which was a really neat exhibit. I laughed out loud when I read about how the Stone of Destiny was "absent" from Westminster back in 1950. "Absent," it said, not, "Stolen by some Scots because actually they really wanted it back, thanks very much." My amusement was short lived, because when we were in the room with the stone and various crown jewels the school group around us was mostly comprised of kids on their cell phones. I hate school groups.

We poked around a little more, but gave up because we both dislike crowds. I couldn't find any books in the bookshop, which was a disappointment. But I'll hunt up something about the POWs... eventually.

From there, we went to Sandeman's New Europe Edinburgh tour. I'd gone to the one in Dublin, and though I don't think this one was quite as fantastic, it was still great. We learned a lot about the city, and saw a lot that we hadn't seen, and got a feel for the history of Scotland and the current politics. Our guide was really nice, and tried to answer my questions about the POWs. Overall, definitely worth it.

After that, we grabbed sandwich making material at Sainsburys and went to the B&B to rest. So we didn't see as much of Edinburgh as I might have hoped. I did really like it, because it's sort of like a bigger, more Gothic Bath. It's full of history and personality in a way that (I feel) Dublin isn't. But it was also a city, and cities aren't my favorite. So I was very excited to head to Fort William the next day!

Day Nine we checked out and took a cab to the train station. From there we caught a shuttle to the airport. The plan was to rent a car and see Oban (and a few other stops) on our drive to Fort William. But when we arrived to pick up our car, my mom found out that it was going to cost three times the amount it'd said online. This was because they required a huge deposit that we weren't expecting. After talking it over, we decided we just didn't have that sort of money to put aside, so we opted to try public transportation. As soon as I had WiFi, I planned our route. We hurried back to the train station, then were on our way to Glasgow.

It'd been raining in Edinburgh, but the sky started to break through the clouds almost as soon as we got on the train. In Glasgow we had to make a change to a bus, which was a little bit insane. The bus windows were horrendously filthy, so I packed my camera and settled in for the ride. In some ways this was a mistake, but I actually think I'm glad I did it.

The bus ride was... mind blowing, really. We went past Loch Lomond ("you take the high road and I'll take the low road..."), which was completely still, like looking into another world. Then we were in the highlands, surrounded by beautiful, huge mountains. I wish I could put what it was like into words. I turned on my playlist and listened music from The Eagle and How to Tame Your Dragon and Doctor Who, plus other traditional ballads. It was stormy and dark and ethereal, clouds low over the mountains, shrouding them like a veil, with water as still and reflective as a mirror below. The mountains were far bigger than I had anticipated. Some were covered in long tan grass, others vividly green, others made up of jagged rocks and cliffs. I was grinning the whole time, just taking them and their foreboding beauty in. I want to write about characters who live like that--who are part mountain, solid and wild and untamable.

It wasn't all fun, though. Like I said, I'd put my camera up. I was wishing I hadn't, but it was so dark I couldn't have gotten very good pictures anyway. I thought to myself that if Mom and I had been driving, we would have never made it to Fort William because I would have stopped her at every bend. Then I probably would have gone running over the rocky fields and broken my head climbing a cliff or something. People around us were snapping pictures with their dinky $20 cameras. I try not to judge $20 cameras, but it's really hard, I admit. But then these people turned on their flash, taking pictures through the dirty windows with the flash on. I was mortally offended on behalf of the Highlands. If I had been the bus driver, those people would have had a long walk home.

At last, we did arrive in Fort William. It was a quick taxi ride to the B&B, where we were greeted by the most enthusiastic hosts I've had so far. They were all smiles and laughter and eager to have us, lingering in our room to hear our plans and our impressions of Scotland. They recommended places to eat in town. Later, when we went to find dinner, I was alone with the husband in the hallway. I pointed at a wedding picture on the wall and asked if it was him and his wife. Obvious question was obvious, but he took it and ran! Apparently they were from Holland, wanted to get married in England, but couldn't wait the eight days required. So they ran off to Gretna Green! Soon after that, they'd visited Fort William for the first time. They fell in love with the house and a new dream to have a B&B there blossomed. For the next several years, they tried to get the house, but problem after problem came up. Finally they decided it wasn't meant to be, and they prepared to leave. At the very last moment, the house went on the market. They snatched it up, and have been living that dream ever since.

Then we were off to the Grog & Gruel, an apparently famous pub. It was quite delicious, and cheap. We wandered the quiet town after that. Then it was back to the B&B.

Day Ten we got up and had breakfast, teased by our hosts about "sleeping in" until 8:30 (HA). The husband wore a kilt as he served us and chatted about our plans. We were going on the Jacobite train, which is where the Hogwarts train ride was filmed and is award winning as the most beautiful train ride in the UK. The clouds had broken up, revealing a beautiful sunny day, absolutely perfect weather.

We went down to the station a bit early. The train was already there and being prepared, so we snapped several pictures. Our seats were in the very, very last car. They were just standard four seats facing each other, but that was all right. We got lucky because no one sat opposite us.

If you ever take the Jacobite, sit on the left hand side if you can help it. The views are much better over there. We were on the right side, which was great, but not so awesome for pictures. As the train started, we were told not to lean out windows, as the brush came quite close to the train in parts. But I discovered that I could squeeze my camera out a little opening on the top of our window, which worked quite well.

The ride itself was lovely. The views weren't quite as beautiful as they had been on the bus, but they were still breathtaking. The Glenfinnan Aqueduct was in the first leg of the journey, which is what most people on the train wanted to see. Because of that, we lost about 50% of the passengers after the first stop. This was great because then I could hop sides getting pictures.

We rode it all the way to Malliag, a small fishing village with not much going on. There we spent our time popping in shops (where I found a Celtic mythology book), having tea, and listening to a girl play the violin and harp. We were going to catch the regular train back, because it was cheaper that way, so we had several hours to kill. Eventually we went down to the coast and I climbed around on rocks while Mom took pictures. Then we caught the train back into Fort William.

It was a fantastic day.
Current Mood: coldcold
What's this? I'm actually attempting to update and catch people up on stuff?? Madness!

Day Five we checked out of the hostel and caught a cheap bus to Carisle. The drive was lovely, and I finished Mrs. Mike, which was great and made me cry a little. I might pick up the companion book[s?] if I get the time. Anyway, so we got to Carisle and hopped on a 15 minute train into Penrith. We hung around McDonald's for about an hour waiting for our next bus. In my defense, this is only the second time I have entered a McDonald's in my entire time abroad. Plus they had cheap drinks with ice. So.

We caught the appropriate bus, but got off a stop too soon (in the right town, though--yay us!). Fortunately for us, the town of Keswick is pretty tiny, and we were able to find our way fairly easily to the B&B. The B&B itself was a beautiful Victorian house, up on a hill overlooking a golf course, mountains and lake. We were on the top floor facing the back. I blogged about this room and the view and how much I loved it in my entry Everything Out the Window.

After taking a rest, we decided we'd hike three miles up a mountain to see a stone circle at sunset. About twenty minutes into the walk, my camera battery died. This was heartbreaking, but perhaps to be expected. I hadn't charged my battery since before my travels with Mary Cate, so... (Yes, yes, I know, that was stupid. But I have to charge my battery so rarely that I forget.) At that point, even if we had walked back to the B&B I would have had to charge my battery for a good hour, so we elected to keep going on the hike and perhaps go again the next night to get pictures.

At first, it was sort of torture. Without my camera working, I felt like I was without one of my senses. It's weird, but whenever I have my camera I always view the world as a photographer. I look for pictures, angles, light, etc. I like this acquired skill because it's taught me to see in a different way. But it's also hard to actually take in the scenery when I have my camera. As I walked, I tried to capture everything I could in memory and in words, like a proper writer should. After a little adjustment, this was actually quite relaxing (though it still hurt not to be able to take pictures of the walk--which was amazing).

Anyway, the journey began through pathways by a farm. We then entered a forest beside a loud stream. The forest was all green with a path of roots and stones. There were beautiful old stone walls, covered in moss and grass. We then emerged at the edge of the wood by fields of cows. We could see down into the valley, where the lake was bright blue and the mountains were growing dark in the evening sun. For a while it was a steep climb up the fridge of the wood. Then we crossed a creek on a tiny bridge and made our way through fields (full of sheep). One of the fields was particularly steep downhill, which was a relief after all the hiking. Mom suggested a race. I won. She almost fell.

Then it was up a country lane (with walls and flowers on both sides). We were at the top of a small mountain now, with views of our neighboring peaks.

I was looking all around. I told Mom, "Isn't this amazing? Isn't this like something out of a book?"

Mom said, "Well, that's because it's qu... qu... quizzessential England."
Me: "... Do you mean quintessential?"
Mom: "Right! That one!"
Me: "What is quiz essential, anyway? Is that like, there's going to be a quiz on this later?"
Mom: [almost chokes and dies. Happily she did not die or else I would have felt really bad]

Eventually, we climbed one of the stone walls and came to the stone circle.

There were a few other tourists around, and a ton of sheep (including lambs). It was still quite peaceful and magical, though. I liked feeling how hot the stones were on the side toward the sun, and how cold they were in the shadow. We walked around slowly (clockwise). Mom was determined to figure out what the circle was for, and kept making guesses. But we left the rocks as we found them: Mysterious and silent sentinels on the peak of the mountain.

We then had the luxurious walk down the steep mountain, passing several travels going the opposite way. It was quite beautiful, and I sang hymns to myself. When we got to town, we stopped for a drink and a snack. The sun still hadn't set by the time we got to our room. It sets really, really late here.

Oh, and I made a riddle while I was walking! Mom couldn't figure it out (even after several tries) but Laura got it right away. So I'm not sure if it's clever or not. But here 'tis:

Yellow in youth I am
My kin and I rule the land
But with age my head turns grey
A thousand wishes my crown array
My young will through cold wind sail
My lineage will never fail
What am I?

(Answer's at the bottom of the post.)

Day Six we had a lovely breakfast, then set out to enjoy the lake. We meandered slowly, stopping often for pictures. After walking to one of the famous view points, we turned back and stopped in a tea house overlooking the lake. It was beautiful and peaceful. But by the time we moved on (about 10:30) the tourists were waking up and it was beginning to be crowded.

We went through town to the Pencil Museum. This may sound boring, but it really wasn't. It was an old pencil making factory, with a lot of interesting stuff about how to make colored pencils. There was even an exhibit about an awesome WWII pencil soldiers used to carry, which had a laser, compass and map hidden where the lead should be. Mom and I sat down to test the colored pencils on some coloring sheets. I wish my artistic sister, Laura, had been there. She probably would have enjoyed it (though she likely wouldn't have appreciated our mad coloring skills). However, this museum was also the worst example of graphic design I have seen in a museum... possible in my entire life. Think serif font, all caps, justified so that there were sometimes gaps so big between letters I could have placed three fingers in them. Whoever did the design for them probably deserves a pencil in his/her eye. It was bad.

After the pencil museum, we got a cheap lunch. I think the rest of the day we spent wandering in and out of various shops and sipping tea.

That night, instead of going back to the stone circle, we went to see Ladies of Cranford at the Theatre on the Lake. It was a two-woman act that was surprisingly fantastic. I was the youngest person in the audience by several decades. There were two old men in front of us who were basically walking British stereotypes--including the snooty accent and a monocle!

The walk back was just lovely (see Rambling Through the Avenues of Time). Then it was time for bed.

Answer: A dandelion.
Current Mood: happyhappy
28 May 2012 @ 10:15 pm
Posting this separate from the update on the days because it's in an entirely different tone and probably deserves its own entry. More typical travel entries tomorrow.

We walked out of the play arm in arm. The lake was before us, with the mountains behind, all the purple shades of blue in the dusk. There was a green hill where the sheep, lambs and geese were grazing, some silhouetted against the sky. Wisps of cloud were overhead, pink and yellow. It was all so beautiful, and quiet, and peaceful. The air was fresh and cold. I felt alive, and healthy, and happy. I loved the lake and the mountains and the sheep and the clouds. I loved the way our B&B looked, with its little lights twinkling in a friendly way as we approached. I loved the warmth of a good play in my chest. I felt so full of love for all these things that I wanted to cry.

One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how fleeting time is. I’ve been thinking about it because my study abroad journey is nearly over. I’ve been thinking about it because I’ve only got one more year of undergrad left. And even though I’m planning on graduate school, I kind of consider this my last year as a student—and I’ve been a student my whole life!

As we walked to our B&B, I kept thinking about how I live like I can hit rewind and return to a moment. I live like every day can be relived. But it really can’t. I’ll never walk down that tree lined lane, under the sunset, in the cool of spring, having just seen Cranford, with my mom on my arm, again. Oh, it will live on in my memory. But I don’t get to go back. I don’t get to keep that moment forever.

I was wondering what other people walking on that road had thought. Did they wish they could bottle up precious, small moments like that walk? I was thinking about Mrs. Mike, about how being alive is made up of the small perfect moments and not the live altering events.

I was thinking about how one day there won’t be a little tree lined lane, or sheep, or a twinkling B&B, or maybe even a lake or mountains. One day there won’t be my mom. One day there won’t be a me.

It makes me want to cry. But it’s a good sort of cry. A cleansing sort.

Because I am just a tiny, tiny speck. But I have a heart that loves, loves, loves these things. I’m just a tiny speck, but I get to see it all. I get to feel the breezes and health and the touch of my mother and the preciousness of time as it slips through my fingers. And I believe there is a God who made the mountains and the trees and the sheep and my mom and me. I think my longing for more time, more beauty, more to love comes from an immortal soul He gave me. And I think, maybe, the bittersweet grief of a perfect day is knowing that the real perfection is still yet to come.
Current Mood: touchedsentimental
So my travels with my mom are going to be called Magical Mystery Tour, after the Beatles song. Now that that's figured out, let me attempt to sum up the past several days.

Day One happened the very same day I saw Mary Cate off. After waiting in the train station and enjoying cheap internet, I got on a bus and made my merry way down to Heathrow. There was some confusion between online info and correct info, so I had to scramble to get to the right terminal. However, I made it in good time, especially since my mom's flight was delayed. At last she arrived, and there were hugs and kisses, and then we were off.

Most of that day was spent on trains. We got to Paddington and had a long, relaxed lunch. Then we went to Reading, then up to York. The trains were very delayed, so we didn't arrive until around 10 P.M. We caught a cheap cab and arrived at the B&B. We got checked in smoothly and at last collapsed in our room.

Day Two was York! Which means we did a lot of what I'd already done with Mary Cate (except much faster because my mom is a museum browser, not a lingerer like Mary Cate and I). We hit up the Yorkshire Museum. There were a lot of middle school boys out front with their sketch pads. We spent most of the museum time dodging school groups. Then we went to the York Castle Museum, had something to drink and explored. Mom really liked the prison. We discovered that a Kennedy (possibly a relation via our Scottish roots) was tried there! He was ‎hung, had his heart cut out, his limbs scored, and then was beheaded for being a Jacobite. My (inappropriate) response was, "That's so cool!"

From there, we went up the Shambles, taking our time in a few markets. We went to Betty's Tea House for lunch. Though we had to queue up for a bit, we got wonderful seats by the huge windows. We had absolutely amazing tea (Early Grey for me and the house blend for Mom). We split the macaroni and cheese, which was yummy and fancy. Mom got some sort of fruit thing for dessert, and I got a chocolate mousse which was amazing. It was a fantastic experience. Very relaxed and yummy.

From there we hung around, shopped a little, and then made our way to Evensong. This time the choir was all-men. We also had less devout Anglican people in the audience, because no one knew when to stand or sit. But it was fun. Afterwards we walked the wall and grabbed dinner somewhere.

Day Three we checked out of the B&B and made our way to the train station. It was kind of a bummer because I had planned on us getting super cheap tickets. But when we arrived we found out the super cheap ones had to be purchased the night before. So we had to use one of the days from our rail pass, which was disappointing. But we took the train to Hexham. There was a slight wait for the bus, and we walked to a nearby inn that was serving food. Our waitress was really friendly. Then we caught the bus through the countryside to Once Brewed, the hostel were we would be staying. We were able to check in. Our room was a tiny, tiny private, with just enough space for a bunk bed.

We got settled, grabbed maps from the TI next door, then found Twice Brewed, the tavern next door. We had a yummy dinner, caught up on internet, and then went back to the hostel.

The sun set at about 10 P.M., and we were hoping to see some stars. So we left the hostel and set out on a trek up a huge hill. It was truly beautiful. I wrote a little scene about it as soon as I got back, which I hope will make it into Blessings. If I was less lazy, I'd take out the descriptions and just share that with you. But I'm lazy so you get a cut up version of the scene. Just pretend Melle is me and Vel is my mom.

It was cool. A hard wind caught them as they began their assent. Everything was turned to silhouettes against the faded gold of the sky. The single trees stood as sentinels at random places, all black. Even Velimir was only a shadow ahead of her. [...] The fields were divided by stone walls. [...] The wind shifted sometimes, and made a groaning sound as it slid through the open spaces in the stone. There were sheep in the fields, but they were quiet and did not give Velimir or Melle a look. [...] She kept her head up, following the slowly darkening patch of sky where the sun had been, relishing the way it slowly turned as light as hay, then jade and turquoise. At last they came to the top. [...] They were on the only hill for miles, and would have been able to see on and on if the light had been better. As it was, the rolling fields stretched into haze purple masses, each a slightly different shade from the last, all under a bright moon. The stars were not out yet.

She closed her eyes. The wind was in their faces. It was fresh and clean. It was no gentle, meandering breeze, like the faerie realm. With a chill that made Melle feel alive, it tore at her, catching hair and sleeves and skirt in its dance. She had to breathe it in, again and again, taking in as much air as she could hold. This wind was not sweet with perfume, was not teasing—it was clear of all smell but grass and crisp seasons changing. The tree branches made great rushing sounds, like birds’ wings. And the tall grass. Melle had lived near fields all her life, but she had never noticed before how tall grass sounded in the wind. It made a gentle clattering sound, like a small ice storm on stone. But the grass was friendlier than even that. It was a gentle chatter that reminded her somehow of the pages of books sliding through her fingers. It was welcoming.

The stars still hadn't come out by the time we called it quits. Maybe we'll catch them another night.

On Day Four (yesterday) we set out for some hiking. We found the footpath that follows Hadrian's Wall. I've always wanted to see this, ever since I read Eagle of the Ninth as a little girl. The views were absolutely unreal. So here's some pictures.

As we were surveying the beauty, Mom said, "I feel like Catherine looking for Heathcliff."

I turned to her and said, "NO. Stop that. Resist the crazy!" She laughed.

After we walked about four miles (up and down small mountains) we came to the Housesteads Roman Fort ruins. They didn't look that exciting, so we decided not to pay to see them. Instead we ate some snacks from the shop, then caught the bus back to Once Brewed. We grabbed proper lunch (well, pancakes) and rested. Once we felt better, we set out in the opposite direction up another hill to Vindolanda, another set of ruins from a Roman fort and village. These were cool because the excavations are still in progress. The museum was neat too (though Mom rushed through it because she was tired). One unexpected and delightful find was the Vindolanda Tablets--the oldest existing pieces of writing in Britain, which includes writing by a woman. They were really, really tiny scraps, but still neat.

We caught the bus back to Once Brewed, and spent our evening in Twice Brewed enjoying meat pie and tea and waffles with ice cream.

And now you're caught up! Except for today. Which I'll probably write up tomorrow.
Current Mood: contentcontent