Florence-A Week of Nourishment

Hello! It’s been over a week since I last posted a blog, so I’ve got some catching up to do. For the week of the 14-23, I was in Florence with my mother and it was objectively the most amazing, relaxing, inspiring week of the trip.

For starters, this is the view from our apartment window. We look over the Arno River right on the Ponte Vecchio, the classic old bridge.

Not to mention the two incredible walking tours. We had an overview of the city with Gian and an in-depth exploration of Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia. Our tour with Gian ended up being just us and we got to know him quite well. He was incredibly charming as well as knowledgeable. We shared our Accademia tour with a lovely older couple from Oklahoma and we were led by an earnest young man named Duccio. It was so refreshing to be in a small group. We got more personalized tours and got to ask in-depth questions based on what particularly interested us.

Yes I chose my full shot of the David, but of course a photo doesn’t do it justice.

This is the Duomo, the ancient innovative cathedral. This particular shot is just one lucky instance of many views of the majestic facade. The peak of the dome serves as a beacon to the whole city-one can never be lost in sight of it. We didn’t get a chance to go inside, but it was lovely to see it from all different angles and times of day.

We took a day trip out to Cinque Terra and had a wonderful time exploring the scenery and making new friends. We spent a majority of our day with a lovely artist couple from South Carolina and got to know people from Austria as well. Love of Florence is international. We also hiked from Corniglia to Vernazza, which was lovely. I walked hand in hand with my mother over the uneven terrain, and the silence allowed time for true reflection and meditation.

We went to the San Lorenzo leather market and each picked up some lovely items. I held my new russet satchel and felt more put together and professional than ever.

One cannot write an account of traveling in Florence and neglect describing the increíble food. We found a lovely restaurante by our apartment called Signor Vino and ate three of our five dinners there. We had roast beef with chicory and steak with vegetables and an excessive amount of tiramisu. The rich food

As we toured Florence, the high-end options available to me have inspired me to take meal planning into my own hands. I’ve been compiling a comprehensive list of meals to prepare when I get home, to an obsessive level. Part of it is that planning is a form of creativity for me and part of it is a desire to have control over what I am eating.

My week in was one of the most amazing weeks of my entire trip. It was amazing to be with my mom again, in one apartment for an entire week, and eating amazing food. I cherish my time in the magical city and look forward to the second half of my journey. Onward!

The Panorama of Time

Hi! This was originally two separate pieces but I have combined and synthesized them. Let me know what you think!

The sensation of time is different from the keeping of time. Time can seem to contract or expand to our liking, but the sun will rise and set with reassuring consistency. I was reminded of this truth while exploring Durham Cathedral and Melrose Abbey, two very different houses of worship that have reacted to the marching of time in very different ways.

We entered the hallowed hall and were immediately overtaken by the opulence. The vaulted ceilings towered over us and stained glass in every color dazzled our eyes. Durham Cathedral is a feast for the senses and the spirit. The ancient house of worship was built between 1093 and 1133 AD (Durham World Heritage Site) and has remained standing and active through the centuries, watching the rise and fall of empires with a removed steadiness.

One poster lists the name of every bishop, dean, and prior for the church-1000 years of history on a sheet that I can cover with my hand. Staring at this sheet, I wondered who all of these men were (because it took many centuries for the church to catch up with egalitarianism) and whether they enjoyed their vocation. Seeing 1000 years of history in such a small space made me feel I stood outside of it all, observing the passage of time from a divine vantage point.

Melrose Abbey was founded in 1136 and used as a monastery until 1590 when the last monk in residence died. (Historic Environment Scotland). It was there that I saw this faded gravestone and was overwhelmed by surprising questions. To my knowledge, the stone reads “In memory of David Wayness who died June 4th… aged 51 years”. Knowing that he had half a century of life doesn’t have as much impact without knowing the era. He could have led a long life in the 1600s or a short life two centuries later. Furthermore, knowing the length of a life doesn’t say anything about the quality of it. I wonder if he was respected in his community, if he felt fulfilled in his vocation or secure in his faith. The faded year is a symbol to me, of a man named David Wayness lives on adrift in my memory. The sensation of time is different than the keeping of time, and this experience reminds me that time is an anchor, grounding us within space and providing a context.

I saw the list of names and years, and felt a reassurance that the gravestone lacked. The gravestone had a name and some information, but no anchor in an era. These names were all anchored into eras of history, and one could assume they were pious people if they worked in a church. Both images evoke awe and reverences but the poster offers comfort where the gravestone evokes a wistful pity

For the majority of my life, I’ve held cemeteries at a distance, being respectful if I must visit them but avoiding them as much as possible. I would not call myself superstitious, but I shudder at the idea of treading on another’s resting place, and I respect that there may be some lost souls about. However, the experience at Melrose showed me that cemeteries are good places for reflection and philosophy, and I no longer need to approach them with fear or hesitation. I present myself as a humble student of the past, honoring those who came before me.

Back at Durham, the Shrine of St. Cuthbert was set up with kneelers and candles and a little prayer inscribed into a plaque. I knelt and offered a prayer of gratitude, but what really awed me was the stained-glass window to the right of the shrine. A nearby poster reads that the window was commissioned in 2012 in honor of Sara Pilkington a college student who died of a mysterious heart condition. One died in 1104, the other in 2012 and I knelt in reverence to both equally. The fresh loss of Sara did not make her any less worthy of respect and adoration than the enduring memory of the saint. Both were humans, both were blessed children of God, and both are remembered with honor, no matter how much time elapsed between their lives,

After a while, I became overwhelmed with the holy power of the interior, so I decided to climb the tower, which ended up being an equally holy experience. When I got to the top, my breath was stolen by the wind and the incredible views. While the cathedral itself has remained mostly unchanged, the centuries have drastically altered the surrounding landscape. In place of wild fields, houses and cities and roads have risen. Civilization has steadily crowded into sacred land and turned up the volume but still Durham stands,

I sat with a friend at the top of the cathedral, listening to the bells chime the quarter-hour, and pondered the sensation of time. My friend commented that “the sensation of time is different than the keeping of time.” We were only eleven days into our semester at that point and it already felt like we had been gone for at least two months, so I felt this dissonance on a very raw level. Sitting on the top of a building that was older than I could comprehend, I began to gain a marginally increased understanding of the wide margins of time and how my minute life fit into the grand stained-glass window of history.

After the shrines and the views, I was ready for some music and quiet reflection. I heard faint strains of a timeless classic hymn and followed them to a private communion. I lurked outside the service until the female service leader invited me in. I stayed in the back for a few minutes and listened to her wisdom on the Gospel of Luke and the exemplary life of St. Cuthbert. Listening to a woman preach the word of God allowed me to anchor myself in the present day and witness the effects of time on the interior of the church.

The sensation of time is different than the keeping of time, Both of these monuments have been able to bear the weight of centuries and display it proudly, allowing us to see the past through the lens of the present and revere the constant fluctuation of time.


Belfast-Recovering on Eggshells

Hi. I posted the original draft of this piece when it occurred but I’ve revised it since then so here is an updated version.

War-torn cities aren’t always in active conflict, and Belfast is a prime example. The city isn’t as overtly sketchy as Dublin, but the war is hidden just below the surface. My tour of the city was heartbreaking, enlightening, and unforgettable. It was a privilege and a burden to walk among the fault lines of a divided community and witness the beginnings of true healing. The city is in the process of recovering from a century of conflict, but small acts of empathy and solidarity can have ripple effects of healing.

We met our tour guide Paul and I was instantly impressed. He was a teacher who transitioned into being a professional mediator between the broken families. The conflict in Belfast has been between the Irish Republican Army who support Ireland’s independence and are mainly Catholic, and those who support Ireland’s union with Britain and are mainly Protestant. As a professional mediator between warring factions, Paul is making tangible changes in the community, helping rebuild friendships and stretching the boundaries of coexistence. There are Protestant tour guides who won’t even walk into the Catholic part of the city or vice versa, and Paul got recognized by a local for being willing to walk through both sides.

On our walk, we saw two memorial gardens, one for each side of the conflict. The IRA garden felt angrier and more militaristic, with imagery of particular faces of activists and martyrs The faces were not serene and calm, but many seemed to be in the middle of shouting. The martyrs also held a plethora of guns and weapons, fighting for freedom even after death. The anger and grief make sense, given that the Irish garden was illegally built without a permit after the IRA was forcibly disbanded by a ceasefire. The British garden felt much tamer and cleaner, like a common cemetery, with uniform and tidy flower arrangements and generic epitaphs differentiated only by the details of the deceased. While the air of clean and orderly reverence makes sense, there is also an air of impersonal distance. A viewer can tell that the British cemetery is meant to honor.a long-forgotten victory while the IRA memorial garden offered validation for a still-smarting wound. The British military formally left Belfast in 2005, when the policies of the 1998 Good Friday agreement were finally enacted, meaning the violence ended just over 15 years ago and locals are still adjusting to new ways of life.

These two memorials stand in sharp contrast to many American cemeteries. In America, people are usually buried with an individual epigraph and a decently decorated tombstone, showing a personal touch and a desire for decency and reverence and honor. But in this city, even a garden makes a political statement.

This wall divides the Catholic neighborhood from the Protestant. The gates at the end of the streets, are known as “dead zones” and are locked at 7 pm each night to minimize the chance of violence in the no-man’s-land. As the walls have risen since 1969, history rises around the people of Dublin rather than disintegrating beneath the earth as history tends to do.


This mural on the International Wall struck me because of the powerful contrast of these two images. On the left, the Irish Uprising of 1916 is memorialized, when the Irish Republican Army first began their fight for an independent nation. On the right, 10 hunger strikers from 1981 are represented. For almost seventy years, Ireland has been at civil war. As Paul said, “the electricity of tension that used to dominate daily life has softened”, but it can easily be triggered. While I don’t necessarily feel safe alone in Belfast, I respect all that the city has been through and pray for healing and recovery. Paul told us that more people died by suicide in the last 11 years than by direct conflict in the previous 30. It’s not just about individual trauma from isolated violence, as awful as that is. It’s a raw national trauma that spans multiple generations.

With the many posters and memorials on common streets, the daily lives of the citizens of Belfast are haunted by the past. Even on the sides of such simple buildings as supermarkets, there are political posters such as this one. It was made by the British supporters to ask the IRA “Where is the integrity in murder?” It is a valid question. Paul told us that both sides have made political statements throughout town, unwilling to truly lay the matter to rest,

This sign was outside the church in the middle of one of the “dead zones”. The sign says “peace” in both English and Gaelic, and the church is making tangible strides to bring a divided community together in small but powerful ways, such as having Protestant and Catholic women work together in childcare. Paul talked about how successes in politics and international relations are typically widely shared, but leaders in Belfast are hesitant to do so, for fear of jinxing the progress. The fact that success has to be kept a secret shows just how gradual the healing process is here.

The eeriness of walking through a war-torn city was a lot to think about in one day. The memories of many of the recent memories of townspeople are corroded with violence and grief, even as the next generation continues to slowly turn the walls of religious conflict into bridges of understanding and empathy.

It was an enlightening weekend to say the very least. Belfast is unlike any other city we’ve been to and I’m incredibly grateful to have the chance to explore this unique perspective. It definitely redefined how I think of abstract ideas of “conflict” and “civil war” in modern Western society. Belfast has been through so much over the century, but I have faith in people like Paul, taking small steps that have ripple effects of healing.

Rome-Touring, Training, Tasting!

Hello! It’s been a hot second since I’ve written anything. First off, I am on free travel for the next ten days! My mother and I spent a day in Paris, two whirlwind days in Rome and then we spend a week in Florence before I meet up with my group in London.

On our first night, we took a walking tour of Rome’s fountains and monuments. We got a lovely walking tour of some classic a Roman viewing points such as the Spanish Steps and the Trevi fountain. I threw two coins in so here’s to coming back to Rome and bringing my future soul mate!

We also learned about Jordano Bruno, a progressive psychic rebel who was burned in the 16th century for opposition to the Catholic Church. He sounds like my kind of odd duck and I hope to do more research on him soon. Our guide Luca was much like Paul from Belfast-refreshingly honest with a touch of cynicism.

The next morning we did CrossFit, which I haven’t done in six weeks, and it was an awesome challenge. CrossFit muscles are very different than daily walking muscles. There was a woman in the back of the room redoing the 20.1 Open workout because she was unhappy with her first result. That level of dedication echoes many of our coaches and fellow athletes at The Athlete Lab in MN. A lot of the signs around the gym were also very similar to what I’m used to, and the familiarity was a nice anchor point, reminding me to stay with my body and feel the challenged muscles fully. My mind wanted to wander off to the most random paths, but workouts are an awesome form of meditation and focus.

One thing I’ve struggled with over the last few days is trying to control my future. I currently have no idea what classes I will take in the spring or what hours I will be able to work. I’m the kind of person who builds tight routines for myself like a comfortable blanket cocoon, and automating certain patterns frees up brain space for creative pursuits. This is a great chance for me to just relax into the present moment and let the unknown rest. I can cross any bridge when I get to it.

After our workout we took a walking tour of the Colosseum! Somehow I missed all the classes on the history of the monument so I was a little surprised by the sheer gore, but our guide Lorenzo was lovely, with a good sense of humor and endearing frustration with the crowds.

I’ve found a new appreciation for walking tours. They’re essentially like a class session, an overview and a deluge of important knowledge. I find myself taking copious notes from the guides and marking points to independently research later. I enjoy living in a student mindset and the tours are a great way to continue learning even while on vacation.

Our Colosseum tour rounded off an increíble day of learning,. It was wonderful to reunite with my mom again after six weeks and explore her favorite city with her 20 years after her first visit. This week is an amazing chance for me to refuel my mind and body and spirit and I am so grateful for it!

Bon Voyage 🇮🇹 E

Albert-Scars of War

On Monday the 7th we toured some important sites relating to the Battle of the Somme in World War One, and it felt like going through all five stages of grief in one day. It was absolutely heartbreaking and maddening and confusing, but it was also an incredible privilege to walk through history and understand the true cost of war and how this region has processed the trauma, particularly in contrast to Belfast.

Our first stop was Devonshire Cemetery, where our tour guide informed us that some of the youngest casualties of the Somme were boys as young as 12. Twelve. I have cousin who are twelve years old and I am appalled at the thought of them anywhere near a battlefield. Many of the recruiting officers were so desperate for troops that they turned a blind eye to thousands of underage enlisters. I believe that World War One was an industry and men were products in the eyes of many generals and military strategists. Whoever moved the most human units and had the lowest loss statement was the victor.

Four thousand men lost their lives between the spot where I stood and the edge of the wood. Four thousand men died in the space of a few yards, under the orders of one greedy general. This haunting stretch of land is just opposite the red dragon that guards the Welsh memorial of Mametz.

While we marveled at the Lochnagmore Memorial Crater, left to memorialize an exploded mine, we were visited by this friendly little pup. He seemed a little skittish and didn’t want to be pet, but he sat and listened to our lecture for a while. Having him around was a nice way to lighten the mood in the middle of the tragic history.

This sculpture, simply titled “The Empty Chair”, rests at the Lochnagar left after a mine explosion and symbolizes the place left around dinner tables and fireplaces by the 37 million total lives lost in World War One. Seeing this chair was a powerful supplement to the names on the Thiepval Memorial of the Missing.

Theipval Memorial of the Missing was a hard site to walk through and a terrible sight to see. All the names on the pillar add up to 72,000 men whose bodies were never found to be buried. There were actually 1000 more men, but they have been found and buried. 72,000 men, who had families and passions and hobbies and favorite foods. And they died on a hellish battlefield without so much as a proper burial. Our tour guide told us that four bodies were found and buried in the last year, and explained the archeological process of identification and burial. This process makes me wonder, at what point does history become history? At what point is it a logical matter of preserving data instead of a somber funeral for a life lost unfairly?

This was our final site of the day and it was a fitting note to end on. We ended at a preserved battlefield at Newfoundland Memorial Park. The catch is that they removed all evidence of battle for security reasons and decided not to alter the land in any way. The result is that nature has proven that beauty triumphs over violence. The grass has grown in, and the trenches have naturally filled in so that craters are now small valleys in a miniature mountain range.

This overgrown valley is a perfect visual of the internal processing that the people of France have undergone, and serves as a stark contrast to Belfast. While Belfast was a town still very much in the throes of conflict, northern France has made peace with the world, despite frequent reminders of the horrors. They have the distance of 100 years while Belfast has less than 20. The people of northern France have been able to honor their dead and carry on quiet lives and I admire that, and hope that Belfast can reach that point of healing.

Monday was a very intense day and I had a hard time handling the heavy grief. It was also an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t tend to dwell on heavy topics, simply because I’m not wired that way. The tour was a way for me to stretch my emotional boundaries and pay my respects by absorbing the vital knowledge. Knowing how France has housed these traumas has also reminded me that humans are resilient and able to find beauty and peace again.

Bon Voyage ❤️🇫🇷 E

Paris-Aesthetic Paradise, Overwhelming Knowledge 🇫🇷

Hi! I haven’t blogged much about Paris because I’ve felt more overwhelmed than inspired here. Even so, there are a few iconic things I’ve seen that are worth noting.

For one, the Eiffel Tower has been amazing and I’ve been there three times in the last four days. Seeing the lights dance across the Eiffel Tower was the definite highlight of the first day in Paris. I had felt lost and confused in a big new city and very tired and homesick, but seeing such an iconic image in person reminded me why I’m here and warmed my heart. Having the bragging rights is also pretty sweet.

On the second day, the only thing I did was go to the Louvre, but that was more than enough for one day. We walked through centuries of priceless history and only took in a fraction of it. We walked through Ancient Greek and French and Roman and Egyptian art but we were only after the Mona Lisa. Of course, it’s an iconic painting and everyone wants to have the proof that they were there. But beyond that, why? What is the appeal of the Mona Lisa apart from the mythic status among tourists? I ask myself this as I get in a 20-minute line, as I am funneled through endless escalators with practiced and indifferent efficiency. Why do I want the bragging rights to the Eiffel Tower but not the Mona Lisa? I don’t have a particular connection to either, and Mona is the older and more iconic of the two. Yet I stood in the line, marveling less at Mona herself and more at the sheer amount and diversity of those seeking to stand in the presence of history.

Also, this is the origin of the popular meme, so that was an unexpected surprise. But again, the idea of commodified history puzzles me. Many people know this picture not because of historical significance but because of an internet fad. How did this painting in particular become an internet sensation?

There’s so much here that I’ve gotten overwhelmed. But I needed to get to Shakespeare and Co and it is AESTHETIC HEAVEN!

The original shop was opened in 1922 by Sylvia Beach and remained until 1941. Many literary expatriates gathered there such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce. The second shop was opened in 1951, and has remained an iconic tourist destination for those seeking to drink from the fountain of knowledge and inspiration.

I only saw the “no pictures” sign at the bottom of the stairs when I was done. 😊

If I spent every minute of every day of the rest of my life reading the books in the store, I might get through a quarter of the entire collection. The entrance of the shop is deceptively small, but there are easily over 20,000 books in the shop. Everything from Shakespeare to Michelle Obama to Sophie Kinsella. I wish I hadn’t brought my backpack because i kept bumping into people and shelves

I enjoyed chatting with the local cashier and the sales associate from New York. I wanted to ask the New Yorker how he ended up in Paris, but he didn’t have time to chat.

I bought two books-“Know My Name” by Chanel Miller and “No One is Too Small to Make a Difference” by Greta Thunberg, and I can’t wait to read them and support two world-changing women. Greta Thunberg has shot to accolade for her striking speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action summit, and Chanel Miller is the real name of the woman who came forward against Brock Turner and got abominably screwed over by the justice system. Both women have unique experiences and powerful messages, and it feels fitting to buy their stories in a shop that is a shrine to a golden literary age.

It took me four days to feel comfortable enough to walk four blocks, but it was absolutely worth it. I’ve fallen in love with Paris at the worst possible time, seeing as we leave tomorrow. But I will return shortly and explore more of the quiet local streets and fill my well of inspiration.

Bon Voyage 🇫🇷 E

The Soundtrack of Nostalgia

Hi. Although Belfast was an externally challenging city, I was able to enjoy the hotel and explore memories through music

We were in Belfast for the weekend and stayed in the Malone Lodge, by far the fanciest place we’ve stayed. This place has felt more like home than any other, which has been incredibly comforting but also made me miss my real home even more

I went down to the Knife and Fork restaurant for dinner on Friday and found it was completely empty. It was definitely a shock but it was also the best evening of solitude I’ve had in quite a few weeks. I ordered a burger, enjoyed the playlist of 80s American classics, and had some lovely conversation with Susie the bartender. There’s something so comforting about chatting up strangers. The obligations and shared history are gone and it’s a chance to build an entirely new connection.

Breakfast on Saturday was a similar experience, but the playlist made me more emotional. I ate with our main leader, who I’ve taken quite a shining to. She reminds me of my mother in a lot of ways and has been serving as a stand-in for me on this trip. “Put Your Records On” played when I walked in and I knew I was in for a good time. When Howie Day’s acoustic rendition of “Collide” played, I felt like I was back in my home kitchen or dorm room, just having a quiet breakfast. I nearly started crying when James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” came on, because that song took me back even further. When I was about five, James Blunt was an indie radio staple and I liked his music without understanding a word of it. I just thought he had a pretty voice. I laughed a little when I realized they didn’t censor the curse word, but the Irish are known for their coarseness. Later in the lobby I heard Ray Lamontagne’s “You Are the Best Thing” and basked in the memories the song brought back of special times with my family when I was about 14.

As I spent more time in the restaurant and heard more of the playlist, I became convinced the creator took the entire 2005 track list off my local indie radio station back home and organized it on Spotify for my personal enjoyment. A lot of my favorite alternative or pop songs are from 2000-2010, when our local station played more indie music and I was too little to understand the emotional lyrics. It is a strange feeling to be so reminded of home and yet to know I am not at home. I am comforted by the reminder but it also makes me homesick.

During a normal school year, we have the same classes from week to week and follow the same patterns so they’re cemented in our memories. Here, we move every 3-5 days, so just as we get used to a new place, we’re off again. This makes organizing and retaining specific memories of the trip all the more difficult. But I am awestruck at the strength of my memories that are attached to music. A few intro chords from a song I know well and I’m back in the memories.

Last night, I had a random flashback to the first few days in Edinburgh and I could feel just how much has changed. Traveling changes a person, if they really embrace the experience. It’s wonderful to explore new versions of myself while remaining grounded in my memories of family and home.

Downton Abbey-Delicious Aesthetics and Dynamic Associations

Hi! It’s been a little bit since I’ve done a good old-fashioned movie review but I saw Downton Abbey on Thursday with some friends and I was blown away. I’m approaching the movie independently of the show, so my perspective might be different from that of a devoted fan, but I definitely loved the aesthetics and social politics.

The first descriptor I thought of was delicious. Being someone who didn’t watch most of the show, I had a little catching up to do but I got the overview quite easily. I only ever saw one episode from season 1 but I got the basic overview of who everyone was. It was interesting to see which characters had been promoted or gotten married or changed in other ways.

For the feature film event, the decadence of Downton is on in full force for a visit from King George V and Queen Mary. The ladies of Downton alternate between lavish ball gowns and sassy flapper dresses. Lady Mary and Lady Cora also wear trousers on occasion, which is a commendable characterization choice. The color saturation was turned up and the autumn setting added some lovely foliage for the long shots of the Abbey. Overall the aesthetic value is a trademark of the show, and the movie does not disappoint.

There’s lots of repressed sexual tension, which was surprising and fun to watch. Not only is there an endearing romance between the widower Thomas Bransom and a maid named Lucy Smith, there is also a surprising plot involving the King’s Royal dresser and the head butler of Downton. I was impressed the creators of the series were willing to tackle the topic, but again I missed most of the show. It was done tastefully and added a modern flair to a show rooted in antiquity.

The servants of Downton get to shine as they fight for respect against the arrogant Royal servants. This provides some comic relief, particularly when one Downton servant messes up the one task he had simply because he can’t keep his mouth shut-we’ve all been there. I want to give a shoutout to Mr. Bates, who is the only disabled character in Downton, but is treated with respect as a member of the household all the same.

One of the more intriguing plot lines revolves around Lady Bagshaw, lady-in-waiting to the Queen and cousin to Lord Grantham. Lady Bagshaw disregards Lord Grantham as her heir in favor of her servant Lucy Smith. This angers Violet and she picks a fight with Bagshaw, but the reveal of her motivations settles everything. However Lucy’s character is a bit flat throughout the movie. She is less someone who does or says things and more someone that others do and say things about.

Getting to see Downton Abbey while on study abroad was a treat. While we watched it in Ireland, the show reminded me more of our visit to Windsor Castle than to Melrose or Westminster Abbey. Melrose was a historic ruin and Westminster is an active religious institution. This trip has mainly focused on literature and less on politics, so we haven’t talked much about the structure of English nobility, but I want to do some independent research on titles and estates and all the stuff that makes for fun TV.

Overall I give the movie a 10/10 for stunning visuals, engaging characters, and modern aspects. Recommended for fans of period pieces, British television, and dramas about relationships. If devoted fans of the show have issues with the movie, they are entitled to their opinions. As for me, you may call me Lady Elena of Shoreview. 😊 👑

Bon Voyage 🇮🇪 E

Slowing Down in Sligo and an Overview

Hi. It’s been a hot minute since I posted a thing, but that’s because we’ve had a very restful and reflective few days.

We left London on the 16th, and I was ready to leave by that point. I was a bit fed up with the noise and chaos and constant attachment to my companions. We flew to Dublin and then took a three hour Coach to Sligo.

Sligo is the most magical town I’ve been in so far! We’re actually staying just outside Sligo in Mullaghmore, at a retreat center called Star of the Sea. It’s been a very restful period in a new way.

On the first day we went horseback riding and also found a barn kitty named Pixie.

She was incredibly affectionate and followed us around begging for attention. The horses were all amazing. We rode along the beach and just took in the views

We had one day to fully immerse ourselves in the land of Yeats. We saw St. Columba’s church where he is buried, took a boat ride on the Lake Isle of Innisfree and stopped at Glencar Waterfall. This day remains one of my favorite on the entire trip, a perfect day to soak up the restorative quiet of nature and honor a poet who stood at the intersection of many styles and themes. Aside from that, we honestly haven’t done much here. This week has been about having the independent time and space to do what refills our unique souls. It has been amazing.

( saw this tree at Glencar and the first thing I thought of was “the receiving woman”. I’m not sure why that particular tree spoke to me, but it was a wonderful blessing).

One of the best parts of this trip has been losing the rigidity of time. I’ve always said that hours, minutes, and seconds are human constructions and unnecessary to live our lives. This trip has given me a chance to ignore the passing of time, and that allows me to live at a slower relaxed pace.

We had some downtime earlier in the trip, but it definitely wasn’t the same. Our week in Lindisfarne was early enough in the trip that we were still getting to know each other and basking in the novelty of it all. Our week in Coniston was interesting-when we weren’t visiting the homes of classic authors, we were all crammed in the same house, many in the same room. There was bad weather the entire week, some of us were sick, and it was generally not the best. Sligo is nothing like that. Our Star of the Sea retreat and conference center is large enough that we each get our own room, and the beach and nearby village provide enough entertainment to satisfy us.

It’s been interesting to see how the dynamics of our group have changed since we left home. I listened to a podcast that talked about being in proximity versus being in community, and that’s where I feel our group is right now. At first this thought annoyed me-I assumed we would be closer at this point in the trip. But one of my friends pointed out that we still have two full months in Europe, and some of my companions may be “pacing themselves” to avoid intense connection and burnout. This makes sense to me. A lot of people on this trip have prior relationships, and it’s wonderful that these friendships get to deepen and evolve. It’s also awesome to get to meet new people and just be silly college kids together.

If I give the impression that this trip has been all sunshine and roses, it’s not. At least once a week I have dissolved into a puddle of tears, for myriad reasons. I’m going through a lot of self discovery and confronting a lot of old unhealthy habits. Being in close quarters so far from home, along with moving every week, is pretty stressful. Some of us have gotten sick. Some of us have gotten into conflict. It’s challenging at times, but the amazing adventures we’re on make it all worth it.

About a year ago I got accepted into this study abroad program, and I spent the time planning superfluous details and imagining what the trip would be like. Suffice it to say this trip is more than I could have ever imagined, in all areas. I lay on a porch in Ireland, listening to the trill of the birds and the roar of the waves, and reflected on the last month. We’ve received incredible hospitality from perfect strangers. We’ve seen and experienced things many people never even come close to. It’s been an amazing month of exploration and discovery, both internally and externally. Our next stop is Dublin, a packed week of adventure. Stay tuned!

Bon Voyage 🇮🇪 E

All the World’s a Stage

Hi! It’s been a very busy four days, full of theater. We saw two Shakespeare plays at the Globe Theatre, which was amazing. In addition, I went with a friend to see Wicked, which was amazing in a very different way.

Our first show was Henry V. The Globe theater has introduced a new policy of gender blind casting for the 2019 season, meaning that the role of Henry was played by a black woman and Katherine was played by a middle-aged white man, who also played Falstaff. This is a complete reversal and subversion of traditional racial and gender interaction and expression throughout history, which took a little getting used to, but it was a breath of fresh air. In addition to the dramatic reversal of the leads, many of the dukes or other male supporting roles were played by women. This casting choice is less obvious, but it makes a similar statement: it’s not necessary to default to male representation or casting. It didn’t make much difference to the quality of the performances and some less observant patrons may not have even noticed. In addition, the other aspects of the production such as set and costuming were very minimal. This allowed the power and range of the actors to take center stage. There were no elaborate costume changes apart from Falstaff to Katherine and perhaps the removal of a cloak. One of my favorite moments of the play was the song “Nom Nobis Domine”, which was sung at the end of the battle. It was in another language so I didn’t understand every word, but the general tone seemed bittersweet-gratitude for victory mixed with mourning for the dead. There was very little instrumental backing and the actors could let their haunting harmonies carry across the amphitheater.

On our second night in London, we went to see As You Like It (with much better seats). This is a very different show from Henry V. The first was a complex history with a linear plot and the second was a fantastical romantic comedy. Both offered intriguing new angles of producing iconic work, but As You Like It had some interesting casting choices, Right off the bat I was surprised to see Celia played by a black woman and signing all her lines instead of speaking. Rosalind was played by a tall skinny man Rosalind speaks Celia’s important lines, but also signs most of her dialogue in her first scene with Celia. In scenes with other characters, Rosalind simply spoke her lines. I was surprised by this because I was expecting gender-swapped actors, but the signing wasn’t advertised or promoted. I appreciate this because society should not expect praise for being accommodating and inclusive, it should be seamless and natural. This worked in terms of representation, but I missed all of Rosalind’s dialogue. If I were to cast a hearing impaired character, I would have them speak and sign, as Rosalind and others did when speaking to Celia. That way those who are hard of hearing can know what’s going on but those who don’t understand sign language don’t feel confused. The melancholy Jáques was also played by a hearing impaired woman, although she didn’t sign a majority of her lines. But that was an interesting choice because when she did sign, it was to say “I am different, I am apart from you.” I only know this because Anna interpreted this scene after the show, but that knowledge makes that scene all the more powerful. Overall it was a lovely show and I was quite pleased with the representation of different abilities on such a prestigious stage. I am so grateful to have seen shows at the Globe theater and I hope to see more in the future.

These two plays were amazing, but on the third night in London I went with a friend to Wicked, and that was dramatically different. I went with my friend M who had never Aden it before, and I was honored to introduce her to the masterpiece. She loved it and I loved witnessing her joy.

I have seen the play before so I remembered the general plot, but I had forgotten both the political overtones and the sheer emotional gravitas of the play. I had also forgotten the character of Nessarose, who was done SO WELL!!! She’s the only disabled character and she starts off as the “token pity character” and then we find out she’s abusive and then she dies and we’re left confused. Was she good or evil? She’s NUANCED! I live for disabled nuanced characters on stage! Also (spoiler) in this one it had Elphie and Fiyero run away together at the end, I find it interesting that they extended the ending. They could cut out proof that she’s alive and that would be just as powerful. (End spoiler I was surprised to learn this musical is only 13 years old, given how quickly it’s achieved such iconic status. This acclaim is well deserved, given that the play heavily critiques issues like racial injustice and corrupt politics through paper-thin metaphors. Even without understand the profound warnings of the story, viewers can appreciate the already-classic songs like “Defying Gravity” and “For Good”, both of which were flawlessly executed in this production. In addition, I was blown away by Elphaba’s powerful performance of “No Good Deed”, showing a woman who has been hurt too many times and has had enough.

London has an incredible theater scene and I am so grateful to have experienced both the historic and modern expressions of theatre. I think I was more excited to be at the Globe Theater than to be seeing these particular plays, but they were still wonderful new experiences. And I had an amazing time with M, rediscovering such a profound classic musical. After all the excitement and intensity of London, I’m excited for some downtime in Sligo. Stay tuned!

Bon Voyage 🇬🇧 E