Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An English Thanksgiving Weekend

The day of cooking, feasting and good conversations was a success.
Preparing the meal began around 3. Friends from Austria were such a big help and the meal couldn't have happened without them. In between the laughing and snitching, we managed to make two batches of everything, on time and without setting off the fire alarms. The menu consisted of chicken (turkey was not in this budget) garlic mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing and apple crisp. An attempt at making homemade cranberry sauce resulted in extreme failure. But added some comical moments.

Twelve people sat around the tables in what we called "the secret kitchen" of Hartley Hall. A lot of laughing was done thanks to some crazy stories Ondrej and his friends from back home in the Czech Republic shared. Friends from Spain joined, and other guests included Ondrej's guests and Julia's friends from back home in Austria. It ended at the Czech bar. Ondrej and his smooth talking ways convinced the bar owner to keep it open past regular hours. So we had the place to ourselves to play pool and fooseball.

It was fun to celebrate Thanksgiving in a slightly different way this year. Traditions and spending time with family and friends back home were missed. But taking a year off from that to introduce Thanksgiving to some new friends helped make up for it.

Saturday afternoon, I caught my first traditional football match: Manchester United vs. the Blackburn Rovers. 74,000 + were in attendance that day. Thankfully the score was 7 to 1, so we we found ourselves entertained the whole way through.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Everyday

I’m realizing I have written few blog posts about actual experiences in Manchester. I suppose it’s partly due to lack of time and thinking trips are more interesting for family and friends to read, who are choosing to do so.

As much as I have enjoyed experiencing bits of the culture through the holidays fit in around the UK and recently Amsterdam, it is ultimately time in Manchester that I will miss the most. I will continue to travel but realize the opportunity to live overseas may not ever be possible again. It has now been over two months. And in these two months I have spent so many walks, bus rides and restless nights just thanking the Lord for all I have learned and gained more appreciation for. When describing Manchester to people back home, diverse is usually one of the first words used. It is completely different than the other places I have traveled to while here. And I think my friends in Manchester agree. The city and university are home to people of many different races and religions. Greater Manchester has a population of over 2 million I believe. The fashion is crazy and the buses during rush hour are even crazier. Not all of it seems safe, but that’s with any city. It is known around Britain for its shopping, restaurants, many universities, nightlife and Asian food. They have a good amount of art galleries and museums. And there is really so much I have left to see of this city.

Balancing school, travel outside of Manchester, and spending time within the city is probably the hardest thing about the experience. But I guess that’s just life in general. There were a few days this past week where it felt like I should be carrying a brown paper bag around. Was feeling the stress of having to work on my three essays, creating prints for my textile course and somehow still making the most of the month left here. Irrational fears were getting the best of me. And ironically, I’m back to thinking more rationally thanks to studying the theories of the irrational in art through uses of the sublime and gothic for one of my essays. Balance is back on.   

Still finding hard to sleep though thanks to my ever analyzing mind. So much has been learned here. The list goes far and wide. And as I said earlier, there much I have gained a greater appreciation for. It has been even the simplest times in these past two months while here that have brought me the greatest joy. Teatime with friends, conversations over diner in the kitchen, time spent with my head in books, walking, lectures, weekday nights out and riding the bus (which I spend a lot of time doing).

Here is a bit of my greatful/appreciation list I seem to repeat in my head all to often:

Black tea, the jacket potato, bisquits with my tea, apples, pears, mayo, cider beer, a warm hall to come home to, shared kitchens, three-in-one bathroom, living out of all that fits in 2 suitcases, reading, critical thinking, so much about art history, fabric, screenprinting, public transportation, the lectures and my tutors, Hartley hall and all the people in it, hiking, friends in my courses. Diversity, diversity, diversity. I didn’t expect to live in England for three months and learn so much about other cultures and people as well as gaining a better understanding of British life. Hartley Hall and this city have offered so many unexpected little daily gifts.

One month to go! As much as I look forward to seeing family and friends again, I know it will be hard to leave. Not constantly surrounded by new things will be missed. I’m learning to appreciate and prefer “un-normalcy.” 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mainland Europe via Amsterdam

Bicycles, bicylces and more bicycles. Couldn’t help but be reminded of my summer spent in Minneapolis thanks to all the bicycles in Amsterdam. I expected to see the notorious red light district and special coffee shops in this city, but bikes? They lined practically every inch of free space along the many canals, as well as the sidewalks on side streets. We were more likely to have been run over by all the people bicycling along their designated sections on the roads than cars or trams. Luckily, the little bells most people had signaled for us to quickly leap out of the way.

On Wednesday I took an ironically one-hour plus bus ride from Hartley Hall to the Manchester airport and a short 25-minute flight to Amsterdam.  The travel companions were all fellow Hartley Hall-ers - Athan from Greece,  Sercio from Spain, Tina from Swedan, Julia and Iris from Austria, Mo from Saudia-Arabia and Katlin and Mike from the U.S. We met up Tina’s friend from Serbia, who she hadn’t seen in over 10 years upon arriving in the city.  It was nice to see them so happy to finally get to see each other again.

We got creative with the sleeping arrangement seeing the hotel room was only made for seven people. And the room was a little sketchy to say the least. It was about a 15 to 20 minute walk to the city center and thanks to the many canals in the city, it was easy to get turned around. A lot of lost moments, which actually worked out since we probably saw more of the city than had it been any other way.

Overall, Amsterdam surprised me. Some things I was saddened to see but a lot more good countered that. The extensive canal system and Victorian style attached buildings are very charming. Probably a great place to see in the spring or summer. Unfortunately it was cold and rainy for much of our time there. But that made those times when we could be inside something to look forward to. The Dutch were nice and their pancakes were even nicer. Shared a Dutch pineapple bacon pancake at a cozy pancake bakery that felt more like a pizza parlor.

Time spent at the Anne Frank house and Van Gogh Museum were highlights. My interest in the holocaust probably began upon receiving the Anne Frank book and my own diary when I was a kid. It was hard to rap my mind around actually seeing the rooms, two Jewish families spent over 2 years hiding in. The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam when things started to seem fishy with the Nazi’s. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, ran his business in the same house they would later hide in. Once the Nazi’s controlled Amsterdam, the business was put under other people’s names, his family hid in a secret annex on the top floors and Otto continued to help run the business. They were betrayed by an unknown source and the eight people hiding in the Amsterdam home were brought to various concentration camps just months before the war’s end. Otto, the only survivor, returned to the house and found it was emptied by the Germans. For that reason no furniture is found in the house to this day. Replicas were made to show what it did look like that between 1943 and 1945. And pictures Anne collected on her walls also remained. One of the person’s who helped in hiding them had however found papers and Anne’s diary, saved them, and they were eventually returned to Otto. He was quoted with saying “To build up a future, you have to know the past.” Anne’s diary, published in over 70 countries and their preserved home do just that. It was a touching experience.

The Van Gogh Museum houses over 200 of his painting, along with his sketches and painting from other artists who inspired him or were inspired by him. I enjoy the how Van Gogh approaches color and brush techniques. Loved seeing everything up-close. Found my-self even more in awe of all of his creations and what he brought to the art world.

First experiences in mainland Europe were good. Didn’t expect Amsterdam to be my first taste of it. I was impressed by Amsterdam’s beauty and would recommend a trip there to others.

The rest of November is going to require buckeling down with school but the recent weekends away will make it easier. Will be working to put about 10,000 words to paper in the 3 essays required for my classes.

The work will be broken up with a Manchester United game, Manchester Christmas market and trip to Lincoln, which is the home to England’s largest Christmas market. Being surrounded by Christmas spirit is making me excited to see all of you!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Today and everyday since Thursday was a breath of fresh air. Surprisingly much of it spent in one of the most populated cities in the world. I expected to be impressed with London by not this impressed. People prepared me with this information and advice about the city: Crazy and hectic, fashion fashion forward,  stay to the right on escalators as the left is for those in a hurry who climb them, see a show, walk along the Thames River, visit the Tate Modern and British Museum, be prepared to spend a lot of money, and use The Tube and love The Tube. Because I was somewhat warned and prepared, many things seemed less surprising and crazy. I found the city and people to be in not any more of a hurry than in Manchester . The people didn't seem to dress any less crazy than in Manchester either. You do, however, need to stand on the right side when using the escalator. Walking along the Thames riverwalk is a great way to see the sites. Seeing a musical while here is well-worth it. And the Tube can be your best friend and it was.

London has a great mix of Victorian and Roman architecture, green parks and gardens, small boutiques and markets, restaurants and pubs, theaters and museums. Time there was memorable, educational and well eye-opening.

Nina, an international student from Austria also living in Hartley Hall, and I left by train Thursday morning and returned by train Sunday. It was nice getting to know her better. We often joked that this was our "romantic" holiday spent in one of England's most iconic cities. The sites are all breath-taking during the day and some even better at night. And romantic I would say for couples who come here.

Some highlights were seeing the London Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Parliment, Covent Garden Market Trafalgar Square and Big Ben. We made our way inside Madame Tussauds, the London Dungeon, National Gallery, British Museum and the Tate Modern. We explored districts like Soho, the West End, Southwark, and Westminster. Our legs hurt, brains filled and eyes blessed.

We packed sandwhiches and snacks to cut back on food expenses leaving it possible to eat out at two quaint places when the food did run out. The first was an Italian restaurant in the West End. And the second was a "london locals favorite" pub in Soho. Nice to rest our feet and chat over great food in equally great atmospheres.

I thought of many family and friends who I wished could have been there at certain points during the trip. I thought of my Mom while at the musical Dirty Dancing as she loves the movie, Martha as we ventured through the West End, the famous theatre district in London, Jessy while at Tate Modern, Grandma Dorothy as I was by the London Eye and Dad as he would have probably put as many miles in his shoes as we did. Others too.

Nina is a kind, open-minded, postive person who happens to make a great travel buddy. So glad we made the trip. Look forward to the time I can make it back.

Here is a short synopsis of the trip with photos.
london video

Some of the future travel plans include: Amsterdam this week as I dont have class due what they call "reading week" and Paris after classes are done in December.

Liverpool, Lincoln, and Cambridge are some of the British cities I also have my eye on. Can already tell England is a great place to be during the Christmas season. They take having good holiday spirit quite serious.

Continue to feel blessed and grateful for everything experienced both in Manchester and away. And even though enjoying each day here can't help but each day also anticipate seeing family and friends back home.