Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Pilgrimage: From Grantham through London to Canterbury

What does it mean to Pilgrimage? Is this a medieval phenomenon that cannot be repeated by those of us that go today? Is it negated by not slowly going on foot from one place to a distant other? I am not sure, but I do know that I found myself making my own pilgrimage, in mine own way. And God met me there.

So. The start of this wonderful journey began with a rail trip to London on Friday morning, September 19th, where I was able to make it into the most phenomenal performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream that I have ever seen--and it was in the Globe Theatre. It was definitely lucky. The show was already all sold out, but since tickets are often returned, I waited in line and eventually gained the second to last ticket available. It was amazing. The changes between the fairy world and the waking one was done so well, and the play within the play impressed me most of all. I loved how well that part was done and how the rest of the characters became part of the audience so easily. It was... magical.

Afterward, my friend Emily and I went to a quaint, old bookstore. While I was there, I absolutely fell in love with a book of short stories by Rudyard Kipling published in '72. I also found a good deal on a three-in-one star wars book, so I had to take it, thus beginning the small library that I put together over the course of the weekend. I've realized that my love of books has stronger pull over me than I over it....

Anyway, after dinner and a nice theological conversation with my friend, we eventually made it to the hostel where we spent both evenings on the trip. It was not exactly my favorite place ever, but I had a bed and got to sleep, despite some confusion of which bed was mine.

So, the next morning I began the final stage of my pilgrimage. We hopped onto the first train into West Canterbury station and sat back for a fairly long trip, on which I was thankful to have just bought my new star wars book. So, once we finally arrived, I stood out on that street and was just overwhelmed with thought. I was standing in the town where Thomas Becket was martyred, the place of perhaps the most amazing story of dedication to the church that I have heard.

Soon after stopping by Costa Coffee to grab a muffin and some hot chocolate, we made it to Canterbury Cathedral, and split up pretty much immediately. The moment I walked into the cathedral complex, I found myself standing there in awe staring at it. In so many ways it could have been considered just another cathedral in another town, but there was just something about it. Each one speaks to me. In this one, through this one, God spoke to me. Clearly. I cannot describe it, and it left me at a loss for words even then. I lit three different candles, one at each of the places available. One in the area where Thomas Becket fell, one in the crypt, and one at the end of the nave where his shrine once stood. God was there. I met him in a cathedral, a huge monument standing for His glory. Oh yes, I also bought a copy of the Canterbury Tales at the shop within, finding myself unable to resist its pull.

From there, I alone then went to the remains of the Augustinian Monastery, another amazing place. Likely the birthplace of Christianity and England, and consequently for America, this monastery is the place that At. Augustine established while on his missionary journey to Britain. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and the moment I got there, I just wanted to sit and relax, drinking in the sun, the wind, and the area. I felt like the area was exuding peace, saturated in it. The couple of hours or so I spent there was far too short for so wonderful a place. I drank in the remains of the cathedral, the crypt, the cloister, and the chapter house. I turned my back on the place and left regretfully. It was wonderful.

Yet again, another two and a half hour train ride back to London and then a quick stop for dinner, we made it back to the hostel for the evening. Unfortunately, our morning plans were dashed. We made it to Westminster just in time for the eleven O'clock service, and just in time to hear that they were having a special service in honor of those that served for the military. So, we continued onward to Trafalgar Square, and though it was initially closed, we walked around and returned to Waterstone's Bookstore.

After grabbing a quick, inexpensive meal at Costa inside, I made my exit toward the National Gallery, but not before grabbing a copy of Brisingr, the third book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, for an amazing price. The National Gallery was amazing--I got to see so many pictures by so many artists that I cannot begin to number them. I saw works by Constable, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, and Turner, only to mention a few of my favorites. I escaped with only a couple of prints dangling at my side, as I turned to make it home. It was a good trip.

I completed a pilgrimage to a place that so often received pilgrims in the past. I left a piece of me in that place, but I feel like I brought back within me something so much more.


Sunday, September 21, 2008


Life is so indefinable, so elusive, so... unique. After so many centuries on this globe, each person continues to defy close similarity to another. New inventions are created, ideas transform, mold, continue to grow--organisms of their own. I wish that the country of America was not without lasting edifices to display and encapsulate the flow and change of ancient history.

So. This past Wednesday, my British Studies class (and everyone else's at this college--which means that all 172 students were there) made a trip to the beautiful town of Lincoln, and the day was divided into four parts.

It fell to my lot, that first fourth of the day, to just explore the town. And quite a town it was. We went down steep hill (which is definitely the steepest street I've ever seen). We made it by Jew House (which, incidentally, became famous because Jews were killed after being blamed for killing a young man that they did not kill). From that point on, we continued down to the river where my group found the most amazing swans. These swans were vicious. People were throwing bread in the river, and those swans were going at it. I mean, if I needed to fight a war, I'd want a single regiment of these swans. And I'd be sure of victory. And oh yes, the final most exciting thing that I found: The Green Dragon (definite reference to The Lord of the Rings!) as well as the The Witch and the Wardrobe (obviously C. S. Lewis). These events made my day phenomenal.

During the next fourth of the day, I got the wonderful chance to explore a castle that was almost entirely in tact. It had been used as a prison almost continually until about a hundred years ago. And all of the walls were still standing, more or less intact. And we had the most phenomenal guide! At least, we did after we were halfway through the Magna Carta exhibit (the real copy of which was not on display--though, cool story, this one of 41 copies of the original was randomly found within the library of the Cathedral several hundred years after it was put there). So, our new guide walked in and showed us everything. We went through the main tower where they hanged prisoners for many years. In fact, apparently the first jerk-drop sort of hanging was first used there to kill prisoners.

After a very quick lunch (because my group chose to let our castle tour continue onward into our lunch hour until it was fully completed), I moved on to the Cathedral. And it was gorgeous. This impressive Cathedral showed many different types of Architecture, starting with the Romanesque style of the Normans and later additions (because of an earthquake and additions) in the Gothic and Perpendicular Gothic styles. It was gorgeous, with three beautiful towers looking down upon the beautiful cross-shaped structure. I found myself very overawed by this place once more. I have officially decided that I absolutely love cathedrals.

After the slow, wonderful tour of the cathedral, our group finished the last fourth of the day with a brief tour of most of the Roman remains scattered throughout the town. It is so odd to realize that the level of the town streets had raised about ten to fifteen feet. It is really truly astounding. Perhaps the most poignant example of this is the Newport Arch. This arch is still in use--cars still pass beneath it. That means that this former gateway to Roman Lindon Colonia was extremely tall, considering the rise of street level since then. The remains of the Roman forum, the sewer system, and the water storage system were all quite impressive.

And that ends my trip to Lincoln on Wednesday, September 17th. It was.... beautiful beyond words. Life on this side of the pond continues to amaze, astound, and dazzle.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

From Where You Are

by Lifehouse

So far away from where you are
These miles have torn us world's apart
And I miss you
Yeah, I miss you

So far away from where you are
I'm standing underneath the stars
And I wish you were here

So far away from where you are
These miles have torn us world's apart
And I miss you
Yeah, I miss you
And I wish you were here


I miss so many of you all.
You know who you are. :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Of Legends and Myths

What is it within us that thirsts for belief in those mythical figures of the past? Why do we desire to hear the glorious tales of King Arthur, the legendary exploits of William Wallace, and even the mythical deeds of Robin Hood? I doubt we'll ever know.

But, I will be frankly honest, it is the desire to see the place where Robin Hood resided, to walk the streets of this place that held such close ties with this mythical figure. And there was something about it, something to intangible to define, that touched me. I know that at some time this past Saturday, I must have matched steps with this inspiring person.

Of course, I know that this left me with expectations that Nottingham failed to meet. The town was absolutely gorgeous--with ornate architecture adorning every building and much of it older than my own country. But, I was suprised to find it so commercial. I guess what surprised me is that it was not a large tourist place at all; in fact, it was mainly the commercial hub of the surrounding towns, a place for locals to congregate.

That doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy myself, though. My group consisted of two of my latest friends (Kelly and Emily) and we had a blast walking around the city. We soon found the walls of the castle ruins with an inn that claimed to have been around since the crusades lying at the bottom. From there we went and saw the Robin Hood statue before making our way to the castle entrance, the gatehouse being the only true remaining piece of the castle. We explored the extremely knew (at least, in comparison with everything else I have seen since I have been here) grounds and had a good time.

From there, we went to see St. Peter's Church, and it was just magnificent. A church had stood on that spot for over a thousand church, the builidng that we saw having parts dating almost 600 years old. My group handled my desire to find a book fairly well--but I was rather disappointed when I found it impossible to find a fictional book of Robin Hood that wasn't in the kid's section. The bookstore said there was a classic book about the tales of Robin Hood, but that they didn't carry it (seriously--Nottingham doesn't carry Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood?).

From there, we eventually made it to St Mary's Church, just in time to hear a wedding going on inside and hear the wedding bells go off. It was wonderful, until the priest came to the side door, and without saying a word to us, shut the door in our faces.... I have to admit, that was a first in my life. But I guess you just have to take life's fickle changes one by one. Overall, it was a good day, albiet a long one.

And it did not just end with our trip to Nottingham. That evening, Emily and I headed over to The Gregory pub that is just across the street from Harlaxton's mile long driveway and each had an... interesting beer. Grouse was in the middle of the name, and it was served flat and warm, English style. But what was the most phenomenal part of that evening was not the drinks, or even the location, but the Englishwomen and her Portuguese friend that sat at our outside table shortly after we sat down. It was a wonderful experience. Emma, the Englishwomen in her early thirties, actually works at the Gregory most days and is from the Grantham area, while her friend Patricia is about the same age and spoke in a noticable English accent. Both of them were smoking, and apparently they had made it halfway through the 20 plus beers that the Gregory was serving temporarily for a summer festival.

It was so enjoyable to just get to chat and hear a decidedly British perspective on the Harlaxton students, travelling around the area, and even getting information on the best places to go to in Portugal. They were also a tad tipsy, and that just made the conversation all the more entertaining. Oh yes, this evening also marked my third finished alcoholic beverage since I have turned 21. All in all, it was definitely a good evening. Who can say what is going to be next around the river bend?

For Nottingham pictures:

But you know what amazes me most? Every semester, God is faithful to place friends into my life. Every season it is the same. Though my group of friends is dynamic while I'm here at school, I know that I will always settle into the place he has designated for me by the time all is said and done. God is good all the time, nu?

Monday, September 8, 2008

London Town

How does one begin to talk of travels? Of sights, of sonance, of things experienced and learned? It's almost like trying to bottle time. But, perhaps, I can succeed in at least not making a mess of it.

With my arrival in London, I was first driven around this beautiful city and found many of my pre-imaginings to be false, unreal. Thus, as soon as I tossed the little luggage I had into my hotel room, promising myself to make it even less in the future, I immediately came back down and met my friends Chelsea, Kaitlin, and Safire and off we went to the closest underground station.

After a little luck, I succeeded in getting my rail card linked to my oyster card (which is the most convenient way to travel the underground) and off we went to Kensington Gardens. London has all these gorgeous gardens scattered all around and even though I could not quite put my finger on it, I found this garden to be wonderful. We started around the pond after spending some time in the first fountain area and discovered a statue of Peter Pan as well as this random, intricate, bordering on gaudy, memorial.

Continuing onward, we made it back to the underground after passing through a few embassies (including those of Japan and the Czech Republic). From there, we continued on to the British Museum. It was... beautiful. I loved seeing the Parthenon exhibit and many of the ancient texts. However, despite being open until 8:30 on that evening, most of the exhibits did close early, so that I was not able to see many exhibits at all. But, I got to see the Rosetta Stone, as well as some drawings (including some by George Bellows that were amazing). Then I walked into this gorgeous room so full of artifacts that I had to make my way through at a fair pace--it was just too much in one room. I think one of my favorites was the world atlas made of at least 118 thick books (at least, that was the highest number I found).

After we eventually got out and found dinner at a thai place (my group having swelled some in size and having decided to eat wherever they first could find a seat, against my advice of waiting for an London pub), most of us returned back to the hotel in preparation of the long day to follow.

This evening gave me perhaps my strongest lesson in what it means to love. One of my hotel roommates, Lukas, brought up my friend Ana, my now-friend Dusty, and some beer. Well, after some insisting that they were not bothering me, and a break for ice for the drinks, we ending up having a conversation about religion and what it means to believe. This evening was perhaps one of the most touching of my life. All four of us were conversing ernestly, listening to each other, engaging each other. This made it one of the most touching moments of my life. I had a revelation that night: oftentimes we Christians spend so much time trying to convince another person of what is right that we forget to love that person. When did we get caught up in trying to be right when our purpose here is not to convert but to love and talk? That feeling of acceptance that we all shared that evening is something that I will not forget any time soon. I felt it in my gut that what happened that evening was a G-d thing.

So, the next morning started with a bit of walking around and underground traveling. We first made it to Leciester Square too early to get any theatre tickets, so we went ahead to meet the rest of our group at Westminster Abbey.

This place... it over-awed me. Going inside was one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life. I saw graves older than America, memorials innumerous. I saw dedications to Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Keats, Tennyson, Geoffry Chaucer, and even once looked under my seat to find the name Rudyard Kipling. I saw the monument dedicated to Sir Isaac Newton, listened to the boys and men choir sing, saw the most touching dedication to The Unknown Soldier (to be buried in Westminster Abbey alongside the names of the past!). In short, I found the place to awe inspiring. I may not make it back again this time, but I know that this is a place I will always want to see again and again and again.

Following this, we made a short stop by Cleopatra's Needle, an obelisk from Egypt that stands next to the Thames river. It was pretty cool on its own and I enjoyed getting to see a piece of that country so far from its original place.

After this excursion, we went back to Leciester Square again (this time finding theatre tickets too expensive for our group) and grabbed a late lunch/early dinner at a nice little Italian place, the group then kind of just scattered. One went straight back to the hotel while the rest of us played around with the idea of getting a movie ticket before I split off on my own.

Though it was a tad lonely at first, in many ways it was a relief to break off from the group for a while. There is so little privacy here at Harlaxton that it was nice to be alone and I must admit that I found a member of the group a little... caustic and enjoyed the chance to get away from complaints about traveling (such as not eating when they wanted, having to walk a lot, etc.).

From there, I caught the underground to a point across the river from the Globe Theater and walked over the Millenium Bridge, which actually has an interesting story to it. Though it was structurally sound and safe when first made, it moved too much for the comfort of the pedestrians walking across. Thus, while it was safe, it felt too unsafe and thus required improvements to fix this unfortunate defect.

As soon as I made it to the Globe, I went to the box office and was told that the groundling (pit) tickets were sold out but that I might have the chance to get one if I went outside to a return ticket area. Sure enough, someone there had a groundling ticket to give me, so for five pounds I got to go see "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Globe. It was truly a unique experience and I am going to try and catch a least two more productions there. Jutting out from the stage in a large circle was a little walkway and some groundlings were allowed to be inside; and, for both halves of the play, I made it inside of that area and had actors moving all around me. It was such a unique experience that I just loved it.

From there, I walked along the river until I came to Westminster Bridge. However, it was the walk that was such a blast, even though my legs and feet hated me for it afterward. I found this guy playing a cello in a tunnel and it was so amazing that I just wanted to stand there and drink in the sound. It felt so poignant and profound to me, listening to this lone player under a bridge. But, time is always against one. So, as I continued onward while taking pictures of sites along the Thames, I then found what can only be described as a Jamaican rock band. Once again, I paused and soaked in the rhythym and beat before continuing onward.

After a brief encounter with a Chinese guy who was in an exchange program, I continued to the underground near Westminster and made it back to the Holborn stop. Unfortunately, I got a little mixed up on my way back to the hotel and initially went the wrong way, adding ten to fifteen minutes on to my walking time. But I made it and fell into bed exhausted (almost literally).

The next day, on the way back from London, we made a stop by Hampton Court Palace, which had been initially constructed by Lord Chancellor Wolsey. Unfortunately for him, King Henry VIII wanted it, took it, and then it later became the home of William III and Mary II. The palace was phenomenal, albiet slightly eclectic in styles, and its gardens were gorgeous. But, that evening, I was more than glad to finally make it back home and relax for a while. All in all, this weekend had been enlightening, educating, and exhausting.

For pictures from London, here is the link:


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Living... :)

What does it mean to live life to the fullest extent? To breathe in the moment and throw yourself completely into where you are and what you are doing? I get more of an answer each day, from everything I do, everywhere I go.

So, I just had one of the times of my life, and it happened here in jolly England. I danced, and danced, and danced, and even now I can still hear the faint rhythm of the Irish and Scottish country songs and the beat of feet trying to move in unison... (which is saying something because I'm listening to Jon Foreman's Fall EP as I type). There is nothing like the chance to throw yourself into a mess of people all trying to figure out what they're doing. It was phenomenal--despite the gradual yet noticeable decline of people, especially with every break. But I danced until the end. Oh, and have I mentioned that it was held in the Great Hall? Which is a gorgeous, almost three story room. The walls have a fairly intricate wood design and the huuuuge chandelier is amazing and the ceiling has a beautiful plaster design. And.... it's just amazing.

Now I gotta go pack, but I'll make it brief. Moral of the evening: never let anything keep you from experiencing the moment, drinking in every opportunity that reaches you. Find G-d in the moment. He's there waiting. L'chaim.

Cheerio. :)

Monday, September 1, 2008


So... I finally finished Orientation here at Harlaxton and am starting my first day of classes, having finished my 8:30 lecture hour a few moments ago. This place is so amazing and astounding it is almost impossible to put into words.... but I'm going to try.

I'm living in England. And the countryside out here is gorgeous. Now, to give you an idea of where I am, the name of the town is Grantham, where Sir Isaac Newton received his education. We are in South Lincolnshire close to Nottingham. And the bus ride out from London was gorgeous, even though I saw rather little of it due to my lack of sleep during my previous 16.5 hours of travelling (trust me--7.5 hour layovers are not fun :P).

But the manor house is absolutely amazing. I am going to carefully document the entire place with pictures just to give you an idea.... but let's see of I can begin to describe it to you all. I have my lectures for British Studies in the Long Gallery. And if you want a fairly good picture of it, just think Beauty in the Beast. It's a beautiful gold filigreed room shaped in a long rectangle. I then have my British Studies seminar in the Gold room (same sort of decoration but just about a fourth the length of the great hall and a little less wide) which has a beautiful painting and appears to have angels holding the chandelier in the middle of it. I still don't quite know where my Structures class meets, but we are finding each other at the Cedar Staircase (a magnificently filigreed room that I can't begin to describe--I'll just have to post pictures of it) and my fourth class is in the Gold Room again.

I can't begin to emphasize how much of a fairytale this place is. We have a bell that rings every quarter hour and also chimes the hour, there are multiple hidden passageways (though, unfortunately, most of them have been made into emergency exits only). In fact, I can't disagree with the assessment that living here and studying here is almost like living and studying at Hogwarts. You can't get much closer here on earth. Look for the pictures I'll soon be posting. I haven't taken many yet, but I've just been absorbing where I am in the little time I've had to relax so far. But don't worry--they're coming.


Asking for time to decipher the signs...

What is there to know? I'm just another guy trying to figure out what it means to truly love, to truly live, to embrace life to the fullest. If I ever get some answers, I'll let you know. "So live on, / Breathing in every sigh / Hurt and joy / Truly living life to its fullness / Leaving no dream unturned / Or unfulfilled / Live on / Life awaits" -excerpt from "Nostalgia" by me.