Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Fading Echoes of Music

What a wonderful place this is! Even though I know that I will be easily glad to leave here and make it home, the sheer wonder of this place will remain with me many years. This evening, a pianist from Bolivia came and played some absolutely beautiful pieces of music. She specialized in music written by female composers, but the big deal is that one of the composers (Violet van der Elst) owned this manor for about 15 years and this was the first time her compositions had been played here since she vacated the manor.

Sitting in the Great Hall and listening to the wonderful music resonating off of the walls of this beautiful two-storied room was just absolutely phenomenal. The piano was on the wooden dais located at one end of the hall and was accented by the light and plants that sparsely, but adequately, decorated the area around it. The ceiling arching overhead and the tapestry hanging on the wall behind the pianist, it felt like a scene out of a Jane Austen novel. It was wonderful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From the Shores of √Čire

The adventures of being here seem to go on without ending, from the beautiful lands of country after country. However. There was just something about Ireland.... the beautiful shores, the wonderful inland channels, the gorgeous hillsides overrunning with the multi-colored green landscapes. I fell in love. I might even try to make it back one more time and see the northwest since my trip focused on the southeast.

I arrived in Dublin fairly late on Wednesday night of October first, and even though I split off from Chelsea and Safire (who I went with), I found another group that was coincidentally spending their first night at the same hostel I was before leaving for Galway the next day. So, Paige, Devin, Kent, Jake, and I all went out for a little that evening and just walked around for a while before finally stopping at a bar and grabbing a couple of drinks (I had a Bulmer for the first time and discovered my taste for the cider). We got back around two in the morning and I didn't see those guys the rest of the trip.

The next day, I first tried to meet up with Chelsea and Safire, but after waiting from eleven to twelve (I think that was it--I know I waited until an hour after they were supposed to arrive). Since I didn't find them, I grabbed a spot on the hop on/hop off tour that went around to all of the major spots in Dublin and, after taking it almost a full circuit, went to the National Gallery. I discovered that I really like Thomas Gainsborough's work and that Thomas Roberts is a god of landscape painters. But then again, maybe he just had some of the most beautiful countryside to paint from.

After that, I tried to go see Dublin Castle, but was disappointed to find that it had been pretty much consumed by the city. However, while I was there, I randomly came across Chelsea and Safire exiting from a revenue museum.... It was completely random and there was no one else on the street, so it was just one of those cosmic coincidences. We then grabbed a quick bit before going together to Christ's Church Cathedral, which was phenomenal. I loved it. On our way back out, we came across another group of Harlaxton students--this one was comprised of Jaci, Laura, Lea, Will, and Doctor.

I split of from my previous group at that time, since it was late in the evening and they were heading back while the new group was staying at a hostel really close to mine. Interestingly enough, I had only booked two nights out of five before I got there and then booked the last three at their hostel. That evening, we all went to a pub and I grabbed a quick meal while they got something to drink and then continued on to go see a film that I had been wanting to see: Death Race. Honestly, it was better than I thought it was going to be, and now I'm going to need to buy it 'cause it will always remind me of Dublin and my first trip to Ireland.

The next morning, I meant to make it to the National Museum, but the hostel didn't give me the wake-up call that they said they would (figures). So, after making it to the area where I was going to meet Chelsea and Safire, I just grabbed a couple books, which were Dracula by Bram Stoker and Gulliver's Travels by Jonathon Swift. Ya'll can surely guess that I like to collect books from the places where authors were born, and Stoker and Swift were both Dubliners. After that, we stopped by the Guinness Brewery for a tour, and though I decided, once and for all, that I just don't like the taste of Guinness, I did find the tour fascinating and enjoyed seeing the process of brewing beer.

We then went to Kilmainham Gaol, which was a political prison and had some significant films created there as well since it has not been used for a while. Then I took off and made it to the Old Jameson Distillery on my own, just in time for the last tour. The cool thing about this stop is that I was one of the lucky few chosen to take part in a whiskey taste-testing. That means that, on my first time to try whiskey, I got to try a Scottish one (I can't remember the brand for this one), an Irish one (Jameson), and an American one (Jack Daniel's!). I decided that I liked both Jack and Jameson. Also, though I do like them alone, I prefer them as mixed drinks, typically with coke. But yeah. I like whiskey. :)

The next day, I made a slightly expensive trip that got off to a rocky start, but it was really cool. I was supposed to catch a 7:00 train to Cork, but I barely missed it (by 23 seconds) because, twenty minutes earlier, I had barely missed the right tram service to the train station. Luckily, someone else had the same problem, which was how I met Anthony. How is the best way to describe this guy? He was a nice guy that likes to get drunk, take drugs, and pretty much everything that goes along with those two. He also had a rather hippie perspective on life and was very opinionated. However, he also spends half of his life traveling because he works for six months and then goes and spends all of his money traveling.

Anyway, once we made it to to Cork, we had to go catch up with the tour group that was already in Blarney Village. Cool part? They said the taxi was going to cost 50 euros total to get from the Cork train station to the village, but it ended up being less that 17. So, with my student discount, I still paid less for the tour than full price. So once in Blarney, I went to the castle and kissed the famous Blarney Stone, which apparently means that I am now going to be eloquent for the rest of my life. We then also had an extremely short stop at the famous Woolen Mill, though there was just enough time to look around before taking off.

From there, we took a coach tour of Cork, a big, southern port city of Ireland, and ended up in Cobh. Now, here's what I absolutely loved about Cobh. First off, which is rather important for its history, it has been known by three names: Cove, Queenstown, and Cobh (which is the Gaelic spelling for Cove). When it was named Queenstown, the Titanic made it's last stop there before heading to its doom. I love the story of the Titanic. There was a cool little museum that we stopped at, as well as a cathedral towering on a hill over the docks. However, I found this absolutely gorgeous print there of the Titanic, and though it was pricey, I just had to have it. Luckily, they gave me a nice tube to keep it in until I get it back from overseas.

On the last full day, I went with Chelsea and Safire to a little fishing village by the name of Howth. It was wonderful. For the first time, I really got to get a full breath of the salt air into my lungs. This quaint little town was just cool and I loved it. The beach was nice, and the three piers were awesome. I found myself just sitting on one of the piers while watching the huge waves crashing up the side as the sailing boats tried to make headway against the fierce wind that was blowing into the harbor. Overall, it was just a beautiful, tranquil day.

The next morning, before I caught the coach to the airport, I was able to stop by St. Patrick's Cathedral, which contained the tomb of Jonathon Swift. The coolest part? I got to watch and listen to Sung Matins. Also, I was able to squeeze in a stop by Trinity College, which has become fairly well-known, you might say. So, overall, I'd say that I had a phenomenal and busy time. Oh, and if you did the math and are wondering why I got back to Grantham late Monday afternoon, I have a logical answer: I skipped my Monday classes. :)

Here are some brief impressions that I jotted down about Ireland as I was going through it:

Wide green fields, changing slowly and displaying a myriad of green. Sheep-cleared fields, populated by herdsmen, cows.

Sinking tombstones, buried in water, moss, gravel, and slowly overtaking grass of many green colors.

Cart path--GREEN--two ruts on the side with extremely tall embankments on either side.

Scattered houses and farm buildings, surrounded by grazing and farming lands. Fields are lighter in color, almost tan, but still green for the hay fields, but an almost uniform, deep green for grazing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Coventry and Trudging the Streets of Stratford-Upon-Avon

Our first stop of the day, which was September 27th, was a fairly brief lunch stop at the cathedral in Coventry. The old one that was first created in 1043, founded by Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and his wife Godiva, and it remained more or less intact (despite the dissolution of the monasteries, which did destroy a lot of monasteries and cathedrals) for many years. However, in 1940, the old cathedral was destroyed when the Luftwaffe bombed Coventry.

The ruins of the old cathedral have been preserved, with mainly just the walls and the spire still standing. In 1956, the city started laying the foundation for the new cathedral, having decided to rebuild the morning after the bombing. Though it is not the most impressive design I've ever seen, I enjoyed the stop. It is really cool seeing the old and the new right next to each other, almost co-existing. Pictures are to come.

Then we made it to Stratford.

I can't begin to describe what it felt like to walk into that place. There was just something in the air. Now, I am sure all of it was in my mind, but to know that I was walking the streets of the town where Shakespeare was born, where he grew up, where he married... it was all just way too cool.

The first place me and my friends went (a group of Laura Summers, Adam Dirker, and another girl whose name will come to me--I want to say Marissa) was to Shakespeare's Birthplace, the house still standing as it did so many years ago. I walked through that place, enjoying the sites of where Shakespeare would have slept, the workings of his father's glove making trade. It was just really cool. This place then shows up again later.

The next place that we headed off to was the distant location of Anne Hathaway's house (which was a decent haul from the center of town). It was a beautiful little cottage. It was what I had always imagined as the picturesque thatched roof cottage. Unfortunately, we didn't go in (to see everything, we didn't really have the time and it would have cost more money than the ticket that the school trip had provided us with), but I got to see the outside of it pretty well and the gardens surrounding it, so I was satisfied.

From there, we headed back into town to see Hall's Croft. This is the place where Shakespeare's daughter and her husband lived. It was a really cool house, and apparently the husband (Dr. John Hall) was an excellent physician and had some treatments that were controversial at the time but were correct by modern practices. Who would've thought? He also kept good records of all his patients and the treatments he used, which had one of the typical, dastardly long titles of the period.

Anyway, I then trudged up to New Place on mine own, which is where Shakespeare's house once stood, but it is now commemorated by a beautiful little garden instead. The house next to it, Nash's House, is named after and was owned by Shakespeare's granddaughter's husband, Thomas Nash. This was a pretty nice little place, and I really did enjoy the gardens that were small but had wonderful and color-coordinated patterns. Nash's House was also an excellent example of a typical (if slightly more expensive) house of the time.

After that, I decided to go back to a bookstore that I had noticed across from Shakespeare's birthplace. I walked in, and I saw a couple things that just caught my eye. There was this absolutely gorgeous copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets in a medium-sized leather hardback. I fell in love with it. Unfortunately, there was also an excellent deal on getting twelve of Shakespeare's plays.... so, let's just say I considerably added to my library a lot of Shakespeare's works that I didn't own before and were bought literally right across the street from his birthplace. It made me pretty happy. :)

I've also realized, yet again, that books are my greatest weakness. I just can't get enough of them.

After that, I went with the entire rest of the school and we saw The Merchant of Venice, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. The acting was pretty darn impressive and I really enjoyed watching it (even if I was in the nosebleed section :). However, maybe it was just a result of them having the usual theatre under renovation, but I just didn't think that the set design and the costume design was as good as it could have been. But, overall, I did enjoy the show. It was definitely a good weekend.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Scratchings of an Exhuasted Mind's Thoughts

Day turns in upon day,
Moment upon moment.
The steady, cyclical flow
Of time continues onward.
The future becomes the past
and the long-forgotten past
returns once more.


God never ceases to surprise me. I look back at my life, and I see unbelievable coincidence following unbelievable coincidence, and I can't help but realize how inexplicably blessed I am, how overwhelmingly attentive God is to my life and to my needs.

I finally realized, truly understand, why the Bible seems to be so distant and inapplicable sometimes. It isn't because it is that way. In fact, it is the most practical and informative piece I have ever read. The parts of life that have no precise advice in the Word are the parts when our actions define us, create us, mold us.

God is not insufficient in anything he does; on the contrary, he gives just enough me information and provides me with what I need when I need it. Lovingly, he has never allowed me escape from the consequences of my actions, shaping me and molding me, this oh-so-imperfect lump of clay, more into the figure and form he wants me to take.

God. Mold on.

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.