Sunday, November 16, 2008

From the Haunts of William Wallace

Making it to Scotland was a fun adventure in and of itself. Just watching the English countryside roll by as we made our way north was so enjoyable. I especially loved it when our train started following the east coast since I got to watch the waves wage their inexhaustible war against the land. It was a wonderful sight to behold as we passed into this country that has become so dear to my heart, or at least its northern portion has.

The time I spent in Edinburgh was fairly brief and only lasted for the part of Friday that we were there for, starting around eleven. Finding our hostel was a fascinating challenge since I had never received the e-mail that told us where we were staying, but Jaci and I found the tour company that we had booked with and got it all straightened out. After that, we really just walked around the city. The only thing that really peaked my interest was King Arthur's Seat, and it was too late in the day to try and begin to climb it. So instead, we just walked around for a while and enjoyed the wonderful architecture of the city while shopping for souvenirs and gifts. Overall, it was quite the enjoyable afternoon evening. I wouldn't mind making it back, but a day or two would be more than sufficient for me there.

But. Then came my favorite part of the trip. The next morning, we left bright and early for a two day Scottish Highlands tour and I consequently fell in love with the place.

What words can I use to describe it? Even if a picture is a thousand words and you count the couple hundred or so that I took, the novel still would not begin to state what a wondrous place this was and the magic that it worked upon me. I fell in love with the landscape, drawn to it like Odysseus to the siren's call.

The first morning we stopped by to see a specimen of the Highland cattle; the name of the species escapes me at the moment. The stop was brief before we drove into the Highlands. It was so completely breath-taking that I can even feel it as I write this, weeks later.
The lochs that we passed through that morning were like glass, reflecting the magnificent landscape surrounding us like a mirror. The crags enclosing us on every side; the beautiful pine tree forests with their myriad and riots of color; the distant mix of gold, brown, and gray on the mountain slopes; all of it just completely overwhelmed me, heart and soul. If there was ever a place that I felt G-d's peace and his simplistic joy, it was here. It was here where the entire land looked as if G-d had dragged his fingertips along the ground, creating lochs, glens, straits, and mountains at his own pleasure.

What made it all the more enjoyable were the many stories that our guide had in store for us. We heard stories about Rob Roy, William Wallace, the many different clan wars, everything you could imagine--including the filming of Braveheart and how our guide supposedly took Mel Gibson's wife out bowling (I learned to take a lot of his stories with a grain of salt--ask me for 'em some time, I have plenty notes down to do a decent retelling :).

Our path was winding and twisted but it was a blast. After we stopped by Fort William (and were recommended that going through Fort William by rail takes you through some of the most magnificent scenery in the world, as if it could get any better than what we had!), we actually stopped by the location of the Harry Potter bridge because one of our tour members (the young enigmatic school teacher's assistant from London) wanted to see it. We ended our day by settling down in a hostel in Inverness after making one more impressive stop.

Seeing Loch Ness was such a fun experience. This loch, enclosed on all sides by mountainous terrain, was so long that it looked like air and sky met from where I was standing. And to hear the stories! Apparently, it isn't just Loch Ness that has its fair stories of hidden, lurking creatures. It's common, even to this day, to hear of fisherman with stories of dark shadows, unknown creatures moving across the lochs, especially the ones that are off the beaten track.
To finish the evening off, we went and grabbed some wonderful Thai food at a traditional Scottish pub (yeah, odd mix, right?) and enjoyed a wonderful night of music. I absolutely adored Abigail Gray, the folk music band that played some absolutely beautiful music. The heavy rock band that followed it was enjoyable, but they really weren't that good. I just enjoyed feeling the bass vibrating the entire building.

From there, we continued driving through the Scottish Highlands for a bit longer before making a quick stop at a place where one of Scotland's many rebellions first started. I believe this one was Kett's rebellion, the final result being that the Highlanders were once again defeated and the English made it illegal for them to carry claymores or wear kilts. However, it was really cool to see how inaccessible the Highlands were until the last couple hundred years or so. I can easily understand why it was so difficult to stop the Highlanders from rebelling constantly.

After stopping there, we continued on to St. Andrew's, the birthplace of golf. It was a fun stop for a couple hours and I got a chance to pick up, as usual, a couple of books by Scottish authors, this time choosing The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle as well as Ivanhoe by Walter Scott. But just before we left, I got a chance to stop on the beach for a moment, the beach where the opening scene of Chariots of Fire was filmed.

Then we got back to Edinburgh pretty late that evening, but it had been a good weekend. So, Jaci and I dropped our stuff off at our hostel before going to grab dinner with the group one last time--and it was so much fun. I can't really remember their names (let's face it, our group talked but really didn't use each others names that often--I guess we figured we'd only know each other for a couple of days). I had a chance to try a little bit of Haggis and have decided that I actually like it and also discovered that my favorite Scottish whiskey is MacAllen 10. All in all, it was a wonderful evening to end a wonderful trip. We listened to live music, chatted, hung out, and then Jaci and I grabbed a very early train the next morning back to Grantham.

I am going to make it back to the Highlands of Scotland. End of story. Part of me is still there, exploring the hills, mountains, lochs, glens, and straits. I'll just have to go back and get that part. :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Beautiful Day in Cambridge

This post is going to be pretty short since I really only spent a day in Cambridge, but it was an absolutely beautiful day.

From the beginning, my quest was to find a copy of Lyrical Ballads by Coleridge and Wordsworth since that was where the two poets would have first crossed paths. But it was a wonderful day exploring the city with my friends Brian, Jordan, Amy, Amanda, and Lindsay. We had a fun time exploring the town and walking around. When we made it to the outside of King's College, I was entertained because everyone was stopped looking at a clock in the window across the street from the college instead of at the college. Now, it was a truly impressive watch that appeared to have a grasshopper making it move slowly and surely, but it still made me want to laugh at the irony of it. :)

The only real stop that I made was at King's College Chapel. However, since no one else wanted to pay for the entrance fee, I went in alone. I must say that I found the inside of the place absolutely astounding. Out of all the many churches and cathedrals I've seen during my time here, this one was completely unique, and I loved the beautiful and luminous atmosphere that its Gothic architecture created.

Overall, It was an absolutely beautiful city and the architecture was phenomenal. My pictures keep a better account of what I saw than any amount of words could.

On my way back to join up with the group, I finally found the bookstore that I had been looking for the entire time and picked up Lyrical Ballads as well as three books by P.G. Wodehouse since they were on sale, three for two. It was a lucky find since I actually headed to the wrong marketplace on my way to meet up with the rest of the group, though I did love the little artistic market that accidentally discovered. It was full of wonderful unique works of art and I loved the chance to glance through it.

After realizing my mistake, I headed to the correct market and found met the group on the way. The most entertaining experience (of perhaps the entire day) was with an Englishman that was high. He was going on about how he loved the South and was talking about all of the stereotypical views of the South (and seemed stuck in the Civil War era--he entertained me, a lot).

On the way to catch the train at the station, we took a really scenic route back to the station, first following the river along the backside of a few colleges and eventually walked by the botanical gardens and finally made it, just in time to catch the later train that I had scouted out. It was definitely a wonderful day and I got to see enough of Cambridge to satisfy me. Who knows where I'll end up next?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Unfortunately Effective Suffolk Workhouse and Beautiful Belvoir Castle

On October twenty second, I had the opportunity to see excellent examples of the extremes of Victorian England. With the Suffolk Workhouse epitomizing the aristocratic solution to the "Victorian problem" and Belvoir (pronounced "Beaver") Castle epitomizing the opulence of the extravagant lifestyle of the upper class.

Because of the uninhibited drive to create a large amount of profit quickly through Britain's unique start into the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, the poor conditions and payment of the workers resulted in a large problem soon after. Not only were many families unable to support themselves with the meager money that they earned, but many of the workers were permanently disabled because of workplace accidents.

The solution to this problem came in the form of places such as the Suffolk Workhouse. At the workhouse, not only were families divided, children with children, men with men, and women with women, but the healthy were also divided from the infirm or disabled. Families were only allowed to see each other for an hour on Sundays and the smallest infraction against the rules could result in this privilege being revoked.

The building was not designed to remain warm during the winter and the working conditions in the cellar, where women would take care of the food preparation and storage. Just looking in the cellar, it is possible to see the erosion caused by the water that would have been freezing and up to the knees of the women working down their in the winter, with their dresses slowly soaking up the water the entire time. The men, however, were required to keep hard at working cracking large stones into smaller pieces to be used for pavement. These places were designed to discourage use and children were separated from their families because it was thought that the parents were stuck in such a low position because of their own faults.

Overall, this austere building revealed these attitudes toward the poor and the deplorable conditions that they were forced to live in. Just a short drive from this place is where one can find the ostentatious Belvoir Castle.

In the same way that all Victorian architecture tended to mimic a variety of classical styles, and even the Elizabethan copy of classical style. Because of this, the fourth iteration of Belvoir Castle was created in the image of a fairy tale castle at the request of the then current duke's wife. Even though the work was not completed until after her death, this castle remains an impressive monument to the aristocratic ideals of the day.

But, like all manors and castles created during this time, the area inhabited by the high society family was completely separated from the areas that the servants lived and worked in. Throughout the day, the only servants that should ever step foot in the state rooms would be the maids keeping it clean and the butler. All of the servants were supposed to be out of sight and out of mind.

However, this does not detract from the beautiful rooms of this castle, which is still inhabited by the Rutland family to this day, though the ornate state rooms are rarely used except for being exhibited through tours. Although, it is possible to rent the rooms for an evening, as long as one is willing to pay 3,000 dollars per person per night; after all, that's the price that one pays to spend the evening in the same room as royalty and some of the most famous figures of today, such as John Lennon.

All in all, it was a wonderful day and Belvoir Castle truly was like a fairy tale come to life with the richly ornate state rooms and the decorative use of the remaining old weaponry. I have the distinct impression that my time here will have an indelible effect on my design tendencies. Not that I will be inclined to be ornate when it comes time to design my own house, but some of the characteristics of Belvoir Castle and Harlaxton Manor will be making a reappearance.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Musings of a Saddened Mind

What am I supposed to do, in light of receiving condemnation for all the traits and qualities that I hold dear? Am I supposed to turn over and accept the condemnations to my character and immediately agree, accepting only one person's view of Christianity? I cannot. I must not. I will not.

I've been told that the United States Constitution is subservient to law--the complete inverse of this government's foundations. I've been told that it is not possible for a godly person to vote for Obama. I've been told that McCain is the only godly choice and condemned for considering that Obama could further the Kingdom of G-d.

I supported McCain.

I'm tired of being slammed against the wall by those determined to teach me the error of my ways. I'm tired of being told that my simple faith in G-d is not good enough. I'm tired of people claiming that I called them names when I only discuss their arguments. I'm tired of people's ignorance of their own government. I'm just..... tired of having to defend myself against those who should give me unwavering support.

I'm tired of friendship not ringing true.

For those of you who have supported me, who do support me, who are willing to quietly listen to what I think without taking arms against me, I thank you. I miss you. I can't wait to see you again. I can't help but think that those of you I count in that number are small indeed but worth all the treasure in the world.

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.