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study-acrossthepond:

Beth, on castles

John Ruskin, a well-known Victorian art critic from England, once wrote (in his Fors Clavigiera),“And, at this day, though I have kind invitations enough to visit America, I could not, even for a couple of months, live in a country so miserable as to possess no castles.”

 

I never really understood those words until I came to England, where nearly every town hosts its own, unique castle. Living in America, you just don’t get to see such amazing views of old architecture, rife with history so rich and deep that it would be nearly impossible to get a full picture of its import in historical times without spending a lifetime studying. History is one of the reasons why I love England (and Europe) so much – everywhere you turn, something next to you has a history that far surpasses your own measly life sequence. And that is never seen better than in the castles littering England.

 

First, I should say that there’s a difference between castles and palaces that is often overlooked in American history books. So, a palace (like Buckingham Palace) is built with state rooms and banquet halls – all of the comforts of royal life. Castles, on the other hand, are built for protection. Many of them have walls that serve as lines of fortress, a place to stand against any enemies and fight them off to protect the territory. For that reason alone, castles hold more interest for me than palaces. It may be beautiful to see where a king once dined in luxury, but to see where country lines were formed and how we’ve “moved on” from fiefdom is so, incredibly packed with stories. How did soldiers run up those narrow, winding stairways without anything to hold onto in the heat of battle? (Did anyone ever trip and fall, sending everyone tumbling down the stairs?) Did the walls crumble because of time or due to an epic battle? WHY DID THEY BUILD SUCH DEEP WALLS? (WASN’T ANYONE EVER AFRAID OF FALLING DOWN AND DYING?!)

 

Pretty much every town here has a castle, even Lancaster! When I first arrived in Lancaster, I was so overwhelmed by the castle here. It used to be prison, up until recent history, when the prisoners were transferred and the castle became a site geared more towards tourism, with ghost tours and plays. It’s become commonplace to the people in the town, who seem to pass by without a second glance at this beautiful construction. But for my part, some of my best days are when I go climb to the top of the Ashton Memorial hill at the edge of town and watch the sun set behind the castle. It’s idyllic and peaceful, and I never get tired of it.

 

So I’m always amazed when I go to other cities and see people just walk right by these huge beasts as if they’re not even there. It’s like walking past the Empire State Building or the Sears Tower and not stopping to recognise how monstrous these things really are!

 

So far, I’ve gotten to see Windsor Castle (where the Queen resides!), Lancaster Castle, Durham Castle, Barnard Castle (which is the name of the town as well as the castle – I mean, how cool would it be to tell people that you LIVE IN BARNARD CASTLE?!), Conwy Castle, Penrhyn Castle, Carlisle Castle, Edinburgh Castle… And I’m sure that there will be many more to come! But it’s one of those things where you can’t let it become commonplace – relish in the history that surrounds you… it’s quite overwhelming.

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study-acrossthepond:

On time changes, weather, and the scary dissertation season!

Well, after a week of sunny days (yes, the sun DOES shine in England, sometimes…) we were met with an oncoming fog that seems to have settled permanently over Lancaster. Although it’s cleared up a bit since last night, our gorgeous 55 degree weather has gone back down to the 40’s, and the sun has once again disappeared. I know that I should probably be used to this by now, but the feeling of being perpetually stuck at 3pm is a bit horrifying. When I wake up at 9am to start working, I don’t want to feel like it’s already the afternoon! When I was home in the States, I’d always fall asleep with my blinds open so that the sun would shine in in the morning and wake me up. But here… while I can do that occasionally, more often than not, I feel like I’m waking up and my day is already wasted. Plus, it’s just harder to motivate myself to work when it’s not beautifully light outside. So I suppose you could say that I took the past few days for granted and now I’m paying for it. But I’ve been told that that is a taste of English summers – bright and fleeting – so I guess I’ll have to wait and see how true that is.

The stereotype that England is always rainy is somewhat of a myth up north, at least this year. We’ve apparently had a really mild winter, but one of the nice things about living so close to the coast is that when it does get cold, the salt water from the ocean keeps it from icing, which means that there’s no danger in walking to class in freezing temperatures. That being said, the lowest it’s been while I’ve been here was an overnight low of around 30. I’ve been told by my friends back home, who have been pummeled with snow and ice over and over this year, that I’m not allowed to complain about having to walk to class ever again. So fair enough! Who would have thought that the north of England would be warmer than sunny Philadelphia?!

But speaking of home, there has been one major change this past week that really threw me off – Daylight Savings Time. Apparently, while the US changed over on the 9th, England doesn’t change over until the 30th of March, which means that for three beautiful weeks, I’ve only got a four-hour time difference from home instead of a five-hour difference. This may not seem like a huge deal, but it’s definitely important for me. My best friend lives in California, which means that with an eight-hour time difference, she’d usually be headed to bed when I was waking up, and she’d be getting home from work about the time that I’d be trying to fall asleep. So one thing that I’ve had to keep in mind while living over here is that in terms of communication, things can get a little tricky. Mind the time difference – and maybe don’t wake your parents up at 4am on a Sunday morning because you’ve forgotten that you’re five hours ahead of them!

Anyway, dissertation proposals are due on Tuesday, which means that some time before then, I need to figure out what I want to spend the next five and a half months studying. It’ll be the one thing that I’m working on over the summer, so I need to make sure that it’s something that I love and will WANT to work with for a while. That being said, it also can’t be something that’s ever been studied before, or else I won’t be able to submit it – the dissertation has to be 100% original work and arguments. So wish me luck and I’ll let you all know next time how it went!

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Deleted scene from the critically acclaimed film, Gravity.

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Deleted scene from the critically acclaimed film, Gravity.

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study-acrossthepond:

In my last post, I concluded by saying that if I finished my reading, I’d be going to Wales on a grad college trip. Well, I finished my reading (mostly… of the things that mattered anyway… shh!) so I got to go on the trip! We went to Northern Wales, specifically Betws-y-Coed (a cute little town situated near the mountains, where you can find lots of hiking trails and gorgeous views), Penryhn Castle (built in the 19th century and overlooking the Menai Straits), and finally, Conwy Castle (which was constructed in the 1200’s and overlooks the River Conwy, which is on the coastal ridge).

The first place we stopped was Betws-y-Coed, which is in a place called Snowdonia National Park. My friend and I found a cute hotel and ordered a “full Welsh breakfast” – eggs, sausage, rashers (kind of like really thick bacon), roasted tomato, baked beans, and a hash brown – to split. After that, we wandered around the town for a bit. One of the places that the leader of the trip recommended visiting was on old miner’s bridge, which “rocks a bit”. That may have been an understatement. You take five steps onto this bridge, and it starts swinging back and forth. You have to hold onto a wire “railing” in order to steady yourself. Oh, and don’t have more than two or three people cross at a time – once you get more than three people, the bridge goes crazy! But the mountains were beautiful, and the old buildings were quite charming. The nice thing is that small as the town is, it’s part of the National Rail system, which means that it would be easy to come back to if I wanted to do so.

Next, we went to Penrhyn Castle. It’s got an absolutely stunning view of the Menai Straits and the mountains nearby, and it houses an industrial railway museum, a model railway museum, an art collection (with works from Rambrandt, Canaletto, and Carl Haag), and a walk-around wall where you can take awesome panorama shots of Snowdonia.

Finally, we ended in Conwy, which is a town as cute as can be! The coach (bus) had a hard time getting through the narrow city walls, but our bus driver was amazing! I guess you get used to these things, living in the UK, where some of the roads were built for horses (and MAYBE carriages, depending on where you are). There are so many roads that you would think are one-way because they’re so narrow… but they aren’t. Anyway, Conwy Castle is absolutely gorgeous, and since we were there on St. David’s Day (a Welsh holiday), we got into the castle for free! The views over the river were fantastic, and I even climbed up to the tallest Prisoner Tower, through a narrow, circular staircase, with only a rope to hold onto (HOW DID THE ARCHERS DO IT BACK IN THE DAY?!) which led to even more amazing sights. After exploring the castle, I had tea (dinner) in a cute tea room, where the waitresses wore traditional maid dresses. One of the waitresses even let us out on the fire escape so that we could have a beautiful view of the marina!

Overall, it was an absolutely amazing day, and I would love to come back sometime if I can! The next trip will be to Hadrian’s Wall and Carlisle, but once again, it depends on how much reading I can get done. I’ve just had to finalize my final course essay topics, and I also need to start reading for my MA dissertation. But I can’t wait to explore more of the UK!