Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ibiza & Barcelona, España!!!

While planning where I wanted to go during my span in Europe, I never really thought about going to Spain. I had seen pictures from my cousin, who lived there, and I always thought it looked beautiful. When we were looking at places that Ryanair flew to, we ran across a place in Spain called Ibiza. We had heard the name before, but only through the media and songs which referred to it. 
After Googling and looking at all Ibiza had to offer, we HAD to go there. 
The cheap rates and beautiful beaches had us sold!

After we arrived in Ibiza, we could feel the temperature increase to about 70 degrees and we knew it was going to be a good weekend. Once we walked into the airport, though, we realized everything was written in Spanish. Most of us had taken Spanish in high school, but couldn't remember more than a few phrases. The most frustrating part was trying to communicate with people and not being able to. After leaving the airport, we made our way to Ibiza Town, where our hostel was located. Luckily it wasn't too far away from the airport AND it was only minutes away from the beach. 

In pictures and blogs, Ibiza was made out to be a busy tourist attraction known for amazing beaches and party life. The beaches were there, but there was NO people. The town looked empty. After asking around, we realized that high season had ended about 2 weeks before we arrived. At first we were bummed, but it honestly turned out for the best. During high season, everything is more expensive. When we went, all of the prices had decreased to what they normally are for the people who actually live in Ibiza. We were happy about this, AND we had the beaches almost to ourselves. People weren't taking over the beach with their parties and chaos, which is usually what happens during high season apparently. We could actually relax without a ton of people around us.

On the first day, we decided to lay out on the beach in the sun the entire day away. The temperature was in the high 70's and felt GREAT. We even got a little burnt!

The second day, we decided to go on an excursion that our hostel hosted. We didn't know what to expect, but we were promised we would go to the different beaches on the island, and snorkeling! We traveled to 3 beaches, went snorkeling in a cave in the Mediterranean sea, swam, had sangria at sunset, and listened to Spanish music the entire time. Our host was so nice and friendly, which made for a good day. 

 For our last day in Spain, we traveled to Barcelona. We stayed in a hostel close to the city center. It was a lot busier than I expected- a lot of tourists. It was almost like a mini New York City. We went market shopping, saw the light show, and visited the giant Basilica created by Gaudi named La Sagrada Familia. We only had time to see the outside of it, and it was SO BEAUTIFUL. The outside architecture was incredible. I wish we could have seen the inside, though. 
(I guess just some other day I'll have to travel back & see it!)

I would say our trip to Spain has been my favorite... BY FAR. It even topped Ireland (which I thought would be pretty difficult to do). It was so relaxing and beautiful. I love it. I never wanted to leave (and go back to the cold, dreary weather of England). I guess all good things must come to an end.. but I can guarantee you I will be back to Spain. Such a good time- I would recommend making a trip there- it's SO WORTH IT!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Warwickshire's Middleton Hall Restoration

Warwickshire's Middleton Hall Restoration

Location of Middleton Hall
Middleton Hall is a Grade II listed building dating back to medieval times. A listed building, in the United Kingdom, is a building that has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. There are three types of listed status for buildings in England and Wales:
     ·  Grade I: buildings of exceptional interest.
     ·   Grade II*: particularly important buildings of more than special interest.
     ·   Grade II: buildings that are of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them
            Middleton Hall is situated in the northern part of the county of Warwickshire in England, south of Fazeley and Tamworth and on the opposite side of the present day Middleton village. Surrounding the hall is 40 acres of land including two walled gardens, the largest man-made lake in Warwickshire, and much woodland and Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve.
Middleton Hall shows evidence of several phases of English domestic architecture from the late thirteenth to the early nineteenth century. There is a fine Great Hall that is of Tudor origin. The Manor of Middleton was held by the de Frevilles until 1418 and came to the Willoughby by virtue of the marriage of Margaret de Freville to Sir Hugh Willoughby. The Willoughby had extensive estates in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere, their principal seat being Wollaton Hall, Nottingham.
Middleton Hall was also the home of some notable people and was visited by many important figures. One of these notable people was Queen Elizabeth I, who spent two nights under its roof after enjoying festivities at Kenilworth in 1575.
In the mid 17th century the hall was home to Francis Willoughby the famed mathematician and naturalist. The Georgian West Wing dates from the late 18th century, but in 1812 the estates and the Barony passed to Henry Willoughby of the Birdsall, Yorkshire branch of the family. By then, Middleton declined in importance and the Middleton and Wollaton estates were sold in the 1920s.
The hall estates were allowed to fall into disrepair over many years in the twentieth century, starting with the misfortune of being used for gravel extraction. One of the period buildings that formed the hall’s interconnecting central quad was demolished to enable gravel trucks to park in the courtyard.
Sadly, by the time Middleton was eventually given Grade II-listed status it was in ruins. Its grand windows were smashed, its joists and beams rotted, and several roofs and floors were missing altogether. By the 1970s, it was fit only for the motor bikers who had taken to practicing off-road scrambling on the Great Hall’s staircase. The same staircase where Queen Elizabeth I had stood during her visit in 1575.
The volunteers at Middleton Hall.
In 1980, Middleton Hall was being leased to a charitable trust operated by volunteers, who have lovingly restored the buildings and researched the many stories that belong to the Hall. For the past 30+ years, Middleton has undergone a quiet transformation at the hands of these of skilled volunteer craftsmen. Between them, they have put in hundreds of thousands of hours work to rebuild, renovate and restore a historic home which, almost uniquely, showcases the shifts in English domestic architecture over the better part of a millennium. While the Hall remains visitable rather than habitable, it would be entirely derelict without the intervention of its volunteer army.
These volunteers have done excellent work to bring back to life buildings of English history from ruins. However, there is still work that has to be done at Middleton Hall including: the main hall, the walled garden, the Tudor barn complex (now craft shops) and a 16th-century jettied building, which was close to collapse before restoration commenced. The buildings at the site are rented to a charitable hope to raise a further £1m to finish renovations in the Tudor barn complex. When they have completed the work it will be a site to be hold and visit.
This is the Great Hall before and after the restoration work. 
Website Sources

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Buenas Noches Barcelona

It's 8:30 pm, and I'm sitting on a plane, struggling to keep my eyes open, waiting for water. When I asked if I could have tap water the flight attendant responded, "is it alright if it's from a tank?" I'm not sure what this means, but I nodded and I guess we'll see what she meant soon.

I’m flying from Barcelona to London, marking the end to my first trip outside of the UK since arriving here about a month ago. Leaving the United Kingdom for the first time came with the adjustment of a new power converter, currency and language. As a Texas native, who never took Spanish, I can only manage a few phrases and I would consider my Spanish better than most. Still, on the way to Spain, drained after having just completed the first British Studies exam, I confused Spanish for “my name is” with “I love you”. After that, I made sure to think about what I was saying before causing another stranger to walk away from me hurriedly.

Last night, Jesus, the host at our hostel, suggested that we go to a traditional salsa-dancing club, eager to experience Spanish nightlife; we set out for the club straight away. He mentioned that it’s not uncommon for Spanish nightlife to allow you to enter for free but require a sum in order to exit. Walking down an alley way, we found the inside of a building with a dimly lit sign, paid the 5 euro cover charge and entered the building that was designed to resemble old circus tent (clowns, distorted mirrors and all). While the music was foreign, and the hip movements even more so, we had a great time and were able to laugh at ourselves for getting moves wrong. Given my unapologetically bad dancing, a woman named María introduced herself, kissing me once on each cheek and asking where my friends and I were from. I asked, "It was my dancing that gave me away right?" She quickly replied, "It's not your dancing. It's your face. I doubt you would be Spanish. You don’t look like you are, anyways." She explained how she studied in London but lives in Barcelona, her hometown.

Barcelona seemed as bustling, or even more so, than New York and London with tourists advertisements and shops, many of which were made to target American tourists. I left Harlaxton with my friends, Jared and Matt, with the intention of meeting up with my friend Lindsay and her friend Abby, who are studying in Rome but are originally from the States. When they arrived (the previous day, before the salsa dancing) we went out for tapas, a meal consisting of a few small-portioned, Spanish entrees.

Upon arriving at our hostel, we turned the corner and happened into Gaudi’s Batllo house, a notable landmark of Barcelona, which was right outside of the door of our hostel. As a huge fan of architecture and having interned at an architecture firm, stumbling across some of Gaudi’s work was like striking gold, and there was a lot of it. On our second day in the city we were able to see Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia (a massive Church that has been under construction for about 120 years) and his Batllo apartments, Parc de Montjuic and the Barcelona Cathedral. Aside from this we walked down to an antique market, grabbed some horchata and headed to the beach despite the extremely windy weather. When we first hit the sand we weren’t on a designated nude beach (despite how one old man treated it as one anyways).

My water just got here and aside from its slightly strange texture, I just drank it with no questions. The fact that I was able to pay in pounds is a strangely comforting reminder that I'm on my way home.

The weekend in pictures: 

Monday, 8 October 2012

I love people.  It's a vague statement, I know, but people are such treasurers and have so much to offer.

I love learning.  One of my favorite ways to learn is by simply getting to know people. Discovering how others live and conduct their everyday lives helps me grow as a person.

And I love Harlaxton, for providing me with countless opportunities to interact with people--my fellow students, the Harlaxton faculty and staff, my Meet-a-Family, and most recently, British citizens through an open forum.

I absolutely love my Meet-a-Family.  We are alike in so many ways and have bonded over the few weeks we've known each other.  The Sunday after our Meet-a-Family dinner, I spent the day with my couple.  I played violin with my host mom at their church, while my host dad played the piano.  The members of the church were so welcoming and were genuinely interested in me, my studies, and my US home.  I enjoyed sharing with them after the service.

After church, we went back to their lovely home.  While they made lunch, we watched a recording of the last day of the BBC Proms, a huge classical music festival!! I can't believe I've never heard of it--it's right up my alley!  I had lamb for the first time and we played croquet and sipped tea throughout the afternoon.  I could really get used to this.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to have a conversation with Henrietta Chubb at an Open Forum event.  Simply listening to her tell about her childhood and life now was so valuable.  I learned an incredible amount about British life as she shared about her experiences in boarding school growing up and how her son enjoys boarding school, whereas her daughter only boards 2 nights a week.  She is a Justice of the Peace, and I learned about the court system.  And...her mom mum and dad have titles!  Sir and Lady!  She casually explained that the title would be passed on to her brother.  I don't think she knew how her ordinary life was so interesting to me!

I'm trying to make like a sponge and soak it all up.  I'm looking forward to all of the conversations in my future.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Scotland, the Brave

Bagpipes are my favorite. They give me this deep urge to throw up my hands and sing, to dance, to laugh and to cry...they have that droning bass that throbs in your soul,  makes you feel like you can charge full-speed up a mountain, which flutters in your heart like wings.

C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” about Mr. Tumnus’ song: “And the tune he played made Lucy want to cry and laugh and dance and go to sleep at the same time.” When I first read this, I was so moved, and I thought, Yes! This is exactly how I feel about bagpipes—am I the only one who feels this way?

I was talking to one of the security staff here, a friendly gentleman named Doug, about traditional music, and I explained my feelings. He immediately asked me if I had any Scottish blood.

As it so happens, my great-great-great-great grandfather, Archibald Gardner, immigrated to America from Scotland in 1823. And a few weekends ago I finally got the chance to visit Scotland for myself.
Archibald Gardner was born on
September 2, 1814, in Kilsythe, Scotland.


The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is a steep, winding cobble-stone street, which has served as the main path up to Edinburgh Castle since the middle ages. Hollyrood Palace, the Queen’s Scottish home, is opposite it at the bottom. And in between are dozens of shops, pubs and street vendors. The streets are teeming with people from all over the world and street performers playing everything from the fiddle to the musical saw.

On this street is the only remaining family-owned shop that sells Scottish tartans and traditional goods—Neanie Scott’s. I bought a gorgeous Royal Stuart tartan stole. It’s bright red, and so warm and soft!
Me, wearing the tartan of the Gordon clan!
I began talking to the lady about my great-grandfather, and she looked him up in her book of clans. She told me that the Gardner clan was a “sept” or sub-clan of the Gordon clan, and showed me the Gordon’s family tartan. He’s the only recent ancestor that I know of from Scotland, but through the whole of my trip I felt so proud to be in the land of my Grandpa Archibald. I picture him as a brave Highland lad, descended from the wild, fierce peoples of the far North...regardless of whether this is true or not!

In a way, going to Scotland felt like going home, as the huge, open landscape reminded me forcefully of the American West, and the mountains and streams reminded me of trips to the Appalachians with my family. The farmland is full of Angus cows and horses, and the people lively and friendly.

I got to climb Arthur’s Seat at sunrise. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano in the center of Edinburgh, now converted to a public park. In stories, I always thought it was odd that heroes would go off to a dragon’s lair in a singular mountain—in my experience, mountains come in ranges, mountains in plural. But there are tons of random mountains in Scotland. They’re so beautiful and majestic.

I also got to eat in The Elephant House, the café where JK Rowling scribbled the first few pages of Harry Potter on a napkin. I ordered haggis, neaps and tatties, and some life-changing hot chocolate—seriously, it was magical! I also saw a Scottish independence rally which was fascinating. And, I heard more bagpipes in one weekend than I normally hear in a year!
The Independence Rally, from the walls of the Castle.

I don’t know if I love Scotland because of some cosmic coincidence, or if it really is woven into my genetic makeup, but I do know this: I loved every minute of my trip to Scotland. Every time I looked at the hills, the mountains, the sky, the trees, I just felt like I was meant to be there.

We spent most of our time in Edinburgh, but I know one day I’ve got to go back and see it again—and this time, go all over the Highlands and cold Northern lochs...and I couldn’t get the song out of my head: “Oh, ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye, but me and my true love will never meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond!”