Exploring Gloucester

Three days ago, on a rainy Monday morning, I left Bristol by train to explore the south-west city of Gloucester. Stepping off the platform, I was greeted by my cousin and dear friend, Leah, and her darling goddaughter, Lily. Leah graduated from Redcliffe College in Gloucester four years ago, and inevitably, this city holds a special place in her heart and, fortunately for me, it meant being shown around  by someone who knew the city inside and out.

After a solid twelve-days of nonstop essay-writing, getting out of Bristol and my flat for a full day of wandering seemed just the thing, and the city exceeded my expectations. Gloucester was charming–picturesque and very English. Bristol isn’t really a big city (at least by American standards), but escaping to smaller, slower-paced cities is always a treat.

The Beatrix Potter Shop

We began the day exploring the small and pretty campus of Redcliffe College, and after hearing so much about this place so pivotal in Leah’s life,  I could understand firsthand why she loves it dearly. We then wandered to the little Beatrix Potter shop–made famous as being the setting and inspiration for the Beatrix Potter story “The Tailor of Gloucester”–which, I learned, was Potter’s favorite of her stories. It’s always a delicious feeling to literally stand in the footsteps of writers I’ve so long admired.

Just beyond the shop was the stunning Gloucester Cathedral dating back to 681!  I’ve been blessed to see many awe-inspiring cathedrals, but I’d never seen cloisters and corridors as stunning as these (no wonder three of the Harry Potter movies were filmed here). Growing up in Minnesota culture where what is ‘basic and functional’ rules over extravagance and detail, the beauty of the Cathedral was overwhelming.  For the first time, I could understand the motivation behind these painstakingly-ornate Cathedrals as surrounded by inspiring-beauty, God felt closer.

The cloisters

The history and age of England still hasn’t lost its allure for me, and I’m realizing yet again that even nearly a year here is not enough time to take in all the wonder–the castles, the cathedrals, the tea shoppes, the cliffs of Cornwall, the green hills of Devon, the beauty of the Lake District, the charm of the Cotswolds–and I still haven’t been up North!

Today was my last day of class and to celebrate, our professor, Ralph, brought white wine and cloudy lemonade to class, and we leisurely discussed British poetry for an hour. My final essays were turned in six days ago and now, all that stands between getting my degree, is a little dissertation. Time has moved fast and slow here, but lately, it’s swept by much too quickly…the thought of leaving is a bittersweet one, but lo! no need to think of that yet.

It’s so much easier to put Mary Oliver’s words into practice, for some reason, away from home:

“I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”

Cheers,

Em

Three Days in Firenze

Finally (finally!) posting some photos of the romantic capitol of Tuscany: Florence.  As the birthplace of the Renaissance,  a World Heritage Site, and ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world by Forbes, Florence doesn’t need introduction.

Over a month ago now, I stepped off the train having no idea what to expect (Ryanair’s strict cabin luggage forced me to leave even my guide book behind!), but even this was part of the allure. Of course, the Duomo, the domed cathedral of the city, was visible from nearly any point in the city, but even ‘unimportant attractions’–little side streets peppered with cafes and gelaterias, brimmed with charm. Mmmmm….present nostalgia:

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

 

The Neptune Fountain (1575) at Piazza della Signoria

The Neptune Fountain (1575) at Piazza della Signoria

 

Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge built in 1345 (and the only Florentine bridge to survive WWII).

At Ponte Vecchio

 

The view from Piazza Michelangelo

 

A panoramic view of Firenze

Yes, wouldn’t mind a visit back!

E.

 

Venice Desired

It’s my third day back in Bristol after a three weeks absence, and I’ve returned to find Clifton Village alive with cherry blossoms, roses, and foxglove and the hills and vines even greener than when I left. English springs really are something to write about, and I can’t help feeling a bit like Mary Lennox(with the exception of no sick relation to nurse back to health, but perhaps my ailing essays count?).

These past few weeks have been filled to the brim with so many gifts, so many experiences I never dreamed of having and so, before I leave them to memory to become hazy like dreams, I want to record a few such moments here. I don’t believe I’ve ever done so much walking than over my time in France and Italy and despite my good intentions, I was simply too tired to write at the end of the day. But I believe we understand experiences better in hindsight, and I, for one, need time to let it sink under my skin and into my bloodstream to know it was real.

Italy, though it’s nearly impossible for me to choose favorites, was my favorite leg of the ‘trip.’ I spent three days in Venice before taking the train into Tuscany and Florence. Prior to stepping on the plane to Paris, our last Romantics lecture had discussed the allure of Venice, and it was hard to believe I’d soon be seeing it for myself.

The beauty of Venice struck me immediately. Venice is supposed to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but from my past travel experiences, I’ve learned to be skeptical of such claims. Often times, what is ‘postcard perfect’ is misleading because, generally, only a small portion of the city actually resembles the postcard. Not so with Venice. After crossing Canale di Fuscina, the magic of Venice was immediate. I soon realized it was not just St. Mark’s Basilica or the Grand Canal that made Venice beautiful; it was all of it. And getting lost  in the web of canals, calle and campi that make up the sestieri (neighborhoods) of Venice was the best way to explore. Every corner and campi leading to a dead-end, which in the case of Venice, means a canal, was stunning. Lines of colorful clothing hung like streamers between the Venetian appartamentos. Flowers bloomed from window boxes between brightly painted shutters. Caffè windows became pieces of art with displays of marzipan, cannolis filled with zabaione, and giant Italian Easter cakes called Colomba carefully wrapped in parchment and ribbon.

The novelty of canals replacing roads and gondolas instead of cars was invigorating. And the cappuccinos were just as good as I remember from my first time in Italy (Roma) a few years ago. And yes, the gelato was still heavenly. What I liked most about Venice, though, was the pace. In some ways, there wasn’t a whole lot to do–at least in terms of museums and other sights the traveler usually feels obligated to visit. The whole city was about having an extra scoop of gelato, lingering over a glass of red, and having a generous plate of beautiful Venetian cuisine at the end of the day. 

In many ways, Venice seemed like a make-believe city. I did not see a single car. There wasn’t an office building in sight. And, as I learned in Sweden, Venice is largely a fantasy. My cousin’s friend, Jo, grew up in Veneto, the region of Italy containing Venice, and she explained that few Venetians actually live in Venice.  It’s a city for tourists and maybe the rare traveler. Of course, Venice is slowly sinking, which might also contribute to its lack of population.

Canale Grande

Canale Grande

And I want to go back! Hmmm…back to Jane Austen & Mansfield. Next post: Florence.

-E.

Currently (finally!) settled in Saint Exupéry Gardens in Nice sipping tea and relishing the cool breeze on my sunburn. We left Paris before dawn this morning to catch our train to Nice after four full days of taking in the sights of La Ville-Lumière. I’m quite sure that between Brian, Ashley, Madeleine, Genevieve and myself we must have walked a hundred miles, and we have the sunburns and blisters to prove it!

The magic of Paris is particularly felt at night.

I didn’t fall in love with Paris right away as I expected to–I soon learned a committed relationship with this city takes time (more than four days), but by last night I was quite smitten. The sheer scale and sights of Paris were overwhelming, and the scent of exhaust and cigarette smoke was ever present. But just when my feet were tired or I began to wonder why Paris has become such a travel must, I’d catch a glimpse of the la Tour Eiffel or Arc de Triomphe and need to pinch myself to be convinced they were, in fact, real.

Oh, macaroons!

We likely were too ambitious in all we fit in (ice cream cones at the Eiffel Tower, walking through the Louvre ( I still don’t understand the hype surrounding the Mona Lisa), exploring the Latin Quarter and Montmarte, window-shopping along the Champs-Elysees, marveling at the stained glass windows of Notre Dame, the love-locks at Ponte Bridge, a box of my first ever macaroons from Ladurée, people watching at the Tuileries, taking in the pomp of Versailles (it simply puts Windsor Castle to shame), and finally, savoring one or two Nutella crepes (!) and a glass or two of rosé et sauvignon), but since I just don’t know when or if I’ll be back, the blisters are worth it.

Nonetheless, I often felt out of place by my lonesome in a city with so many couples (attractive ones at that, too). Paris is certainly a place for lovers and the romance of it all felt a bit out of reach strolling through the sights without Brady.

Ah, and now to get ready to explore Old Town, Nice…running late as usual!

E.

P.S. Joyeux Anniversaire to Brian & Ashley!:) You two would share a birthday.;)

 

Springtime in Bristol

The grass is somehow greener, the cherry blossoms are out, and the days are becoming deliciously longer; an English spring has arrived and I couldn’t be more ready. As you might tell from my lapse of posts, this term has been a manic one, but the end is in sight.  ‘Spring break’ begins in less than two weeks, and with it, two weeks of travel (Paris-Nice-Monaco-Venice-Florence-Goteborg-Finland(?)). Though 12,000 words are due at the end of the break, surely two weeks of new sights, tastes and sounds will invigorate my lately tired mind.  At least I’m hoping!

I sometimes wonder where all my time goes here in Bristol, and then look up at my bookshelf and quickly remember. The past month has slipped away reading: Mansfield Park, The Woodlanders, Rural Rides, Frankenstein, The Confessions, The Italian, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, Silas Marner, Cousin Phillis, Wuthering Heights, Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life (written by none other than my professor Ralph Pite!), and a smattering of Coleridge, Byron, Wordsworth, Dickens, Eliot, and James. I still derive some small sense of accomplishment from reading that blessed last page, but somehow, that feeling diminishes when I think of how many first pages I’ve still yet to open…

The idyllic cottage of Anne Hathaway

And really, that has been my life these last few weeks–save a day trip to Stratford-on-Avon which promptly caused me to fall in love with England all over again. That places like Anne Hathaway’s cottage really exist is enough to keep going I suppose. And fortunately, several of the above mentioned books I’ve read before. And it’s been funny to realize that as much as my tastes have changed in other areas, my taste in books has remained about the same. Rediscovering my love of Hardy has been the biggest treat, and when I’m not reading for class, I’ve started researching Impressionism for an upcoming essay…

I have much to be grateful for indeed.

Cheers, Em

 

Leaving my heart in Cornwall

It’s the start of a new month–a brand spanking new month–and I haven’t missed it yet. Haven’t yet sped ahead to next week, or my (hopefully) upcoming week in Paris.  Being back in Bristol has, in some ways, been harder than I expected. In my month home in Minnesota, I became a little too comfortable. Fell back too easily into the routine of having a car, having my currency back (“what! everything seems free in America”), my family near and boyfriend close. And every night when I fall asleep, be it on the extra mattress in Maria’s room or the couch (upstairs or downstairs tonight?) or retreating to the quiet of Brady’s parents, I had a small puppy sleeping at my feet. I had a different sort of variety at home than I have in Bristol, and I’m coming to appreciate the chaos of eight siblings (Maria, Luke, Joey, Gina, Drew, Jackson, Natalie and Brigette), one adorable niece and even James and Avery (my mom’s daycare charges) more than I thought possible. I guess a bout of homesickness is one way to keep me in the present, whether good or bad. I constantly had people around me at home, and leaving a house of twelve to return to my room of one has been a process.  I shouldn’t even be complaining because my close friend, Maddy, is here visiting from Minnesota and in these last almost two weeks, we’ve had more adventure than some people might experience in a year.

I met Maddy in London to kick off our English ramblings, and it was my third time there. In my past couple visits, London seemed as huge and unfamiliar as ever, but this last time, I knew where I was going. I remembered which tube stops to take. I had a sense of direction, which is rare to me (!), and I enjoyed London so much more because of it.

Cream Tea in Devon

After a couple days in Bristol, we took a day trip to Exeter, Devon, and were quickly enchanted by the beauty of the rolling green hills and charm of the place. Maddy had her first proper cream tea, and I felt I had somehow ‘done my job’ as  Iwatched her love for England grow. Something that never fails to interest me about England is that each place I visit is steeped in history.  In Exeter, we took in the world’s oldest medieval cathedral and accidentally stumbled on the execution site of the ‘Devon Witches,’ the last women executed for witchcraft in England. The manager of the café even left his post once we finished tea to show us Exeter’s vaults–underground passageways built by the Romans. America does start feeling like a baby in comparison to England’s wrinkle lines.

We spent the next day in Bath in the unrelenting rain, and the city seemed a bit smaller than how I remembered it from October–not in a bad way at all, but in a cosy, familiar way.  I still couldn’t get over the romance of people who live in this city today alive with the architectural feats of the eighteenth century.

We left bright and early the next morning for Plymouth. After hearing mixed reviews about this town on coast, the immense beauty of the place took me by surprise. The previous post was my time to swoon about this! Also wanting to show Maddy Cornwall (and wanting to see it for myself), we left from Plymouth on Saturday to spend the day in Falmouth, Cornwall, a little sea village I hoped would be worthwhile.

Again, my expectations seemed impossibly small as we walked from the train station to the long stretch of cliffs down to the  stunning coastline. The sun was at last out (it’s normal to go days and days without sunshine) glittering over the water so strongly I had to look away. Feeling tired and stiff from constant traveling, the view made any crustiness on my part entirely out of place and obsolete. A young couple was chasing their daughter and black Labrador puppy across the beach, and a couple of old men (no doubt the best Grandpas) stood talking it over while their dogs, a standard poodle and this scrappy little mix, wrestled in the sand. To be part of this scene, so alive with beauty and energy, hit me again of how blessed I am to be  experiencing this dream.

Falmouth Beach

Across the road from the beach was Falmouth’s harbor and a string of pubs, cafés, and a disproportionate number of pasty shops. We chose a corner table by the window in one of the cafés, and I ordered a Cornish heavy cake (as bad for me as it sounds) and an espresso. Maddy ate a panini, and we looked out the window at the people walking by and needed to pinch ourselves. We then walked across the little road to take in the harbor. Often, pictures can’t capture a scene, but this one did.

The Harbor

The colors–the contrasting blues, the yellows and reds of the sailboats, seemed deliciously out of  place for the end of January, and as different from white and grey Minnesota winters as could be. I love how much diversity of climate and sights are contained in this relatively small island.

It’s a dream of mine to live by the water someday, even if it’s a lake or river, but if I can’t, pictures of Falmouth will tide me over.

Cheers,

Em

The Holiday or Laughing Over the History of Courting

I do love Bristol, but an invitation to spend a long weekend in the Cotswolds with my cousin and dear friend, Leah, was enough to make me pack my bags. And a change of scenery works wonders when it comes to conquering my endless reading list.

Following my last lecture of the week, I jumped on Bus Nine to Temple Meads and after a brief train ride found myself anxiously waiting in Cheltenham Station for Leah. It didn’t take long to spot her yellow jacket so similar to mine, and before long we’d hugged, hello’ed and we’re en route to Winchombe, a cosy village in the western Cotswolds.

The wonder of England surprised me over and over as I experienced this rare part of the world deemed an “Area of Outstanding Beauty.” Considered by many to make up the heart of England, the Cotswolds are a range of sleepy villages just above Bristol known for their charm and simplicity. I pinched myself more than once as I strolled around the quiet streets and soft green hillsides of Winchcombe.

Lily and I en route to Sudley Castle

What really made the weekend golden, though, was meeting Leah’s lovely English friends, Lizzie and Neil, and ‘minding’ their darling two-year old daughter, Lily, so they could have a weekend away (and so might we!). Staying in Lizzie and Neil’s historic and cosy home located right next to St. Peter’s Parish (built in the 15th century!) was a welcome change from my tiny room in Sinclair House. I could get used to ‘playing house’ in the Cotswolds.

Lily soon captured my heart with her tiny “Hellos” and recitation of the colours: “Red, Orange, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet!” Definitely a British child. Being constantly around  young people  has really felt abnormal, and spending time with Lily was refreshing.

Lily and the Pony

On Saturday, Leah and I (with Lily in tow) hopped on a bus headed to another Cotswold village–Broadway. One of the Cotswold’s most famous villages, I felt like I’d stepped into a Charles Dickens novel. Honey-colored shops with thatched roofs lined the streets, and the trees were even lit with fairy lights. We spent most of the afternoon in a park tucked between Broadway’s hills. On our way out of the park we were met by a friendly stranger trying to steal Lily’s cracker.

I think the best part of cousins is suddenly feeling fourteen again. I don’t know if it was all the sugar or clotted cream or possibly a tad too much Rose, but Leah and I did laugh. When Lizzie and Neil returned from their getaway, the hysterics continued as Leah opened a book published in 1954 entitled “A History of Courting.” Our favorite quotes from ‘Courting’ so far include:

“In my opinion, nothing is more imprudent, nothing more offensive, than for lovers to appear lovers in company; it is both disagreeable and disgusting to society.”

“Ah, I never knew a woman come to good who was fond of reading!” (As qtd. from the 1763 play “Love in a Village by Isaac Bickerstaff)

“On the continent the reputation of Englishman as lovers was far from high!”

“The popularity of this seductive item of furniture (the sofa) was soon to distress the moralists. The sofa gave woman an admirable opportunity to look their best while languishing, and to show feet and ankles in the process.”

“They are numerous cases on record of men being fined for unauthorized wooing.”

“Many and various have been the thoughts inspired in men by the unexpected sight of a pretty ankle.”

“As for kissing and fondling, such practices stir the blood and invite the wrath of God!”

“Possibly the telephone, the motor-car, and the cinema have made love-making a shade too easy.”

And now, for the crème de la crème:

“Farmers fume at the damage to crops and haystacks caused by courting couples.”

So many giggles. And now to bed because it is late and tomorrow we go to the little village of Bradford-on-Avon.

Cheers,

Em

Snapshots of Bristol

This might give you an idea of why I love it so much here.

The symbol of Bristol: the Clifton Suspension Bridge

My favorite part of my running routine is crossing the bridge.

I spotted this darling outside of Sainsbury's, patiently waiting for Momma. I love that people here simply leave their dogs outside the grocerystore so that I can admire them!

Many of the homes here are painted in pretty pastels.

The lime trees form an archway through St. Andrew's Churchyard.

I see this tabby nearly everyday on my walk to campus.

Park Street, a busy road here lined with cafes, shops and a Starbucks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now to return to Keats. More soon.

Cheers,

Em

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