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

 

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Espresso and Dickens

I was woken up early this morning to the sound of drilling mixed with mumbled British accents outside my window and have just said goodnight to a pair of British maintenance men who came to repair my broken fire alarm. I can’t decide if this counts as an unusual or a very typical day.

Unable to read amidst the cacophony of drills, harsh mutters and a beeping fire alarm, I threw on clothes and crossed the street to Rosemarino’s, a little Italian café I’ve been wanting to try since moving next door.  A good looking British-Italian boy took my order for an espresso and eggs royale, and it proved more than worth leaving my cozy bed for. Sometimes I feel my days revolve largely around finding new study corners.

The problem becomes footing my coffee bill. Starbucks is only a fifteen minute walk from mine and for £1.50 I can have actual filter coffee in a grande (if I bring in my own tumbler). I if I choose a café in Clifton Village, they’re almost always quieter, but the coffee is more expensive and usually comes only in pretty, but tiny cups (why I do need so much coffee to get through the day?). So, lots of time I make my own French press and head to the graduate school to study, but it’s cold there and people are always shushing you. But then, if I opt to stay in my room I inevitably get distracted and the books stay on the shelf. This marks the current struggle of my life. As difficult as it is, I somehow cope.

Today it was a rota of Rosemarino’s, the Manor Hall library and my flat. Tomorrow I have class all day and Friday’s study locations are yet unknown. Thus follows the excitement of completing my MA.

No more traveling for me for quite some time now as I finish my last two months of classes, and with them, final essays and my dissertation. I’m so thankful to have met such amazing women in my program. It hit me this week especially that I could not do this alone. When the reading lists are literally endless and the course so unstructured, it makes all the difference crying and laughing over it all with kindred spirits.

And now to finish Wilkie Collin’s ‘John Jago’s Ghost,’

Em

 

Two Minutes Before Midnight

It’s two minutes before midnight, and Maddy and I have just returned from The Clifton, a cosy pub just down the hill and around the corner from my flat. Molly, my Chinese flatmate whose dream is to marry an Australian and live on the Brisbane beach, joined us and over a few pints, we enjoyed the evening.

It’s probably only because I’m in a new country that my eyes notice people and details in ways I wouldn’t at home. Like the thin man sitting at the table opposite ours, reading the newspaper, sipping a pint of dark ale, and eating a bag of crisps as though it was eight am in the morning, the ale a coffee and the crisps a croissant. The noise of conversations and music filled the room, but he just sat quiet, reading the newspaper as though you could hear a pin drop.

I like the energy of Bristol. I like that from the moment I wake up and cross Queen’s on my way to the library to the moment I hit the pillow, something is happening. Cyclists are breezing down the street, girls in boots are busybusy with someplace to be, and lights are always on in the pubs. The other morning, Maddy and I went to Wetherspoon’s for a stack of pancakes and sausages (all for only £ 2.20), and men were crowded round the bar sipping pints as though it was eleven o’clock at night. Rule #1 about Bristol: it’s never too early or too late for a cider. Rule #2 about Bristol: Don’t order anything other than a cider.

Another thing about Bristol is that grocery stores, be it Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, or Waitrose, are always busy. To the point of queues (lines!) being a normal feature. Dairy products, bread–almost everything–have fewer preservatives, and thus shorter expiration dates, but the more frequent trips to Sainsbury’s are worth it. The little 49p baguettes are almost always warm, and the milk and yogurt taste fresher. I certainly spend more time preparing meals here, and though I’ve always enjoyed cooking, I enjoy it especially here. When I’m not traveling, my days revolve around reading lists and finding necessary books, and sometimes deciding what to have for dinner feels more exciting than it should. A point of variety. And it’s rewarding, that no matter how many chapters I have left, I can at least do something from start to finish. That’s probably why baking and cooking have always been fun for me; every other detail of my life can be messy and incomplete, but in following a recipe you commit to completion. Otherwise you can’t have your cake. And I, at least, can’t enjoy my cake unless the mixing bowls and spoons are cleaned and put away. Hmmm. I have a feeling I might be baking quite a bit this term. Let’s just hope I’m not the only one eating everything…

To sleep!

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

We go to Devon

There’s many things I’d like to write about–experiencing the Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral underneath the golden domes, laughing till I cried at “The 39 Steps” on West End (surely laughter can cure all), stealing away with Madison and Genevieve to explore Exeter–but writing, like any passion, takes time and commitment, and lately, I haven’t had much of either. With classes starting up on Monday, intimidating new reading lists, phone calls to make,  and a string of golden day trips to introduce my friend, Maddy, to England, hours slip out of grasp and I begin feeling uprooted from Bristol and far from home.

Perhaps that is why I was struck deeply by the view of Plymouth’s Sound tonight. Maddy and I left Bristol bright and early to spend the weekend along England’s coastline in Devon, and after checking into our room, we didn’t feel like doing much of anything. But we decided to stroll down to The Hoe. We didn’t speak at all as we drank in the view. The beauty of England was in full glory as the sun slowly fell into the sea and the vivid green hills turned dark. The clouds stretched over the water and hills, ever morphing into intangible outlines.  If a view can be sublime, this certainly was.

We walked closer to the shoreline, rain soaking our hair and dripping down our skin, till we walked into a little restaurant not even a stone throw from the water. After a glass of wine and pint of cider, we began to feel warm and turned our attention again to the view. After hearing mixed reviews of Plymouth from my British friends, I stepped off the train with lowered expectations, but the view of the water, rocky cliffs, and rising green hills, quickly changed this city into the most beautiful place in England. At least for me. I felt as if I’d suddenly fallen down a rabbit hole of some sort. Could this be so close to Bristol and yet feel so utterly removed? The night didn’t need to get better, but it did. Maddy and I visited with a friendly ‘Plymouthian’ woman who insisted who go out on the town tomorrow, ‘You pair go out and have a right laugh down at The Barbican.’ I needed to pinch myself when she left the restaurant and her Scottish boyfriend walked over to say goodbye to us and said, ‘I love the sea and I love her very much.’

It made me miss Brady more than words, but at that moment, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Exploring Cornwall in the morning.

More soon,

E.

Back in Bristol

After over twenty hours of travel time (Minneapolis-Newark-Brussels-BRISTOL!) and zero winks of sleep, I’m back in the lands of pounds and pence, rolling green hills, driving on the wrong side of the road, battered sausages and endless walking. I’m home in Bristol feeling slightly exhausted and lightheaded, but nestled safely in Clifton  nonetheless.

The journey back easily counts as one of the most interesting. Brady, needing to get his Subaru repainted after it was egged by bored fifteen-year-olds, had me follow him to the body shop in his roommate’s car. I followed him to the shop in Bloomington, and I hopped into the passenger seat and he took over the wheel. So far so good. We were on our merry way when less than a mile from the airport, Roller’s car began stalling.

“Brady! What’s wrong?” I was flying Lufthansa for the first time and needed some extra time at the airport.

“We’re out of gas.”

Fortunately, God allowed us to be right next to the Radission  Hotel, and just as we walked into the lobby, an airport shuttle was approaching. Needless to say, it was the most romantic send-off of my young life (do you catch my use of irony?).

Best bit of being home::this guy

Though I felt ready to return to Bristol and into the usual rhythm of my life here, leaving home is never easy. Especially when a girl has a little Scottie named Audrey and a handsome boyfriend who cooks her dinner and organizes her suitcase. I’m very thankful I was able to spend almost a month in Minnesota, and even though it wasn’t a white Christmas (there’s a first time for everything), I loved being home around the tree with Maria, Luke, Joey, Gina, Drewby, Jackson, Nani, Gigi and baby Sophie all the same.

Big Joe asleep with the little girls

A scattered and incomplete list of highlights from being home include: making gingerbread houses with my girls (“Hope, why does yours look like a cardboard box?”), squeezing in a few dates with Mr. Johnson, TJMAXX (need I say more?  Yes, I did have my share of Becky Bloomwood moments), the luxury of driving on the rightside of the road and not walking absolutely everywhere, long walks with Audrey around Fargo and Minneapolis (goodness, I miss that one), Moxie Java coffee compliments of my girl Amee, conversations with Bridgette and Natalie (‘Emwee, what you do-do?’), study dates at the cosy Hilton (thank you, Momo), the Johnson residence, and Ikea; baking in a proper kitchen (with ingredients already stocked!), a New Year’s Eve kiss…I’m very grateful.

And now, to excite myself about returning to Bristol, a list of reasons why it’s good to be ‘home:’

-Cream Tea (this alone actually does it!)

-Bright green grass to mess up my new Puma running shoes

-My sweet fellow MA friends

-Returning to my favorite coffee shops

-A new term with new classes and new reading lists

-Ralph Pite (my Johnny Depp-esque professor for Victorian fiction)

-Chips and cider

-Upcoming trips around the UK and Europe with Maddy, Jess, Brady, Lisi Bumba and Maria

-My baby French press missed me.

-Cabot Circus (even if it’s just to window shop)

-Beginning a new year in a different country

-Handing in the essays which consumed most of my time at home!

And now to hibernate like a baby polar bear (at least until eight am when I must get to the library or die!).

Cheers,

EM

From Bristol to Fargo

“In order to lead a fascinating life–one brimming with art, music, intrigue, and romance–you must surround yourself with precisely those things.” –The Guide to Living Colorfully

Landed in Fargo, North Dakota just over a week ago and the familiarity of home feels comfortable and exciting all at once. I stumbled upon this quote earlier tonight and I like it because you don’t have to live in Paris or London to surround yourself with things you love. I think it’s very possible to cultivate a good life at home or across oceans.

Ah! Back to studying…

E.

Harrod’s and the Bristol Channel

My suitcase is haphazardly packed with chocolate and books and I’m ready for home in the fidgety/restless/don’t know what to do with myself sort of way.  This last week of term proved to be manic and the idea of  a few weeks at home is becoming more and more appealing. Tomorrow at this time I’ll nearly be home.

Most everyone from my program has left for home already and the city somehow seems quieter and less familiar without them. In short, I’m out of distractions and have no excuse not to be reading up on Aphra Behn and Hellenism, but of course, focusing on anything is quite futile at this time.

In other news, I finally saw the Bristol Channel this week. Nearly everyday on my walk to the library I passed a British woman out walking her two Jack Russels, Reg and Daisy, and a few weeks back we started chatting. She invited me out to the sea village of Clevedon,  just outside of Bristol, to visit the Poet’s Walk and take in the stunning views of the water.  It was an invitation I couldn’t pass up. Clevedon was a well known point of inspiration for famous writers such as Coleridge and Tennyson, and within moments of walking along the shoreline, I understood why. I decided that if I had a car it would be tempting to join the Clevedon Swimming group which meets nearly everyday (year round!) to swim in the Channel. That’s some dedication.

The British Channel

Thursday was our final lecture for the term, and as most everyone in our program was leaving for home, Ashley and I decided to spend the next day Christmas shopping in London. We left before dawn and arrived in London Town just as the shops were opening.  Today, we decided, we would not be tourists. We would simply shop. From Victoria Coach Station we headed straight to Harrod’s, the world’s most famous department store. If you need the best espresso this side of the Atlantic, head to Harrod’s. If you need an elephant, go to Harrod’s.  In Ashley’s words, “It has EVERYTHING.”

We spent most of our time admiring the floor filled with children’s toys.  The beautiful hand carved rocking horse and elaborate four-story dollhouse quickly became our favorites, and just as we started talking about the person who could spend £900 on a children’s toy,  a young woman carrying an Hermés bag  approached, glancing at the dollhouse.  She told the clerk “I’ll take it” as if it was an afterthought. Three dreamy hours later we finally decided to leave, but couldn’t quite get over the place.  Or the darling French bulldog puppy for sale on the fourth floor. If not for the £4,600 price tag he might have been mine.

Outside of Harrod's

Keeping this short and sleep (oh, that was an accident!) as I’ll be at the airport in a few short hours.

Until January,

Em

Stonehenge and Christmas Onesies

 Currently sipping black coffee, plopping pomegranate seeds in my mouth, and wondering how this term has passed so quickly. Too quickly for my liking. A week from tomorrow I’ll be headed home to Minnesota for Christmas, but the thought of leaving Bristol for nearly a month makes me feel ‘homesick.’ Before stepping off the plane in England I actively tried to keep my expectations in check, telling myself I might honestly not make any friends; spend most of my time lost, or just miss home too much. It’s been a sweet surprise to have life in Bristol exceed even my greatest expectations. I’ll soon be approaching three months here, yet the beauty of the city still feels so new to me. Running over the Royal Crescent and past the Bridge still throws me. Sometimes getting myself to the library seems such a task simply because I want to wander round this city till I can walk around with my eyes closed. But it’s probably the variety and novelty that makes me love it so.

This past week has brought many firsts. I tried my first mince pie (yummy, though I’m still partial to apple pie. See, Brady, I do love a couple things about America!), had a glass or two of mulled wine (this recipe I will be bringing home), and had the opportunity to visit Stonehenge and the surrounding town of Salisbury. Almost three years ago now during my first trip to England I had the chance to visit Stonehenge, but alas!, couldn’t afford transportation. This time round, it didn’t cost a penny. Ashley’s husband, Brian, is studying his masters in archaeology here and drove us all in the department’s land rover! There is something about driving in a car here that makes England really feel like home. And the drive was beautiful. We stumbled into a tiny Cotswolds village with thatched roofs and bright little gardens, and of course, I needed to pinch myself.

Stonehenge was brilliant. And a bit frustrating. The mystery of its original purpose has never been discovered and literally thousands of theories exist regarding its purpose.  It’s certainly interesting to think of how the stones were somehow transported (they’re said to come from an area 40 km away) and resurrected in prehistoric times. At any rate, it was a thrill to cross Stonehenge from my bucket list, or as my sister Maria would call it, the ‘Living Deliberately” list.

We made it!

Last night was the “Ugly ‘Jumper’ Christmas Party,” and unable to locate a truly hideous sweater, Madeline, Gen, Ashely and I decided to wear onesies (footie pajamas). It was without a doubt the best ten pounds I’ve ever spent.While the fifteen minute walk from Sinclair to Dean’s Court  was filled with stares and even a few chuckles as I premiered my onesie, it was well worth it. It’s impossible to be cold in a onesie. It’s impossible to entertain a bad mood while dressed in a onesie. And onesies happen to be quite forgiving; I could eat an entire turkey and no one would ever know. I could hide another person in my onesie and no one would guess. In short, I felt like I was five again save for missing a pair of stick-on earrings in the shape of half-moons.

And now to take out my caffeine and pomegranate jitters on Posthumous Keats.

Cheers,

Em

Today’s Hope

Isaiah 54:10

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