The Last Goodbye

 

In four years, I…

published 150 posts (100,000+ words!)

visited over 35 museums and historic sites 


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'Do you have the Victoria & Albert...in a can?'

pretended I was living a Wes Anderson movie (at least) once 

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recorded my experiences with five different internships & jobs 

corresponded with dozens of potential Cornell students 

and received delightfully incomprehensible messages from twice as many spambots

Seventeen-year-old me applied to the Life on the Hill program on a whim, and I never could have predicted how much the program would affect my undergraduate life. It’s made me a stronger writer, a better photographer, and a more observant museum visitor, to name just a few, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

In any case, I’ll keep it short and simple: farewell, Life on the Hill. Until we meet again.

To the Letter

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There are a lot of semi-challenging adjustments you may need to make when you start working full-time. Eight-hour days are exhausting and having to do desk chair yoga in your office to avoid getting deep-vein thrombosis can be awkward: but the strangest and most fascinating aspect of workplace life has to be the never-ending stream of business emails.

College gives you a little taste of this curious world of verbal ritual–by my freshman year, I was already well initiated into formal salutations, self-promoting signatures, and the act of finding that perfect generic-but-not-impersonal sign-off. (Hey, in Hawai’i, most people just use “Aloha” or “Mahalo” as their closing words: but Mainlanders are unsurprisingly less keen on that!).

Still, while I could receive perhaps ten or fifteen non-commerical/spam emails per day at Cornell, that daily number has increased more than trifold since I started working full-time. It’s not that I mind it too much–stuff has to be said, after all! At the same time, it’s made me realize one key thing:

I find it really relaxing to write letters.

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For whatever reason, I never quite got into a permanent habit of writing letters in college. Sure, there were some people with whom I corresponded on a regular basis, but not so much that I would consider it a hobby. These days, though, letter-writing is as much of a pastime for me as anything else: and nothing makes me happier than making up dorky little handmade envelopes, collecting vintage postcards, and pretending to be some early modern heroine from an epistolatory novel.

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One of the things I love most about my job is that I don’t always have to be sitting at my desk–nothing makes me happier than being out in the galleries teaching or spending time with my students and visiting school groups. Still, the fact remains that I spend lots of time at the computer every day. And (bizarre though it may be to confess such thoughts in a blog post!) that means that when I get home, if I have a chance to cut down on my screen time, I’m going to take it.

After a day of endlessly typing “All the best” or determining whether or not I’m close enough to a certain individual to get away with using multiple exclamation points, there is something incredibly soothing about putting together a physical object that will–thanks to the magic of the post!–travel sometimes thousands of miles to its destination.

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“So why should I, a college student (or Other Person Reading Keely’s Blog) take up the good old-fashioned art of letter writing?” 

  • Lots of people will want to hear from you. Seriously. You can write to your parents, your siblings, random friends that you only speak with through Facebook these days–even if they’re not as keen on correspondence as some of us, the gesture will undoubtedly be appreciated! Or, if you’d like to write to someone different altogether, you can try joining a snail mail club to find a pen pal–the Letter Writers’ Alliance is a popular example of such an organization.
  • It can help with social anxiety and loneliness. If you’ve just moved to a new place (you’ve graduated, you transferred, you’re studying abroad, etc…) it can be extremely comforting to have something to look forward to in your mailbox. To be completely honest, I’ve found it very challenging to connect with many like-minded people quickly in the post-college world: but letter-writing has helped me a lot! During the initial period in which you don’t have too many friends in your area, sending missives to someone who cares from afar is extremely rewarding, I promise.
  • The postal service is a delightful puzzle to unravel. Okay, maybe it’s just me, but once I started writing letters on a regular basis, I found that I just couldn’t get enough of random mail-related facts. Did you know that you can’t send secondhand “bee supplies” to Canada? Or that “weights and measures not of the decimal system” are forbidden in mailings to New Caledonia? Of course, such info will probably never apply to me–but on a more practical note, if you’ve ever wondered what happens if you don’t put enough stamps on or how many sheets of paper it takes to make your letter over 1 oz., get ready to learn a lot!

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(Cornell students should also remember that you’re lucky enough to have your own “post market” on campus–so writing letters (and becoming a philatelist…) couldn’t be easier!)

 

Fossils are the New Castles

 

Adjusting to life in Edinburgh was incredibly challenging. Conversely, re-adapting back to Cornell has been rather simple. I love filling my week with exciting courses and rejoicing about the relatively low cost of a semester’s worth of Zumba classes–not to mention being able to work and earn money again.

Since I spent most of my time abroad exploring museums, monuments, and other stunning points of interest, I worried that Ithaca might seem boring upon my return: after all, the place hasn’t got a single thirteenth-century castle. However, after my first few action-packed weeks back on the Hill, I can safely say that there are still enough worthy Ithacan attractions to satisfy my need for exploration.

My first fall semester adventure began at Sapsucker Woods, home of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I’ve visited the visitor centre (and its completely rad sound lab filled with a veritable library of animal calls) a few times, but never journeyed into the woods themselves until last weekend.

Hey, first-years–if your family comes to visit you for Parents’ Weekend, do ask them to bring you out to Sapsucker Woods. It’s a bit out of the way for a bus ride, but one quick car trip will give you access to a wonderful natural oasis that might distract your folks from the fact that you went three months without doing laundry or now sport a radically different haircut.

The woods are pretty big on plant life, but exhibited a sad insufficiency of the elusive “sapsuckers” themselves during my visit.

Now, long-time readers will know it’s almost impossible for me to post without mentioning a museum of some sort, so I’m happy to report that I finally accomplished one of the coolest items on my personal Cornell to-do list: a visit to the Museum of the Earth!

Please do not neglect to visit the charming dinosaur sculpture featured in the main picture above; he is located near the entrance and is so adorable that he makes the The Land Before Time hatchlings look like gargoyles. Seriously. 

I’ve never quite grown out of my seven-year-old self’s dinosaur obsession. If second-grader Keely had ever traveled to Ithaca, she probably would’ve found the Museum of the Earth to be the most exciting place on Earth; I was impressed even as a college student.

The small but packed museum was established by the Paleontological Research Institution a decade ago, and its current collection boasts such exciting specimens as the Hyde Park mastodon. The galleries take visitors from the most recent Ice Age to the time of some of the earliest fossil records in the span of about forty minutes–in other words, a pretty exciting afternoon for fans of ammonoids or Dunkleosteus. Even if you’re not all that into old bones and plant impressions,  there’s nothing like learning about the Permian Extinction to really make you appreciate your own (mass-catastrophe-free) life a little bit more. 

The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, and its current feature, Raising the Dead: The Art of John Gurcheis possibly one of the most exciting exhibits I’ve ever seen (maybe even beating out Vikings! at the National Museum of Scotland). Gurche is a phenomenally skilled paleo-artist currently serving as the Museum’s artist-in-residence whose sculpture mainly recreates Australopithecus (a favorite of mine from Walking with Prehistoric Beastsand other early hominids. He also provided artistic consultation for Jurassic Park, and produces terrifyingly detailed images of dinosaurs for everything from book covers to murals.

As much as I could stare at Gurche’s wild images of ancient beasts or follow every boardwalk through Sapsucker Woods all day, few off-campus retreats can beat a nice stroll around Beebe Lake. I do miss my Brave-inspired frolics up on Arthur’s Seat and in the Highlands, but Ithaca can be just as lovely too–and I don’t have to worry about the exchange rate. 

This is the first picture I’ve ever taken of the gorges without the fences up–what a lovely surprise to return to!

The Life North Berwick with K. Zissarr

Since the island of New Penzance–invented for Wes Anderson’s 2012 summer hipster-hit Moonrise Kingdom–doesn’t exist in real life, I’ll settle for North Berwick. During Saturday’s trip to Tantallon Castle, I experienced this East Lothian town in a completely different way: by walking through its fields and along its highway. Since this twee trek inevitably evoked Khaki Scout adventures and soft guitar music, today’s post has been irrevocably infected by Anderson’s signature style (he is, after all, my favourite filmmaker of all time).

(For maximum enjoyment, I recommend putting on some 60s French pop/classic folk-rock/Benjamin Britten/indie tunes and assuming a monotone vocal timbre and neutral facial expression. Hanging out with Bill Murray (one-time Cornell marching band conductor) is suggested, but not mandatory.)

The year is 2013. We are on the edge of the North Sea, famous for the ferocious and well-documented puffins and gannets which, sources believe, are well on their way to challenging mankind for global sovereignty.

This is the coastline pathway to Tantallon Castle.

Three miles long.

Local flora and fauna includes stoats, seabirds, tall grasses, and mobile homes.

To the left is the North Berwick Law, a conical hill whose summit boasts the unexplainable presence of a whale’s jawbone. Deterioration of the original bones, potentially by macabre souvenir-seekers, has resulted in the installation of a fibre-glass replica. 

The donor of this replica, though presumably considered a local hero, has yet to reveal his identity.

It takes approximately an hour’s very leisurely walk to reach Tantallon. At this point in the journey, trailer parks are supplanted by golf courses, complete with Scottish golfers attempting to bring back the newsboy cap. The golf courses are in turn replaced by rolling fields.

Crops currently appear to include dandelions and the afore-mentioned tall grass.

Admission to the castle costs approximately as much as six six-packs of Jordan Valley pita breads, a meal and a half at the Mosque Kitchen, or one-quarter of a professional Scottish haircut.

Tickets can be purchased within a demi-sized gift shop complex located a few minutes’ walk down the road from the parking lot. Souvenir guides, plastic knights in purple armour, and a rough estimate of seven differently packaged varieties of Scottish shortbread are also available.

The castle dates from the fourteenth century, and was originally the frequently besieged home of the Douglas clan.

Most modern visitors, however, are more interested in its entanglement in a 2009 ghost story controversy, in which a professor of psychology supplied the public with a year-old image supposedly documenting a phantom figure in period dress standing behind one of Tantallon’s more disturbing grates.

My recent investigation has so far provided not even a single neck ruff’s worth of tangible evidence.

Tantallon Castle’s winning combination of ruins and the seaside makes it a strong contender for the most perfect castle of all time. And, to vaguely connect this back to Cornell, I have only one thing to say to anyone who claims to be my friend whilst still believing that the nightmares of Slope Day could ever be preferable to ancient ruins:

No, you’re not. You’re disloyal.

Have fun storming the castles!

I may not like pubs, ‘football’, or the cold, but there is one UK stereotype to which I am helplessly addicted: castlesThough I’ve visited ‘Iolani Palace and have some vague memories of a castle in Connecticut (Google informs me that it’s Gillette Castle I’m remembering), my fascination with ancient fortresses remained relatively latent until I came to Scotland.

After this weekend, my palace tally has increased to (a Tolkien-apropros) nine, and I plan to nearly double that before I leave at the end of May. Who wouldn’t want to explore ~15th century ruins for about the cost of frozen yoghurt, right? Even if all the masonry and empty moats start to look vaguely similar in a few weeks, I’m pretty sure I will never pass up a chance to see a castle.

I cross paths with Edinburgh Castle on a daily basis: it’s visible from Arthur’s Seat when I take walks, Princes Street when I’m shopping, and the top floor of David Hume Tower when I’m going to class. I was putting off the visit inside the castle for as long as I could, though–I’d been told by several sources that it wasn’t worth the hefty admission price. Still, since I believe in giving all castles a chance, I coughed up sixteen pounds and strode up the Royal Mile on a bright Saturday morning to see what all the fuss was about.

Well, like I said, I was warned.

The clear sky was probably the most striking thing I saw the entire time.

In all fairness, I’m sure Edinburgh Castle would be amazing for military history buffs. There are several museums within the castle complex that chronicle the past few centuries of military activity in Scotland. Since guns, swords, and other instruments of war are rather my least favourite material objects, though, I wasn’t particularly moved. (I did learn one very fun fact: nineteenth-century soldiers were totally into needlepoint! The men were encouraged to take up handcrafts instead of spending all their free time drinking and gambling–and, for whatever reason, some didMaybe I should try that technique on some college students I know…)

I hoped the interior of the castle itself would save my experience, but the restoration of the royal chambers didn’t impress, and the queue for the Crown Jewels was so claustrophobic and nightmarish that it made a trip to Disneyland in the middle of July with seven kids look comparatively relaxing.

Determined to improve the day’s castle sightings, I impulsively caught a train out of town to visit the stunning Linlithgow Palace. Unlike Edinburgh Castle, Linlithgow is no longer in use and is therefore considered a “ruin”–which basically means that children (and whimsical college bloggers) are free to explore its turrets and secret passages at their leisure. No guards, no queues, and certainly no awkwardly ‘conserved’ unicorn art objects.

It’s also right on the edge of a beautiful loch. Sorry, Edinburgh Castle: the North Sea doesn’t count.

If you’re a traveller just starting to get the hang of solo castle pilgrimages, I highly recommend Linlithgow as a first trip. The palace is about a three-minute walk from the train station, and the town itself is adorable and perfectly safe–nothing Glaswegian here!

Reaching Craigmillar Castle, my most recent conquest, is a bit more challenging. Craigmillar, located in the outskirts of Edinburgh proper, is best accessed via a ten-minuted bus ride to the Royal Infirmary from Old Town. After disembarking, intrepid tourists must sneak behind the University of Edinburgh’s School of Medicine to take a backstreet path up to Craigmillar Park, where the castle is surrounded by rolling fields which apparently contain an intriguingly named ‘Adventure Playground.’

Sadly, all we could see from the tower were teenagers a few miles off having ‘adventures’ in underage substance abuse. I remain hopeful that the ‘playground’ is more than that.

Craigmillar’s halls and chambers were darker, smaller, and utterly more uncanny than Linlithgow. At the latter, I only feared a surprise attack from a small child pretending to slay dragons, while the former featured wild flocks of pigeons with no notion of fear. Still, the view of Arthur’s Seat–and from the one angle from which I had yet to see my favourite volcano, at that–was phenomenal!

Weirdly, I loved Linlithgow and Craigmillar because they were so unlike museums. Each room was labelled and dated with a simple plaque, but other than that, viewers were encouraged to discover the historical past through individual visual analysis and observation. Staring up at the random nooks in the stone walls, I could draw my own conclusions about how this building looked in its prime–which engaged me in a different way than reading or viewing a reconstruction. 

Or that’s my professional justification, anyway. I really think I preferred them because I could put my hair in a vaguely Renaissance braid and dash up the spiral staircase pretending to be a rebellious princess on the run. Hey, everyone needs a break from the liminal weirdness of quasi-adult college life from time to time.

Have a Nice trip!

The Cornell Abroad pre-trip handbook advises parents that their soon-to-be-international children will undoubtedly return “changed for life.” So far, I am happy to report that “change” does not, in this context, have the same sinister meaning it does in Pixar’s Brave–Scot or not, I’ve yet to transform into a bear.

Still, I have been reflecting upon how my studies have changed me, and I’ve come to one very surprising conclusion.

Before I left America, I really liked museums.

And now I like museums even more. 

A week ago, I returned from my spring holiday in France, where I visited four towns and a sovereign city-state, along with (you guessed it!) an impressive number of museums and historic houses. All of these attractions were not only enjoyable for nerds like me, but also effectively used interactive technology to ensure that every visitor learned something. Aren’t museums the greatest, guys? 

My trip began with a sunny demi-week in the French Riviera. Thanks to This Side of Paradise, I expected glitz, glamour, and tourists turning red on stony beaches. What struck me most about Nice, though, was its vibrant outdoor art and architecture. 

And yeah, okay, its beaches too.

We spent our first day at the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain. I always loftily claim that I can’t abide art objects that aren’t at least a couple hundred (or, better yet, a few thousand) years old, but I was impressed by these artists’ use of colour and mixed media. Sometimes Mesopotamian clay fragments get a little dull, you know. 

I also liked how the MAMAC, like Christo, uses exterior sculpture to play with the relationship between art and landscape (even if they didn’t quite wrap the building in fabric).

Twenty-four hours and several euros later, we were on a wild bus ride through the cliffs to Monaco. While most associate the city-state with Monte Carlo, the highlight of our day-trip was the Museum of Oceanography, an aquarium and wunderkammer that’s been sharing oceanic knowledge since 1901.

Like most aquariums, the Museum of Oceanography also contained the requisite loud tourists making Finding Nemo jokes. Look, I love Dory just as much as the rest of you guys, but there are only so many times I can tolerate screams of “SWIM DOWN!” in a crowded dark room filled with fifty people, 250 gallons of water, six sharks, and a thin sheet of glass.

None of these museums, however, can hold a candle to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, our next historic stop. This opulent estate was the pride and joy of my new favourite eccentric heiress, Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. (Yes, I do have a list of favourite eccentric heiresses; Beatrice just barely replaced Doris Duke.)

There’s also a room decorated only with wallpaper, sculptures, paintings, and tapestries of anthropomorphic monkeys wearing Victorian clothing and playing instruments. Oh, Beatrice. (The most inoffensive example is included above.)

Because I apparently never tire of rococo interiors, we spent our last day visiting two more historic estates, Palais Lascaris and Palais Massena. The former consists of a tiny seventeenth century residence featuring an impressive collection of old instruments; the latter was unapologetically Napoleonic and smelled of fresh paint. You win some, you lose some.

Did I forget to mention our quick trip to Moscow? (Actually, that’s just a fantastic Russian church  nestled in the heart of Nice.)

Five long days after we first arrived from Britain, it was time to pack up and fly over the Alps to Paris! Returning after my visit in February was a little surreal. I worried that the magic would be gone, and, indeed, the unfortunate amount of street harassment we endured certainly made my first trip look idyllic in comparison. Yet blue skies, Nutella, and the best museum I have ever encountered (no, not the Louvre!) cancelled out the catcalls. 

Our Parisian museum adventures kicked off at the Opera Garnier, the real-life setting for The Phantom of the Opera (a.k.a. thirteen-year-old Keely’s favourite book/movie/musical ever). I didn’t find the Opera’s self-guided tour particularly well-planned–as there was little information available, guests mainly explored the grounds without context–but that didn’t quell my desire to start singing “Think of Me” from the top of that grand staircase.

And since I won’t be talking about the Arc de Triomphe, Bastille, La Geode, or any of these other non-museums that I also visited, here’s ten thousand words worth of pictures I took instead!

Next up was the Cinematography Museum, which included a wealth of old clips, costumes, props like Norman Bates’ mother’s head from Psycho (who would want that?), and, most significantly for me, an exhibit on the life and works of Georges Méliès, a filmmaker recently reinterpreted in the stunning film Hugo. 

If I could choose only one museum in which to spend the rest of my life, though, I would pick the Musee de la Musique. Hands down. With five levels of displays spanning centuries and cultures of music history, an audio guide to provide a literal soundtrack to the museum experience, and a good number of citterns, my absolute favourite instrument ever, what else could I need?

Sadly, the French immigration officers didn’t approve of my plan to become the live-in Opera Ghost of the Musee de la Musique, so I’m back in Scotland without a cittern in sight. My museum addiction, however, is in no danger. Since I’m now down to one month left in the U.K., I’m going to try to visit at least one museum/historical monument/natural landmark/tea shop each day.

Can I do it? Well, with classes done and only two exams and a paper–and four weeks to complete them-why shouldn’t I?

Entr’acte

This is not a blog post.

It is, however, the promise of many such posts in a little less than a week.

Impossibly, I have finished all my classes and am currently on holiday in the French Riviera. To optimize my experience in the sunny south of France, I’ve left my computer in the UK, and therefore cannot blog until my return. (It’s taking me forever to type even this brief note on my vaguely intelligent… I mean, smartphone.)

It’s also very challenging to pay attention to any electronic device when there’s that silly little Mediterranean Sea distracting you!

In short: when I return, expect ten million more pictures (naturally) as well as an argument for why Cornell’s foreign language requirements are actually really necessary (ha, you didn’t expect that, did you?).

Alternatively, you might see a final post detailing my decision to run away and curate some 19th-century heiress’s eclectic estate. Nothing personal, reality. 

Into the West

Let me begin this post by saving you the trouble of reacting to it.

Another post about your travels, Keely? Don’t you ever do any, you know, schoolwork?”

Oh, reader, I wish. 

Anyway, to respond to your theoretical response: traveling, in fact, teaches me just as much–if not more–about art, history, and culture than any formal class I’ve taken (at Edinburgh, at least). Because my UK classes are somewhat less work-intensive than I’m used to, I have the freedom to fill my time with things like such educational journeys…and thesis research. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve officially on track for the History of Art honours programme, and I couldn’t be happier to continue my study of the portrayal of Pre-Columbian Latin American art in contemporary Western film. Although I jokingly brag that I’m writing my Serious College Thesis on Dreamworks’ animated masterpiece The Road to El Dorado, there’s really more to my work than close analysis of a dorky buddy flick featuring songs by Elton John and Tim Rice. I watched El Dorado roughly fifteen billion times as a child, and its representations of what I perceived as genuine ‘Pre-Columbian’ art stuck with me. All films both reflect and influence life (this generalization doesn’t even exclude Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, which I consider the most offensive and pathetic movie of all time), and therefore the stereotypes they express are fundamental to the understanding of ‘othering’ in our current culture.

Though touristic notions are by no means comparable to appropriation and misrepresentation of indigenous art objects, there’s still something to be said for all the stereotypes surrounding Scotland. I took my second Scottish bus tour last weekend (told you this was a travel post!), and this expedition through the West Highlands also featured destinations frequently exoticised by visitors.

But let’s step away for Scotland for a second and talk about England. If I say ‘England,’ what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Well, hold on, I don’t want anybody to say Dr. Who, so how about ‘British comedy’?

Let’s make it even easier. ‘Classic British comedy’?

Er…’pining for the fjords‘?

If you’ve never heard of Monty Python, I guarantee that you know at least five people who have, two people who’ve seen their sketches, and at least one proud soul who will simply stare blankly at you before screaming ‘NI!’ (That last person probably also tends to under-exaggerate any ‘flesh wounds,’ and therefore has a great potential career at a college health centre.)

Fans of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, however, might not be aware that the film was shot in Scotland, and the famous castle where French knights have charming, polite conversation with their British buddies is Scotland’s Doune Castle: our tour’s first stop.

Did I remember that scene wrong? I guess that also means I made up the part where magical dragons sing innocent songs to censor out all the jokes I didn’t find funny. Fancy that…

The next ‘iconic image of Scotland’, the Highland cow (or ‘hairy coo’)  is near and dear to my heart, and a little more obscure: although you can find hats, plushies, and calendars inspired by these bovines in every tourist shop on the Royal Mile, I think fewer Americans are aware of the glory of this ginger beastie.

Our ‘coo’ was Hamish, the ‘most famous cow in Scotland,’ who has spent his luxuriously long twenty-year lifespan being fed carrots and apple pieces by tourists visiting a rest stop at the so-called gateway to the Highlands. Sure, it was a little gimmicky, but I was cooing over the coo like everybody else.

Plus, with that red hair and those thick bangs, I’m pretty sure the Highland Cow is a great representation of what I’d look like if an evil wizard turned me into an animal.

Finally, we approach my very favourite stereotypical Scottish association of all–fancy castles! And by ‘fancy,’ I mean either super-elegant and rococo or totally ruined and falling apart on a hillside. My life is full of extremes.

Kilchurn Castle (apparently ‘the most photographed castle in Scotland,’ but the tour guides seem to say that about every castle) fits quite neatly into the latter category, although it’s in more of a swampland than on a hill.

And, honestly, this place looks so ridiculously amazing that I almost feel justified in romanticizing Scotland so much.

Fulfilling the other side of this extreme, then, is Inverary Castle, the seat of the Campbell clan in Scotland and home to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. Inveraray was also used as the setting for the Downton Abbey Christmas special, if you’re into that sort of thing. I was more fascinated by how insanely rococo everything was–and simultaneously embarrassed by how much I loved it.

I did feel a little silly acting like such a tourist in someone’s home, but hey, it was a GIANT CASTLE IN MY FAVOURITE COLOUR. Give me a break.

When we disembarked the bus, the driver returned us to the Royal Mile, smackdab in the middle of ten thousand chintzy ‘tartan’ shops blasting bagpipe music 24/7: trading mostly accurate associations for commercialized nonsense. And that’s why I encourage thoughtful travel in addition to academia, friends. Travel not only interrogates internalized stereotypes, but also catalyzes future skepticism of sociological perceptions of other cultures.

In other words, if society asks you for the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow, don’t take their question as it is–challenge stereotypes and ask our gosh-darn world if they meant African or European.

Mind the Cold Snap!

Frantic travel plans may, on occasion, transform the learned voyager into a simple mass of likes and dislikes. After a whirlwind weekend in London, I can confidently assert two such preferences:

I like tea and museums. I dislike the cold.

The train ride from Edinburgh to London passed thrillingly close to the coast, and as I watched the waves, I hoped the wind wouldn’t follow me across the border. Unfortunately, all of Britain is currently dominated by a little March cold snap–conveniently occurring during the one week this Hawai’i girl was most likely to be out and about.

Still, that’s what museums are for! Once I triumphed over the Tube system, it was fairly easy to ride from place to place with minimal exposure to the elements. (And what better remedy for those frigid dashes from underground station to attraction than a cuppa?)

Our London museum tour began with the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington–a visit we only made, I should say, due to a fortunate sighting of a subway advertisement!

‘Excuse me, sir! Do you have the Victoria & Albert Museum…in a can?’

The V&A focuses primarily on art and design, which, for my purposes, means lots of colour. Visitors are first greeted by a massive Dale Chihuly glasswork that dangles over the reception desk like some neon version of the chandelier from Phantom of the Opera. A blacklit discoteque-like gallery, on the other hand, houses elegant jewelry from the past few hundred years. My favourite display, however, had to be the towering rooms holding plaster reproductions of famous monuments and sculptural works–the institution was originally designed as a teaching museum, a fact which warmed my museum educator’s heart.

Our afternoon was supposed to include a visit to Baker Street and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, but the massive queue outside the attraction, combined with the miserable weather, drove us away faster than a sighting of a speckled band. I’m sure Sherlock will forgive me.

We decided to face the London fog the next day, and began our first more traditional (read: touristy) exploration of the city with a go ’round the London Eye. Although I dislike the crowds of the Westminister area, I am addicted to seeing cities from above, and the early hour ensured we bypassed most of the line.

I loved this thing, but I still have no desire to ever get near a typical Ferris wheel. It’s amazing what a thin sheet of glass can do for a paranoid mind.

Can you believe that the Eye is more than a decade old? I was shocked myself until I realized that I last visited London when I was thirteen: six long years ago. And this London Eye trip was probably my final one as a teenager…and as a college student…and…uh, let’s move on, shall we?

My advancing years are nothing compared to the ages of most objects at the British Museum. Like the Louvre, the British Museum was almost dangerously overwhelming in its scope, but we did manage to visit some of its greatest hits during an unfortunately short single afternoon. Although I pushed and shoved to see the Rosetta Stone with every other tourist, I found the collection of lintels featuring Lady Xok–pieces I cited in the paper that will form the basis for my honors thesis–most enthralling. Honorable mention goes to the library-like gallery devoted to the history of the museum, complete with a fake Rosetta Stone perfect for hands-on language learning!

Here’s a fun challenge for British Museum visitors: how many non-blurry photos can you take without breaking the rules and using the flash?

If you thought I couldn’t possibly bear to spend three whole days looking at museums, please reconsider. Today was devoted to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, an architecturally gorgeous museum that somehow manages to hold even more gorgeous masterpieces within it.

Oh yeah, and we saw the Marble Arch & Abbey Road along the way too. Isn’t the Tube wonderful?

Some fans come to London hoping to catch a glimpse of big BBC stars and return home without even a little Benedict Cumberbatch to show for their efforts. Since my celebrity crush is Jan van Eyck, I had slightly more luck–although the Gallery’s rules ensured that I couldn’t take any paparazzi pictures of the Arnolfini Portrait. I don’t know how I avoided bursting into tears when I saw Jan’s little potential self-portrait reflected in the Arnolfini mirror for the first time in person: I certainly won’t show such restraint if I ever see the Ghent altarpiece!

My brush with van Eyck makes me vaguely excited to return to Edinburgh & my Netherlandish art class tomorrow: but only vaguely. Once again, although I love Scotland, I’ve found myself wishing I were studying abroad in England instead. Is it simply a greener-grass situation? Perhaps I need to spend a comparable amount of time in England. For experimental purposes only. Obviously.

Spring break, sponsored by February

One step closer to winning Cliche Travel Photographs Bingo!

For normal Cornellians, spring break’s a long way off. In Edinburgh, however, things work a little differently. The middle of February features a period known as “Innovative Learning Week,” during which many students decide to forgo the university’s sponsored events in favor of innovative learning…elsewhere.

I finished my last class on Friday without fully realizing that I was about to spend a full five days in Paris. Although I was the “French Excellence” award recipient two years running at Punahou (would’ve been three if it weren’t for that insipid rule against getting awards in consecutive years), I kind of let things slide after one 2000-level class at Cornell. It’s not that I don’t love le français, but when you go to a school where Old Norse is offered, Romance languages just seem so mainstream.

Before I could jetset to lands unknown, I went off on a brief trip to Stirling Castle, a medieval fortress & general centre of amazing architecture about an hour’s drive from Edinburgh. Once again, the outing was sponsored by Edinburgh’s International Student Centre: a phenomenal resource, considering that Cornell’s own UK centre sponsors events that are almost always in London and therefore inaccessible to me.

Cornellians seeking hills will be right at home in Scotland. (Maybe a little too much so.)
Stirling’s queen apparently liked unicorns just as much as I do! (Except she saw them as a Christ motif and I see them as…well, unicorns.)

Two days after this misty exploration, I swapped highland fog for the sunny skies and vague metropolitan haze of Paris! I am, in fact, typing this post from the comfort of our hotel conveniently located across from Tuileries and the Louvre. There’s really no eloquent way to describe how stunning this city is–which means a lot, coming from a girl who hates cities with a passion–so I think I’ll stick to the trusty method of photographic storytelling.

I didn’t realize such glorious shades of blue existed away from the Pacific Ocean.

After arriving at the hotel (a driver picked us up at the airport–how luxurious!),we dropped off our bags and went on a small picnic in the Tuileries Gardens. The weather was brilliant, the park was filled with giggling French elementary schoolers, and the pigeons and seagulls were relatively well-behaved: what more could a tourist ask for?

And instead of beach glass and sand, they have locks on bridges.

After a healthy helping of casual walks through the city on our first day, we decided to continue our adventures the next morning at the Eiffel Tower. Jaded medievalist as I am, I didn’t think this hulking industrial mass could possibly awaken any feelings in me.

Well, they do say college is a time for experimentation.

Much taller than the Cornell clock tower, I can tell you that right now.

We ambitiously rode all the way to the top, and as I pushed my way through the crowds of hopefully-not-pickpockets to make my way to the window, I was overwhelmed with a sense of impressive insignificance, as though I were Dave Bowman staring into the face of a giant celestial fetus.

Even if you aren’t fluent in the language of 2001: A Space Odyssey (my native tongue), I’m sure you can figure that out. Needless to say, it was definitely worth the Disneyland-esque lines and the 12-euro entrance fee.

The tower adventure was followed by a fantastic afternoon at the Musée du quai Branly. The only Paris museums I knew were Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, and Centre Pompidou, so I was delightfully surprised to find an entire world-class museum of indigenous Oceanic, African, Asian, and American art coincidentally on the way back to our hotel.

Honestly, such random discoveries have been the best part of our trip so far. Again, I’ve never found a city “beautiful” before (sorry Edinburgh, not even you) but Paris has changed my mind forever.

Some folks find Ryan Gosling dreamy; I prefer columns & gold plating.

That said, if any musées happen to be looking for an enthusiastic education staff member, say the word and I’ll start improving my French even more…