Posts tagged travel
I may not like pubs, ‘football’, or the cold, but there is one UK stereotype to which I am helplessly addicted: castles. Though 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.
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 did. Maybe 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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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?).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I visited the Highlands in late January, I was astounded by how much the rolling hills reminded me of the Big Island. While land-locked Ithaca couldn’t be more different from Hawai’i, Scotland has just enough natural, coastal beauty–and even a(n extinct) volcano!–to keep me from missing my birthplace too much.
I only have one more week of classes left, so I’m particularly keen to discover some inexpensive, nearby travel destinations with which to occupy myself during the next month before exams begin. A visit to North Berwick (a charming seaside village that has more in common with Waikiki than Western Europe) is my new idea of a perfect day out!
North Berwick is home to the Scottish Seabird Centre, a thirteen-year-old conservation institution dedicated to sharing the lives of Scotland’s many puffins, gannets, and kittiwakes with birdwatchers of all ages. The Centre is a bit small for its admission price (especially for skint students–I think it would be a brilliant time for children!), but at least the money funds an excellent cause, right?
The town is also the birthplace of conservationist John Muir, and is conveniently located near Tantallon Castle: needless to say, I will undoubtedly be back! To any prospective Edinburgh study abroad student reading this blog post in the near or distant future, here’s a travel tip–you can catch the hourly train that runs from Edinburgh Waverley to North Berwick if you fancy a little adventure for little more than a tenner.
If you’d prefer to stick closer to home, the Royal Botanical Garden offers a voyage through almost every ecosystem imaginable: all accessible via a quick bus ride from the City Centre. Since I didn’t grow up in a world with snow, I’ve been noticing over the past few years that winter weather and the lack of green leaves really does make me feel incredibly depressed at times, and I think the RBG’s massive maze of interconnected, heated greenhouses is a good cure for anyone with the seasonal blues.
Although those greenhouses would be a treat even in the coldest of weather, springtime makes the exterior gardens particularly wonderful.
Since I’m the daughter of a botanist, I’m expected to have at least a working knowledge of native Hawaiian plants, and seeing some familiar hapu’u (tree ferns) and pukiawe (a…plant with berries? I don’t know the Mainland equivalent!) made me feel much more at home. Any fantastic plant collection would not be complete without a titan arum–but unlike Cornell’s corpse plant, which bloomed last spring, the RBG’s specimen remained flowerless. Honestly, I think seeing one blooming corpse plant during my lifetime is more than enough anyway.
Somehow in the midst of all these getaways, I’ve managed to officially register to write an honors thesis for my art history major next year! Time to start reading up on film theory and Latin American art…if I can manage to stay inside long enough to do research…
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Life is punctuated with brief moments of significant realization. Sometimes these epiphanic moments–such as my discovery that Chris and Martin Kratt (of Kratt’s Creatures and later the vastly inferior Zooboomafoo and also arguably the first men I ever loved) are currently in their forties whilst still “playing” twenty-year-old versions of themselves on a new animated show–are relatively innocuous. More often, though, such realizations leave you feeling like you just phoned home to your alien planet only to discover that your extraterrestrial family lost the only set of keys to their spaceship and therefore have no way of beaming you back up ever again.
Forgive my pseudo-intellectual generalizations; I’m still recovering from a week of nonstop travel, itself in fact punctuated with brief moments of significant realization.
Are you starting to guess at the theme of this post? If you are similarly travel-addled, fear not: here are some convenient bolded headings to help you find your way. Vas-y!
Realization I: Opulence still exists, and it’s not always as pretty as Rococo architecture.
Regardless of how hard Cornell tries to paint itself as a completely diverse institution, the fact remains the majority of Cornellians come from very privileged families. Of course, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable encountering kids whose parents give them Caribbean vacations as surprise gifts for spring break, I’m still incredibly privileged myself–after all, I’m going to college and am currently gallivanting across Europe & Britain in the name of further education.
Still, I’m a simple country girl from a middle-class family who receives financial aid at Cornell, and balances a full courseload with several paying jobs. More importantly (for the sake of this post), I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $30 on an article of clothing.
In Paris, my friends and I spent an afternoon perusing the high-end stores on Rue Saint-Honoré, which swiftly mutated into my least favorite part of our trip. Even if I were an heiress, I would never consider dishing out €1000 on a bucket hat from Hermés that looks identical to cheap Target apparel. I mean, think of how much of my student loans I could pay off today for the cost of a pair of those hats: not to mention a full outfit! Gosh, fashion.
Realization II: Big-deal things aren’t always that big of a deal. (Except for the Eiffel Tower, that is.)
I didn’t really expect the Mona Lisa to have some profound effect on me, so the painting itself wasn’t that disappointing. On the other hand, it did irk me to see the tourists rabidly crowded around this dorky little portrait like it was the greatest piece of art ever designed.
Because the Louvre has many better contenders for that title.
Seeing Renaissance masterpieces in their full glory instead of on a Powerpoint slide in Goldwin Smith was thrilling beyond belief. The proud recipient of the Keely Paris Academy Award for “Best Louvre Moment,” however, goes to the Marie de’ Medici cycle.
These enormous Rubens pieces glorify scenes from the life of Marie de’ Medici, wife of Henry IV. When we studied them in class, I had no understanding of their incredible scale, and finding a gallery devoted to them felt like coming home to a room full of old friends. Except with more voluptuous nude figures and classical references, of course.
Similarly, I found the immortal cathedral of Notre Dame particularly uninteresting. Perhaps this is because my companions and I prefaced our Notre Dame visit with a stop at Sainte Chappelle, which wins the Keely Paris Academy Award for “Best Place,” “Best Stained Glass,” and “Best Depiction of the Rose of the Apocalypse.” (It was also nominated for “Best Lighting,” but lost out to the city of Paris as a whole. You can’t win ‘em all.)
Sainte-Chapelle is a private chapel from the late 1200s (a.k.a. my absolute favorite century) tucked away near the Palais de la Cité: and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might miss it completely. I don’t know how much admission costs since I was able to get in using my 4-day Parisian museum pass, but I’m pretty sure it would have to cost as much as the Hermés bucket hat to keep me from going back there when I return to Paris in April.
Realization III: Vegetarianism is easier in the land of haggis & whisky than in Paris.
Before I came to Scotland, I expected to be disappointed by the food offerings: after all, I am from Ithaca, capital city of seitan. Surprisingly, the UK is ten thousand times more vegetarian-friendly than “the states.” Back in America, my family has to carefully check all cheese and yoghurt for rennet or gelatin, and, in most cases, companies do whatever they can to hide their use of animal-based preservatives. In Scotland, there’s a standardized “Suitable for vegetarians” logo on everything. And since most yoghurts are magically made with pectin here, I have a much better variety of dairy products from which to choose.
Traditional French cuisine is somewhat less adaptable to the vegetarian palette. When I eventually grew sick of cheese (something I previously thought impossible), my only options were basic salads or dessert for lunch.
This realization actually segues quite excellently into my last epiphany, namely….
Realization 4: I’m rather glad to be back in Scotland.
Yesterday, I was the unfortunate victim of some post-adventure blues. Edinburgh saw a mini-snowstorm in the morning, and as I watched the flakes from my window, I was terribly homesick for the perfectly blue Parisian skies. Still, the snow inexplicably melted away by the afternoon, and I was able to stroll about Holyrood Park once again. Problem solved.
Paris is a gorgeous place and I do miss it, but I enjoy being able to cook my own (non-cheese-based) food once more and perform solo zumba routines in my flat. And, in the meantime, I can plan all the other things I want to see when my lovely friend Natalie and I reunite in France over spring break! Tout va bien.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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…
If spending hours shut up in a dorm room ever makes me feel stir-crazy back at Cornell, I typically grab my notebook or something to read and head down to Beebe Lake to remind myself that nature is actually a far better companion than the Internet. When I lived in Ithaca last summer for my internship, I became particularly fond of eating a lakeside lunch or just meandering along through shadier forested areas on sunny weekends. There’s really no better place (except, perhaps, a library) to fully appreciate the joys of being an introvert than in some variety of wilderness!
Our surprise snowstorm on Wednesday had me feeling a little sad (not to mention SAD), so I when I woke to clear blue skies today, I told myself that I would take full advantage of the lovely weather (though perhaps not as much as the native Edinburghers–who were wearing shorts and t-shirts–did). Even if it meant I had to climb a mountain.
Or, I should say, especially if I had to climb a mountain.
Remember my post about Arthur’s Seat a few weeks ago? In January, I compared the crags of Holyrood Park with snowy Ered Nimrais, and now they’re greener than the Shire. Can you believe that?
Holyrood Park is a quick ten minutes’ walk from my flat, and although I was a little apprehensive about going off to the hills on my own, I felt better when I noticed the stream of families, school-children, and charming elderly couples frolicking up the tamer trails on the Salisbury Crags.
Instead of looping around through the park to tackle Arthur’s Seat as I did last month, I decided to take the road that went “ever, ever on” to a different wee peak. King Arthur’s hallowed (and possibly mythical) remains might not lie under this little crag, but it sure looked amazing anyway.
Places like Glencoe and Glastonbury Tor were phenomenally gorgeous and significant and otherwise deserving of ridiculous adverbs and adjectives, but I almost couldn’t process that they were real: and, more importantly, that I was really there.
Holyrood Park, on the other hand, felt absolutely and authentically alive, and I look forward to getting to know it better. Perhaps I can ask my Gàidhlig teacher to teach me how to say “This place is beautiful”–maybe Scots Gaelic’s flowing, tonal sounds can address a landscape when English words fail.
On the subject of Gàidhlig: Mar sin Leibh (‘goodbye,’ or, technically, ‘like this you go’), everyone! Tomorrow’s episode of Castles with Keely will feature a guest appearance by Stirling Castle & the Wallace Monument (which freakily resembles the tower of Orthanc at Isengard (THE TOLKIEN REFERENCES WILL NEVER END), and then I’m off to Paris on Monday. Oh yes, you heard that correctly.
In my youth, juvenile fantasy novels promised I would receive my magic powers/sarcastic dragon companion/call to fulfill ancient prophesy upon reaching adolescence. When my twelfth birthday brought nothing but bad skin, though, I turned to the library and the Internet to prove that magic did exist.
And that’s when I discovered Glastonbury Tor.
I had to visit England during my semester abroad, and the fact that my lovely high school friend is studying at Exeter for the year guaranteed I’d be making my way down South at least once.
Because flying from Edinburgh to Exeter is bizarrely challenging, I opted for a train journey instead. There’s something delightful about the fluidity of rail travel: each stop has the potential to bring a new crop of coach-mates, while the train’s earthbound nature offers scenery a little more fascinating than clouds and empty ocean.
After a much-needed night of rest, we took another train from Exeter to Taunton, where we caught a (ridiculously late) bus to carry us to Glastonbury. As the bus bumped its way down rocky backroads, I felt victoriously unashamed of romanticizing the English countryside for so many years. It looked so beautiful that I almost expected to see one of Beatrix Potter’s anthropomorphized kittens taking a wee stroll before tea-time.
Once we reached Glastonbury proper (a.k.a. the world’s best town for metaphysical fairy-chasers like yours truly), we were officially on the pilgrims’ path towards the Tor!
“Doesn’t Torr have to do with millimeters of mercury?”
Looks like someone paid attention in AP Chem! Tor-with-one-R is a word of either Anglo-Saxon or Celtic origin meaning “hill” or “mountain.” Young Keely was attracted to Glastonbury Tor because of its connections to both Celtic folklore and Arthurian legend: after all, the tor is supposedly the location of the Isle of Avalon, the mystical sanctuary to which the Lady of the Lake bore Arthur after his final battle. As a result, Glastonbury has been considered a place of great spiritual significance to believers of all denominations for thousands of years.
At the top, the wind threatened to steal my scarf, a pair of adorable children in matching red parkas tussled in the grass, and a modern-day troubadour with a guitar performed within the safety of the tower.
Pilgrims of the canine persuasion are equally welcome atop the tor, as long as they don’t mess with the mountain’s sheep population. We crossed paths with a tiny pug clearly oblivious to this rule–after successfully chasing a sheep halfway across a small plateau, the pug proceeded to climb the tor’s stairs with gusto, repeatedly looking backwards to mock its much slower owners.
Edinburgh is exciting, certainly, but I am a country girl at heart, and I am dangerously tempted to do whatever it takes to move back to Glastonbury at some point in my life. In fact, it might be genuinely hard for me to return to windswept, freezing Scotland up North after this little springtime retreat. At least I have my first Gaelic lesson to look forward to!