Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mysteries: Historical and Spiritual

“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” - Lillian Smith

As we came over the hill, we saw the familiar outline of Stonehenge rise up in a grassy field. Our guide, Hugh, told us that the theories about Stonehenge have changed greatly in the past few years. The archeologists have been allowed to do excavations recently, and have found skeletal remains buried which were previously unknown. We looked at those monoliths whose vertical stones weigh around 25 tons and wonder how ancient men were able to haul those rocks to that place and set them upright … and then raise the lintel stones, which were almost as heavy. Around the site are set “bluestones” that have come from Wales. What was the purpose of Stonehenge and how was it constructed? It is a mystery that has puzzled mankind for centuries

After leaving Stonehenge, we made our way to the town of Salisbury where we toured the famous Salisbury Cathedral. This building is considered to be the best example of a medieval cathedral in the United Kingdom, and its spire, at 404 feet, is the tallest in Northern Europe. Unlike Westminster, visitors are allowed to take photos throughout the cathedral except in one room. In that room lies an original copy of the Magna Carta – the document which is the basis of constitutional rule and gave Englishmen certain rites and established certain legal procedures. The script was so tiny and so perfect, you would almost think it was computer generated. Walking around the cathedral gave you a sense of quiet peace … that there are things not of this world that we cannot know, but just accept as part of the mystery of life and of the soul. Just listen to the peal of the bells, and realize that men throughout the centuries have been hearing the same chime.

Monday, June 29, 2009

June 29 -- Ancient History and Modern Marvels

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” - Jawaharial Nehru

One of the marvels of London is the juxtaposition of old with new throughout the city. Today we visited two sites that incorporated both. Our first stop was Westminster Abbey, where every monarch of England has been crowned since 1066 and where lay the bodies of many venerable men including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and William Blake.
There is a special chapel where lay the bodies of Queen Elizabeth I and her older half-sister, Mary, who had Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower of London for several years. The Abbey is still a working church, with Sunday services and evensong. It started off as a retreat for monks and has turned into the absolutely stunning marvel of architecture it is today. It has recently undergone some renovations and cleaning, with more plans being made. Londoners are loathe to have anything about their traditions changed, but once they saw the blackened walls changed to gleaming white, they were glad it was done.
The Abbey even survived the German bombing, although it did sustain some damage.

Walking into the Nave of the Abbey truly caused shivers to run up my spine. I've been in St. Patrick's in New York City, and as beautiful as it was, it is nothing compared to the Abbey.
Just across from the Abbey is Big Ben, whose chimes we heard many times while we toured the area. It is attached to the Parliament building. Parliament itself is an awe-inspiring building. We walked down to the "Sovereign Gate" where I saw an unusual site -- a police officer with a gun. Not just a gun ... a machine gun. A few minutes later, a group of elementary school children came by in their caps and hats. What a contrast that was.
After our tour of the Abbey, we strolled across the Thames to ride on the London Eye -- a really, really, really big ferris wheel that gives you a bird's eye view of all of London. What a sight to see the modern buildings plunked down next to the churches and government buildings that are so full of history. London is a city of contrasts, and that is a lot of its beauty.
The group entrance is behind the building through a small archway. Many walls in this area are covered with ivy.

From the London Eye, which is just across the Thames from Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben, you can get a wonderful view of London and the River Thames.

One photo here is of a group of school children who got on just before we did and their excitement of looking at Big Ben from above, rather than below.

The London Eye makes for an eye-catching shot of the evening sky.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009: Addendum "London Calling"

Just a quick note about another activity I did Sunday evening with Dr. Everhart and our youngest member of the group, Dillan. We took the Tube to Hyde Park and caught both the Dave Matthews Band and Bruce Springsteen in concert. Well, sort of. We were not able to get inside the high green walls that surrounded the stage area, but we were just outside the walls and could hear the music perfectly. I recognized two of DMB's songs, "Don't Drink the Water' and "Ants Marching." The Boss started with "London Calling" but most of his I did not recognize.

Surprisingly, the crowd outside the gate was large, but very sedate. I can't imagine a US crowd being so well behaved.

I will post a small movie with sound bites later, when I have time to put it together. Keep checking back.

Sunday, June 28, 2009: London by Bus

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” - Henry Miller
Sunday, the study center had arranged for all the students at the center (65 of us) to take a quick tour of London via "coach" also known as a tour bus. Our guide was, Hugh, a Blue Badge guide, who is a fount of knowledge about London and Great Britain.
Our first stop was at St. Paul's Cathedral, where many of us began looking for the bird lady, singing "Tuppence a Bag." But, alas, it was not to be. It was difficult to get a good picture of St. Paul because there wasn't enough room to back up to get a full shot. St. Paul's is surrounded by office buildings and busy streets.
Our next stop was on the Riverwalk alongside the River Thames. We walked to the quay which used to be the busiest port in England, where a battleship is now available for touring. We got a wonderful view of the Tower Bridge (which we crossed) as well as the Tower of London.
All along the way, Hugh told us of the history of London and pointed out places such as where the Great London Fire started. We ended the meat of the tour at Buckingham Palace, where we were just in time to see the pageantry of the changing of the guard.
The weather has been cooperative, and in fact, the British term it a "heat wave." Being from Florida, however, we scoff at their declarations, and since they are so polite, they agree that perhaps we do have it somewhat worse than they do.
One of the most fun moments of the day is when everyone breaks out his or her "mascot" (I use two -- my puppy dog Marvin as well as my "Flat Stanley" of my eight grandchildren. At first some were reluctant, but we are all into it now, and the photos are very clever. If you are on Facebook, check out the FSU Multimedia Summer 2009 site, click on "Notes" and find the list of all the blogs. Many feature their mascots in front of world famous sites.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday evening ...

Just a quick addendum to Saturday

Early evening the entire FSU multimedia class was invited to a pub by Dr. Everhart and her husband, Harry. In a light rain, we walked about 6 blocks to the Marlborough Arms and eventually were able to seat our entire group of 20 at two tables.
My choice of drink was shandy, a mixture of lager and Seven-Up (called "lemonade" in the UK). Sounds terrible, but it's actually quite refreshing. I talked one of my "mates" into trying it and she liked it also.
Another popular drink is called Pimms, which is made from cucumbers. I had a sip of my friend's drink, and found it quite tasty also.
For dinner, I had a hot cheese plate, which featured brie cheese, an onion comfit, and some toasted bread. It was very delicious. The confit was sweet with a sharp tang of marinated onion. I ran out of bread before I ran out of cheese, but I just spooned it out like soup. You see, here in the UK, they charge for extra bread ... and even cola refills. This is something we from the States must get used to.
After the meal, we had a nice walk back to the flat, the rain having departed and a cool breeze accompanying us.

Saturday June 27, 2009 : The Original Tower of Terror

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” - Henry Miller
Have you ever gone someplace and found out it was very different from what you expected? That's how I felt when I first entered the compound known as the Tower of London. The tower is not just one tower, but a series of towers, castles, and fortresses within the confines of the outer wall.
Most people would probably identify with the largest tower centered in the complex, known as The White Tower. On the day of my visit, it housed an exhibition called "Dressed to Kill" which featured the armour of Henry the VIII, as well as weapons, protective armour for horses, and various armours of other monarchs.
The highlight of this tour, as most people see it, is the visit to see the crown jewels. Within one of the center towers, the jewels are locked behind a huge vault, but this vault is opened to the public and you can move through most of it on foot. At one point (when you are looking at the crowns), you are put on a conveyor belt to view them. Otherwise, you would probably run into gridlock. The jewels are magnificent. It's difficult to realize that they are actual rubies, diamonds, emeralds and sapphires.
For a regular admission price, one of the warders will take you on a guided tour, or you can walk around on your own. Most displays have some explanation, or you can pick up a guide book in one of the several gift shops on site. Although the complex itself was not where the actual executions took place (that was in a square outside of the tower walls) be aware -- the Tower is said to be haunted with the unhappy souls of the victims of the monarchs' wrath.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009 Getting Around Town

“Not all those who wander are lost.” - J. R. R. Tolkien

London is a big metropolitan area made up of 32 buroughs and basically divided into two cities -- Westminister and London town. Getting around town is a headache for those who drive their own automobiles. In fact, London has a Congestion Vehicle Zone where non-exempt drivers must pay 8 British pounds anytime they drive private vehicles into this zone between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. So if you want to travel throughout London, I suggest one of these conveniences.
The first is the subway, also known as The Tube. You are charged a varying fee, depending on how far you are traveling. Students (like me) can purchase what is known as an Oyster Card, which gives you a deep discount on fees. These are used by just touching the card to a sensor on the subway gate as you enter and leave.

You can also try a black taxi. The Black Taxi is the only cab company authorized to pick up its passengers on the street. Any cab who is soliciting business is considered "illegal." However, if you CALL a cab ahead of time, you can be picked up by a private cab company. The cabs do not have trunks -- the luggage is piled in the car with you.

You can also take a double-decker bus which is part of the city transportation system. You can use the Oyster Card on the city buses, too.

A lot of Londoners bike through the town. Some places have dedicated bike lanes, but most of the time they are taking their lives in their hands. But as you can see, a lot of people ride the trains in, pick up their bike for city business, then ride the train back to where they live.

But what is probably the ideal way to see London is to get out and walk. Just remember, in the UK, the pedestrian DOES NOT have the right of way, except in what is known as a "zebra" lane (pronounced zebbra)-- specially marked white striped areas where vehicles must stop to allow pedestrians across.

Whatever way you choose, you will be delighted at the variety of sights and sounds you will experience here in London.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” - Mark Twain

Meet my flatmates.
Somehow FSU managed to put all of us "experienced" learners into the same flat, #15, in the Courtyard. We immediately bonded with each other, sharing our Metamucil, Geritol, and ice packs with each other. Just kidding! Three of us already knew each other -- Connie, Sheila and me are all part of the 2 1/2 year graduate program called Project LEAD. We have met face to face four other times and of course know each other from our online courses.
Two others have been in previous courses with us -- Laurie and Carolyn. Kat just joined us this past month for the two classes we had pre-session.
Like it or not, the young students are referring to us as "The Golden Girls," so now we're arguing which of us is which Golden Girl. We actually prefer to refer to ourselves as the brides of Henry VIII. Carolyn is Catherine of Aragon; Sheila is Anne Boleyn; Connie is Jane Seymour; Laurie is Jane of Cleves; I am Katherine Howard; and Kat is Catherine Parr (the only survivor). You know the nursery rhyme, don't you? "Divorced, beheaded, died ... divorced, beheaded, survived."
Just to put a little personality with the names -- Kat is an extrovert from Kentucky. She's already a librarian and loves to travel. She used to work as a videographer and is obsessive about looking up information about our trips IN BOOKS! (Imagine!) Laurie is from Coral Gables and is the mother hen. She is the calming influence, but look out! If she laughs, she laughs wholeheartedly so that you can't help but laugh, too. Connie is our free spirit. She is a self-proclaimed "caffeine addict" and goes nonstop from the time her feet hit the floor til she drops into bed at night. Carolyn is the quiet one with that wry sense of humor. She is obviously well-read -- and she's NOT a librarian. That's her goal, but right now she works as a police detective's secretary in Ft. Lauderdale. Finally, there's Sheila, my traveling buddy from St. Pete. She is obsessive about taking pictures, and notices all the little details. She loves her computer and is rarely seen anywhere in the flat without the glow of the monitor on her face. We tease her because she rarely comes back from a day out without a minimum of 500 photos on her camera.
They have a 9 p.m. "quiet time" instituted here. We have to shut our window because our laughter will keep everyone up.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June 24 -- Stratford Upon Avon

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” - Mohammed

"Going to Bill's house?" the station conductor asked us as we checked with him about return times to London.

"Yes," we answered, beaming.

"He's not there, you know," he quipped.

Today I made a trip every English teacher dreams of taking ... time travel to the birthplace of William Shakespeare. A place lost in the seventeenth century, where timbers and mortar make up the essence of a place that is soundly seared into the English language lover's ear ... a place where immortal characters awaited their entrance upon the consciousness of all Western culture ...

where instead of a Dollar Tree, there is Poundland ... and you can order ice cream at the "As You Like It" ice cream shop, whose speciality is "William's Shakes." Where there's a line in front of the Burger King, and diet Cokes are sold without ice. Where for a mere 7 pounds 95 pence, you too can be taken back to Will's day via film and recorded voice. Where erasers are inscripted with "Out, damn spot," and you can have William's signature scrawled across your chest in a cotton polyester blend t-shirt.

Okay, it wasn't all that bad, truthfully. We decided to forego the "Shakespeare Experience" and instead walked over two miles to visit the more genteel Anne Hathaway's Cottage. What a delight! I wish I could record the scents and aromas of the garden! Not just flowers (roses, hollyhocks, daisies, honeysuckle, etc.) but the spices (rosemary, parsley) and the rich smell of well tended loam. I was almost loathe to go inside, but inside I went and found a very well preserved home with lovely English guides who left you alone to wander, but were full of little tidbits of information that made life in the 16th and 17th century come alive, if only for a moment.

And the highlight of the day? Two lovely ladies (a mother and daughter) from New Forest overheard us discussing whether to walk back to town or order a cab graciously offered to give us a lift back in town. Nor did they just drop us off on the main road -- they drove us directly to the train station. With swollen feet and grateful hearts, we bid good-bye to them and to Stratford on Avon, catching the Chiltern train for the two and-a-half hour trip back to London.

Greeted by the Bard himself.

William's birthplace

The Avon Canal.

Anne Hathaway's cottage (Shakespeare's wife)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 23 -- Arrival in London

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” - Clifton Fadiman

As my plane touched down at Gatwick (pronounced Ga-twick for you Yanks) airport, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “We’ve arrived at the motherland.”

So much of our history and culture is intertwined with that of Great Britain that you do tend to feel at “home” when you arrive. As I looked at the landscape rushing past the airplane window, I felt I could be touching down in North Carolina or Virginia. But once I started actually interacting with the culture, I began to notice the differences in British English and American English, and it’s not just the accent.

It began with the flight attendant helping me take my baggage out of the overhead “lockers” (not bins). As I thanked him, he replied, “No worries.” I was told to get in the “queue” for those who did not have UK or EU passports. I was then directed to the “lift” that would take me to the train station. As I waited for the Gatwick Express, I was told to “mind the gap.” For dinner, I had a “pasty” (not pastry). As I walked back from dinner, I saw a sign that directed people that the “diversion” (detour) was at an end.

So as comfortable as I feel here, I am still reminded in little ways that I am “not in Kansas anymore.”

Hello, London! June 23

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” - Clifton Fadiman

As we got our first glimpse of the verdant landscape of England, I couldn't help but pipe up and say, "It's the motherland!" The United States' history is so intrinsically tied to that of England, and we hear and know so much about her that in a way, it does somewhat feel like "home."

One of the things I took most delight in was the change in language. After "queuing" up in the passport line, I took the "lift" down to baggage "reclaim". As I stood waiting for the Gatwick Express (pronounced Ga-twick, not Gat-wick), I was told to "mind the gap." I ordered "Pepsi raw" at the pub. My sandwich's bread slices were called something so foreign to me, that I can't remember it.

Tomorrow starts the true Yankee invasion.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I believe I can fly ...

“There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.” - Charles Dudley Warner

Well, here I sit, waiting for British Airways to tell us to board our flight to London. I can't believe this day is here. I've been planning this since last October.

The day went by so quickly, even though I was up at 5:30 a.m. unable to sleep. I know I'll be dead on my feet when we arrive at Gatwick, 3:00 a.m. our time, 8:00 a.m. their time.

Sheila was waiting for us at 2:30, crying that she needed 8 more hours! However, we took off and had a nice "linner" at the Cheesecake Factory in Tampa. That may have to do for awhile.

Before we left, we had a couple photos taken. The second is Sheila and me in front of the tram to take us to our gate; the first is my husband and I just before we said goodbye.

Next stop -- London!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Teaching beyond school walls.

"Without travel "I would have wound up a little ignorant white Southern female, which was not my idea of a good life." -- Lauren Hutton

Isn't technology wonderful when it works? This morning I hooked up a new web cam to my husband's Mac and showed him how to use it so that we could use Skype video while I was away. I had purchased a Logitech camera, but to my dismay found it only worked on Windows machines (I looked everywhere on the box except the bottom ... which is where the specs were listed). Fortunately, my son was able to use it as his web cam was too old for his computer.

I had to fight a horde of iPhone buyers to get into the Apple Store at the International Mall in Tampa. There were exactly two types of web cams available. There was a $30 difference in price, so I asked one of the Apple salesmen what the difference was. He took a moment to look up from his iPhone to say, "Really, none. They'll both work with Macs." Well, thanks a lot. I would think so since they were in an Apple Store!

After reading over the descriptions, I went with the Eyeball by Blue. The main reason was that there was no software to install with it. Macs would read it automatically. Guess what? They were right. I plugged it in, restarted my computer, hit Skype and voila! A live picture of me.

I took my husband through a brief tutorial that included 1) how to open Skype, 2) how to choose video, 3) how to answer a call, 4) how to make a call, 5) how to make it full screen, and 6) how to hang up! Boy, I'm good!

We also figured out how to pack the web cam in its handy-dandy carrying case in case he decides to take off for parts unknown (actually Roanoke, Va) while I'm gone.

Just a little over 33 hours and I'm headed for "The Scepter'd Isle."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Song of the Open Road - Walt Whitman

Well, look who is sneaking into my luggage!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Getting ready to leave ...

It has been a challenge to pack four weeks' worth of clothing and personal effects into a medium suitcase. I'm still wondering whether to pack my stuffed dog as a mascot for my photos or to make a "Flat Stanley" to include.

Several also suggested packing a few "home" food items. As you can see, I've been living in the South too long!

I also indulged myself in my first EVER manicure and pedicure!

Just 72 more hours and we're on our way.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Meet my travel avatar

Get a Voki now!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Lifelong Dream Come True!

Just a few more days and I will be winging my way to London, England to start my "Grand Tour" of Europe. I will be joining a group of students through the International Programs at Florida State University. We are (almost) all graduate students in the College of Information and will be taking a course in multimedia. This is my final course in my Master's program, and what a way to finish up!

Our studies will take us to both London and Paris (and their environs). Then I will be traveling to the Swiss Alps for a few days and then to Venice, Italy. My traveling companion, Sheila, is another graduate student who has been a reading teacher in my school district and with whom I've developed a friendship over the past two and a half years. Neither of us has ever traveled to Europe, so this will be a big adventure.

One of our course requirements is to blog daily about our trip, so check here on a regular basis.

Wish me "bon voyage" on June 22nd.