A Grand Tour of Cambridge

7:42 am

Walking out of the door and into the Pembroke yard, I feel the warmth of the sun pouring down on me and I admire the old brick buildings, perfectly manicured lawns, the beautiful gardens, and the intricate stained glass adorning the chapel and the library.

7:59 am

I see a spire pointing towards the sky, cold grey stone, intricate carvings, warm brown pews, offerings of glowing candles, statues of our Mother, multi-colored stained glass, and the crucifix as a reminder of His sacrifice; I hear hopeful prayers and songs of praise: this is home.

9:23 am

I can hear her before I can see her—a voice singing a song that I know but cannot remember–a talented musician serenading the street full of people that are too busy to slow down, pause, and listen; she is dreaming and hoping for more.

12:01 pm

Chairs are all facing in one direction, flags from all over the world are hanging from the ceiling, and the din of conversation is punctuated intermittently by cheers for the athletes on the television; this is my London 2012.

 1:09 pm

What I could buy at the market: Olives, bread, clothes, coffee beans, loose-leaf tea, cut flowers, jewellery, t-shirts, scarves, Thai food, bikes, books, dried fruit, nuts, candy, frozen yogurt, belts, hair accessories, bags, key chains, souvenirs, produce, watches, records, smoothies, sausage, artwork, fish, chimney cakes, tarot cards, fortune telling, cheese, pies, military antiques, dresses, DVDs, and hats.

1:58 pm

It can be crowded or deserted, but the awe-inspiring view never changes; I stop a moment and look up and see the centuries-old Gothic spires of the college and its chapel to be reminded of the grandeur of this place; will it ever grow old?

2:16 pm

Rain pours down, but I am safely inside, looking out from a seat in the library that I now call my own, thinking that I would only see grass this green and sprays of flowers this alive during a Minnesota May; I am in a library (and a city) that has more history than I can fathom.

5:09 pm

So far, I have just been a spectator, watching the attempts of students and tourists alike to struggle and then succeed to navigate the river in a foreign vehicle; one day I will try, but for now, the bridge suits me just fine.

6:41 pm

Now, outside the city, suddenly surrounded by grass that I can walk on and cows that do not know what time it is, I am at peace; this is a place to return to, a place to sit and soak in the sun, air, and land; this is a place of calm.

 9:00 pm

As the bell tolls nine times and the books stare enticingly out at me from their homes on the shelves, the dark ceiling beams angling toward the heavens and botanical themed stained-glass windows of Pembroke library can’t fail to remind me that I am not in Minnesota anymore.

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The Bus Ride

I already posted this piece at the beginning of my trip. When I started my travel writing class I thought I would post each piece as I wrote it. After the first few pieces I realized that all the pieces would benefit from revisions. I have now made those revisions and am posting all the pieces together. I had to turn in a final portfolio for my class and all these posts are straight from that portfolio. This piece is not much different from the first time I posted it, but I am going to post it again so that all the pieces are together.

The Bus Ride

As I look out the window, the world streams by. Things are passing quickly, but not too fast. At least not as fast as on the last two methods of transportation I have taken—trains and planes. The world is green and grey today: grey roads, green trees, grey sky, green grass, grey stone, green crops, grey rain. Riding on a bus can be extremely boring, but also therapeutic because it gives the mind a chance to just think without doing anything else. As I look out, I am struck by the feeling that this landscape looks like home. Now, I know that I am definitely not back in Minnesota. The bus is driving on the left side of the road, we have driven through more roundabouts than traffic lights, and the names of the roads and towns are distinctly British. But when I look beyond that, I am sitting on a bus going down the freeway, watching green fields and trees go by, and I could be home. Which causes me to start thinking: Is England more different from Minnesota, or is it more the same? What a question. In its more general form, are humans and the places we live more similar or more different?

 We tend to focus on the differences: the languages, the clothing, the currency, the measurement systems, and the food. We love to talk about diversity and uniqueness. But there is more to the world than that. At our most fundamental level, we are just humans—just people living on this earth. As I peer out the window, I catch glances of the people in the passing cars. I see a family piled in with an infant in the back seat. In the next car I see a man driving to work by himself. In a third I see a lone elderly couple. They are all living their lives, trying to make the best of things, support themselves, and be happy. The way they go about things may be different and in no way do I want to undermine the distinct ways that people live their lives, but we are fundamentally all humans just trying to figure things out. I look out the window again. There’s just more of the same. But that’s not a bad thing, I think. It gives me more time to think after a week of being busy. I let myself fall back into the philosophical discussion I am having with myself. I am no closer to a conclusion than I was when this bus ride started.  So, I’ll now pose the question to you, my readers, because although I have attempted to answer it, I by no means came to a conclusion. Are people and places more similar or more different?

What is a traveler? What is travel writing? (Revised)

For my travel writing class we started the class by writing a definition of travel writing. I posted the original definition earlier on the blog. At the end of the class, we had to revise our definition based on our experiences reading and writing about travel. My definition remained fundamentally the same, but I did change a few sentences. Here is the revised version from the end of the course.

What is a traveler? What is travel writing?

To answer these questions, I first start by asking myself an even more basic question: What is travel? We use the word all the time, but what does it really mean? In the most fundamental sense, it means physically moving one’s body from one location to another. That seems pretty simple really. But is there more than that? Yes, of course there is more. How else could there be a whole genre of writing centered on the topic? Beyond that basic definition, travel involves the mind and soul as well as the body. It both pulls us outside of ourselves and roots us even deeper into our own being. It transports us to the past and makes us even more aware of the present. When we use the word travel, are we using a word that means movement or a word that means “new place?” This is a word that cannot be static; it cannot be sedentary. It must be full of transition and growth. Now, back to one of the original questions: What is a traveler? A traveler is someone who actively seeks this change of place, this change of mindset. A traveler is a person who seeks the new to make better sense of the old. A traveler is a person who takes a journey so that they can move and learn. Finally, the real question: What is travel writing? Travel writing is a record of this journey, this step, this adventure, this change. It is a way to process the experience externally and share it with those who don’t live inside your head. It is an opportunity to answer a larger question through the triviality of your own experience. It is a journey of its own and it may possibly end up a different story than you initially intended.

Commuting to London

A train is a curious place. It brings together people that would not be together otherwise. For a determined length of time, these people are trapped in one place; they are forced to come together and enjoy, endure, or simply ignore each other.

My first commuting trip in England was uneventful and quiet. It was a Saturday morning at 6 am and there were only a few other people on the train. It was a quiet journey of watching the countryside and sometimes dozing off.

A later train trip was another story. This trip wasn’t to London, but it could have been. The journey was about the same length, just in a different direction. The train was full of people of all ages. A grandmother with her two young children sat a few seats behind me. Three teenage girls with foul language and obnoxious habits sat at the table diagonal from mine. Two young women sat near the front of the train car and conversed in raspy voices, only one of which I could hear from my seat.

As I was sitting there, I found myself comparing this scenario to my life in the United States. Where I am from, these people would be driving in cars, secluded from one another. In their own contained world of a vehicle, would they act differently? Does the way you travel change when you are suddenly thrown into contact with a train car full of people?

As I sit there, with nothing to do but look out the window, I imagine a possible story for the two young children and older woman behind me. With small tidbits of conversation as my only help, I imagine that this grandmother has offered to take the children for an outing today. As their mother enjoys some peace and quiet, Grandma steps in to offer an adventure. The kids can’t complain because their day has been filled with new toys and treats.

As I observe, I realize that no one interacts with anyone else on the train that they didn’t come with, unless it is as a courtesy. So even though these people all travel in the same vehicle, they aren’t really any more social than Americans on their highways. This is a different mode of transportation, but it isn’t all that different. People still just use a train, like a car, to get from one place to another.

Heathrow Airport

Heathrow.
A place of transition. Change. Movement.
A place where anything is about to happen, but nothing really happens.
People endlessly rushing.
People endlessly waiting.
Both of these actions (or inactions) happening simultaneously and yet separately.

Heathrow.
Where are you going? Where are you headed?
I don’t ask, because this is a place of utmost anonymity. This is a place where you will never see any one of these people again.
This is a place where it is more useful to make up their stories in your head as an exercise for the imagination, than it is to actually know the truth.

Heathrow.
Endless white hallways.
So long that humans can’t be expected to walk them ourselves.
Long black magic carpets are there to do the walking for us.
Follow the signs and you can’t get lost.
A map does more harm than good.
Remain with the herd and you will be ok.

Heathrow.
A place of patience. Waiting. Sitting.
A place where people spend hours in transition that consists of nothing but waiting.
People trying to pass time.
People trying to stretch time.
Both of these actions (or inactions) happening simultaneously and yet separately.

Heathrow.
Plane touches down.
Plane taxis to gate.
Seatbelt sign turns off.
People gather their things.
We wait some more.
Flight attendants say good-bye.
Passengers step into airport.
Arrivals walk to border control.
We wait some more.
Individuals explain why they are here.
Crowds walk to the baggage claim.
We wait some more.
Luggage moves around.
People grab their things.
Signs point the way.
Hallways funnel people to the exit.
Loved ones emerge to the line of those waiting.
Handmade posters signify who they are looking for.
And, finally, I emerge, blinking, into the sun of a new city.

Heathrow.
A place of expectation. Anticipation. Possibility.

A place that takes you from one thing to another.
People endlessly changing.
People endlessly returning.
Both of these actions (or inactions) happening simultaneously and yet separately.

Heathrow.
Where are you going? Who are you becoming?
Will this journey change you, or are you returning home? I make up your story as you walk by.
My fiction could be more boring or more adventuresome than your reality, but I will never know.

Heathrow.
Wide open spaces.
Everyone rushing in different directions.
Signs pointing in every direction to different trains, taxis, busses, parking lots.
Follow the signs and you can’t get lost.
A map would be very useful right now.
Be careful which way you choose.

Heathrow.
A place of change. Transformation. Newness.

A place where everything is about to change or a place of going back to the same.
People trying to do something new.
People trying to return to the past.
Both of these actions (or inactions) happening simultaneously and yet separately.

Heathrow.

I am a camera…

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.

Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair.

Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.

-Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin

We discussed this quote in my travel writing class. Is it a good description of writing? Can humans truly be like cameras? What does it mean to develop, print, and fix?

The Bus Ride

This is another piece that I wrote for my travel writing class. We had to write 500 words on the bus ride on the way to Scotland. My piece turned out to be a little more philisophical than I intended. Here it is:

The Bus Ride

As I look out the window, the world streams by. Things are passing quickly, but not too fast. At least not as fast as on the last two methods of transportation I have taken—trains and planes. The world is green and grey today: grey roads, green trees, grey sky, green grass, grey stone, green crops, grey rain. Riding on a bus can be extremely boring, but also therapeutic because it gives the mind a chance to just think without doing anything else. As I look out, I am struck by the feeling that this landscape looks like home. Now, I know that I am definitely not back in Minnesota. The bus is driving on the left side of the road, we have driven through more roundabouts than traffic lights, and the names of the roads and towns are distinctly British. But when I look beyond that, I am sitting on a bus going down the freeway, watching green fields and trees go by, and I could be home. Which causes me to start thinking: Is England more different from Minnesota, or is it more the same? What a question. In its more general form, are humans and the places we live more similar or more different?

We tend to focus on the differences: the languages, the clothing, the currency, the measurement systems, and the food. We love to talk about diversity and uniqueness. But there is more to the world than that. At our most fundamental level, we are just humans—just people living on this earth. As I peer out the window, I catch glances of the people in the passing cars. I see a family piled in with an infant in the back seat. In the next car I see a man driving to work by himself. In a third I see a lone elderly couple. They are all living their lives, trying to make the best of things, support themselves, and be happy. The way they go about things may be different and in no way do I want to undermine the distinct ways that people live their lives, but we are fundamentally all humans trying to figure things out. I look out the window again. There’s just more of the same. But that’s not a bad thing, I think. It gives me more time to think after a week of being busy. I let myself fall back into the philosophical discussion I am having with myself. I am no closer to a conclusion than I was when this bus ride started.  So, I’ll now pose the question to you, my readers, because although I have attempted to answer it, I by no means came to a conclusion. Are people and places more similar or more different?