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?

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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.

The Last Week

I know I haven’t posted in a while–10 days to be precise. I have been really busy here, both with fun things and with school things. I promise I will post the rest of the pictures from this trip either later this week or right when I get home.

I have only four days left in England. It is crazy how fast the last four weeks have gone. The first four weeks seemed to take forever and the second four weeks have flown by. When I started the program, eight weeks seemed like forever, but now I am finishing up my last papers and tests and I will start packing soon to come home. It is weird to think that something I have been anticipating for so long is almost over. I have been waiting and wanting to study abroad since I started college. I have been researching programs and planning when it would fit in to my schedule since I was a freshman. I applied for this program in January and have been figuring everything out for this trip since then. So much has gone into making this experience happen, and not it is almost over. That is such a weird feeling.

I have three days left and I am doing my best to enjoy them. I have two papers and one test left to finish up my classes. I am so close, but it feels like the papers are taking forever. By tomorrow morning, the papers will be turned in and all I will have left is the test. I am planning on walking around Cambridge a bit tomorrow and starting packing so that I don’t have to pack everything on my last day. I am a little curious to see how packing will go. I haven’t accumulated a lot of stuff during my trip, but I didn’t have a lot of extra room when I got here. Also, I had to buy a new suitcase because a wheel on my original one broke, so hopefully it holds everything.

I am both sad to leave and excited to go home. England is a beautiful country and there are a lot of things I love about Cambridge, but I do miss my family, my friends, and my home. I feel like I am in a good place because I will always remember the country fondly and I get to go home now to see those that I love most. After eight weeks, it is a little weird to think about going home. I wonder what things will have changed while I have been gone and what things will be exactly the same. There will be a lot of changes in my life when I get home. Only four days after I get back I am moving to campus to live in a new house. I will get to help my sister move to college. I am starting new classes, a new job, and a new leadership role in the Catholic student group that I am involved in. Not only will I be coming back to the US from a foreign country, I have a lot of exciting new things ahead. It will be an adventure!

As far as the blog goes, there will be a lot of new posts in the coming weeks. I probably won’t post a lot more before I leave England, but once I get home, I will have a lot of things to share. I will post the rest of the pictures and adventures from the end of my trip. I also have over a dozen short essays from the travel writing class I took here. I am working on editing those now and once I turn them in to my professor, I will post them here. I also have a few post ideas of some general observations about England. Once I am done with my travel posts, I hope to post more recipes, photos, prayer reflections, quotes, bible verses, and other things (like I did before my trip.)

Thank you all so much for following along on my adventure. There is much more to come!

Who can ever be tired of Bath?

“I really believe I shall always be talking of Bath, when I am at home again–I do like it so very much…. Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?”

– Catherine Morland (Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey)

I am off to Bath today! Bath, which in Jane Austen’s novels is the city of parties, frivolity, theater and dancing. We’ll see what I find there this weekend 🙂

London 2012

Last weekend I spent a day in London. I got to see a lot of the city that I hadn’t seen on my previous visits. Every time I go to London, I get a little more acclimated to the crowds and busyness of the city. This trip, I started by visiting the British Museum. I didn’t spend very long there, so I just walked through the first floor galleries to get a sense of what was in the museum. I saw the Rosetta Stone, statues from the Parthenon, a statute from Easter Island, and many other cool artifacts from around the world.

The British Museum

The Rosetta Stone

 

After the museum, a group of friends and I took the tube to Covent Garden. We didn’t spend much time there because we didn’t have any money to spend at the market.

Covent Garden decorated for the Olympics

After Covent Garden, we made our way over to Trafalgar Square. It was really busy there, and while we were taking pictures with the lion statues, it started raining. Not to be deterred by a little rain, we continued on towards the river to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Along the way, we saw a lot of metal fencing and purple banners. We asked one of the official looking people who was guarding the fence and found out that the women’s olympic marathon was going on. The big group of runners at the front of the race had already gone by, but there were still runners coming. We stayed and watched for a little bit and saw two runners go by. It was so exciting to actually see an Olympic event. I don’t have any tickets for the Olympics, so I didn’t think I would get to see anything. But now I have seen the Olympics! The marathon runners are amazing too, because the gold medalist ran the race in 2 hours and 23 minutes. That’s crazy!

An Olympic marathon runner

After seeing the marathon, we visited a small church near Westminster Abbey while we waited for Evensong at the Abbey. I had never been to an Anglican service before, so I was excited to see what the service was like. We sat in the choir area. It felt weird to be sitting facing the center of the church instead of the front. The service had some of the same prayers as a Catholic Mass, but the order was very different. The choir was beautiful.

The outside of Westminster Abbey
Unfortunately I couldn’t take pictures inside the church.

After Evensong, we walked over to Buckingham Palace (which wasn’t very interesting from the outside) and then got back on the tube.

The gates of Buckingham Palace

Our last stop of the day was to see Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe theater. It was very cool to see the inside of the theater and get a better idea of how his plays were actually performed in his time. We had standing room tickets, just like ordinary people of Shakespeare’s time would have had. By this time we were exhausted from walking all over the city so it was hard to stand for the entire 2-1/2 hour performance. The play was very good, but if any of you ever visit the Globe, I would suggest splurging for some kind of seat (the cheapest seat is 15 pounds, or about 25 dollars). Needless to say, I was exhausted by the time the bus came to pick us up. What a day!

The Globe