By: Katherine Rogers
katherine rogers is a senior Psychology major. She went abroad to
Stirling, Scotland, and hopes to visit again soon.
By: Katherine Rogers
katherine rogers is a senior Psychology major. She went abroad to
Stirling, Scotland, and hopes to visit again soon.
Tell me a little about yourself, like your, majors, hometown etc.
I’m an English and Publishing & Editing double major from Swoyersville, PA. In three words or so it can be summed up by; small town, coal, and bars. I’m involved in Lit Club, Transformations, Flagship, 522 Review, and I work for the English Department as an assistant.
What was the food like abroad? Anything new and exciting/that you miss?
I cooked for myself so I ate a lot of pasta and frozen meals. A weird thing I don’t miss is that they have beans and a warmed tomato for breakfast. England’s not really known for food and I couldn’t afford the cute cafes. There were a lot of adorable little pubs that I loved. Cooking for myself was good practice for living in 18th street and it was really fun because I shared a kitchen with 10 other people. The kitchen was our hangout spot—it was where everyone gathered.
Favorite memory of friends?
Shortly before we all left, we came together to cook a really nice Christmas meal where we were all together and not crazy busy with class work.
Other cultures of people you met?
My hall was odd how it worked out—two Americans, a German, rest were English with different heritages like Australian and Brazilian, one whose family was from Ireland. I thought it was really cool. A lot of people thought I was Canadian for some reason. I liked the conglomerations of different cultures in the hall.
How were you the mom?
I was just teaching them how to do simple things like cooking rice or telling if their chicken was expired. I was a go-to for all the questions and helped them feeling homesick because it was the first time for most of them. Since I’d already been away for 2 years, it was easier for me and they were surprised I wasn’t as home sick. They came to me with what they needed and I would just do my best to help.
Favorite place you’ve traveled?
Everything, I have to choose. Rome in general I love Rome. But then there’s the Dublin story. We were taken a ferry and a bunch of trains. The ferry got cancelled due to weather. We were on the waitlist for another ferry and we just made it. But all of our train tickets were then useless because we’d be getting to wales later than we were supposed to so we had to find a new way to Brighton. We ended up in Birmingham trying to find the airport—not the safest city—having no idea where we were going. We ran into a group of French dancers also trying to get to the airport who didn’t speak any English and we spoke little French. Communicating was an adventure. We ended up getting to the airport so we could get a bus to London. From London we took another bus to Brighton. It was an adventure.
Hardest/best part about coming home?
The hardest part was leaving England just in general the people and university had definitely become a home to me even though it’s scary big. It was sad leaving the culture and the friends and the ability to travel. The best part was getting to share my stories with people from home.
Advice for those about to study abroad/traveling in general?
Take every opportunity you can. I wasn’t going to do one trip to Bath and Stonehenge but I did and had a blast. If you can don’t worry too much about money, you’re there to experience the place and people and culture.
by Katy Griffith
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
The cathedral looks much the same as it did when Chaucer’s pilgrims journeyed to this town. They told tales to pass the time, and I think, perhaps, that we have not changed much these 600 years. We still tell stories to pass time, still go on pilgrimages. I wonder what stories I will have to tell when I arrive home from my own pilgrimage, and if they will be the kind that stand the test of time as Chaucer’s have.
The cathedral seems immense compared to the small two to three story buildings I have seen so far in Canterbury. It is walled off from town by buildings and accessible by a several hundred year old entryway. The cathedral is invisible from the cobblestone street outside. We pass through the gate and the cathedral comes quickly into view. Its size is breathtaking, and my step falters. This place has seen so much history. It doesn’t even fit in my camera frame until I squat in the grass that surrounds the cathedral and I’m thankful for the blue skies that appeared after a week of gloomy weather, for the grass is soft and dry beneath me.
It is silent inside, yet somehow the tall ceiling creates echoes. It is designed to look like the ribcage of a ship, and I wonder if I’m supposed to feel like I’m drowning. I feel uncomfortable here, like something is pushing the air out of me. I’m a stowaway on a ship and I pray that nobody notices that I’m not supposed to be here. For every tourist snapping pictures there is someone else who actually uses this historical monument as a place of worship. I’m afraid every noise I make is sacrilegious, and when anyone in my Chaucer class speaks in more than a whisper I have to stop myself from cringing. Don’t they know you’re supposed to be quiet in a church?
I feel like every picture I take becomes a crime, but I can’t stop myself. I don’t want to forget any of this. There are people who actually came to pray, to talk to God, to do whatever people do in a place like this, but I pull out my phone and take pictures of everything I can. Somehow I justify to myself that at least I didn’t pull out my camera like a real tourist.
This is the first time I’ve really seen stained glass. The glass here is like no stained glass I’ve seen before. Impossibly vivid colors, intricate patterns, and panels that are nearly floor to ceiling. The amount of man power and time it must have taken to put each piece of glass in its place, to manage to tell a story with those pictures. It’s almost miraculous. Our tour guide points out some of the newer stained glass, added in the 50’s. The people are almost cartoon like, and our tour guide tells us that their creator was heavily influenced by Disney. Now that she mentions it, I can see a little bit of the Disney princesses in their faces. It’s weird, reconciling Aurora and Snow White with the people in the glass pictures. Somehow my brain doesn’t think that these are two narratives that are allowed to cross over.
There are steps in the cathedral that are so worn down by people walking, kneeling, and crawling up them for centuries that they are no longer flat. They have worn away like river stones, rounded and softened by time and waves of people. Like cliffs that are worn away by waves, it took centuries to wear away this stone, so that it slopes in the middle like it’s made of melting wax. My feet are aiding in the shaping of these steps. My steps feel insignificant, but someday, hundreds of years from now, a college student on a semester abroad will walk these same steps and wonder what kinds of people helped wear them away.
Our tour guide tells us that the bare columns and walls we see in the cathedral were not always this way, and in some places you can see remnants of the paint that decorated them. The cathedral was not always this gray, she tells us, and the pictures on the walls served a similar purpose to the stained glass. They told stories, and served to give color in what otherwise might have been a somber space. Back when more people were illiterate, and when the church spoke only in Latin, the common people had to learn God’s stories somehow. Over time, censorship and the ravages of time have conspired and now there are only a few places where the color remains, faded now, but still hanging on.
Chaucer’s pilgrims wanted to visit this site because of man named Thomas Beckett. “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Those are the words that sent Thomas to his death. It’s scary how quickly people listen to those who are in power, how literally they take their words and how quickly they act on them. Only God has the power to take away a life so quickly, so mercilessly. Everyone gives a wide berth to a single lit candle on the floor marking the spot of Beckett’s martyrdom, and I am compelled to take a picture. Centuries later, and he is still memorialized, still remembered. And all he had to do was die.
There’s a small gift shop by the door, and I buy a pin and some postcards, something that serves as proof. I was here. I saw this place. I am telling my story.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland
There are a few large cathedrals in Dublin, and though we pass some of them on our double-decker tour bus, we decide to go to St. Patrick’s cathedral instead of any of the others. This is where Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels. He is buried here, a statue of him stands outside of the cathedral. This is reason enough for me, even though I have never read anything by Jonathan Swift. Is it a coincidence that so far that both cathedrals I have been to have literary connections? Or is religion more closely tied to literature than I want to admit?
After Canterbury, St. Patrick’s is a bit of a letdown. It’s not as grand, and it doesn’t take my breath away nearly as much. I wonder if it’s because I am already becoming desensitized to places like this, or if after Canterbury, it seems a little redundant.
St. Patrick’s is just as silent, if not more so, than Canterbury. Since I’m not in a large group this time, I am even more conscious of the noises I make. It’s a little darker in here than it was in Canterbury too, but the stained glass is just as vibrant and no less spectacular. I take a picture of each window and hope that most of them turn out clearer than my iPhone pictures from Canterbury. The lighting is so dim in here that some of them turn out worse.
When we leave St. Patrick’s, we leave with all thoughts turned to the Guinness factory. This is our next stop and Dublin’s second holy space.
The Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy.
I am a foreigner in Italy in a way that I have never been a foreigner before. Not only in the sense that I am so obviously blonde that I can’t possibly be from Rome, but in the sense that I can’t fathom how this city exists the way that it does. Rome is so Catholic that there are no Christmas decorations, and somehow that makes no sense and every sense at the same time. At home the Christmas decorations will have been out for weeks by now, but here in Rome you would never know Christmas was just a few weeks away.
Rome has been on my bucket list for years, mostly because I am fascinated by mythology and ancient civilizations. But as we wander Rome, I am struck with a question: how can a city built on the backs of Roman gods be so close to the city of the Catholic Church that they seem to be swallowing each other?
They’re setting out chairs outside St. Peter’s Basilica when we arrive, and I wonder if the Pope is going to be appearing in public in the next days or so, maybe on Sunday. We’ll be back in England by then, and it’s weird that I’m bummed out by this. I like this Pope, though, and I like to have bragging rights. The Sistine Chapel will have to serve. Not everyone can take a selfie with the pope.
The route we have to take to the chapel is long and mazelike. There are no doors to the chapel from the outside. It’s like a test. If you see and appreciate all of this art, then you may be allowed to see the most famous ceiling painting in the world. We meander through the Vatican’s museum, more conscious of time after we spend far too long looking at the ancient busts of roman gods, heroes, and philosophers, and therefore unable to take our time with the rest. There’s far too much to see in just a few hours and my camera dies before we are halfway through from the strain so I resort to my phone. I’ve come a long way since Canterbury. I no longer have shame.
As we enter the chapel I almost forget that I should look up. The walls alone are masterpieces. I never knew that the rest of the chapel was painted in frescos as well as the ceiling, but it’s an unexpected treat. Once I remember that what I came here to see is on the ceiling, I turn my eyes toward heaven, scanning the ceiling hungrily. I look for the famous image of God, reaching, almost touching man but not quite there yet. It takes some time to find and the ceiling seems so far away. Each image is as magnificent as the next and I wonder why that is the one that is most famous.
The chapel is so beautiful that I want to stand here for hours and soak in all of the details. I want to cement this moment in my brain forever, but we are on a schedule, and we can’t stay forever.
The signs said no photography allowed, but I am selfish. This painting was without precedent. It changed the course of art forever. It’s a testament to one man’s unparalleled skill. I wonder if I could ever have enough dedication or motivation to create a masterpiece like Michelangelo, or if I’m missing something essential. If I need some kind of belief system since there’s not enough raw talent in me. I know I will never have the words to express my dizzying awe at the ceiling so I pull out my phone, walk right under God’s hand and stealthily take a few pictures. It’s the sneakiest I’ve ever been, but I couldn’t leave without stealing some of that wonder for myself. I need a reminder of this place so that I don’t forget it when I leave. I need proof that this place made me feel something, though I’m not quite sure what it is.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria
The façade of Stephansdom is very gothic, more noticeably so than Canterbury, perhaps because of the lack of blue skies. It has been a couple of days since we were in Rome, and that means it’s a couple of days nearer to Christmas. There’s a massive evergreen outside the cathedral, strung with lights and topped with a star. Hundreds of people are milling around, walking to or from one of the hundreds of Criskindlmarkts that have taken over the city. The cathedral is nearly as dark inside as it is outside, and it’s difficult to make out its details. We can only go so far into the building, there’s some kind of event going on later this evening, but we will be on our way in a few minutes anyway, several more things to see and do on our tour of Vienna.
We pass by the cathedral again in the daylight, and it’s more imposing this way. The black pollution stains on the side of the building are more noticeable in the light, and I’m told that workers have to routinely scrub the building to keep it clean. By the time they finish, the first section has already turned black again. I think about how pointless it all is, to spend hours slaving to make this cathedral look as it was intended, never fully succeeding, never getting to take a break. Faith is like that. You don’t get to take a break, it’s not something you will ever be done doing. It’s a process. Maybe that’s why faith is so hard for me, so seemingly pointless. I’m the kind of person who thinks the cathedral looks cooler where it’s black.
Even in the daylight, the inside of St. Stephens’s Cathedral is dim. In the daylight we can walk around a bit more, see the details up close. Statues and art adorn the walls and columns, and it’s noticeable that this isn’t as much of a tourist stop as the other cathedrals I have been in. Most of the people here speak German. After so many holy spaces I know the drill. It’s quiet inside, I take pictures and wonder if that is offensive to anyone, if it’s worse because I can only speak a little German.
This is the city of Beethoven and Mozart and Strauss. What was it about this city that inspired so many musicians? What is it about these tolling bells that called out to them? Was it that they toll at the same time day after day? Were they something to rely on? Were they a source of comfort? To me the bells remind me that time passes whether you want it to or not, and maybe this is what allowed these composers to create multiple masterpieces in their lifetimes. A reminder that eventually your time will run out can be a great motivator. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me going. I can’t waste my time or I will never leave something behind that will outlive me.
A Small Green and Blue Planet, Somewhere in Space
God and space are equally terrifying to me, but I only believe in one of them.
As a deeply cynical and skeptical person, I have faith in very few things, and God is not one of them. If there’s a circle of hell for non-believers, I’d go there if I believed in it. But there is something about visiting a deeply religious place that sparks something in me. Maybe it’s just curiosity, maybe its fascination with something I can’t understand, but somethings is there.
Space is so massive that the human mind can’t comprehend it. God is similar, in a way. I will never understand why people would travel across an entire country to visit the site of a saint’s death. I will never understand why churches are always quiet. I will never understand what it is about God that inspires writers, painters, and musicians.
There are a few things that my brain can wrap around. I may never believe in or understand God, but I do believe that there is magic in imagination and storytelling. I understand wanting to build things that last, things that inspire people, things that are beautiful on their own merit. I understand wanting to leave a legacy, wanting to inspire future generations. I guess it makes sense then, why these holy places became so important and fascinating to me once I stepped foot in their spaces.
Read an interview with Katy here.
When and where did you go on your GO Trip?
I went to Brighton, England, to the University of Sussex, in the Fall of the my junior year – so, that would have been back in 2014, yeah.
You visited a lot of cathedrals on your GO trip. Is there any one in particular that really sticks out in your memory?
The one in Canturbury, I think – that was the first one that I had seen which really seemed massive. It also felt really ancient, with a really neat architecture to it. It made me think: “wow, there are no places like this in the United States – in fact, this building has existed since before people even came to the US.” Like, all of our architecture goes back to the 1600’s, at the latest – which is one of the reasons why Europe in general is such an interesting place, history wise.
Are there any favorite memories that you have from your GO trip?
Oh, definitely seeing the Coliseum in Rome. You know, because it’s the Coliseum – it’s hard to explain, but it was just such an experience. And then there was the trip I took to Dublin; I wouldn’t say that it was one of my favorite memories, but it was certainly one of the most memorable. Oh, and there was also the trip to the Harry Potter studios, where you could walk around the Great Hall, and see all the old sets and what not. I think I may have almost cried when I walked through the Great Hall the first time.
What other places did you visit on your GO trip that weren’t mentioned in your Flagship piece?
Oh, wow – huh. Most of the places were mentioned in my piece at one point or another. There was Dublin, Italy, Rome… in most of the places I visited, the big places, the big tourist sights to see, were the cathedrals. There are just so many of those over in Europe, because of the history and what not. Again, it was really interesting to see and witness.
Are there any people who you met that stick out in your mind, even to this day?
No single person in particular, but I remember that a lot of the people over there were super nice and helpful – they were willing to help people who were confused and lost and didn’t know where they were. …which I sometimes was (laughs). There was this one time on the way back from Ireland, where every single thing that could have gone wrong, went wrong. The ferry got cancelled, we were almost stuck in Dublin, we got lost, we had to talk to some French people who didn’t understand English, the town we arrived in was seemingly deserted… basically, it was a series of unfortunate events that were strung together to create a very interesting and memorable ride back.
Did you experience much of a culture shock when you went on your GO trip? How did you overcome this? Did you ever feel homesick?
No, I never really felt homesick, cuz I don’t really get homesick in general. I also didn’t experience much of a culture shock. But I guess for me, the biggest culture shock was being in Rome, where there were a bunch of vendors in the streets who would try to sell you things. Now, that would be fine, but they would really try to sell you these things – they would chase after you, getting in your face, and yelling “Buy this! Buy this!” That was certainly a bit of a shock. But yeah, I never really experienced much culture shock, mostly because of the fact that the language was shared over in England – I think that was a big part of it.
Do you often find yourself thinking back to your GO trip? Would you say that it has changed you in a discernable and noticeable way?
I do find myself thinking about it a lot. It’s always interesting to think about, because when you are in America, you think about Europe, and you think that it is such a magical and foreign place – but when you get there, you learn that, yeah, these people are just people, and these places are just places. They are very cool people and places, but you know. Of course, when you live over there, it’s an entirely different feeling, because it’s not foreign to you. For example, there was this one girl I knew over there who lived about two hours away from Stonehenge, and she told me that she never visited it. And I was thinking stuff like, “Dude, come on, we should go over there right now! What are you waiting for?” But, again, I guess it’s all relative. For me, I just thought to myself that I really need to soak this all in, because I will never see or touch anything this old again in my life.
Would you recommend the location that you went on your GO trip to other people? What makes that location so special?
Well, if it were still offered, then yeah, I would definitely recommend it! (laughs) England, I think, is a good way to go abroad, and still feel comfortable, because of the lack of a language barrier and what not. Although, I wish that I took more advantage of going into the actual city of Brighton – it’s like the San Francisco of England, I’ve found. There is just so much to do – so many clubs and what not.
Do you ever find yourself pining to go back to that location?
If I ever had enough money to do so, then yes, but just for a couple of weeks, so that I could see all the places that I didn’t get to see; I don’t know, however, if I would want to live there. Maybe a summer home… again, if I could afford it (laughs).
For people who are still unsure about where they want to go on their GO trip, do you have any words of advice for choosing a location? How did you decide upon where you wanted to go?
I decided upon my choice in freshman year – the reason I was looking at GO programs so early was because I thought the program was so interesting, and I just wanted to get a head start. I chose Brighton because it had a lot to do, and it was close to London. Also, Google Street View and Google Maps was really helpful for checking out the city and seeing what there is to see beforehand. For other people, I would say that a helpful thing to do would be to know and understand what you personally want to get out of a foreign travel experience. If you know that, then you can best choose which location plays into that desire. It is ultimately up to you to decide what you want to derive from the experience, and how comfortable you want to be. For me, I’m glad that I chose England, because I feel as though if I chose a place in which I would have felt uncomfortable, then I would not have gone out and experienced as much as I did. So, yeah, it calls comes down to what the foreign travel experience means to you.
You did your GO program in the UK — did you have a favorite town or city that you got to visit? Why?
During my semester in Scotland, I went on the Heartland Tour, which visited Northern Scotland including the Isle of Skye and Loch Ness. It wasn’t one specific town that we visited. The trip was one of the best experiences of my life. There was such a sense of community between the tour guide and the 13 other students on the tour. The place we stayed was this tiny cottage on Loch Carron and it felt like home for the weekend we were there. My favorite part of the trip was the scallop fishing trip we went on early Sunday morning. It was beautiful and foggy and I got to hold a crab and a sea anemone and try fresh scallops. I went with my best friend, and it is an experience neither of us are soon to forget.
What kinds of courses did you take abroad?
I took three modules while I was studying at Stirling University. I took a marketing course on understanding the way consumers think, and two literature courses, one focused on Victorian language and culture and one focused on the history of Scottish literature.
Your poetry mentions classic British authors, like Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What’s your favorite book, author, and genre from the UK?
I am a sucker for Dickens. I absolutely loved reading great Expectations in senior year of high school. I find myself to be a lot like Pip. And though it is technically not the UK, I visited Dublin while I was abroad and saw the house where Oscar Wilde lived. My favorite classic novel of all time is The Picture of Dorian Gray, so it was pretty cool to see where that was written too.
We have to ask … was the weather and the food as bad as they say?
It rained almost every day. When it wasn’t raining, it was cloudy. Though once in a while there were magnificent cloudy sunsets. When it comes to food, there are a plethora of restaurants that serve Fish and Chips. (I would suggest Poppy’s in London) And I don’t even want to talk about Haggis. It’s detestable.
Did you find yourself more drawn to modern British culture (say, London city life) or the more historical culture (castles and folk tales)?
I found myself lured more to the castle and folklore side of Scotland/the UK as a whole. It feels like you are stepping back in time. One of the biggest differences between America and the UK is the rich history of civilization that the UK has remnants of. Here in America it’s hard to find really, really old relics or buildings but the UK is full of them. Also, when I visited London, it was really cool to see how the historical side of the city played off of the modern side of the city. There was no one or the other, they were one and the same.
Did you make any friends abroad? Have you kept in touch with them since returning to the states? Plan to meet up again in the future?
I made a bunch of friends while I was abroad! My best friend was Ayla Moreash and I keep in touch with her on and off over Facebook. I plan to visit her this summer since she is living in Canada. I met other people too, from Germany, The Netherlands, France, and Australia.
What was your favorite thing to do when you weren’t studying while you were abroad?
Traveling and partying. SU doesn’t have much of a night life, so it was fun to experience that while I was abroad. And traveling is the biggest part of studying abroad. You travel to so many places and once you get back home, all you want to do is leave again.
Last question: if you had a choice between going back to the UK or to a totally new place next year, what would you do?
That’s a hard question. If I had the chance to go back to Scotland, I would in a heartbeat. But I also want to experience other places in the world like India and Thailand and Australia. Maybe I would travel to other places first and then work my way back through everywhere I have visited.
What is your name, major, and class year?
My name is Essy Dean, and I’m a senior Creative Writing major and History minor.
Where did you Go, when, and why?
I went to London. I did the Regents University London Program, and I have been in love with British history since I was in sixth grade, which I talk about a little bit in the piece. Then, I went to London in the summer of 2011 with my mom, and I fell in love with the entire city. By the third day we were there I said, “I don’t care. I am doing a semester abroad when I’m in college, and I’m coming back here.”
What surprised you about your experiences on your GO trip, especially seeing the castles you have always admired?
It was amazing. It was really cool just to see how much the street map has changed, but walking around this city that these people walked around and drove through and yelled at each other in (because Henry VIII did a lot of yelling at the end of his life. He basically went insane, but that’s another story). When I was there in 2011, me and my mom were walking up one of the towers in the Tower of London, and I said, “I want this staircase.” And she said, “Wait, you want the Tower of London in your house?” And I said, “No, just the staircase.” I was just obsessed with the spiral staircase.
What was the weirdest thing that happened to you?
Me and a couple of my friends who were also theater nuts—I took a theater class while I was there—we took a day trip to Stratford upon Avon, and we got lost trying to get to London Euston, which was the nearest national rail service station to Regents. We got lost getting there on the subway, which they call the Tube. Then, we get to London Euston, we buy our tickets to get to Stratford, and we had to change trains twice to get to Stratford. The second train was a train that was going all the way to Wales, so it doesn’t even leave the station. It gets delayed and then delayed again and again, so we said, “Forget this, and left.” We went upstairs to where the check in hall was, and we said, “We’re trying to get to Stratford upon Avon, and our train is delayed. How do we do this?” And, they told us to backtrack to a station in Birmingham and from there we could get a regional train to Stratford upon Avon.
We got there about two hours later than we had planned, and we had registered with a specific tour at Shakespeare’s birthplace and all this other stuff. So, we get there and we go into the information center and explain it to them. They just put us on the next tour.
Why should other people GO there?
If you want to go to Europe, and you don’t want to deal with the language barrier but you want to go to other cities in Europe to travel, it’s a great location for that. You can literally get to France in a day. You can go on a day trip to France. That’s how close it is. Then, England and Scotland and Wales themselves are also great places to visit.
by Essy S. Dean
When I was in sixth grade, I fell in love with a book. It was called Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor by Kathryn Lasky. This was the moment that started my passion for Tudor history. From when I first read it, I knew Elizabeth I was one of my favorite female characters from history. She wasn’t like any other woman of the sixteenth century. Never marrying, defeating the Spanish Armada and ruling in her own right for forty-five years – one of the longest reigns in English history. Since then I have expanded my knowledge to the four Tudor monarchs preceding Elizabeth and the Plantagenet era. I knew the closest I could ever get to going to Tudor England would be visiting the palaces.
While I was in London, I left breakfast with friends around 10:15am and went to London Waterloo (one of the main train stations) via the Tube (Subway) to go to Hampton Court Palace, one of two palaces that have survived from the reign of Henry VIII. I had been planning on going the week before, but it was Easter and the Chapel Royal is still used for services. Not wanting to deal with people coming for one of the holiest days of the year or being turned away from parts of the palace, I decided putting it off for a week would best.
After walking through a set of open iron gates attached to red brick walls and topped with statues of horses and the Welsh dragon (Henry VIII’s paternal grandfather was Welsh), I bought a ticket and began to wander. There was an option to rent an audio guide like there are at many museums around the world, but I know so much about the characters who had walked these hallways and courtyards 500 years ago, I didn’t see a need for it nor did I want one. I imagined the people who had ridden through this gate in triumph and the courtiers who had been banished, slouching through, then turning back for a last glimpse at the palace where lives were made and could be ripped apart on the whim of one person.
I wanted to remember the moments, joyful and sad, that had happened here. It was here where Henry VIII got the heir he had wanted for so long in October 1537, but twelve days later, his beloved wife, Jane Seymour, had died within the same walls. It was here his daughter, Mary had kept alive the hope that she was pregnant for fourteen months, before admitting it had been a phantom pregnancy. I had spent nights since middle school reading about this place and the rest of Henry VIII’s palaces.
There are two parts of Hampton Court. There’s the Henry VIII half that includes the kitchens, the Great Hall and the Chapel Royal and the William III half. Personally, I was more interested in the Henry VIII half, partially because of my knowledge of that era and partially because of my opinions about building styles. To me, the dark red and brown brick and well-spaced windows of the Tudor half will always be more beautiful than the orange-red and close together windows of the William III half.
I walked through the courtyard under a large clock. It felt like a step back in time. Like the City of London had disappeared and I was in the era when jousting and archery were commonplace and ladies were consumed by thoughts of family life. After the courtyard, I could continue straight and go to the William III part or take a left, go up a flight of stairs and go through the Henry VIII part first. I chose left.
One of the first rooms I went in was the Great Hall. The Great Hall was one of the centers of Tudor court life. Not only was this where meals were eaten, but during and after the meals there was often dancing, music and other forms of entertainment. Standing at the bottom of the hall – the main entrance – one had the view of a courtier looking up to where Henry VIII would’ve sat with his current wife. The only queen who never got the honor of sitting in the Great Hall of Hampton Court was his first wife, Katherine of Aragon.
Hampton Court had previously been known as York Place and originally it hadn’t been a great palace of the Crown. Instead, it had been one of several houses owned and built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey was Henry VIII’s chief administer for nearly twenty-two years. Henry VIII was notorious not only for his wives, but also for his hatred of paperwork. The result was that much of it fell to Wolsey and he became one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom. When Wolsey fell out of favor in 1530, (partially due to Anne Boleyn and her faction rising in favor) he was arrested for treason and men were sent to bring him to London. Fortunately or unfortunately, Wolsey died before he arrived. Wolsey would’ve faced imprisonment in the Tower of London had he survived the journey and likely would’ve met his end on the block.
I scooted my way through crowds of people, all talking and making their opinions known. They asked questions in a variety of tones, in a variety of languages. The place hasn’t changed in the 500 years that have passed. The tones are still there; the languages are still there. Only the conversations have changed. Now people gather here to learn and to remember, to discover and to walk through the rooms, marveling at the details. Then people would use these rooms to speak of politics, of which countries were about to go to war and whom was going to marry whom to create the dynastic alliance every ruler dreamed of.
The ceiling is a beautiful ornamental wood in the style of the time with the wood beams on display. Carvings that can’t be seen from the floor decorate the beams, showing off how proud first Wolsey, then Henry VIII were of this room. The walls are covered in beautiful tapestries that likely depict moments of success for the kings of England. In the fifteenth century, tapestries had a dual purpose: they were decoration, but they were also to provide warmth, as England was going through a mini ice age at the time and candles could only provide so much warmth.
The moment I stepped into the Great Hall, I had an overwhelming urge to kneel or bow, do something in honor of the people who had once lived there. I pushed the thought away. I felt the power that still radiated from the top of the hall as I wound my way through the other tourists, taking photos, documenting this trip, but knowing at the same time that I wanted to return. I could feel the waves of fear as well. That people had at one time been scolded in this place by their king. Most of the scolding had happened in the privy chamber, and though I hadn’t read about any specific instances, from my knowledge about Henry VIII, it wouldn’t have surprised me if something had happened here.
The Chapel Royal is a beautiful spot. When you stand in the gallery, you’re standing where the king and queen would’ve sat, listening to the service, their favorite courtiers around them. (Unless you’re Henry VIII, in which case you could be signing someone’s death warrant while the priest is talking of forgiveness.) I stood there, thinking about the irony that must’ve played out here on near every Sunday of Henry VIII’s reign. He hated paperwork, even later in life and sometimes he had no idea what the papers he was signing meant or were for. It made me wonder if he knew whose death warrant he was signing when. Was he aware when he did it to Anne Boleyn? Catherine Howard? Cromwell? More? Fisher? Was he aware he was signing away the lives of people who had helped him govern the country?
I left the gallery and re-entered at the nave level. As I stood near the altar, I heard the woman next to me ask:
“I wonder where the rest of Jane Seymour’s body is if only her heart is here?”
“It’s in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle,” I replied quickly. I couldn’t help myself. I had the information this woman was seeking and the guard was standing on the opposite side of the room near the entrance.
When Jane Seymour died at Hampton Court in 1537, Henry VIII ordered that her heart be removed and buried under the altar. Her body was buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor three weeks later.
The woman looked at me and nodded. Her head was still bowed over the pamphlet where she’d read the information about Jane Seymour’s heart. “They should put that in here.”
“Yeah, they should,” I replied. I hadn’t even read the pamphlet I’d been handed with my ticket. It was still in my bag along with a map I had yet to look at either. I wanted to wander, see what I could find on my own without looking at where I was. My instincts sent me a bit of a strange path, having never looked at a map of Hampton Court.
“Thank you,” said the man standing next to her.
“Of course,” I replied, before sliding through the groups of tourists clambering for their chance in the Tudor chapel towards the exit.
While some go to the chapel to do their thinking, I picked a long empty corridor, it’s walls lined with paintings I don’t remember the contents of. I sat on the floor, cross-legged, thinking about the people who had walked through here. That it must’ve been here where Catherine Howard made her infamous escape from her guards in February 1542, screaming for Henry VIII, screaming that the accusations against her about her liaisons with men weren’t true. She still believed he would have mercy on her. Legend says that her ghost haunts one of the hallways at Hampton Court.
I had a bit of a hard time finding the kitchens. It was a part of the palace that I really wanted to see, because it was one of the parts that had been kept in the style of the Tudors. I was determined to not leave until I had found them. In the meantime, I went outside to see the gardens. They were part of a 1689 redesign by William III. While the interior and exterior were not to my taste, I found the gardens much more so. I spent a happy half hour or so wandering through the gardens and then found a spot to sit and read. I didn’t have lunch that day. I could’ve gone to one of the cafes, but I was too busy enjoying a place I’d had the intention of visiting since February. I was in my own space and mind, thinking about the past for much of it. To quell the hunger, I bought a mint chocolate chip ice cream from a vendor in the gardens and ate it as I explored the surrounding area.
I returned to the palace and after a bit more wandering I finally broke down and pulled out the map. With my knowledge of the palace from that morning’s wander, I was able to trace a path to the kitchens from my current location in a hallway beside a courtyard visitors weren’t allowed in.
Walking through the maze that is the Tudor section of the palace, I had to walk through the serving chamber and Henry VIII’s wine cellar to get to the kitchens. The wine cellar is still stacked with barrels. I doubt there’s still wine in them. It made me think about how much wine there must’ve been in the room in the sixteenth century and how they could’ve drunk it all. There are a few details one must remember, though. The water wasn’t safe to drink. There were hundreds of nobles at Court at any time, some of them staying with the Court permanently, others for a night or two and then there would’ve been the guests, the ones that came from Europe to negotiate with Henry VIII on behalf of their rulers. Meals lasted longer and people spent more time at the tables after dinner talking, drinking, dancing.
Before I got to the kitchens I walked through an open-air passage that was all in the original brickwork and wood from the fifteenth century. The floor was of the stone that lined both the floors of many houses and most streets in the cities and towns. The brickwork was so beautiful that I took a few more moments than I had been planning on to look around and admire it. The patterns of brown or grey standing out against the deep reddish-orange, turning different colors from the age.
When I reached the kitchens, it was warm. Fireplaces lined several of the walls. One had a fire crackling inside and in others were sixteenth century cooking implements. A group of people were gathered around the one with a fire burning. A row of worn wooden table was stacks of plates, a few with food on them, with goblets and half burnt candles. As if servants had just finished clearing the tables in the Great Hall. As I walked in, two men in sixteenth century dress were asking for volunteers to spin the spit. I wanted to try my hand at it. I took a few photos, then walked over to the group. The men had put several chunks of raw meat on one of the rods and had balanced it between rods on either side, the men turned to crowd that had gathered.
“Who wants to try?” asked one of the men.
I secured my camera in my bag and raised my hand. “I’ll give it a try.”
The man nodded and beckoned me forward. I shifted my bag out of the way. He fixed the rod used to turn the spit. “Hold this and spin it slowly in a circle.” I nodded and began to spin. The smell of roasting meat rose through the air. The scent flowed into my nose. I found the rhythm. The fire blazed in the hearth. I felt the heat on my face. The meat slowly browning as I watched. I could’ve kept going. There was a rhythm to spinning the meat. Too slow, the meat would burn. Too fast, the meat might fly across the room. I don’t know if that has ever happened, but I was amused when I was told this and it wouldn’t surprise me if at some point in history, someone hadn’t listened and meat had flown. I could feel the flames from the fire, their heat licking at my face. Some people might have jumped back, letting go. I stayed close. I let the fire do its part in adding to my experience.
One of the men touched me gently on the arm. “Let someone else give it a try,” he said.
I nodded, and let go. The man took the rod to keep it in place. I shifted my bag. “Thanks,” I said. “It was fun.”
The men nodded to me.
I walked out of the kitchens, through the corridors, and back to the gift shop. Most of the books I saw, I already had. While looking through the books, I noticed a woman knocking over one that was displayed on a plastic support, so people could see the front cover. She struggled with getting the book and support upright again. A few minutes later, I was struggled with the same thing.
“They should have a better support system,” said the woman, noticing me struggle as well.
I found Tracy Borman’s Thomas Cromwell, one of the most important of Henry VIII’s advisors. Cromwell fell from favor after the Anne of Cleves marriage debacle. Henry VIII thought she was as ugly as a horse (he supposedly said: “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse” after their first night together). He quickly divorced her for the seventeen-year-old Catherine Howard. Anne of Cleves was allowed to stay in England. She was given the title of the King’s Sister, several manor houses (including Hever Castle, the family home of Boleyns), and a settlement.
While wandering through the rest of the gift shop, a quote caught my eye: “If someone is ill mannered by ignorance let it pass, rather than point it out.” I tugged at the edge of the fabric and pulled it out. Out came a white table covering, the designs in black and red, the writing in simple black italics. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I checked the price, doubled it and with a book and a table covering under my arm, I joined the check out line.
I returned to the gardens and found a grassy patch near the fountain under a tree. I settled down to read. The people in the past had walked through these corridors, living their lives, speaking loudly of politics and whispering about private matters. I found myself looking up every few minutes to make sure this was still my reality. That I wasn’t in my dorm room in Pennsylvania or my room in parents’ house in Massachusetts. It was real. The gardens were the way they had been made in early 1700s, the fountain still sprayed water up into the air, people were still using the gardens for entertainment, laughing and talking in different languages. The content of the conversations might have shifted, but Hampton Court is still being used the way it was meant to be: as a gathering place and a place to create new memories.
Read an interview with Essy here.
by Emily Teitsworth
The bus windows are frosted.
the Scottish Highlands appear dramatic,
melancholy and exhausted.
A vastitude of clouds
arranged thick to thin over mountain tips.
I am sitting next to my best friend,
she is asleep.
It doesn’t quit raining.
Miniature rivers down hillsides that puddle
under tire tread. Sometimes it hails
tiny sculpted spheres cotton-colored
that disintegrate into four degree slush.
I cannot feel my toes.
My shoes are dripping, almost lost them in the mud
on the first hike. The mud suckled at my sneakers
The tour guide tells stories.
About warriors that named the mountains.
About fairies who swapped their children for human babies.
About a man who spent forever in fairyland.
The tour guide tells us
Christianity was hard-won in the Highlands
because fairies were worshiped.
Because how else could the eccentricity
of the world be explained?
The Old Man of Storr looks ready to topple.
I wonder what would happen if I touched it.
Would it shatter into fragments of silver and gold?
Or would it crumble to basalt dust
and be washed away into the sea?
Part of me thinks, It is just a rock.
The stories are a way of life,
the land is the plot and the characters
and all the dialogue in between.
are a realm of whisperings.
Read an interview with Emily here.
by Emily Teitsworth
Fog chokes the streets
of London. It rolls in pints across
taxi windshields and street signs.
It is dense: clings to the countryside
and to the clouds when it rains.
It seeps through stone walls
and cobblestones and thousand-year-old cathedral stairs.
It aches of the great fire, of the plague.
It settles on store windows, trying to erase
their modernism. It longs to bring back writers
like Dickens and Conan Doyle, huddled over parchment
in pubs lit by candlelight. Longs to know carriage wheels
and horse hooves instead of tires, lanterns instead of lightbulbs.
It is a jealous fog.
Wants the city to progress backwards.
Wants people back from the dead, places back from the dead.
Wants the London it fell in love with: the city who kissed
the fog when it come out in the morning, who lusted
for every moment they spent mingling together.
by Kelly Grebeck
Walking up the stairs, I hear many loud voices. I reach the top of the steps and see a large gathering of people in the kitchen through the two sets of glass doors. I walk through the first door, but, instead of going through the second, I turn left and open the door that leads to my room across the hall from the kitchen. I place my things on my bed and pace the floor.
If you don’t do this now, I think, you won’t do it at all. Go in there. You can handle it. I take a deep breath and step into the hallway. Reaching for the handle on the kitchen door, I notice how much my hand is shaking. My heart feels like it’s about to beat out of my chest.
I walk into the kitchen. Everyone turns and looks at me. I smile sheepishly and greet them with a quiet hello; most return to their prior conversations.
“Kelly, right?” I turn to see one vaguely familiar face. The girl I had met early this afternoon whose name I had already forgotten stands behind me.
“Yeah. Sorry, I’m horrible with names. What’s yours again?” She smiles.
“Beatriz.” She turns to the rest of the room. “Guys, this is Kelly. She’s American.”
When the people in the kitchen hear this, I become the center of their attention – something I do not like very much. They ask me so many questions about where I am from, and the amount of times I have to tell people the difference between Pennsylvania and Philadelphia is astonishing.
“Last year a guy who lived here was either from Pennsylvania or Philadelphia,” says Joe, a second year student living in my hall.
I reply with a chuckle, “He was probably from both. Philadelphia is a city in Pennsylvania.” Joe makes a face of feigned embarrassment of his lack of knowledge and others soon chime in that they thought Philadelphia was its own state.
I receive a few more questions about America, but, to my relief, the topic soon changes, which allows me to settle into the background. I add my opinion when I feel like it, instead of having all eyes on me. The night continues with talking, laughing, and drinking. We stay in the kitchen for a few hours before wandering around campus, checking out the two bars run by the university and meeting even more people.
This is what happened the first night I was at the University of Sussex. I had already been in England for a few days at that point, but I was only with other Americans for the IFSA-Butler orientation in London. When we all went to our respective universities, I was with six others going to Sussex, but once we got to our rooms, we went our own ways.
After checking in, getting my keys, and finding my room, I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. It was mild, but still. I think all the nerves I should have felt but hadn’t felt until then hit me right then. I wondered why on Earth I ever thought I could handle this. I called my mom for the first time and had her calm me down. She always knows how to calm me down.
My room was quite separated from my hall mates. I didn’t know anyone living near me and I didn’t really see anyone in the hall. I didn’t know where anything was. I wandered back and forth between my room and the kitchen across the hall, hoping I would meet someone, but fearing it at the same time. I didn’t know what to do. I wandered the campus like a lost puppy.
Later that night in the kitchen, I met most of my hall mates, plus some people from other buildings and flats. I was very anxious that I were to share that kitchen with ten other people. I wanted something smaller, maybe five or six people. Eleven seemed to be too many.
As it turned out, I could not be happier with my living arrangement. It was that first night that really got the ball rolling. Had I not gone into the kitchen that night, I don’t think I would have bonded so well and so easily with everyone in my hall. In that first night, we all met each other for the first time. If I had waited, I would have felt a bit left out.
These people turned the place where I was living for three months into another home away from home for me. It didn’t feel like dorm-style living; it felt warm, welcoming, and wonderful. We became a family of sorts. We adopted people from other halls who did not have quite the same relationship with their hall-mates. We bonded and that bond was strong. My entire experience would have been vastly different if I didn’t find this temporary family.
Being one of the oldest in the hall, I became a sort of mother figure at times – a role I completely embraced. I loved that they would turn to me for advice or care. This started early, on that first night. When one of my hall mates drank a little more than he could handle, I was the one who took charge of taking care of him. I made sure he made it safely back to the hall and I helped sober him up before sending him to bed. This motherly attitude continued throughout my time living with them.
My hall mates looked to me for guidance at times. I helped them with the most insignificant of things like how to cook rice to more meaningful problems like how to handle life away from their parents. When they were struggling with being away from home, I was able to help them. I had already spent two years away at school and I was, at that time, further away from home than they could even imagine. They couldn’t understand how I didn’t feel homesick so far from home, but they were the reason I didn’t miss home too much. Because of them, I felt like I was home.
Read an interview with Kelly here.