The Stone Streets of Lancaster Tuesday, Feb 23 2010 

Lancaster in Lancashire, England will always be in my heart.  It was where I studied at uni and the source of most of my British cultural experiences.  I tried to go into town every week, but life was just so hectic that even in 12 weeks I did not get to see everything I wanted to in my adopted city such as the Ashton Memorial which Lord Ashton built as a memorial to his wife.  Still, I enjoyed how Lancaster was both ancient and modern.

In 1612 the Pendle Witch Trial occurred when several people from nearby Pendle Hill were hanged for allegedly casting spells on their neighbors.  The trials and hangings took place at Pendle Castle.  Pendle Castle is now used as a royal prison, but continues to offer historic ghost tours.

Now the stone streets of Lancaster are surrounded by original stone buildings as well as new businesses such as the St. Nicholas Arcades which offered a nice range of shops and restaurants like Waterstone’s for books , Wetherspoon’s for a pint and extremely filling full English breakfast, and Mark and Spencer’s for clothes and food.  Every week the town centre would be packed with tents featuring homemade goods like jewelry, food products, and fancier items like perfumes, as well as locally grown produce.  Talking to shopkeepers was an interesting way to pass the time.  At the Assembly Hall I met a seller who told me of how he drove across the US and that he worked as Pluto at the Disney Pavilion during the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York.  He recalled how the president’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, sat on his lap, but I was struck by the story since both my parents were at that World’s Fair with their families.

Studying at Lancaster Uni was quite a departure from my US college since I was living with guys for the first time.  In the UK it is standard for all freshers and upper students to have their own rooms in flats where they share a kitchen with around 7 other co-ed students.  The kitchens are necessary since there are no dining halls on campus, but there are two food shops and several restaurants with choices like pizza, burgers, salads, and pasties.  Before going to uni, British students take two years of college and then do not find out if they have been accepted to uni until a few weeks before they are suppose to move in.  Do not feel to bad for them, their first year does not count, they only need to pass the year.  It only takes 3 years to earn a degree in the UK with graduate school requiring 1 year and does not take the GREs.  All of this made us American students envy the laid back Brits even as we all dragged through essays and exams.

The best part of living in and exploring Lancaster was the British friends I made.  I would not have been able to survive my first trip navigating Sainsbury’s without the help of my flat mates and exploring the nearby Morecambe and Lancaster football clubs would not have been as fun without the friends I made while studying abroad.  It is the interactions with friends that really allowed me to be immersed in the British culture and I miss all the fun we had.  If I had not made such wonderful British and other international friends I would not be certain I could write that studying abroad was the best time of my life.

Medevial Edinburgh Wednesday, Jan 20 2010 

Edinburgh is a wonderful city on a hill.  Edinburgh Castle is situated on a volcanic mountain as a means to view and protect the stone street city, as further means of protection from enemies, English or otherwise, the castle is still armed with cannons and iron gates.  While it used to be the home of Mary Queen of Scots, today the castle is the home to the Scottish crown jewels, which were hidden by peasants when the castle was seized, along with the Stone of Scone, which is placed under the coronation throne when a new monarch of England is crowned.  From the castle’s height you can see the whole city and the lochs and hills beyond it.

Edinburgh is made up of the Old Town where most of the city used to reside and contains the Royal Mile where you can take historic ghost tours along with the New Town where the modern shopping and industry are located.  In Old Town there is the philanphropy-minded Elephant House that was once frequented by J.K. Rowling along with the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre with the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whisky.  The New Town also is home to the Scott Monument, honoring author Sir Walter Scott, and the National Gallery of Scotland, which has huge canvases painted by famous Scotts and other European artists like Rembrandt, Degas, and Van Gogh.