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.

The Manchester Christmas Market Saturday, Feb 6 2010 

I returned to the English city I would arrive in and depart from for a second proper visit in time for the Manchester Christmas Market.  We enjoyed the commemorative hot chocolate mugs that you could either purchase completely or return after you drank from it in order to get part of the price back.  In the German section of the market there were several types of sausage that we shared and sampled, but once again we were patrons of Sinclair’s Oyster Bar.  Even through the cold and the rain of December, we found the surprise of an Abraham Lincoln statue smack in the centre of Manchester.  The explanatory plaque told of the US president’s importance in bringing the raw cotton shipments back to Manchester where it would be spun into textiles during the US Civil War.  This encounter was an unexpected reminder of home and was on our minds as our time in England was quickly drawing to a close.

Art in Birmingham Saturday, Feb 6 2010 

I apologize for not knowing the names to all the works of art in these photos, but they were difficult to research after the fact.  Instead I will remain struck by the images since a picture is worth a thousand words.

The entire city of Birmingham was decorated for Christmas and was drawing tourists to its annual German Christmas Market.  These stands line blocks and blocks in the city and include homemade goodies with foods like sausage, marzipan, donuts, and chocolates, as well as crafts like wooden toys, glass jewelry, and purses.  The smells and the crowds are intimidating but they are very enjoyable.

Alas, it was too cold to spend too much time outside browsing the house-shaped stands, therefore it was time to explore the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  Inside the gorgeous Chamberlain Square clock tower is a grand collection of stained glass walls, paintings, important documents, and interactive exhibits.  We did not have time to view all of the collections, but it was still a fun free activity.  Another that fits in that category was St. Philips’ Church of England with its own brightly colored stained glass windows, tiled floors, and floor-level pipe organ.  Being one the last church I visited in England, St. Philips reminded me of how my goal of visiting the grand castles of England was replaced with my discovering churches of all imaginings.  They were just as historical and often more majestic than castles, ensuring I was not disappointed.