Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tea With a Monk

In late September Japan takes a day off to celebrate the changing season, which left me to explore my new home a bit. Hikone is surrounded by mountains so I looked up the closest one and set off on bicycles with my housemate Daiki to climb it.

At it's foot there was a big, busy park but no mention of a trail head. We began circling the foot of the mountain until we found what looked like a shrine entrance which maybe would lead to the top, or maybe just to a shrine. Either way we wanted to check it out. A few minutes of hiking later we found the trail didn't lead to the summit or a shrine. Instead it lead away from the summit and towards a temple. Not a bad find. Grave sites dotted the mountain around the temple so we wandered around those marveling at their age and fixing one knocked down by a tree. 

When we came back through the temple grounds we sat down and talked for a while, catching the attention of a monk living in the temple. He came outside and, instead of asking us to leave, he invited us in for tea. Feeling mystified, I followed him into what was literally a thousand year old temple (rebuilt 400 years ago). We sat down with him for tea while looking out over his garden before getting a tour of the temple. I didn't get any pictures of the inside but it was like a museum without glass around the artifacts. 

I couldn't follow any of the conversation but learned from Daiki that the monk takes care of the temple completely by himself. He said its a lot of work so Daiki offered to send international students interested in Japanese history to help occasionally. The monk invited us to come back anytime and gave us umbrellas to go home with.

About a week later Daiki wanted to head back to the temple and work out some kind of schedule with the monk. I tagged along hoping to get pictures of some of the artifacts this time. We arrived back at the temple only to find nobody was home. Because we had biked all the way out to the mountain I suggested we explore a bit and maybe find the trail head this time. We started up a road going in the right general direction until we found an older couple coming down. Daiki asked which way to the top and they told the road we're on goes all the way up. We continued following the road up where we found a shrine and a take-off platform for hang gliding, presumably so you can say a little prayer before jumping off a mountain. From here we could see our whole town and all the way across lake Biwa to the next town. Looking down the mountain we saw hang gliders sitting in a field so I guess we just missed the show.

To summarize, during my first week in Japan I set off to climb a mountain and found a temple. In my second week I went to visit a temple and instead climbed a mountain. I'm learning that sometimes the lack of a plan is the best plan. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Joy of Biking in Japan

I spent 4 weeks in Japan, a country that I have always loved and was faced with doing something that I had abandoned once I reached middle school and that was riding a bike. Even before going, I knew that a bike would be provided for me and I had originally planned to reject it and utilize the bus like I do in America.
The first night, I rejected the bike with a good excuse of being uneasy and unsettled upon just getting into the country. This decision left me and a few others walking in the light
rain watching others head home quickly on their bikes. The next day, I got on my bike and took it out making me realize that my initial rejection was kind of silly.
Over the 4 weeks that I spent in Shiga, I rode my bike almost everyday. It was convenient, fun and gave me the feeling that I was fitting more into the culture around me with such a simple act. I also felt free and safe which is a bit odd if you're in a foreign country. I wanted to keep that feeling and bring it home, I didn't realize that there was another factor playing a part.
Fast forward to my first week back home and I am planning to try and recreate the bike experience I had in Japan. It seemed well at first until I stood outside in my neighborhood and remembered the feeling it caused. I tried to imagine myself doing the things I did in Japan and the kind of places I went. It wouldn't be the same. The place I live is more spread out and has a slightly volatile atmosphere. It is more practical and safe to be in a car or bus. For now, I have put the idea of biking in Orlando away and plan to wait until I can get back to Japan to enjoy biking again.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Eating breakfast in the business class lounge!

I have never flown first-class and this is a real treat.  Who would have known there is a free breakfast buffet in the airline lounge?  Now, I am ready for my long flight to Seoul, South Korea. My advise at this point is to make sure you have a travel-size personal care kit!  I really thought I didn't need one but I BARELY woke up in time to catch my flight out of LAX.  I am really wishing right now I didn't have to buy a $4 USD travel-size toothpaste, a $3 USD travel-size toothbrush, or a $5 USD travel-size deodorant!  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

ISP 2016 - Konkuk University

I can't believe that the day has finally come: I am on my way to South Korea!

This will be my first time traveling overseas and my first time writing bare with me, please.  I am used to being in a foreign country since I have traveled often to Mexico since I was a child but South Korea will be a completely different experience.  I am looking forward to it!

Today, I took a bus from Apizaco, Tlaxcala, Mexico to Mexico City in order to catch my flight to Los Angeles. I will stay the night in Los Angeles and head to South Korea tomorrow morning (7/1/2016).  Keep reading my posts for pictures of my journey to Konkuk University!!

      *My cat Tipp wanting to travel with me to South Korea!
       *Taking the bus to Mexico City from Apizaco, Tlaxcala!
       *Looking for the Secured Taxi service at the bus terminal
      *On my way to the International Airport in Mexico City!                                                              

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Bath, England

River Avon and Bath
    I couldn't wait to get to Bath, England when I heard we were planning on going there on the Scotland and England Study Tour. I am a big fan of Jane Austen so I looked forward to seeing the setting for two of her books, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. It was truly a beautiful city and lived up to what I imagined.
    Bath is located on the River Avon so I was able to walk along the streets by the river. The bridges, houses, and buildings are very ornate, old and beautiful. The Circus is a section of buildings that are attached to each other except for three entrances and they form a circle.
    I stopped by the Jane Austen House, had a Cornish pasty (which is synonymous with the city of Bath), Bath Abbey, toured the Roman Baths, and walked along the streets taking in the old buildings and watching street performers.
The Circus
    The city of Bath is known for its Roman Baths that can be toured. The tour is very informative of the the history of how the Roman's built the baths there. The waters, as you can see in the picture, has a green tinge to it. The water is this color now because it remains uncovered but, historically, it would have been covered and the waters would not have been green. The waters were believed to have healing properties in it with all the minerals that are in the water.
The Roman Baths
    The city is very huge and I was unable to see everything I wanted to but I hope that I will be able to return one day and see anything I might have missed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Post-Trip England

            When we began our trip I could not wait to see London. Being a history major there were a lot of different aspects of London that I knew I would find interesting. I was not let down by the buildings, but I was surprised at how rude the people of London were. This is not how it was in the entire United Kingdom, but in London it was definitely the case. This became really obvious at night when asking locals for directions and other basic questions. Luckily there was more to England than just London.
            Stonehenge was the most exciting part of my trip. For years I have been fascinated with the creation of it and the history associated with it. Stonehenge is one of the greatest mysteries the world has to offer. After all of these years scientists and engineers still are unsure of how it was constructed. After seeing it in person I have created my own theory, but who hasn’t? Stonehenge really inspired me to take a new approach to the creative process and pushed me to think how to do things differently.
            The same day that we went to Stonehenge we also went to Bath. Bath is an ancient Roman city that has remained for the most part intact. The buildings were beautiful and appeared to have only been slightly altered in restoration. Bath and Stonehenge definitely saved England for me. I will definitely travel back to England; I just don’t know how much of that time I will choose to spend in London.

Post-Trip Scotland

This trip was truly all that I had hoped for and much more. I was blessed with the opportunity to travel back to Europe for the third time, and this time I was fortunate enough to travel to Scotland, England, and France. Out of the three nations it was Scotland and France that had the greatest impact. The highlights of the trip were traveling north to the Highlands in Scotland and then traveling back to Edinburgh following the departure of the rest of the group.
            The Highlands more than lived up to my expectations. I was actually really surprised to see that the Highlands had a very similar layout to Washington State. Oddly enough Scotland resembled a green Eastern Washington. The wildlife and vegetation was exactly the same. On one of my walks I was lucky enough to come across several deer and a few grouse. It is safe to say that I felt as if I was looking out at my own backyard.
            While in the Highlands I was amazed to find that we had a Scotch bar in our hotel. I made sure to take advantage of this and tried as many different local whiskeys as I could. This would continue as we moved across Scotland. I found out quite quickly that finding Scotch in Scotland would be easier than shooting fish in a barrel. One of my favorite parts of the trip was the tour of the Scotch distillery that we went on as a group. It was insightful to get a step-by-step walkthrough of the process of making Scotch.
            Once we arrived in Edinburgh I was really able to get an understanding of what the people of Scotland were truly like. For the most part they were friendly and were than willing to answer any questions. Edinburgh was one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever been to. All throughout the city you can look and find old castles, government buildings, and all around amazing Architecture. I fell in love with the city and actually returned for another three days after the rest of the group returned home. I will defiantly be back to Scotland in the near future!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

View of the North Sea from Calton Hill
  If you ever find yourself in Edinburgh (pronounced “Edinbra”) you must visit Calton Hill. This spot is a great place to start your adventure in this city for the view and the historical significance.  There is a lot to see in Edinburgh, in fact, it was my favorite city we visited while on the Scotland and England Study Tour this past May with Columbia College of Missouri. On the east side of the hill you can gaze out over the sea. From the other side you get a wonderful view of the city. From this point you can also see Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat, New Town, and Old Town. There is really no bad view from this hill!
The National Monument of Scotland
     On the hill itself is also many buildings including Nelson’s Monument, Playfair Monument, Dugald Stewart Monument,the City Observatory, and the National Monument of Scotland.  I did not see all the monuments here but a good chunk of them. The hill has many paths that you can walk or hike around.
   The National Monument of Scotland is also known as “Scotland’s Disgrace” as it was never completed. The monument is half of a building with tall pillars. But even unfinished the monument is very impressive! It also is a great spot to get a group photo if you climb up on it.
Nelson's Monument
      Nelson’s Monument is also located on Calton Hill. It is a tower that is near the National Monument of Scotland. You can go up the stairs to the top of the tower to get a lovely 360 degree view of the city. It was designed to look like a telescope which is appropriate since it is on the same hill as the City Observatory.
    The Playfair Monument was named after William Playfair who was the architect of many historical sites, buildings, and monument in Edinburgh, including the National Monument of Scotland and the Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill.
   After we finished taking in the beautiful view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill we stopped in at a tea shop in Holyrood Palace and then were dropped off at St. Giles Cathedral to explore the city. St. Giles Cathedral is a beautiful building with stained glass windows, a large organ, and high ceilings. We walked along the street of old town which is where the famous Elephant House coffee shop is located.  J.K. Rowling was supposed to have written some of Harry Potter from this coffee shop.  The Writer’s Museum was a neat find as well. The National Museum of Scotland is also located in Edinburgh and has free entry! The museum was so huge we only saw part of it including Mary Queen of Scots’ jewelry, whale skeletons, and many mechanical inventions from different time periods.

Edinburgh Castle
      The city of Edinburgh is a huge place and there is something for everyone no matter your interests. Walking along Calton Hill, reading about authors from Scotland at the Writer’s Museum, and walking through the National Museum of Scotland were all highlights for me on this trip! I hope I encourage you to one day go to Edinburgh as it is now one of my favorite places.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


              My favorite place we visited while in Scotland had to be Edinburgh. We did a bus
tour of the city on the first full day there and visited Calton hill along with some other sites. Then the next day we were able to walk around the Royal mile. We had the whole day until we had to meet for dinner to go and explore on our own. Some of the things we went to go and see are: The National museum of Scotland, the Elephant house (where J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter), the street that inspired Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies/books, the library which had a neat exhibit on the plague, and we got to watch a really funny street performer before we headed to dinner.
    I think the street performer had to be one of the best parts of that free day we had in Edinburgh. He said he was a magician, but he was more of a comedian that did some magic tricks. I have never seen a street performer before like this and he was really great at getting the crowd involved along with making us laugh. He did tell us his information right before the show ended and I wish I had written it down, but I didn’t and I cannot remember anything he said otherwise I would leave a link below.
              Other than Edinburgh we were able to see a lot of the country side in Scotland mainly the Highlands. One really interesting thing we did was go to the Loch Ness monster museum where we learned about all the claims of people seeing the Loch Ness monster and then explaining why there really is not a monster in the lake. A fun fact I learned was that Loch means lake I had not known that before. If you have not been to Scotland before the country side of Scotland looks very similar to Colorado just a lot greener and it rains a lot more in Scotland.  I think this is why I really enjoyed Edinburgh and England as much as I did, but I really enjoyed every aspect of my trip just some more than others.
            Some advice for those who have not been abroad or been to Scotland before is that their accents are really hard to understand. I did not have any problem with English accents at all, but Scottish accents, depending on the person, are really thick and they kind of mumble and mush their words together when they are talking. So just know if you go to Scotland you aren’t the only one who has problems understanding their accents.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Finally traveled to London and more!


The study abroad tour I went on we traveled to Scotland and England. I loved the whole tour and everything we saw, but I have to say my favorite part of the trip was England. Now we stayed towards the outskirts of London, but we were within in easy walking distance to a train station. I have always loved London, England, well the idea of London since I had never been there before, because a lot of my favorite shows and actors are from London, England, but let’s be honest I really enjoy English accents too. So when I saw that Columbia was having a tour going to England I had to do it and I was not disappointed.
      I live about an hour north of Chicago, Illinois and I do not like Chicago and rarely go there because I am not a fan of cities I am more of a suburban kid, but I loved London. It is not as crowded, in my opinion, as Chicago, it is a lot cleaner, and I felt it was a lot safer than Chicago too. I really enjoyed using the underground train because I haven’t done that before and they have so many different types of food to try out there. One thing that surprised me was how early shops closed in the UK because in Scotland and England the shops all would close around 6 or 7 at night. So make sure to get up early so you can make it to all the places you want to see that day.
              The things we saw in London are: all the touristy sites, Buckingham palace and the changing of the guard, the National history and Science museum, the Sherlock museum, the British library, the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studios (me and my friend Hannah did this on our own), St. Paul’s Cathedral, and that is all I can think of at the moment, but we did see much more. We did get to walk around and see a lot of the different parks, like Green Park, and shops.  On our free day Hannah and I went to the Harry potter studios and we went to hunt down the location of Sherlock’s apartment that is used in the BBC show Sherlock, which is on Gower Street.
  Also, included in the tour was an excursion to Stonehenge and Bath. It was a great experience to get to see Stonehenge I wish we would have been able to get closer to it, but it was pretty surreal still to actually see Stonehenge. The Roman baths in Bath were really neat to see. Also, if you are a Jane Austen fan they have a Jane Austen museum in Bath because that is where she lived and wrote all her novels. I actually was able to visit the museum really quickly and purchased a copy of Pride and Prejudice while I was there, which I am really enjoying reading right now.  It was a less busy type of city/town and again it was laid back compared to cities in the US. I really enjoyed bath also and had a lot of fun walking around checking out the shops and trying one of the Pasties that they are famous for, which was really good!
Overall, I had an amazing experience and made so many new friendships while on this tour. If I had the chance to do it again I would in a heartbeat. If you are debating doing a study abroad tour you should just go for it because you will meet a lot of great people and it really is an experience of a lifetime if you have never been overseas like I hadn’t been before this trip. I plan on trying to do a semester abroad in Canterbury, England this fall 2016 which is about an hour outside of London. I am really looking forward to going back to England and being able to travel to new places while I am out there.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A journey into the Gothic Revival

I have been waiting to visit Strawberry Hill and to see the Gothic influence ever since I learned about it during my sophomore year of high school.

Horace Walpole was born Horatio Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford on September 24th 1717. He is partially responsible for the revival of gothic architecture that dominated Europe in the previous centuries. Horace Walpole was the first author to pen a text in what became known as the gothic style. His name is synonymous with Gothic literature thanks to his greatest work The Castle of Otranto. The Castle of Otranto laid the foundation of what the Gothic style should be for other authors that would follow. This would include famous authors such as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. It was Walpole’s home “Strawberry Hill” which provided him with the inspiration to write his first Gothic novel. “One night Walpole awoke from a dream and imagined he saw a giant armoured fist on the staircase and it was this that inspired the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto.” Horace Walpole was also an art historian, a politician, and an architect. His greatest creation in my opinion was the house that he had built in the old Gothic style, which he named Strawberry Hill.

Walpole constructed Strawberry Hill in several stages throughout his lifetime. Walpole did not have a finished design for his property and instead decided to add to the building as he saw fit. This would make construction for all involved an absolute nightmare, but allowed Walpole to make his dream a reality. It all began in 1747 when Walpole leased a five-acre plot of land in Twickenham, London. In 1748 Walpole purchased the house, which had originally been named “Chopped Straw Hill”. He had purchased the home with the intent of constructing a family castle. Walpole eventually expanded his land to a sum of forty-six acres. Walpole’s friend and amateur architect, John Chute, was trusted with developing the design of the exterior of the home. The exterior of the house featured a style that mixed Gothic designs with the castles of the day. This meant that the home would feature turrets and battlements while also containing arched windows with stained glass, similar to the cathedrals of the original Gothic Age. The interior of the home gained most of its character from Walpole’s extensive collection of antiquarian objects. This would include beautiful pieces of art, artifacts, and objects used for the construction of the house such as Robert Adam’s fireplace. The construction process of Strawberry Hill wasn’t smooth sailing to say the least.

It is a nightmare for anyone tasked with constructing a building to have to build the building in stages. Typically there is a complete blueprint, which allows workers to have a simple plan to follow, which allows for quick and easy construction of a building. While Walpole did have sketches and an overall idea of what he hoped to turn his home into, he did not have an actual blueprint thus complicating the entire construction process. By the end of the first stage of construction Walpole was well on his way to having completed “His little Gothic castle”.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Elgin Marbles


It's fun when our trips from different years and different countries begin to intersect.  Like when we visited Pergamon in Turkey one year, and more recently, Berlin, where a good chunk of the Pergamon artifacts had been set up on their museum island. Or when we visited the Tomb of Columbus in Seville, but found out that at least some part (parts?) of him still rest in the Dominican Republic. (Alas, I haven't been able to get there yet!)

 A few years ago, CC visited Athens, and of course, in Athens, climbed up the hill of the Parthenon.

To round out the tour, we also glimpsed the Acropolis Museum at the bottom of the hill, a modern structure with much interesting stuff, and a deliberate hole.  The Greeks are still more than a little eager to get back pieces of the Parthenon that are now in England, at the British Museum.  Specifically, the pieces that came to be called The Elgin Marbles.  No, not the marbles that Opie would play with back in Mayberry.  Rather the marble sculptures that once graced the Parthenon itself, before the centuries and various interested parties took parts home with them.

Here's how a Time magazine article spun it:
The Elgin Marbles receive their name from the British lord who craftily spirited them away from Greece. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and ambassador to the Ottoman Empire — occupiers of Greece in the early 19th century — grew to admire the Parthenon's extensive collection of ancient marble sculptures and began extracting and expatriating them to Britain in 1801. Lord Elgin claimed his imprimatur from an Ottoman sultan, who said he could remove anything from the Parthenon that did not interfere with the ancient citadel's walls. Despite objections that Lord Elgin had "ruined Athens" by the time his work was done in 1805, the British Government purchased the marbles from him in 1816. They've been housed at the British Museum ever since.
This isn't exactly a neutral piece, titled as it is, "Top 10 Plundered Artifacts."  A British paper, The Guardian, takes quite the opposite view, in "Parthenon Marbles: Greece's Claim is Nationalist Rhetoric that Deserves to Fail."  The British Museum gives a bit more history, which takes more account of the disregard that the Ottomans and many others had for all this 'pagan debris.'  

I'm not sure whether our frantic schedule on this current tour will let us see the Elgin Marbles (sadly, the one thing in London I actually want to see...), but they certainly play into the course material for our British Romanticism course (ARTS/ENGL).  Benjamin Robert Haydon, a "big picture" painter, become an enthusiastic champion of the Marbles, and introduced them to his friend, John Keats, the poet. 

Keats himself wrote about the Elgin Marbles, as in "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles":
My spirit is too weak—mortality
   Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
   And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
   Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep
   That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
   Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
   That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time—with a billowy main—
   A sun—a shadow of a magnitude. 
We are also reading Stan Plumly's The Immortal Evening  [see the NYTimes book review] , a book about a strange dinner party at Haydon's place, which included Keats, Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb, to unveil Haydon's current work, "Christ's Entry into Jerusalem."


The book itself is probably too detailed for our students' interest, but it gives a sense of the ordinary associations of these poets and painters and writers, who weren't at all legendary all by themselves in a lonely tower.  It's that London which I'd like to experience, the one that engaged and enlivened the arts, the one with quirky paths and surprising friends.


later, bob

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Strawberry Hill: the castle you ought to see

   So the countdown begins – 30 days till we are traveling to the UK. For me the day seemed like it would never come and then suddenly it is almost here. Prior to the trip I have been taking an accompanying class, British Romanticism: Image and Word, which has really helped prepare me for the sights we will be seeing on the trip. From paintings, literature, poetry, and architecture I feel that I will appreciate them so much more from this class.
    One interesting thing we learned from this class was the foundation for gothic literature. Damsels in distress, knights in shining armor, dark corridors, ghosts, mysterious villains, and gloomy castles all key elements describing the gothic genre. One such castle is situated right on the Thames in Twickenham, London called Strawberry Hill. This castle was the inspiration to Horace Walpole in his writing of the first ever Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto.
Strawberry Hill     When Horace Walpole first bought Strawberry Hill he called it just a little cottage, later, he transformed it into a magnificent Gothic inspired castle it is today. The dark corridors set the gothic mood and the open well-lit rooms contrast well and create an awe inspiring effect.  The vaulted ceilings, intricately detailed archways, stained glass windows, and crimson and gold interior is definitely a sight to be seen. The Asymmetric castle also has the classic battlements, flying buttresses, and gated entrance to gothic architecture but in a very original design.
Strawberry Hill Gallery
    Since the 1700’s Britain has restored the gothic inspired castle to the show piece it is today. Visitors will be able to see Walpole’s library, gallery, bedroom, and many more rooms including his Green closet where he wrote The Castle of Otranto as well as many others of his works and letters. In addition to the castle experience there is also a museum and artifact room that showcases writing, paintings, and technology used in the castle throughout its history. The gardens have also been restored as much as possible to its winding paths, grove of lime tree, and a vast array of flowers perfect for viewing on a spring or summer day.
    This would be an amazing place to visit if you are a fan of the gothic genre or if you have read The Castle of Otranto, but even if you are neither of those it would fit in great with what we will already be seeing while we are in Scotland and England. We will be visiting Stirling castle (pictured left) and Edinburgh castle (pictured bottom right), in Scotland, which do not specifically use gothic architecture, but these will show the dark, gloomy corridors that were present in The Castle of Otranto, based off of Strawberry Hill. Based on the pictures of Stirling castle, Edinburgh castle, and Strawberry hill you can see a resemblance between all three structures.
Also, while we are in London we will be visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral which has more in common with gothic architecture because it has the vaulted ceilings and pointed arches.
    Overall, I think we would be missing out on an amazing opportunity to visit such a beautiful site that shows many different historical influences of the time. It would be amazing to see all the different elements Walpole used in piecing together Strawberry Hill and it would be a very unique monument to experience in person with all its quirks and peculiarities. Moreover, I would love to get to see as many sites as possible while I am out there and Strawberry Hill is definitely on my list because of how much we have learned about it in our class. It would be a great life experience for sure. 

Find out more about Strawberry Hill visit their website:
Contributors: Ally Baum and Hannah Marschall
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