April 12, 2014

More British Oddities

To continue the never-ending saga of British oddities (since it literally has no end), let's dwell on some quirks that set this delightful nation apart from my own. 

If you're a native of Britain or have lived here long enough to call it home then you might be used to these idiosyncrasies. As a greenhorn expat fresh from the States I had a little trouble adjusting to them.  

First Floor—No—Ground Floor

Navigating a multi-story building can be a bit tricky for an American in Britain. If the bookshop is on Floor 1 then that does not mean it is at street level. Neither does Floor 3 sit on top of just two other floors. In this country the ground floor is regarded as Floor 0, the next floor is 1, and so on. So on your next trip to London take your time in the lift and double-check that you really want to go up 16 stories and not 17. 

A Bun or a Bun? 

April 06, 2014

Two Hours in Skipton

With only two hours to discover a new town, where would you go first?

You've had no time to do in-depth research on the area's history, you only know a couple of must-see landmarks, and you're hoping the rain holds off before you have to get back on your coach. 

This was my predicament when I arrived in Skipton.

When I left Capernwray Hall to go on this afternoon jaunt, all I knew was that Skipton is the "Gateway to the Dales." Heretofore my familiarity with the Dales rested entirely on one of my favorite British shows, All Creatures Great and Small. A "dale" is, I have discovered, a river valley, and the county of Yorkshire is riddled with these. They make for some of the most stunning countryside I've seen in my life.

Skipton is located in North Yorkshire
 Skipton shown within North Yorkshire*

A Boating Excursion 

One of my dear traveling companions (incidentally, a blog-reading Britophile like you) recommended we spend some of our precious minutes riding on a canal boat. I loved the idea; I'd seen canal boats before but never thought I would actually get in one of them. We discovered Pennine Cruisers, a tiny family-run company that let me and my friends take a private 30-minute boat trip for only £3 each. Our vessel had the incredibly creative name of "Sam," and we were motored along by a tight-lipped man who steered the boat as we ooed and ahhed and leaned too far over to see the ducks.

March 08, 2014

British Oddities: The Never-ending Saga

I love Britain. It's under my skin, in my blood, and my Britophilia isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I love living in Britain: the people, the places, and yes––even the food. However, that doesn't mean that I necessarily understand everything Brits do. 

Fish and chips by Salim Virji
Fish and chips, a photo by Salim Virji on Flickr.
We've already discussed the fact that Brits and Americans don't speak the same language,  so let's move on to some other quirky bits that I've had personal encounters with.

This isn't just some list of oddities gleaned off the internet. These are real issues that this American girl has had to deal with.

Eating Tea

Here in the North of England, the evening meal is called "tea." As someone who has grown up with dinner and supper, it took me a very long time to get accustomed to the idea of "tea time" having nothing to do with the drink but rather with fish and chips or maybe a curry. Even now when someone says they were invited somewhere for tea, my first thought is a china teacup and scones.

IMG_2412.JPG by {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}
IMG_2412.JPG, a photo by {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester} on Flickr.

Outlet-free Bathrooms

Imagine being forced to go to your bedroom in order to dry your hair. Try to conceptualise a world where your speakers can't be plugged in next to the shower. There is such a world, people, and it's called Britain.

February 28, 2014

Fountains Abbey: From Riches to Ruin

If you stand in the ruined Chapel of Nine Altars at Fountains Abbey and gaze upwards, the soaring Gothic arches will take your breath away.   
England is rich in medieval monasteries, but this one, nestling in the rolling valleys of Yorkshire, is on a spectacular scale that leaves most visitors in awe.

Originally, Fountains Abbey was never intended to achieve such grandeur.  It was founded in the 12th century, by a small band of monks who felt that their lifestyle in a nearby Benedictine abbey had become too comfortable.  They craved simplicity, solitude, and servitude - in fact, they staged a bit of a rebellion against their cosy lifestyle!  After begging the Archbishop of York for permission, they built a new monastery and a new life for themselves in the valley of the River Skell.

The first church was made of wood, but in 1160 this was replaced by the present Abbey church.  It was built of local sandstone, and massive oak beams supported the roof.  Inside, the white-painted walls reflected the sunlight that streamed in through the many windows;  the effect must have been stunning and uplifting.  What must it have been like to hear a choir singing in there?

February 20, 2014

Welcome to Britain: An American Learning English

I thought I grew up speaking English. Little did I know.

IMG_0853 by Lorenzo Sernicola
IMG_0853, a photo by Lorenzo Sernicola on Flickr.

What I speak is American, not to be confused with what they actually speak in England. Since moving across the pond I've become accustomed to certain differences, like "pants/trousers" and "rubbish bin/trash can." However, some things still serve as constant reminders that I am indeed in another country.

The Words Are Shorter

Brits love to shorten words. There's something so desperately lengthy about "biscuit," "breakfast," and "lavatory." These words become "bickie," "brekkie," and "lav." In general I think it's pretty cute. After all, it's only here that you can munch on a "choccy bickie" or open up your "brill prezzies" on Christmas Day. But shortening "Christmas" to "Crimbo"? That's taking it a step too far.

January 30, 2014

Carlisle: Church, Castle, and Café

You may have never heard of Carlisle, so sit down and let me give you a brief synopsis. It is a city in Cumbria, home to about 75, 000 people, two rugby clubs, and one 16th century curse. That was very brief, but wait a moment and I'll go further in depth.

I try to get out and see more of England as often as possible, and whenever the school organises a day trip for the students I try to hop on. A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit Carlisle with two friends who are equal parts fun companions and fellow history buffs. One is Austrian and the other is Australian, and we had a grand day trip exploring the town of Carlisle.

When visiting a city I nearly always head for a church first. It seems that the oldest parts of a city are its church and its castle, and if you are interested in old things like I am then those are the places to go. Each represents one of the two major areas of Medieval life: secular life dominated by government, and spiritual life dominated by the church.

But first....

Reivers raid Gilnockie Tower

The Curse of Carlisle

The history of this city has a lot to do with its location. It is situated right on the border between England and Scotland, which made it a prime target whenever there was strife between the two countries.

And that was pretty often.

January 24, 2014

London's Top Free Attractions

According to Londoners, the English capital is the greatest city in the world, and if you’ve ever been there before, then you might be inclined to agree. With so many amazing attractions, vast historical monuments and more bars, clubs and pubs that you can count, a month touring the streets of London still wouldn’t be enough to see all it has to offer!

natural history museum by mikelo
 natural history museum, a photo by mikelo on Flickr.
However, if you’re considering seeing London for the first time, and you just so happen to be a student on your summer holidays or gap year, then this European gem will certainly be a highlight, not least because of all the free things to see and do! Let’s take a look at some of the best money-saving attractions to experience on your trip to the capital this year.                                    

1. The Natural History Museum

With millions of people flocking through its doors every year, The Natural History Museum has been one of London’s top free attractions for quite some time. Detailing the history of the natural world, from the smallest bug to the biggest dinosaur, you could easily spend an entire day at this wonderful museum, with huge life size whales hanging overhead and special exhibitions to experience!

Borough Market London's oldest food market IMG_0388 by tonylanciabeta
Borough Market London's oldest food market IMG_0388, a photo by tonylanciabeta on Flickr.
2. Borough Market

If you want to get a taste of London’s streets and culture, then Borough Market is the place for you. This world famous market has been here since the 13th century, and from food to flowers, clothes to materials, every stall has something you need! Not only is it one of the most vibrant and busy places in London on a market day, but it’s the mixture of different cultures that makes Borough Market stand out from all the others in the capital. Perfect for a spot of lunch or a few drinks before you hit the town, a trip to Borough Market will certainly be worth the journey.
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