26 May 2011

John Lithgow Palace

Mom Picture inside
Linlithgow Palace.

Alright, I know this post has been a long time coming. I mean, Kari and I went back in FEBRUARY, so stay with me here while I struggle to remember the details...

Sadly, Linlithgow Palace is not named for the actor John Lithgow. Kari and I kept on accidentally saying Lithgow Palace, so it became a sort of joke for the day. Linlithgow is only about a 20 minute train ride from Edinburgh, so it made a great day trip. It has always been on my list of places to visit in Scotland, so I was glad to finally go! We were really lucky and had gorgeous weather. There was nary a cloud in the sky, so we were perfectly happy to spend the day traipsing around the castle.

You're missing something...oh, that's
right....a ROOF.
The town of Linlithgow is pretty small. There was one main road, so it wasn't too hard to find the palace. The palace itself is mostly in ruins, so it's a lot of individual exploration.(From the outside, the palace is largely intact. You only really notice the ruined parts when you enter and discover an entire floor is missing.) There were plenty of dark corridors that we (bravely!) ventured down. At the entrance there was a sign warning us of bats inside the palace. Not gonna lie - I was really nervous that some big bat was gonna come flying out at me from the darkness. 

Looking down one of the
many corridors.
The palace itself was built in the 15th century after the original fortress was burned down to the ground. It is where the infamous Mary, Queen of Scots was born in 1542, which gives it special importance. During the Stuart reign it was built up even more, during which time it was used for a "fun" alternative to Edinburgh. After the 1600s, however, it remained largely unused and began to fall into disrepair. Its fate was firmly sealed after a fire in 1746, bringing it to its current state. 

After searching for quite a bit, Kari and I were finally able to find the (looong) spiral staircase that led to the top of one of the towers. We were pretty much alone in the palace, seeing as it was February. We spent a good half hour sitting on top of the tower admiring the view and taking plenty of silly pictures. 

Looking at Linlithgow Palace from the water's edge.
Mom Picture on top of the tower.
And then the silliness began...
I don't even want to tell you how long we laughed at Kari's face in this one.
We did manage to get in a nice picture eventually.
The view from the top. Not too shabby.
Doing her best Mary, Queen of Scots impersonation.
Do I love Scotland? Oh, yes I do.
Haggis soup from a cafe in Linlithgow - surprisingly delicious!

18 May 2011

Silly Pictures on top/in front of Serious Things

Silly Pictures on top/in front of Serious Things: A phrase used to denote the fine and not-so-subtle art of taking ridiculous and hilarious pictures on top of or in front of serious things. These things may include, but are not limited to, palaces, castles, famous landmarks, statues, fountains, churches, etc. These pictures often elicit a sense of euphoria or extreme giggling. Be sure to have many silly and expressive faces at the ready.

Warning: once the pictures begin, it is often hard to stop. Be prepared to take many in a row and laugh loudly obnoxiously at the results.
Eiffel Tower, Paris
Duomo, Florence
Doctors Pub, Edinburgh - only famous to us, but still...
Manneken Pis, Brussels
Linlithgow Palace, Scotland
State Street, Chicago
Monticello, Virginia
Capitol Building, Washington D.C.
The Bean, Chicago

13 May 2011


Punting is one of the many
things a visitor can do in
One of the many medieval
streets in town.

During my week down visiting Elizabeth I decided to spend a day in Cambridge. Only about a 30 minute drive from her town of Bury St. Edmunds, Cambridge is primarily famous because of its ancient university. I'm sure you all also now know it because of the newly titled Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209, making it the second oldest university in both England and the English-speaking world (the oldest would be Oxford). The town of Cambridge itself is half medieval historical area surrounding the university and more modern streets filled with great shopping. Besides shopping, I would recommend walking around Kings College down by the river. When I was there it was closed to visitors because of examinations so I only had the exterior to admire. Otherwise, there is also a punting tour down the river which is supposed to give you great views of the university.
There is a market in Market Square every day of the week except for Sundays.
Queens College, right across from Kings College.
The famous Kings College.

08 May 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

It’s hard to believe that I grew up liking dresses or the color pink at all. I grew up in a masculine heavy household. With two brothers – one older, one younger – I was surrounded with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and baseball mitts from a very early age. For as long as I can remember, I followed my older brother and his friends around. Summers were spent at the baseball diamonds by my house, and winters were dedicated to snow football…and yes, that’s a real thing. I was the only sister in the group. It was like I was a novelty. I was a girl, and yet I could take down any of those guys in a game of football with one swift tackle if I wanted.

I had never had a problem with playing sports. I loved running out onto the soccer field, and I loved that rush when you realized that it was your turn up to bat. When I was in the fourth grade, however, a lot of the girls in my class became obsessed with the idea of being a girl. They began to notice boys, and they saw gym class as an opportunity to flirt with boys rather than play a game. I began to feel out of place. Coinciding with all of this was the introduction of Colt’s Cheerleading. Pee-Wee Football was big in our town. Most every boy played, and girls clamored for a spot on the cheerleading team. With my time spent on my sports teams, I began to feel like I was doing something wrong.

I begged my mom to let me join, but she (wisely) refused. You know that moment, when you get the feeling that your parents were going to say something so profound that they must  have mind reading powers? Yeah, this was that moment. Her eyes were boring into my soul, catching every single insecurity that I had been struggling with for the last few weeks.

Very softly, she asked, “Do you want to be the one on the sidelines doing the cheering, or do you want to be the one on the field that they’re cheering for?”

Even to this day, I remember her words so perfectly. Word for word, they have been chiseled into my being. I don’t think I will ever forget this moment, because it has come to define my entire person. It wasn’t a moment in which I had to choose between being a girl and being a tomboy. Instead, it was a moment in which I was challenged to recognize my own direction. My mom challenged me when I was still a young girl and she still challenges me to this day.

So Happy Mother's Day, Mom! Thank you for giving me the strength to always be the person that I wanted to be.
In Maine, summer 2006
At the Statue of Liberty, 2009
In Key Largo, spring break 2010

05 May 2011

Bury St. Edmunds

The entrance to the Abbey

Bury St. Edmunds is the small town in which Elizabeth resides. When visiting her for a full week, I got to explore it quite a bit. It is a market town, so make sure and try and catch the market on either Wednesday or Saturday. There you can find plenty of fresh produce or little things for around the house. There is plenty of shopping in Bury otherwise and everything is pretty much centered around Buttermarket. Once you head into that area you are bound to find plenty of stores or little coffee shops. For myself, I settled on Thorntons Cafe. There was no way they could go wrong combining their famous chocolate with coffee! I'm a really big fan of sitting outside with a cup of coffee and a book, so I was pretty much in heaven here.

Abbey Gardens
Besides the market the other main event is the Abbey Gardens. There was once a magnificent and massive abbey in Bury, but it is pretty much all gone now. In the grounds that is once occupied there is a beautiful park. There are still some remains of the abbey, so you can grab a picnic and eat lunch alongside the crumbling walls. Otherwise, it makes for a really nice walk among the vibrant flowers.

Pretty much what remains of the abbey today.
Little fountain area in the Abbey Gardens.
The Abbey Gardens have plenty of beautiful flowers to get you in the mood for spring.
There are plenty of fun little nooks like this in the grounds.
I really love the people chilling out by the ruins.
The view from my bench as I read. Not too shabby.

03 May 2011

Beltane Fire Festival

Every year on April 30th the Beltane Fire Festival is held on Calton Hill. Meant to mark the beginning of spring, it is an open arts event that is anchored in the rituals of the ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane. May 1st is traditionally the day when farmers move their sheep for the summer, so Beltane is meant to symbolize fertility and the blossoming spring. The whole thing sounded pretty cool - we were expecting fire, dancing, music, fire stunts....but sadly, we were gravely disappointed. 

At 8:00 we headed towards Calton Hill eager to find our own seats on the grass. They were expecting about 12,000 attendees, so it was good that we got there when we did. Before the festival began at 9:30 we passed the time with admiring the sunset and laying in the grass. Quite ironically, it was really cold on top of the hill. Beginning of spring my butt...
It's almost 9:00 and it's still light out. What a nice change!
The beginnings of the festival.
The festivities began on the National Monument, where there was lots of pagan dancing and the lighting of the symbols of spring. (I believe one is a thistle and one is a daffodil - but I'm not really sure.) Did I mention yet that all of the dancers were painted? Many were almost nude so the effect was really strange. In my mind they looked exactly how I would imagine pagan dancers to look. Kudos on that front, I suppose.The dancers were eventually joined by the drummers, and this went on for quite a bit. I'm not gonna lie, it was starting to get a wee bit repetitive. When that finally ended, there was a solid hour when nothing really happened. During this time, the drummers were making a winding path around the hill. Now, not to complain or anything, but it's pretty hard to follow them around when there are 12,000 other people there. We decided to stay where we were to ensure that we would have a good view of the stage.
The parade of torches to the National Monument.
After waiting around for an hour, we were starting to get really annoyed. It all seemed pretty unorganized, really. It was taking far too long for the main acts to get started, so we ended up spending most of the time trying to stay warm. In the end, the acts were a big let down. There was no fire dancing or fire gymnastics. It ended up being mostly the drummers and weird pagan dancers again, which was just too repetitive for my tastes. The festival was to end at 1:00, but we ended up leaving at midnight. I guess I just built up the festival too much in my mind before. But seriously - was it too much to ask to have a naked pagan man breathing fire while doing a back flip?
More weird pagan dancing. LAME
Sami, Deirdre, and me at Beltane. We just look cold!

02 May 2011

Road Trip Day 3: Dover

Now that I'm done blogging about the magnificence of the Royal Wedding, I can finish up on the road trip. To wrap up our England adventure, we finished up with a day in Dover. I have always wanted to see the famed white cliffs of Dover, so this was the culmination of the trip for me. 

We started off our visit with some time at Dover Castle. Now, I didn't even have Dover Castle on my radar. I never really knew about its importance, but strategically it was always an important place. Because of its proximity to France, it was known as the "Key to England." It is also massive, so you could spend a good few hours enjoying the grounds.
View of Dover Castle from the parking lot.
There was a medieval festival going on, so we were able to enjoy the entertainment. It may have been mostly aimed towards children, but we still enjoyed it. There was a lovely jester giving "fool" lessons to the gathered crowds. We especially enjoyed the puppet tent, where we each made our own puppets that we then proceeded to carry around for the next couple of hours before giving them away to a lovely little family with three kids.
Our crew with our puppets on the top of Dover Castle. Sweet dragon, yo.
View of the white cliffs from Dover Castle.
Afterwards we made our way down to the beach were we relaxed for a bit in the sun. We were still so lucky to have such beautiful weather, so we made sure to enjoy it while we called home and wished our families a Happy Easter. After about an hour we made our way to the docks in search of a boat tour. We wanted to explore the water a bit in hopes of getting some good views of the white cliffs. We weren't able to leave the harbor, but we still managed to get some beautiful views - particularly of Dover Castle. The coolest part was that we could just make out the coast of France across the water. If I ever make it back to Dover, I'm definitely taking a ferry to France and back for a fun little day trip.
Can you see France? It's there beyond the lighthouse.
Posing with the captain of our boat.
Lovely view of Dover Castle with the white cliffs it sits upon.
To finish up our day we decided to check out the white cliffs firsthand. There is a designated park where you can walk along the cliffs' edge. I really liked this part, despite how freaky it was. There were no guard rails, so I was literally walking on the edge. One wrong step and I was a goner. Plus, it was really windy, so that was an unfortunate addition to the equation. Either way, the views were amazing. It was pretty cool that we were walking on the famed cliffs, even though I left with my feet covered in a cloud of chalk dust.
Enjoying the views from the edge. Majestic.
Even though I knew it before, I was still amazed by the whiteness of the cliffs.
Mom Picture - always a necessity.