London

Dear Reader,

This last weekend I caught a train from the rugged hills of Scotland to bustling streets of London, England. London’s influence seems to permeate the world and the imaginations of even those who have never set foot in it. Images of red telephone boxes, waving Union Jack, and double-decker busses zooming past iconic landmarks have dwelt with me most of my life, an idealized vision of some place I’ve always dreamed of going. I have to admit that while I had high hopes for this city, half of me wondered if its charm was grounded more in hype than what it actually had to offer. Yet every moment from arriving in King’s Cross Station to when we left on Sunday exceeded all expectations, leaving me in no doubt as to why London was someplace I had always been dying to see.

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Being in London sort of felt like Christmas. Sticky July heat aside, we were alive with the childlike giddiness of seeing long-anticipated places that before had only been real in pictures. It’s surreal to walk over Tower Bridge, past Parliament, and hear Big Ben tolling noon like it’s the most normal thing in the world. For many walking the streets it was; just another day getting from here to there and home again. But for us it was the joy of discovering for ourselves somewhere that has touched and influenced millions of people for thousands of years.

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It was an intense four days of trying to pack in as much as possible, and I think we did a pretty good job. We mastered the London Underground, which brought us to places such as the Tower of London, the infamous fortress where people where held prisoner and executed; Buckingham Palace, where the guards really do look as goofy in real life as they do on the Travel Channel; the Westminster Abbey, site of every coronation and royal wedding; and Kensington Palace, where Queen Victoria was born and raised. I think it’s best to have a somewhat high pain tolerance when visiting London; the need to pinch yourself to remember the significance of what you’re seeing may happen more than once. When you see armour worn by King Henry VIII, the Crown Jewels, Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, and the graves of people like Sir Isaac Newton, Queen Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens, and Winston Churchill all in a matter of hours, you may start to lose touch with reality. Occasional tears are also acceptable.

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Though it was all magnificent (save for the blisters), what was arguably my favorite part was touring the Harry Potter set at the Warner Brothers Studios. For those of you who did not know me during my elementary and middle school years, Harry Potter was a defining feature of my childhood. Perhaps the defining feature for a while. I lost sleep staying up late reading the series by flashlight, counted down the days until each new book or movie was released, proudly plastered my room with movie posters, and even planned how I would tell my family and friends when I got my Hogwarts acceptance letter. I’m still waiting for the last bit. While I’ve mostly mellowed from that degree of obsession, I still have a strong connection to the books and films. Maybe I liked the story of a J.K. Rowling, whose good idea and talent for writing has changed the world of childhood literacy. Or Hermione Granger, a young female character whose defining traits were not beauty and desperation but strength and intelligence (finally!). Or the intricacies of an imagined world that is so convincing you still wonder if it can be real. Whatever it was that drew me to the series originally, what has lasted more than anything is the personal and family connections I have to Harry Potter.

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Those memories came to life as we walked through the film sets and got to see the places and props used to make the movies. I remember my family buying the first movie on VHS when I was in third grade, and the five of us watching it on our old TV for the first time. I think Mom got more joy watching me watch the film than from the movie itself. I walked through the set of the Great Hall and remembered the end of the second movie, and Dad and I tearing up in the theater when he and I first went to see it together. Or my senior year of high school when the last film was released, and my parents took me out of school so we could see it opening day. The love of these stories was always something that my family shared. Together we discovered the wizarding world, and among other things, it was something we had in common that united all of us.

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In a way, this trip to London was like a pilgrimage, the long-awaited visit to somewhere I’d dream of after a rough day of middle school or the monotony of high school. It was neat because rather than having reality be a letdown from my imagination, that childlike excitement returned, and I could live reality from that perspective of wonder. Sometimes I’m sad that childhood is over. But as I get older, I also realize that part of it never really ends. There will always be the treasured stories and memories that come back to spark our imaginations and bring us back to those times that we loved. We just have to let them.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4E1uKYl1Jg

Keep imagining,

Rae

Time in Glencoe

Dear Reader,

It is raining hard here in Scotland, and I thought I would take advantage of this stormy afternoon to wander back onto WordPress. I have been in Europe forty days now, and I want to thank you so much for sticking with me so far during this amazing time.

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I find myself now at the second major turning point of the journey. Our first block of classes has concluded, and this last week was a whirlwind of final presentations, projects, and papers. Hence my lack of communication with the outside world. Come Monday I will begin a new course, as well as some preliminary studying for the GRE, but we won’t talk about that last bit.

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Most on my mind at the moment is the fact that many friends who were only here for the first block are going home, and I don’t know whether our paths will cross again. It’s funny how it took coming to Scotland for all of us Americans to meet and become friends. Life works backwards like that sometimes.  Fortunately all of my wonderful flatmates are here for the rest of the summer, and I am eager to meet those arriving today for the second half of the summer.

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A lot has happened since I last wrote, and I’ve seen a variety of places such as Edinburgh, Stirling Castle, and the Highlands. Rather than trying to play catch-up, I’m going to focus on last weekend’s excursion to Glencoe with my friends Nick and Holly. The three of us wanted to travel north and do some mountain climbing, and so we headed to the renowned destination of Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands.

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A tiny village with a bloody history, Glencoe’s main draw is the location: a wide valley surrounded on every side by mountains that rise into the misty sky. Some call it the most beautiful place in Scotland. While I have not been everywhere in this fine land, I cannot begin to fathom a place more breathtaking than Glencoe. I’ve never seen real mountains before, and was completely unprepared to be so enamored with the majesty of the Highlands.

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We figured we backpacked over twenty miles in two days, every step and blister well worth the joys of trekking through the woods and seeing sights I want burned into my memory forever. As we sat in the sun by Loch Leven waiting for our bus to take us back—and half hoping it wouldn’t come—I thought of how much I didn’t want to leave the Highlands or face the goodbyes of the coming week.

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As sad as it is when good things come to an end, in a way I’m glad that they do. It makes time more meaningful when you know that it’s definite; you see the time you do have as a gift, time that must be spent well and not wasted. And while good things do end, you never know what better things lie ahead. And the best things, we are promised, last eternally.

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Holly and I somehow returned from our weekend with a rekindled Coldplay obsession. This one’s at the top of my list again, a tune that was popular the last time I was in Europe.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyMhvkC3A84

Thanking you for reading and wishing you all the best,

Rae

 

 

 

 

 

Just Because

Dear Reader,

This post is nothing special. I am simply writing because…

The sun is shining and I’m barefoot

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And that makes me happy

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And there are trees to climb

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And adventures to read

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Ideas to write

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Words to inspire

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Flowers to pick

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Pubs to visit

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That show Wimbledon and the World Cup

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And have perfectly poured pints

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And just because today was a really great day. Happy Tuesday, my friend!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXrJdOD5syo

Cheers,

Rae