In motion.

Here's a shaky little video I made when I got back from the UK. I think the world sometimes feels different, or at least a little more real, when it's captured in motion as opposed to in pictures. This might feel a little too real because of my shaky hands, but it makes me feel like I'm back in this place that I love, so I can watch it without nausea.

Town with character.

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One of the other really fun parts of my visit to Stratford-upon-Avon was spotting all the Shakespeare references that lurked in store windows and street signs, etc. Obviously this little city is proud of their most famous resident, and names his work is present around every corner.

The Shakespeare Houses.

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My trip to Stratford-upon-Avon back in November was a borderline spiritual experience, similar to my first glimpse of the Globe in London. When I arrived I had two plans: see a show at the RSC and go to Shakespeare's house. I got off the train on a Tuesday afternoon and made the short walk to my accommodation at the Arden Park Guest House, got myself some dinner from Tesco, and explored the town a little before settling in to watch some episodes of Downton Abbey before I got ready for the play. By this time of year it had already started to get dark fairly early in the evening, and as I'd already figured out the path I intended to walk to the RSC theatre, I didn't feel comfortable gallivanting around too much in the darkness, for all that Stratford is a pretty quiet town.
The show I had a ticket to see (a five pound ticket, thank you RSC youth promotions!) was Antony & Cleopatra, a story I knew only vaguely and had never seen done before. I went in with average expectations despite my excitement to be at the RSC, and left with a tear on my cheek and awe in my heart. Keeping up with their reputation, the production was innovative and gut-wrenching, even when you know how it's going to end. I left the theatre feeling very lucky and excited to continue studying these old words I'm continuing to learn about.
The next morning I was up early and on my way to the four Shakespeare houses I had purchased a pass to see, beginning with the Anne Hathaway cottage. It was a lovely morning and there were many pretty things to see, but as I'd been doing so much solo traveling I was starting to feel a little bit lonely. I actually arrived at the cottage a few minutes before they opened for the day, so I crossed the street and sat on a bench next to a lovely little creek alongside the oddly placed field of grazing sheep. (I mean, I was on my way out of town, but I still wasn't expecting sheep in someone's backyard inside the city limits.) I'd only been there for two or three minutes when the sweet brown tabby in the above picture came trotting along and kept me company for a good quarter of an hour. She was eager for some affection and cheered me up considerably. The rest of the day way spent visiting the birthplace, Nash's House and Hall's croft. All of them contained bits of the story of his life, and were interesting to think about either him or his relatives and the footsteps they left on the floorboards. I finished my day with a trip to the church where Shakespeare is buried, and I stood in the nave and just tried to soak everything in. It made me rather sad to see a church turned into such a commercial center, but it was a special experience in spite of all the camera flashes and selling of trinkets.
I felt so incredibly lucky to stand and see the places where my favorite man was born and baptized. The next class I take or teach about him will be all the more textured for the experience.

The Return.

You guys, I've been back for two weeks, and I don't know what is happening! All my time is being sucked away! ...By lounging and eating cookies in front of the television, so I guess I shouldn't complain. Christmas was a gem of a day and this is what it looked like. It was pretty magical coming home in the middle of a white world. And then, within a few days I was whisked off to California by my mother, and we are currently in the process of visiting friends and family along this ocean coast I've never seen from a border of my own country. Life is getting back into its normal swing, and pictures will continue to trickle in!

Bits and pieces.

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I'm struggling under the weight of my papers over here, so I don't have time to write out a full post. In the meantime I'll just share these little details that continue to make my time here so enjoyable.

The Third Morning.

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My last morning in Scotland. I packed up my backpack, which by now seemed particularly heavy, and checked out of my hostel, waving a metaphorical goodbye to the five French men, seeing as we weren't really on speaking terms. My plan for the day: climb Arthur's Seat.
I'd never thought of Edinburgh as a city of volcanoes prior to arriving there, but once I stepped out of the train station on the first day, it was difficult to do otherwise. The huge old structures dominate the landscape no matter where you look, not the least of which being the impressive castle towering above the rest of the city from its perch on the cliff. Arthur's Seat is the other big old volcano, and apparently climbing it is a mark of a true local, so now that I've done it, I'm basically Scottish. No paperwork required. My walk started out pretty well. I was armed with my water bottle and the remains of my bottle of Irn Bru, firmly placed in the pockets of my backpack. In fact, my backpack and I were doing pretty well, working symbiotically, until about halfway up the side of this mini-mountain.
 Let me describe to you the wind on this clear morning: have you ever accidentally walked into a glass door? Full on, regular speed, face mark on the glass. Imagine what it would feel like to have a glass door walk into you, and you've got an approximation of the gusts of wind I was experiencing at this great height. So here I am, in the gale, teetering on the edge of this cliff, with a huge turtle-like backpack threatening to aid the wind in tipping me over. I had real fear for my life and considered turning back several times. I was alone! I could lie about making it to the top and no one would know the difference. I made it almost all the way, sitting down occasionally to regain my balance, until the last bit of height, which was a final rocky outcropping jutting up from the ground about 50 feet. I got about five steps up the side of this mini-mountain on the mountain, and thought "That's it. I'm ditching this thing [my backpack]. If someone wants to steal it, I invite them to carry it all the way back down." I may have given other hikers the impression that I'd left a bomb on the side of the cliff, so obviously it was there by the time I got back down. Without the weight of my backpack, I scrambled to the top with relative ease, had some nice man take my picture of proof, and took a few minutes to soak in the wind and the views, thinking that this would be a plausible place for King Arthur to have found Excalibur.
On my way down, I made the unwelcome discovery that I'd split the sole of my boot right down the middle. So the wetness my right foot was experiencing made more sense, seeing that I essentially had no protection between the bottom of my foot and the mud. They'd served me well for a short time, but in the end my adventures were simply too great for my shoes.
The rest of the morning was spent perusing shops and small museums on the Royal Mile, before making my way over to have some haggis for lunch. The verdict was a positive one. Then it was time for my train home, so I walked back to Waverley Station and found my platform to make my way back to the sweet city of Canterbury.

Han in the Highlands.

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My plan to go to Loch Ness originally started as kind of a joke, because obviously I was just going to spot the monster. But I've never made a better decision for foolish reasons. I may not have ever felt a strong personal connection to the Scottish Highlands, but I certainly do now. Driving through them, and the little bit of walking I was able to do, made my heart absolutely sing, which was certainly more melodic than if my tongue had tried.
I made this trip with Highland Experience bus tours, and a jolly guide named Stephen, who was extra nice to me since I was traveling alone. Once we crossed the boundary up into the highlands, he was very conscious of finding places to pull over so everyone could take pictures, and he'd always ask if anyone wanted him to take a picture of them with their camera. He was an avid storyteller, and the morning was filled with detailed tales of Deacon Brodie and the Glen Coe massacre, among others.
When we arrived at Lock Ness, about 1:30, we had half an hour to putter around in the shop before the optional boat tour left, and I was sure I wanted to be on it. That was another great decision, because the boat trip was definitely my favorite part of the day. It was a double decker boat, and I started out downstairs so I could eat my lunch, but I went up on the deck as soon as I could. It was freezing and wet and my feet were soaking, but the wind was so beautiful, and I was taking pictures like a madwoman. I saw my third rainbow of the day, and we sailed around the most photographed castle ruins in Scotland. I didn't stop smiling almost the whole time I was up there.
I finally gave up and went downstairs to the warmth about halfway on the return to the dock, and my feet got to warm up just a little before we got off the boat and back onto the bus.
This was the bulk of the trip, as we drove up through Inverness, but it was already getting dark, so we made only one more stop for food if people needed it. I had some tea and a scone in a little coffee shop, and took in the High St. of a small highland town. And then we went back to Edinburgh. Stephen, the driver, spent the last thirty minutes of the drive recommending places to eat and things to do, along with pointing out the famous Forth Bridge that we drove past. One of the things he recommended was a ghost tour, some of which were starting just about the time we arrived back on the Royal Mile. I ended up taking one, and I was properly terrified for my pains. I went with City of the Dead tours, and we went into the vaults under the South Bridge which are apparently haunted by the ghosts of the poor who lived there and were bricked up in the walls when they died. We also made a trip over to the Covenanter's Prison in Greyfriars Kirkyard, where a being called Mackenzie's Poltergeist terrorizes a mausoleum. It was all horrifying and good fun. And by the time I returned to the hostel, I was very ready to get into bed and sleep off all the excitement of the day.