Rachel in London

Rachel is spending the June 2009 term in SMU-in-Taos, where the photography courses she is taking will complement her journalism degree. After Taos, she’s immediately off to SMU-in-London, where she’ll study journalism from the British point of view, as well as the history of postwar European cinema.

The Haggis Tour chronicles

035.JPG I believe the narrator in Jane Austen’s book Northanger Abbey sums up perfectly my whirlwind of a weekend touring Scotland and the Isle of Skye: “If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”

Friday, July 17 – Day 1

I awaken refreshed from my first good night of sleep that I’ve had in a long time. They keep us super busy here in the London program; it’s worth it all for the enriching and life-changing experiences. Although I am a bit anxious about the 10-page midterm I have due for one of my classes the Wednesday after we return to London. I ban the stressful thought from my mind and, like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, add it to the burden of things to do on my back. I am so excited about the Haggis Tour of Scotland we are to start this morning at 9 a.m.!

158.JPG We board the big, happy yellow bus and meet our two guides/drivers, Christophe (Chris) and Laura. They are both super awesome – the Scottish accents don’t hurt either. Wow, Chris’ voice was so amazingly soothing to listen to so early in the morning – he sounds just like actor Gerard Butler even though he doesn’t resemble him in the slightest.

The Scots have such a love, pride, enthusiasm and deep knowledge of their roots and history! Chris greets us saying, “Welcome to the wild and sexy Scotland!” Indeed, that is the logo painted on the side of our big yellow bus.

036.JPG Along the way, Laura and Chris fascinate us with dramatic, passionate stories of Scotland. Time passes quickly, and we come to the charming little town of Dunkeld. “Dun” is Gaelic for “fort.” This is where Shakespeare based his play Macbeth. There is a monument where Macbeth really killed Duncan in an honorable duel right beside a Shell gas station – weird.

Another Dunkeld claim to fame is the writer and author Beatrice Potter. She was said to come often to stay and that she got the inspiration for her characters from this charming place. Some of the girls grab a few treats from a local bakery; it has been a while since breakfast. I get to pay 30 pence for the first time ever in order to use the toilet – wow, quite the monumental moment in the history of my 21 years. I have to say it is worth it – the cleanest toilet I’ve seen in Europe yet.

051.JPG We walk down to the small loch by the very old chapel. I can truly describe the air as sweet and pure. On the way back I take one last glance around, and to my astonishment, I see on the hilltop in the distance, a regal white horse standing proudly and in a statue-like manner. I am more convinced than ever that Scotland is a magical place. Awe overcomes me as I feel myself transported into the movie The Two Towers – the part where Gandalf whistles and Shadowfax appears. This horse definitely resembles Shadowfax!

069.JPG We arrive at the castle (they say it is haunted) in Southland, where we are to spend the night. The owners donated it and everything in the castle to the hostel society. The county bordering Southland had a duke back in the day. His first wife died and left him with a few children. The duke remarried a woman in a similar situation – her husband, too, had just died. The people never liked her and would refer to her by her dead husband’s title.

When the duke died, naturally the children were expecting, when the will was read, to inherit their father’s estate. Of course it wasn’t the case. Their father bequeathed everything to his second wife. The children were furious and took it to court. However, the second wife, the duchess, was caught hiding some papers, arrested and sent to prison in London for six months for interfering with the investigation.

092.JPG Both sides were tired of fighting so the children decided to cut a deal with her – if she would relinquish everything, they would build her a house anywhere she wanted but just not the area they lived in and where their father had been duke. She agreed, but she was vindictive and had her castle overlook and border the town so that everyone could see her house. She died before her house was completed.

I go downstairs to help cook the meal we picked up at the supermarket. Spaghetti, salad and garlic bread – yum! This castle is literally out in the middle of nowhere. I end up being trusted with the preparation of the garlic bread. This should prove interesting. The stoves and ovens here in Europe are so different.

I quickly melt the butter in a small saucepan and then proceed to spread it over the three loaves of bread that had been halved. I then put plenty of garlic salt and pepper on. A few of the girls freak out to learn I had used the whole huge chunk of butter and were certain it would be pretty gross over buttered bread. I just smile and know their opinions would change if they would try it. The bread turned out, even to my surprise, really scrumptious! Everyone loves it – yay!

095.JPG All of us walked 15 minutes to get to a pub that had been there since 1859. Inside, there was a huge chest full of Scottish Highland costumes. Being mostly girls, we are ecstatic about dressing up and quickly lace them up. Good times!

Saturday, July 18 – Day 2

104.JPG After a quick breakfast, we are once again on the road. We get to see Loch Ness! No Nessie spottings, unfortunately. I am feeling touristy so I buy a gray t-shirt with the words “Loch Ness” and “Scotland” in navy blue with the flag of Scotland in between them. It is a sweet shirt!

108.JPG Bonnie Prince Charlie was next on the list. Chris again captures our attention as he tells us the tale of the Bonnie Prince Charlie. We walk out onto the battlefield where the Highlanders faced the English army. One of the main reasons the English lost this battle is because it was a flat, open field. The Highlanders have this battle strategy called the “highland charge,” which entailed rapidly running down a steep slope and overwhelming their enemies.

As we are driving through the Highlands into the Isle of Skye, Chris starts telling us, in his lilting brogue, some legends that have been handed down through generations, of this old man, MacDonald, who ironically had a farm plus seven beautiful daughters. His wife had died, and it was hard sharing a small house with seven females.

MacDonald never got to use the hot water, and there was never any porridge left by the time he got to it or enough milk. He hardly ever had peace and quiet for himself. The man wished more than anything that his daughters would soon be out and wed.

Well, one day his two youngest daughters were doing chores by the loch when up sail these two very handsome Irishmen. They fall in love with the lassies after spending a few months with them all. These young men go to their father to ask for his blessing.

Old MacDonald was so excited and was about to say yes, when a thought occurred to him – if he married off his two youngest first, then people would think that something was wrong with his older five daughters. He glumly told them, “Sons, I like you a lot, but I’ll have to say no.”

The two men would not be deterred so easily, so great was their love for the lassies. The next morning they came to MacDonald and said, “Look, we have five older brothers just as handsome as we are. Let us marry your daughters, then when we sail back home we will send them here to Scotland to marry your oldest five.”

Their father was happy beyond words and the beautiful weddings took place. Two weeks pass, and the girls came to their father asking when their husbands were coming. He assured them it would be soon. Six months, then a year passed, and old MacDonald knew that he had been duped.

He went to a witch who lived in the mountains and asked her for help. The witch replied that her powers only worked in Scotland, ergo she could not bring the lads from Ireland over to marry his daughters. She quickly said, as the man looked crestfallen, “What I can do is to preserve your daughters’ beauty for all eternity, until these young men come for them.” The old man was relieved and immediately accepted the offer. He went home that night, gathered his girls and told them that it was all taken care of.

MacDonald went to bed peacefully that night. When he woke up, he noticed to his astonishment that he had enough hot water, porridge and milk. He was very puzzled at how quiet it was and went outside to sit on the front porch. As he did so, he noticed that there were five majestic mountains he never had seen before. Sitting there, old MacDonald sadly realized the meaning of the witch’s words when she had promised to eternally preserve his daughters’ beauty. It is said that when five handsome young Irishmen kiss those five mountains, they will once again transform back into five beautiful lassies.

We arrive and bask in the beauty of the Isle of Skye, which we will be touring in more detail tomorrow. Once again, we made our own dinner at the hostel right off the Atlantic Ocean. Macaroni and cheese – mmmm-hmmm!

Sunday, July 19 – Day 3

Chris tells us a story as I am groggily try to stay awake – it has been a long journey. He starts out saying, “When I was a little boy, my Uncle Harry would take me on all sorts of adventures.” His uncle told the little Christophe to close his eyes as they were approaching the surprise and that it would make it all the better. Little Christophe said, “Why, Uncle Harry, why?!” He told little Christophe to trust him.

Chris turns to us and says, “Now I want you all to trust your ‘Uncle Chris’ and close your eyes.” I giggle and oblige by closing my eyes. “Keep them closed. Close your eyes. Trust your Uncle Chris,” he tells us in his soothing brogue. I wonder what the surprise will be! Chris exclaims, “Now, OPEN YOUR EYES!!!”

114.JPG My somewhat heavy eyelids slide open and then snap into a permanent eye-popping expression. It’s a castle out on a small island on a loch. I find it is called Eilean Donan Castle. I feel transported back in time and am reminded of the castle in the movie Made of Honor. There is much to see and we are given a tour of the castle.

142.JPG As Laura drives, Chris tells us that our next stop is a magical faery waterfall (and yes, they do spell “faery” that way – they are not tiny people with wings and dust.) I see the little waterfall trickling out of the side of the mountain as Laura puts the bus in park. We hike up a little ways. You know what comes next, don’t you? Yep, yet another classic, blockbuster story. This isn’t just any tale, you know it is a faery tale – yep, couldn’t resist pointing that out.

150.JPG It is about a feud between two Highland clans, the MacDonalds and the McClouds. For years they had been trying to come up with a way to keep the peace and stay reconciled, but they were always too proud and blamed the other clan.

174.JPG One day as the two clans were meeting, the clan chief of the MacDonalds comes up with a solution. He exclaims, “I have a daughter who is ready to be wed and is the most beautiful lassie in the Highlands!” The clan chief of the McClouds says, “I have a son who is also ready to be wed. He is the bonniest, handsome lad in the entire Highlands!”

In order to bring about peace as quickly as possible, the couple weren’t given the usual year to live together to become acquainted before marriage. They were given just a week. They came back after a week and looked very happy and very much in love. The people of both clans rejoiced and wedding preparations were under way.

The MacDonald lassie took her donkey, male servant and dog for one last visit to her home. On the way her donkey stumbled and she was thrown off, hitting her face on a rock. She was a bloody mess – her eyeball hanging out of its socket, her jawbone all crushed. The girl despaired and insisted that she couldn’t get married like this. The manservant told her that she must for the good of the people, so he patched her up and pulled the veil over her face.

At the altar, the bridegroom pulled off the veil just to make sure it was really her. He yelled in angry horror, “You tricked me and gave me the ugliest woman in the entire Highlands!” The room broke out in chaos as everyone began fighting and killing each other. The lad stormed out and in his anger stabbed one eye of each the manservant, the donkey and the dog. The young lassie felt it was all her fault, and they all pathetically made their way back home.

178.JPG She began weeping and sat down to rest by the waterfall (the very one we are next to). Looking up she spotted a wee little man at the top of the hill where the waterfall begins. He makes his way down and asks her if she knows who he is. The lassie could care less but he tells her anyway – he is the king of the faeries. The faery king asks her what the matter is. She weepingly tells him all.

He soothingly tells her not to fret and that the waterfall that she is sitting next to happens to be a magical one. All she has to do is stick her head in the water for seven seconds and she would emerge more beautiful than ever. She does so and, lo and behold, emerges more beautiful than she ever had been!!!

The manservant sees her and says, “Wow! You were hot before, but now you’re even hotter!” (as Chris put it.) The manservant sticks his head in and he emerges the most handsome man in the highlands. The dog jumps in all the way and emerges a lovely dog. The donkey too goes in and comes out a magnificent black stallion! Well, suffice to say, the MacDonald lass never goes back to her former fiance, but instead runs off with her manservant and lives happily ever after. The end.

Last stop before Edinburgh is the monument of the great William Wallace! For those of you who need a hint, think Braveheart. As most of you know the history and jist of Wallace, I will spare you the details. Only know that Braveheart, the movie, is very inaccurate in some places and that it was Robert the Bruce who was known as “Braveheart.” The movie painted him to be more of a villain than he really was.

Chris once again did a re-enactment of one of the main battles. It was a very very steep and long hike up to that monument. It was built with the people’s money in honor of him.

047.JPG There are simply way too many stories and facts to recall and to tell you all. All I can say is that you need to go on this tour and see for yourself!

Peace out, friends!

Posted in Rachel in London | Comments Off on The Haggis Tour chronicles

A Salute to Scotland

023.JPG As I glance out the window of the train into the vast city of Edinburgh, my heart melts within me and I know at that moment that I am in love. I was sorely tempted to, on the spot, take the advice of Bill Parrish in Meet Joe Black, “I want you to sing with rapture and dance like a dervish.”

Thursday, July 16

I glance at my screen monitor … yikes … 2 in the morning! I sigh, groan and stretch in my chair. My bottom is numb. Finally, the rough draft for Professor Pederson’s class is done, 1,000 words and all.

Don’t get me wrong: I am fascinated and loved researching the impact The Pilgrim’s Progress and John Bunyan had on British culture, religion and media. I am so weary, and my eyelids are heavy. It hardly seems worth sleeping since we all leave for Edinburgh, Scotland, this morning at 5 a.m. But some rest is best. I climb up the three flights of stairs and fumble my way into bed. Where’s a lift when you need one?

003.JPG All of us board the train at 7 a.m. We arrive at our destination four and a half hours later. I must have dozed off several dozen times onboard. As I step out into the fresh air and sunshine of Edinburgh, I gasp in delight.

015.JPG I have never been outside of England before. Edinburgh and indeed most of Scotland are very hilly! We pull our tired bodies up the very steep cobblestone (yes, the original streets back from the olden days) streets to the hostel we are to stay in for the night. There are 14 of us to a room. The rooms themselves aren’t that bad. Suffice to say, you don’t want me to describe what the bathrooms looked like.

008.JPG We make our way up the hill, more like a small mountain, on which Edinburgh Castle resides (overlooking the entire town). I am strongly reminded of Edoras in Rowhan, that Tolkien writes about in The Two Towers.

I explore the castle and see the crown jewels of Scotland, learning more about the history of their kings and of Mary Queen of Scots. She was crowned queen at 9 months of age. Also on display was the Stone of Destiny. This stone is said to have been the throne of the first king.

Some say that this is not the original stone and that when King Edward IV wanted to assert his power, he sent his men to pillage and take the stone away to humiliate the Scottish. The Stone of Destiny was at rest in an abbey at that time. Some monks replaced and hid the real stone with a false one. The real Stone of Destiny was said to be smooth and blackish in color, engraved with many Celtic sayings.

Edward IV had never seen the stone in person. It is said that the monks probably replaced the real stone with a stone used to cover up their latrines. Edward IV began to have doubts as to whether this was the real deal and so never built his throne over it like he had first intended.

002.JPG Next, I make my way over to the chapel-like building honoring the Scotsmen and Scotswomen who fought in the two World Wars. I come across a room full of bronze engraved soldiers on the wall and read a saying that borders the entire room, “Others also there are who perished unknown. Their sacrifice is not forgotten, and their names, though lost to us, are written in the book of God.”

At 4 p.m, we start on the guided tour of the Royal Mile. We stand in the square where many hangings often took place, as the guide tells us the tale of Maggie Dickson. Now, while I don’t quite recall her crime, I do know that she was hung, proclaimed dead, and placed in a coffin. Her family stopped at an inn to have supper and left the coffin outside. A passerby came into the inn asking whose coffin was out front. He then went on to tell them that the coffin was shuddering and noises were coming from it.

The family hurriedly went out and opened up the coffin. As they did, low and behold, Maggie Dickson sits upright and is alive! It is taken before the court and decided to let her live because they feared God. The townspeople were sure he had resurrected her and it would be bad fortune to take her life again. Dickson also got to remarry her husband, who was declared a widower.

We ate dinner at the pub called Deacon Brodie’s, which was used for the book and setting of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Deacon Brodie was an upstanding citizen by day, although he had three different families around the city, each of whom did not know about the other. Brodie was a cat burglar by night and was finally caught and brought to justice.

I am in the mood for a cold coffee and decide to hit up the Starbucks right by the hostel. I go inside and ask the clerk for a Coffee Frappachino and a small chocolate brownie. He smiles at me with perfect white teeth and repeats back to me my order in his charming Scottish brogue, “So you’ll be havin’ a Carmel Frappachino?” I laugh and say, “No, coffee not carmel.”

013.JPG He then proceeds to get my pastry and ends up handing me something that has carmel all over it. I am completely abashed for a moment. Before I could tell him I didn’t order this, the lady clerk starts laughing and says, “He’s determined for you to have something carmel.” He and I end up breaking out in loud laughter and my order is finally sorted.

Now I need to get off to bed early because I leave tomorrow morning for the Haggis Tour. I am excited about sharing all the tales of the tour!

Peace out, friends!

Posted in Rachel in London | Comments Off on A Salute to Scotland

Salisbury and Stonehenge: Stunning

002.JPG Stepping off the train into the little town of Salisbury, then the next day experiencing Stonehenge through a foggy dawn, I can truly say, along with Edgar Allan Poe, “You are not wrong, who deem that my days have been a dream; yet if hope has flown away in a night, or in a day, in a vision, or in none, is it therefore the less gone? All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

It really was that spectacular and held a dreamlike quality!

Friday, July 11

Sitting in the Rectory (dining hall), eating my soothing bowl of cornflakes, I think of how much more delightful it would be if they had chocolate milk to put in my cereal. I quickly shrug off the thought from my brain that is as mushy as the cereal is quickly becoming. It has been a long week; so long, in fact, that it feels like we’ve been here for an eternity. I have loved and soaked up every minute of it, though!

I head upstairs to grab my bags for our train ride into Salisbury at 1:30 this afternoon. It is so exciting to take a little trip out of London town! There is so much on my mind as I quickly grab my things. We all arrive at the train station, at which point I realize that I could kick myself; I forgot my Britrail pass! I saunter up in a huff to the counter and purchase a ticket.

049.JPG Finally, after the uneventful, long train ride, we step on the platform of Salisbury Station. We quickly tote our things through the quiet town and past charming shops to the picturesque King’s Head Inn. I breathe in the fresh countryside air. I almost laugh at the spectacle all of us American girls must create marching in a long line through the town and crowding, six at a time, into the tiny lift.

057.JPG Cari and I decide to be roommates and are given room 212. As we all head to our rooms to freshen up, Becky Hewitt says, “Meet in the lobby at 4:45 for Evensong at the Salisbury Cathedral!”

Cari and I weave through the narrow hallways and up some steps to our room. As we open the door, we gasp in delight! The room was so luxurious – each of us had two, twin beds with down comforters, our own set of fresh, white towels, and a lovely bathroom!!! We both plop gleefully onto the beds and lie on our backs marveling at the softness. The dorms at Regent are more like hostels, so I hope you can relate to my enthusiasm.

Evensong was a very simple but lovely service. The small boys’ choir is glorious. After the service ended we got a tour. There is so much history about this place that I will bore you to tears if I told you everything. The one thing I will point out is that they have an original copy of the Magna Carta!

We eat dinner at the pub, owned by the inn. It is really excellent food and the company splendid. Some of the girls decide to turn in early. Cari and I hang around downstairs and soon meet some of the local young people. They show us a spectacular time and welcome us warmly. I felt quite at home, chatting with them all like longtime friends.

Stonehenge%20trip.jpg Wow! Four in the morning comes way too quickly. I moan as I get dressed and shuffle groggily onto the bus that is to take us all to Stonehenge for the sunrise tour. Of course, being England and all that, there was no sunrise, just fog and rain. It did, however, cause the site to take on a dreamy, magical quality. There is so much lore about this place. I wander around the inside of the stones and just soak it all in!

044.JPG Now it’s time to take the bus back for a few hours sleep at the inn. Several of us are getting up early, eating breakfast and heading to Bath. As much as my soul desired to go to Bath, my body was railing against the notion. Cari and I slept in late, waking up to find that we have the town to ourselves. We eat a delicious breakfast at the pub. I almost wrench and gag at the sight of so many people getting big pints of beer along with their meals! Crazy!

055.JPG Afterward, we stroll through the market that’s held every Saturday (just like a flea market). It is so charming and holds many interesting things. I sigh with pleasure as I smell the aromas of all the fresh produce and baked goods and wish I hadn’t eaten breakfast back at the pub. Cari spots some pretty scarves for 2 pounds each. We both enthusiastically pick out several. Fun times!

I am very sorry to leave Salisbury, but head back to London town we must. Tomorrow we attend church at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Princess Diana was married!

Peace out, friends!

Posted in Rachel in London | Comments Off on Salisbury and Stonehenge: Stunning

Worshipping at Westminster Abbey


Stepping out of the Underground, the sun immediately kisses our faces. I feel a great, overwhelming sense of delight well up within me, as I spot Westminster Abbey off to my right. My emotions are in tune with Marianne Dashwood, in Sense and Sensibility, when she says, “Is there any felicity in the world superior to this?!”

Sunday, July 5

I groggily come out of the fog of sleep. I groan, stretch and quickly jerk upright in bed. Whoa, there! This is no dream. I am in Reid Hall at Regent’s College, smack in the middle of London! I am grateful not to have jetlag, but not grateful for my tense, tight, and sore shoulder muscles from lugging two 50-pound pieces of luggage up several flights of stairs to the third floor. The view from our window had made it all worth it.

I glance over to see my roommate, Rachel (funny, huh?), sitting up in bed as well. I ask her what time it is and inwardly kick myself for not bringing a watch since I rely on my phone so much (which I can’t use for expense purposes). She tells me it’s 8:30 am. Yikes! I just remembered we are all attending church service at Westminster Abbey.


I quickly take a shower and go to blow-dry my hair, only to find that my hair dryer won’t go to the high setting … arrrgh! I love Europe, but dang their technology and electricity! Everything seems hard at the moment. Even my internet won’t work on my laptop. I take a deep breath and try not to freak out. I ended up pulling my hair into a cute (hopefully), wet bun and let the little wisps of baby hair frame my face. At least I saved time. I slip into my light, white dress and high-heeled red pumps.


Off we dash! We take the Tube all the way. We are quickly ushered into the church to our seats. As I head to my seat, I notice all the graves that are around and under me. I feel a flood of mixed emotions when I spot the grave and sculpture of William Wilberforce (the leader of the slave abolition). So many great men were buried and preached here!

I glance ahead in my program while the organist gloriously plays. I am thrilled to see that I know two of the three hymns that will be sung. The way the seating is arranged in the church is very different. It’s shaped like a cross. I wasn’t able to see the choir or the organist. We all stood in respect when the Lord Mayor of Westminster walked in escorting his elegant wife. There was so much pomp and poise. The Lord Mayor was wearing some sort of ceremonial robe. He is the youngest mayor they have ever had at Westminster.


The mayor reads from the Bible, Mark 10:35-45. Reverend Nicholson (reverend to the Lord Mayor of Westminster) proceeds to give a brief message. I almost laugh aloud as he begins with a quote from John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your government can do for you but what you can do for your government.”

It’s the end of the service and I am wishing, with a vengeance, that I hadn’t worn my red high heels. I can tell major blisters and sores are forming. We all are standing forever as each royal, high-up person is escorted out. I keep forgetting how seriously and reverently they treat the higher class here. I am beaming inside as I pass the Lord Mayor and his wife at the big doors. I nod respectfully to both of them, smile brightly, and say to the mayor, “Thank you so much for reading for us from the Word.” They both smile kindly back at me.


Now to head back to my room for a quick nap before the Big Bus Tour at 5 pm. More to follow. I am so happy to be back writing my adventures. Tuesday I’ll be heading to Parliament!

Peace out, friends!

Posted in Rachel in London | Tagged , | Comments Off on Worshipping at Westminster Abbey