Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More Pics Posted...

Some more pics from the Travel Writing class. Here's a link and here's a sampling:

From London & Scotland TRIP

From London & Scotland TRIP

From London & Scotland TRIP

From London & Scotland TRIP

From London & Scotland TRIP

From London & Scotland TRIP

From London & Scotland TRIP

The Beauty of Being London

I'm experimenting a bit with some writing styles, and put this piece together in about a half an hour. It's raw, but I think it sets a tone. And yes, I know "indescribability" is not a word. But I think it needs to be. Anyways, here it is:

I’m watching the water in the Thames River move upstream. It’s a chalky brownish color, constantly digging up silt from the bottom and regurgitating it to the top. It looks like chocolate milk; thick, brown, and velvety textured.

As I lean against the black wrought iron railing, I’m trying to figure out what London means to me. Trying to find some symbolic likeness that could sum up the city, the people, and the vibrations of this ancient, new, hip, square, traditional, cutting edge place. And then light dawns: this place can’t be summed up; my quick fix, fast solution mind can’t wrap it up into a neat little package. London simply is. It will always be, and it has always been.

The tides of the sea have swept up and down this river for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. Before a city was here, the Thames was throwing its murky waters onto these banks. When the Romans leapt over it, and created the city, the river never stopped. When London Bridge was built, the river kept moving in beat, in rhythm, up from the sea, and back, up from the sea, and back. Back and forth, thumping like a heartbeat, constant, and never ending. No chain can shackle it.

People move beside it, buildings are built, torn down, fires destroy, plagues kill, and the river is impervious. Never thinking, never hearing… just being. Things constantly change and the river just is.

I look up from the river, and check out the landscape and see Big Ben, lit up, looking lovely, tick-tocking away. Parliament stands beside the big clock, and the large ferris wheel hangs with them, the new kid on the block, looking for love from the older ones.

I’m standing outside the Temple tube stop on the Embankment, trying to figure out why this city holds me in its grip, and never will let go. I’ve come back four times, and will come back more, it’s allure, it’s romance, this maddening inescapable thing that I can’t describe and so desperately want to. I’ve tried everything; living here, visiting, shopping, sightseeing, drinking, playing, loving and hating in this city, and still I can’t describe the trance it holds over me.

The only thing for it then, is TO describe it. The only way I think I might be over it is to put into words how enchanting its nature is to me. So I try and fail, and try and fail. Thump, thump…. Thump, thump.

What IS London? London is the person you know who suffers from split personality disorder. Maybe you don’t know that person – but I know that city. It’s New York sometimes, sometimes San Francisco. I’ve heard it described like Milwaukee, Rome, Paris, Berlin, D.C., and all of the Manhattans: Lower Manhattan, East Side Manhattan, Upper West Side Manhattan. And every person, every description is right. In certain lights, at certain times London is all of those places. And at other times, it’s none of them.

Its complete indescribablity is what makes it the most aggravatingly lovely place on earth. So my hate/love affair continues with this place. As I stand on the banks of the Thames, outside the Temple tube station on a cool May night, with the city opening up in front of me lit in purples, and golds, and greens, nothing has changed, nothing is solved, but everything makes sense. Everything…. Is. And the river doesn’t care, it just goes about its business, moving up and down. Like it always has. Like it always will.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fantastic videos from Scully...

Mike made some great video postcards from London. Here are some of his best:

Re-energized and Ready to Roll

So day two started out with a bang. My good friend, and fantastic teacher Mike Scully energized the students with a discussion on writing for a web based audience.
From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

You can find the student blogs to the right of this screen, under the title "Travel Writing Blogs."

The blogs are a tool to get the students reflecting each and every day on what they did. To make it a bit more interesting Mike and I decided to give them a specific theme to work off of every day. Day one's theme was color.

We headed out for the Tower of London where we all hammed it up for the camera before going inside.

You can find all of the pictures of day one and two here.
From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

Drowsy and drizzled upon...

One of my favorite days of the London class is when the student's actually arrive into Heathrow. They are tired, disenchanted with the airline, yet also excited and anxious. Frankly it's an awful mix, and eventually sleep deprivation takes over. I enjoy it simply because I know what awaits them for the next three weeks. This is just the beginning -- and it can only get better.

Here are some randoms from the first day:

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

From London 2009 Days 1 & 2

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Not sleeping for a long time is bad for you. Who knew? Professor Mike Scully is living proof of that. The guy slept for four hours today:

But after the little nap, Mike shook off the jet lag and took to editing some video for his blog, called Check it out. Here are the after pictures:

Look at the man go! That's what rest can do for you. He couldn't speak prior to the nap, now he's editing video on his MacBook Pro. Proof that sleep is, in the end, a good thing.

Here's a quick shot from my bedroom window:

Students tomorrow at 9:30 am. Can't wait!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blogging from JFK...

So I'm just chilling at JFK waiting for my flight (is "chilling" even a word anymore? I feel like Will Smith in his "Bel Air" days). About two hours before I hop on the plane. I'll be meeting my teaching partner at Heathrow early Sunday morning. His name is Mike Scully, and he is a former professor at Ithaca College, who now works at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.

He'll be helping to teach the class the first week, especially in the "art" of blogging.

Anyways, airport waits are one of my least favorite things to do. Here's a message for my Parkies who will be joining me in London on Monday.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

To Do Lists

I hate to do lists. I'm a loosey goosey type of person, and don't like the idea that my life can and should be planned by a series of yellow post it notes. So you can understand how frustrated I am that my life right now is being dictated by a series of lists.

Go to the bank, pack, get passport, get health insurance cards, print out tickets, and the list goes on, and on, and on.

The only thing I like about lists is getting through them, so tonight and tomorrow I'm pushing through, trying to get it figured out, so I can wake up on Saturday and focus on London.

I'm also weirded out a bit by people who ask me whether I've packed yet or not. Really? Do people actually pack three days ahead of a trip? I pack three hours ahead of a trip and feel great about it. That's definitely the deadline oriented adrenalin junkie (procrastinator) in me. I like cutting it close, and I've always been under the impression (delusion) that I work best under pressure.

So this time I'm trying a different tact. I'm trying to plan things out, get things in order, and make sure I have everything in place for Saturday. Which means that there's absolutely no doubt I'll forget my airline ticket and passport.


So the only thing I'm doing right now is projecting towards London. Pubs, cobbled streets, the city, mews, and Holland Park. If I can get to that, these lists won't matter anymore.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Writing about Travel

So we've talked a little bit about keeping a running diary in our blogs about travel. The anxieties, or little thoughts on the mundane details, and what we want to be inspired by. As journalists, we often tend to deflect attention away from our thoughts when writing our stories. Travel writing is a different beast. You're expected to write about what YOU think of something, and what the place you're at means to you. It really is an intensely personal style of writing. You know what else is intensely personal? A diary or journal. So use your blogs as that journal. Open up a little bit on your blogs, and start getting in touch with how YOU feel about things. It will help the travel articles you write while we're over there. I guarantee it. So with that said, I'm going to get things kick started and hopefully you'll all follow.

It's closing in on 11 pm this Monday, and my TV is on. I'm in and out of watching the basketball game on my HDTV. I'm trying to distract myself from the fact that I'll be on a plane in less than five days headed for London.

It's never the destination that gives me anxiety. I LOVE the destination, I live for it. What makes me nervous is the getting there. A large knot is taking up residence in the center of my chest right now, and it makes it difficult to breathe sometimes. Other times the only thing I CAN do is take deep breaths.

I don't fear flying necessarily, I fear the plane plummeting out of the sky. I know the likelihood of it happening is incredibly small, but it's a fear I focus on constantly. Once I'm on the plane I'm usually okay, but the anticipation of the flight really bothers me. I'll do anything to take my mind off it, but typically you'll see me at the airport, foot tapping, fingers drumming, eyes darting. I definitely don't like flying.

Sometimes I actually think my mind might substitute fairly irrational fears for real, legitimate concerns I have about this trip. Will everything come together? Will you students have as amazing of an experience as I hope for you to have? Will you enjoy each others company, will we become a cohesive unit while we're over there? Is the final budget correct, and are any of you having second thoughts?

These are real issues I should be looking at and trying to deal with, but instead I focus on the Boeing 757 that will be my cylindrical airborne home for seven hours over the lonely Atlantic. That's an easy fear to focus on, because it's such a universal one.

The other, mundane fears are more pertinent, more important, but because they are those things, sometimes it's easier to avoid them. So for tonight, and tonight only, I'll watch this basketball game, and consume myself with my irrational fear of flying.

So that's a simple post about my odd fear. Seriously, make this a journal for jotting down your thoughts. You'll find that you can refer back to it for inspiration for longer stories.

TAG... you guys are it.

Backpacking in Scotland

So part of this course is a week in Scotland where we will lightly backpack through the Northern Highlands and Skye. The deal with backpacking is that you NEED a backpack to do it.

I've been trying to decide what type of backpack I want to get for the trip and have come down to a couple decisions.

One of those decisions is that backpacks are incredibly overpriced. Trying to find a good buy is like trying to find a pregnant nun. In other words, next to impossible.

With that said, I've found a couple backpacks I think I like. I know I need one that is large enough to hold five days of travel stuff, so for me that's probably a sweatshirt, and five days change of clothing. Probably a couple pair of jeans, and maybe a pair of shoes as well (other than the pair I'll have on my feet).

So I started checking out and Dicks Sporting Goods. They have some okay options, but even better, some pretty reasonable options.

I know I need a mulitday pack, and preferable a frame pack. These are the two I'm pretty much down to:

THE OSPREY A pretty nice pack that has 2300 cubic inches. It may be a little small, but I like the way it looks and feels.

Here's the second:

The Sentinal

I think I like the Sentinal better. It felt better on my back, and it is also nearly 4000 cubic inches. I think it's perfect for a week long trip, and it's only $120 dollars.

So that's the thought process I've been going through lately. It's a nice little distraction from grading, overseas travel budgets, and making sure everything is in order on the homefront before I leave for London.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

ATM's, Traveler's Checks and more...

So we talked about this in quite a few of our meetings, but it bears repeating -- and deserves to be its own blog post. It's probably the most common question I hear: "how do we get money over there?" Amazingly, England and Scotland work much the same way as the U.S. I'll quickly break down the money situation in the U.K.


Probably the best way to get money in the U.K. ATM's work the same way over there as they do here, and typically you get the best exchange rate possible.
**Make sure that you call your financial institution in the States and let them know you're going, or else there's a chance you could get your card shut down.**

Traveler's Checks

I have no problem with traveler's checks, especially if you're going to be carrying a lot of money. The main reason I don't use them is because the ATM card is so much simpler. It might not be a bad back-up if you want to get some, but I don't think it's a necessity.

Changing Money in the U.S. for the U.K.

If you want to get some British Pounds while still in the States so you can hit the ground running, absolutely do it. It can be a bit difficult through your financial institution, because typically a branch bank doesn't have foreign currency sitting around. Usually it takes a couple of days -- or you'd have to go to the main branch to get it. It's worth calling your bank and finding out their policy.

Changing U.S. Money in the U.K.

Usually I take about 100 dollars with me to London, and change it when I get there (not in the airport though!). You can usually get an okay rate from some of the money changers around Chelsea though. That's where I'd try to change money.

So there are some tips for money in London. Definitely have an ATM and credit card, and if you want, have some cash on you when you get there. Just like any big city, there are many options to change your money, or to get money in the native currency. It's something that seems daunting, but it really isn't much of a big deal, as long as you take the proper precautions.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fighting for British Cuisine

Let's cut right to it: My name is Ryan, and I love English food. And dammit, I'm proud of it. I'm sick of listening to people bash the fantastic cuisine that the English turn out. Yorkshire pudding, black pudding, shepherd's pie, suet pudding, bangers and mash, spotted dick, I love them all.

The thing that bothers me the most is people thumping on English food without ever really trying it. I defy anyone to have a traditional Sunday roast, and not like it. See, my family is pretty much 100% English. I grew up with English food, and love it.

As travel writers, part of the deal is to immerse yourself in the local culture. Sure that means the sites, sounds, and smells -- but it also means the tastes.

Here's an Idiot's Guide to English food:

Bangers & Mash

I think sometimes people get freaked out simply by the NAMES of the meals. Bangers & mash is traditional fare. You'll find it at pretty much any pub you go to. So what is bangers & mash? Simply put, it's sausage stuck into mashed potatoes with gravy poured over it. Typically the sausage is flavored, and made out of pork or beef.

This meal is English cuisine for beginners. It's an easy entry point into English food, it has a funny name, and it tastes pretty good.

Black Pudding

Let's dive right into the deep end. Black pudding is also known as blood pudding. Where did it get such a crazy name? Let's get back to that. Black pudding is basically another sausage type dish, actually served with the traditional full English breakfast. The sausage is stuffed with animal's blood, and cooked with filler like barley and oats, until it has congealed to a point that it can be sliced and served.

Okay, okay --- I admit it SOUNDS gross. But it really isn't too bad. A lot of times places will infuse bits of bacon into the sausage as well. It kind of tastes like a sweet sausage. It's worth getting a traditional English breakfast just to try it.

Meat Pie

So traditionally the English relied on animals for most of their food products. According to wikipedia the "food of England has historically been characterised by its simplicity of approach, honesty of flavour, and a reliance on the high quality of natural produce. This has resulted in a traditional cuisine which tended to veer from strong flavours..."

I think meat pies fit into this nicely. It's not overly spiced, there is no strong flavor, but if you get a good meat pie, it's simply delicious. More specifically, steak pies are a traditional English food. Steak and ale pies are served in just about every pub. In Ireland (and in many pubs in London) you'll find the steak & Guinness pie.

The pie is what it sounds like. A pie crust covers the stewed meat, and often vegetables like carrots, and celery are cooked in.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie is another type of meat pie, but it's a family staple, so I need to include it. It's also known as cottage pie. Basically shepherd's pie is a meat pie with mashed potato used as the crust.

If you like stewed meat and mashed potatoes, you'll love shepherd's pie.

Yorkshire Pudding

Can you tell the English love their puddings and pies? Yorkshire pudding is another family favorite, so I include it hear. Usually served in the traditional English roast, Yorkshire pudding is made from batter. That's all it is. But served with roast beef, and gravy it turns into a fantastically delicious side dish to the meat. A traditional Sunday roast consists of Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, roast beef, a vegetable (typically broccoli and carrots) and gravy.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

Fish and chips

You knew this was coming right? There are fish & chip shops scattered across London, but some of the best is served right in the pubs. Fried fish (usually cod or haddock) with a side of chips (fries) and some mushy peas. Mushy peas are, well... mushed up peas. Get some froma takeaway shop, I'm sure you'll like it.

Now let's move on to a couple of deserts.

Spotted Dick

Spotted dick is a really tasty English desert. You'll find that English deserts aren't as rich as the desert you're used to, but they have a subtle flavor that really is enjoyable. Spotted dick is a steamed suet pudding. Usually it contains dried currants, or another dried fruit. It's usually served over custard, and is typically served warm.

Bread Pudding

Probably my favorite English desert. As Wikipedia says, it's pretty much baked layers of french toast, with raisins. It's usually served over custard, or creme, and is another treat you all should try before you leave.
So there's a beginner's list to English cuisine. I will say that I've left a lot out. The chocolate in Europe is better on the whole than the stuff we have in the U.S. There's also a lot of English cuisine that fuses traditional Indian fare with food products from the island.

While in Scotland, it only gets better.

Haggis anyone?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Figuring out your flat

So I've done a little research and talked with Fernanda, who seems like an absolutely fantastic lady who will be in charge of your dorm while we're in London.

I asked her some questions in regards to the living situation, and here's our conversation. Hopefully it will help:

Does the dorm have internet access, and is it wireless or hardwired?  If it's
hardwired, do we need to bring any cables with us?
Yes, we have free internet access. It is hardwired and we sell the cable
at £7.50 but you can bring your own

Are bed linens and towels provided?
Bed linens yes, but not towels

Are there locks on the dorm rooms?
The wardrobes are lockable but you need a padlock (we sell here at £5.00)

Is there phone access in the dorm?
Yes, you can receive calls in the room and need an international card
to make a call.

Is there a washer/dryer in the dorm?
Yes, we have a laundry facility in the building.
Does the kitchen have utensils, and pots/pans, etc...?
It is fully equipped! We even have dishwashers….

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Heavy Reading

Some books I think might make sense for you guys to have (maybe not all of them, but some of them) to bone up on London and travel writing in general. I'm into lists today, so here's a list:

1. Wanderlust (Real Life Tales of Adventure and Romance): It's a solid read done by the now defunct travel section of It's really a good look at incorporating yourself into your writing, and explaining what you see to the world through your eyes. It's one way to write travel pieces, and this is a solid book looking at that.

2. Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland - The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates: Really just a fantastic book written in the '30s about middle to eastern Europe. If you don't read it for this class, just read it on your own. It's fantastic. Did I mention how fantastic it is?

3. London: If you like historical novels, and you want to learn a little bit about London before you go, this is the book for you. It's long, but a fascinating historically accurate look at London from Roman times to present day.

4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Hunter S. is a favorite of mine, and his gonzo journalism is fantastically shown here. Thompson is as much about the adventure and the explorer as he is about the writing. It's all about experiences, and doing new things. That's what this book is all about. You can color your writing by putting those experiences onto paper.

Those are just a few great books that focus on narrative, observational journalism, and the style of writing we'll explore in this class.

London is simply a historical novel to hopefully help you understand the scope of the city, before you write about it. Although there is something to be said for seeing everything with new eyes, new ears, new nostrils, and a new perspective. So maybe don't read London. I'll leave it up to you.

So That's The List...

So that's the top 10 things in London that we WON'T be doing during our trip. We will do a pub tour, and we may hit Holland Park, but those experiences are things that are best done by just going out and discovering them.

Here's a recap of the list:

1. The River
2. The Pubs
3. Holland Park
4. Speaker's Corner
5. The Music Scene
6. London Museums
7. Westminster Abbey
8. Greenwich
9. Hampstead Heath & Richmond Park
10. The London Eye

What I want this list to accomplish is to give you ideas of some things to do outside of class while in London. More than anything hopefully this will help tap into your adventurous spirit. Don't waste a moment in London. You have two weeks there, make it worth it. Do stuff you want to do, and more than anything, go out and explore.

Sometimes the coolest experiences are those born out of necessity. I have found some of the most unique places while traveling abroad simply because I was lost and wandering without a GPS.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

1. The River

From Travel Writing for Journalists
Okay, so maybe this #1 is a bit of a cop-out, but honestly in many ways the river IS London. The ancient Roman city Londinium was chosen by the legions in part because they could ford the Thames River at that spot.

It grew from there, was destroyed and rebuilt as Lundenwic in the Middle Ages, and became a trading hub in Northern Europe. The river created London, and in part helped it become a world superpower for 300 years. The British Empire was built on shipping and trade -- London was at its center. The way that shipping got to London? You got it -- The River.

Even today London is built oriented towards the Thames. Parliament, the Tate Modern, Big Ben, the Tower of London and St. Paul's all look over the Thames. Tower Bridge silently stands sentinel, as the entrance into modern London. The Thames used to be incredibly polluted, but has been cleaned up in recent times.

It's a tidal river, which means it ebbs and flows with the tide, it's color, and it's look changes by the hour. It's a living, breathing thing, winding through the city it helped to create.

Times have changed the way it used to look. In ancient times, the river was much wider, and dozens of tributaries flowed into it from both north and south. Those rivers are well known on their own -- and their names still lend their name to different areas in the city: The Fleet, The Walbrook, The Tyburn, and the River Westbourne among others. All these rivers now flow through pipes as part of London's extensive sewer system. There are still spots where some of these rivers pop up above ground, but for the most part they've become caged animals.

Joseph Bazalgette and his modern sewer system helped narrow the Thames, and make it a faster flowing river than it once was. Through all of the changes in the river, through all of the fires and plagues, in good times and bad times, the river has stood as the thread that runs through the ancient city. It has seen it all.

While in London, appreciate the river and it's history. Try to take a stroll along the South Bank at night if you can... the city opens up in front of you, and its negative image is illuminated along the length of the Thames. It's a sight you'll never forget.

That's why the Thames gets top billing on my list -- because none of the other nine sites would even exist if not for the river.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2. The Pubs

Nothing quite says London like dark wood, warm pints, and hanging signs. London's pubs are fascinating places, each a different and unique experience all its own. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a pub in the City of London that we'll have lunch at before touring St. Paul's. Dickens and Dr. Samuel Johnson drank here. In Dickens case... he pretty much drank everywhere.

But the pubs of London are about more than just drinking. In many ways they are a congregation point for people who live in that neighborhood. It's a place people come together to discuss their shared experiences, and what's going on in their life.

Part of this class is about you folks experiencing London, the city and the people. Pubs are a great way to meet interesting characters who can tell you what the city is like. This class is also about exploring places that may seem a bit outside your comfort zone. Pubs are a great place to do that.

Some of my favorites? Here they are in no particular order:

The Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street for it's decor, and flowers.
The Founders Arms near the Tate Modern for it's view of St. Paul's and the city.
The George Inn for it's history and links to Chaucer and Shakespeare.
And pretty much any pub in the Highlands of Scotland, like Saucy Mary's (on the Isle of Skye)
These are just a few of my favorites. I know you'll find your own. There are some very close to you in Chelsea right down near the Thames on Cheyne Walk that are very nice.

If you want to know the United Kingdom -- know it's pubs.

Monday, April 27, 2009

3. Holland Park

I'm re-starting a list here that I began last summer and never completely finished. Numbers 4 through 10 are at other spots on the blog.

Holland Park is one of those places that no tourist venture into. It's just not on the beaten path enough for tourists to be interested. But it's probably one of the most interesting small parks there is.

Situated at the corner of High Street Kensington and Earls Court Road, it's truly a "posh" park. But it's so much more. Holland Park holds within it a Japanese Garden (truly stunning), an amazing tulip garden in the spring, plenty of peacocks and forested space, and the ruins of an old Jacobean mansion.

From Travel Writing for Journalists

Take a picnic here, find a secluded spot (there's plenty of them) and relax.

Here's a map of the area:

View Holland Park in a larger map

Check out the different pin tacks (especially the tube stop) as I give directions for how to get there from our tube stop.