In asking people’s opinions of Shakespeare and their favorite play, everyone asked was very willing and excited by the prospect of discussing their own opinion, as seen in these videos. It was also exciting how nearly everyone had a nostalgia for his works. Most interviewed were from Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare is certainly quite a large part of life.
When visiting Stratford-upon-Avon this past week, Rashid and I decided to investigate the emotional connections audiences have with Shakespeare, and what makes his work so enduring. Collectively, we interviewed some tour guides, actresses, and community members of Stratford, and across the board, we made some interesting conclusions.
In asking people’s opinions of Shakespeare and their favorite play, everyone asked was very willing and excited by the prospect of discussing their own opinion, as seen in these videos. It was also exciting how nearly everyone had a nostalgia for his works. Most interviewed were from Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare is certainly quite a large part of life.
There was a recurring theme of emotional connection and favorite play. Most people said that their favorite play was also their first play. One interviewee said “I can’t say Merchant of Venice, as that’s my first play, and everyone’s first Shakespeare is their favorite.” This is a very important link to the importance of Shakespeare: his work creates such a personal bond with his audiences that they are hooked from the first, and remember it fondly.
For everyone who answered our question, it was ones they saw performed that were the most memorable. One lady said, “I’m seeing Othello this Thursday, so I’m sure then that’ll be my favorite”. A play is most passionate when on display — it’s physical, loud, and visually stimulating. Shakespeare plays were intended to be seen on stage as a performance, not read, and this makes all the difference when understanding and appreciating his genius. So much of comedy is physical, for example; and tragedy is visual.
Emotional involvement came into play for everyone’s favorite play. One man said, “the language” in Henry V is what makes it his favorite, and one of the actresses from the live-monologues-by-request acting troupe at Shakespeare’s Birthplace said that the St. Crispin’s Day speech is her favorite because of its chilling language and exciting motivations.
Other recurring descriptions of their favorite plays were “moving”, “emotional”, “strong” — except one girl who said “Mine’s boring, it’s just Hamlet!” This video is a compilation of about ten interviews we conducted at Stratford, including the quotes described here.
This introduces another element to Shakespeare that makes his work so unique: many Shakespeare plays are such an ingrained part of modern culture they are almost cliched. I think a lot of people feel that pressure when discussing Shakespeare. People think that they must know a lot about his works, and if they do not it is often a source of embarrassment. This must be heightened in Stratford-upon-Avon more so because of the Shakespeare enthusiasts it attracts.
When asked what Shakespeare meant to them, there was often a vague response. Rather than seeing this as a lack of impression, it shows a vast, indescribable impression. For people born and raised in Stratford, Shakespeare is put on such a high pedestal that there is no comparison to any playwright. One lady interviewed actually explained that they studied 12 Shakespeare plays when she was in school, though she was in her 60s. A girl in her early twenties said they perform Shakespeare every year at her school, and its mandatory to be in it at least once in secondary school (grades 6-12). This is much different than most schools in America that only teach Shakespeare once or twice in high school, and occasionally once n middle school. But even in college, students are required to take a Shakespeare course for their English major.
It is an undeniable influence across the world for everybody. Attendants and teachers in public schools don’t even begin to cover it! Anyone who watches television is familiar with Shakespeare. Many episodes do Shakespeare spoofs or sometimes outright adaptations, such as the Disney channel show Suite Life of Zack and Cody when they perform ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
This clip shows that although many viewers won’t understand exact quotes, the episode plays on the themes of the original play to make it just as entertaining for a modern, younger audience as the original would have been to the groundlings and royalty of old who watched it performed live. Similarly, the Simpsons did a Hamlet parody that was actually very close to the original text, minus the classic language. This is both of our favorite modern-day retellings!
And finally, if characters of Shakespeare works are not obviously translatable to you already, here is a great video where Shakespeare characters read insults as mean tweets.
In conclusion, Shakespeare remains a fascination for everyone, around the world, from historians to simple moviegoers, not because school forces his work to be considered important, but because it is inherently entertaining to everyone for different reasons. Even being in Stratford was proof of this, as all ages of patrons from hundreds of cultures were gathered in the same place for a common purpose. Readers can appreciate the poetry of his writing, linguists enjoy his inventive use of language, and audience members to his plays will laugh, cry, and be inspired by his characters and their stories. There is something in his words for everyone, from Stratford to Philadelphia — and back again!
This time next week, I will be on a flight to the United Kingdom where I will get to spend 3 weeks earning nearly a full semester of credits studying at Oxford University.
In high school I was obsessed with Oxford University because that's where J.R.R. Tolkien, my literary hero, studied and taught AND wrote my favorite works, along with C.S. Lewis and a group of prominent English professors and authors. Now I will have the opportunity to walk where he did and see the same things he saw every day, over 70 years ago, but more than that, I'll be studying his own subject of English, as well as History.
I'll be taking 3 courses while at Oxford:
1) World Affairs, a multi-lecture course with speakers from around the world, which will cover political issues including the Arab Spring, during which I was present in the Middle East.
2) Exploring Britain, a history course that takes us across the country to different sites including London.
3) This is the one I am most excited for, Shakespeare on Stage and Screen. We will be studying 8 plays and seeing them all performed live, including my favorite, the Merchant of Venice, which we will actually see AT THE GLOBE THEATER. I am beyond excited; I cannot allow my thoughts on it too much else I should ne'er sleep again.
I will also have Friday-Sunday free every week to go explore on my own, so I am going to take major advantage of that. There's so much to see and so little time, but I'll be posting my adventures here hopefully weekly, if not in a weekly-recap form upon return.
BUT THAT'S NOT ALL.
On my way back across the pond I'll be spending 4 days in Dublin with my mom, and then we'll be traveling over to Northern Ireland for another 5 days to see a friend and explore Belfast! Ghost tours and Game of Thrones filming locations are definitely on the must-see list.
I have so many adventures ahead of me this month, I can't wait to share them with you! If you have any questions about planning your own trips, I have a Pinterest board (link attached here) for Dublin and Northern Ireland, and many free sites are included on the list. I may set one up for Oxford too, I'll post more on that.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy following my journey!
Last evening I was thrilled with the performance of William Shakespeare's the Tempest, an outdoor event on Millersville University's campus.
Without hestitation I give this performance 5 stars, a perfect review. Full disclosure, I have a few friends in the cast, but it is their brilliant acting that led me to meet them in the first place in past performances!
This performance of the Tempest was especially well done as they managed to improve upon an original. All dialogue was kept the same and the characters were all acted out as the play dictates in writing, but Prospero (the protagonist), King Alonso, and the spirit Ariel were all made female (Prospera, Queen Alonsa, and Ariel.) This not only expanded the cast to be more evenly male and female, but it changed the dynamic of the parent-daughter relationship of Prospero and Miranda in a very positive way. It was a more believable story and an empowering tale of women righting wrongs they have suffered, rather than a male-dominated power struggle. PSPP's new direction brings this story into the modern era and makes it a relevant tale for all viewers, not a dusty, ancient parable of a society long past.
The acting was phenomenal. Camilla Schade played a captivating Prospera, a difficult role with thousands of lines that she made to look effortless and natural. Alyssa Rader's teenage Miranda was well done, and very convincing! Rosser Lamason's Prince Ferdinand was a perfect match for Miranda's glossy innocence; it was a joy to see them interact so sweetly. It is a romance not easily made entertaining, as it is so comically sudden, but this duo managed to elicit "awe"s and applause.
Josh Dorsheimer's portrayal of Sebastian was, to say the least, impressive. A regularly unspectacular character, Dorsheimer made Sebastian stand out among the royal party, and it was genuinely exciting when I saw him come on stage -- he knows how to make an audience want more.
Curtis Proctor's Gonzalo was a similarly impressive actor, clearly seasoned and confident on a stage. Proctor captivated us with every word, using pointed pauses and clear diction to actually make the audience want to hear the character's flowery dialogue and sweet-nothing discourse.
The duo of Trinculo and Stephano, the play's comedic relief, was more than entertaining, easily stealing the show in a non-distracting way. Nicole Weerbrouck and DJ Littell respectively did a fantastic job.
The fluidity of Holly Andrew as the spirit Ariel was most impressive as well. It was hypnotizing to watch her bend and twist so effortlessly, all too easy to get lost in her songs much as the crew had done.
The islanders, Miranda and Caliban, had exquisite makeup, painted designs on face, arms and legs that really brought the set to life. The costumes were immaculate. They were all perfectly wearable and stylishly intriguing, especially Prospera's coat, which was embroidered with bold astrology and witchcraft symbols (unfortunately not pictured.) No costume was overdone and they all complimented the beautiful set wonderfully.
Lighting and sound made this a peak performance. High-grade professional quality in an outdoor performance is not easy, and they managed it in such an effortless way. It was almost as if the sunset was planned, it flowed so perfectly with the progression of the play.
This performance was overall absolutely fantastic, I cannot recommend it enough, even for the non-Shakespeare fan. The price is so affordable, $10 for adults and $5 for students and children, all donation-based, as this is a non-profit company. The catering is excellent and well-priced, as well as a well-priced concession stand with homemade brownies absolutely to die for from George Street Cafe (locals can vouch for its excellence as well!)
I hope you'll all come out either tonight or this coming weekend, and I'm sure future performances will be just as excellent.
Here is the contact information for this fantastic organization so you can all go see their performances and support this organization over social media on an email list or to simply audition for future shows because it was a stellar effort in all departments.
Website: http://peoplesshakespeareproject.org/ (you can sign up for their email list here as well.)
From their Facebook event, below is the information including a synopsis of the play, dates and times, and you can post questions on the event as well -- here's the link for that: https://www.facebook.com/events/463194313857395/
By dastardly doings, a duchess and her baby daughter were shoved out of their kingdom, set afloat and arrived at a mysterious island "peopled" by strange beings. This magical tale of power, revenge, redemption and love is "such stuff as dreams are made on". Come share the magic of The Tempest, June 18-21. Bring blankets, chairs, families, picnics to the Winter Center Alumni Ampitheatre (behind the building).
This year you can order your delicious boxed picnic dinner from George St. Cafe - 717-872-0800 - and pick up evening of the performance!
Suggested donations $10/adult, $5/student.
Live Music beings at 6:45 nightly with performances at 7:30pm.
For weather updates, visit: www.artsmu.org or call: 717-871-7018
All photos courtesy of the People's Shakespeare Project's Facebook page.
I read this book expecting a “triumph of war’ story, with a happy ending and a feel-good moral of American heroism, but instead what I got was a realistic account of the terrifying experience, unfortunately not uncommon, of Louie Zamperini, a track star and 1936 Olympian turned Armed Air Force pilot during World War II. This is also the title of the film, directed by Angelina Jolie (I know, but stay with me) and starring up-and-coming actors Jack O’Connell (300: Rise of an Empire), Matthew Crocker, Garrett Hedlund (Troy, Tron: Legacy, Inside Llewyn Davis), Takamasa Ishihara, alongside Domhall Gleeson (About Time, Harry Potter series), a fairly-well-known British actor, and Finn Wittrock (American Horror Story, The Normal Heart).
In summary, and with no cliches and no exaggerations, this is the ultimate story of survival.
From countless childhood romps that would leave any mother worried sick, to the Olympics at age 19, to a startling air battle over Nauru in 1942 that left his ship riddled with 594 bullet holes… this was not the story Louie Zamperini became famous for. It was his, and Russell Allen Phillips (Domhall Gleeson)’s survival on a raft for 47 days, and over 2 years in various Japanese POW camps that made his story of risk-taking, heartbreaking survival so poignant.
There were moments in this book where I audibly erupted, “oh my god” where my brother, on the second floor of the house engrossed in video games, came out to ask what was wrong. There were chapters I had to put the book down because I couldn’t see the words, and I found I’d been sobbing. There were hours I sat entrapped in this horrific story where my jaw ached from hanging agape. In time it wasn’t even the extreme reslience of these men, or the struggles they endured, which had me so amazed: it was the inhumanity of the Japanese, and more disgustingly, the American government’s reactions.
To spare a lengthy, emotional rant, I will simply provide a bullet-point list of the shocking facts I learned through this book. We need to ensure this is taught in all history classes, to our children, friends, family, neighbors… because humanity needs to be aware of its capabilities, on both sides of the spectrum, for good and evil.
And finally, the biggest atrocity: the American government in the early 1950s, less than 10 years since the end of the war, decided that Japan would be a valuable ally against the Russians in the growing Cold War. General Douglas MacArthur "functioned, in effect, as a defense team for the emperor” (in the words of historian John Dowe) by releasing all war criminals — men convicted of murder and sentenced to death, life sentences, even hangings — and ceasing the trials and searches for other criminals. The men who tortured thousands of Americans, British, Australians; killed 5,000 innocent Korean civilians, including children; the men responsible for psychologically and physically tearing down men who were not as strong as Louie — men who died, committed suicide, or just gave up. And the American government let them go.
But even worse was the American government’s treatment of POWs. Men, drafted against their will to fight for their country, were taken as POWs by a heartless government: and yet our government, who is responsible for their fates, did not compensate them for their losses. They offered them a compensation of $1 a day for every day they were imprisoned, if they could “prove” (not defined) that they were victimized through lack of proper rations, living quarters, etc. They would be offered $2.50 if they could prove they weren’t paid for their work. This program, already inefficient, was cut too, when the Japanese were pardoned by General MacArthur. It was like their sacrifices were invalid.
The Japanese still do not acknowledge their involvement in World War II, and they have issued no apologies for their actions. The United States government issued no apologies for their faulty planes, their inept lieutenants who enabled crashes like Louie and Phillips’, or for issuing false death announcements for soldiers like Zamp and Phil; and certainly no apologies for post-war infractions. There were no winners in this war. There was only human brutality.
Until I read Zamperini’s story, and Hillenbrand’s research, I never truly understood what World War II was where the Japanese were concerned. And I am appalled at their militaristic actions at the time, and our government’s as well, and even more at the reactions in the 60+ years since the war and post-war policies. I used to revere the second World War as a clear-cut battle of good and evil: the Nazis had skulls on their helmets, what could be a clearer symbol for a villain? But the Americans were not perfect, and this was not a romantic conflict at all, no matter what spin historians put on it today. It was pain, suffering, loss, torture… a fate worse than death for many. All we can do is respect those who lost their lives, and learn from the villains who allowed for and carried out such horrors.
I would recommend watching the film only after reading the book. Director Jolie mightily impressed me with her attention to detail, even the chocolate bar with a bite taken out of it and cans of peaches for the POWs. Considering the breadth and depth of this story, this was an amazing adaptation. Performances were all stellar, and I hope to see more of Jack O’Connell. The movie had much more of an “American pride” feel to it than the historical message the book outlined. My brother felt it had more propaganda for America and against Japan, but I noted that they left out a lot of Japanese cruelty (keeping in the major sufferings of Louie.) I Hope one day history films can be made without biases, and we can just appreciate each side’s shortcomings as lessons to be learned from.
And so we come to the end of my travel posts... for now! The final day of our trip came with exhaustion: we were all ready to relax and get on with the Christmas spirit! But I’m glad we got to spend some time in Turkey. 22 hours in a country, or at least a city, is enough time to know if you want to return, and I know I have zero interest in ever going back to the over-populated Istanbul. 24 million people in dusty city streets and severely overcrowded public transportation — which is especially unnerving as a woman in a conservative Muslim society — is not my cup of tea.
People constantly heckled you to buy whatever they were selling, and things were more expensive than in Prague, the capital of designer shopping. And hardly anything was in English; I know that’s not mandatory but it just makes travel difficult. Nothing was in Greek either, and considering most tourists we saw were Greek, and Turkey is… well we all know that old chestnut with Constantinople and the Ottoman conquest… but come on, stuff needs to be understandable, Turkish is far from a widely-spoken language. I was shocked to learn that Turkey has been voted the number one country for tourism: the airport wasn’t even easily accessible.
Regardless of the experience’s quality, we saw the main attractions in the city and that is what’s important. First we visited the Grand Bazaar, a popular shopping attraction very similar to what I’ve seen in the Middle East or Greece. Mostly knock-off designer bags, jeans, Nike shoes, even toys, so we didn’t really buy anything; but there were some beautiful pieces of pottery that we really liked, and mom bought a few little plates and bowls. They do a style of painting with three-dimensional designs of paisley and flowers, almost like henna, and it’s always very vibrant and beautiful. There were little Dervish men (Sufi Muslims from Persia) made out of pottery, in their traditional dancing clothes and form. Another Turkish specialty is these beautiful glass electric lanterns, but they were too difficult to transport in our suitcases and the electricity type didn’t match Bahrain or America’s unfortunately.
Our next destination was the Blue Mosque, completed in 1616 following the invasion of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. It was large, and a strange contrast to the ancient castles of the European monarchs of the same age we had seen not even a week prior. It’s amazing to think of the differences in cultures across the continents, so different and yet both were engaged in political warfare, as is the case all throughout history I suppose.
Finally we visited Agia Sofia (St. Sophia’s, or Holy Wisdom), the oldest Greek Orthodox church in the world. It functioned as a church from 537 to 1453, when the Ottomans invaded and destroyed much of its gold mosaics and iconography of Jesus and Mother Mary. It is said that they left the images of the other saints because they carried over into Islam, and added an inscription of Allah on the dome. There was even a painting of an Ottoman emperor kissing the feet of Allah because he had divorced and remarried 3 times and wished to remarry again, against Islamic beliefs. We had a very knowledgeable tour guide who, although Muslim, made very clear she was interested in the history and the connection of religions rather than the superiority of one or the other. At Agia Sofia, they are still restoring their damages today, and many of the covered mosaics are being rediscovered.
It’s not a perfect country by any means, and not somewhere I’m likely to return, but I’m glad I had this opportunity to see such historic landmarks of an ancient land.
So comes the end of my tour of Europe! The rest of my vacation was spent in Bahrain, socializing with old friends and enjoying a true melting pot of cultures (which mostly consists of delicious foods!) Stay tuned for some great book recommendations, I’ve been reading a lot while I’m overseas, and whatever else comes my way on this adventure! I hope everyone had wonderful holidays, and I’d love to hear about your trips or at-home adventures this season, so please feel free to comment!
I decided to write about Prague all at once, because we spent most of our three days here with the castle. But first some background.
Prague has four districts that are considered separate cities, although they are all in the same city. There is Old Town, which dates to the 800s and is where our Marriott was. Then there is the newest, Jewish Town, which has the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world, and dates from the 1300s; strangely, due to events in World War II as well as many, many persecutions over the past nearly-1,000 years, the entire Jewish population in the Czech Republic is less than 10,000. The other two districts are indistinguishable but designated by their origins, from the 900s, and the second from the 1100s.
The Castle has had inhabitants on that hill, where a rich supply of natural spring water runs through, since 3600 BC. The castle was built by Pre. a people that were not Slavs but Bohemians. The throne was then transferred to the Luxembourgs (yes, the founders of that little country), and then to the Jagiellons, until the Habsburgs of Austria took the throne in the Baroque era (late 1500s to the 1600s). It was Franz Joseph and Sisi (see my second day in Vienna blog post) that saw the end of the Habsburgs in Czechoslovakia, and Sisi became the Queen of Hungary later in her reign for her freeing of the Hungarian people from Austrian rule.
The Castle has, of course, gone through changes over the thousands of years it has been inhabited, but it largely hasn’t changed since the 1300s. The museums at this location are sprawling. There are over 14 of them in the area. We first walked up the mountain/hill across the city, so we saw the castle and its cathedrals from there; then we ventured to the other side, to the Castle itself, and that was even more impressive. The city is expansive, colorful, and ancient, and we saw it from every angle.
The most notable museums in the Castle were the main museum of history (where no pictures were allowed but where I learned the information relayed above.) There was an armory, with replicas of real shields and weapons, armor and especially helmets.
They also had rooms of replica homes, the coolest of which was the Herbalist’s, and the Psychic’s (a normal house, I was happy to see); psychics are people too!
The Castle reminded me of the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones, or Casterly Rock, or at least how we imagine it could look. It was medieval and yet something I would love to see more of nowadays, funny how that works. It pains me to know that so little exists from that time, and worst of all that the artifacts show that wear and tear. It’s also frustrating that we know so little concrete evidence about life in the castles we so love to tour. But we learn more every day, so that’s the positive side.
We also saw the cathedral there where a lot of relics and people were buried who were former Habsburgs or other royals, it’s as close as you can get to meeting royalty as a peasant like me so that was fascinating.
Our first day we took an antique car ride around the city, which turned out to be a very informative tour. We saw the house where Amadeus was filmed, and learned that the director, Milos Foreman, was Czechoslovakian (see my second day in Vienna post for more on this as well.) We learned where Mission Impossible: III and IV, (Ghost Protocol) were filmed, and that’s something I was super fascinated by as a Tom Cruise lover (I know, I know, very unpopular but I can’t help but be impressed, he ages like a fine wine it’s amazing.)
The second day we went to the Charles Bridge, a very famous, ancient bridge that is now just for walking. It had great views of the city and is lined with beautiful statues. Also, Tom Cruise ran across this bridge in MI3 so that was pretty exciting! We also saw the famous Astronomical Clock of Prague, which was built in 1410, the 3rd oldest in the world. It has an ornate show of little figurines on every hour, and it's a beautiful building, a true marvel of historical architecture.
The third day, we went to the Jewish Quarter, saw parts of the Kafka Square named for the writer Franz Kafka who wrote in Prague for a few years, and most notably saw the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world! It was so eerily beautiful. There was an adjoining museum about burial customs as well as a background on holy days and their differing calendar, which was something I never knew much about so I was excited for this opportunity. There was a building built like a synagogue with names of every person who was confirmed dead or missing during the Second World War, and most names were connected to Terezin Concentration Camp. It was too far from the city for us to go, but it was moving enough to see their names along the walls of this memorial.
We spent the rest of the time walking the markets and eating the local cuisine. Overall, our time in Prague was brief but well-spent. I’m writing this from the flight to Istanbul, where we’ll spend Christmas Eve, and then it’s onto Bahrain for Christmas Day and the rest of my Christmas break!
Here in Bahrain I attended a program on “Corporate Warriors”, presented by Craig Heslop, creator of Tribal Fitness. Presented in a session through Biznet, a networking group here in Bahrain, Craig discussed how, in a busy world, it isn’t so hard to become healthy and stay healthy while still managing your daily life.
“Blending physical activity with fitness” is a goal at Tribal Fitness. People use these terms interchangeably, but they are two very different things. Craig cited football players as an example: many are very overweight and unhealthy, with a life expectancy ten years lower than the average American (which is an ever-shrinking number as well.) Yet people would assume such physically fit people are healthy, but fitness is its own playing field. Likewise many overweight people are healthy and fit. These are different dimensions of wellness that need to work together, and this is done by balancing our activity levels with stress, what foods we take in, and other facets of our lives.
As many of you know, I’ve been on quite a journey into weight loss and fitness, discovering what’s healthy based on many things, including a lot of trial and error. Crash diets: I’ve tried a few and even when they work, they’re always short term. What really did it for me was Weight Watchers helping me learn portion control and what the elusive term “moderation” really means. I wrote an article about the first leg of weight loss journey here about 6 months ago, but I’ve been off WW for 5 months, and I’ve continued the healthy habits I gained then, and am always finding more. This presentation summarized a lot of what I had learned, while also pointing out things that should have been obvious to me before, that I will definitely be adding to my routine every day.
In Craig’s words, the vision of tribal fitness is to "guide humans back to natural movement, food and living”, and these are the three core pillars of his philosophy. But the thing is, its not a “diet”, its a new way of life, or something many healthy people do without realizing it. There’s no caloric limits, no gym regimes, and certainly none of those “no pain no gain” sacrifices people are always dissuaded from healthy living for. Tribal Fitness is about returning to a natural way of life and understanding what is healthy, and engaging in that because it feels good.
The first concept Craig introduced was that the “level of fitness [should] exceed daily demands”. In other words, if your day is spent at a desk job or in a classroom, make sure you’re moving more than that. A lifestyle should be "sustainable in the long run”, meaning life needs to be healthy now so you can be healthy later: overworking while you’re capable leads to a miserable old age.
There are three pillars to his fitness goals:
1. Natural movement.
2. Natural food.
3. Natural living.
These things are all very simple, and I was overjoyed to realize that I’m becoming a very fitness-oriented person. My health and general wellbeing are things I care about more than anything in this world, because I know there is no better way to ensure my future will be pleasant. I’ve lost 36 pounds, and have 30 pounds to go… I know I’ll make it, and I know I’ll keep it off, because I haven’t done this through sacrifice, I’ve done it with change. I’m living a new lifestyle that I don’t see any end for.
Craig’s 20-Day Challenge is a simple step towards an easy, lifelong habit; hopefully this can be made to be a daily habit for the rest of your life, but try it for twenty days at least! It encompasses the 3 dimensions of natural wellbeing described above, and it is certainly not too much for anyone, any age, any ability:
WALK twice a day, 30 minutes each time
EAT at least one meal per day with friends or family
LIVE by the light with 1 hour outdoors a day and 8 hours of sleep at night
Since I’ve been in Bahrain I’ve lost about 2 pounds a week just walking outdoors for an hour (before this presentation) and I’ve lost a lot of weight, so I know this little program will help. It doesn’t sound like much but it will do wonders for your health, trust me. It’s amazing to look back at how far I’ve come, believe me if I told myself last year I’d be more than halfway to my ultimate health goals by now I wouldn’t have believed it! But it’s easy once you tell yourself it’s just going to happen, and taking these first small steps are the key.
Please, Bahrain residents, check out www.tribalfitness.com to see their programs. They do a corporate one-day Bedouin Businessman experience to train on outdoor survival with your workplace; a junior after-school program for youth fitness; and even an off-island getaway to learn survival in a very approachable way on a beautiful location, Koh Samui.
Thank you for reading and I hope everyone can take something from this, and get on a road to better health in 2015!
Today wasn’t a full day in the city, but we made the most of it before our flight left for Prague, the feature of my next post. We decided to visit another Christmas market in Karlsplatz, which was about 25 minutes from our hotel, and St. Charles Church, the namesake of the plaza holding the festivities.
This church proved to be one of the more immaculate churches because of its mind-boggling height, somewhere around 10-12 stories of domed artwork. The church had an elevator indoors which allowed you to go all the way to the start of the dome, and then there were steps to go up, through the dome and beyond into the outside through the top of the building. My mom and brother, Christopher, ventured to this, but Nicholas and I stayed down for our fear of heights. It was terrifying to think how the artists had worked to paint it all, nearly 300 years earlier.
Some paths and stairways were visible behind the dome and as we went up the elevator, a terrifying testament to how it was accessed before elevators.
Vienna has been my favorite city in a long time, and I’m learning German with renewed vigor, hopeful that upon my return to Austria I can travel to the smaller towns more easily. When I return to the city again, I am hoping to visit the Belvedere museum plaza, something I was vague on and didn’t particularly understand existed so largely, until our taxi to the airport drove through it. It’s a huge plaza heading away from the city center that holds another Habsburg palace, as well as smaller museums, including the Army Museum.
I would also like to visit the Military History Museum, the Natural History Museum (in the Museumsquartier, across from the Art History Museum we visited in the last post about my trip) and to take a day trip out to the ‘Sound of Music’ house. There is also another palace (I know I know, but I’m a sucker for crumbled monarchies!) about an hour outside the city which has beautiful gardens, similar to Shönbrunn, where I would also return on my next trip. I’ll be aiming for a spring/summer venture, to see the city in a new light.
Thank you for reading about my adventures in Vienna, and I hope you’ll come along with me for my next post of this trip, to Prague!
Today we saw the Museumsquartier, a large, LARGE group of squares and plazas with museums on every side. There are sculptures everywhere as well, and mini parks I”m sure would be gorgeous during the spring and summer months. Of course I was most excited to see Mozart’s statue, as he is one of my main celebrity crushes.
In this plaza is the Freud Museum, Leopold Museum, and about a dozen others. We saw the Art History Museum, in Maria Theresiaplatz, where there was a large Christmas Market of course! Armed with some glühwein, glorious German mulled wine, we ventured in. Valasquez was on special exhibition, but we saw many classical artists. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to read about all the different people, but I took all the names and I’ll hopefully be able to learn more at home. The majority of the museum was priceless Habsburg collectibles.
We went to the town hall and the current parliament building for all of Austria, and took some pictures of the architecture there (pictured in above slideshow) when we saw the largest, oldest Christmas market, the Christkindlmarkt! It was beautiful and the glühwein was magnificent.
Vienna is a city I know I want to return to, hopefully in the spring or summer for a slightly different take, so I can see the museums that I missed out on. But I loved this city, and these traditions of glühwein and such will be adapted for my home forever now.
This day in Vienna will be especially memorable because our family friends, the Sonntags, who are from Slovakia but live in Dubai as expatriats, much like how my family live in Bahrain but are from Pennsylvania. They were en route from Innsbruck, Austria, where they were skiing, so they took the train to meet us in Vienna. It was great to see Richard, we haven’t seen each other in two years and with both of our international lifestyles who knows when I’ll see them all again, but that’s life when you travel as much as we do! We went to St. Stephan’s again, it’s the center of the city, and then we set out to the Hofburg, the parliament complex of the former Habsburg empire. Be sure to read my day 2 in Vienna post, where I gave some background on the Habsburg dynasty, my new obsession.
This was a palace where they spent more time than Schönbrunn, and they had an entire museum on Sisi called the Sisi Museum. It even went into detail of her childhood and her hobbies, her exercise equipment was on display, and her dresses as well as her writings. She was a great poet, a typical melanchly sort, and her period of mourning after the suicide of their only son and heir was her most creative and her psychological state the most fragile, naturally. She was what I call dismally fascinating, and I absolutely adore her for it.
After leaving there we went into St. Peter’s Church, and then our family ventured into the catacombs. The Cathedral, est. ca. 1300 by Kaiser Karl IV, and housed his and his family's bodies, the royal Habsburg's organs, a mass plague burial of the upper class, and many many stacks of coffined burials for nobility, two floors, all the way through WWII. Also, priests and bishops of the church have been buried there since 1630, and will continue to be buried there indefinitely.
Later in the evening my mom and I went to a free concert in the catacombs of St. Peter’s, and that was a fascinating experience. They played Baroque music on actual Baroque instruments: a hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, a wooden flute, a cello, and a harpsichord, the latter of which I had never heard played live. The choice of music was unfamiliar compositions by the court composers of the Habsburgs at the Hofburg, which was an unexpected tie-in with all else I had learned that day. Everything was in German so I only caught about 1/3 or so of the information spoken, but I really enjoyed the concert nonetheless.
Tomorrow we head into our fourth and final day, when we venture to the Museumsquartier, and the Art History Museum at Maria Theresiaplatz!
Today we set out to see Schönbrunn Palace, the beautiful yellow palace Vienna is often known for. This is the number one attraction in Vienna, and as far as I am concerned it is the greatest site where I’ve learned the most, and if I only had one day in the city it is where I would return.
Of course there was a beautiful Christmas Market out front, I have learned they are everywhere in the city, and it was here I first tried Glühwein, or mulled red wine with Christmasy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg; this is surely a new tradition for me, it was so delicious! Every market has its own mugs, and I’ve collected one at each location and will continue to throughout my whole trip! It’s a great souvenir for an affordable price, and a great excuse to get more Glühwein!
We took the public transport to the market, the metro. Our stop was in Stadtpark, the city park of Vienna. It’s a beautiful park with a golden statue of the favored composer of the Viennese monarchs in the 19th century, Johann Strauss. On this trip to Schönbrunn I learned everything there is to know about the Habsburgs, the royal family of Austria, and I hope I’ll retain it all and continue to read about it when I go home.
The castle was amazing. The Habsburgs loved gold and lavish lives of decadent shows of their riches. The most prominent features in the castle were the walls, of which were 3-dimensional artistic vines of gold-plated woods and ceramics. They heated the castle with large, gold and ceramic ovens that were stoked from a hidden passage in the walls so as to keep the rooms clean. The receiving rooms, where the Kaiser/Emperor would meet guests, were so structured and regulated that even the inclination of the emperor’s head was uniform for each guest. They even had a recording of Emperor Franz Joseph, my favorite monarch, saying “thank you, it’s been a pleasure”.
I could go on all day about the glory of the Habsburgs, but I’ll give a very brief overview. Maria Theresia, of whom a major plaza and Christmas Market is dedicated to in the Museumsquartier (where we are going tomorrow), was the favored monarch, ruling over 60 years, around the late-1600s to the mid-1700s. There was some unrest and assassination until the 1800s when eventually the people’s favorite, the humble, modest, loving Franz Joseph came to power. In his own time he was much beloved. He came to power at only 18, and married a Bavarian princess, Elisabeth, nicknamed Sisi. Not liked during her time for her dislike for her husband, she was tragically depressed and spent most of her life apart from Franz Joseph, notably two years on the Greek island Corfu, and on her yacht. She was a tragic wonder, a fascination and a legend, stabbed to death by Italian terrorists. Her husband’s response when learning of her death was “you have no idea how much I loved this woman.” He was a great man and my favorite monarch I’ve ever learned about. He even lived modestly, considering all the money he had, and he put his people first in every way he could. Upon Sisi’s death, however, it was her legend that lived on into modern history, mainly through cinema and Hollywood publicity.
When we left we browsed the gardens, which i”m sure would be more impressive in the summer, but they were so large and the statues in the front, in Greek form, were very regal and gave the yard a speechless appeal. The aviary was particularly interesting, built in the late 1700s and still functional. We also looked at the Christmas Markets on the premises; these things are EVERYWHERE here, it’s great!
After leaving, we went to the Mozarthaus… the actual apartment W.A. Mozart lived in after 1785 until his death! 5 Domgasse, Wien… the address Mozart’s freelance writings were written at, including The Marriage of Figarro, Don Giovanni, countless sonatas and concertos, and the famous Requiem. This is where his pupils came to be tutored, and where his famous parlor games were played. This was where Haydn told Mozart's father Leopold, “your son is the greatest composer I’ve met or heard of”; HAYDN said that!
Needless to say I fangirled endlessly.
I learned so much here. They had an entire section on disputing the legends of Salieri’s hatred of Mozart, the subject of Milos Foreman’s Amadeus film in the 1980s. I learned that Salieri was actually a fantastic composer, and an accomplished musician, working for the monarchy in every possible musical avenue, as court composer to organizer of music entertainment events. He was just more modest than Mozart, and that is why his fame was not so eternal. They actually had a good relationship, and it was Salieri who had Don Giovanni performed at the Orangery in Schönbrunn for its first performance, to the royal family.
Mozart had a good friend, Antonio Saliman, who was of Nigerian descent.
His co-writer (who wrote the words) for his operas was just as talented as he, and famous for his librettos.
I also learned that Mozart was a member of the Free Masons, and his last finished composition was a cantata for their organization in Vienna.
The mystery of his death was never solved, and the reports of his poisoning came from his sudden falling ill. It is likely he took mercury in an effort to end his illness, which as we know now, is practically suicide. But with his involvement with the Free Masons I wonder if it could not have been… Illuminati… but that’s just me. It broke my heart to hear all about his struggles on his last day. He still sang the parts in Requiem with his assistant and his wife, and it was during Lacrimosa, my favorite part of the Requiem, that he faltered and could not continue. He died 11 hours later.
The lives of Mozart, Salieri, and the Habsburg monarchs were the focus of today, and I couldn’t have been more pleased! This was my favorite day in Vienna, altogether.
17 hours of travel time to Bahrain paired with 11 hours to Vienna all in three days... but finally, I'm here!
We are staying at the Marriot right in der Mitte, or the city center, which I would highly recommend for its scenic views and walking location for all the major destinations in the city, especially at this time of year.
We set out, fighting jet-lag, intent on discovering the beauty of Vienna from the start. My first impression was the taxi ride from the airport, and coming into the city it was as reminiscent of home as it was of other parts of Europe. With the exceptions of a few differing plants along the road, and traffic signs in a different format plus kilometers, there was factories and homes with only slight variations from what I'd pass in Reading or Philly. But as we neared the city, and passed over the beautiful, elegant, famous Danube River, we were in a darling paradise, a historic beauty that was aged enough I believed it was real, but just incredible enough to take my breath away.
To put it in the most relatable way, it feels like a town in Disney World. The sidewalks are directly up against the buildings, which are all vibrant colors or pastel yellow, with greening metal roofs or delicately white moldings around each window and doorframe. The German language itself is so charming that it felt surreal to be in such a place of timeless elegance. Vienna has a childish innocence mixed seamlessly with mature dignity, with just a smattering of sex clubs to remind you that this is, in fact, modern Europe. It's a complete immersion into the familiar European culture, with an occasional McDonalds and Starbucks to call to globalization, but the cultural identity is not lost in this great city.
The shops and streets are decorated for Christmas, and the prominent decoration is fir trees lining the streets, in the center of the walks, at the corners of each building... hundreds of them, and not even decorated, just in their natural state of beauty. The Christmas Markets, a tradition since 1298, are spread throughout the walkable square, where delicate Christmas tree ornaments, snow globes (invented in Vienna), hand-carved wooden items, Steiff teddy bears, Tuhn toys, and other classic German goods can be bought.
The food was my favorite part. Bratwurst, of course, being sausage and of piggie origin was not something I endeavored upon (micropigs are my soulmates, I don't eat pork) but my family certainly enjoyed it. I had pumpkin soup in a bread bowl, and if we are out tonight I'll be getting the goulash in a bread bowl; the bread was delicious German sourdough and the pumpkin soup so fresh, as was everything in the market. The pretzels were larger than entire loaves of bread I've seen! Had they not been out in the cold I'd have gotten one, as I'm sure they were heavenly when soft and warm.
The best of the food was the mulled wines, hand-crafted and invented in competitions, then the winners are sold throughout the city in the same little ceramic boot mugs, which can be bought for the 3 Euro deposit or returned for a refill. We tried the Trifoler Apfel, with real chopped apples blended with white wine and cinnamon and about a dozen other subtle ingredients, and I've never been warmer!
Update: I collected the mugs at each location and have about 6 altogether.
Our next venture was the St. Stephan's Cathedral, a Catholic church with a spire reaching up to 67 meters (about 220 feet) that my mother decided we should climb. This was a terrible endeavor for my brother Nicholas and I, who are terrified of heights, but I kept Indiana Jones in mind and figured this was pretty safe by comparison to' Last Crusade's' "leap of faith".
I got some great photos and saw a breathtaking view of the city I'm already in love with! I found it especially lovely how colorful the shingles on the roof were; I wonder how long they have been there, judging by the coat of arms I'd say hundreds of years, and that's not even old for a city like Vienna. So incomprehensibly fascinating.
Now comes to the real Wahba adventure... but first let me give some background, and a bit of warning that may seem obvious upon its retelling. In Vienna, there are these men dressed in festive red coats or sometimes a navy or black, with gold fastenings and embroidery. They speak tons of languages fluently and appear to be tour guides here to help you. They have information on lots of attractions and will give you guidance to your desired destinations.
But these men are not your friend. They are shysters at their best.
They work for rinky-dink theater companies that are amateur at best, overselling the tickets for upwards of 50 Euros to these little venues with tiny shows that are presented to be concert halls and masterful performances with full orchestras. We were victims of one such shyster (interestingly, this word originates from the German Shiesser, or "worthless person".)
Luckily we did not spend as much as some people are pushed into, my dad is a master negotiator, but we were not impressed with Palais Palffy's concert of Mozart and Strauss. Most concerts in Vienna are tributes to these golden composers, and I am personally about 99% sure that in a past life I was romantically involved with W.A. Mozart and am still very much in love... so I was not happy to see his name soiled in the name of riches, the one thing he detested and died in poverty to protest, for the sake of music's purity.
Moral of the story: fast-talking salesman can be selling ANYTHING, and Google your options before purchasing, folks.
Our concert was not terrible, but not what we were sold on. The "authentic costumes" were nothing like our Renaissance Faire could have procured; the "full orchestra" was 6 people; the "large stage" was about 20 feet across; the "opera house" was an art building ACROSS THE STREET from the ACTUAL opera house; and the ballet "dancers" get quotation marks because if I can replicate your moves, lady, then it's not very good ballet.
The highlight of the show was the leader of the sextet, who was a well-accomplished violinist, and the cellist, who was hilariously jamming out to every song. The musicians were alright, and the sole opera singer was even tolerable, which is hard to manage even in professional opera. Had the show been advertised as an intimate setting and not sold as an elaborate life-changing event, we would have been satisfied. But the lies paired with charing a mandatory 1 Euro 50 for EACH COAT to be checked upon arrival is why I warn all of tourism against these men in ornate coats.
Overall it made for an eventful first day in the city; stay tuned for our second day at Schönbrunn Palace, the famous Yellow Palace of Austria, the summer residence of Austria's former monarchs.
You can get what you want or you can just get old." - Billy Joel
This semester I've been very keen to be impulsive. When opportunity strikes, I take it, and I've been trying new things and learning so much about myself. Never say never, and anything is possible; these are two of the most cliché sayings and yet so true right now, and I couldn't be happier about that.
I love being young and selfish with my time and I think that's a-ok. I'm not very good at the selfish part, but I'm trying to put myself first because now more than ever is the time to do that!
Billy Joel's 'Vienna' has been my power anthem all semester for such inspiring lyrics and I'm really, REALLY trying to enjoy the ride, Billy, thanks for the reminder.
When the opportunity arose to travel this Christmas instead of staying home and finding a part-time job or otherwise slacking off indoors this winter, I jumped at it. My parents and I discussed it and decided on... a tour de Europe East!
This month I'll be spending Christmastime in one of the most magical places for winter ever, Vienna, Austria! After that we'll be traveling to Prague in the Czech Republic, then a pitstop in Istanbul before going to Bahrain where I'll relax by the beach for most of January before coming back in time for the spring semester.
I'll be writing every day in Europe, and keeping up-to-date on cultural events of note while in Bahrain. My family live there, and I had lived there for three-and-a-half years in high school; but I might tourist-it-up a bit for the sake of interesting journalism!
I'm so fortunate to be able to cross such things off my bucket list, and I can't wait to experience these new places this Christmas, while spending rare time with my family! Therapuetic reading by the pool on the beach, dinner and drinks at the British Club or Crown Plaza, parties with friends and catching up with an island of wonderfully diverse expatriats... I really can't wait to "hang up the phone and get away for a while".
This week I had the fortune of discovering a hilarious podcast, GroupCast, available for free streaming here at Spreaker. For those of you who have never discovered the wonders of podcasts, they're a great alternative to music. When driving, especially in traffic, comedy is the way to go for entertainment options. These guys at GroupCast are like listening to stand-up; in fact, that's exactly what it is. Your hosts are Big Wes and Casey, along with Amber, Erica, Lennon and Dave making often appearances, and occasional guest stars such as Liz Curtis, a central PA comedian, like many of their guests.
Topics of conversation for GroupCast include anecdotal thoughts on life in this world, to economics, to cheese spray, to blanket forts -- always relatable and sure to have you laughing like a crazy person in your car while others stare vehemently ahead, cursing the world for rubberneckers and the elderly (we're still going with the 'listen in traffic' suggestion here.)
The best part about it is it never stops, they do it all. Podcasting is the main core of their comedy but they also have a YouTube channel where Casey does whiteboard animations of their show highlights, and they also do some assorted, random exciting things: Big Wes plays Five Nights at Freddy's the horror game, and Amber and Big Wes take the Whisper Challenge. The podcasts are also available through YouTube.
Follow them on twitter @groupcastnation and tune in each week for a new episode!
Below is an animation of one of my favorite episodes, LolCats Bible. I would go pee now so that you're free to laugh it up.
The latest Facebook trend is one I'm actually excited to participate in: the 10 books-that-mean-something-to-you challenge! I was nominated by my mother and here are my top ten. I invite everyone to post their comments of their favorite book or books, even if you only have one book you've ever read that was so good you didn't have to read any ever again! I hope you did, of course, but that's the English education major in me talking. Books are portals to new dimensions and I invite everyone to see where my mind finds its happy place in this slideshow! These are the covers I read the books with, except Pride & Prejudice; I couldn't find the cover of mine online, and I loved that movie adaptation so chose to include that one.
For those of you having difficulty reading/viewing the images, here is the text:
1. Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone - JK Rowling: this whole series means more to me than any other book. When I'm sad or happy, bored or just too busy, these books cheer me up. I grew up as they did and Hogwarts is my happy place.
2. The Fellowship of the Ring - JRR Tolkien: this first book is my favorite particularly because of the beginning, when we get to see so much of the Shire, my dream homeland. These books were there for me in very dark times and gave me something to delve myself into when I couldn't have a real world I enjoyed.
3. The Help - Katherine Stockett: this book is so well written and so meaningful, I was crying and laughing in turns at every page! She is a very talented writer and I feel like I know each character personally. She tackled a marvelously tumultuous time in our history in the most relatable way.
4. Holes - Louis Sachar: every time I read these pages or even see the Shia LeBouf movie, I’m reminded of elementary school and those easier times. His writing style was so unique in its appeal to literally every age, as I have read this book more times than I can count.
5. Flowers in the Attic - VC Andrews: This story is so heartbreaking, so shocking, and just leaves a lingering cloud of shadow over you the entire time you’re reading it… but this series immerses you so completely, with unfaltering descriptions and such wholly-deeloped characters that I could draw you a layout of Foxworth Hall and tell you Cathy’s decision or opinion on almost any matter, from politics to her favorite ice cream. The characters in this book taught me not to judge others, and to appreciate others’ struggles, because nobody has a perfect life, and some people’s mistakes are very much understandable.
6. The Face on the Milk Carton - Caroline B. Cooney: She captures growing up in 20th century middle-class America better than any writer I’ve ever read. I haven’t read this book in years but I can remember Janie’s world so clearly. I’ll never forget Cooney’s spot-on description of “the smell of the local Y… like sweat and chlorine”. It’s those little things that made this book so good! I read it straight through in one day, I remember.
7. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald: I was never assigned this in school, but read it on a quiet morning, all in one sitting. “And we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past…” need I say more? The loveliest, most delicate imagery in any classic I’ve ever read. Also, Fitzgerald has synesthesia like me, so I appreciate his unconventional metaphors and similes.
8. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen: Such a happy-place book. I was never assigned this one either, I just loved it! I long to be an accomplished young woman in the 1800s, waiting for a man who makes 500 pounds a year (a LOT back then) to swoop me up. Mr. Darcy taught me that absence does make the heart grow fonder, and Elizabeth showed me that you can have personality and opinions and even yell straight up at your admirers, and they’ll still come back!
9. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee: This book is a nostalgia trip if ever I’ve been on one. I read this not as an assignment in school, but as a release from a terrible time in my life. I didn’t even focus on the trial and all the stressing over civil rights that this book is subjected to in most classrooms, but instead Ifocused on Scout’s boldness, Dill’s sweet disposition, and Boo Radley’s pitiful existence that bred such a deep innocence that it made you cry. This book transports you to cute little Maycomb County instantly, before the end of the first paragraph, and it’s a place I love to spend time in.
10. Twilight - Stephanie Meyers: I know, very unpopular. But it reminds me of the last years of my childhood, those early years before I moved and before high school, before I knew anything of the world and before I had the daily anxieties of adulthood and worrying over the future so much. I have reread my favorite chapters of twilight just about every year since middle school, and it shows me just how much I have grown and changed. It’s good to have those reminders so that when something seems really big to me now, I can go read Twilight and remember that it won’t be very big at all in another year or two.
Thanks for reading, and don't forget to include your favorite reads below in the comments!
Meet Liz, Your Resident Hobbit
Full-time student and Netflix extraordinaire, I'm a hippie and a Tudor wench: a nerd for pop culture, literature, sci-fi, the paranormal, history and music of most genres.