Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Five Reasons to Do a Homestay For a Weekend (+ Northern Ireland Trip Recap)

I recently visited Northern Ireland for the first time! I had a phenomenal weekend enjoying the natural wonders of the region, but what really made my trip special was the wonderful nonprofit HostUK, which matches exchange students studying in the UK with UK host families for a weekend. Thanks to this organization, I got to stay with a lovely family living just north of Belfast and spend a day traveling with them along the Antrim Coast. Here’s why I loved it, and why you should do a similar program if you get the chance.

1. Visit somewhere you never would have thought of

Hexagonal rock formations at Giant's Causeway National
Trust Site—myth says they were formed by a Northern
Irish giant fighting with a Scottish giant, leading to similar
rock structures on either side of the sea.
Without this program, I doubt I would have thought to visit Belfast on this study abroad trip, let alone my host family’s small suburb or the northern coast! As beautiful as it sounded, I would have written off the area’s natural wonders as being too far from the city and too inaccessible.

But since HostUK doesn’t ask you where you’d like to go (although they ask you how much money you’re willing to spend) Northern Ireland was chosen for me. And I couldn’t be happier that it was. I got to drive with my host family along the Antrim Coast Highway, a scenic driving route that follows the northern coast of the country, stopping at National Trust sites along the way. I got to see Giant’s Causeway, with its rock formations unlike anything I’d seen before, and Carrick-a-Rede, the famous rope bridge that crosses gemstone blue water that I couldn’t satisfactorily capture with my camera. Even my host family’s town was a beautiful escape from London, close enough to make a trip to Glenariff Forest Park before I flew home on Sunday.

2. Try authentic local food

People crossing the Carrick-a-Rede (from the Scottish Gaelic
"Carraig-a-Rade," meaning "The Rock in the Road") rope
bridge from the mainland to a small island
Not only was my host family kind enough to introduce me to the Ulster Fry (side note: potato bread? The most delicious thing in the world), but they also took me to Morelli’s, a local favorite that serves fantastic honeycomb ice cream. (They were shocked when I said I’d never tried it before—is it just me, or is it not much of a thing in the US?)

3. Learn about local culture from experts

Thanks to my host visit, I know more about political divides in Northern Ireland, UK currency, and the geographic subdivisions of my host family’s town, and more! I also got to speak with my hosts (one of whom is a maths teacher and a career counselor for students) about the UK uni application process and so much more.

Plus, I got to experience day-to-day local life. I hopped between Asian food supermarkets looking for spices and desserts with my host family’s son, who had just returned from studying in Japan. I went to my host family’s church on Sunday morning. These experiences are hugely different from what I’d do on a normal vacation, but when it comes to travel, different is good.

4. Put your culture in a new context

This picture in no way does the view justice, but thanks to
glacier movement, you can find panoramic valley views at
Glenariff Forest Park.
Whether you’re interacting with local students every day or (like me) taking classes with predominately other US exchange students, doing a homestay will allow you to share aspects of your culture in ways you might not have before. I was reminded how ridiculous US driving habits are when my host family expressed surprise at seeing so many southern Irish cars on the road. (“Dublin is a three hour drive from here!” they said. “That’s really not that far,” I responded.) We also talked about US politics and higher education, and we shared travel stories from our National Parks as we hiked through Northern Ireland's National Trust sites.

5. Make connections 

Ultimately, HostUK strives to connect people across cultures, and at least in my experience, it absolutely succeeded. I loved getting to know my host family as people and talking about our respective lives. Being invited to eat, travel, and stay with a near stranger forces you to get to know them more quickly than normal and connect in brand-new and fulfilling ways. It was an  experience for sure, but in the best possible way.
You can find out more about the program, apply for a visit (or to be a host!),
and support the organization here

If you’re an international student studying in the UK, I can’t recommend HostUK enough! The process is easy, and it’s free except for travel, tickets to any sites you visit, and a gift for your host family. 

Have you ever done a homestay (for a weekend or longer)? If you’re from the US, have you ever tried honeycomb ice cream? Let me know in the comments. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

How I Spent a Day in Cambridge for £22

Good morning, and welcome to my very first post as a newly-minted travel writer!

Last Monday, I took an impromptu day trip to Cambridge. (Seriously, I booked train tickets at 9 p.m. the night before—I'm trying to become more spontaneous throughout my semester abroad, and I'm off to a great start.)

I had a fantastic time, and I managed to avoid spending money aside from the £22 I spent on train tickets. Here are the spots I visited:

1. The Cambridge Visitor Information Centre

Because I decided to visit the night before, I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do in Cambridge. So I asked the experts. There was a short queue, but the staff was welcoming and knowledgeable. I asked my favorite question—"What are your favorite hidden gem sites that people don't usually ask about?"—and stored the answers for later. 

Cambridge Central Library

2. Cambridge Central Library 

Every time I visit a new city, I have to visit the public library; it's a non-negotiable. Located on the second floor of a shopping centre, this library took a few minutes to find, but it was just as inviting as the visitor centre.

I browsed the UK covers of some of my favorite YA novels, spoke with the staff about libraries in the UK v. the US, and stopped by a small exhibit-slash-reading room housing documents about Cambridge history and genealogy.

3. Trinity College and the Wren Library

The Wren Library was the best recommendation I received from the visitor centre. Owned by Trinity College, it's a working library that displays a small yet impressive collection of historic texts. I only spent maybe 45 minutes there, but being surrounded by the work of so many brilliant minds was my most thrilling experience all day. Here are some highlights:

Sadly, no photography was allowed at the Wren Library,
but here's a photo of the beautiful Trinity College!
  • The original manuscript of A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner
  • A first-edition copy of On the Origin of Species, with annotations from Charles Darwin's professor, Adam Sedgwick. He deeply struggled to reconcile Darwin's ideas with his religious beliefs, and this book now gives insight into how religious academics grappled with the idea of natural selection. 
  • Isaac Newton's own copy of PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, with hand-written corrections for the second edition

Travel tip: the library is only open for about two hours each day, so make sure you fit it in to your timetable!

4. Reading by the River Cam

Because I'm student myself here in the UK, I did some studying of my own during my trip to this college town. I found a bench outside the Wren Library, which sits near a bend in the River Cam. Then I read a few chapters of Small Island by Andrea Levy, which I'm reading for my "Modern British Novel" class.

5. The Corpus Clock

Neither words nor my bad iPhone photography can truly convey the creepy beauty of this art installation-meets science experiment-meets timekeeping device. Unveiled by Stephen Hawking almost 10 years to the day before my visit, this clock is guarded by a metal insectoid "Chronophage" and keeps time through traditional clock-making mechanics.

I highly recommend sitting on the fence across the street, pondering the passage of time, and reading the clock's Wikipedia page as you watch the Chronophage march steadily forward.

The Mathematical Bridge

6. The Mathematical Bridge (plus other wandering sights)

Next, I spent some time wandering the streets of Cambridge, admiring the stunning architecture, scanning the storefronts for quirky shops, and keeping my eye out for local oddities. I made sure my path included the Mathematical Bridge, known for its unusually sophisticated (for its time) engineering.

Essentially, this bridge uses a "series of tangents that describe the arc of the bridge, with radial members to tie the tangents together and triangulate the structure, making it rigid and self-supporting." (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

I couldn't cross it, as it was part of a closed-off campus, but admiring its strong and clever structure from afar was more than enough.

The entrance to Gonville and Caius College

7. Gonville and Caius College

This division of Cambridge University, where Stephen Hawking first worked upon completion of his PhD, was closed to visitors during my time in Cambridge. But that didn't stop me from walking around the closed-off gate, feeling entirely star-struck. (Let's be honest: the entire day I felt star-struck, amazed that I was walking the streets of the town where one of the greatest minds of our time lived and died.)

My only complaint: just beyond the gates there was a memorial on the walkway to Francis Crick—and as an adamant defender of Rosalind Franklin, I cannot abide that. However, I refocused on the brilliant work of deserving scientists such as Hawking, Franklin, and more, marveling that I was quite possibly walking in their exact footsteps.

7.5. Evensong at King's College Chapel

Sadly, I couldn't attend this nightly choral service at King's College, as the student performers had only just arrived back on campus. (Daily performances resume along with classes this week.) However, I've heard wonderful things about this free serenade, so I had to mention it—I definitely would have gone had I been able!

The beginnings of a sunset over Pembroke College

8. Pembroke College

This school's grounds and chapel are free and open to the public, so I stopped by en route to the train station. I wandered through the maze of greenery surrounding the institution's buildings, imagining I was a real British uni student there, before the clock tower struck seven and I knew it was time to head home.

Overall, Cambridge is the most beautiful university town I've ever visited. It's extremely walkable, with more than a day's worth of activities within a few miles of the train station, and the stunning architecture alone provides hours of free entertainment. I highly recommend a day trip if you're in London!

Did I miss any sights? Let me know in the comments. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Forever Literary is a Travel Blog for Now, I Guess

Hello, lovely readers!

First off, I know it’s been ages—more than three months—since my last post. My sincerest apologies for keeping you waiting!

Now that I've taken the stereotypical tourist photo, I can
move on to pretending to be a local.
But I have (I think) a valid excuse: I’m spending this semester studying abroad in London! I’ve been here for almost three weeks, and I’m already deeply in love with this city. 

(Why you didn't see me all summer: I was busy preparing to travel abroad, balancing a job and an internship, and recovering from spring semester. Yes, last semester was so exhausting I needed the entire summer to recuperate, but that's a separate story.)

For the next few months, I’m not going to post about books, but I am going to post about my study abroad experience! Stay tuned for recaps of my day/weekend trips, maybe some advice posts, and general musings inspired by my semester.  

When I return to the USA, I think I might evolve this blog into a combined literary and lifestyle blog. Or maybe not. We’ll see. But for now, I hope you enjoy my stories of European travel, and send me your London recommendations!


P.S. Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more timely updates on my travels! 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Forever Literary Turns Six!

As of today, I’ve officially been running a blog for six years! (What!?)

Those six years have been full of truly unbelievable experiences—from interacting with my favorite authors online to attending national conventions to becoming friends with bookish people around the world. Even after all this time, it’s surreal that authors I love take the time to read my words and respond to me on social media, that I can bond with anyone in this community over mutually-adored books, and that I’ve even had the chance to meet several authors and bloggers in person.

This past year was especially exciting; I attended Book Expo for the first time and helped to publish three issues of Stay Bookish Zine, a digital magazine about all things YA (which you really should read).

I don’t know for sure what this site is going to look like in the future. My spring 2018 semester was the busiest time of my life so far, and I didn’t have the time to post as often as I would have liked. And I’ll be studying abroad in London in the fall, so I’m sure my blog will continue to be on the backburner until December.

But as always, I know I’m going to stick around the YA community. I know I’m going to continue talking about books on the internet in some capacity, even if consistent long-form blog posts become unsustainable. And I hope to be more active this summer, so stick around for better and more consistent content for the next few months!

Thank you so much to everyone who has made my six years as a blogger so wonderful. Here’s to many more!

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Speculative Alternate-History of Royal Deception: My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley | Goodreads

Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release: May 8, 2018 (previously published in the UK)
Source: Publisher
ISBN: 9780763688073
By turns thrilling, dramatic, and touching, this is the story of Queen Victoria’s childhood as you’ve never heard it before.

Miss V. Conroy is good at keeping secrets. She likes to sit as quiet as a mouse, neat and discreet. But when her father sends her to Kensington Palace to become the companion to Princess Victoria, Miss V soon finds that she can no longer remain in the shadows. Her father is Sir John Conroy, confidant and financial advisor to Victoria’s mother, and he has devised a strict set of rules for the young princess that he calls the Kensington System. It governs Princess Victoria’s behavior and keeps her locked away from the world. Sir John says it’s for the princess’s safety, but Victoria herself is convinced that it’s to keep her lonely and unhappy. Torn between loyalty to her father and her growing friendship with the willful and passionate princess, Miss V has a decision to make: continue in silence or speak out. In an engaging, immersive tale, Lucy Worsley spins one of England’s best-known periods into a fresh and surprising story that will delight both young readers of historical fiction and fans of the television show featuring Victoria.
My Name is Victoria is a delightful alternate history that tells a curiously embellished story of Queen Victoria’s childhood. Drawing from real English history, this novel asks a compelling question: what was the relationship between Victoria and her real-life appointed companion, Miss V.? And it provides a pleasantly implausible answer in the form of a richly-developed story.

What I love most about this novel is the way it tells a fantastical what-if tale deeply rooted in realism. Each plot thread is spun from real people and real events. And Lucy Worsley, a curator at England’s Historic Royal Palace, weaves extensive academic knowledge with inventive imagination to create a royal tale you won’t quite hear about in history textbooks. Readers get to enter the vividly-imagined life of Miss V., a young woman who truly existed, but whose relationship with the future queen Victoria is poorly documented. Along with the author, they muse about the personality, passions, and relationships of both Miss V. and Victoria.

Best of all, My Name is Victoria lets readers grow with its lively and lifelike characters. At the outset of the novel, Miss V. is a child of 10 or 11, timid and uncertain of how to conduct herself around the queen. Over the multi-year course of the story, however, she grows as a person and as a friend of Victoria’s. By the end of the book, readers will feel as though they’ve received a factual glimpse into the life of a key historical figure.

Equally fascinating is this novel’s exploration of the “Kensington System,” an elaborate collection of rules and protocols devised by Victoria’s mother and Miss V.’s father. Ostensibly meant to keep Victoria safe from assassination attempts, these rules become a morally-dubious obstacle that challenges Miss V.’s loyalty to Victoria. The System also sparks a larger web of secrecy and scandal—again, based on real-life rumors—creating a high-stakes period drama that poses more questions than it answers.

My only complaint about My Name is Victoria has to do with the ending. The last 50 pages of action lead up to a climactic reveal that seems slightly rushed. Since this reveal requires some suspension of disbelief, I wish the story had provided more buildup and foreshadowing. But I can’t criticize too much, because the rushed, breathless racing toward a fantastical conclusion makes My Name is Victoria stick in your mind long after you’ve finished reading, sparking further questions and what-if wonders. And honestly, that’s half the fun of this book.

All in all, My Name is Victoria sent me into a spiral of reading Wikipedia pages and imagining other concealed conspiracies of Kensington Palace. I highly recommend this story to fans of alternate histories who want to question everything they thought they knew about Queen Victoria. The perfect novel to read as you fawn over Prince Louis or wait for the upcoming royal wedding, My Name is Victoria won’t disappoint.