Saturday, November 29, 2014

Churches, Castles and Tea Rooms

While the idea of living abroad can sound quite glamorous, in my experience you usually end up in a routine similar to one you'd have at home: going to work (or in my current situation, trying to find work), going out for a meal or to the movies, going for a jog or taking the dog for a walk... it's easy to forget that you should be taking advantage of your new surroundings. Well, this past weekend Ben and I did just that, and took a day trip to Ludlow, a quaint (I feel like I use that word too much when talking about England, but it's just so fitting most of the time) medieval market town in the county of Shropshire.

The adorable streets of Ludlow

As Ludlow is known for its array of culinary delights and fantastic sounding walks in the surrounding area, I've no doubt that we could have easily spent a whole weekend there - but I feel like a day was enough to see the main highlights: 

Climbing to the top of the St Laurence Church

Not only is Ludlow's St Laurence Church the 13th most popular free attraction in the West Midlands, it's also one of just 18 churches given a five-star rating in England's Thousand Greatest Churches by Simon Jenkins. Okay, so maybe its claims to fame aren't that impressive but if you're up to climbing the church's 200 steps (in a very narrow staircase - claustrophobes beware) the rooftop does offer some truly spectacular views of the Shropshire countryside.

Exploring the ruins of Ludlow Castle

Dating back to the 11th century, this castle has aptly been described as the 'very perfection of decay'. It's in tact enough to be able to explore its many rooms but its derelict state still leaves plenty to the imagination. Notable castle tenants include Prince Arthur (brother of Henry VIII) and his bride Catherine of Aragon (whom Henry VIII later married and subsequently executed).

Having afternoon tea at DeGrey's Cafe

It might not have made BuzzFeed's list of 21 charming British tea rooms to visit before you die but DeGrey's still had plenty of old English character. Having tea and scones with clotted cream and jam has definitely become one of my favourite things about living in England.

All in all, it was a lovely day in lovely Ludlow. Not only that, but it reminded me that I need to break out of my routine more often and take advantage of all the churches, castles and tea rooms that England has to offer!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Meetings with Monks

For me, traveling in Southeast Asia was a time of many firsts: It was the first time I accepted an invitation from complete strangers to eat a meal at their house, the first time I rode a motorbike, the first (and last) time I took a 24 hour bus journey... the list goes on and on.

It was also the first time I saw a monk which, I quickly realized, is a very common sight in this part of the world. During the time I spent in Southeast Asia (particularly in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar) I met and befriended many monks who, in addition to being some of the kindest and most genuine people I've ever come across, were absolutely fascinating to talk to. I often asked them questions and ended up learning quite a bit about how they live.

Making my offering of Goldfish crackers to a monk in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Here are a few of the things I learned during my various meetings with monks:*

• They live very simply and do not receive any kind of income; they survive solely off donations and offerings from people who use their 'services', which can include performing blessings, teaching and spiritual counselling

• They take vows of celibacy, and females should never touch male monks (though I'm not sure the same applies to males touching female monks)

• They live communally in temples or pagodas

• They are required to shave their heads and wear robes, usually in orange or red for males and pink for females

• If there is ever a situation where non-monks are eating with monks, the latter eats first

• It's not only for adults, children can also be 'monks in training'

• For some, being a monk is something they may try for a year or so, while others remain monks for their whole lives (I met an elderly man who had been a monk for over 70 years!)

• They are not allowed to drive vehicles, however they can use mobile phones and computers

Learning about and befriending monks was without a doubt one of my favourite parts of traveling in Southeast Asia, and is one of the things that I miss most.

* Just as there are different types of Buddhism, there are different types of monks, so the rules I mentioned may not apply to every single monk. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, this is just some of what I learned while speaking with monks during my travels!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Follow the Trendy Brick Lane

While in London last week, I went for a wander around Brick Lane. Situated in the city's East End, this dodgy-turned-trendy area is home to countless Bangladeshi restaurants, vintage shops, a massive outdoor market and, one of my favourite things to photograph, lots of colourful street art. 

And that's just one street, in one neighbourhood, in the crazy but incredible city that is London.