Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | May 11, 2012

Lisbon: A Land of Moorish Castles

I have come to realize I am honestly bad at updating this blog, and even if I vow to update it more often it might not get done, especially with my transfer viva looming over my head. I have also decided to take a more ‘castley’ approaching to writing this blog. Hopefully, I will be able to discuss my castle trips on this blog and talk about what I found interesting, exciting, etc. I will firstly be discussing the two magnificent castles I went to in Portugal (Castle de São Jorge and rightly named Castelo dos Mouros [The Moorish Castle]).

St. George’s Castle, a formidable stronghold atop a steep slope in Lisbon, Portugal which has been a site of civilization since before the Romans, demands the presence and awe that any good castle does. The Christian Reconquista (or Reconquest) saw the capture (or recapture depending on who you ask) of the castle and city of Lisbon from the Moors. Once Lisbon became the capital of the kingdom in 1255 the castle was greatly renovated by King Denis I (shortly after c. 1300) to accommodate him as the royal palace. Unfortunately the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 immensely damaged the castle and eventually led to its degradation.

St. George’s Castle

So as you can see it’s on a fairly large hill and the walk up is quite a trek, but more than worth it when you to the top. And not just because there is a castle at the top, the views of the River Tagus and the city are to die for which is also probably the reason the castle is built there (one could see ships coming up the river for miles).The recent renovations done to the castle have improved its chances of being around for a while, unfortunately most of the outer wall is completely gone. However, the curtain walls surrounding a large courtyard, the later addition of the royal apartments and several towers are intact and have excellent crenellations (as seen above).

There is moat (I’m guessing a dry moat) inside with a barbican on the southern and eastern parts of the castle. If anyone knows what the long slits on the left of the picture could be please inform me. Richard and I could simply not figure them out. Another picture is below. I wish I had a picture from the inside of the wall, it’s actually a small hole on the inside of the wall (and there are not latrines). Below is an excellent picture of the barbican (with the weird long slits) and then behind it is the curtain wall and one of the ten towers.

The second castle we journeyed to was simply named The Moorish Castle, it was in Sintra, Portugal. Sadly, it has been left to ruin for quite some time and until very recently nothing has been done to save it. I do not joke when I say it was built on top of a small mountain (and would advise if you are planning on visiting to take the bus from the train station to the castle and NOT walking). The original stronghold was probably built in the 8th or 9th century by the Moors to protect the city below. However, just as the Castle of St. George was taken by the Christians so was The Moorish Castle (in 1154).

The outer wall was literally built on the side of a cliff and I can’t even imagine how they built it. The walls are not very thick (as you can see); however, the location is the main defence for the castle.

The stairs leading up to one of the many station towers around the perimeter wall. Below is a picture of the view of the city below and the wall snaking along the rough terrain flanked with towers.


Although both of these castles are quite different, in location, design and later use and ruin, both possess a sense of great pride and prestige (although it is hard to find a castle that does not possess those two virtues). Moreover, although Portugal is just starting its heritage, restoration and excavation programs the buildings seem to be in good hands. Castelo de São Jorge is located in the capital of a once world power force, with its clean walls, systematic layout and look out to the River Tagus would have been a force to reckon with. However, The Moorish Castle in its own way was just as powerful (if not more). The cliff sides would have been a daunting sight for any attempting invader. Not to mention the numerous towers and wall walk encircling the structure. There is not systematic plan because the builders (rightly) embraced the terrain instead of fight it. Hopefully in the years to come Portugal will clean it up and make strides to protect and restore both of these beautiful strongholds of their past.

Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | January 31, 2012

Graduation and Christmas

Quite a bit has happened since I last wrote (sorry about that). Here is a little summary of my ‘happenings’.

First, and foremost I graduated with my MA degree in mid-December. It was all the pomp and tradition one would expect from an English graduation ceremony. The graduation ceremony was short and sweet while my parents supportively got up at 5.30am to watch the ceremony live via a webcam the University set up and broadcast over the web. The celebrations after the ceremony were more exciting than the actual walking the stage and shaking the hand of the vice-chancellor to receive my degree certificate. The History school put on a reception after the ceremony with a group photo that took far longer than it should of considering we all had at least master’s degrees. Not to mention the gown worn by masters’ students includes a hood when worn makes one look like a jedi. Needless to say the hood was used extensively for light saber fights. That evening the festivities continued at the local pub (again everything one would expect from a British celebration). We were ONE point away from winning the pub quiz.

The standard graduation picture

Richard and I

Receiving my degree and shaking hands with the vice chancellor

The master jedis

During the week before graduation I took a trip down to London to see Kath and Greer (who came over from the US for graduation). I finally made it to the British Library and saw some amazing manuscripts! The three of us also made a trip to York for some Christmas shopping and touristy bits. I also finally made it to the Jorvik Viking Center which is a recreation of the York Viking village. You get to ride a ‘Disney-like’ ride through the village that recreates the sights, sounds AND smells of the Vikings. (Phew.)

The ride at Jorvik and the Viking village!

Then came my first Christmas away from the Thorstads. Thankfully the Low family invited me to spend the holidays with them down in Newport Pagnell. Although it definitely wasn’t the same as Duluth (there was no snow and it was about 40-50 degrees!), however it was as good a Christmas away from home as it could be. The celebrations started with the Christmas Eve Eve party at the local pub, it was packed wall to wall. Christmas Eve was spent shopping at the Milton Keynes shopping center getting some last minute gifts. And Christmas was absolutely amazing. We started at the pub around 11am (surprised?) then came Richard’s dad attempt at cooking Christmas dinner since his mother was working until the afternoon. The British Christmas and the American Christmas are more or less the same: you drink too much, eat more than is humanly possible, watch ridiculous Christmas specials on TV and eat leftovers for days. However, there are a few key differences I learned:

  1. Figgy pudding is a staple desert after dinner, although no one is entirely sure what it actually is (but when something is covered in brandy & lit on fire I guess you just don’t question it).
  2. The wrong kind of football is on TV.
  3. Christmas crackers (see picture below) are so much fun & everyone gets a crown, but I am the only one to laugh at the jokes inside.
  4. Oh and if you pull the Christmas crackers too hard the toy will go flying and possibly land in the tree not to be recovered until after the tree is taken down.
  5. The pub is open Christmas morning so you either get up before the pub opens to open your present or you have to wait until after last call.

The Christmas cracker. You pull it apart and there is a mini toy, a crown and a joke inside!

Crown wearing! Obviously one of us isn’t too happy about wearing their crown all night!

As far as my research and writing is going…well its going. I have been working diligently on my transfer piece which is a sample of writing (usually a chapter & a bit). This is then read by a panel of academics in the history school & discussed with me in length. THey, then, make the decision if my research is ‘PhD worthy’. YIKES!

Upcoming things include: a trip down to London to see the National Archives and handle some medieval manuscripts, another trip down to London to visit Kath and a long weekend in Portugal in March for Easter break!

I shall leave you with this quote: Destitutus ventis remos adhibe (If the wind will not serve – take the oars) – Latin proverb

Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | November 13, 2011

National Identity and Medieval History

Traditionally I write about what I have been up to in this blog, however, to be honestly I have been doing what all eager PhD students have been doing…researching every chance I get. I have learned a lot over the past few months of working, but I have also been attending as many ‘extra-curricular’ lectures as possible, they are usually quite interesting and provoke thought channels I had previously not explored.

A lecture series which is currently being held at the Universities of Leeds, York and Sheffield called the White Rose: ‘The Making of Medieval History’ has just been underway. This lecture series is taking place over the whole academic year and includes two lectures and a workshop at each session (over the span of two days). Each university will host two sessions, so it promises to be quite the series. If you want more information about this lecture series see:

The theme for this first session was ‘national identity and notions of myth’. Both speakers incorporated medieval history into national identity of today. The first speaker talked about Rus’ land (or present day Russia) and the second talked about the notion of medieval Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries. Both lectures were extremely interesting. The workshop/round table discussion truly brought about a wide ranging and thought-provoking discussion as well.

What truly got my thinking was how coming from a country with no medieval history has affected my interpretation, thoughts and interest of the medieval past. In school the Middle Ages was never mentioned, until university of course, but we would just start American History at 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue (a little rhyme we were taught). This apparently is where America started, the start of our history. However, after Columbus, more or less, got lost and by chance landed in the present day Bahamas, history classes in the US usually jumped to the lead up of the American Revolution. This is most likely due to the fact that a lot of horrific events happened. However, this point aside, I find a lot of Americans looking to their ancestors to find their identity. Don’t get me wrong I most definitely consider myself American, and probably possess a lot of American stereotypical traits, but I also look to my grandparents (and even further) for my history. For example, as you might have guessed by my last name I am Scandinavian, thus making me have a very strong tie to the Vikings. This might seem peculiar for someone not from the States, however, after talking to other Americans (mostly Steve) they feel the same way/believe it is a wide spread phenomenon.  Moreover, coming from a ‘Scandinavian’ state I believe a lot of other ‘non-historians’ have this very same feeling. For example, our football team is called ‘Minnesota Vikings’. So the nostalgia for wanting to identify ourselves with some past is very present and quite a commonality amongst Americans.

I think this mainly due to the fact many Americans are not descendants of the original settlers, a lot of us are second, third and even fourth generations. Our families are relatively “new” in terms of history. So in order to fill the void of uncertain pasts we cling to our ancestors’ pasts and assimilate ourselves in a way where we are distinctively Irish or Italian or Scandinavian etc. However, since I do not/cannot incorporate myself in English medieval history (which is what I study) then perhaps it is to my advantage. Although at times I feel like it might be a disadvantage; in that, it’s not a part of me, it’s not my history, it’s not my culture. This medieval history is from some far off land called Anglie; the land of the Angles, the Saxons, the Normans, the Vikings; the land of King Arthur, castles, Old English, kings and queens, Chaucer, Shakespeare (I could go on for ages); this land I have for some reason developed a deep passion for. The rich history, legends, traditions and myths of this island, many of which are still alive today, come to life for me and so maybe coming from a place where the Middle Ages were all but fantasy and magic has actually helped me continue to be passionate about this ‘magical’ time and place. Of course, I still don’t believe it was literally magic, but for me the Middle Ages are shroud in this veil of mystery, historians will never truly know everything that ever happened, yet if we can piece together tiny shreds of evidence and make even the smallest picture of life, death or anything in between it is just one step closer to unveiling that shroud. I know the non-historians reading this probably have gotten quite bored, but this lecture series has made me think of why and how I love the Middle Ages so much.

So I guess I shall leave you with a few questions: How do you identify yourself? Where did this identity stem from? Has your identity changed dramatically over the years? Why do some people (myself included) feel the need to ‘have’ a history stemming from somewhere other than America? And finally, what has shaped your passions? Could it have anything to do with your identity?

Until next time, keep reading, exploring and learning.

P.S. For those of you who read this blog just to make sure I’m safe (Mom Thorstad I’m speaking of you), yes, I’m safe, well and working hard, as usual. J

Here are some pictures of Bonfire Night, cookie baking and a walking adventure with Richard on the Meanwood Valley Trail.

Bonfire in Hyde Park for Guy Fawkes Night

Intensively making cookies 🙂

The best castle cookie anyone has ever made.

Richard’s way of cleaning up aka vacuuming everything off the counter.

Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | October 21, 2011

Castle Studies

Bodiam Castle, Sussex

So I have been back in merry ol’ England for almost 3 weeks now and I have already had two supervisions with both my PhD supervisors. So far I have looking at Bodiam Castle which definitely looks militaristic, however, a raging debate amongst scholars is abound on whether it could withhold against a siege or not. I am mainly working on ‘redefining’ the castle outside of the terms of purely military vs. purely domestic. The debate tends to be circular and shallow, so I’m trying to reinvent the way we look at castles (trying would be the keyword in this sentence). We can learn a hell of a lot more from a castle then if it could have withheld a siege in the 14th-15th centuries. Castles are beautiful buildings that can produce a range of emotions which I believe are one of their main purposes. Along with looking at individual castles I am looking at various aspects that encompass castles in general. At the moment I am looking at licenses to crenellate. These licenses have not truly been researched since there meanings are obscure and there seemed to be no real reason for obtaining one. However, they are well recorded in the Patent Rolls through the Middle Ages so in the next few weeks I shall be examining their language, range of usage and number of licenses given out over several centuries. Even though a lot of online databases seem to have tantrums quite often and give me various results each time I search I am so very thankful people (out there somewhere) are bringing history to the web. It makes it readily available and (usually) easy to access for anyone. To the very lucky, select group of people scanning Tudor State Papers online if you have a job opening please hire me. My envy for you is immense.

More Bodiam 🙂

The medievalists of Leeds Uni have re-re-re-started ‘medieval night at the pub’ on Thursdays. Yes, it has ‘re-started’, stopped and then re-started several times. But, we have been steady for several weeks now and we get quite a big group. We all claim to go out for a pint (or numerous pints) to ‘destress’ ourselves, however, you get a large group of people who love the Middle Ages and that is all we end up talking about. So even though we all leave ‘our work’ to (and I quote) “get away from it for a bit”, the only thing we end up talking about is what we are doing/researching at the moment. Would I have it any other way? Nope, definitely not. History is life for me and its nice finding people who feel the same.

I have not yet moved into an actual castle, but possibly 11 Rampart Road could be considered one if I bend the definition a bit…But my new house is absolutely amazing. My bed is bigger, my room is bigger, my flatmates are better. What more could one ask for? Nothing, I tell you, absolutely nothing. There are seven of us altogether, it seems like a lot, but we are all extremely busy most of the time so we see each other in passing, and relaxing in front of the TV [telly] at night. All seven of us are international students (for the most part), technically Lester is not because he is from Northern Ireland [part of the UK], but he isn’t from England so I count him as international. There is another guy from Greece and China, and one other American girl, a girl from France and one from Germany. Thus, all in all our house is pretty amazing.

The weather here is as gloomy as ever. When I first returned to England it was gorgeous out, all the flatmates even went out and had a picnic in the park next to our house. However, after that it rained for a good two weeks, and now it is definitely autumn out. The air and wind are chilly, the leaves have all changed and are falling off the trees. I have not yet wiped out the winter coat, but I took my mittens out of storage yesterday morning for the walk to the library.

Richard has been up to visit Leeds twice since I have been back and hopefully he will be coming up again around Halloween. The last visit was much needed since I was stressed out to the max [mostly because of my visa renewal and computer breakage]. We had big plans to go to a local castle one of the days, but we were both [okay, okay mainly me] were super tired/run down so  all we did was sit around in a PJs, drink tea, and watch TV. Although, to be honest, I didn’t want to do anything else, the weather did not co-operate all that much either. (Yes, I’m blaming the weather). We did get a chance to watch the Liverpool vs. Manchester United game in the Old Bar (the pub on campus) with some fellow medievalists which was exciting.

BREAKING NEW: I wrote 200 words yesterday. I most likely won’t end up using them in the actual thesis, but hey, 200 words is 200 words. But don’t think I haven’t been doing anything. Oh no, I have been researching for the past three weeks (27 pages of typed notes, numerous hours of looking through indexes of the Patent, Charter, Pipe, Parliamentary and any other rolls you can think of, 2 supervisions, and copious amounts of hours pondering the castle form[1]) and finally felt comfortable enough to write down my thoughts on Bodiam Castle.

Until next time, keep learning and keep exploring.


Ah, and my new address goes as follows:

11 Rampart Road, Woodhouse, Leeds, UK, LS6 2NU <<I like mail. Hint. Hint.

[1] A reference to Plato’s idea of the form. If you don’t know what I’m talking about read Plato’s Republic, or I suppose ask me since I like talking about it. But I highly advise reading Plato’s Republic, it’s amazing. And yes, I’m rambling in my footnote. And yes, I did just footnoted my blog.

Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | September 20, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Written in London Heathrow Airport on September 6, 2011

To be going home after being away for a year is bittersweet. It is so very sweet because I miss my family terribly, but it is bitter because it is only for two weeks. I am fully aware that upon returning to spending every day with my family I am not going to wait to leave. I have, of course, missed certain things about Duluth, and Minnesota in general. Besides my loved one, of course, I have missed the natural beauty of the North Shore and Lake Superior, the food and the gorgeous sight of the lake as you come to the top of the hill. However, my life in England has slowly starting to feel like home. I have the most wonderful boyfriend anyone could ask for, the tightest group of friends, who reside in the Le Patourel Room and who are always willing to help and support me as well as my research which has become a constant part of my life.

I have noticed that I seem to get to very different reactions when people ask what I am studying. It is either the reaction of pure excitement and interest which is always enjoyable because they usually ask questions about England, my travels my studies and where my love for everything medieval came from. However, the only other reaction I seem to get is, and I quote, ‘what are you going to do with that degree?’ or ‘there are no jobs for medieval historians’ or even, ‘you aren’t going to make any money in that career path’. I think my favorite part of this conversation is the look on their faces. It is a mixture between disgust, confusion and judgment. But one of the most important pieces of advice, multiple people have given me is, love what you do and it will never feel like work. And when I second guess what I am doing or doubt myself, I realize I couldn’t see myself doing anything else nor would I be happy doing anything, but constantly researching, writing and being involved in academia.
Where did this passion manifest? Who is to say. Perhaps, it is a combination of my love of Harry Potter, my world history class with Mrs. Ballavance and my curiosity in other cultures.

My place is in academia, I have no doubt in my mind. However, stressful, frightening or challenging it is, I know I would not want to be anywhere else right now. I have learned a lot this year, including getting out of your ‘comfort zone’ can be the most frightening experience you ever do, but in the end you won’t regret a second of it. I know now, for a fact, that I can do anything I put my mind to. I wrote 15,000 words on a topic I knew little about to begin with, yet by the end my thirst for knowledge was greater. The daunting task that lays ahead of me is, first and foremost, stressful but above that it is rewarding. I was nervous that my passion and drive for research, writing and history in general would have been distinguished after this intense year, but quite on the contrary it has been strengthened, my torch of passion is burning brighter than before. I want to do this…I need to do this. All I have to say to my PhD is bring it on.

Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | August 11, 2011

Delayed Post

Sadly, my blog has taken a back-seat whilst I am franticly researching, writing, editing on repeat for the past few months. Much has happened since my last post, most of which I will be summarizing in brief throughout this post. As you all might have guessed (since I am still in England) I passed all my second semester classes and even did extremely well on my hellish Latin exam in May.

The whole month of April was the English equivalent to Spring Break, so Kelsey (another American history nerd such as myself) and I decided to do it in style. We planned the trip of a lifetime, southern France, Italy and Sicily. Flying down to Montpellier, France with a girl we both know from caving club who also went to school there. We wanted to make sure to see all the sights we wanted to, but also relax and enjoy our holiday on the Mediterranean Sea. So our days usually went thus, get up early, sight see for a few hours, lunch and wine, sight see for a few more hours, wine break, nap, dinner, sometimes drinks after. It was a perfect set-up. Granted not everyday worked out that way there were a few very long travel days. For example, from Avignon to Marseilles (we spent the whole day in Marseilles) took the train to Cannes, arriving in Cannes around 8.00pm, getting a bit lost/sight-seeing at the same time and finally arriving at our hostel around 9.00pm. When we arrived at our hostel the receptionist said regretfully that he had just given our room away because he didn’t think we were going to show up. However, he said, they would upgrade us (for no additional cost) to a luxury apartment across the street. With apprehension we journeyed across the street to our ‘luxury apartment’ to find a two bedroom, one bathroom, full kitchen, TV room, dining room and wrap-around balcony waiting for us for less than €25 a night. Kelsey, Luke (who we also know through caving and who met us in Marseilles earlier that day) and myself almost fainted, it was amazing. We asked the receptionist to order us a couple pizzas and went out to get a few bottles of wine (which is SO cheap and delicious). We ate pizza, drank wine and watched CSI in French. Perfect night.

I believe Cannes was my favourite place in southern France, and not because of the apartment, but the next day we took a boat ride out in the Mediterranean Sea to a small island, St. Honorat, which is the home to the Abbaye de Lérins (a Cistercian monastery where the monks make their profit by making wine).  For lunch we found a cove and made sandwiches with fresh French bread, avocados, tomatoes and cheese, this picnic will never be topped (we even saw a red octopus in the water). The Mediterranean Sea itself was one of my favourite things as well, the water is the most beautiful blue, I can’t even describe it. It is simply something one must see.

We then stayed shortly in Italy going to Genoa and Pisa where we flew to Palermo, Sicily. The food in Sicily (well, in all of Italy in general) was amazing, everything was so fresh. The salads, the pizzas, the pastas were exceptional. We also did something not a lot of people can say they have done…we climbed a volcano, Mount Etna. She was active, smoking and a long climb up. We, of course, were not allowed at the very top since from about half way up you could see the smoke and redness. We went with a tour guide, named Johnny, who was hilarious. After the long hike up and then back down we got to go on a wine tour. The wine was from a vineyard at the base of the volcano and grew all their own food as well. After the nice lunch break we drove to a river canyon which had been carved from the lava. Everything that day was beautiful and it is an experience I will never forget.

The worst day/night of the trip came when we were trying to fly back from Sicily to Pisa. Our flight was fairly early, so we had to get up at about 5.00am, bus it to the airport and watched as a few flights in front of ours were getting cancelled. We soon learned our flight to Pisa might be cancelled, they had to wait until Ryanair decided. That alone caused an uproar apparently Italians aren’t that great with patience. There was a lot of yelling (in Italian), fist waving and crowding the poor attendants who had no control over the cancellation. Once it was a for sure our flight was cancelled we ran through the airport to see if we could get another flight back somewhere near Pisa. The only flight we could get was to Verona quite a bit later that day; we had no other choice but to take it. We figured we could just catch either a train or bus to Florence which was where our hostel was booked for the night. We arrived in Verona, booked it to the train/bus station and we were regretfully informed there were no trains or buses going to Florence until 3.30am (it was about 7.00pm at the time). How had we forgotten it was Sunday in Italy, of course everything shuts down early. Needless to say we ate a long dinner, walked around Verona for a bit and slept in the train station until we got kicked out, at that time we went up to the platform our train was supposed to arrive at and slept in seats, freezing, uncomfortable and hating Ryanair. We saw Florence in a quick few hours and took the bus to Siena where we didn’t have time to sleep because we had a wine tour to attend (much more important than sleep when you are in wine country).  So although the night in Verona was the worst part of the trip, I was still sleeping in a train station IN ITALY. So honestly, it wasn’t that bad!

I learned a lot on this trip and I have decided to include a few of them:

1. The southern French are WAY nicer than northern French people.

a. Although they still like to sit outside smoke, talk and drink espressos (very posh).

2. The Mediterranean Sea is as blue as people say it is.

3. In southern France (especially Montpellier) watch out for dog poop on the sidewalk.

4. Monks make great wine

5. DO NOT anger an Italian unless you want fist waving and yelling to ensue.

6. You can literally get anything you want on a pizza in Italy (i.e. hotdogs, horsemeat, any kind of seafood…yes I mean anything).

7. Rome and Venice are as touristy as you would expect.

8. If you want to see the whole Catholic hierarchy in a matter of hours go to Rome and simply walk around.

9. Wine is cheaper than any other drink on the menu…don’t fight it, just drink it.

After 22 days, 2.5 countries, 14 cities, 1 cancelled flight and more glasses of wine than I can count I have stayed around Leeds, studying for Latin and am currently finishing up my dissertation. My plans for the next few months include: finish my dissertation, come home and visit MN for a few weeks (and RELAX), then head back to Leeds where I will be starting my PhD in October.

Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | February 25, 2011

The Thorstads storm Europe

I know it has been some time since I have updated and I apologize immensely for that, I haven’t really had time to just sit down and write. I will be doing the last few months in parts so as not to update with a ridiculously long blog post. The first part is from Christmas break and the trip with my amazing family…

To say that I was busy before Christmas was a complete joke to the amount of studying and writing I did after Christmas. There is no such thing as a break, I had a 3,000 word essay due on January 10th which I had not started until I was done travelling with my parents. Then on January 19th, I took my pass/fail Latin exam, so absolutely no pressure. Needless to say, my days were filled with copious amounts of tea and diet coke while slaving away in the Le Patourel Room (the postgraduate study room on the Medieval Studies Floor). Not that my nights were any different. But my 10 hours of studying a day has paid off, I did much better on my second paper and my Latin exam went smoothly. I looked at the questions and it was like a light popped on in my mind and everything beautifully fell into place. It might have been the endless hours of memorizing vocabulary or the insistent writing out of declension/conjugations, but I am attributing it to a combination of studying and pure magic.

Term number two has begun with Palaeography, the Age of Arthur and two Latin classes while working at the Leeds City museum every Wednesday and mentoring an undergraduate whenever he needs me. So, busy is simply an understatement, but I honestly wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now. I am also working on my PhD thesis with a possible supervisor at Leeds right now, I am slowly gathering information and primary sources to prove there is enough information available for me to write on my idea.

This Christmas brought the best gift that I have ever received; my beautiful family came over to Europe to see me! Taking the train up to Edinburgh, Scotland to meet them seemed like it creped by, not to mention their flight was delayed so I had to wait even longer in the airport. But as soon as they come around the corner it was just like the movies, I started crying and wouldn’t stop hugging everyone for a good ten minutes. Skyping with them is amazing, but actually seeing all of them in person and being able to hug them is simply indescribable. Our time together went by so quickly, we saw a lot, ate a lot, drink loads of tea and rode on a lot of trains. It was literally the Thorstads taking Europe by storm, and boy did we leave a mark. It was nice to be able to show everyone around England, but Paris was a new adventure for all of us. Peter and I put our high school French language knowledge together to help navigate us around.

Scotland and northern England were of course very cold, but there was relatively little snow. I wish we could have stayed a few more days in Scotland (as, I know, my dad would have), but since the trains do not run on Christmas or the day after Christmas (very inconvenient) we had to leave Edinburgh a day early. But I guess that just gives my dad a reason to come back over here! Everyone was very jet-lagged, but they wanted to cram in as much sightseeing as possible since we were only there for a day. I brought them to the castle and then we walked around the streets of Edinburgh enjoying the beautiful buildings and monuments scattered around the city.

View of Edinburgh from the castle

The next stop on our journey was the small town of York. York is a northern England town, very medieval, with an extraordinary minster (or minister as my mom calls it) and a very quiet feel. The hotel we stayed at was right next to the medieval wall which surrounds part of the town. We spent Christmas in York which was beautiful although nothing was open (or had a table available) to eat besides a small curry place down the street from our hotel. Definitely not what we were expecting for Christmas dinner but it was fun nevertheless. Everyone also experienced a pub on a football match night which consists of not being able to find a seat and being surrounded by either really angry or really happy Englishmen (depending on how their team is doing).

View while climbing the Bell Tower

Inside York Minster

Walking along the medieval walls

London was the complete opposite of York, ridiculously busy with people literally everywhere you looked. We went to all the big tourist places in London and as usual everyone was in awe of Big Ben.  By the end of the several days in London everyone had the underground system figured out and they could easily maneuver their way around. We went to another castle, the Tower of London where we saw King Edward I who fed my mother a spiced cake and showed us (more or less) how kings would live while in the castle. We also saw another minster, Westminster Abbey, which is gorgeous and is where the Royal Wedding will be taking place this year on April 29th. The British Museum was epic (as it always is) and contains many splendors of the world, including The Rossetta Stone and many artifacts from Egypt, Rome, Asia and medieval finds from all over the United Kingdom. London is absolutely beautiful, but very busy all the time.

Westminster Abbey

In front of Buckingham Palace (waiting for the changing of the guards)

Trafalgar Square

My lovely parents in The Sherlock Holmes Pub

Tower Bridge (my mother's favorite place)

 Taking the Chunnel under the English Channel was really cool, but bizarre if you actually thought about what you were doing. When we got to Paris it was a whole new world, seeing as none of us spoke the language very well and none of us had been there before, but we managed to find our way to the hotel which had a beautiful sight of the Eiffel Tower. Sadly, the first few days in Paris were quite foggy so the top of the Eiffel Tower could not be seen until you actually went up close to it. And the size of the Tower cannot be truly be understood until you are standing next to the structure. We spent New Years’ Eve in Paris which was quite, we had an amazing dinner (and several drinks to celebrate) then went outside our hotel to watch the Eiffel Tower light up with flashing lights so it looked like it was sparkling. It was a quite New Years, but I spent it with the people who mean the most to me which was absolutely wonderful! We again walked around Paris and saw all the tourist sights; Eiffel Tower, L’arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Champs Elysees etc…

Eiffel Tower

L'arc de Triomphe (biggest roundabout ever)

Notre Dame

 The Lourve was probably my favorite place in France seeing as they have so much beautiful art, not to much the building it is in was an old palace. We saw several Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rapheal (the big Renaissance names) Here are a few of my favorites pictures:

Winged Victory

Hallway full of paintings and people

The Mona Lisa (of course)

Venus de Milo


Charlemagne's sword

Sitting in front of the famous pyramid

Heading to the airport was a difficult journey for me. I knew I would have to wait for my plane alone for several hours and I wasn’t ready to leave my parents quite yet. But a tearful good-bye in the Charles de Gaulle airport concluded our family vacation. I headed back to Manchester then hopped the train to Leeds where I was finally home. I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas (except for a longer time with my family)! I hope they are able to come over again soon, I miss everyone so much and think about Duluth almost every day. I hope all is well back home and I hope the weather starts shaping into spring soon!  

Cheers, Audrey

Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | December 17, 2010

Luck of the Irish

I realize that I have been lacking in posts lately and I am terribly sorry about that I have been busy with classes and travelling! I am now officially done with classes for this term although I still have a large paper due in January and a dreadful Latin test before I start classes for next term. So my Christmas vacation will consist of me in the library slaving away at work until my family arrives on December 23rd up in Edinburgh, Scotland! I have been trying (in my spare time) to plan all the sites the take the Thorstads to which is very exciting as it will be their first time in Europe.

Since last I wrote I have been all over the place. The Monday of November 29th the Medieval History students had a paper due and it just so happened to be Kelsey (the only other American girl in the program)’s birthday the weekend before, so we decided to do an Otley Run. This is a famous pub crawl in Leeds where you must have a theme and everyone involved must dress according to the theme. You must order a drink at every pub along the way which equals out to be twelve pubs. The theme was zombie/pirate/princess/leprechaun and you must dress up as at least two of those characters. I decided to be a pirate/leprechaun which was a lot of fun shopping for. Since pubs close early during the week (around midnight) we had to start around 3:30pm on Monday to make sure we had time to hit all the pubs. To say the least we looked fantastic walking around Leeds in our costumes.

The first weekend in December I went up to Edinburgh, Scotland to visit a friend who was interning at the Scottish Parliament. We had gotten loads of snow the week before so a lot of trains were either cancelled or running extremely slow, luckily my train was only running slow. Although a 3 hour journey took me about 4 which was ridiculous. Scotland was beautiful (as it always is), the buildings and set up of the city is just gorgeous. I decided not to go to the castle (gasp, I know) because I had already been there and will be going again with my family soon. But I did go to Holyrood Palace which is where the Queen stays when she travels to Scotland. That was beautiful! The Scottish landscape is drastically different than that of England’s countryside. Scotland is very hilly/mountainous while England is relatively flat. It amazes me that anywhere in downtown Edinburgh you can always hear bagpipes. I also tried Haggis for the second time while in Scotland. I am a firm believer in emerging myself in the whole culture and the best way to do that is to try their local food. For those of you who don’t know what haggis is, it is a mixture of sheep’s heart, lungs and liver. If you are cringing right now, fair enough, but don’t trash it until you try it. I enjoyed it very much. Sadly, I did not have as much time in Scotland as I would have liked seeing as my train on the way up was late and then Sunday it said my train was cancelled online so I rushed to the train station to see if I could catch a different train. Well, my train was not cancelled as of yet, but it was running extremely slow which was problematic since I had to make a connection in York. I ended up missing my train in York by several hours and ran around the station with a conductor to find me another train to Leeds. It was quite the nightmare, but I am glad I got to see Thomas before he left to go back to the States.

My next adventure was definitely spur of the moment. Kelsey and I wanted to take a long weekend trip somewhere after classes ended on Thursday (December, 9). Our first plan was to go to Isle of Man, but we looked about a week before we wanted to leave and ferry tickets were pretty expensive. We proceeded to look at airfare to various locations around Europe, we found an extremely cheap flight to Dublin and booked it! So we left at 4am on Saturday morning for Dublin and came back to Leeds on Tuesday night. Ireland was incredible; words cannot really describe such a beautiful place. The people, food, beer and sights were amazing. We decided to see all the tourist sites because we are hopping back over for St. Patrick’s Day in March. Luckily Kelsey knew a girl who was studying at Trinity College and we were able to stay with her. The first thing I bought when we landed was a pint of Guinness which is actually delicious over there. I am usually not a big fan, but WOW! I was able to tour the Guinness and Jameson Factories each providing us with free pints and whiskey. We went to the National History Museum of Ireland which had several bog bodies. I won’t put any pictures up since they are pretty disgusting looking, but it was very interesting. The bogs preserve everything so a lot of artefacts in Ireland are from bogs, including Viking and Medieval people (they still even have their hair!). We wanted to see the Book of Kells, but there was only a replica available to see and it was not worth the price just to see a copy. One of the nights we went down to the famous Temple Bar. It was crazy mixture of people from all ends of the world. The different languages, cultures and people made for wonderful chaos. The one thing that got me very emotional was the General Post Office where Irish nationalists occupied it in 1916 against the British. There are still bullet holes in the pillars where the men stood. Nothing has changed about the Post Office except there is a statue that has the Irish Declaration of Independence written on it. To think a few men stood up for their country against a vast British army. I am hoping to take a trip down South to visit the Heaslips as well!

I am currently working at getting all my Christmas break work done since my family arrives in less than a week. I am so excited to show them the wonders of Europe and all the reasons why I fell in love with the United Kingdom. My job at the Museum is going really good, I am done for the holidays, but will be back at it in January. I have also found another job as an undergraduate dissertation mentor (long title I know!), but I get paid a good amount of money to help undergraduates with their research and writing skills! I will be starting that once the break is over as well! So I definitely will have a lot on my plate next term.

I will not update until after the New Year, so I hope everyone has an amazing Christmas and New Years. Stay safe and enjoy yourself!

P.S. Thanks Grandma Claire for the delicious peanut brittle! It is perfect study food! 🙂

Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | November 19, 2010


This past weekend has been full of adventures down in the southeast of England in a town called Ipswich. I went with two of my really good friends, Kelsey and Amy, we went down to visit Kelsey’s aunt and uncle who live down there. They were gracious enough to let us stay with them and feed us some very traditional British meals throughout the weekend! We took the train on Thursday after we were all done with class, since it’s about a 3 hour train ride we wanted to go down early so we would have a full 2 days to sight see. Friday we spent walking around two very different castles. The first was Orford Castle which does not have the outside wall left, but has the full keep still standing. So we were able to see all the different rooms and what they were used for. It was built by Henry II in the 12th century, and it sits overlooking Orford Ness, a beautiful bay area with gorgeous views.

I am standing at the bottom, it is an amazing castle! 🙂

 The second castle we went to on Friday is just the outer wall which surrounded the inner keep, called Framinglam Castle. Mary Tudor (the imfamous Bloody Mary) was announced Queen at this castle! We were able to walk around the top of the wall as though we were 12th century guards, for a historian it was amazing! Since I am most interested in medieval warfare and military structure, the fortifications and walls are the most interesting to me, so the second castle was my favorite!

On Saturday I went to my first English football (soccer) game! It was so much fun! We didn’t go to a top team so I guess the fans get crazier! Although the team we were rooting for lost, it was still a blast. There was obviously pre-game, during the game and after the game drinking involved, I swear any reason the English can find they head to the pub (not that I am complaining). All the rumors that English football fans are loud, crazy and angry if the game is not going their way are completely true. There were Bobbies (police officers) to escort the away fans out and a lot of staff members in their section in the stands to make sure the home fans did not cause any trouble. After watching both of England’s major sports (football and rugby) I must say that I like rugby more, even though I know nothing about it! It reminds me more of hockey with less pads and more violence. I haven’t actually been to any rugby games yet, but International rugby is on at least once a week at the pub down the road from me, so I have gotten several chances to watch in on TV.

Every year in Leeds City Center there is a German Christmas Market (spelled Christkindlmarkt in German I believe). It is a huge market with German foods, beers, clothes, art and crafts along with other various stands. In the center is a huge beer building where they sell liters of beer in giant steins, have live German music and German sausages with sauerkraut! So I decided that for my birthday that I would get a big group together and head down to the beer building, needless to say, the night was a success (although the next morning was not). We sang, we danced, we drank and ate way too much but I had so much fun. The atmosphere was great; the band played some well known songs along with some traditional German songs which definitely got the crowd going. It was really good to hear from people back home as well, the past couple of weeks; it always brightens my day to get something in the mail! So thank you so much for your thoughts!

I am of course working hard at my studies and while I was sitting in Latin translating a letter everything just seemed to get easier. So I think the day has finally come where Latin has clicked, it was the greatest moment in my life! Latin has become a tad bit easier as far as translating and finding parts of speech along with memorizing and remembering which word goes to which declension or conjugation. It has made my stress level a little more bearable.

I found out some exciting news on Monday. I had an “interview” with the main curator at the Leeds City Museum and she offered me a position (not getting paid) to work with medieval seals. (For those of you who don’t know a seal was used when someone very important wrote a letter, folded it up, poured hot wax on it and stamped their personal seal in the wax). I will be obtaining the skills I need if I ever want to go into museum work in the future. I start next Wednesday down at their “warehouse” where they store the artifacts not on display. I will be researching, cataloging and taking photos of these seals, I can’t wait to start!

Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | November 9, 2010

Oh the places you’ll go!

“Oh the places you’ll go! You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who fly to high heights!” -Dr. Suess

The past week and a half has been full of travel and sights to see all around England, it has simply been amazing. Last weekend was magical in London, the sights, sounds, people and atmosphere is incomparable to any other place I have ever been. The train from Leeds to London is a straight shot (about a 2 hour ride) and drops us off in King’s Cross Station which just so happens to be from Harry Potter. Although it is sad to say they are completely rebuilding the whole station so the scenes in the Harry Potter movies cannot be recognized anymore. I went with two girls who live down the hill from me and the main reason we went to London that weekend was to pick up Amy’s husband from the airport. So we took the long journey from King’s Cross Station to Heathrow Airport on the Underground system which is very easy to get across London. That night we went to the show Chicago in one of London’s famous theatres, it was amazing. For those who don’t know London is world famous for the plays and musicals that are always playing in many of their theatres around the downtown area. The next day was more than 12 hours packed full of the usual London sightseeing. We bought tickets for a hop on-hop off bus which was very convenient. We went to West Minster Abbey, Big Ben/Parliament, the London Eye, the Tower of London, the London Dungeons, ate a traditional English pub and then went and saw all those sights lit up after dark. It was the most tiring day I have had in a long time, but the pictures I got were simply gorgeous. Sunday was a little less packed since we had to catch our train at 5pm, but we saw the changing of the guards, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square along with a military parade they had there, Hyde Park and little shops which were around that area. London is by far my favorite place in England so far, but it is very expensive and I do not think I could ever live there seeing as it is SO “touristy”. But it is an amazing place to spend a weekend!


This past Wednesday I travelled east to the North Sea and a cute little town called Scarborough. There is a castle on a cliff looking over the Sea, sadly (we were not aware of this until we got there) but the castle grounds are not open on Wednesdays during their winter hours…go figure. Thankfully there was a nice path that went all the way around the castle which was pretty much in ruins, so we did end up getting a decent view of the castle as well as of the city and Sea. Apparently there is a song called “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel and yes there is a fair. It is pretty little, but they have all the classic fair-ish rides; ferris wheel, bumper cars, etc. We were able to walk along the beach as well because it was low tide, we ate fresh fish and chips from a chippy right on the North Sea. We also went to a sea life sanctuary which featured different animals found around the North Sea. It was a very successful day trip; it is wonderful all the towns not far from Leeds that are beautiful and easy to get to by train!


Halloween was epic an weekend out with the ladies. Three of my friends and myself decided to dress up as the band KISS. We went into this project knowing it was all or nothing for this costume, so we planned, looked at as many photos of them as possible to get a good idea of their outfits and face make up. I think we definitely pulled it off as best we could with our budget and lack of shops which carry clothing articles that look like KISS outfits. It was probably the best Halloween weekend I have ever had. We went bar hopping and everyone recognized us and would yell out KISS and have us pose so they could get photos with us. It was amazing and so much fun! We went out Friday and Saturday night to pubs/clubs all around Leeds and decided since most of us were wiped out by Sunday that we would take a break from the rockstar lifestyle and have a taco/movie night on Halloween. Honestly, I don’t know how KISS does it, but it’s a rough life, living like a rockstar.


Last Friday was Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Day which is celebrated all around England. In 1605 Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament, and obviously failed so fireworks and huge bonfires happened on Friday which was really cool to experience. On Sunday I went to an ice hockey game and brough 2 girls who had never been which was really fun! British hockey is just not the same as back home, but it was a really fun night out and we are planning to go again next week for my birthday which should be a blast!

Until next time,



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