Birthday Fun

I just got back from Spring Break a couple days ago and I promise I’ll post about those shortly, but first I thought I’d talk a little about how my time in Bath is going.

My birthday was a couple weeks ago and it was strange because it actually was my very first birthday away from home (I even went home for the weekend freshman year of college). I had a really nice time, though! I spent most of the day relaxing in my flat which is honestly just what I needed. For dinner myself and a couple friends went to a place called Gourmet Burger Kitchen where we get student discounts – the burgers were delicious! Then, after dinner, my roommate and I went to a small movie theatre where we had free tickets to go see The Grand Budapest Hotel, the new Wes Anderson film. I haven’t seen very many of his films, but I really liked this one. It was quirky and funny but also had a good plot with heartwarming characters. Then, when we got back, my flatmates and some housemates “surprised” me with chocolate cake (I put surprised in quotes only because there had been hints)! A very nice, chill day. :)

In terms of Bath/the semester in general, everything’s great. Papers are due in the next couple of weeks, so the semester is starting to wind down. After the essays are done all I’ll have left is finals!! Time flies, I guess. 

I really do love the city of Bath. One thing I noticed over Spring Break was how much I missed it. I kept comparing the cities we were in (which were all fabulous) to Bath and what made it different/not necessarily as likeable. I really am going to miss it like crazy when I go back to America – especially since I may never get to come back! Ha, I didn’t mean for this post to get so sentimental and kind of sad, but I guess I didn’t expect for Bath to feel as homey as it’s become – it’s a great place!

Anyway, that’s pretty much all I have to say, haha. Just a short and sweet post for now. I’ll update about Italy and Greece soon!

Oxford (Part Two)!

Our program spent a whole week studying in Oxford and what can I say? It was absolutely amazing. I think I could spend a whole month in Oxford and not feel like I’ve seen everything I should. What with 40+ colleges, parks, pubs, and museums there’s so much history and cultural things to see. We managed to do a lot in a week, though, and I feel very privileged.

We left early Saturday morning and arrived before noon. We stayed at University College which is the oldest college in Oxford. It’s sort of a running joke that every college in Oxford likes to claim that they’re the oldest, but Univ. actually has the documentation to prove it so boom there it is. My room was on the main quad, which meant I was super close to the front gate and the dining hall, but farther away from my classes – still within 10 minutes, though. The room was so big! They’re set up suite style with a common room and two bedrooms. There were lots of windows – with the curtains you didn’t need any electrical lighting until dusk. After arrival we just got quick tours of the surrounding area so we could acquaint ourselves with Oxford – I felt cool that I knew my way around a little better because I had been there before!

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Univ. Quad

Sunday the whole group went punting. All I can really say about this was that it was an adventure. Yeah. In case you don’t know, the act of punting is standing in the back of boat and propelling it forward using a long metal pole. Easy, right? No. Just, no. Granted, I can’t complain too much because I actually didn’t do any of the punting, but my heart truly goes out to everyone who did. It started off very nicely, but around the middle of the route it started to hail and, even though it only lasted a couple minutes, everyone was so cold after that that we essentially just gave up. We ended up pulling ourselves along the wall on the side – I’m sure it was hilarious. We saw a few people walking by videotaping/photographing us – glad we made them happier, I guess.

Monday I just spend the day wandering around Oxford – friend and I tried to go to a museum but it was unfortunately closed. I’m pretty sure this was the day I went to Blackwell’s, to be honest the days kind of blended together. Anyways, Blackwell’s is this huge (and I mean huge) private bookstore. It was about four floors including the basement, which has a Guinness World Record for most books in one room. It was very overwhelming for me knowing that I could essentially never look at every book in that store because I would never have the time. Still very cool, though. We had a talk that night given by an Univ. fellow about the history of Oxford. I would’ve liked to have him as a professor – he was funny and made the history very interesting. I also learned Monday night that Oxford students only pay ~9,000 pounds a year for tuition, which is so strange to me!

I had class most of Tuesday, but I still made sure to spend some time walking around Oxford and just enjoying the pretty architecture. I also had Indian food for the first time that night. I enjoyed my meal a lot, but I got one that was pretty sweet (I didn’t know it would be) and I kind of wish I got one that was a bit spicier or had more spices in it to vary the flavor – next time! Wednesday was my most productive day – I went to the oldest coffee shop in England (since 1654!) and took a tour of Christ Church College (home to many Harry Potter scenes) and went to the Eagle and Child for dinner (where the Inklings used to meet). Christ Church was very beautiful. We got to go into the Dean’s garden and see the Harry Potter staircase as well as the Hall and the Cathedral (so much detail it was crazy). I actually got separated from the group at the end because I spent so much time in the Cathedral taking pictures; I found my way out, though.

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Christ Church Quad

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Harry Potter Stairs!

The Eagle and Child was well-worth the wait (if you remember from my last post we couldn’t go because we were pressed for time). They definitely were proud of the fact that Tolkien and Lewis frequented the pub – they had quotes from the two all around the building and had a door labelled “Narnia.” They were out of fish and chips, which was disappointing, but the steak frites I got was actually cheaper and absolutely delicious! So, all-around, very nice.

Thursday I awoke nice and early to go to the Ashmolean art museum. I was really surprised by not only the quantity of art but also the wide range of art held there. They had Chinese and Japanese, but also Greek, Roman, and Egyptian as well as Italian and other European art along with Indian too. They nicely integrated them as well, making it so you walked from country to country in chronological order. And the best bonus: it was free! That night was had formal dinner (something Oxford apparently do every week…again why are they complaining about paying 9,000 pounds???) which consisted of getting all dressed up and sitting in the Hall and eating delicious food and drinking wine. We had gnocchi (my personal favorite of the night!), roast chicken with mashed potatoes and carrots, and a Bakewell’s tart for dessert. They also gave us coffee and a mint to finish! It was a very nice way to end the week; I loved it.

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Univ. Dining Hall

We left early Friday morning and stopped at Blenheim Palace on the way home to Bath. The palace was the birth place of Winston Churchill and was (and still currently is) the home of the Dukes of Marlborough. It was absolutely gorgeous. I feel like I’ve been using that word a lot in these blog posts – but it’s been true every time! Walking through the house and around the grounds felt like being in a Jane Austen movie, it was great. We had about three hours there and then hopped on the bus and we were back in Bath by about 3:30 pm. I was so tired and happy to be back in Bath, but I definitely enjoyed my week at Oxford immensely!

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Outside of Blenheim (front).

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Outside of Blenheim (rear).

P.S. This time next week I’ll be in Venice!!! Can’t wait for Spring Break!

 

 

 

 

Oxford (part one)

Yesterday my Worlds Beyond Oxford class (read: class about Tolkien, Lewis, and Pullman) took a day trip to the city of Oxford that included going around a few of the colleges, (originally) eating at the Eagle and Child where Tolkien and Lewis would hang out, and visiting Lewis’ home and church. It was great. The weather, though very foggy early in the morning, was wonderful. No rain, and lots of sun by the end of the trip.

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Oxford – so foggy!

 Oxford really is very lovely – you can definitely feel the history all around you and it’s easy to see how authors like Tolkien, Lewis, or Carroll could come up with these fantasy worlds in a place like that. I’m still confused about how the colleges work (why are there so many? do you apply do a specific one or does oxford assign you? are they each for specific things? do you live/eat/study all in the same college? why is it so unnecessarily confusing?), but hopefully I’ll find about that later. I’ll make sure to ask someone when we’re studying there for a week.

As I said, the whole program is going to study at Oxford for a week, so we didn’t spend too much time as a class in each of the colleges because we’ll have more chances to explore later (it’s also why this post is titled “part one”). After walking around the colleges, we headed over to the Botanic Gardens. It was a little early for all the plants to be blooming, but still pretty. We saw Tolkien’s favorite tree and the Pullman bench and then we walked quickly through the library and went off to Eagle and Child for lunch. 

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Tolkien’s favorite tree

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Botanic Gardens

Unfortunately, we were the victims of false advertising. ASE was under the impression that Eagle and Child would be open by 11:45 when we got there but it didn’t open until noon. However, they still weren’t open by 12:05 (despite a relatively good sized crowd waiting outside) and, since we were on a schedule, we couldn’t wait. So, we ate at a sandwich shop down the road instead. Good thing we’re coming back in a couple weeks!

Once lunch was over we got back on the bus and drove to Lewis’ home. Funnily enough, the house is owned by an American C.S. Lewis foundation, so our tour guide was American. I’m not used to hearing American accents outside of our group so it was a little strange at first, ha! The tour was very nice. They don’t have a lot of Lewis’ own stuff – unfortunately his sister sold almost everything when she sold the house and they don’t know where a lot of it is. But, they recreated it to the best of their ability (based off of pictures, etc.). I also didn’t know a lot about Lewis before I went, so I learned a lot too.

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Lewis’ desk

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Lewis’ front door

We ended the day at his church and burial site. The church seems to be very proud that Lewis worshipped there – they have a plaque showing where he sat. The cemetery itself is lovely, not a bad place to be laid to rest, in my opinion.

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Cemetery where Lewis is buried

Though there were a few setbacks, it was still a great trip and a great day! I can’t wait to stay in Oxford for a week!

Scotland

This past weekend I took my first (definitely not last) trip out of England. It wasn’t a long trip, only a couple of days, and while I was exhausted by the end it really was great.

Thursday night, I, along with 9 other girls, took a train to London and then hopped on a bus that took us to Edinburgh, Scotland. It was about nine hours, but I actually got about 5 hours of sleep, so it wasn’t that bad. The bus ended up getting to Edinburgh earlier than we thought, so we had about two hours to kill. Unfortunately, most everything was closed so we couldn’t sit in a cafe. We stopped at McDonald’s (literally the only thing open) and after some breakfast we wandered around a pretty park and made our way up to Edinburgh Castle.

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View of Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens

The walk up the now inactive volcano was long and steep – Edinburgh is extremely hilly, but we got to get some great pictures and we got to the top before the castle was open so we could rest for a bit. Once we got in the Castle, we were just in time for a free tour to start so we joined that. I’m glad we did, because there was a lot of cool facts that I never would have learned otherwise.

After the Castle, we walked over to St. Giles’ Cathedral, which was very pretty, but you had to pay to take pictures inside. So I didn’t. By this time, we were very tired and our backs were killing us from carrying around our backpacks all day, so we headed to our hostel. The beds were surprisingly comfy and the man running it was very helpful and friendly. After some lunch (the hostel had a bar in it and their food was great!) and pick-me-up naps, we were off to get some dinner. We stopped outside The Elephant Cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter. However, it was too small for our group. We ended up splitting up because some of us were still really full from our late lunch and didn’t want to eat very much, whereas others were really hungry. The group I went with stopped at a place called “Frankenstein” it was basically like any pub (a little bit more of a bar atmosphere, though) but everything was Frankenstein themed. It was a little weird, but fun. They had really good bread too. I had an early morning the next day, so another girl and I headed back early and I was in bed around 11.

The second day our group split up again, four of us (myself included) booked a day trip that took us through the Highlands and eventually to Loch Ness. Everyone else stayed in Edinburgh for another day.

I loved the tour – I thought I definitely got more than my money’s worth. I really liked that I could see more than the city and instead see landscapes that I associate with Scotland in my head. Our guide was great, she actually grew up in one of the towns we drove past and she had really great anecdotes about that. She also said “wee” (as opposed to little or small) a lot, so it’s nice to know that’s not just a stereotype.

We saw some absolutely gorgeous places and my pictures don’t do them justice at all. It was really neat to see the contrast between the Lowlands and the Highlands of Scotland.

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Loch Lubnaig

Loch Ness was equally pretty – it was so weird to me that there are people who live right on the loch. No Nessie sightings, unfortunately, but we definitely looked, haha. I also tried haggis on the trip. Well, it was haggis in burger form. It was okay; really mushy.

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Loch Ness

After the trip was over, we originally meant to meet up with the rest of the group, but they were eating at a place up a big hill that we had managed to climb at least 5 times over the course of two days and we didn’t feel like climbing in again, especially since our bus stop was closer to where we currently were. So, instead, we stopped at a restaurant and ordered dinner. I got a delicious burger with ginger beer to drink. I’d seen it all over the place in England and didn’t know what it was so I wanted to try it. It tastes like carbonated lemonade. After dinner we got some whisky – what better place to drink it than where it originated, right? I liked it. A little too strong for my tastes (I really don’t like the taste of alcohol), but it was smooth and nice flavors (what they were I couldn’t really tell you, though).

From there we met up with our group at our bus stop and made our way back to London. Some people stayed in London for a little bit, but I was exhausted so I went straight to Bath. It feels really good to be back!

P.S. I’ve been here for a month now – how weird is that?

Getting Adjusted – Part 2

I haven’t really done anything recently, but I thought it might be nice to document my thoughts about everyday life in general. 

I really am liking living in Bath – it’s very much the perfect fit. I pretty much know my way around the whole city center by now. Like if someone says a place they’re going to I essentially know how to get there. I don’t even have to use main roads anymore; I’m comfortable with side streets, so I guess that’s an accomplishment. I still don’t really know the names of roads, just the big ones, but that’s not too surprising because I don’t know the names of roads in my hometown either.

I know how much all the coins are worth now which is very exciting. I counted out change today without having to check to see what any of them were worth – I’m very proud of myself. On top of that, I finally got the hang of the roads in that I know which way to look and when to cross. Drivers are much more aggressive here – they literally do not stop if you’re crossing the street even if you’re in the crosswalk. 

I found some nice places to sit and read, as well, which is absolutely necessary because I have way too much reading to do. Oh well, I’ll manage. I’m going to Scotland this weekend for a couple days, so you can expect an update around Sunday or Monday!

The Cotswolds!

Yesterday, I went on a program sponsored trip to the Cotswolds, a hilly county in England (apparently the name means something like ‘hills of sheep’ so that’s exciting). We visited three places/towns within the county that were all very quaint and beautiful.

We started the morning at Broadway Tower, which supposedly was built in the 19th century just for fun (I didn’t really read any of the signs in there; I wasn’t that interested). Anyway, it was really windy, but the top of the tower offered some great views – you could see four different counties from the top.

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Broadway Tower

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View of the surrounding area – not from the top of the Tower, though!

Next we went from the Tower to the village of Broadway. It was optional, but I decided to take the 2 mile walk downhill through the mud to get there. I almost fell about five times (emphasis on the almost) and my boots were absolutely filthy by the end, but I think it was worth it. It was actually a lovely day and I got to see some wonderful scenery. Also, there were lots of sheep.

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The Cotswold Way

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The village of Broadway was very cute and small, it felt weird walking around in a group of about 50 students. In Bath, which is much busier, I don’t notice how large and tourist-y we are as much. We didn’t really do much in Broadway at all besides walk through it to the bus and then we were off for Bourton-on-the-Water.

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Honeysuckle Cottage – Broadway

I actually didn’t take any pictures of Bourton-on-the-Water, the self-deemed Venice of the Cotswolds, since all we did there was eat lunch. I had my first ever English fish and chips and it was delicious. From there we headed to the Painswick Rococo Gardens. It was a huge estate with a maze and a fish pond as well as tons of snow drops, little white flowers. Even though it was still winter, the gardens were absolutely gorgeous. We also got complimentary tea and cake (I got a very yummy piece of chocolate) courtesy of ASE.

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Snow drops

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Part of the gardens

 

 

Roman Baths

Due to my lack of class today, a friend and I decided to visit the historic Roman Baths (from which the city of Bath gets its name). I was excited to go, since it’s, obviously, one of the biggest tourist stops here. 

I had seen the outside of the baths a lot as I pass them all the time getting around the city, and I’d also seen pictures of the baths themselves from postcards and the like, so I figured I knew what to expect. However, I didn’t know that they had a museum located in between the upper and lower level of the baths, so that was kind of exciting, I guess. The museum was very cool and, like Stonehenge, it was really amazing just how many artifacts they’ve collected over the years. Another nice thing about this museum, is that historians have a pretty good idea about what the baths were used for and what surrounded them as the Romans left many helpful clues (stones, documents, etc.) for us, so there were a lot of models and displays of how it looked back then. 

The water still flows from the natural hot springs, just as it did during Roman times and they have the system inter-worked into the museum so you see how it all works, which is fascinating. The water was very warm – steam was rising off of it despite the chilly weather, so I can see why it was popular!

They also had a fountain where you could try the water – I did and, yeah, it wasn’t that great. I think it mainly had to do with it being really warm; it kind of reminded me of how the water at the dentist tastes and I don’t really know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

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View of the baths from the second level