Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter in Bath

Wow, it's hard to believe I only have a week and a half left of the first semester. Sorry it's taken me so long to update, but I've been intensely busy with final papers, exams, and last minute trips and Christmas shopping! On Thanksgiving, it was the start of Christmas in Bath and Nicolas Cage came to turn on the city's lights. He owned a house in Bath for over three years, and clearly was excited to be a part of the ceremony, even if he was there for only a few minutes. However, thousands of people showed up to see him.

Afterward, all the ASE students went to Thanksgiving dinner at a local college. It wasn't like it was at home - the stuffing especially, and there was no delicious pumpkin bread - but it was still very good. It was nice to celebrate an American tradition! Of course, with such good, free food around, it was bound to get a bit competetive. My friends Jenna and Ken had an eating contest, and Jenna won. There were also people running for the last piece of pie. As you can see from the pictures, we all enjoyed it and and cleaned off all our plates!

Friday I had my final study trip - a day long Jane Austen excursion! We visited her family home in Chawton first. It was a nice house, which is now a museum, but kind of plain. It certainly wasn't anything special. We then went to Winchester to see her grave. We also saw the house where she died. A bit morbid to think that someone still lives there...

My next big adventure was to see a Bristol City FC match in Bristol, about a 15 minute train ride from Bath. They were playing Ipswich Town, who is managed by Roy Keane, one of Manchester United best players when he was in his prime.

Our seats were only five rows off the pitch, directly behind the goal, which was really cool. Except we had to pay close attention, or else we ran the risk of getting hit! It was cold, rainy, and people were extremely excited to be there. It was a fantastic atmosphere, with lots of singing and chanting in support of Bristol City. The game ended 0-0, but it was still very exciting and a well played match.

Last Sunday, I was invited to my grandparent's good friends' home, just outside of Taunton, about 45 min south of Bath. The Spekes own Rowlands Estate (fancy, I know), with tons of land and beautiful houses. The main house was built, originally, in the Norman period, but has been rebuilt several times since. Elizabeth I once stayed there, and it was there that the Earl of Essex plotted a rebellion against her. Very cool!! I was shown all around the estate, met some family members, and learned all about the fascinating history of the Speke family. One member even discovered the source of the Nile! It was really nice to spend time with a family again, but it made me miss home a lot!

The past two weeks have been very busy with papers, but now that they are over, it's nice to absolutely relax and just enjoy my last week with my friends here. Thursday night, we had a Write Night, where the students in the creative writing class here read their prose and poetry. Most of them were extremely funny, and it was nice to learn a bit more about my classmates and hear some of their work. It was also one of the last events we are all doing as a group, which was bittersweet.

Tonight, I went with some friends up to the university to play some football. Their turf fields aren't what I'm used to, more like a mini golf course than grass, but whatever. It was fun to get out and play again. It was also nice, because we played with a bunch of Brits, so they knew what they were doing!

It's our last weekend of the semester, and now it is really starting to hit me that I've been here a whole semester! My next blog entry won't be until I'm back in the states. I'm heading to Salzburg, Venice, and Brussels with Sarah Kaleko, my good friend from F&M. It's going to be quite an adventure!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Study Trip: Westminster

Hello everyone! I hope everyone is enjoying themselves and getting excited for Thanksgiving! I'm doing very well, except I'm busy writing papers...or procrastinating, but the papers will get done, I promise! There has just been a lot going on this weekend in terms of Christmas markets, trips and get togethers. On Friday, I joined the Modern British Political History class on their trip to the Westminster District of London. I'm not in the class, but the professor is also my tutorial professor, and he invited me along. I'll never turn down a free trip to London!

Our first stop on the mini-tour of Westminster were the Cabinet War Rooms, which were used by Winston Churchill and his cabinet during World War II. It is an underground bunker that they stayed in to remain safe from the bombings happening in the city. When they war was over, everyone was so happy to get out of the bunker, that they dropped everything and left, leaving it almost exactly the way it was to this day. It was really interesting to see the exact rooms where Churchill lived, worked, and planned the British movements in the war from. After the tour of the museum, we had time to go to lunch. We headed toward Trafalger Square and saw some great things along the way:

-Ministry of Defense buildings-

-St. James's Park with Buckingham Palace in the background (the Queen was in residence) -
-10 Downing Street, Home of the Prime Minister-

-Royal Horse Guards Parade-
-World War II Monument-
-Another shot of the Royal Horse Guards Parade-
-Triumph Arch-

-and finally Trafalger Square!-

We headed to lunch then, and what better place to go in London than a Tex-Mex place! It was called The Texas Embassy, and actually was the site of the Texan Embassy when it was it's own country way back when. Delicious food, and a cool atmosphere, it was like a little slice of home. It is incredibly hard to find Mexican food, especially in Bath, so this was a real treat!

After lunch, we headed back down to the Houses of Parliament, passing some Royal Guards outside Whitehall Palace and a memorial to those killed in foreign wars. Every Remembrance Day (November 11), there is a huge parade, culminating in members of the royal family placing flowers at the foot of this monument. Everyone also wears little red poppies on their shirts to remember those who have died in wars. If you look closely at the picture, there is a reef on the left with a white plume. These are actually three white feathers, the insignia of the Prince of Wales. Below it there is a larger reef shaped like a hat. This is the Queen's reef, which is a new design every year.

We got really lucky with the weather, and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben looked beautiful in the sporadic sunlight. Fun fact: only British citizens are allowed to climb to the top of Big Ben and stand behind the clock face, no one else.
I thought was incredibly interesting that they decided to put a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the houses of Parliament. Cromwell led the Parliamentarians against King Charles I in the English Civil war, and won. However, Cromwell then became a quasi-dictator, as Lord Protector, and forcefully dismissed Parliament twice with troops. Parliament eventually decided to get rid of the Protectorship and invited back Charles II to take the throne. It seems silly to have Cromwell in a place of honor outside Parliament, but whatever. Also, there was a statue of Richard I, who ruled in the 13th Century, long before parliament was ever even thought of. Interesting...

Here is the main entrance hall into the Houses of Parliament. It was also here that Charles I was tried. William Wallace was also tried here. Both were found guilty of their crimes and executed.
The House of Lords was much more impressive than the House of Commons. It had deep red carpets and chairs, a massive throne for the queen, and beautiful decorations all around. In the one entrance room, all along the wall were life size portraits of all the Tudor and Stuart Monarchs, and lining the many hallways were beautiful paintings of historic scenes. The House of Commons had ugly green seats and was very plain. I would definitely want to be in the Lords if I had the option.

It was really cool to be able to see the seat of government in England, especially since I haven't seen Congress at home. It was a whirlwind tour of Westminster, done in one day, but we had a great time. Papers continue this week, and Thursday we are having a Thanksgiving dinner for the whole program. A nice little piece of home! Then, on Friday, I go to Chawton with my Jane Austen Class. More updates then!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

One Crazy Week!

This past week was a busy one, starting on Friday when my Renaissance Literature class took a trip to Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, outside London.

Hampton Court was originally built by Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520's, but Henry VIII fell in love with the palace, and intended on giving it to his mistress, Anne Boleyn. Wolsey, who was already in hot water for failing to give Henry a speedy divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, happily gave it over. The palace is very beautiful, and inside has many famous works of art from the Tudor period. One of my favorites is below.
The quality of the picture isn't that good, but the painting is of (from R to L) Henry's daughter Mary, his son Prince Edward, his favorite wife Jane Seymour, and his other daughter Elizabeth.

My favorite part of the palace was its beautiful gardens. Some were enclosed in courtyards, but the main sprawled all the way to the Thames river.

Just imagine...Anne Boleyn used to walk here! Oh, and while we were there, Henry was getting married to his 6th wife, Katherine Parr. Here he is...
We had the weekend to relax and get a jump start on papers, and on Tuesday we headed off to Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of William Shakespeare. I was extremely excited, because we were going to see a production of Twelfth Night performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which has had had big name actors in the past, such as Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf), Dame Judi Dench, and Ralph Fiennes. The production was amazing, and Twelfth Night is one of my favorite plays, so I was extremely happy. Afterward, we went to a pub called the Dirty Duck and got to see some of the actors. It was a good night, but we had to get up early the next morning for a lecture and talk back sessions. Always working!

Stratford itself is a quaint little town, with lots of Tudor buildings still remaining and in use. It wasn't as big as Bath, but was definitely very tourist centered.

We didn't go to Shakespeare's birthplace (it was too expensive) but we did go into a church for free and get to see where he was buried. I was expecting something a little grander than this, but maybe it is what Will would have wanted.
We also visited the home of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife. It was an adorable little cottage! Shakespeare's home in his later life is also pictured below.

On Wednesday night we drove to Birmingham to see a ballet performance of Dorian Grey, the story of a man who is the image of perfection. He sells his soul to the devil to remain young and beautiful forever, and in his place, a portrait of him ages. In the end, he becomes so immoral and corrupt that the portrait is completely unrecognizable. In an effort to save himself, Dorian stabs the portrait, but also ends up killing himself. The ballet was a modern interpretation of this story, reflecting the obsession with celebrity and beauty in our own times. It was...interesting, to say the least. I was impressed with the choreography and the adaptation, but it got a bit intense at time. Definitely an experience.

On Thursday, we left Stratford and headed to Warwick Castle before going back to Bath. Warwick played a major role in the War of the Roses in the 1400's. I was very excited to go here, hearing it was haunted and had very cool displays from the Renaissance time. However, I was extremely disappointed when we got there.
Warwick was definitely just a glorified "Medieval Times" crossed with Madame Tussauds. Lots of wax figures (creepy) and guys dressed up in breeches (really creepy). The views from the main tower were amazing though.
Henry VIII made an appearance...
My friend Elizabeth and I wandered all over the castle to see the many different exhibits of medieval life. There was one which showed how people living in the castle would have prepared for a battle. Neither of us are big fans of mannequins/wax figures, so we were rushing through a bit, when all of sudden one jumped out and started talking to us. We were terrified and the poor man probably felt really bad, but needless to say, we didn't go into anymore exhibits. Instead, we played on the playground (a mini TimberTown) and got hot chocolate in the cafe.

Friday, we were off to the Cotswalds! The Cotswalds is a region of England that fall among a long line of hills and is known for its sheep farming. It was a rainy day, but I've never seen such beautiful areas, and I've decided that I will be living there at some point.

We started at the top of one of the main hills, and had to walk down to the little town of Broadway down below. It was all through sheep fields!

They definitely could have attacked if they wanted too. There were no fences.
Broadway was such a cute village!
And they even have their own football team!
We stopped off for a quick lunch in the town of Chipping Camden, which was even cuter than Broadway, if that's even possible.
Our last stop was a Cotswald Manor called Chavenge House. It was built, originally in the early 1000s, but was torn down and reconstructed in the 1400s. During the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell stayed here, and during WWII, American soldiers were stationed here. We had tea and biscuits before heading back off to Bath.
I had a great week, but of course, got no work done! So I'll be trying to catch up this week before papers are due next week. Wish me luck!