Saturday, September 26, 2009

Oxford and Blenheim Palace

What a week! I'm sorry for the lack of updates/communications this week, but the entire program was based at University College, Oxford, and they have no WiFi there. We had to all share the three PCs in the main common room, so there was no time to skype, email, or update the blog! So, hopefully, I'll be able to tell you all about my week in this entry!

We got to Oxford on Saturday morning, and went right away to our rooms. I go to Univ once a week for my Tutorial, but I had never been in the dorms. They are so nice! We all had singles, and the each come with their own sinks and refrigerators, and mine even had a window seat! The only problem, of course, was no internet, but I was able to survive!

After we were all settled in, we went into the Great Hall for lunch. This is where we ate breakfast and lunch everyday we were in Oxford. There were great portraits of all the past "Masters" of the College hanging all over the room.

Later on Saturday, we got a short tour around Oxford. The main street, High Street, where Univ is located, is filled with shops and lots of touristy things to do. Off the beaten path, however, there are some really cool things to see as well. The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and is the main research library for Oxford. It has the right to hold anything ever published in the United Kingdom, although now it is very selective about what it chooses to hold. There are thousands of feet of underground tunnels running underneath downtown Oxford (with over 100 miles of shelving), which hold all the books of the library. Sometimes, it takes days for the librarians to go down and find a book, so you really have to plan ahead! Also, under no circumstances is anyone allowed to borrow a book from Bodleian. During the English civil war, Charles I was living in Oxford and wanted to borrow a book from the library, and they told him no! So, if they monarch can't take a book out, Oxford students definitely cannot.

Also around the Bodleian is the Bridge of Sighs, a model of the one found in Italy. It is said that three Protestand martyrs, including Thomas Cranmer, walked across the bridge on the way to their executions, which had been ordered by Mary Tudor. Apparently, the Bridge and surrounding streets are haunted by their ghosts. Unfortunately, I didn't see any ghosts the entire time I was in Oxford, but the stories were all pretty cool!

Sunday was a very exciting day, as the entire ASE program went punting! It's sort of like a gondola, except the bottom of the boat is flat. The river we punted on connected eventually to the Thames. Here are some of the punts.

You stand at the back of the boat with a long pole to push it along the river, while someone in the front of the boat uses a small paddle to help steer. It took a while to get the hang of it, but by the end I was pretty good!

I didn't run into anything, which was good, and I didn't fall in! One girl did fall in, and a boy lost his pole in the river, which was pretty entertaining. Also, some other thought it would be fun to race the punts, but that didn't really end up well, as they continually ran into the river banks or into low hanging trees. Overall, it was a good day and a very cool experience.

Monday I spent catching up on work, as I had classes starting up on Tuesday. But that night, my Tutorial Professor, Leslie Mitchell, gave a great talk about the history of Univ. And he made it clear that no one attends Oxford University, but that they go to University College, or Merton College, or Queen's College, etc. And he stressed that Univ was the first and oldest College there, no matter what Merton says. On Tuesday, we went to Oxford Castle for my History of the Middle Ages class. Oxford Castle was built by the Anglo-Saxons and is on the best preserved castles in the UK from that period (about 800 years ago). I was a little disappointed by it, however, as they made it into an visitor attraction rather than a piece of history. One side of the castle was used as a prison up until 13 years ago, so there is the Prison Exhibit there. Another section of the castle has been turned into a hotel and there was even a Krispy Kreme donut shop right outside the main entrance to the castle.

Climbing up the main watchtower was very cool, however, and we had a brilliant view of the surrounding city and countryside.
Every night, we were on our own for dinner, so we explored the many different pubs and restaurants around the city. I stayed strong, though, and didn't do Pizza Hut like some of the other students. Instead, I went for Pizza Express, the British version. I thought it was a nice compromise. Tuesday night the entire program went out for a Curry night. Indian food is so delicious!
Wednesday, I went with a bunch of friends to take advantage of the fabulous shopping in Oxford. Well, we really only went to one store, the amazing Primark, where nothing costs more than twenty GBP. Needless to say, it was a good day.

Thursday I went exploring to some of the other colleges before my classes. Christ Church was by far my favorite. It had huge gardens and a large park, as well as the most beautiful buildings.
Oh, and did I mention Harry Potter was filmed here? This is the staircase from the first movie, when Harry first comes to Hogwarts.
And here is the Great Hall, where all the students (muggles and wizards) eat! Lewis Carroll also based Alice in Wonderland off of many people and places in Christ Church, where he was a Math tutor. Alice was actually the daughter of the dean, and she even had a cat named Dinah. Her father was portrayed as the White Rabbit, and the 'Rabbit's Hole' was a spiral staircase leading down from the head table in the Great Hall, where he was leave after every meal. I loved the Great Hall the most, mostly because of the amazing portraits held there. At the very end of the hall, Henry VIII is shown with Cardinal Wolsey (the original founder of the college) on his left, and Elizabeth I on his right. On the way out of the Great Hall, there is even a portrait of William Penn!

Christ Church's main quad, the Tom Quad, is also very beautiful, but no where in Oxford are you allowed to walk on the grass! It was so tempting for all of us to just run across the grass or lay on it, but we would have gotten in big trouble with the porters.
Oxford itself was a lot of fun, and Thursday night, our last night, we had a formal dinner with our professors. There was delicious food, wine, and even some entertainment, as one of the tutors picked up a guitar and played a medley of classic American songs - "Home on the Range," "Dixie," "Sweet Home Alabama," and he threw in "Yesterday" just for laughs. We then had drinks at the Univ Bar with everyone and went out for one last night in Oxford. Friday, we got up early and boarded the bus to leave, but before we got to Bath, we made one stop: Blenheim Palace.
Blenheim was built in the early 1700's, as a gift from Queen Anne to John Churchill and his wife Sarah. John had defeated the French in a major battle during the War of Spanish Succession, and as a gift, Anne made him Duke of Marlborough and built him a palace. Pretty nice gift, huh? We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the palace, but it was absolutely amazing. They had six staterooms (why you need more than one, I'm not sure), a massive library, and brilliant tapestries that covered entire walls. There were also tons of pieces furniture and paintings from Versailles that had been sold to English aristocrats when the French were bankrupt. As we were told by out guide, the French are only around for the English to fight (and beat), so of course the palace was filled with little things sticking it to the French. There were statues of an English lion devouring a French rooster. There were fleur-de-lis painted upside down on the walls, and chairs with Louis XIV's face painted on them, so when the Duchess sat, she would be sitting on his face. The 11th Duke and Duchess still live there now, so we were unable to see all of the palace, but it amazed me just how much money these people have! Everything we saw was owned by them, and the amount of land they have in incredible! Their gardens were gorgeous, and they had huge fields for horses and tons of other gardens spread across their property. And, not only is the he a Duke, but he is also grandson to a Vanderbilt, and a second cousin of Sir Winston Churchill!

We were so excited to finally be allowed on some grass, that it was necessary to do some frolicking. Of course, some cartwheels are better than others...
Blenheim Palace was by far the most beautiful thing I have seen since I've been here. And I could definitely fancy myself as a Duchess...
I mean, they even had their own maze! What can be better than that? It took us a while to get through, but we made it out and back to the bus just on time.
Arriving back in Bath, we literally all crashed. It was a long and fun week, but it was great to be home again. Today, I'm blogging, uploading pictures, and starting some more homework. I have two free weekends coming up, so we'll have to see what I can plan. London? Edinburgh? We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Our first adventure!

And to think I've only been here two weeks! I feel so at home here, it seems I've been here months, and we've also gotten a lot done! This week was my first week of classes. On Tuesday, I have my Jane Austen class, as well as History of the Middle Ages. I like them both a lot, as well as my professors. Wednesday was my big day, as I had a find my way to Oxford (about an hour train ride away) to attend my Georgian Politics and Society Tutorial. I got there early, and a good thing too, since University College, the college where I am having my tutorial, is on the opposite side of the city from the train station. Prof. Leslie Mitchell met me on the front steps of the college, and we had our lesson out in one of the gardens. It was so beautiful! Oxford wasn't really what I pictured it to be though. All of the colleges are spread throughout the city, and even though the college buildings themselves are beautiful, they are surrounded on all sides by normal restaurants and shops. And the quads are rather small. It was a beautiful city, but I much prefer Bath! Prof Mitchell was really wonderful, and I think I am going to enjoy my tutorial. Of course, I've only had one class so far, so that may change! Wednesday night after my tutorial, one of our ASE Staff Members, Jonathon, organized a sports night out in the park in front of the Royal Crescent. We had a really fun game of football going. Some of us had played before, but most of the students who came out hadn't, so it wasn't the most impressive display, but we had a blast! And we were being laughed at by all the English who were out relaxing in the park, but we didn't care. Afterward, we went down to a pub called The Pig and The Fiddle to watch the England World Cup Qualifying Game against Croatia. This was a big match. If England won, they automatically qualified for the World Cup. Also, England lost to Croatia before, and were therefore unable to play in the European Championship - so there was a grudge as well. It was a fantastic game, England winning with a score line of 5-1!

Thursday, I only had one class, In The Courts of Princes, which is a Renaissance Lit class. I think I'm going to really enjoy that as well. Not much else happened during the week, but enough happened on Friday to make up for it!

Friday, my friends Audrey, Elizabeth, Allison, Hannah, and Sara visited Cardiff, Wales, and had an amazing time. Wales is so beautiful! We got up early and took a train into Cardiff. It was only a bit over an hour, so it was a nice and easy drive. We also had perfect weather - surprisingly! When we got there, it was so cool to see all the signs at the train station and all over the city. They are not only written in English, but also in Welsh!

I can't even begin to try and pronounce those words!

Our first stop on our tour of the Welsh Capitol was a small village on the outskirts of the city called St. Fagans. Here, they have an open air museum called the National Museum of Welsh Life. It was there that we saw the beautiful St. Fagans Castle, which is a Victorian age manor house with beautiful gardens surrounding it. Here are some of the gardens:

The Castle itself (I think it is more of an estate, personally), was equally beautiful. We were able to walk around inside and see how it may have looked two hundred years ago. Unfortunately, though, no pictures allowed! It was fun to imagine walking around the breathtaking gardens wearing a hoop skirt and a corset, though!

After seeing St Fagans Castle, we went to another part of the museum, where they had typical Welsh homes on display from various time period. In the picture below, there is a long building which is broken up into different houses and behind them are different gardens. The farthest end of the building held a house that was decorated from the 1500's. The next one up was from the 1700s. They come all the way up to the pink one on the right, which is from the 1970s. It was really cool to see how everything had changed!
After an hour or two in St Fagans, we headed back to center city Cardiff and what do we find right next to the Hilton Hotel? Oh yes, a medieval castle, of course! Cardiff Castle was first constructed by the Romans in 9th century, but the parts that survive today are from the late 1200's. Below is the keep and the far wall. There is even a moat around the keep!

We climbed up into the keep and had an amazing view of part of the castle with Millennium Stadium in the background, where Cardiff's football and rugby teams play.
The castle was by far my favorite part of our trip to Wales, and I'm so glad that we splurged on a $15 guided tour of the main building. Here are some highlights from it:

The castle, from the 1800's until the 1940's, was owned by a private family, the family of the Marquess of Bute, one of the wealthiest men in Britain. He was also an ancestor of the Stuart kings, like James I, Charles I, Charles II, and Mary Queen of Scots. The third Marquess spent the most time at the castle, rather than at one of the many other family homes. He was fascinated by medieval England, and furnished the living quarters of the castle to look like an extremely opulent medieval palace. In his private smoking room, which is underneath the clock tower, he themed the room to be about time. The ceiling was covered with signs from the zodiac, norse gods, and greek symbols of time. Here, Apollo holds up the sun, symbolizing midday. I could have stood in this room forever and still not find all the subtle hints and references to time. It was incredible! Oh, also, if it looks like gold, it usually is. This guy had so much money!

Coming out of the smoking room, we looked up and saw this thing coming out of the ceiling. The Marquess put it in there to frighten away maids or his children if they were coming to bother him while he was with his friends. He had quite a sense of humor!
The children's nursery was definitely my favorite room. The walls were painted with different stories, like Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, and Robin Hood. There was also the most exquisite dollhouse and rocking horse. Those kids were spoiled! Although, they also had to work hard. They knew five languages by the time they were 10 years old - English, Latin, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and French!
The banquet hall continued with the mythical them. All along the wall, there was the depiction of a great civil war that took place in the 1100s between cousins Stephen and Matilda. I want to decorate my house like this! It is so COOL!
After getting a fabulous tour of the castle, we decided to tour for ourselves, and found ourselves wandering along war time tunnels.

We were exhausted by the rest of the day, and I slept on the train on the way home. It was a gorgeous day in Wales, though, and I'm so happy we went! Today was also a lot of fun, though I've spent most of it doing homework. At 2pm, a bunch of us headed to Bath Rugby Grounds for the first home game of the season. Of course, I have no idea how to play rubgy, but my British friend Ian was there to help explain along the way. Bath ended up losing to the London Wasps 17-10, but it was still a great game. It's so intense! Those guys are huge and just slam into each other like it's not big deal. I don't understand how more people don't get hurt! It was much more exciting than American football, however, and I'm hoping to go to a bunch more games this season. Go Bath!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

American Invasion!

Greetings from The Realm! Today was a fabulous day! We got up extra early to catch a bus from bath to Stonehenge, about an hour away, but we still couldn't beat the tourists! It was pretty crowded when we arrived, but cleared up fairly quickly. I mean, there is only so much to look at...

In all serious though, it isn't just a odd assortment of rocks. It's actually a tribute to the winter solstice (allegedly), and possibly a burial ground. It's amazing to think of the engineering needed in order to transport this massive stones (some came all the way from Wales) and get them upright, as well as laying on top of each other. Pretty impressive if you think of it that way. The gift shop was a bit of disappointment though. And there are highways running along either side of the monument, which throws off the mood of the moment, but oh well. It was still pretty cool to see up close.

After spending about an hour in Stonehenge, we were back on the bus and on our way to Salisbury. Our first stop there was the gorgeous cathedral. The stained glass, tombs, and ornate walls were incredible, and the choir was even practicing while we toured, so there was a great atmosphere.

And, as you can see, the sky was blue!

I was particularly fascinated by the tombs throughout the cathedral, including this one below of Lady Catherine Grey and her husband, Edward Seymour. Edward was the nephew of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife and the cousin of King Edward VII, Henry's only son. Lady Catherine, was the sister of Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen for 9 days after Edward VII. She was beheaded by Mary Tudor when she came to power. Catherine and Jane were also the granddaughters of Charles Brandon and Henry VIII's sister Mary. They had a crazy family line...but you can see why I was interested. Catherine is raised up on the tomb because of her close relation to royalty.

To be honest, I didn't love Salisbury. The best thing there was the cathedral, which was brilliant, but we couldn't find much else. The most interesting thing beside the cathedral was an injured pigeon sitting in front of our bench as we ate Cornish Pasties for lunch. It just flopped around and looked up pathetically at us. Then, when we stood up to leave, it hopped up and flew away, perfectly fine. And to think I felt bad for it, and it was merely toying with my emotions.


After Salisbury, we drove back toward Bath, but stopped in the picturesque village of Lacock. Lacock is preserved just as it was in the 1400's. There are no overhead electricity wires, no street lamps, no obnoxious store signs. It was very quaint. Our first stop was at Lacock Abbey, which was first a monastery, but in the 1500's after Henry VIII dissolved all the abbeys, it was bought by a private owner. They ancestor, a man named Henry Talbot, invented photography, and the oldest known picture was taken of one of the window in Lacock Abbey. That's not the only famous event to happen in this beautiful place. Harry Potter was also filmed here. Below: Hogwarts' Courtyard. Needless to say, we were very excited.

Lacock itself also head the filming of Harry Potter, as well as Pride and Prejudice (the BBC Version). Dame Judi Dench has a TV show that is filming there now.

For dinner, we all went to The George Inn, which is one of the oldest pubs in the country. They served delicious food, like chicken, pork, and roast, and wonderful sticky toffee pudding for dessert. The best part, however, was after dinner. Outside, behind the pub, there was a party going on. It was the 25th anniversary of the owner getting his license to sell beer, which is big deal, apparently. Usually, they only have it for about 5 years, and then lose it for some reason or another, but he had had it for 25 straight years. There was a band and everything, so we went out to investigate. Needless to say, when 'Jailhouse Rock' came on, we all had to get in on the dancing! We definitely livened up the party! The man who the party was for even jumped on the table and started dance. It was a lot of fun, and then, out of no where, someone from the party produced an American flag. It was hysterical and I will definitely never forget my visit to the little town of Lacock. I doubt Lacock will forget us either!

Tomorrow, classes start, but I don't have my first until Tuesday. I'll be sure to update you all on my classes by the end of the week. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Getting Assimilated

What a week! It really flew by, and I feel like I’ve been in Bath a lot longer than just five days. I’ve met a ton of great people and seen the most beautiful sights in Bath. And the weather has been fairly nice! Today was the nicest by far – all sun and just a little wind. Most of the time, though, it is sunny for an hour, then cloudy for an hour, then sunny again. We’ll go into a restaurant and come out later only to find that it had rained and we had no idea. Everyone here just takes it in stride. Tuesday, it rained all day, but Bathonians are just strolling along, not even bothering with umbrellas or raincoats.

Wednesday, we had our first set of Diagnostic Papers, which were just 1000 word essays about each of our classes, basically for our tutors to know what we already know about that subject. They weren’t that bad – I think we all psyched ourselves out for nothing. I also collected all my course books and got the syllabi for my classes. They all look really interesting, except I’m a little nervous for my Georgian Politics and Society Tutorial. It is a lot of presenting and defending positions, something I do not like to do at all. But, I know at the end of the semester, it will be extremely rewarding. My tutor is Professor Leslie Mitchell, a preeminent scholar in Georgian history at Oxford. That doesn’t help my nerves at all! Wednesday night we decided to go out and try to assimilate into the British culture. So, we went to a pub. The Bell was a really low key, relaxed place with a pretty back garden and a really quaint atmosphere. We, as awkward Americans, had no idea what to order, so the bartender gave us all these delicious cider drinks. We didn’t stay out very late, as we were still terribly jet-lagged, but it was a fun experience none the less.

Thursday I met with one of the ASE Staff, Su, to discuss my job as a Nelson House Assistant. Basically, twice a week I have to water the plants, do the dishes and clean up the library. Very easy, and I get paid, so I think a good deal over all. Thursday afternoon, we received a guided tour of Bath Abbey. I have to pass it everyday on my way to classes, and it is absolutely gorgeous.The inside was just as beautiful. Kind of creepy though, as there are nearly four thousand people buried beneath its floors! All over the wall are memorials to those who are buried there, and the most recent one is from 1803, so they are all extremely old.Last night, we went out again to a pub called The Hunstman, where we met up with some other ASE students and made some new British friends. There was Tall Sam, Short Sam, Will, and Mike – all of who had met ASE students the night before. They said they found us Americans very amusing. We definitely found them funny too! Especially when they tried to dance at this club we went to next, called The Mole. They weren’t the most graceful of people.

Today we went up to the RSPCA to sign up for volunteer dog walking. The center is located right next to the University of Bath, about a ten minute bus ride away. The Uni is huge! It has over 100,000 students, very few of whom have come back yet, since their school doesn’t start until October. When they get here, Bath will be a completely different place! Uni Bath is a very good engineering school, and is also extremely well known for its sports. Bath was actually the #2 spot chosen for the England World Cup Team in 2018 to train because of all their great facilities. Bath Rugby is also one of the best in the country. We are planning on going to a match next weekend sometime.

Tonight we are having a formal reception to officially meet our tutors. It is being held at the Victoria Art Gallery. Tomorrow we have a market tour of the city, so we know where we can get good produce and other food from local farmers. Sunday, we have a day trip planned to Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Lacock. I’ll definitely keep you all updated!

Here are some pictures from the last few days!

Bath Rugby Grounds

Avon River and Pulteney Bridge

Pulteney Bridge

My friends Audrey and Sam at The Huntsman

Inside of Bath Abbey