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!

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