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!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall Break 09: Scandinavia!

Things Scandinavians love:

1. 7-11s.
2. Strange food combination, i.e. Chinese-Mexican or Swedish-Mongolian.
3. white Converse.
4. their royal family, especially the good-looking members..
5. Michael Jackson.
6. Moose.

Wow, what a break. To be honest, I wouldn't consider it a break, seeing as I got less sleep and was more tired that I usually am. But Scandinavia was an amazing place, and I am thrilled to have gone there. It is one of those places where you may go later in life, but it isn't exactly a hot vacation spot - unless of course you are really into skiing or tobogganing.

Our first stop on our whirlwind tour of the north was Copenhagen, Denmark - 2009's Most Expensive European City. Hooray.

Luckily for us, we were able to stay with two of my friends who are studying in Copenhagen for the semester, Sarah and Carolyn. It was so much fun to see them and was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. They were really great and helped us experience Denmark to its utmost. First off on our list of Danish experiences: Karaoke. Yes, we went to a karaoke bar off the main shopping street, Stroget, in the heard of Copenhagen, and sang such priceless hits as Don't Stop Believin' by Journey, 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love' by The Darkness, and 'The Call' by the Backstreet Boys. The Danish were very into their karaoke, and had some very good singers up there. However, most of the songs they did were in Danish or were some crazy European song we had never heard of before. It was still a ton of laughs though, and was a great first night of fall break.

We learned very quickly that the best Danish food was the Danish Danish. Amazing. After that, the closest we got to a tradition Danish meal was a hot dog from the cart in the main square. It was good, but too much mustard. Also, at $5, it was the cheapest meal we could find. So, we usually ended up getting breakfast and lunch from the local 7-11, something that is found, literally, on every corner. They LOVE 7-11s all over Scandinavia, which I thought was very random.

But, if you read Sarah's blog, you'll know about the delicious Ben and Jerry's Cookie Sandwhich that can be found at these 7-11s. I won't go into as much detail (I think she devoted half her blog to describing them), but I'm pretty sure they are made with deliciousness and rainbows. That's they only way they can be that good.

Anyway, moving on. Our second (and first full) day in Copenhagen, we went for a bit of exploring with Sarah, Carolyn, and Sarah's father, who was visiting as well. Sarah's apartment is right down the Stroget from one of the most famous sights in Copenhagen. This line of different colored houses along a canal features on almost every postcard, and is a truly beautiful sight. It is completely lined with restaurants, which all have out door seating. There are blankets and heating lamps for you, so even in October/November, when it is getting cold, you can sit outside and enjoy your dinner.
As we continued to wander around the city, we stumbled upon a fantastic church in the center of the city. It was right near the royal palace. The Danish really love their royal family, with Queen Margarethe II being only the second queen in Danish history. All the Kings have been named Christian or Frederick. I was surprised by the lack of protection surrounding the palace, which was composed of four buildings in a circle. One building was the home of the Queen, another of her son, one a museum, and one a guest house. You could walk right up to them, and no one would stop you. Of course, the royal family was not in residence, so I'm sure security beefs up when they come.

Later that day, we went to the Carlsberg beer factory. Their slogan? "Probably the best beer in the world." Sarah and Carolyn said this was because the Danes are very modest. I think they are only 'probably' the best beer because they sponsor Liverpool. Just saying.

The Carlsberg Factory was a very cool experience, getting to see how it has developed over the centuries and even getting to pet the draft horses! Not to mention we got two free beers at the end of the tour. Too be honest, I didn't really like Carlsberg, but that could just be my prejudice talking.

What I did like were the massive elephants outside. I don't really know what the deal is with the elephants, but they made for a cool photo-op.
Sunday, Jenna, Sam, Allison and I were on our own, as Carolyn and Sarah had actual work to do. So, we first set out to see some of the many gorgeous parks and gardens Copenhagen has to offer. The colors were just brilliant, despite the wet weather.

As we were wandering, we finally came across one of the most famous tourist attractions in Denmark: The Little Mermaid statue. It was a very cool sight, although it looked like she was in a transitional phase. You can see how she actually has legs here. That was a bit of a bummer, as was the bird sitting on her head for the longest time. Overall, it was slightly underwhelming, but just something you have to see when you go to Copenhagen.
After seeing the statue, we went to the Danish Resistance Museum, which documented Denmark's participation in World War II. It was a very moving museum, and is definitely something I would recommend to anyone going to Copenhagen. Most of what we learn about WWII is the fighting or the Holocaust, but I never really knew that much about resistance fighting in Nazi-controlled areas, so this was a lot of new information for me.

Afterward, we headed to Rosenborg Castle, a renaissance age castle built for the royal family of the time. It was very small as far as royal homes go, but the gardens and the building itself were beautiful.

Inside were hundreds of portraits of previous kings (all named Frederick or Christian) as well as the royal thrones. The crown jewels were in the basement, and it was very easy to get to them, surprisingly. In England, there are armed guards, a moving floor and intense security. There were a few armed guards wandering around here, but nothing like at the Tower of London.

We then went to the Museum of Danish History, but it was closing soon so we had to rush through. It was cool to see some of the Viking artifacts they have, though, especially since I am learning about those types of things in my Middle Ages class. Afterward, we wandered around Copenhagen and seeing some more of the sights.

It was our last night there, with our flight to Stockholm leaving at 6:50am, so we didn't do much that night. However, we didn't go out to this cute cafe for dinner, which - wait for it - WAS ON SAMANTHA BROWN'S PASSPORT TO EUROPE! I was so excited! It was the cafe were you can do laundry in the back and there is a full library in the front so you can read and have a cup of coffee while you wait. So cool.

Early Monday morning, we headed off to Sweden. Stockholm turned out to be my favorite city of the three, mostly because of how friendly the people were and the beautiful sights we saw while there. Stockholm is composed of fourteen different islands, and each has something unique about them. The city center has a lot of business buildings and shopping, another island is purely residential, one has all the museums, another has great parks. The best of all was Gamla Stan, the "Old Town." This was the original Stockholm, before it expanded. The streets are still cobble stoned, there are cute cafes and shops all around, and it is also has some great architecture. There is a very old church there, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and inside was an amazing statue of St. George and the Dragon. It's hard to tell from the picture, but the dragon is composed entirely of elk antlers. Pretty sweet.

We also went on a boat tour of Stockholm harbor, and actually went out into the Baltic Sea, which was pretty cool as well. In the picture is the Vasa Museum, which we also went to. The Vasa was a war ship built by King Gustavus Adolphus in 1628, to be used in fighting the Thirty Years War. On it's maiden voyage, it sailed two kilometers, and then got blown over by some heavy winds. Epic fail on the part of Gustavus Adolphus, but pretty cool for us, since we got to see it, fully intact as it was in the 17th century. About fifty years ago, the Vasa was found in the water and brought up. It even still had paint on it from four hundred years earlier. Now, the museum is one of the main attractions in Stockholm. Unfortunately, my pictures didn't turn out too well, but definitely Google it, because it is amazing.
Another fun part of Stockholm was getting to see the Royal Palace in Gamla Stan. The Swedes are OBSESSED with their royal family, probably because they are amazingly attractive. The Prince looks like Orlando Bloom, and the Princesses like supermodels. They are on every postcard, plate, and coaster. Their palace was pretty cool as well. We went to see the Crown Jewels first (even less security than in Copenhagen), which were breathtaking. Lots and lots of pearls and sapphires. We also saw the oldest part of the palace, which were the ruins of an medieval castle. They were having a fun little thing for kids there, where you had to count the number of ghosts you could find hanging among the exhibits. Jenna and I participated, counted nine ghosts in total, and for our efforts won a magnet. But it was free, so, I was cool with it. The palace itself was extremely lavish, with monstrous rooms, full length portraits, and obnoxiously large chandeliers. I could live there, definitely. The best part, however, was that we were able to catch the changing of the guards.
It was a very cool ceremony, the first one I've seen. They had a military band there as well. The best part, was when, after marching around for awhile, the band came forward and started playing a song we recognized instantly: Eye of the Tiger. Now, we thought maybe it was a joke, but apparently, the Swedes love that song. So yes, the Swedish Military Band performed the Rocky theme song at the changing of the guard in front of the royal palace. And then, very anti-climactically, the guards changed. On literally stepped aside, and another one took his place. Simple as that.

Oslo was our third and final stop on the tour, but to be completely honest, I was a bit disappointed with it. It was Tall metropolitan buildings, tram systems, graffiti, and no uniformity. I like to see buildings that look the same - hence, my love for Bath. Oslo, save one street, Karl Johan's Gatte, wasn't like Bath. Karl Johan's Gatte is pictured below.

Oslo is Europe's 2nd most expensive city, so a lot of stops a 7-11 were made here as well. I really wanted to buy a Norwegian sweater, but when the cheapest was $200, I decided to just get a postcard instead. Plus, I can get one from Land's End that looks just like it.

For the third country in a row, we visited the royal palace. It was a beautiful building at the end of Karl Johan's Gatte, and looks down the long avenue all the way to the sea. Our friend Ken, who had joined us for our Norwegian tour, went right up to a guard and asked, "How do we get in?"

Needless to say, the guard was none too please, and informed us quite curtly that we could not enter the palace when the royal family was in residence. Boy, did we feel like stupid tourists. But really, in England, you could never just walk up to the front doors of Buckingham when the queen was there. You can't even do that when the Queen isn't there. But in Oslo, we could have rang the doorbell if we wanted. Anyway, this was the only palace we didn't get to go into.

We did however, have an opportunity to go into the ugliest building in Oslo, and they really couldn't refuse us: The American Embassy. We headed there thinking that maybe they would give us free coffee or something, but there were massive fences, guard dogs and armed soldiers standing outside, so we decided to keep moving.
The Radhus (City Hall) was not the most attractive building either. But it was located right on the harbor and has a great view of fjords.
We went to the Nobel Peace Center as well. Here, they were having a special exhibition called "From King to Obama." It focused mostly on Martin Luther King Jr, who won the prize in 1964. I knew most of the information it had from my history classes, but it was interesting to see the civil rights movement from the perspective of another country. On the second level, they had features about the history of the award, the recipients, how the winner is chosen, and other different aspects of the award. I thought it was pretty interesting, but not my favorite part of Oslo. That came later.
The area surrounding the city is very picturesque. There are the beautiful fjords, parks, gardens, and lakes. In the winter, the lakes freeze over and are very popular with locals for ice skating. Unfortunately, it was not cold enough for us to do that yet, even though it was in the high 30s while we were there.

One of the highlights of Oslo was going to the Edvard Munch museum. You may recognize his most famous work, The Scream.

He had many other pieces, however, my favorite being The Kiss (below). All of them are expressionist paintings, and they are all done with bright, vivid colors. I'm not into art as much as I should be, but I did enjoy this museum immensely.

My favorite part of Oslo, however, was the Viking Museum. There, we saw three huge Viking ships, which had been unearthed in Norway within the last century. The Ships, which were from the early 600s, were almost intact when they were discovered. They had been used for the burials of elite members of viking society, and within them were gold jewels, sacrificed animals, and elaborate artifacts like pots and clothing. They even found peacock feathers! In Norway! In 600 AD! It just goes to show how mighty the Vikings were and just how far their trade routes extended. I'm taking a History of the Middle Ages class, and the vikings figure prominently in that time, so it was fascinating to be able to see some of their ships. Definitely a must see in Oslo!

Coming home, it was nice to be back in the semi-warm weather. It was also nice to sleep in my own bed! 10 days of non-stop travel is enough to make anyone worn out. I had a fantastic time, but it is definitely good to be back in Bath. We head to Stratford-upon-Avon next week, to see some Shakespeare plays by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It will be a lot of fun, and will be the subject of my next entry. Until then!