Sunday, October 30, 2011

Preparing for Halloween

Today was mostly a work day. Also the first time I had dinner in the Hall at New College. When I came back, we carved a jack-o-lantern. SoHee, who had never carved one, did most of the work and the design, and Frank finished it. I broke out some candy I had bought. Halloween is pretty minor here, but it was fun to do this, especially after last night's party.

Blenheim and Birthday

Yesterday I took the bus to beautiful Blenheim Palace, home of the Spencer-Churchills, birthplace of Winston Churchill, and current home of the Duke of Marlborough. The palace was very nice, I took a short guided tour of the state rooms, then spent most of the rest of my time wandering the grounds. I was there for over 5 hours, trying to see everything I could on the immense grounds, from the Water Terrace where I had lunch, to the Rose gardens, by the lake to the Cacades, then to the Secret Garden, across the bridge to the Column of Victory, and back to the Pleasure Gardens for the Marlborough Maze (2nd largest hedge maze in the world). I walked through Woodstock, a quaint town, afterwards. When I got back, I dressed in a "costume" (a piece of paper and some fake glasses that Brie loaned me) as an essay crisis (the impending horror of a paper due...). I then went to a costumed surprise birthday party for Brendan, one of my friends who is also studying abroad. The party was fun.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Such a Beautiful Place to be with Friends

Yes the quote is from Dobby, but it is strangely appropriate, as Oxford is a great and beautiful place to be with friends.

This morning, my entire house went punting for just over an hour. It was a beautiful fall day, sunny, and fairly warm. Punting was a lot of fun, although the one person in our group who was by far the worst at it was me. We each punted for a while, going around Christ Church meadows. Then we all went to a very fancy lunch at the restaurant Jamie's. It is a gourmet Italian restaurant owned by chef Jamie Oliver. The meal was delicious, though overpriced.

In the evening I went out again with SoHee and Brie, we went to a Korean event at the Union that SoHee organized. Had Korean food, saw some performances and wrote my name in Korean. The best part of the day, is knowing I have a family here in Oxford. Note: I added four pics of ChristChurch chapel from yesterday to the end of the slideshow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


One of the main reasons I came to Oxford was because I love theatre, and plan to make my career as a theatre teacher. Oxford is a wonderful place for theatre, an hour away from the birthplace of Shakespeare in one direction, and London's West End in the other. It is the school where many noted actors got their starts. Yet, what appealed to me, was the simple fact that drama is University-wide. All 38 Oxford colleges, along with Brookes University, and a large number of non-college community members both amateur and professional, all form the rather oversized Oxford Univeristy Dramatics Society.

On Sunday, I had a read-through for Noughts and Crosses, a play based on a YA novel. It is sort of like Romeo and Juliet, only set in a world where whites (Noughts) are a minority and blacks (Crosses) are the majority, and the time is similar to the 60s, especially to the events surrounding the Little Rock Nine (only in reverse). I play Ryan, the father. It is a meaty, challenging role, which I will enjoy, and is a stretch for me- as I am essentially in the white equivalent of the Black Panthers. I also like the role becuase it is not too huge, so I should have time to do another play.

On Monday I auditioned for A Man for All Seasons. It was one of the most challenging auditions I've ever had. It was me, the director, and the Assistant Director alone in the Oscar Wilde Room (a very odd place- pink lights and giant pictures of Wilde) of Magdalen College. I was there for over 40 minutes. I had to present a monologue, then the director, Griff, broke it down by beat and intention, stripping away everything I had prepared and leaving me with just the words. Very intense. I have not heard back yet.

Earlier on Monday, I had my first Play Reading and Creative Writing Tutorial. This was the tutorial I was looking forward to the most, a topic I essentially made up, but they agreed to let me do. My tutor was 20 minutes late, but our session lasted a full two hours- twice as long as we had been assigned, which was great. In the class, I read plays (that session was actually on Wilde, very ironic), analyze them intellectually in a paper and discussion, and then come up with a creative piece based on what we're doing. For the first class, I had written a ten minute scene about the Genesis story but set in a pub, in a very Wilde-like style. It was fun, and I like being able to think about theatre so in depth, going into ideas I hadn't really thought of before, in this case setting the show in an actual pub, to bring a better audience experience.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Parents Come to Oxford

On Thursday, my parents came to Oxford. Using all of the information I had learned on my two walking tours, as well other information picked up here and there, I gave them a walking tour of the city centre. I brought them to the Treasures of the Bodleian exhibit, then we walked through Radcliffe Square to Christ Church Meadows. I had my tutorial while they had tea, then we all had a nice dinner in Eagle and Child.

On Friday, I showed them around New College, taking the pictures above. We walked around the city a lot, climbing St Mary's, visiting the University Parks, shopping at the Covered Market, and sharing a Sticky Toffee pudding at Turf Tavern. They visited my house here, then we met some friends from my brother's wedding Rachel and her mom, as well as my sister-in-law's mother Cathy and her husband Neil. We talked at a pub for a while, then had a nice dinner at 4500 Miles From Delhi, an Indian place. We parted from the group, and my parents and I stayed up chatting at a cozy cafe near their hotel.

On Saturday, my parents and I met at the train station and went to London. We went to the hotel, then went to Olympia. It took much longer to get there than we had planned, so we ended up grabbing a couple cookies and skipping lunch. Then we went to Doctor Who: The Experience! It was tons of fun. We walked in a group through an interactive moving multimedia thing, where we flew the TARDIS, got captured by Daleks, and eventually freed the Doctor from Pandorica II. If you don't know Dr Who, it is a sci-fi show that's been around since the 60s, and is TONS of fun! The walk-through was great, very well done. Then you go through a cool museum featuring all the monsters, all the doctors, several TARDISes and so on. We left the Experience and took a bus, which was taking too long so we hopped on the tube to Southbank for dinner. After some good Mexican food, we went to Wicked! I have been wanting to see the musical for a very long time, and I was not disappointed! The show was outstanding, wonderfully written, staged, and performed. It was amazing. We all spent the night at a hotel, only to have a fire alarm wake us up at 5:45 am. After an English Breakfast, we went to the airport where we parted. it was good to see them, a bit of home in the middle (and this is about the halfway point) of my time away, and some great experiences as well!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


My Shakespeare tutorial ended in September. Today I got my grade and saw my report. Jenny, my tutor, had only positive comments, and the grade was a 68. I thought that was bad but Deepak said it translates to an A minus in US terms, and that is the grade I will get back home. He also said that's very good for a tutorial. Well, one down two to go!

And in completely unrelated news- I have started a new novel! I've written two YA novels already, neither published, and both ok, not great. I feel like this one (totally unrelated to those two) has a much better plot and protagonist. I'm also excited to be writing creatively again!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tolkien's Oxford

Today I had an audition for the play Naughts and Crosses, which I later found out I made. After lunch, I joined the Tolkien Society on a 2 hour walking tour of Tolkien's Oxford. The tour was good, went to his schools Merton, Pembroke and Exeter, saw some of the houses he lived in, and heard some stories about Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman. It is remarkable to think that I am in the city that inspired such great authors.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Today, I woke early and along with SoHee, took the train for a day in York. York is a medieval town, built on an even earlier city. It is a walled city, with a massive cathedral called York Minster. It was a beautiful city, and a beautiful day.

SoHee and I arrived in York, and climbed part of the city wall. We went to the Minster, which was being used for a service. We climbed to the top of the central tower and looked over the city. Then we had lunch at a pub. After lunch, we returned to the Minster, visiting the undercroft and the Minster itself, which was hosting a wedding in the quire, so was filled with music and ringing bells. We then walked through the city, passing another wedding, before going through the Shambles, a narrow street near the York market.

We went to Clifford's Tower (part of the original castle) then walked back to the art gallery, by King's Manor, Bootham bar (one of the entrances to the walled city), and finally to Museum gardens. St May's Abbey, a ruin that reminded me a lot of Glastonbury was on the fields of the gardens, and we also saw our third wedding there. Finally we walked to Micklegate bar along the city wall at sunset, before boarding the train home. It was a fun day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

End of Week One

Week One ends today.

On Wednesday I joined the Oxford Singers- a group of about fifty singers who sing arrangements of pop tunes and movies. It was a lot of fun, and then we all went to Turf Tavern afterwards. I had a cider and a Sticky Toffee pudding with custard, which was absolutely delicious!

Thursday was my first actual tutorial- I spent an hour arguing with my tutor, but in a good way. I've never had to think so much during an hour- I literally was really put on the spot to incorporate so much of my knowledge from a ton of different disciplines- the subject for that session was the difference (or lack of difference) between religion and myth. After the tutorial, I auditioned for the Oxford Imps, an improv group that performs every week at a local pub. There were about sixty people at the auditions, all for a handful of positions. I had a great time at the audition, just played improv games for hours, but I did not make callbacks.

Today I spent the entire day in the Bodleian researching, mostly in Radcliffe Camera. During the evening I went to the first meeting of Taurithorn- the Tolkien society. There were a lot of people there (probably around forty) and we basically just had a party, and played some Tolkien-related games. Left the group early to get ready for my trip to York tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Life is often made of little hurdles. When we're at the beginning, it may seem like an insurmountable mountain, but once we're at the peak we laugh at how easy it was, until we see the next hurdle on the horizon.

My time in Oxford is not purely sight-seeing and fun. I spent all day yesterday and Monday at the Bodleian, researching and writing for my first actual tutorial, a tutorial on mythology. The paper was due today, but I submitted it late last night. My tutor just wrote back with the marked-up essay, and said "this is the best first OPUS essay I've received". I am thrilled. Even though I see now that the paper could have been better, I feel like that first hurdle is passed.

Clubs are also beginning, and now the hurdle becomes time management. I am singing with the Oxford Singers tonight, auditioning for the Oxford Imps tomorrow, hopefully going to Taurithorn's Freshers Moot (Tolkien Society) on Friday, and still looking for plays to audition for! Will I have enough time for all and still find time to get my work done?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Travel to Tintagel

On Saturday, October 8th, I traveled to Tintagel, on the North Coast of Cornwall. I had planned to go there and back again in a day, did not return until late Sunday evening. There are two stories here, both intertwined, one good and one bad.

I woke up early on Saturday, leaving the house at 6am. I took three trains from Oxford to Exeter, and the entire trip took 3 hours. I arrived only to find that the bus to Camelford (which is where pick up a bus to Tintagel) runs only three times on Monday to Saturday, and one of those buses had left five minutes before my train arrived. I waited at the station for two and half hours, reading on my Kindle, before spending two and half hours more on the two buses to Tintagel. The entire trip took eight hours. Tintagel is about three hours away by car, so that was frustrating. The first story, then, is a story of a frustrated traveler. I had not planned to spend the night, but seeing how infrequently the bus ran, I did not have any choice. The bus set me down in front of the large Tintagel Visitor's Center and Tourist Information building. I planned to ask if there was a hostel, or if not, was there somewhere cheap to stay. The Visitor's Center had a sign announcing it was closed due to budget cuts. I knew I needed to find somewhere, so walked through the town. Tintagel has a number of pubs that also have bed and breakfasts on top of them. I tried at a few of these, until I found one with vacancies. The first picture is of my room at the Wootons. It was ok, though right over the bar (so very loud), and honestly over-priced.

The second story of Tintagel began before I checked in, on the bus. It is a story of breathtaking beauty, and of history, myth and legend.

I will begin by explaining the legends associated with the place. According to legend, Uther Pendragon was transformed into the likeness of Gorlois, his enemy, by the wizard Merlin. Uther went to Tintagel Castle, where he slept with Igraine, conceiving Arthur, who would grow to become King Arthur. Tristan and Yseult, a separate myth later tied to the Arthurian cycle also takes place at Tintagel. The nearby town of Camelford, on the river Camel, claims to be built on the site of Camelot. Slaughter Bridge, a mile away from Camelford, is built next to a field where Arthur supposedly battled his son Mordred in the battle of Camlaan. King Arthur's Stone, is what some (including Tennyson himself) claim is the grave of Mordred. It should be noted that there are several other sites throughout England and Wales that claim to be the site of Arthur's birth or the site of Camlaan or Camelot. No one knows for sure if there even was an Arthur. However, Richard Earl of Cornwall (the younger son of King John, and Henry III's brother) believed the legends and in the early 12th century built a massive medieval castle on Tintagel, on top of an early Roman site. It is Richard's castle that is visible today, and his association with the Arthur myths (he is the same one responsible for burying Arthur and Guenevere at Glastonbury) helped create the modern town.

Whether Arthur was real, or ever had any ties to Tintagel, the place is still inspiring. The ride to Camelford was beautiful, driving through quaint Cornish towns, rolling countryside, and past churches and castles. There was only green hills and countryside, but everywhere we drove there were seagulls, reminding me we were on a peninsula.

After checking in I went to the castle. The path to the cliffs were directly behind the bed and breakfast (the view of the Tintagel Church on the cliffs is what I saw from my window). I spent about three hours climbing around the cliffs, Tintagel Island, and then to Glebe Cliff. The ruins are amazing, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I felt like I was in Middle Earth. You walk through woods, where you see nothing, then are suddenly on the ridge of an unprotected cliff face, looking at the Atlantic. The Cornish coast stretches to either side of you, crashing against the rocky shore. The climbs were treacherous, often no railings between you and the sea, and very difficult footing, but breathtaking nonetheless. I had dinner in the King Arthur's Arms pub, and then returned to my room, where I watched the television show Merlin.

On Sunday, I woke very early and walked to Barras Nose, the peninsula next to Tintagel. It is the one pictured in the static image above on the right. I watched the sunrise from Barras Nose, taking photos. The photos are blurry because it was extremely windy, and I actually had to crouch on all fours a number of times, to prevent being blown off the cliff. I then walked to Merlin's Cave, beneath Tintagel, and finally to Glebe Cliff again. I had a full English breakfast then left Tintagel, on the one bus offered on Sundays. I arrived in Camelford at 10:30, and the bus to Exeter did not leave until 1:30. It was cold, windy, and raining, and everything in the town was closed. I thought I was going to have a miserable time there, so wanted to find a pub to wait in. I walked to an inn where people were cleaning up and met a woman named Jo. She brought me to her pub, introduced me to her daughter Ellen, then decided I should go somewhere. On the bus we had passed the Arthurian Centre where they claim Camlaan occurred and where Arthur's Stone is located. I had not expected to go, since I had no car. Jo drove me there, and the owner of the Centre drove me back at the end. The people at Camelford were some of the friendliest people I've met on this trip. The Centre was fun, and though the walk to the Stone was through the rain and mud, it was very neat. I had a large lunch in Jo's pub, then took four trains to finally get home to Oxford.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Freshers Week

This is Fresher's Week. It is also called Zero Week of Michaelmas Term, and each subsequent week is numbered after it, up to Eighth Week. Freshers are new students to Oxford- not just Freshmen, but any new student, myself included. The city, which was quiet for the month of September, is a madhouse. Fresher's Week, in a word, is insane!

Many meetings, appointments, initial meetings with our tutors, induction into the Bodelian Library, tour of the Oxford Union Society (the library pictured is OUS- not the Bodelian) and formal dinners. My housemates all went to formal dinner on Monday, mine was on Wednesday. It was fun. Today (Thursday) was Fresher's Fair -which is a massive and completely insane event where every club, organization, sport, etc in the University (38 colleges) tries to get you to join them. I am excited to audition for plays though, have been working on a monologue, and audition next week!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Good and Bad

Sunday, October 2nd, was a day with positives and negatives. The morning was difficult. I took the bus to Heathrow and had to say goodbye to Rachel. Our time together was wonderful, truly one of the best weeks of my life so far. After Rachel went through security, I took a two hour tube ride to King's Cross Station. I went to platforms nine and ten, only to find that the Harry Potter cart was actually outside the station, and despite the cool picture, really not very exciting. I had lunch in Covent Garden, then walked through Trafalgar, eventually going to the Globe. I bought a return ticket for the final show of the Globe's season: Christopher Marlowe's "Dr Faustus". I had never been to the Globe- I saw them building it from St Paul's in the 90s, and had always wanted to see a show there. I was thrilled to be at this show, which was fantastic. Arthur Darvill, a Dr Who actor, played Metastophones, and was very good. I took Millennium Bridge back at night, but my camera had run out of batteries. Overall, the day was good, though still sad to say goodbye to Rachel.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rachel in Oxford

On September 28, Rachel and I flew to Heathrow. The trip to the airport was longer than we had planned, and we ended up rushing through the airport, just getting to the gate on time. The flight itself was fine, flew over the Alps and France.

We stayed in Oxford for four nights, primarily relaxing, but also visiting the city. When Rachel was younger, she studied for a summer at Cambridge, so it was interesting to bring her here. It was a calmer paced trip then we had in Italy, and with significantly worse food. Our first meal here in Oxford was actually the best food I've had in England, at a nearby Indian restaurant called 4500. We watched Inception on my computer that night. All of my housemates were still gone on their vacations, which was nice because Rachel and I had the place to ourselves.

On the 29th, we went grocery shopping, and then did a two-hour walking tour of the city. We saw them filming an episode of a crime show called Inspector Morse. After that we had a pint of cider in the Rabbit Room of Eagle and Child, drinking in the exact spot Tolkien and CS Lewis held their meetings.

On Friday, September 30, we went to Alice's Shop- where Alice Liddel (the inspiration for Alice's adventures in Wonderland) used to buy candy. The store is now a Lewis Carroll themed shop. We had a coffee in the Grand Cafe, England's first coffee shop, founded in 1650. We climbed to the top of St Mary's for the view, though Rachel didn't like the tiny stairs going up. We also visited the Museum of Science, Blackwells, and the Covered Market, doing some shopping.

On Saturday the 1st, all of the other people in the house came back and met Rachel. We all had breakfast together, then Rachel and I had a very leisurely picnic in the University Park, visiting Oxford Castle on the way. The park was nice, it was the hottest October day in English history, and everyone was outside. We then had ice cream at G and Ds, shopped a bit more, and came back.

This week with Rachel was one of the best weeks of my life so far. I am sad to be away from her for ten weeks now, but so grateful for this amazing vacation, and looking forward to seeing her when I get back!

Catacombs to Popolo

Tuesday, September 27 was Rachel and my last full day in Rome. We checked out of Suites Trastevere- which I would highly recommend, and took the bus to a different bed and breakfast. We checked in, had lunch, then went to the Catacomb of San Callisto. It was very big, and interesting, though we both liked the Necropolis from the day before better. We walked through the city after that. We visited the Church of San Giovanni, had our last gelato, then walked past Trajan's baths to the Colosseum. We took the train to Piazza del Popolo, which we had never been to before, and looked out over the city as night fell. Then we had a large fancy dinner with wine and dessert, our last meal in Rome.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Off the Beaten Path

Monday Sept 26-

Rachel and I awoke early, before they had even laid out breakfast, and headed straight for the Vatican. We had arranged a tour of the ancient necropolis beneath St Peter's Basilica. There was no photography allowed, but the tour was one of the main highlights of my entire time in Rome. The necropolis was ancient, amazing, beautiful, and the tour was fascinating. We saw the actual bones of St Peter (NOT in the big tomb with the candles like most people think), as well as the original Christian burial grounds and chambers, including an interesting blend of pagan and early Christian art.

After the Necropolis we spent about four hours touring the Vatican Museums. It was nice, because we focused on things I had never seen- things not on the way to the Sistine Chapel, such as Etruscan Art, and other rooms, so we saw a lot of new stuff, ending at the Sistine Chapel. After the Vatican, we decided to climb Giancolo Hill. Our room at Suites Trastevere was the Giancolo Room, and we wanted to see the hill. It was away from the tourist area, and we ended up in a beautiful cafe overlooking the entire city at sunset. It was romantic. We had dinner at the Station again- the restaurant near the b and b, that we loved, and had the same waiter, who remembered us, though different food of course. It was a wonderful and thoroughly romantic day, one of the best days of my life to date.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Rome for Two, Day Two

Sunday Sept 25, was Rachel and my first full day together in Rome. We took the tram into the city, and went to St Peter's. While entering the Basilica, the jumbotrons broadcast a live feed of the Pope giving a Mass in Germany. We got to listen to the music while walking through St Peter's Square. After St Peter's, we walked to the Vatican Museums, but they had closed, so we went to the Castle St. Angelo, which Rachel had never been to. We walked around the city afterwards, visiting the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Then we took a boat tour of the Tiber at sunset. We had dinner in a small cafe near Campo di Fiore, almost getting run over by the crazy Italian drivers in the narrow streets. We also had delicious gelato from a place Rachel had visited six years before, near the Trevi fountain. It was a wonderful day.