Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two Christmases

Christmas this year was very nice.  I drove to Delaware to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Rachel and her family.  She has a huge family, and it was a lot of fun, though the first time I've been away from my parents on Christmas Day itself.  On the 26th, we drove to my parents' house and had a "second" Christmas with my family.  It was fun and the two holidays were lovely. I'm glad to be home with Rachel and my family, and glad to have so many loving and supportive people in my life.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Feeling Strange

Culture shock is a term used to describe coming back home and feeling very out-of-place.  When I came back to my room, I hardly recognized it.  It felt like a new hotel, or like visiting a childhood house I haven't been to in years.  Things continue to feel surreal, but are gradually returning to normal.  I spent the weekend with Rachel, which was absolutely wonderful, and whether it feels like home or not, it definitely feels like I belong.  Now, with Christmas less than a week away, and work tomorrow, it's time to finish adjusting quickly.  Again, these past three and half months have been the best of my life.  I am so glad I did them, and they will be a part of me for the rest of my life.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Flights Home and Recap

Yesterday, I flew from Brussels to London, then after a 6 and half hour layover, left Europe and headed back to the US.  On the flight to London, we circled over the city four times, each time flying lower.  The final flight we were so low that I could see people walking, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, St Paul's, and many other notable sights in London.  The first movie I watched on the way to the States was then X-Men First Class, much of which takes place in (and was filmed in) Oxford.  Returning home was odd, it honestly felt like yet another hotel, but I am slowly adapting back.

This has been the greatest trip of my life.  Here is the recap video- click to watch (it's a little long, but is excellent at showing all of the highlights of my amazing adventure):

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bruges, Chocolate, and the Final Day


Today was my last day in Europe, as I fly home tomorrow.  I spent the day in Bruges, which is only an hour away by train.  Bruges is a beautiful city, sort of similar to Ghent, though with a bit more to see, and honestly more touristy as well.  The center was filled with Christmas Markets and all of the streets played music.  I did a self-guided walking tour (bought a little guide book at the tourist shop), although it was bitterly cold and sleeting/raining most of the time I was there.  I had to keep ducking in stores until I could feel my fingers again.  I climbed the belltower after a delicious lunch, which was croquettes and my first of three hot chocolates.  I had another hot chocolate at a small shop, just to warm up, then at the end of my walk I went to a tea room and had a waffle and the best cup of hot chocolate ever.  They brought a giant bowl (more like a tub) of warm milk, along with a bowl made of dark chocolate (I had chosen dark), filled with small dark chocolate pieces.  I put all of the pieces and the chocolate bowl itself into the milk, added sugar, and whisked (they served it with a whisk)- it was phenomenal.  I ended the day by walking to the edge of town to look at the Flemish windmills at sunset, the one time it stopped raining/sleeting.  I came back to Brussels, and my final night here is in a gorgeous suite.  My tiny cramped, uncomfortable room had problems, when the bathroom ceiling turned into a permanent shower (leaking massive amounts of rainwater from the ceiling), so they've moved me to one of the deluxe suites just for the night.

best hot chocolate ever

Belgium was fun, Flanders feels very Dutch, but Brussels feels almost exclusively French.  It's also interesting to compare Belgium to the Netherlands.  On the tour to Zaanse Schans I had learned that the Netherlands has a surplus of water, and the country is constantly finding ways to control and get rid of it.  I think Belgium has a similar issue, not with water but with delicious chocolate.  In nearly all of the chocolate shops (there is literally a chocolate shop every way you turn- even more common than gelato shops in Rome) they give you free samples.  On the train today they walked down the aisles handing out free chocolate.  Even on my pillow in the hotel, it's not mints, it's chocolate.  This is a very tasty country.

A side note, the blog will NOT end here, although the trip is over, I will continue to use this (probably a little less frequently) as a normal blog.  Please continue to read...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

From Comics to Ghent

Comics to Ghent

The first thing I did this morning was return to the Comic Strip museum.  I went and enjoyed it a great deal.  It was primarily European comic strip artists such as Herge (maker of Tintin) and Peyo (maker of Smurfs), though there were others mentioned as well.  It was fun.  Afterwards I had considered leaving the country, and possibly taking a train to Luxembourg or Paris, but the cheapest trains were 200 euros or more.  So instead, I went to Ghent.  Ghent is a city I knew nothing about, except that there was a treaty signed here (ended the War of 1812).  It was a very beautiful place, and a lot of fun, also a very friendly town.  It took almost an hour to walk from the train station to the center of town (took the tram back when leaving), but once there it was nice.  I climbed the Bell Tower, went to the gorgeous cathedral, then to Gravensteen Castle.  I grabbed some take-away, then took the train back for a slightly early and more relaxed evening.  Tomorrow is my final day in Europe, as I fly back to the States on Thursday.  I have mixed feelings about the end of this amazing adventure, both very sad (that it's all ending far too soon) and very happy (to be going back to Rachel and my family).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Brussels to Antwerp

Brussels to Antwerp

This morning, I walked through Brussels going to one of the things in the city I wanted to see the most- the comic museum.  This city is renowned for comic strip art, and there are many wall paintings throughout the city, as you will see in the pics.  However I learned that the museum is closed on Mondays.  I walked through some of the city, looking at the painted walls and going to a church, then took a city sightseeing bus tour, getting off at the Atomium, a massive replica of a molecule that is left over from the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels.  I went to the top, finished the bus tour, then took a train to Antwerp.  Antwerp is a fun city, and much more Dutch feeling than the very French Brussels.  It is of course the capital of Flanders.  I walked around and visited the cathedral, which was filled with paintings by artists such as Rubens (who is from there).  I walked through their Christmas Market, then had dinner.  Continuing my attempts to try new local dishes I had roast wild boar with goat cheese- it was delicious.  Came back to Brussels and enjoyed my first cup of Belgian hot chocolate at Winter Pret- I honestly don't know what it is about chocolate here, but it tastes better than any chocolate I've had.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Today I woke fairly early and took the three-train ride (through Utrecht and Breda) to Brussels, Belgium.  The train rides were fine, though lugging all of my stuff was annoying.  I got to Brussels, and emerged from the Metro in the middle of Winter Pret- the massive Christmas Market that is centered less than a minute from the hotel.  I went to the hotel and they gave me a suite with two bedrooms, a living room, two bathrooms, and a full kitchen.  They told me to come back later when the room was made.  I came back at night, and it had been a mistake- my actual room is about the size of a large cupboard, and the entrance is actually the bathroom.

I had lunch at the Market, then spent the rest of the day wandering around the city.  It's a very pretty city, and I especially liked it at night.  The winter markets all came alive.  The stores were all open very late, and in the central square there was a light and music show.  I had a traditional Belge dinner in one of the restaurant-filled alleys that surround the central square.  It was a three-course meal of croquettes, waterzooi (a buttery stew with chicken), dessert (caramel flan) and a beer- all for about the same price as a typical one-course meal with smaller portions in Amsterdam.  I watched the light show and went through the Christmas markets before heading back to the hotel.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dutch Countryside

What better way to spend my final day in the Netherlands than to go out to the Dutch Countryside.  I spent the morning walking Amsterdam again.  The city was much busier today, probably because it's now a weekend.  I took a few pictures, then got on a bus filled with people.  They ran out of seats, so I ended up in the front with our guide.  I had booked a five hour excursion into North Holland.  The bus tour had an audio guide as we went, and there were three stops.  I learned that there is no country called "Holland".  The IJ separates two Dutch provinces, North Holland to the north and South Holland to the south of the waterway, but there are ten other provinces in the country of the Netherlands.  Most of the country lies well below sea-level, which is why there's so much water everywhere.  It was a beautiful day today, clear skies, though bitterly cold.  Still, a good day to drive out of the city.

Zaanse Schans

Our first stop was my favorite.  We went to Zaanse Schans, a small town filled with actual Dutch windmills. There is also a massive cocoa factory on the edge of town, so the entire place smells like chocolate (smell was very strong and very good).  We had a demonstration at a local cheese farm on how they make cheese.  Dutch cheese is famous, from Gouda and Edam (both towns I've passed) to everything in between, it's one of the country's biggest exports.  We had free samples of many delicious cheeses, then some free time.  I went inside one of the windmills, climbing to the top and watching it grind chalk.

Dutch Countryside

Our next stop was Maarken, a small village built on an island on the IJsselmeer, the largest lake in Western Europe, and one of the largest artificial lakes in the world.  Maarken was a fishing village in the North Sea, until the creation of the IJsselmeer, so the town was forced to change a lot.  While there, we went to a clog-maker's and were given a demonstration in how they make clogs, before having free time in the village.  Our final stop was just after sunset in the small town of Volendam, also on the lake.  Volendam is supposed to be where people wear traditional Dutch clothes, although no one was out in any today, possibly because of the cold.  We had a dinner break, and I had weiner schnitzel, something I had heard of but never tried.  A nice Italian couple from the same tour ate dinner with me, but did not speak much English.  Back in Amsterdam, I watched a street performer for a while, then took some last photos before heading back to the hotel.  I've had a fun time in the Netherlands.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rotterdam, Travel, and Delft

Rotterdam to Delft

Today was interesting.  I left Amsterdam at 10 am and took a train to Rotterdam.  The train ride was fine, and I got out and spent about two and half hours walking the city.  I had lunch at a pancake house, went in one of the weird cube houses, and looked in the church, going back once the hail and wind picked up.  (Sunny one minute, hail the next).  I then tried to take a train to Delft.  My original ticket was a return for Delft but the woman told me to get off at Rotterdam or wherever I wanted (the tickets aren't checked).  The train station at Rotterdam was a nightmare- no information desk, hordes of people, and everything only written in Dutch, while half the station was under construction.  I got on what I thought was the right train, and it was a train with no stops that went all the way back to Amsterdam.  At Amsterdam I then spent about 40 minutes trying to find a train to Delft.  I finally found one, but there was a technical issue and the train stopped in the Hague, forcing everyone to disembark (luckily a woman next to me told me what was going on, no English announcements or anything).  I found a train from the Hague to Delft, but didn't arrive until just after 5, when it was already dark.  I walked around, taking pictures.  Despite the dark, I still got a bit of a feel for the city, which is similar to Amsterdam with its canals, bridges, and gabled houses.  I went to a few stores, then went to the first open restaurant I could find, desperately seeking a bathroom.  It turned out to be a gourmet "tasting" restaurant- but they allowed me to get a single dish (rather than the twenty expensive tasting ones), a delicious rarebit, which is a type of rabbit served with cheese and veggies on toast.  Finally made it back to Amsterdam, quite tired.  I should note that despite the train issues, it was a good day, saw some good stuff, and I got a lot of reading done on the trains.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Canals and Cuisine

My second full day in Amsterdam began fairly early. I tried the breakfast in the hotel, which was a mistake because it was ridiculously overpriced, although I did get to try a Dutch pancake. Countries are funny about food. In England, what they call "pancakes" is a cross between a crepe and a plain flour tortilla- and frankly they're pretty gross. Here there are tons of pannekoek houses, which serve nothing but Dutch pancakes all day long. The hotel offered some as part of the continental breakfast and they are delicious- mine had apples and cheese, though they come in many sorts and are sort of like thin slices of fried dough.
Amsterdam Two
After breakfast I walked from Waterlooplein to the house of Rembrandt. Rembrandthuis is a neat museum with reconstructed living spaces, painting studios and so on. I then went to a canal cruise which left from in front of the Heineken Brewery (I did not go to the Brewery). The canal cruise was about an hour and half, and was definitey one of the highlights of my time here- the tour guide was very funny. For example, while learning about the gabled canal houses he mentioned the famous gables: stepped, bell, pediment, and Clark. We went all around the city. I learned that my hotel is not on a canal, but on the Amstel River, the only natural river in the city, and that the city is named for a dam built on the Amstel. The beautiful city does feel like Venice, there are so many canals and houseboats. It was also nice to look at the city from inside a warm boat, as the weather has been very, very cold. I had a late lunch, then walked through Chinatown and St Nikolasskerk to the Maritime Museum. It was only open for an hour when I got there, but I went, and got a quick look. I then walked by Artis at night, which is a zoo, planetarium, botanic garden, and paleontology site. Walking by a zoo a night is a little weird. I then continued to feel weird as I walked through the Red Light district again, before heading to Rembrandtplein to have a fancy dinner at IndiaPura- an Indonesian restaurant. Rachel had strongly suggested trying Indonesian food in Amsterdam, and it was without a doubt the best meal I've had since Italy. Since my last best meal was with Rachel, and this one suggested by her, I now associate Rachel with excellent food. :-)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Around Amsterdam

Around Amsterdam

I spent all of today in Amsterdam, taking in the city.
It has so many canals, I've never been to Venice, but I imagine Venice must be like this- they are literally everywhere.  You cross a bridge about every two minutes.  There are also tons and tons of bicycles- they have their own bicycle streets parallel to the automobile streets.  Amsterdam is a beautiful city with its canal houses, tall churches, and many squares (pleins).  I walked first to Anne Frank's house, where she wrote her famous diary and where she hid from the Nazis until being taken to the camps and murdered.  The experience there was very moving, and very well done.  I left and made my way to the Amsterdam Museum, where I had lunch.  The museum was fun- it's extremely high-tech, you use your program to activate displays (so they know what language to do them) and it presents a history of the city from settlement through the modern day.  I enjoyed it.  I then walked through the flower market and Leidseplein on my way to the museum district.  I visited the Rijksmuseum, which was ok- mostly Rembrandt and some other Dutch masters.  I then went to the Van Gogh museum, which was very good.  I had Argentian steak (they have a million of the Argentian places around the city) for dinner, and then headed back to the hotel.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

From Oxford to Amsterdam

Yesterday was my final day in Oxford. It felt surreal. I gave in my phone, signed out, got my final grades (two A minuses and an A in Mythology), and then felt weird. I did some shopping and headed home. We had a Farewell Party for OPUS, which was good but again bittersweet, and then I stayed up until after midnight saying goodbye and hanging out with my good friends Rachel and Jacob.

This morning, I woke early and drove out of Oxford for the final time.  I took a flight (shortest flight I've ever been on- whole thing was under an hour) to Amsterdam.  The Netherlands were strange to fly over, there's just as much water as land- even "inland".  Everywhere seemed to be canals and rivers.  My hotel is beautiful, though was difficult to get to initially with all of my luggage.  After checking in I walked around the city a bit.  It is definitely a frat boy's paradise- tons of pot, sex, and booze.  But it is still a fun city.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Welsh Wonders

For my final trip within the UK, I went to Northern Wales, a land filled with mountains, lakes and natural beauty.  A land where you hear almost no one conversing in English, Welsh is the daily language.  A land of castles and history.  And yes, a land of sheep.

At Castell Conwy
On Friday, I took a delayed train ("waiting for a crew member"- the train was 30 minutes late and I missed my connection) to Conwy, which took over 6 hours.  Conwy was beautiful, a castle built by Edward I, on the northern coast of Wales, in a medieval walled city.  I only stayed in the city for about 2 hours, just time to see the castle and a tiny bit of the town.  I then took the over 2 hour bus trip along the coast.  I could see Angelsey (Ynys Mon), a massive island, just across the water to my right, and the immense mountains of Snowdonia National Park (Eryri) to my left.  At least I could see them until we got near Bangor, at which point I could mostly just see rain.  I went to Caernarfon, but by the time I got there it was dark.  I spent over 30 minutes wandering the town trying to find the hostel, and ended up just going to sleep after dinner at a pub.  This was actually the first time I've ever stayed at a hostel.  It was nice, and there were only two other guests while I was there, one of whom ended up being a new friend.

Saturday was a busy day.  I awoke early (unintentionally) and wandered the town of Caernarfon.  I crossed the river and climbed to a tower which turned out to be a power station, either built to look medieval, or built into a medieval structure.  I returned and went to Caernarfon Castle itself.  It was very similar to Conwy, but still beautiful, in many ways more complete than Conwy.  The sun broke through the clouds, lighting Snowdonia behind the castle, and the water in front.  I climbed most of the towers and looked at the exhibits.  Caernarfon is where the Prince of Wales is given his title, it is the capital of Gwynedd, and it is another of Edward I's castles.  It is also unusual in its use of angular towers and colored stone.  It was a very impressive castle.  I ate lunch looking at the city walls, which circle the central town and passed right by my hostel, then took a bus to Llamberis.  LLamberis is a small Welsh town in Snowdonia Park, right at the base of Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales.  There is a train that goes to the top in the summer months, but it was closed.  I decided to walk the LLamberis path towards the summit.  To reach the summit would have taken 3 hours (and another 3 hours return), so I only went to Halfway House, which took just over an hour and a half and was a very strenuous hike.  The area was stunningly beautiful, Llamberis lake behind me growing smaller, mountains all around me, dropping into grassy, sheep-filled valleys, ruins of castles and manor homes all across the landscape.  I returned and went to Dolbadarn Castle, a ruin of a keep between the lake and the mountains.  Then I walked around a bit before returning to the same pub in Caernarfon and the hostel.  I finished my eBook (Terry Pratchett's "Reaper Man") and started "The Hunger Games".

Dolbadarn Castle

Today (Sunday), I took the train to Birmingham.  I met my friends Gemma and Rob, two of Kelly's friends from the wedding.  Gemma is very pregnant, and both are excited about the upcoming baby.  We had planned to do the Birmingham Christmas Market, which was much more of what I had expected a Christmas market to be like than Hyde Park.  Instead of lots of crazy rides, it was just shops and food.  However, the bad thing was it was raining!  We went to a pub for lunch, then walked through the market and to a mall.  It was good to see them, and then I took the train home.  When I got back to Oxford, a full fireworks display went off, literally just outside the window.  I think it was Oxford Castle, which had a Christmas Lighting ceremony.  It was a nice welcome back for my second-to-last night in the UK.

Though very sad to go, I spoke to Rachel tonight, and I am looking forward to seeing her and everyone at home a great deal.  The adventure of a lifetime is drawing to a close, but the memories will live on forever...  And before they're done, I still have a day left in Oxford, and 10 days to party on the Continent...

Last Days in Oxford

 Eighth Week was a much more relaxed week than any weeks previous.  After my day in London ending in Matilda (Tuesday), I signed in for the final time at the OPUS office.  I learned that my grade from my Mythology Tutorial was an A and his comments were glowing.  On Wednesday I went to a rugby game- the first I've ever seen- that Rachel Young was playing in.  The game was great- Oxford beat Bath by over 50 points, it was a slaughter.  The game is really fun too, now that I finally understand it, or at least the basics.  My friends and I shared snacks over mulled wine at Chequers, then I had choir practice with the Oxford Singers.  I also worked on my novel, which is definitely progressing.  On Thursday, I had my concert with the Singers- which was great fun.  I spent a lot of the day with my friends Shire and Holly, the other two OPUS students in the Singers.  All of the choir went for drinks afterwards, and it was sad saying goodbye.  This past few days have been really mixed- on the one hand I'm miserable that all of this is coming to an end: my incredible adventure, my time on my own, my time with so many wonderful new friends- many  of whom I really hope I see again.  On the other hand, part of me misses Rachel, my family, even the US.  I've been away a long time, and there's a part of me that's definitely ready to head back.  So, very mixed feelings...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last Look at London

Monday was my final Tutorial.  I enjoyed all of my tutorials immensely, and though I won't miss the immense amounts of work, I will miss the amazing intellectual discussions- I did learn a great deal.  I celebrated by going to the Oxford Imps one last time- a few of my friends from Noughts and Crosses met me there- and as always it was a really fun and high-energy show.

Yesterday, I went to London one last time. I walked by St Paul's, over Tower Bridge, and around the Tower of London before heading to the West End.  I picked up my ticket, then went back to Covent Garden and Chinatown.  I then saw a brand-new musical (opened just a month ago)- the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Roald Dahl's "Matilda". It was one of the best musicals I've seen, and the only time I've ever seen a West End audience give a full standing ovation! Absolutely phenomenal show- great acting, fantastic music and writing, incredible special effects and staging, and a great way to end my final day in London!  The final picture in the slide show is a production photo from the Matilda website.

I brought my laptop on the bus, and was able to work on my novel.  I also finished reading the final C.J. Sansom novel and moved on to a new novel.  I mention this because some of my friends do not understand how I've been in tutorials, a full play, and a choir, and yet still have time to travel every week, write a novel, and read for pleasure.  My answer- don't know, but glad I do- this has truly been the time of my life!

One problem with the bus ride back was I kept switching soundtracks in my head.  So here are my three favorite songs from the three West End musicals I saw:


The Lion King


And now two weeks of vacation in Europe...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Big Week

7th Week at Oxford was undoubtedly my Big Week.  I had my last papers for both tutorials, tech week and all of the performances for Noughts and Crosses, and Thanksgiving.  It was a busy week, at times a little stressful, yet still an amazing week.

Sunday was our first day in Lady Margaret Hall, rehearsing the play.  We had rehearsals through Wednesday, including the worst dress rehearsal I've ever been in on Tuesday night.  Wednesday night was opening, and the show was pretty good, it had miraculously come together at the last minute.

Thursday was technically Thanksgiving, but we did not celebrate then.  I called home, which was nice, and made cornbread dressing (basically a casserole of cornbread, chicken soup, sausage, and cooked veggies)- a dish I make every Thanksgiving.  However, there was no time to make cornbread, and cornbread can't be bought here, so I used pound cake instead- came out wonderfully.  I made half the recipe, left it on the stove, then ran to ChristChurch to watch Brie in a regatta.  I then ran back (it's over 30 minutes away) to finish cooking.  I then had my final Mythology in Literature tutorial.  Unlike my previous tutorials, this session focused on my own writing.  I had submitted a query letter, synopsis, and outline of the novel I started here in Oxford (I've written about 20 thousand words of the first draft).  It was a lot of fun, and I was a little sad when the tutorial was over.  We had a great performance of the show that night.

Thanksgiving Spread
Friday was one of the best days of my entire time abroad.  I came downstairs and worked on my novel, while we put an internet recording of the Macy's Day Parade on.  Frank, Brie, and Rachel were in the kitchen.  We then had a massive Thanksgiving celebration.  There were 8 people here from the beginning (including me and my housemates), and another two came later.  The spread was amazing.  Two turkeys, both stuffed; my cornbread dressing, which was one of the most popular things; sweet potatoes with orange and marshmallow; green bean casserole; mashed potatoes; jello salad; butternut squash; rolls; salad; cranberry sauce; plenty of wine.  Rachel, her husband Jacob, and her sister Tamara, had us write something we were thankful for on cutout leaves, then we read each others' leaves.  We ate and ate, then I went upstairs and spent an hour skyping my wonderful girlfriend Rachel.  After that, everyone here played some games ("families" - a fun game I had never played) before dessert- apple pie, magic bars, and carrot cake.  I then had a performance of Noughts and Crosses- we sold out that night, place was packed- and everyone from my house, plus Jacob and Tamara came and saw it.  They loved the play and we all went for drinks at Lamb and Flag afterwords.  On our way home, it passed midnight, and SoHee turned twenty-one, so we all sang to her.

Noughts and Crosses cast party

Saturday was crazy.  I had a matinee for Noughts and Crosses, then finished (still in the theatre) my final essay for my time in Oxford.  The cast ate pizza and then sang (everyone sang solos and some group songs).  Then we had our final performance, which was also our best performance.  The cast party was immediately afterwards, mostly dancing and fun times.

Covent Garden
On Sunday, I went to Londan with Rachel, Jacob, and Tamara.  We went out to lunch and then saw the Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre.  The show was wonderful, I had seen it once before years ago, but absolutely loved it- although it was odd to hear some of the lions with English accents.  We had gelato after the show, at a place owned by real Italians.  Then we walked through Covent Garden, looking at the decorations, before heading to the massive Christmas Market at Hyde Park.  It was honestly a little odd, though really neat.  I've never seen such a commercialized side to Christmas- Santa pubs, Santa roller coaster, Santa climbing the side of a massive Pirate Ship ride- the pics will explain that more.  We were going to go ice skating but it was too pricey, and was also pricey at V and A, so we ended up going to Jacob's house.  He's been living with a host family in a Victorian house on the outskirts of town.  He then told me we should go to church.  I know Rachel and Jacob are Christian, so I agreed to go to church.  We walked to the steepled building,  though the archway and into- a pub!  One of the most interesting pubs I've been to.  Had a pint and a double shot before heading to Alexandra Palace, for some great views of the city at night.  I then took the bus back (alone) to the tube, only to find that the Underground trains had stopped running for the night (It was midnight then).  Jacob came and helped me figure out how to take the buses back to Victoria, and I ended up back in Oxford at 3am.  This was a great week!

Hyde Park

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend of 6th

Saturday was a good, relaxing day.  I went busking with the Oxford Singers, singing a capella in the middle of Cormarket Street to raise money for leukemia research.  It was fun, but I only had time for one set.  The picture is of a group who performed after us, and were significantly more talented.  I left the Singers with my friend Holly, and we met our friends Cari and Leeza.  The four of us took a bus to the Kilns, the home of C.S. Lewis in Oxford.  We had a private tour from a very nice elderly man who had met Lewis and the family.  It was fun.  I went back and after shopping a bit, went to a play at the Oxford Playhouse.  The play was Clytemnestra: which was Aeschylus's Libation Bearers performed in Ancient Greek (with translations on the side) but with a completely Japanese Noh theatre aesthetic.  It was very interesting, though quite confusing at times.

Today was an all-day rehearsal at Lady Margaret Hall, where my play is performing. I am excited about the production, it's coming together, though will it be ready by Wednesday...? Hopefully yes. This was the beginning of Tech Week, or Hell Week as we call it in the States. Long rehearsals every day until opening, which is Wednesday!

Friday, November 18, 2011

6th Week

Sixth week is drawing to a close.  It has mostly been a week of hard work, apart from the trip to Brighton.  Tutorials are definitely winding down, I have three left total, but only two of those are research-based, and a number of my friends here have finished one of their two tutorials completely.  I went to the Imps again on Monday, always hilarious.  I also had a number of get-togethers with my cast members practicing our lines, since we open Wednesday.  I found out that my entry in the New Writing Festival did not advance to the finals, primarily because it is long and too difficult to stage (they wanted shorter, simpler pieces).  I told my mythology tutor it wasn't the end of the world.  We then had our session, which was on the end of the world.  My drama experience, apart from my tutorials (which I've learned a lot of drama in), has thus been limited to the one play I'm in.  I'm still thrilled to be here, and have learned so much.  Not just in the tutorials, but also in travels and day to day activities, lessons about myself and the world.  This has been the experience of a lifetime!

On Thursday I attended my second debate at the Union.  It was a debate on the 2-state solution in Israel/Palestine.  All of the guest speakers except one dropped out about an hour before the debate, a huge statement in itself- so it ended up being a student debate, still interesting and still very unresolved.
Side note: mulled ginger wine rocks!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Day at the Beach

Today, SoHee and I spent the day in Brighton.
It is a beautiful resort city on the English Channel. We walked around, it was sunny but cold, then headed to the beach, which was very rocky. Piers extend into the Channel, covered with arcades and amusement park styled rides, a bit like Ocean City. We then walked back into town, and visited the Royal Pavilion. It is an odd but really beautiful palace, built by George IV (as prince regent) and used by monarchs until Queen Victoria sold it to the city of Brighton. It is Indian-looking on the outside, and the inside (no photos allowed) is excessively ornate in Chinese and Georgian styles, filled with dragons, snakes, and other massive creatures. The Dining Hall has enormous dragons holding chandeliers in their claws, which was really cool. We went back to the beach after eating, and walked it at night before heading back.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

From Lorien to London

Last night, the Tolkien society met at Magdalen bridge. We walked to a remote site, east of the river. Candles had been set up, and a large bonfire roared. Half the group were in cloaks, and we had to walk through the dark woods to get there, it did feel very much like Lorien. And then, I kid you not, someone lost their ring, and started asking if we had seen it. I hope it didn't fall in a volcano. There were fireworks, sparklers, barbeque, mulled wine, songs, skits, and a lot of fun. I was at the "Gandalf's Fireworks" for about five hours, and still left the group early.

Today I took the bus to London.
I walked through Hyde Park, passing the fair which is set up for Santaland, a large carnival-style Christmas thing. I walked through Kensington Gardens a few times, making sure I saw all the things I wanted, I had never visited them before. I went to the Orangery, a restaurant at Kensington Palace, and had venison sausage with Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes. It was good, but expensive, and I ended up not going to the palace itself. Instead, I walked to the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum. I rushed through all three, just trying to get a taste. I also visited Harrods, which I'd also never been to, and which is very large. I walked back to Victoria, bused back, and then made dinner which came out well.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Canterbury Tale

Today was a great day, and as I write I am in a fantastic mood.  Oskar, my mythology tutor just told me my paper for this week is the best one I've written, and ironically it was the most fun to write (looking at wolves and werewolves in myth from Aesop and Romulus to Harry Potter and Twilight).  Yesterday I registered for classes at Catholic, and it is my final registration ever, since I don't think I'll go past the Master's level academically.  As part of registering I submitted my first proposal for my MA Thesis, and applied for Graduation this May.  The end of a long academic career is in site!

After dinner last night, I went to the Wheatsheaf pub.  A queue (line) forms very fast every Monday for the Oxford Imps, who perform above the pub in a small theatre/bar every Monday.  I went to the show, sitting right up front and laughed very hard.  I had tried out for the Imps earlier but didn't get in.  They're fun, filled with energy, and were really funny.  Had a good evening.

Today I woke early and took the train to Canterbury.  I spent six hours total traveling (3 hours either direction, changing and using the Tube in London) and only 4 hours in Canterbury, but it was good, because I got a lot of reading done on the train, and also worked on my lines.  The weather was also not the best, very overcast, cold, and it was raining by the end of my time there.  A lot of the attractions closed much earlier than I had expected, since it is off-season, some closing at 3 and 4, which also was a problem.

Despite all of those things, I had a wonderful trip.
I hadn't known it was so associated with Kit Marlowe, but it is the town where he was born and baptized, and it had a parallel feel to Marlowe the way Stratford-upon-Avon feels about Shakespeare.  One of my first sights entering the city walls was the massive Marlowe Theatre, and the statue of his characters, again similar to the statues of characters in front of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford.

I visited a hospital where pilgrims, similar to those in the Canterbury Tales stayed.  Then I went to the Cathedral, which was amazing- I liked the spot where Thomas Beckett had been murdered by knights acting for Henry II.  Beckett was beatified as saint almost immediately, and his tomb was a major pilgrimage, inspiring stories of pilgrims.  Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are based on a group of pilgrims traveling to the tomb.  The Cathedral was both massive and stunning, but also filled with history, including kings and the Black Prince buried there, and of course Beckett, for whom I was given the middle name Thomas.

After the Cathedral I wandered the town a bit.  Canterbury has many old features, a Norman wall, part of which is Anglo-Saxon, a ruined Norman castle built by William the Conqueror, a ruined Abbey, and the Cathedral itself, which is now a World Heritage site.  But the city itself feels remarkably modern in a distinctly English way.  I walked to a 45-minute self-guided tour through The Canterbury Tales using lights, wax figures, sets, and some animatronics, etc.  It was really well done, I expected it to be a bit touristy, but they did a fantastic job of both telling some of the best stories, and conveying the sense of the pilgrims' journey.  I went to the castle but it was closing, walked through some gardens and wandered around before heading back.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Guy Fawkes' Day

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

November 5th is a holiday unique to England: Guy Fawkes' Day and Bonfire Night. In 1605, Guy Fawkes was one member of the Gunpowder Plot, which tried to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James I. He was the one found with the gunpowder, ready to blow up the House of Lords on the next day. Fawkes was dragged into the streets and burned at the stake. Today, British people erect massive bonfires and burn effigies of Fawkes, accompanied by many fireworks.

My day was a ton of fun. I took the bus into London but got there early, so walked through Hyde Park, passing preparations for a Christmas fair, and went to Diana's Memorial fountain. Then I met my friend Nadia at Holborn. We had a nice lunch in a pub, then spent a little over three hours in the British Museum, seeing a lot of really amazing things. I think my favorite was the prehistoric art, carved bones and things depicting Woolly Mammoths- some of the earliest known art ever found.

After the Museum, Nadia and I walked through Leiscester Square, which I had never been to. The city was lit with early Christmas lights- there's a big effort here to extend the Christmas buying season due to the poor economy. It looked really nice. Then we went to Camden. Camden Town is really neat- the hub of alternative culture in London, and filled with street markets. There is massive three-dimensional art on the buildings, and the markets extend into old stables filled with enormous horses on the walls, floors, and even ceilings. It's unlike any place I've ever been, kind of an enormous (and enormous is an understatement) flea market feeling, with cool art and giant things everywhere. Hopefully the pics tell the story a bit better than I can.

Nadia and I had a very good dinner at an Italian restaurant called Marine Ices. Then we met a bunch of her actor friends. They were really great people, and perhaps because I am also a theatre person, I found them really easy to talk to. We all walked up Primrose Hill, which is a park that overlooks the entire city. I could see Big Ben far in the distance ahead, with Canary Wharf off to our left, and the BT Tower and skyscrapers to our right. Regent's Park was right in front of us. The park was filled with people, most of who at least had sparklers. We had heard and seen many fireworks across the city, even before getting there. I did not do anything Bonfire-related, but will do that next week.

The thing that amazed me most about the Fawkes fireworks, was how different the feel was from anything in the States. In the US, for the 4th or other fireworks events, I am used to seeing a presentation organized by a city or State that is very controlled. People group together and look at it. Some people do set off their own, but they're just tiny little, usually illegal, displays. This was completely different. There were a few organized firework displays, most notably by Big Ben and the Eye and another near Canary Wharf, but they were just a tiny fraction of the fireworks we saw over the city. The vast majority of fireworks (which are completely legal to buy and use here, they sell them in many stores, even supermarkets) are put up by random people. On Primrose Hill, the best fireworks were ones set off all around us- not miniature fireworks, but full-sized enormous changing, screeching bursts. For about an hour and a half we stood on the hill, never sure where to look for the next burst- they were literally on every side. The fireworks over London were mostly in front, but the best displays were closer. There were also many people lighting and releasing Chinese Lanterns, as in the video below.

After the fireworks, the group I was with (6 total) went to a pub and hung out until after 11. It was a karaoke pub, but we didn't sing. It was a lot of fun just hanging, drinking, and talking. Great people, great time. The one bad thing happened after I said goodbye to Nadia and headed home- her house was burgled (found out today) :( Overall though, a really good day.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Debates, Drinks, and Work

The middle of Fourth Week means I am about halfway through my two real tutorials, and have only a month left here in Oxford.

I spent most of yesterday in the Bodleian. Got some weird looks, since several of my required reading books for this session of Mythology in Literature are Harry Potter books. I then attended a drinks party with other OPUS students, our advisers here, and some of our tutors. After the party, I went to a debate at the Oxford Union. It was the firs debate I've attended, and was really interesting, though a lot of people said it wasn't the best debate. The proposition was "Democracy is essential for human progress" and the opposition made a much, much more persuasive case. Several Members of Parliament, some journalists, but mostly just Oxford faculty and students debating, and I could've joined in too, which was neat.

Tonight, I went to a very different kind of debate. I had been working hard all day, so decided to join the Tolkien Society's primaries for the next President of Middle Earth. Tonight was the primary for Free Peoples. The debate was hilarious, the characters each stayed in character with Bombadil rhyming, Treebeard needing to be woken and Pippin continuously eating and dancing on the table. They took questions such as what to do with Orcs, and should they be referred to by the insulting name "Orcs". There were "commercials" and a final vote, in which Galadriel won. I had voted for Treebeard and his green party, since Galadriel's platform was a bit frightening at times.

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!