Friday, April 10, 2009

I took a Bath

Ever since our 8-week term ended, we have been going on field trips every Wednesday. Last Wednesday we went to Bath, which is where the wealthy English people used to vacation in the 1700 and 1800s. Bath has natural hot springs that a man discovered when one day he and his pigs were going for a walk in the country. His pigs ran and bathed in mud and came out clean. He flung himself into the mud to see for himself and he came out clean, he reported these wonders to the king and Bath gained popularity. True story.

Little did this silly man know, the Romans had already discovered these hot springs and constructed massive temples and places to bathe in the hot springs...and we got to visit!

Our teacher ATJ (yeah, he seriously is so great that his name has been reduced to 3 letters, he has books published about his archeological digs and he has his own classroom in our building) took us around Bath, which is a pretty quaint town with many chocolate shops, cafes, and unique-yet-expensive clothing shops, and is surrounded by the beautiful English countryside. We saw the circus, a string of townhouses made to look like a Roman building so people felt like they lived in a mansion, when really they lived in a small part of the building.

Then we did like the Romans and took a bath. Marie had a great idea to actually make use of the hot springs so a group of us went to a spa. At first, I felt like I was cheating for not exploring the town because it's pretty likely that I will not travel to Bath again. But then I realized that bathing in hot springs and being luxurious was exactly what Bath was about. I felt connected with the people who frequented Bath.

This was my first spa experience and quite possibly my last, I realize that I'm too childish for spas. All I want to do is splash around and play and race people in the pools, which for some reason is innapropriate to do in spas. After paying at the front desk, we changed into our bating suits and headed for the baths.

We ran up to the roof of the five story building where our most impressive bath stood. However, when six college kids showed up, everyone seemed to groan because we were the youngest people there but at least 20 years; secretly I felt really classy and cultured that I could bathe along with these people. I mean we were able to sit in the warm pool and look out over all of Bath, it was pretty incredible. The pool periodically bubbled, like a jacuzzi, just not as intense. Marie took some contraband pictures before the lifeguard made her put the camera away.

Here are some of the wonders of seeing Bath from a bath, pictures that cannot be found anywhere else (unless other people have snuck cameras to the rooftop):

If you look really closely you can see Sean drowning me.

Oh a know, here is our view from the pool and our new friends-they're clearly very happy to have met us.

Inside the building there were 4 circular steam rooms surrounding a huge waterfall shower where you cooled off after being smothered in steam, which is strangely relaxing even though you feel like you can't breath. Each steam room had a different scent: spearmint, eucalyptus, lavender, and chamomile and on the outskirts of the steaming area were individual foot baths. There was an indoor pool that made me feel like I was in a hotel pool and not a spa-we didn't stay in that area long.

After our luxurious bathing experience, we were hungry and decided to participate in another popular past time of the elite. We got a Bath bun from Sally Lunne's, which is the oldest house in's been around since 1482!

These buns have been raved about by the likes of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and we got to eat them. There are massive buns and you can get them with different toppings, Alexia and I split one with cinammon butter, which was soft and absolutely delightful. I can see why Dickens was down with Sally Lunn.

Then we headed to the actual Roman baths, which, like all Roman structures, are incredible. It's mindblowing how these buildings still stand. We took an audio tour of the expansive Roman baths and were able to get a taste of the activities that took place here, and Bill Bryson author of A Walk in the Woods was one of the narrators...yeah, I was confused too.

Bath was was an incredible mix of Roman and 18th century wealth. I was especially excited to be in Bath because I have studied Jane Austen this semester, who not only lived in Bath but writes about it frequently in her novels. It was amazing to see one of the places that she wrote about and to be able to understand the context of her novels so much more.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ain't No Party Like my Grandma's Tea Party

I went into my first British person's house yesterday for tea. Talk about the quintessence of British culture.

My friend Ruth who I know from Bible Study invited me to accompany her to Barbara's house, an 8o-something year-old woman who she met one Sunday at church. I didn't realize the narrowness of British houses until I stepped into Barbara's home. Every floor only had space for a couple rooms; the first floor in Barbara'se house had a kitchen, a small dining room, and a music room that was dominated by her baby grand piano. British homes are almost as large as American homes because they are built upward. Barabara had a four-level house and she used every floor on a daily basis, which was shocking to me because she had separated her hip a couple days before.

Her house was everything I could have wanted out of an English home-it was colorful, cozy, and full of knick-knacks and paintings. The kitchen overlooked a garden, which like the house, was narrow but extended far back. Barbara had a tiny 50's style stove, no dishwasher, and mugs hung over glass cabinets. Oh and did I mention she had fresh flowers in the house? Basically, Barbara's house is everything I want my future home to be.

Barbara taught Ruth and I how to "arrange" tea. Here are the steps:
1. Before guests arrive have cups, saucers (already stacked), a bowl of sugar, and a small jug of milk set out on a tray.
2. When guests arrive, boil water, pour into a teapot, and place the teapot on the previously set-up tray(refer to step 1).
3. Carry the tray up to a cozy sitting room (Barbara's was on the 3rd floor) with comfortable floral print couches that allows plenty of sunlight to stream in through the windows.
4. Have an empty tray table ready to arrange the tea. Take everything off the tray that you just brought up and arrange them on the empty tray, making sure to place the teacups on saucers and to get biscuits from tins already in the room and arranging them on plates.
5. Pour tea, drink, and chat.

Barbara is a wonderful, hospitable woman who loves company and conversations. She is also a gifted pianist, even at her ripe old age. She was delighted to play for Ruth and me and we went down to the music room; Ruth and I sat on a couch facing her as she took her seat at the baby grand piano.

She played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata , which is one of my favorite pieces and when she played it took my breath away. I was lost in a trance, as I watched her slender fingers glide softly over the keys she knew so well. I lost all concept of time and would not have minded sitting on that couch for days lost in Barbara's playing and the happy memories that Beethoven's masterpiece evoked.

I cannot believe that I had a real English tea with a real English person.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Galway is Beautiful

I spent last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Galway, which is in on the coast of western Ireland. It was an amazing trip and just what I needed to have happen after a stressful final week of classes. The week leading up to our trip was really tough. I wrote 40 pages in 4 days and some of them were research papers; it was a messy week but entirely my fault for procrastinating. I pulled my first all-nighter with Andrew Thursday night, which was the last possible night that I could have pulled an all-nighter. But that week was so worth it because of my 5 day trip to Ireland!

We (and by we I mean Sean, Matt F, Alexia, Kelly, Kitty, and Kenzie) caught the 10:15am bus to the London airport on Friday morning, hopped on our plane, met up with Matt Miller in Dublin, and then took a 3 hour train ride to Galway. We arrived in this adorable ocean town around 7 pm and found our place of temporary residence-Claddagh Hostel (ps: Galway is known for the Claddagh ring).

On Friday night, we met up with Kira (hoorah!), ate fish and chips at McDonough's, and then headed to the King's Head. This pub was one of the coolest pubs I have ever been to. It was huge (significantly larger than any pub I have been to in Oxford) and resembled a medieval prison. It was dim, two stories high, made of stone, had wooden beams, and had a place for a band to play with a balcony on the second floor. I really liked the atmosphere and the people there actually acknowledged our existence. Matt Miller had had a really exhausting journey which included spending the night in a train station so he was ready to go to bed early. I accompanied him back to the hostel and then ended up talking to Brent the Australian (who unfortunately LOVES vegamite) for 2 hours, it was so great. The hostel split up our group: Kelly, the Matts, Alexia and I shared a room with some strangers and Kenzie, Kitty, and Sean shared a room with strangers upstairs. I'm not really sure why they split up our group, but I wasn't necessarily disappointed because we got to meet new people!

We met 4 people from Australia(who we went to pubs with, ate with, and explored Galway with) who were traveling separately and instead of going to college, felt like traveling to Ireland for a year. Their traveling baffled me(aka it was way too intense for me) because they had no plans, no job (they are all hoping to find a job), and no contacts. I am realizing that I will only meet people who live this intensely in settings like hostels, so I enjoyed all the random conversations that I got to have with strangers. Hostels are so conducive to talking with and meeting new, fascinating people.

This trip restored my faith in my ability to talk to new was so great! People in Ireland are so much friendlier, more welcoming, and more open than the Brits. For a long time, I was really bummed because I wasn't conversing with strangers in Oxford, but after to coming to Ireland I realized that Brits are much more reserved than and not as friendly as the Irish. The hostel was amazing and a huge part of why our stay in Galway was so great.

Saturday in Galway was one of the best days I have had since I've been in Europe. I experienced so much joy, freedom, and contenment. We woke up and had coffee and toast with lots of fixins; then Kira came over and we hit the town. We went to a lovely outdoor market that had tons of traditional Celtic handmade crafts and tons of delicious food.

After some shopping we headed down to the sea! I have forgotten how much I have missed nature since I've been in Oxford (which is mainly stone buildings with a couple parks). Saturday was amazing because:
1. There was a great playground(and I obviously owned it).

2. Galway had an expanse of grass and we could actually run on it!

3. The water was beautiful.

4. It didn't rain (we were really happy about it)

5. We got to pretend to be hamsters in stone structures.

6. I bought the best, coziest sweater in the entire universe. It smells like sheep and when I wear it, it feels like I'm getting a great hug(believe it or not, I like hugs)
7. There were the most adorable colored houses by the water that I'm pretty sure I wouldn't mind living in.

After a day of running around outside, being near the water, buying a sweater, and getting a great cappucino, all I wanted to do was watch a rugby in the common room of the hostel(and how can you not when it's the cutest room in the entire world), cuddle, and write letters.

Then we had a family dinner of spaghetti, which is cheap and lovely(Also:please check out the great colors of could you not cook?!).

That night, we hung out with fantastic people in the hostel and made some new friends before preparing to hit the town.

I met Scott from LA and Adrienne from SC and hung out with these cool cats that night. Adrienne brought his drum from home, showed up at a pub, and improv'd traditional Irish music with 9 other people-incredible. Older rugged Irish people who rocked sweaters and flannel hung out in this pub, we talked with them and I got to know Scott and listen to amazing music. What else could I want from a pub?

After the music finished we went to the pub where our friends were; unfortunately, they had left shortly before we arrived. The good news was that this forty-ish year-old man heard Scott and I chatting and was really excited that we were from America-he had once been golfing in America-so he bought us drinks. He and his friend were fascinated by my teeth:
"You have fantastic teeth-does every one in America take care of their teeth like you do?"
"Oh, yes, I've heard that they all do."

It was hilarious.

Then Adrienne, Scott, and I headed back to the hostel around 2:15...unforunately every one was sleeping but we still wanted to hang out. So we headed to the water where I had been earlier, singing great songs and dancing was lovely. We saw a bonfire on the beach and decided to check out who was there. It was a group of rebellious high schoolers who snuck out of their homes to have a bonfire at 3 in the morning. They were really friendly and tried to teach me Gaelic...I learned how to say poop. Classic. I kept looking around at these Irish high school students and thinking to myself how hilarious it was that I was in Ireland, sitting at a bonfire at 3am, hanging with the rebels of high school. Too good to be true.

It was a delightful introduction to Ireland.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Collection of Hilarious European Signs

So Europe has some of the most hilarious signs that I have ever seen. The pictures that are used are graphic and really silly.

In Ireland, it seems like there are problems with cars and water:

What an interesting combination for a garbage dispenser. Also any sign with butts in it is too good to be true:

Just our train station in Amsterdam...please try to sound out the second word:

Oh ya know just Heinekin ads:

Please look at the written rules and the accompanying pictures (no injections):

Give it up for being in Dublin on St. Patty's Day!

Oh and the Europeans are OBSESSED with anti-dog poop signs, it is apparently a significant offense to leave poop lying around (a £1900 fine):

Oh ya know, just a cute little dog poop box:

And my favorite dog poop sign so far:it depicts actual dog poop, includes a warning label, a witty slogan, and a £3000 fine for unscooped poop:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oh hey, remember that one time we went to Amsterdam for the weekend?

Yeah, that happened.

Kitty, Matt, Kelly, and I went to Amsterdam this past weekend, we were literally there for 48 hours so we all committed to making the most of our trip. We flew into Amsterdam around 7:30 Friday night and had to go to and we got to our hostel successfully a couple hours later, hoorah! We wanted the trip to be affordable so we had decided to spend the night in a room with 10 people in order to pay the cheapest that we could for rooms. But much to our surprise, when we opened the door to our room, there were only 4 beds. Some how we got upgraded to a private room with our own bathroom! I didn't even know that hostels did room upgrades, but I'm happy they did.

We got these cards called the I-Amsterdam cards for 48 euros(which is a lot). We wanted to make the most of them, which covered the entrance to 25 museums and any sort of public transportation we used in the city. So our first night in the hostel was spent deciding how to pack a ton of stuff into the next 2 days and going to sleep early.

We awoke early on Saturday and had breakfast in the hostel. The breakfast was pretty standard: juice, bread, hardboiled eggs, cereal, krumpets and there was a cappuccino maker, so I was set for the day. After bundling up we began our first epic day.

We went to:
1. The Tulip Museum-people in Amsterdam LOVE tulips so it made sense that there would be a museum devoted entirely to the history of tulips. Did you know that...
a. tulips originated in Asia
b. that the turks loved tulips and the word "tulips" comes from tulipa which means muslin
c. the tulip trade was so profitable that poor people would become tulip growers and
merchants to get out of poverty

Note: There was almost a 2 hour time gap between the Tulip Museum and our next destination. Kitty and I forgot our I-Amsterdam booklets so we had to go back to the hostel. As we were trying to find out next destination, we realized how crappy our maps were because they were too zoomed out to be much use. So we ended up wandering around, getting lost, and consequently getting tired, annoyed, and hungry. None of us wanted our 48 euros to go to waste and we hadn't done much in the day and were continuing to waste time because we were lost. But eating lunch from a local grocery store next to a canal helped curb our crankiness. After our stomachs were filled, we were ready to yet again commit to our overly ambitious day.

2. FOAM-a museum of Richard Avedon's portraits. Don't know him? Check him out because he was an incredible photographer and took some very interesting portraits of famous people. The thing that I loved about his pictures was that he wasn't trying to necessarily make the person look good, instead he wanted to show a different angle of them.

3. Van Loon Museum-we got to walk around a wealthy person's house from the early 1900's and see what it was like to be rich. The interior designer was HUGE on symmetry in the rooms, so there were a lot of fake doors in the was silly.

On our walk to the southwest of Amsterdam we passed the majestic Rembrandt museum.

Behind the museum was an outdoor skating rink and one of the most ridiculous playgrounds I have ever seen. It was basically a bunch of logs put together in obscure ways. It was hardly safe for me climbing on the playgound let alone a toddler. There was a huge field that people were playing was so great to be able to walk on the grass because people in Oxford do not allow you to walk on the will be fined.

4. Van Gogh Museum-this was an exhibit of the life of Van Gogh. We got to learn about different periods in Van Gogh's life and see his paintings that corresponded with his artwork. I feel like we only see about 10 of his works on a regular basis but he used to be a dull still life painter and slowly moved to color and finging his own style and then became introduced to the Japanese style.

Note: We spent too long at the Van Gogh and had to spring to the Heinekin museum to get there before it closed. We go there just as they were closing. Looking silly and running actually pays off...that's all I'm saying.

5. Heineken Museum-Surprisingly one of the best parts of the trip.

I wish I could describe how flippin sweet this museum was. They had just finished doing a bunch of renovations and it showed. So the first hour was spent touring the facilities of a beer manufacturer(pretty standard) and going on the Brew U Ride.
What's the Brew U ride? Oh, let me tell you. You go into a room and stand 4 to a bleacher on 4 bleachers. You are facing a huge screen in the front of the room and are told that you are going to be made into beer. So you go through the process complete with a moving and shaking floor when you are being stirred or transported, heat and red light when you are being heated, and water sprays when you are dropped into a tub. Basically, it was awesome.

We also got to go to 2 bars along the tour and get complimentary Heinekens, sit in chairs and look at old Heineken commercials, go to a sports room and see the sports that Heineken sponsors, play fooseball, record videos and send them home, go to a lounge with huge TV screens and bottles covering the ceiling like icicles, and take pictures at the many Heineken provided photo ops.

6. Night Canal Cruise: We got to travel on the many canals of Amsterdam and see the city lit up at night. Also all the bridges were lit up too which was amazing! We also got to look into all the houses and house boats, and not going to lie, it was pretty great being able to spy on people's interior decorating. This was also a trip highlight.
After an incredibly full day, which included Matt getting stuck on the tram without the rest of us, we went to bed, utterly content.