Saturday, January 31, 2009

There Ain't No Party Like MY Grandma's Tea Party

I came to Oxford expecting afternoon tea to be a daily part of every one's life.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Afternoon tea is not solicited as a necessary meal of the day. There are some teahouses that offer daily tea but they are kind of expensive. I thought afternoon tea would be easy to find but I have not seen any cafes or pubs advertising afternoon tea except for last Saturday when after a day of exploring other Oxford colleges I saw a blackboard outside of a coffee shop that said Tea Cake and Coffee/Tea for £3.95. I was delighted! This was the first time I had seen any news of afternoon tea so I had to engage the opportunity.

Matt Roe, Ian, Alexia, and I went to Queen's Lane Coffee House which claims to be the oldest coffeehouse in Europe. But I figured I couldn't get tea at the oldest coffeehouse in Europe, that would just be silly, so I substituted coffee for tea in my first afternoon tea (does it still count as afternoon tea? um, I'm going to say yes). I'm not going to lie, when I order the tea cake and coffee special, I assumed that teacake was some sort of vanilla or coconut cake. I was really surprised when the teacake turned out to be something more like a scone, served with strawberry jam and really rich, thick, and creamy butter.

Also let me talk to you real quick about scones. America has lied to us about them! Scones are not dry, quasi-hard, tasteless clumps of batter. No no no. I have had a taste of a real scone and have realized the terrible deception! Scones are moist, buttery, and soft. Basically, they are delicious. America has made the scone out to be more like an English muffin, which when toasted is so hard that it can pretty much cut the roof of your mouth.

Don't be fooled America. Somehow the scone has been lost in translation as it has traveled across the ocean. I'm here to clear up all fallacies.

Even though the Brits no longer embrace the whole afternoon tea business, I have unintentionally begun to make this a part of my daily routine. It started with the graciousness of my friends Kitty Mullet and Matt Foerster who have gotten in the habit of making a pot of tea. In the afternoons we usually have tea when we do homework in the dining room. We sit in this sunlit room that as an uncanny resemblance to that of Miss Honey's classroom (from Matilda) and drink great tea with honey and lemon. I usually am a fan of pure, unadulterated tea, but I now favor the honey and lemon approach.

Also Alexia has discovered that Sainsbury's, the local grocery store, sells a 6 pack of scones for less than a dollar. Sainsbury's has such incredible deals. Now scones have entered into our daily tea and homework ritual. We have even classed up our tea time with the help of a pink tray, a plate with slices of lemons on it, a plate of scones, a spoon for every one, and honey on the side. They actually prepare a tray of tea, it's so cute!

My friends take great care of me and make terrific tea. I enjoy our afternoon tea parties, laced with writing papers and reading books. I feel like we are re-introducing tea to the British culture, in a small way. If only we had any British friends to whom we could tell our tea time stories.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Suck it Lauren Ramsay"

After being here for 2 and a half weeks, I've been starting to establish a weekly routine, which is exciting. I'm happy to start getting in the flow of life. I like being able to know what to expect out of a day and work toward a goal at the end.

Some of the kids here at CMRS have developed a Sunday night routine.

Part 1 of the routine:
St. Peter's Sunday night church service.
My friend Matt Roe sings in the choir at the college across the street, and sings at Evensong Sunday nights. Alexia, Kenzie, Andrew, Ian (who happens to be Jewish) and I headed over to watch him sing. The choir, composed of St. Peter's college students, was amazing and incredibly talented, the music they sang was absolutely beautiful. But it turned out to be more than an evening of singing, it was actually a church service. I had previously met and chatted with Sally, the assistant chaplain, at meals in St. Peter's Hall and was thrilled that she gave the message that night.

The chapel is beautiful and old with stained glass windows and massive ceilings. I must admit that I am not used to traditional services full of hymns and pre-written prayers, but I found something strangely beautiful, calming, and peaceful about this service. So much so, that I am planning on going here every Sunday night. After the service, we drank Sherry provided by the church(so unlike the states) and then went to dinner at the dining hall, where I talked to 3 British guys about the crappy British TV shows I have been watching(for which they mocked me), we talked about American football, and other cultural differences. It was great and then my American friends and I headed to a pub.

Part 2: Pub Quiz!
This pub down the road has a quiz night on Sunday nights where they have 10ish categories ranging from sports to cooking to "Ask the Locals". Every category had 5 questions, each incredibly difficult and based on local wisdom (which as Americans, we don't have much of-but in teams we like to convince ourselves that we have a chance). Last Sunday 12 of us from St. Michael's Hall headed over to pub quiz; we formed 2 rival teams. My team of allstars cleverly named ourselves Across the Pond. We were one among 18ish teams; there were literally more than 75 people packed in this pub. It was awesome to be surrounded by a ton of British people! And I soon became the most well-known American at this pub.

The quiz master began introducing all the teams with which we would be competing and to my surprise I heard Suck it Lauren Ramsay. I could not believe it! Our American rival team had so humorously named themselves Suck it Lauren Ramsay.

I could not stop laughing. I wish I had counted how many times the announcer said "Suck it Lauren Ramsay" in the 2 hours we were there because even a conservative estimate would have been more than 15 times. Every round the quiz master announced the teams and their scores and sometimes he called out certain teams to mock their answers (obviously our rival American team was mocked a lot for their bogus answers, particularly those pertaining to a certain Lauren Ramsay). When the other team didn't know an answer their answer was Lauren Ramsay, which lead to some hilarious quotes from the oh-so-sassy quiz master:

"I am pretty sure Lauren Ramsay was not Elton John's original name".

"No, Lauren Ramsay was not the British Sports Personality of the year".

"Lauren Ramsay is not the answer to any of these questions. But she is the answer to one of my questions, to which she will probably say no". (He did ask for my number over the microphone, which I had to refuse him...I don't have a cell phone, so my friend Alexia so kindly left him my e-mail address on the last answer sheet we turned it. He still hasn't e-mailed me. Go figure.)

I also do not think the phrase "suck it" holds as much sassiness as it does in the states; unfortunately, the Brits seem to take it more literally. When the other team told the quiz master their name he asked, "Does she really? or is it not worth asking."

Needless to say I'm looking forward to what the future Sunday nights have in store. I'm anticipating delightful bonding with CMRS and ridiculous team names.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Procrastination in London

So it's our second Saturday here, we didn't have a lot of homework to do (so we thought) or that we wanted to do, and we decided why not take a procrastination day and go to London?

Alexia, Matt, Kenzie, Sean, and I left our building at 9 am, which was pretty exciting because it was such an early start to the day. We walked to the train station, which is a 10 minute walk from our dorm, and we pretty much got the deal of the century on tickets. Because we were in a group of 5 (who knew that 5 people was a group worthy of a deal?!) we got round trip train tickets and unlimited metro passes for £13! Basically, it's an absurdly good deal to get to the Paddington Station from Oxford.

I was a little nervous to go to London without a plan, but with the 3 trusty guidebooks and 5 maps between us, we were able to come up with a ballin plan all before arriving at 10:45 at Paddington Station. Also since we were planning on hitting up all the classic touristy London sites, we decided that only for today we would be the epitome of American tourists. So we took lots of cheesy pictures outside of London's top destinations and even asked fellow tourists to take our pictures...classic. (All of us previously discussed how we hated being touristy, but today, we collectively let it slide)

Our (kind of) first stop: Find King's Crossing and see 9 3/4 station. Unfortunately, this station was closed. Thankfully the closed-down station was not foreshadowing for our day.

We got off the metro into the financial district which was the prettiest financial district I have ever seen. Cathedrals and old stone buildings with beautiful architecture had been transformed into banks, museums, and other financial things. We pooped around here for a while until we realized nothing was open so we headed to a new destination.

Second Stop: St. Paul's Cathedral. This was one of the biggest buildings I have ever seen in my entire life. You can see its massive dome from all over the city, which is higher than 8 stories tall. I was in awe of the sheer size of this cathedral and was suddenly aware of how small I really am in the scheme of the world. Pictures cannot give this place justice. Unfortunately, it was £10 to go inside this structure (I'm pretty sure Jesus would have a couple choice words to say about making a profit off of churches) and British structures so far have much more impressive exteriors than interiors, so we decided that much money wasn't worth it to look inside a building.

Third Stop: Pizza Express. Kenzie was really excited about the idea of going to Pizza Express because they are everywhere in London, so we went. It was a much classier get-up than Pizza Hut (which is surprising because there's Express in the name) and they had delicious gourmet-like pizzas.

Fourth Stop: Globe Theater. This was the least impressive building of the day (structurally speaking); it was white with wooden beams. Globe Theater also cost a ridiculous amount of money to get a 40 minute tour; I would much prefer to see a play there and take in the atmosphere without tour. But it was amazing to think that Shakespeare's plays which we read all the time were performed here. England has so much history, which fascinates me.

Fifth Stop: Tates Modern Art Museum. It was the only free thing we could get into. Usually I'm not a fan of modrn art at all and hate on it in full, but this was the first time I came to remotely close to appreciating modern art. After reading the explanations of the art and artist next to the artwork, it finally dawned on me the point of modern art; it's not to be asthetically pleasing but to break molds and challenge society. I left the museum very content and satisfied. I felt strangely cultured.

To get to our next stop we enjoyed a walk along the Thames River past the hub-bub of London. We passed mimes, Charlie Chaplin look-alikes, men painted and acting as statues (that lots of people took pictures with...bizarre), and a bright fully-grafittied area where high school boys did tricks on bikes and skateboards and spectators gathered around taking pictures. London has an eclectic mix of people who hang out by the Thames to say the least.

Sixth Stop(s): Parliament and Big Ben. Like everything in London, these buildings were pretty incredible. Parliament was a lot bigger than I had imagined and I loved the architecture of this building. And it was incredible being by Big Ben which is the epitome of London. We gathered with the other tourists to take pictures of these deligthful structures.

Seventh Stop: Westminster Abbey. So the abbey technically was not open but on our way to the finding the front of the abbey we saw an open door, set back in stone wall, surrounded by plants that looked classically English. We wandered over to this huge wooden door and decided to explore this building. It turned out to be the back of the Westminster Abbey (which had been closed for three hours) and got to take in the memorials and graves of people who had died in the 1700's. Something bizarre about the abbey is that there is three foot wall around the courtyard in the middle of the abbey, so the abbey is almost entirely open and really cold. I don't know how British people do it, none of the old buildings, libraries, or cathedrals seem to have heating, and it gets cold in winter.

Eighth Stop: Buckingham Palace. It was about 5 when we reached the palace. It was all lit up and practically beckoned anyone nearby to come visit. I could not believe how close to the Queen I was standing. People gathered around the gates of the palace to take pictures, just like the White House. Some things never change. I really wanted to make the guards laugh but they were behind the gates of the palace and too far away to charm them with my wit. I briefly considered mooning but realized that nudity is a public offense in England.

Conclusion: We covered a lot of ground in one day for relatively cheap. We saw the standard London sites all in one day and all in all I was very satisfied. But we were sad to leave London after such an amazing day of sunshine and happiness.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jogging in the Hood

So I've been running a lot here and I love it.

There are also a lot of people in my program who also enjoy running and some that even enjoy running at my ridiculously slow pace! We practically have a running club at CMRS and usually people go running around the town every day. I'm secretly hoping that we students at CMRS will gain this reputation of being incredibly athletic because Oxfordians will always see a pair of us running somewhere around the city.

Yesterday a gang of 7 of us ran around town. I'm not going to lie, I felt pretty intense rocking the pink spandex in public, next to Nora who was rocking her glittery, metallic purple spandex, behind Kelly who wore a fuchsia zip-up. We were quite a colorful crew as we weaved in and out of people in the streets.

A couple blocks away is Christ Church which is the epitome of an old-school university. It is massive and beautiful; it has turrets and its made of stone. You could probably mistake it for a castle. The best part of Christ Church is that it has a 2 mile loop of dirt tails which runs along the Thames River.

Every time we have run along the river, I have seen crew teams practicing. Crew is huge here and I would love to do it if it was not so early in the morning and if it did not increase the possibility of encountering elephant ducks. Thames River is home to the largest ducks I have ever seen; they are twice the size of geese...I cannot even fathom it. In a fight between one of these killer ducks and my dog Bella, I'm sure the duck would massacre her in under 2.7 seconds. How the ducks became this new species of superhuman ducks, I'm not sure. But I think it's safe to say that is has something to do with the fact that people constantly feed them. These people do not realize that they are helping to breed killer ducks that could one day wipe away our dog population.

Also, I'm very surprised by the weather here. I thought it would constantly be cold and rainy with a bite in the air, but it has not been bad at all. It has rained a couple days, but it has not even been constant rain, just spouts of it every now and then. It's even been somewhat warm and really great running weather; it's cool so you don't sweat profusely but it's not the kind of cold where it hurts with every breath of air.

I think my favorite moment of running so far was yesterday, when I was jogging next to Nora around the loop of Christ Church. It was a typical overcast day, with endless gray skies, and it looks like it might snow. We looked across a meadow and the university seemed to rise out of the fog surrounding it. Majestic is really the only way I can describe this beautiful castle-like structure looming above the fog in the distance.

I am looking forward to more runs to do more city exploration. And I think I am in luck, because there will be plenty of people to motivate me to go.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Snow in Oxford?!

Currently it is snowing here! The contrast of snowflakes falling on the cobblestone streets and stone buildings is exactly the classic British town that I had expected.

I arrived here yesterday afternoon with Alexia and 150 pounds of luggage, in 3 bags.
First off, I do not take great delight in flying on planes. They make me nervous, I hate not being in control. And yes, I realize that less people die on planes than in car accidents, but I am in no way in control of the airplane if anything would to happen. So needless to say I'm not a fan of flights. AND I am not a fan of that feeling when your stomach drops(aka roller coasters) and coincidentally during take-off or landing that feeling exists

I did not sleep very well on the plane. Every time I was sleeping and the plane experienced turbulence, I woke up. After 2 hours of this I ordered a bottle (it was pretty small) of red wine and conked out...perfect. Another perk of this flight was that a very considerate woman sitting in front of me decided to leave the blanket of her son's vomit bundled up under the seat in front of me. So I was fortunate enough to catch whiffs of the aroma for the last 2 hours of the flight. It was so great.

On the bus ride from Heathrow to Oxford, I met 2 American students also studying in Oxford. They are going to Christ Church...a different college than mine. They were really nice and really friendly and I made me all around stoked for Oxford.

I'm really happy that I traveled over here with Alexia or I would have not known what to do. I did little research on Oxford to begin with and decided to skim over the e-mails that the school here sent us, I know really smart. I was completely unprepared for this journey and Alexia had my back, good thing I'm rooming with some one who is aware of her surroundings.

New Favorite phrase: Jolly good
New Favorite genre of people: Old, scholarly British men with delightful facial expressions and hand movements.
Most excited about: The people I get to hang out with for the next 3 months! They St. Mary's students are balling out of control and the students from the other schools are so friendly.
Weekend goals:
1. Find a way to get food inexpensively because our food plan does not cover this weekend...what?!
2. Find a job
3. Enjoy the tower of London
4. Go to a church
5. Jog somewhere
6. Check out the soup kitchen down the street