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 people...it 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 kitchen...how 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 around...it 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: