18 September 2008

I apologize for not updating this blog more regularly. However, with a booklist of 65 items of required reading, it is hard to justify using the internet as opposed to studying. And, apparently, I am here to study. Or so they tell me, since classes started up last Monday.

Anyways, the integral course started last Monday. It lasts the four weeks before nonth (0) week of Michaelmas term. Everyday we have two lectures, each lasting an hour, focusing on various aspects of medieval Europe. For the most part, these lectures have proven to be quite interesting. However, we have had a few virtually decrepit lecturers who read directly off their note papers, thus making the lectures incredibly tedious to get through. The integral course will end in another two weeks, after which we have our three-hour final exam. Tutorials and seminars begin the following week. We will meet our tutors for an hour each week, but will be set work which we are expected to complete by the next meeting. I suppose this entire experience will prove to be an exercise in both self-motivation and discipline.

Anyways, on the 11th, we took a trip to the UK's smallest cathedral city, Wells. The cathedral itself was my favourite amongst all the ones I've seen so far. While impressive from the inside, it lacks the elegance of other gothic structures I have seen. However, the inside boasts an appeal that it almost indescribable.
Three of the cathedral's distinguishing traits are its scissor arches (erected in 1338 to redistribute weight while the towers were being built), 13th century jousting clock, and cartoon carvings.

(Left: Unique scissor arches in Wells. Top Right: Medieval 24-hour clock. It still keeps excellent time and the knights at the very top of the clock joust on every quarter hour).

(Immediate right: Medieval carving of a man with a toothache. It looks like it could have been carved yesterday!)

Other remarkable features at Wells were the steps leading to the chapter house. After almost 900 years of continuous use, the stairs have been so worn away in places that they are like a slide. It is hard to fathom 900 years of people going about their lives and using the same path as me; almost a millenium of people living and dying in Wells while the cathedral remains an unchanging constant. As a history major, I tend to fall into the pattern of analyzing the past based on this event or that. I often forget about the real people, the teeming masses of unknowns, who are also part of history. Seeing the worn stairs leading to the chapter house were akin to a slap in the face reminding me once more of the human element that is the most important in history. For without people, there would be no history worth recording.

Almost as incredible as the cathedral itself was Vicar's Close. A 13th century street, it was built to provide housing for the vicars saying mass in the cathedral. It has changed very little since that time. To see these houses was, once again, proof of the everyday people whose names we have forgotten. Today, the houses serve as private residences, but are still fascinating to look at.

After Wells Cathedral, we traveled to Glastonbury to see the Abbey. Destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s, Glastonbury Abbey would have been one of the largest in all of the UK had it survived. While not as fascinating as Wells Cathedral, it still had its own charm. Christian, Elysa, and I attempted to climb up the hill to the Glastonbury Tor (an ancient tower) not knowing that it is 2 kilometers away from the abbey itself. After a while, we were forced to give up and bought a postcard of the Tor from the gift shop instead. Glastonbury is also home of the (alleged) burial spot of King Arthur. (See my new profile picture!)

On the way home, we passed by Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain.

On Thursday the 12th, we celebrated the birthdays of Karen and Garrett by having a wine and cheese party in the common room before going to the Red Lion for drinks (Pimm's and Lemonade) and then to Capo, the late night bar.

On Saturday, Karen, Rachel, Amanda and I took the bus to Bleinheim Palace in Woodstock (the birthplace of Winston Churchill). Unfortunately, the internationally-rated horse show that was supposed to take place that day was cancelled due to the torrential rain that had fallen the previous day, causing several people on the bus to become quite upset. We spent several hours at Bleinheim traveling around the absolutely enormous gardens since the ticket to tour the palace was too expensive (13.50 pounds with the student discount. Do they think we, as students, are made of money?) Now, I am not usually a garden fan. However, these were so well laid-out that the experience was pleasant. Bleinheim has one of the tallest hedge mazes in the world. It does not appear to be much upon first glance, but once inside it becomes rather imposing. We quickly became lost and only with difficulty were able to find our way out. We spent Saturday night at the Red Lion, Capo, and walking around the streets of Oxford.

Sunday through Tuesday were spent actually doing work (Surprising, right?), although I did watch 'Fight Club' on Monday night for the first time, and 'The History Boys' on Tuesday night before Marie's 21st birthday party and our kabobing trip. Wednesday we went to Winchester to see the cathedral and the Great Hall (which is all that remains of the once extensive Winchester Castle, but which boasts King Arthur's Round table). It was an impressive sight, though I did not enjoy it quite as much as Wells. We had pasteys for lunch (pronounced pah-stee, they are pastry pockets containing meats, vegetables, and cheeses), went searching for ruins of the bishop's palace (that we only found later thanks to the helpful direction of Garrett), and saw Jane Austen's house. It was quite an exhausting day. On Wednesday night, we finished off 'The History Boys' and drank the meade that we had bought at the cathedral (much too sweet and syrupy for my tastes).

Yesterday consisted of going to lectures, running four laps around Christ Church meadow, and going out to the Red Lion to hang out. Afterwards, Karen and I tried to make cookies but ended up burning them to bits due to the fact that we forgot the oven is in celcius rather than fahrenheit. Tomorrow, I am heading down to London to see the sights (again) and to do a bit of shopping (or not, since I am being so careful with my money that I refuse to even buy souveneirs).

Other things accomplished so far:
1. Made friends with several of the students from St. Peter's College (our affiliate college here). They are actually British. It is amazing.
2. Went to the pub quiz at Far From the Madding Crowd (Bill Clinton's favourite pub in Oxford but not, incidentally, the one that he did not inhale at). For those who do not know, the pub quiz is a trivia game held weekly at the pub. It consists of ten rounds of five question each, with categories such as history, maths and sciences, sports, local, pot luck, films, etc. The announcer kept making fun of our group since we were American. However, we did manage to get 5th out of 7 teams (not bad for our first time out), beating one team who had been coming to the quiz for "far too long" and had achieved their best ever score that week. This coming Sunday we have recruited even more people to join us and are going to show Far From the Madding Crowd just what a bunk of Yanks can do.

Unfortunately, these are the last pictures that will be posted on my blog for some time to come. My USB port on my computer broke mysteriously one night and I have no way to upload my pictures. I am looking into getting it repaired, but this is more easily said than done. Unlike in the US, England doesn't have Best Buys or Targets, places that contain everything and can perform almost every service imaginable. And the search to find a computer repair shop has proven to be much harder than imagined. I will get my computer fixed as soon as possible though. So, I would appreciate it if the emails informing me that it is imperative that I get it fixed were to cease immediately.

Upcoming trips:
09/20: London
09/26-09/28: Valencia, Spain
October: Yerevan, Armenia
November: Istanbul

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