09 September 2008

So This Is England...

Today is the first day that I haven't actually been completely exhausted by 8pm. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. I guess I have finally gotten over my jet lag.

Anyways, England is amazing. I absolutely love Oxford. It's definitely not what I expected, but is still wonderful all the same. It's the little things that completely throw me for a loop. The fact that I have to look left to make sure that the cars aren't coming rather than to the right. The fact that the the same is true for walking on the street and passing people. Seeing the cross of St. George on the inflatable hammer balloons at the St. Giles fair rather than seeing the Stars and Stripes. It's weird, but great at the same time. Here is a run-down of my last few days:

I woke up early (7;30!) and took a shower. At around 8:45 I headed over to the St. Peter's College dining hall for breakfast. It had been posted as lasting from 8 to 9. However, they apparently close at 8:45, so by the time I headed over there it was technically closed. Luckily, they served me breakfast (and a few other CMRS students who had gotten lost on the way). Afterwards, we had our general orientation and computer orientation, with lunch in between.

At 2, Quentin (the junior dean) led us round Oxford showing us some of the semi-important sites (such as the various colleges, the bookstores, pubs, sheldonian theatre, etc.) and then left us to our own devices. A couple of us went exploring around the Broad Street area, looking into Christ Church meadow and heading into Blackwells. Now, for those home in the states who have never experienced the...wonder that is Blackwells, let's just say that it is the ultimate bookstore. It has roughly 6 levels, two store front windows, a cafe, and a secondhand book shop. We lost one of our number in the bookshop for some time, and spent a long time browsing within. They have books on every subject imaginable. Absolutely brilliant. Afterwards, we went for tea at The Buttery, which was quite nice with its minimalistic decor. We returned home in time for dinner, after which my roommate, Karen, Elise, and I went to Evensong (an Anglican half hour singing service) at Christ Church cathedral. The church itself was absolutely stunning; the choir was decent, as the world renowned Christ Church choir was on vacation and the replacement one was much more amateur.

Saturday: On Saturday, Karen and I went running at 7 in Christ Church Meadow, which is absolutely beautiful (I, unfortunately, have yet to take pictures of it). Afterwards, it was off to the shower and then to breakfast at the Queen's Lane cafe (reputedly the oldest coffee shop in Oxford) with my roommate and several other CMRSers. At 1145 we had a field trip lecture in which Alun Thortun Jones, head of the field trips and quite an interesting character, describe the four groups of places that we will be visiting during the integral course (Gloucester Cathedral and Berkeley Castle, Warwick Castle and Town, Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury, and Winchester Cathedral).

Since dinner is not offered in the dining hall during the four weekends outside of the Oxford term, my roommate and I, as well as an assorted group of people from the program, bought the ingredients for pasta. In all, the dinner fed between 10-15 people. It was quite nice. We had pasta, sauteed zucchini and peppers, salad, bread with butter, and wine. Very nice. At around 8, a group of us went to the local convenience store and bought wine and ale. I had a pint of Old Empire, which was very light and bitter, but not all that unappealing. We drank our drinks in the St. Michael's Hall common room, chatting away. At around 11:30, most people had gone to bed, and the few of us still remaining were all from St. Mary's. The rest of the night mainly consisted of telling stories of crazy St. Mary's happenings until 1:00AM.

On Sunday morning, I went with Christian and Nalui to the catholic church, St. Aloyicious. (Sp?) It was strange going to the service after two years of having not attended church. The mass was nice and the inside of the church was absolutely beautiful. I'm not quite sure how old it was. All I know, is that when the Brits receive communion, they kneel down at a sort of stone fence to receive it from the priest, rather than standing in a line.

Gloucester, which is to the east of us (I think). It is a medium-sized town and fairly modern. The cathedral is hidden from view until you come to the city centre, upon which it rises amongst the houses. It is roughly 1000 years old and quite beautiful inside. Of special notice is theAt 1145 we departed in the coach for Gloucester cathedral. It was about an hours trip to East Great Window, which takes up one huge wall of the cathedral. My favorite part, however, was the cloisters. The stained glass and detailing on the ceilings and walls were stunning.

After eating at BurgerStar (home of the fried mushroom) in Gloucester, we went to Berkeley castle. The castle is the oldest castle in England continously occupied by the same family (900 years). Seeing the castle was impressive, however, I was a bit disappointed since we were not allowed to take pictures inside and the vast majority of the castle was off-limits as it was the private residence of the Berkeley family (who still reside in the castle). We also had the chance to go to the Butterfly garden on the castle grounds. I think I may have developed a fear of butterflies for, as soon as we entered the steamy greenhouse, butterflies as large as my hand were swooping on my head, landing on my arms, flapping in front of my glasses, and generally freaking me out.
Monday: Yesterday marked the actual start of term for CMRS. Unfortunately, it started on a rather bad note for me, since I somehow set my alarm clock an hour late during my sleep. Becca woke me up at 8:25 (which I, only 5 minutes earlier, had looked at and seen 7:25, not knowing that my clock was wrong). I was able to grab a piece of toast with jam and then went to the lecture hall for our academic orientation at 9. Following this, we had our first two lectures of the semester. The first was incredibly fascinating and entitled 'The Roman Inheritance: Latin Culture and Roman Empire'. It described the various things that the Middle Ages inherited from the Roman Empire. The second lecture was 'The Bible in the Middle Ages'. I suppose it would have been more interesting had I been able to actually hear what the lecturer was saying. I was in the fifth row and could barely hear her because she was talking so softly.

After lunch, Karen and I went shopping for school supplies and then bought our cell phones from Vodafone. Theirs was the least expensive plan I could find that would still work in Scotland, but even so it is fairly expensive. So don't expect any calls from my european number anytime soon! After dinner (and following a power outage on my side of the building), Adam, Karen, Christian, and I hit up the White Horse, a nice pub off Broad Street that supposedly sells the best fish and chips in town. However, it was too late for food, so we had a pint of ale and talked for the two or so hours that we were there. On the way back, we passed through the St. Giles Fair (an enormous American-style carnival that takes over the entire street for two days (Mon and Tues) so that the other three could get kebabs from the kebab van.

Today: Today's lectures were on 'Augustine of Hippo' and 'Monks, Monastaries, and Hermits in the Middle Ages'. Both were equally interesting. I think that by the end of this semester, I am going to know all sorts of interesting trivia facts. After lunch, I attempted to go buy a couple of books at Blackwells (which had been closed on Mon because they were fixing the air conditioner) only to find it closed due to a power outage. I think it is a sign that Oxford doesn't want me to study. We had our official CMRS group photo at 230, and around 4:30, Becca, Elise and I went running twice around Christ Church Meadow. I actually ran the entire first lap around and most of the second before I had to walk. I was actually quite proud of myself. I think Christ Church might actually be my favorite location in Oxford thus far. In the middle of the meadow is a cow pasture, and there is a path that leads down to the college boathouses (and the Thames). So beautiful. It makes me want to jump into a crew shell and row each time I see it.

I just did my laundry (1.20 per each load washing and the same for drying), which took forever. As a result of the fairly steep prices, I am going to: a) buy some more clothes (since I didn't pack enough (silly me for believing all of those tips to pack light)), b) wear my clothes for two or three days at a time, or c) wash them in the Thames. Since I refuse to pay almost 3USD to dry a load, my clothes are currently hanging all around the room on hangers. Yes, I am cheap. But you have to be when the exchange rate is 1.7USD to the British pound.

Tomorrow we are going on a field trip to Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey. Pictures should be up on my Flickr account tomorrow nice.

And yes, I am having the time of my life. Unfortunately, either the fun or my life may end soon, as I currently have a booklist of 65 books that must be read by December (roughly 15 need to be read by October) so that I can write my integral essay.

Currently reading right now: 'Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism' by Benedict Anderson.

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