10 October 2008

I had a feeling that I belong

It's only Friday but it feels like it is Sunday. This week has been so incredibly long and taxing that it is unbelievable. And so I apologize if this post is short and pithy. So, first, the Valencia trip....

Fiona and I caught the bus off High Street to Stansted airport at 1:04AM last Friday morning. I attempted to sleep throughout the three hour bus ride but failed miserably. At the airport we checked in and then spent three hours in the freezing terminal waiting for our plane to board. Surprisingly, RyanAir wasn't as bad as I had expected. Our plane landed on time and we had absolutely amazing views of the Pyrenees Mountains and the Valencian coast as we flew in. I wish I had taken pictures, but that is too touristy even for me.

We took the subway to the Xativa stop with no problems, which filled me with a bit of self-confidence in my navigation skills that I almost certainly did not deserve. Luckily, I fell off my high horse fairly quickly after getting out of the metro station. As soon as we emerged into the Valencian sun (which felt quite nice after having left rainy, cold Oxford), glanced at the bullfighting ring, and pulled out our map, I was immediatetly besieged by a man who, apparently, thought that Fiona and I were lost. Now, I have taken what could possibly amount to three and a half years of Spanish (although the quality of the last year in high school is debatable) and had studied intensively for four hours prior to departing, however my skills, potential understanding and, indeed, brain deserted me in that moment as it hit me that I was supposed to be the official translator for everyone on this trip. I'll admit, I panicked. In what had to be the equivalent of a five year-old's eloquence, I told the man that I was sorry but we needed no assistance. All I can hope is that I did not manage to offend him and that, indeed, he was attempting to help us with directions and was not trying to ask us anything more substantial. In retrospect, however, I actually don't feel quite as bad since he was speaking catalan, of which I have absolutely no knowledge.

After suffering a bit of discombobulation at not being able to figure out which direction we were supposed to go, we managed to find our way to the hostel. We passed both El Lonja de Seda and El Central Mercado. Our timing worked out perfectly as we met Garrett and Alex in the square outside of our hostel. After checking into the hostel, we went to the plaza de virgen and ate sandwiches outside the Basilica Virgen de los Desamparados. We also went to the Cathedral of Valencia, where we saw the alleged Holy Grail, and climbed up the steps of the the tower of El Micalet to see the amazing city view that it provided.

Afterwards, it was paella for dinner (containing chicken and rabbit) with the customary sangria. Best thing I've ever tasted. What was even nicer was that nothing in Valencia was hurried. Everyone took their time. It was a nice change after Oxford, where everyone is speed walking in an attempt to get here or there, or DC, where time is money and therefore one of the most important assets you can possess. We bought cheap wine at the grocery store (1 euro? Excellente!) and sat on the rooftop of the hostel, marveling as the world passed us by. Around midnight, we walked back to the plaza de virgen and sat on the steps watching everyone else. I feel that this might have been one of my favourite moments of the trip. The light from the streetlamps cast a golden tint onto everything and everyone. The sheer vibrancy of that moment will stay with me forever.

The next morning, after having realized that apparently no one in Spain goes to bed before 4am, we set off for the old city gate. We climbed the massive amounts of stairs into the mini-fortress and were greeted with amazing city views. We also visited the jardines botanica or botanical gardens of the University of Valencia. They had their own cat horde and, I will admit, it made me homesick for a moment. Afterwards, we headed to the beach. I'll admit, I am not a fan of beaches at all, but this beach got very close to changing my mind on the entire subject. The blue of the mediterranean and the white, soft sand was too overwhelming for even my steadfast resolve. We walked along the beach for a while, ate seafood paella at a local restaurant, and climbed a gigantic rope pyramid that had been set out on the beach for purposes of recreation. I must have laid out on the beach for half an hour and got such a strong tan that, upon returning to Oxford, many believed that I must have stayed out all day.

Alas, all good things must come to an end eventually, and so we packed up our things and headed back into downtown Valencia. We visited El Centro Mercado and La Lonja de Seda, saw seven newly wedded couples (as evidenced by the fact that they were in tuxedo and bridal gown) within five minutes, and ate gelato for dinner. I bought boxed sangria at the supermercado while the others bought bottles of wine, and we sat on the rooftop reminiscing about St. Mary's while fireworks (or bombs...we aren't sure which) exploded in the distance.

After a late night, we took the metro back to the airport and caught our plane back to Oxford. The bus ride home took so long! Fiona and I were absolutely starving by 5:30 (since we had breakfast at 7:35am) and tired from sitting the majority of the day. However, this didn't deter us from going to pub quiz at 8:30 that night. Unfortunately, it was spectacularly poor night and we finished second to last.

Last week was particularly intense as it was nonth week (0 week), fresher's week, and the week of our integral exam. Between orientations, meeting with tutors, first seminar meetings, and studying for the exam, I had very little time to get anything else done. Christian, Karen, Elysa, Becky, and I split the 32 possible exam topics between ourselves and prepared presentations/study guides on them to help everyone else learn. Despite the fact that we had all attended lectures on the topics and were only required to know four (one for each of the four essay sections), we decided that if everyone had a more than general knowledge of at least two or three subjects from each section, then we would have a better choice of essay questions to choose from. On Tuesday night, our study session lasted until 1am. On Wednesday night, I ended up sleeping in the extra bed in Elysa and Becky's room and studying until 4am.

The exam itself went well. We had three hours to write four essay questions. I had originally planned to answer questions on the Black Death, Chivalry/Knighthood, Andreas Capellanus, and the 12th century monastic explosion, but I absolutely hated the Andreas question so I switched to one on the Mendicant orders. I think I managed quite well and am anxious to see the marks for the exam. Since exams were over, most people left to travel. However, those of us remaining went on the St. Peter's College freshers' pub crawl. Now, freshers' week is when the first year students come to Oxford. On Wednesday, they had a club fair at the examination school on High Street that was more massive than anything else I had ever been to. Besides the loads of free things that were given out, I signed up for more clubs then I can recall. It was literally twelve rooms and two large pavilion-style tents full of clubs.

Friday was spent leisurely reading at a cafe with Christian and Karen, kebabing, and watching movies. On Sunday, Jasy came to Oxford and I was able to give her a walking tour of the city. Since the food at St. Peter's dining hall is horribly overpriced for anyone not on a meal plan, I made dinner (pasta, of course). We went to pub quiz at Far From the Madding Crowd, got kebabs, and sat around in the common room. Monday morning was spent at Cafe Loco across from Christ Church, meeting the tree woman Zoe Peterssen in the meadow, and going through the covered market. While I am an abysmal tour guide, I feel like I was able to give her a good feel of Oxford without having to spend too much money. Overall, it was a nice weekend.

This week has been crazy for everyone else as their tutorials began, but not so much for me. Mrs. Feneley is in Rome, so I haven't had stained glass this week. Of course, this means that I have two cartoons, two essays, and two cut-line drawings due next Monday and will have to make two stained glass windows during tutorial. (My stained glass tutorials are 6 hours long.) I attended the United Nations Association meeting on Monday night and will probably end up joining the club. The first session was a mock debate on the situation in Georgia. Quite interesting. Yesterday, I had seminar (Chivalry and Courtly Love) from 1030 to 1230 and colloquium from 3 to 4:30. At 8 was the first day of the men's beard competition. For the past three weeks, the men of CMRS have been growing their beards out in the attempts to see who is the most manly in that regard. Last night was the natural growth competition. It was hilarious to see the boys attempt to justify why their beards were the best (even if they weren't). Adam won, however, as his beard was the fullest. Tonight is the style competition (think mutton-chops, goatees, and weird designs) and tomorrow is centered around mustaches. It's going to be quite interesting.

In the meanwhile, I spent from 9pm to 3:15am at the library last night reading books for my seminar, working on my stained glass design, and reading international relations texts. See, I am at Oxford to do some sort of work.

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