Saturday, March 31, 2012

Blenheim Palace: My Summer Home

The day we left Oxford we made a pit stop at Blenheim Palace where the Duke and Dutchess of Marlborough take up residence.  How anyone can live in this place is beyond me. It is honestly one of the most magnificent places I've seen; although I have not seen many palaces in my day, this one takes the cake. 

We started off the day by taking a tour of the palace.  It turns out Winston Churchills grandmother was a duchess of Marlborough, so he spent much of his time at Blenheim and they essentially have a shrine to him, including things from his childhood garments to his letters when he was older to a photo timeline.  The rooms were amazing, and its strange to think that people actually live there. I wish I could have taken a picture (cameras were not allowed inside the actual palace) but there was a dining room that was painted in an almost 3d style and the ceiling looked to be domeshaped when it was actually flat.

After our tour of the palace, we took a train to some of the gardens of the palace, including a butterfly garden and a maze!

We got lunch at a deli and took it to sit in the palace gardens.
My friends and I eating lunch on the palace steps

Finally, we ended the day walking the palace grounds and soaking everything in.  We even found a sheep farm (we all know my mild obsession with sheep.) 
 with all the sheep!
In front of the palace 

Keep Calm and Summer in a Palace 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sometimes I Study at Uni

I thought abroad could not get any better; then we went to Oxford for the week. Something I didn't know about Oxford is the fact that there is no "Oxford University". We studied at University College but there 38 colleges within the university.  We arrived on a wet, cold Saturday morning, departing Bath around 930 and arriving in Oxford at 11:30. We got our room allocations and were able to settle in, followed by a few housekeeping points from the staff in the JCR, which is the student lounge. After a logistical orientation, we ate lunch in their "Buttery", the cafeteria. This was followed by a welcome and introduction by Dr. Mike Nicholson, a Fellow and Praelector in Russian. He was a funny fellow and constantly made jokes about the "ghosts of Oxford", which none of my housemates or I found very funny (we are convinced our house is haunted; it doesn't help we watched paranormal activity).

The ASE staff then split us up into 3 groups based on our houses (back in Bath).  Two groups went on tours of Oxford then, and the other group had to wait an hour and a half; my house plus our good friends in Nunes Flats had to wait an hour and a half until our tour. Since it was Saint Patricks Day, we thought it only appropriate to get an Irish Coffee.  We went to a bar down the street and enjoyed our Bailey's Latte while we waited for our tour. The tour only lasted about half an hour and Lindsay, the sort of director of student life, gave us great pointers of restaurants, cafes, and shops that are popular amongst the Oxford students so we would hopefully mingle with other students.

That night, my friends and I enjoyed a lovely guinness and fish and chips dinner at the Eagle and Child, a famous pub in Oxford where J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis used to dine, drink, and write! It was delicious, and we instantly felt smarter.

Sunday morning, a few friends and I decided to attend mass at Christ Church, another college in Oxford right next to University College.  We enjoyed the mass, however, my favorite part was the chorale.  It was a 50 boys/men choir and they were absolutely amazing.  Some of the boys could not be more than 11 years old (purposefully, so they can get the high notes that soprano women like myself can hit) but their tone and level of ability was stunning.  It was also Mothering Sunday, Englands Mothers Day, so at the end we all got flowers as we proceeded out.

A few friends and I after Mass at Christ Church

That afternoon was surely an interesting one. We went punting to test our skills at maneuvering a flat-bottomed boat along the river with only a long metal pole to assist us.

Let our terrified faces tell the story. 

Monday, one of my classes took us to Oxford Castle, which is now really just a tower, but a historical tower! It was mostly used during the Norman Occupation, but also used as a prison later on, especially during the Civil war in the 17th Century.

On top of Oxford Castle

Monday night, we had a talk by Dr. Leslie Mitchell, a renown historian.  He gave us a talk on "bloody Oxford", and highlighted the rivalry between townie and academia life in Oxford, from the foundation of the university in the 13th century even up until now.  It was a highly humous and informative talk, but right as we were applauding him, the lights went out. We thought it was a gliche, but the power ended up staying off for 5 hours! 

Wednesday, we took a tour of Christ Church, the college, and it turns out that Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone was filmed there! The scene where Professor McGonnagal greets the First Years to take them to sorting takes place on their staircase.  They also got the idea for the Great Hall at Christ Church.
Later that night, we ate dinner at the Turf Tavern, the infamous spot where Bill Clinton "didn't inhale." We got to eat outside on picknick benches because it was so warm out! 

Finally, Thursday, our last full day in Oxford, Fiona and I went to the Bodleian Library to see official manuscripts of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Lewis, name it, we probably saw it. It was amazing. The afternoon was filled with a Civil War walk, led by my favorite professor.  After, we went to the Ashmoleon museum, then had drinks on the roof.

 inside the ashmolean
 one of the European Art rooms 
Having a drink on the roof! 

That night, we had a smart dinner with our tutors and staff.  We had to "dress smartly" as they often emphasized, and it was an amazing dinner.  The wooden tables were covered with white table cloths, candle sticks, all the silverware a person could ever need (I finally figured out which fork to start with) and bottles of wine flowing.  Our 1st course was a goat cheese and pesto salad; the main, free range chicken with tomatoes and beens; finally a caramel coffee mousse.  I cannot explain how delicious it was. 

Sorry for the lengthy post but it was an eventful week....and thats not even all of it! Keep your eyes posted for a post on my summer shack, Blenheim Palace. 

Keep Calm and Drink a Cup of Tea (Or Five) 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Cotswolds!

Last Friday we went to the Cotswolds, sometimes referred to as the Heart of England, and for good reason.  The rolling green hills matched with the stone architecture of the buildings is a perfect combination.  On our trip, our first destination was Broadway Tower, designed in 1794.  We climbed countless stairwells to finally get to the top, but when we did it looked a little something like this

In front of the Tower! 
 So many sheep farms! 

 Me on the top of Broadway Tower

From the top, you can see 4 counties! 

After we finished exploring the top of Broadway Tower, we walked a mile and half to the center of town.  It was overcast and it had rained a few days before so the walk was a bit muddy. We walked all downhill through fields and the terrain was often tricky to maneuver, but we digressed. 

Frolicking through the countryside on the walk down to the village

Once we finally reached the village, we had to walk another 3/4 of a mile to get to the bus, but the walk was amazing. There were so many cottages made of limestone with fences and gardens and it was so picturesque.  Since we had a fairly strict time schedule, we could not wander around the cotswolds but we did walk through the whole village so we got to see all of the beautiful houses. 

After we took a short busride, we arrived in Bourbon-on-Water for an hour of lunch and exploring.  We were very hungry, so we wanted to go to a small cafe that was not too mainstream so we would not have to wait long, and we found a perfect place.  It was called the Windrush Cafe and it was so beautiful we actually got to eat outside. It was honestly one of the nicest days we've had. And people told me I wouldn't see sun for 4 months, psh.

Fiona, Emily, and I at lunch!

After lunch, we went and sat on the river across the street from the cafe. 

Kate, Me and Emily just hanging out in the River 

Our last stop on our Cotswolds trip was to a garden to see the snowdrop flowers. I felt like I was in the secret garden and we got to explore for 2 hours. The latter half of that, however, was spent in a cafe drinking tea and eating cakes, which was fine with me. 

It was a wonderful trip, and I truly can appreciate why the Cotswolds are known as the heart of England.  Everything was so beautiful and rustic and the rolling hills and farms were just amazing. 

Keep Calm and Pet a Sheep