Saturday, June 29, 2013

Objects of Travel Assignment 4: The Museum of the History of Science

The Museum of the History of Science is located in west Oxford, conveniently next to the infamous Bodleian Library. Opening in 1638, the ultimate theme of the museum is that of science, housing a variety of significant scientific instruments dating from hundreds of years ago up to the early 1900s. The museum is often referred to as the “Old Ashmolean” and was the first museum in the entire world to be opened to the general public. Elias Ashmole contributed his collection to the museum which was housed there until the collection expanded into what is now the Ashmolean Museum on Beaumont Street.

The layout of the museum itself has an interesting history, considering the basement was first used as a chemical laboratory, and the middle story of the museum was used for lecture rooms and demonstrations.

In 1924 the museum became a primarily science based museum and has been such ever since. Upon climbing up the steps the doors open into a surprisingly (but pleasant) single room divided into two halves. The outer wall of the left side of the room is lined with mathematical and astrological instruments. There are about six centerpieces that serve to present a wide range of the museum’s objects, something to give the visitor a taste for what they are in for. Within a showcase, there are three tiers, each with very distinct objects. Here is an example:

When glancing at the top shelf, you probably wouldn’t realize that it is actually a silver microscope that was made for George III in about 1770. The middle shelf contains some Persian astrolabes, a common astrological object found throughout the museum. The bottom shelf contains a drug jar from the seventeenth century, originating in Italy. The layout of the tiers doesn’t necessarily represent what types of objects are found on each floor, but instead shows the wide range of countries represented in the museum, as well as the types of instruments that contribute to the museum as a whole.

The right side of the floor contains a wall of microscopes and sundials all contributed by Dr. Lewis Evans. This collection was deemed the “foundation collection” of the museum that made it into the science-based museum that it is today. 

Travelling down into the basement seems to suggest the passage of time as the light gets darker, and the stone walls turn into wood. I felt like I was really travelling into a medieval lab where weird, sharp objects made me feel like I was walking into Frankenstein’s lab.

This turned out to be my favorite floor by far, considering there were objects ranging from horrifying medical instruments all the way to the evolution of cameras. There was an entire cabinet that paid homage to Louis Pasteur’s discovery of penicillin, a drug that saved so many lives during the World War and continues to show its significance today.

 Another amazing piece is a blackboard with Einstein’s equations of the expansion of the universe, written during a lecture he gave in Oxford. Winding around the basement, a very different tone presents itself as the visitor walks through a room of ancient clocks and models of the planets until coming upon a passageway that traces the evolution of insects and bugs. The theme of the passage of time at this point is almost awkwardly obvious, but necessary to the basis of the museum. 

The third floor is arranged very different from the bottom two floors, not only spatially but also within the types of objects presented. The cases are not nearly as cramped as the basement and middle floors. The level of scientific achievement is much more elevated, consisting of astrolabes and sundials, suggesting a calculating atmosphere and a higher level of scientific genius. The walls are lined with glass cabinets, chronologically oriented and categorized by country. The countries presented are from the Islamic world, Renaissance Europe, Nuremberg, London, and Paris.

Overall, the theme of the museum is clearly and effectively presented with a wide range of objects that were all significant contributions to the world of science. From the basement to the top floor the visitor experiences the passage of time from hard labor in a laboratory to sophisticated scientific instruments on the top floor. Being a biology major, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing firsthand several objects that were essential to the development of modern science and research. 

Objects of Travel Assignment 3: Collecting Doors

Throughout our class in Objects of Travel we’ve been discussing many different themes of collecting. Some people collect books, some collect figurines, and some collect packs of cards (like me!) It’s been difficult to fully express the scope of what all I have learned on this trip, but the blog has been a great way to keep a collection of those memories that will sadly soon begin to fade.

Following along with the theme of collecting, we were challenged to collect pictures of objects that are characteristic of Oxford and hold special value in the objects themselves. After doing some thinking and exploring, I kept finding myself standing in awe of doors. It might seem ridiculous, but every single door that I have crossed paths with has a different personality, flavor, and story behind it. I’ve even said a few times that I would love to come back to Oxford in about 10 years, pick out my favorite door in the whole town, ship it back to the U.S. and then build a house around that door. Might be wishful thinking, but hey, a girl can dream right?

Each of these doors either holds a special memory of my time in Oxford, or has a certain air of mystery that grabbed my attention.

 First up is a church door found during our time at Stratford upon Avon. The first thing that caught my attention was the shade of blue, something of a mix between cobalt and navy, as well as the curvature of the iron on the long wooden beams. It almost gives it a fairy tale like quality, something you wouldn’t think would normally be associated with the entrance of a church.

The teal rustic door with the chips of paint and hole in the bottom suggests a sense of wear and tear. From what I could figure out, this was a simple door for a simple house. Yet it was this simple characteristic that seemed to draw me in and demand a sense of respect. For me, this door represents the locals of Oxford, shaped by their history but also a distinct element of that history.

When this picture was taken, the grounds of Christ Church were buzzing with the excitement of the Summer Eights, a rowing competition held every year between the 38 colleges. It looked like Christ Church might be taking home the trophy, and the students were clearly excited about the possibility of returning glory to their college. This door is the entrance to one of the men’s dorms in Christ Church, as can be noted by the seal of the college on the right hand side. Along the left hand side you can barely make out how many bumps were made by the team. The person with the most bumps wins the competition. Not only is this door the entrance to students’ living quarters during the term, but also a way of showing their pride for their school and accomplishments.

This door caught my attention because of its distinct medieval flair. I came across this door when I walked into an old partly ruined Norman medieval castle (Oxford Castle) in the western part of the city. In the 14th century it was turned into a prison and now, oddly enough, is used as a hotel. The studded door, great iron hinges, and bars across the bottom capture the history of the castle quite well. Something that also intrigued me about this particular door was that it was one of the few white doors I came across in Oxford.

These two doors serve as a memory our tour of the Churchill War Museum in London. Clearly, the first was the entrance to a map room and the second, a door covered in keys that unlocked all of the other doors in the war rooms. I chuckled a little when I thought about the fact that this door’s sole purpose was to gain entrance to all of the other doors.

This door might seem a little familiar after taking a closer look, because it is the entrance to Hogwarts! We traveled to Warner Brothers Studio in London to take a tour of the set of the Harry Potter movie series. We had just watched a short film, narrated by Daniel Radcliffe himself, and in the film he beckons everyone to follow him into Hogwarts. The screen lifted up and there stood this door. It was made of real wood and opened up into the set of the Great Hall. 

Last Wednesday we took a tour of Blenheim Palace, and this magnificent door was our first greeting to the palace. The intricate detail and golden designs are indicative of what was to come on the tour, and it ended up being our favorite palace of all.

After exploring along Port Meadow and the River Thames we came upon the remains of Godstow Nunnery. The first picture serves as an entry way into the chapel of the nunnery, one of the last remaining visible buildings on the site. The second door (archway) was found along the wall of the ruins. The story behind this place is that when Henry II’s mistress died he originially buried her at the high altar at Godstow. The bishop of Lincoln did not like this and dug her up and buried her at the cemetery, which was destroyed due to the dissolution of the monasteries during Henry VIII’s reign. She is now said to roam the grounds searching for peace.

Not only do these doors serve as entryways to destinations, but they ultimately serve as a collection of some of my best memories from my time here in Oxford. Here are a few more that caught my eye that you all might enjoy.

This door was teeny tiny. I deemed it he "Hobbit" door. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Parisian Adventures

The only way I can begin to describe this trip would be two words: amazing, and exhausting, but worth every single step taken, metro conquered, and French menu deciphered. The idea of a trip to Paris came along when our teacher gave us a free weekend from classes on Friday and Monday. Naturally, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and decided on Paris. I mean, how can you be this close to Paris and not go?? I'll admit, I had my doubts because the only descriptions of Paris I had heard were that it was "dirty, stinky, and the people are very rude, especially to Americans." All I have to say about those stigmas are that they are just that. We never came across one rude French person, and I found them very helpful, especially when it came to deciphering the French menus and getting directions to places.

So to begin our adventure, we woke up at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning (I know right??), hopped on a bus to Heathrow at 5:00, arrived at Heathrow at about 6:15 and our flight left at 7:25. We were in Paris by 9:30 (one hour time difference)! Next up was navigating Charles de Gaulle, a MASSIVE airport. We had to walk the entire length of it to get to the RER which is the train that takes people from the airport to the center of paris and then on to the airport on the other side of Paris, Orly. After wandering aimlessly in the train terminal, finally figuring out what metro pass to buy, surrounded by French military men carrying machine guns, we hopped on to the right train. The train proceeded to fly by the first stop that we "thought" it took. And then the next. And then the next. We began to get a little concerned as what we thought was our destination stop was approaching. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out the puzzle of the station when I finally realized that the train we were on only stops at places that had the RER designation. After this, we were able to change trains and proceed to our neighborhood, Alesia. It was the most glorious breath of fresh air when we finally stepped out from the underground into the shining sun. We were basically walking zombies at this point, and it was only about 12 noon. Here's the map we were trying to decipher:

Not gonna lie, Steven and I were pretty proud when we finally conquered the metro system.

About an hour later we finally found the entrance to our home for the weekend! By the way, I highly suggest using the Airbnb app if you're planning on travelling for cheap in the UK or Europe. We had an awesome experience! Our neighborhood was very homey and not too terribly far from the center of Paris.

Of course we didn't stop a beat, what with only having 2 and a half days to conquer Paris. We were so excited to start our adventure!

First we decided to make the trek out to the Montmarte district on the other side of Paris. My sister had told me visiting this area was an absolute MUST and I'm so glad we decided to go! From what I gathered, Montmartres is kind of equivalent to Fondren in Jackson. It's at the peak of Paris on a GIANT hill we had to climb up. At the top is the astounding structure, is Le Sacre Coeur. See that hill with the Arabian looking castle on top? Yep, that's where we were.
Shot of Le Sacre Coeur.

Crepe shops are everywhere, as well as this amazing gelato shop. 

Painters, sculpters, and all sorts of artists were set up in a little craft center right in the middle. If I had all the money in the world I would have bought every single one of those paintings, each was so unique and exquisite!

I loved this little woman who was an awesome street performer. She whistled fun classic Parisian tunes while playing an accordion. It may have been a cheesy tourist attraction, but it definitely completed the atmosphere of a true afternoon in Paris. 

One of my favorite parts of the day was going out to the overlook in front of Le Sacre Coeur. The view of Paris is breathtaking. It feels like you can see all the way from one side of Paris to the next. We stood there for probably about 45 minutes, just taking it all in. We also did alot people watching from afar, and let me just say there is one stigma about Paris is true. They are definitely the city of looooovveeee. I can't tell you how much PDA we witnessed. 

After we wandered down from the top of the hill we decided to set out on the next adventure to find the Eiffel Tower. It was so funny because we were able to find it because it's visible throughout much of Paris. As we got closer and it got bigger we had a hard time keeping track of it though, as ironic as it seems. Then, we were walking down a street, turned a corner, and there it stood in all of its glory. 

 One of Jade's bucket list bullets was to climb the stairs of the Eiffel Tower, so after having woken up at 2:30, travelling to Paris, walking to Montmartres, and then walking to the tower, we naturally decided to use what was left of our energy to climb the stairs.

Waiting in line. Such class. 

Step 1.

Still excited about it. Steps 5-12.

Not so excited about it anymore. Step 1840484946352530047443857958. 

Straight thuggin. Started from the bottom now my whole team here. 

Unfortunately the very tip top was closed off, but we were able to go all the way up to the top two tiers. There is no way I can possibly put into words or pictures the view, but here are some that will hopefully do it justice.

We spent an hour or so up there before we headed back down the steps. By then it was probably about 9:30 at night, but still light outside! We found a small baguette shop and bought some wine, then headed out to the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower to watch the sunset. At about 10:00 it started changing colors and at 11:00 it twinkled brighter and more beautiful than any view of Cinderella's castle I've ever seen (and trust me, I've seen a lot). That night was definitely one of my favorite memories from Paris, if not my absolute favorite. We literally had no cares in the world in that moment except for eating and enjoying the view and each other's company. We even met a nice couple from Tennessee and enjoyed talking to them and exchanging stories of all of our experiences. Just in case you were questioning if we were really having fun or not, here's a few pictures to prove it to you. Of course Clayton had us all rolling laughing. Just thinking back on it brings a huge smile to my face. 

A little vid of the twinkling! 

In case you wondered if I was being serious about Clayton having us ROLLING laughing.

This pic about sums up how much fun this trip was. 
It's safe to say we were beyond exhausted from such an eventful day, but I wouldn't have changed one thing. After all, who has time for sleep when you're going to Versailles the next day!

We woke up fairly early to travel on the train to Versailles, about a 30 minute ride. Safe to say Jenni was more than excited considering she had been trying to convince us to go to Versailles since the previous week. The palace was absolutely astounding, I can't really even put it into words. After waiting in line for about an hour to get in, we took an audio guided tour (we were pros with those things at this point) around all of the various rooms of the home of Louis the XVI.

 Here are some pics of the most beautiful rooms in my opinion.

The chandeliers were breathtaking.

This is the hall of mirrors! It's a hall, filled with's really cool and surprisingly was only used as a passageway from one room to another back in the day, not really much other significance to it. 

King Louis' bed.

Marie Antoinette's room

The inside of the palace was all fine and dandy, but let's be real, we were really there to see the gardens! I was expecting lots of bright colors and beautiful flowers but came to find that it was more of a greenery type landscape, with lots of grooming involved. And then there were all of these random statues or tree things scattered around the gardens. Here's one example. It was basically a tree being held up by the bark of two other trees. 

Weaving through the maze of gardens always turned up fun little passageways and fountains left and right!

Right after this picture was taken, I had a garden soldier blow a shrill whistle at me for touching the plants. They're quite particular about their greenery...

This was one of the coolest fountains we saw. I'm sure it would have been even cooler if the fountains were on, but sadly they didn't come on until 3:00. We had been there for about 4 hours at this point and our legs were beginning to grow a little shaky (especially after that flight up the Eiffel Tower the night before). Anyway, this fountain depicts the fall of the Titans as they were trying to overthrow Mount Olympus. Jupiter started raining down rocks on the giants, and this is one of the giants plummeting to his grave. 

After wandering around the gardens for about 30 more minutes (more greenery, more statues, more awesomeness) we headed back to Paris. 

That night we were able to travel around the 4th Arrondissement along the River Seine. We saw Notre Dame from the outside. It was really beautiful and I'm glad we saw it! But nothing compares to Westminster Abbey.

 I'm so thankful that we have Steven on this trip. I don't think we would have made it without him in Paris! He and I both worked and conquered the Subway station. Thus, we were given the titles "Mom and Dad" with Jade as the older rebellious sister (that goes on dates with British men that we all stalk), Jenni and Clayton as the youngest twins (never paying attention and always talking in their own little language to each other), and last but not least, Mary Lowry as Grannugget. She's our sweet little grandmother that lags behind and reads alot, but we love her anyway :).

 This was the Pompidou (spelling?) building, which is apparently mocking the industrial age. I don't really get it, ask Jenni about it, she'll be MORE than happy to explain it to you.

That night we had one of the most amazing meals of my life at Le Trumilou. We sat outside like all the cool Parisians do and we ate like kings. The sweet owners were nice enough to come translate the entire menu to us, as well as answer any of our other typical "American" questions we had. My dinner was duck marinated in an incredible prune sauce. And this was like an entire duck on my plate. Not to mention the turkey platter of french fries to go along with it. I ended with a classic flan dish that Clayton so kindly reminded me looked like a boiled egg with every bite. 

The last stop on the adventure that night was visiting the Arch de Triumph at sundown while watching the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Here's a family pic! So thankful for each one of these guys. 

Had to throw in a pic of the Louis Vuitton store. 

After we stuffed our mouths with even more food from a classic creperie it was time to head back to the flat. When we got onto the subway, I proceeded to stuff my mouth with something else: my foot. So here's what happened: People often will get on to the subway, perform a little singing or musical act, then ask for spare change as a reward. I will very gladly give change to something I think worth giving. Earlier that day, I had given 50 pence to some men playing the accordion. Well, as soon as we got on the train we heard the sounds of mexican music come over the speakers. We look to the front of the subway and there is a creepy little puppet show going on. This man was basically swinging his puppet back and forth to the tunes of the song. After he finished he asked for change, no one gave him any, and he was really mad about it. As soon as he got off I said something along the lines of "I'm sorry but I'm just not giving change for that, that takes absolutely NO talent." I looked up to see Mary Lowry and Jade with their eyes bugged out giving me a look of "shut up! shut up! shut up!" Little did I know, the man had gotten off the train, seen that the doors were closing, and got back onto the train behind me right before the doors slammed shut, right as I was making my little comment. Apparently I had the eyes of Satan boring into the back of my head as I said these things, and I have never had a more awkward, long train ride as the one between those two stations. FOOT IN MOUTH. 

The next morning we somehow drug ourselves out of bed, cleaned up the apartment, and packed our little backpacks. We were off to the Louvre as our last stop on the Paris tour. Jade had been talking about the famous Lock bridge for most of the trip and to our surprise we stumbled onto it on the way to the Louvre! It was such a fun little memory to have of that day, and the bridge really is breathtakingly beautiful with all of the glimmer from the locks. 

How to throw a key into the River Seine:
Write on lock, lock it to the bridge (duh) and give it a kiss.
Rear back and...
Give her a throw!

Basically, the idea of going to see the Louvre was really cool but what with all of the travelling and walking we had been doing the past two days, it's safe to say we were pooped. I feel like we spent most of the time actually trying to navigate the Louvre rather than looking at all of the amazing artifacts. 

Speaking of which, there's Mona. 

And Aphrodite. Just when I thought I had a clear shot of Aphrodite, I looked down to find the ultimate photobomb. 

All in all, the trip to Paris was one I will never forget and truly one of my favorite memories of this trip. We were exhausted beyond belief, I literally didn't know if I was going to wake up in the morning, but it was completely worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I'm so thankful for this trip and the chance to grow even closer with these amazing people I call my friends. 

~Avoir France, we'll never forget you~