Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Retrospect Assignment 5: Things I'm Already Missing About Oxford

(photo by Megan Bean)

#1. Our last two weeks in Oxford were probably my favorite, simply because we had finally been there long enough to get in a routine of daily living, learning how to juggle reading and writing for tutorials along with exploring Oxford and all that incredible city has to offer. One of my favorite memories of my time in Oxford has to be Monday nights at what we consider the best Italian restaurant in Jericho, Mamma Mia.
No idea who that guy is, but that's our little table with the six place settings by the door!
It was basically a place of complete relaxation to look forward to after long hours of studying and reading in Jericho cafe. I can't quite find the words to explain it other than I never felt more at home than in those moments of laughter sitting around that table, gorging on cheesy garlic bread and  Carbonara pasta (I still think it's the best even though everyone else disagrees with me), half bottle free wine night and just enjoying each other's company. I tried to ask the waitress to take a picture of us, she awkwardly turned me down, which resulted in the group selfie of all selfies. Sorry bout it.

Told you it was bad.

#2. Oh Jennykins.

Even though we're about to live directly next door to each other in the same house next year, Oxford wouldn't have been the same without this little bundle of sunshine! We've come a long way from me refusing to sleep in the double bed with you at the beginning of the trip. Any of you that know me well know that I have some SERIOUS sleeping quirks. Jenni put up with every single one of them! She's helped me a lot with becoming more of a morning person too, considering whenever I would wake up before her I would try to be quiet so I wouldn't wake her up. Just when I thought I had made it to the bathroom, she would always turn over quickly and yell, GOOD MORNING NETTHHYYY!!!! Whether it was pranking Mary Lowry with moldy bread in the bed, or listening to weird British radio in the morning, I'll always remember our roomie times together, and you having to start my laundry every, single, time.
Our friendship, in a picture.

#3. This, my friends, is Port Meadow.

This was my first real discovery while out running along the canal one day in Oxford. I went over a bridge and found myself looking out along the yellow-covered oasis of Port Meadow. It goes as far as the eye can see and is home to cows and horses of local farmers, and served as a bit of a place of relaxation for me when I was overwhelmed by tutorials. A typical afternoon consisted of walking along the River Thames, watching houseboats leisurely drift by and rowers from colleges practicing their skill. One day while exploring we even came upon some old remains of Godstow Nunnery, a monastery that was destroyed during the dissolution under the reign of Henry VIII.
I'll never forget the memories I have here from swimming in the freezing water of the Thames, running with the cows, and walking to the Trout for dinner.

Still can't get enough of this picture. 
This place served as my little paradise when I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford life, and I hope that I can come back and visit one day!

#5. Speaking of the Trout, one of my favorite memories from the trip will forever be our last meal as a group together at the Trout Inn, one of Oxford's most famous pubs. This quaint little place is set on the opposite side of Port Meadow, so we decided to hike out there since we didn't have a car and are cheap college students who don't want to pay for a taxi and would rather walk in the dark. Naturally. Just to give you an idea of the walk....
See those white buildings at the top left hand corner waaayyyyyy far away? That's Oxford, and that's where walked from. This doesn't show the Trout but is fairly close. Here it is from the bridge.

Anyway, one night after a lovely dinner at the Trout, Jade and Jenni realized that they had to make a bus at 1:00 in the morning and it was currently 10:30 at night with that long walk still ahead of them. So they left with DJ and his friend while Clayton, Steven, Mary Lowry, and I stayed behind for a few more minutes. As soon as we left the restaurant, we walked across a bridge and heard the most horrendous, frightening, piercing scream I've ever heard in my life. The four of us literally jumped on top of each other we were so scared. Then, Mary Lowry discovered the culprit. 

That black thing on top of the chimney was in fact, a peacock. A peacock in Oxford England???? Who would have thought? After about ten minutes of Clayton mimicking the squawk and trying to get it to come down we decided to leave. Little did we know that as all of this was happening, Jade Jenni DJ and his friend (I am SO sorry DJ I can't remember his name! Ah!) were having an experience of their own. Walking past Godstow at 11 at night can be really scary, considering Lady Rosamund's ghost supposedly wanders the ground at night, and we had seen a group of seancers (spelling?) heading into the chapel that same night. They said that when they walked past the chapel a huge burst of incense hit them but no one was around. They ran all the way back to the apartments, and people, that's a long run. We were pretty freaked out walking back too but thankfully we had Clayton and Steven to protect us (HA.) Here is a random video I found from this dinner. I think we were testing out the new Instagram video feature haha. 

#6. New Challenges

This trip was one of the most mentally and physically draining things I have ever done, but I could not be more grateful for it. Being challenged weekly by Dr. Ward was an incredible learning experience that will forever be unmatched. I can't describe to you how much pressure it is to sit in front of an Oxford genius, read your 8 page research paper TO HIM, present him with your findings on CS Lewis (as if he doesn't already know, it's not like he's the foremost living scholar on CS Lewis or anything), and then have an intellectually stimulating discussion for the next 45 minutes. I'm tired just thinking about it now! After this tutorial I have learned to look at people and situations in a new light, questioning things for what they really are, and trying to figure out answers for myself. So often I would simply just accept a book or politics or religion simply for what it is and what I have been taught, but not really do any research for myself on the matter. I realized how much I am missing out on life and its little nuances that I would have noticed if I had simply taken the time to ponder it just five minutes more. 
(photo by Megan Bean)

If any of you are fans of CS Lewis and are familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, then please take the time to read Planet Narnia by Dr. Ward! It's basically a book that he has written about his theory that the seven books of the Narnia series represent the seven heavens in every essence. His theory is iron clad and actually really creepy how accurate his proposals seem to be. I'm so thankful to have experienced the opportunity to get even a little bit of insight into the mind of a true genius. 

#7. I'm so glad that I participated in this travel blog, it's a really freeing way of telling people all of your adventures, but still feeling like you're writing "Dear Diary" every time. I'm so excited for the day that I can give my kids this url address and boy will they be in for a surprise. Just like we've been talking about in the MSU led Objects of Travel class, I've collected so many memories through pictures, this blog, souvenirs, and stories that I will forever hold dear. I came back from this trip truly feeling changed. It may sound cliche, but I really believe those six weeks were a time of unique growth and maturity that many people cannot say they have experienced. I'm thankful for being able to share in this experience with this awesome group of people (picture provided by MSU photographer Megan Bean, she's legit). It's really neat to be able to say that we all experienced this trip together, soaking in a new culture and appreciating this adventure we were granted. From meeting new friends both from MSU and other colleges around the US, to being led to amazing museums and palaces by Dr. Ben Harvey, to conquering the sights and sounds of Oxford, London and Paris, it's hard for me not to think that this was all one incredible dream. 

(photo by Megan Bean)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Last Weekend in Oxfordtown

As I found myself nearing the end of my Oxford trip, I realized there were so many things left that I needed to do! One weekend when Jenni and Jade went to Scotland, Mary Lowry, Steven, Clayton and I stayed behind to do a little bit of exploring parts of Oxford we hadn't "conquered" yet.

Surprisingly we had only been to visit a few other colleges so we decided we would visit Magdalen College (C.S. Lewis was a tutor there, it was also the place where he converted to Theism). The college was beautiful, but even more fun was the little nature trail we took in Magdalen meadows. It was a peaceful little escape, I felt like I wasn't even really in Oxford anymore. Clearly, we had a lot of fun exploring!

Next, we went over to an exhibit that the Bodleian was putting on called "Magical Books". We had seen signs all over Oxford advertising for it, but didn't realize how amazing some of the things actually were in there! They had Tolkien's original drawings of Middle Earth, his first drawing of the inscription on the inside of the ring, as well as other drawings from the scenes in his books. There was also a page from Wagner's book that was the very picture that evoked Lewis's awe of "pure northerness" that he references as his inspiration for imagination in Surprised by Joy. It was amazing to observe the very picture that spawned the creativity and imaginative genius of this man I had so intensely been studying for several weeks. Obviously, one of my personal favorite finds was Lewis's original drawing of Narnia. I stood in awe in front of it for about 10 minutes just trying to take it all in. We weren't allowed to take pictures and I could probably go to jail if I put the pictures from the internet up on this blog, so you'll have to be satisified with this link to the website if you want to go check out what exactly I saw!

After Magical Books we decided there was one thing that we HAD to do before we left Oxford: swim in the River Thames. Yes, it was probably 50 degrees out and yes, the water was nasty and murky and we might have had a hard time deciding if it was home to leeches. But hey, we had to do it! As you can see, we had a little trouble actually getting to the rope swing, but once we did it was a blast! Jumping into the water completely knocked the wind out of all of us, and Mary Lowry may have picked up a few diseases after cutting her hand while trying to get back up on the bank (one of the ONLY times I have every seen Mary Lowry ungraceful, ever seen what a beached whale looks like?). She wouldn't mind me telling y'all about it though, she thought the pictures were pretty hilarious herself.


The following Sunday we made our second trip to London and met Jenni and Jade at the Tower of London! This place was so steeped in history, I was completely awestruck by all of the awful executions and stories about the Tower. One of the stories we heard was about James Scott the Duke of Monmouth who led a rebellion against King James II in 1865 and was ultimately caught and executed. It was said that it took eight blows for his head to finally be cut off. Yeesh, talk about a bad day. 
Also, we found the spot where Ann Boleyn was beheaded. 

 Here are some awful torture tools, like this one that would stretch a person's body until all of his joints were pulled out of socket. Yah.
After crossing the Tower Bridge we headed off to our main event of the day, visiting Warner Brother's Harry Potter Studios!

Can I just point out that at one time we were being those classic Americans running to catch the train to Watford (cleverly stationed between Platforms 9 and 10. Coincidence? I think not!) one of the attendants must have noticed our frantic looks and yelled out "'Arry Pottaaaaa???" and directed us to the correct train. It was classic.

I can't really put into words how amazing touring the Harry Potter studios was, so I'll leave you with some pictures. All I know if the movie series isn't simply a multi-million dollar franchise to me anymore. I have the utmost respect for every singly person that put so much work into every detail to make the movies what they are today. And all I know is that by the time the tour spit me out into the gift shop I was ready to buy every single wand and candy I could.

Butterbeer was so. stinking. good. 

Family photo op outside of Privet Drive!!! Love them. 

Model of Hogwarts. Erected in 40 days. 

Gryffindor Common Room.

Sorry we're not sorry. Had to.