Oxford

IMG_2641Yesterday my friends and I took a day trip to Oxford. We’d heard it was worth visiting for its historic prettiness, but we were also really excited to see some Harry Potter filming locations (particularly the Great Hall) and walk in the footsteps of the many writers who studied/taught/lived in Oxford, including Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, just to name a few. Christ Church, one of the colleges within the university, is pictured below. We were very excited to see the Great Hall there….until we learned that it was closed for a literary conference. (Yes, the literary conference was really exciting to me, no we did not attend, yes I asked if we could get in, no I did not recognize any of the authors.) We tried to sneak up the steps to the Great Hall just to peek inside, but we were chased away and probably labelled as suspicious visitors.IMG_2604IMG_2606

Shortly after taking the picture below (that cloud in the lower right is looking superbly majestic, isn’t it?), we tried to walk down the little pathway in the center and were promptly chased away and probably labelled suspicious for the second time that day. In our defense, the sign was very, very small. It was straight out of The Princess Diares when Mia walks on the grass and the voice on the intercom yells at her in 5 different languages–although I feel like I have to add that we weren’t on the grass, we were on the pavement. Geez I would never even contemplate walking on Oxford grass.

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Shortly afterwards, some foreboding clouds (which you can see in the upper half of the picture below, although they were definitely scarier in real life) started to roll in. We were in an especially pretty area of Oxford at this point, and chose to keep strolling despite the warning of impending DOOM that the sky was giving us. Of course, just as we got very far away from shelter……..it started to pour. I recently told my mom that it never pours here (it’s more of a constant mist sort of thing), but I was clearly mistaken.

Despite the rain, we had a great day. We found a cool and eclectic covered market, came across a chocolate festival (sorry dad, no purchases), went to the Alice in Wonderland shop, and generally marveled at the sustained beauty of the place, which is something I’ve seen so much more of abroad than back home. It really is too bad they don’t take transfers (and too bad that I’m not a genius), because I wouldn’t have objected to sticking around for a bit longer 😛

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The Tower of London

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I can’t believe that I just went from Scotland to Geneva to Milan to Paris (almost) without stopping. Now that my weeks aren’t bookended with travel, I have had much more time to explore London without the semi-frantic finishing of homework and purchasing of travel-sized liquids that took over the past few weeks.

Today I went to the Tower of London, which is pictured above. That picture is kind of a lie, because I took it when Kara was here and the weather was magical. Today, however, it was STORMY looking outside. Before I jump into my day at the Tower, I should let you know that I really do have a normal life here! This is what I’ve been up to lately:

1. Getting caught in blizzards. It’s being doing this thing where it gets really summery and then suddenly it starts to snow/hail for about 5 minutes at time. Normal? I think not.

2. Not celebrating Pi day. The British think it’s quite irrational (ha!) to celebrate Pi day on March 14th. Why? Because July 22, which they would write as 22/7, is the more accurate way to represent Pi than “3.14.” Good call, England. Good call.

3. Seeing plays and not seeing plays. First I saw The Captain of Köpenick at the National Theater with my theater class, which I really enjoyed. Then, on Tuesday, I trekked to a small theater in East London to see Macbeth for class. This was after an already very long day. After an hour on the Tube and many other inconveniences we encountered trying to fit this into our day, we learned that the theater made a mistake and our tickets were actually reserved for Thursday. Some people refused to go back on Thursday, making for a rather empty theater.* I went back, but this time I left from my flat, meaning that it took a full 1 hour and 30 minutes and FOUR train lines to get there. I spent almost 5 hours on the Tube that day…all without a book! Ah! (If you’re wondering how the play was, I really couldn’t tell you. It was confusing and weird and this is a family-friendly blog, so there’s a lot that I am going to choose to not share with you. But do know that there were leotards. On men…)

4. NOW I can tell you all about the Tower of London. It is basically a fortress/castle. It used to be a royal residence, a prison, and a place of execution. Now, it’s open to the public and is also where the Crown Jewels are held, so that part is both functional and museum-y. It was SO COOL and requires subsections, so here goes:

4a. The Crown Jewels were SO SPECTACULAR. It literally hurt my eyes to look at them for too long. Visitors are led through the main room on a conveyor belt (I did it twice), past THE royal crowns, sceptres, orbs, rings and other diamond-encrusted objects used in coronations and other royal ceremonies. The room is actually a vault, and the Regalia (i’m pretty excited that I get to use that word) are taken out on an “as needed” basis, e.g.** Elizabeth II’s coronation…when she opens parliament…etc. Also, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen diamonds of multiple hundreds of carats, but they are very sparkly. Very very sparkly.

Also, yes, that was ORBS that I wrote before. If you look at portraits of Kings/Queens in their coronation garb, they are always holding an orb! It’s basically a gold ball that represents Christ’s dominion over the world. Elizabeth I is on the left with all the same regalia that the current queen, Elizabeth II, has in her picture on the right. Note the orb. I just feel like it’s a widely overlooked piece of Regalia. I know I never noticed it before, and everyone has to love the word “orb.”

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4b. The Tower of London also served as a prison and execution grounds for some of history’s biggest names, including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Thomas More. These figures were all too special for public executions, so they were executed inside tower walls on a little patch of grass in front of a little chapel, where they were then buried (Anne Boleyn is under the altar, but I think everyone else is deep below the chapel. They liked to hide their traitors.) Any public executions took place outside of the Tower walls on Tower Hill, which is uncomfortably now a Tube stop. The last execution at the Tower was of a German Spy in 1941; please do gasp as the recency.

4c. Medieval torture devices are gross.

4d. There are ravens–with clipped wings–all over the Tower grounds. They are huge and scary but very necessary to the experience.

4e. The guards are called Beefeaters! How great is that! Perhaps an origin of Roald Dahl’s “fleshlumpeaters” in The BFG?

4f. Definitely a history-coming-alive type of experience. I keep saying to myself, “I stood where _______ stood! I am seeing where _____ was beheaded!” I almost feel like these people were too important to have commoners trampling all over their lives. There’s nothing else quite like a bunch of hotdog-eating tourists taking iPhone pictures of the site of your execution, is there?

*More accurately, “basement.”

**If you love grammar too: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/ie-eg-oh-my.aspx

Paris, Day 2!

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This is Kara striking a pose in front of our new vacation rental. Ha! Just kidding. Obviously.

To say that Kara and I loved Versailles is an understatement. When Kara watched the movie Marie Antoinette for the first time, I’m pretty sure she forced me to come over and watch it the very next day. We, like Louis XIV, felt that it was time for a break from city life so we headed out to Versailles. The palace was home to France’s Royal families from 1682 until 1789, when the angry mobs forced the royals out and back to Paris during the French Revolution. Some parts of the palace have maintained their celebrity status in modern history, like the Hall of Mirrors, where the treaty to end WWI was signed. (Also known as The Treaty of Versailles…AP European History was springing to life throughout this trip.)

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Then we saw Marie Antoinette’s bed, and when our audioguides told us that she fled through the door on the left when the peasants stormed the palace, I’m pretty sure Kara and I both almost fainted. HISTORY. HERE! And now we are HERE! When we got back to the hotel that night, Kara and read up on the details of the French Revolution/the storming of the palace/Marie Antoinette’s execution, and continued to be amazed by our proximity to such historic events.

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Then it was time for even more of Marie Antoinette’s sleeping quarters! The picture below is from her bedroom in the Petit Trianon, which is a smaller palace on the grounds of Versailles that was given to Marie as her own personal home. We were basically twitching with excitement at this point, especially because we had just taken an awesome tram ride through the massive gardens to the Petit Trianon and were just filled with the splendor of Versailles. And now we were standing in Marie Antoinette’s bedroom. We also couldn’t help but notice that all of the beds were so small. Seriously, had the “Queen Sized Bed” not yet been invented?

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Then we continued to stroll through the gardens until we came upon this cluster of houses and a little farm. At this point, we were calling Versailles our own personal Disneyland (although Kara will say it was BEYOND Disneyland and CANNOT be compared to such a thing) because it simply had everything. To add a farm to the mix was completely overwhelming, in a good way.

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This is Kara trying to befriend the donkey and the donkey having none of it. But then we discovered that Kara can communicate with goats, so that was a little weird and hilarious. (Look at them! They are having such a connection!)

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After spending five hours at Versailles, it was time to head back to the city. There was food to be eaten! We got off the metro in the Madeleine area by the Opera Garnier, and it was the perfectly adorable Paris that we were hoping to see. We stopped outside of the Cafe de la Paix, where famous writers and artists used to hang out, but ended up getting nutella and banana crepes at a student-budget-approved cafe nearby. We then headed back to our hotel, got sandwiches to feel as though we had eaten dinner, and then went for dessert (round 2, if we’re being honest with ourselves.)

This cafe was SO GREAT. The inside had exactly the feel we would have expected from a nighttime dessert stop in Paris, and we felt that we could understand at least 30% of the menu, which was a definite step up from some of the other local cafes. Kara finally got her Cafe au Lait and a chocolate cake/caramel creation, while I opted for the super-sweet and creamy ice cream.

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The next morning we were off to the airport, where we would head our separate ways. Kara back to the US, and me back to London. We had such a fun week, and it was weird and sad when it came to an end. Travelling is always exhausting, and after visiting so many places in the past few weeks, it was a relief to be back in my flat with a more relaxed (though more academic) week ahead of me. (Is that the first time you’ve heard me mention academics? I thought so. I promise, I have actually written papers since I’ve been here!)

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Also please note that it Paris was covered in clouds of doom and gloom while we were sight seeing, but magically cleared up right as we were leaving. Needless to say, London was not this blue-skied when we landed. It’s actually snowing here right now!

 

Paris, Day 1!

After showing Kara around London, we headed to Paris for the weekend via Eurostar train! We did the major sites on our first day, including Notre Dame, the Louvre, Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triumph, and the Eiffel Tower. I think I am still suffering from some serious exhaustion after that day…SO MUCH to see!

IMG_2325This is Notre Dame. As you can see, it was very dark inside, which definitely added to the huge historic church mystique. This is just the center part of the cathedral; the areas on the side and behind the altar are just as impressive. I was particularly excited by the flying buttresses, which I recall learning about (and making fun of) in the 9th grade. IMG_2328We were able to walk between most of the sights. After Notre Dame, we headed to the Louvre, which required crossing the Pont de Arts bridge pictured below. It’s famously covered in love locks, which is apparently a trend in cities around the world. As I’ve travelled, I’ve seen a few spots where people have tried to start the trend, but none of the structures has had as many locks as this bridge. It’s completely covered on both sides and the bridge is looooong. That’s a lot of love!

IMG_2345Our Parisian adventures were about to take a turn for the worse after we crossed that bridge. As we were approaching the Louvre, a group of teenage girls with (fake) petitions descended on us. They all crowded around Kara and tried to distract her by forcing her off the sidewalk and into the street, all the while waving the petitions around…in the process, one of them grabbed her phone. They obviously did not know who they were messing with. Kara, being her typical awesome self, was super tough and STOLE IT RIGHT BACK, which is seriously amazing considering the fact that these girls are professionals. It was a miracle that she realized her phone was gone in the first place but even more amazing that she got it back! We could also tell that the pickpockets were not used to having their stolen items taken right back out of their hands. Go Kara! Needless to say, we spent the rest of the day clutching our bags and running from the people with petitions. We still enjoyed the sightseeing, but the pickpocketing experience was so unexpected and aggressive and honestly kind of disgusting…so that put a bit of a damper on the day, especially as we continued to see these fake petitioners going up to people at every major site we visited.

But we figured that we had survived the worst, and trekked on!

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Pictured above is a teeeeeny tiny part of the Louvre. The Louvre is just gigantic. There is actually a huge glass pyramid (much larger than the one on the bottom right of this picture) right in the middle of the courtyard-ish area and it doesn’t fit in at all! It’s quite unfortunate to look at, so I made sure to stand in front of it to take this picture. The Louvre also has two other wings and multiple floors and it is simply full of SO MUCH STUFF. It used to be a palace, so in addition to paintings, sculptures, and ancient objects, visitors can also walk through Napoleon’s apartments. (The Medicis also lived there!) I got to see his sitting room and his dining room table and all sorts of tables and chairs where important people once sat….my history minor self was geeking out the whole time.

Here’s the Mona Lisa, which is one of those things you have to see but you don’t know why you have to see. Do you know what I mean? It’s in a glass box because it’s been stolen by a museum employee, has had acid splashed on it, and it’s been slashed by some sort of a knife-wielding art-hater. Poor Mona has been through a lot.

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It’s a straight shot from the Louvre to the Arc de Triumph if you walk through the Tuileries Garden (pretty much the playground/backyard of many French kings and queens, and also where Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI escaped to during the French Revolution) and then up the Champs-Elysees, which is full of high end shops. The BEST part of the walk…and really the best part of all my travels…was lunch time. (Duh.) Look at this macaron. Just look at it. First of all, it was gigantic. Probably the size of five or six of those normal/mini macarons. Second of all, it was vanilla. Vanilla always gets a bad rap for being plain, but really this was a flavor experience unlike any other. Third of all, the cookie part was that perfect combo of chewy-with-an-outer-crisp that every macaron lover craves, and the cream on the inside was cold and delicious. I also got a square of really good pizza, but the macaron definitely stole the show. Kara was kind enough to allow me a bite of her eclair and that was also perfection in a pastry. IMG_2386

Here’s a view down the Champs-Elysees leading to the Arc de Triumph. IMG_2381And here is the Arc de Triumph. IMG_2388

Then we hopped on the metro (easier than the subway, but a bit more “dodgy” than the tube) and made our way to the Eiffel Tower. Last semester, I took a class on the histories of London and Paris, so I know way too much  about the Eiffel Tower. When it was completed in 1889, many people thought it was ugly! Artists revolted…people got all dramatic about it…and it was supposed to be torn down after 20 years. BUT THEN (is this history thrilling you or what?!) it became super important for communication during WWI and it slowly started to became all iconic and whatnot…and, as we know, it’s a bit more widely loved than it was in its early years.

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Unfortunately we didn’t get to take all kinds of fun “we’re at the Eiffel tower!” pictures because the pickpockets with petitions were EVERYWHERE. We had to flee a few picture-taking spots because we could see them approaching, petitions in hand. (Which is actually a really dumb tactic, because you would think that most travelers recognize that the petitions are fake. So they were essentially walking around with flags that declared their intentions.)

By the end of the day, we were exhausted. We found a cute restaurant by the hotel and then headed back for a late night date with Jimmy Fallon. There is nothing else quite like Jimmy Fallon when you are starting to miss the US. Especially because the only other English programs they showed were stock market reports…blehhh

The next day we had a great time at Versailles, so check back later for Paris, Day 2!

A little update!

Hello everyone 🙂

Kara, my best friend from home, is visiting me right now!! It is soooo nice to be reunited and it’s amazing how everything feels SO MUCH EASIER when you have your best friend with you. She also brought some amazing weather with her…yesterday was 60 degrees and sunny! I’m teaching her the ways of yummy English buscuits and looking the right way when crossing the street. Today we went to Abbey Road and pretended to be the Beatles.

In other news, Jackie and I made it to the semifinals of the Harvard i3 contest that I asked everyone to vote for! With almost 700 votes, we were the group with the most votes! THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who voted and shared! I’ll keep you updated as the competition moves along.