Saturday, 30 January 2010

Broughton Manor and Warwick Castle

Today was brilliant. I awoke before the sun to get some predawn work done on my philosophy paper before the OPUS excursion. This was the day we Oxford exchange students were journeying to Broughton Manor and Warwick Castle. At 10 AM we gathered outside of Hertford College and off we went into the sunny emerald pasture.

It was bright and cold today, but luckily the sun shone on our merry band all day. The first stop, Broughton Manor, is still inhabited by Lord and Lady Saye. The Great Hall of the Manor dates to the 13th century. William Wykeham, founder of New College, was one of the original owners of the Manor. Between the 17th century plaster mantel and oriental wall paper in the King Room and the tiny spiral stair case, which was the only staircase in the home for centuries, one is not sure where to look first. The Queen Anne room refers to the 17th century queen of King James I. The King room bedded both King James I (17th century) and King Edward VII (19th century). Lord Saye was a parliamentarian during the Civil War and held secret meetings in the upper most room of his manor. Cannon balls were found in the large mote that surrounds the manor from the civil war when the manor was attacked by royalists. Presently, the manor is not heated, even though the family still resides there!

After a satisfying lunch on the bus we had nearly arrived at Warwick Castle. Warwick Castle is very different from Broughton Manor. Instead of a guided tour we were given maps and allowed to roam about the castle grounds. It is much more commercialized than Broughton. I was disappointed to learn that the castle is owned by Madame Tussauds. It did explain the creepy wax figures adorning the castle though. The most discouraging aspect of the castle was the lack of historical information. Even when there was a minimal amount of interpretation one was unsure what in each room was real or reproduction. My time a President Lincoln's Cottage has made me into somewhat of a purest. I'd rather see an empty space than reproduced furniture from all periods in the same room. It was still really fun, and because it was so cheeky we got some pretty funny pictures with the wax figurines. The best part of the castle was the view from the towers. In addition to the castle mound, the oldest part of the castle dating to the 11th century, Guy's tower and Caesar's tower offer wonderful views of the English country side and the magnificent cathedral in the town of Warwick.

By 6 PM we were safely back in Oxford, and I attended to the end of that philosophy paper. As stated above, today was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Budding Romance

I should have titled this piece budding romances, but I wanted to you, reader, to be fooled for just a moment. On Monday I retrieved my bicycle (it's pictured above, the beautiful purple little roadster). It has revolutionized my travel. I zip around Oxford now in no time at all. My bicycle and I have a strong bond already.

Today I also returned to the Gloucester Green Market. Since it wasn't snowing the vendors were out in force. I gleaned some beautiful eggplants and finally found some affordable nuts. For some reason nuts and trail mixes are very pricey in the stores here. I found a dry goods vendor who sold them for a reasonable amount.

There was also a cheese vendor at the market. I can foresee a strong relationship forming with my cheese monger. I went a little crazy and got three kinds of cheese, a French mozzarella, a Gruyere (also French), and finally an English red Windsor. You can see them pictured with my grapes. I think the cheese seller and my butcher, John David, will be competing for my affection. Monday I went to see John and got a mozzarella, sun dried tomato, and basil veggie sausage. It was AMAZING.

As Ogden Nash would say, "Food, Food Glorious Food." Obviously the way to my heart is through my stomach after a short bike ride into city center.

Monday, 25 January 2010

"Meandering leads to perfection." - Lao Tzu

Tonight I invite you to walk with me down one of my favorite pavements in Oxford, North Hinskey Lane.

At first North Hinskey Lane does not look too promising, especially on a damp gray day as today. As we begin our stroll there is a McDonald's on our left and some power lines on the right, but almost immediately that is behind us and the first little cottage, "Frog Cottage", appears on the left. It is gated and grassy; a stream lulls behind it. Next comes the "Old Manor House". This house is large and made from brick, stucco, and stone. It is a combination of Tudor, Gothic, and Victorian construction. It is also gated, and the back of the house faces the road. Its grandeur can only be imagined from its illusive broad side. Before we come upon Westminster hamlet the North Hinskey Nature Reserve appears. It is on a hillside containing benches and paths to explore. Perhaps we will traverse those paths on a brighter day. Coming upon Westminster we first hear children playing in the school yard of the village school. The laughter bounces off the stone bridge across from the school. The bridge marks an entrance to the expansive St. George Park. We will come back to the bridge later, literally.

Just across from the bridge is a large manor hidden by a half brick wall and tall shrubbery. The sign reads "Old School". Is it a school, or a residence? Just around the bend from the "Old School" lies a very old looking church. A small graveyard sits in front of the church. Some of the headstones read 1835 and later; the rest are illegible. Across from the church sits the "Cottage Farm". Its bright red door matches the red letter box built into the stone fence surrounding the home. Next comes "Ferry Cottage". It is perhaps my favorite structure on the entire road. The stone is just a bit darker and a trimmed climbing vine outlines the doors and windows. As the name implies, a stream flows through the back yard of "Ferry Cottage".

Just beyond "Ferry Cottage" sits "The Fishes". It is a traditional public house, but it seems slightly swankier. A board outside the venue invites us in to "enjoy a warm Sunday roast". Opposite "The Fishes" is the "Ruskin Cottage". It is a very historic cottage, and marks the start of a small gathering of old cottages. These cottages are stone and still have thatched roofs made of straw. The "Ruskin Cottage" seems very inviting with soft green trim. One of the other little cottages seems more like a green house; hanging baskets adorn the front and plants fill the sills of the windows. The yard is a gated unruly mass of plants and two actual green houses. Next we come upon "Brook House", a regal estate, immediately followed by "Sunny Brook". The bright red holly and yellow Cyprus plants that adorn "Sunny Brook" liven the journey. On this bleak day it is a welcome splash of color. In the distance we can see the road coming to an end at the Oxford R.F.C. also known as The Oxford Rugby Complex. Here we turn around.

We return to the stone bridge across from the "Old School". Crossing the bridge we enter St. George's Park. It's so wet that the path through the fields and tufts of trees is surrounded by water. The land is completely saturated and flooded. We pass an old man walking his dog and a young girl running. We come to another bridge, a more modern bridge. Following the new bridge we encounter an extended family of squirrels. They are feverishly searching for nuts which are now most likely hopelessly submerged. Finally we come to the end of the wooded aisle. We are deposited onto a main thoroughfare in an industrial area. We turn onto a small paved path returning us to St. George's Park. Before we know it we're back at my flat, glad to feel the warmth of the interior after the damp jaunt.

I hope you enjoyed North Hinskey Lane as much as I do. I'll try and take some pictures next time I'm down that way, but for know this literary picture will have to do.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Lake Front Flat

Hello dear friends! I have just completed my first Oxford paper! It was titled "Domestic Virtue: Jane Austen's Nationalism." Thank goodness I finished it. Tomorrow I defend it. My Philosophy paper is due Saturday, so tomorrow it's back to the books.

Monday evening I attended my first rehearsal with the Oxford University Student Choir (OUSC for short). It was wonderful and a great reminder of my affection for large choral singing. On March 9th we will perform Beethoven's Mass in C and his Choral Fantasy. They are magnificent pieces.

Although Sunday was a beautiful day with lots of sun (as the pictures in the last post represent) the past few days have been wet; very wet. This morning I awoke to snow which quickly turned to rain as the day continued. The rivers and streams here are already overflowing, literally. As the wetness continued, the park next to my flat has gradually become a large lake (as pictured); complete with swans.

Today I was very happy to learn that I acquired a bike. This is useful considering the distance to my Philosophy tutor's house. Monday I retrieve the bike, so I will not have it Saturday for the long journey to his home. I think it will prove very useful this semester though.

Two food notes: 1. On Monday I tried a 'jacket potato.' I had high expectations; I was thinking it would be something like a twice baked potato. No, no, all it is is a once baked potato. That's it. You order toppings for it; a little disappointing to say the least.
2. Today I had Millie's Cookies, famous in Oxford. The were wonderful. I had a white chocolate raspberry and an orange chocolate chip. As cookie extraordinaires know cookies have a certain density, and Millie's Cookies were just the right amount of chewiness without being mushy. They are an expensive indulgence but well worth it; especially on a day when a paper is due.

I am exhausted; hitting the sack after a rigorous day of academics.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The Tutorial System

I feel I should take a moment to explain the tutorial system. As my tutor today said, "Oxford is one of the only places that still utilizes the tutorial, because it is a lot of work." There are three terms, the Michaelmas, Hillary, and Trinity terms at Oxford. Each term is eight weeks long with five weeks in between. Most Oxford students have three year engagements at University and have a combination of lectures and tutorials throughout the term. A tutorial is a one-on-one class; one professor and one student. Each week the two meet once for about an hour. During the meeting the student presents a 2,000 word essay to the tutor based on readings assigned the previous meeting. For each tutorial, each week the student is required to read between 3-5 books in addition to supplementary articles and resources. Last week I was speaking with a British student and asking about social events. His response, "Socialize!? We're Oxford University students, we don't have time for social events." He was just kidding; I think.

Today I met my Philosophy tutor. We will meet at his house, which is quite a jaunt from my flat. He lives in a hamlet of Oxford, so I'm going to try and get a bike tomorrow to lessen the commute. During our meeting we fleshed out the syllabus, and I am very excited about the course. We are not, as earlier mentioned, starting with Plato and Aristotle. Instead I will be comparing Hobbes and Locke in the first week.

After making my way back to Oxford I went to the Sunday evening service in the Hertford Chapel. After the service I spoke with the director of the College Choir. If all goes well, I am to join them. This will be a wonderful way to socialize with Hertford College students. Tomorrow I am joining the Oxford University Student Choir. More on that tomorrow. Needless to say, after a hiatus, I will be singing a lot.

Saturday, 16 January 2010


"Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where... though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material."

Jane Austen

I am resigned to the fruits of Mr. Gutenberg's press for the rest of my time in Oxford. My readings for both tutorials are almost overwhelliming though truely engaging. Since meeting with my British Women Writer's tutor I have been devoted to Emma to which I just finished. I cannot help but muse that at one time or other a young woman, similar to myself, sat curled on the sofa of this very flat with tea, a digestive* with or without peanut butter (though I do recomend the peanut butter), and this very same delightful novel.

To speak breifly on my Philosophy tutorial: I just received my reading list, and my tutor wishes to cover two philosophers per week. I have yet to even begin seeking my books for the course. Oh the excitment, the utter unbelieaviableness!

I fear I am not very coheirent. I also fear this blog will become quite boring now that I am not romping about this beautiful city. Fortunetly, some upcoming engagements should save you, readers, from more Austen quotes and any at all from misters Plato and Aristotle; the objects of my first week of philosophical study.

*Note: Digestives are the most delightful, mild biscuts (cookies) that I enjoy almost everyday.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

British Cuisine

This morning I met with my tutor for British Women Writers. She is awesome, the course is going to rock. I bought my first Oxford University Press classics today. Jane Austin's Emma and Persuasion. Both are for my tutorial.

After my meeting I had my first taste of true British cuisine. I got a Cornish Pasty. A pasty is kind of like a mini calzone. Instead of pizza dough the filling is wrapped with a more flaky pastry dough, but not as light as a filo dough. I got a Wholemeal (wholewheat) Vegetable Pasty. The pasty seller told me it was like eating vegetable stew all wrapped up, and it was!

People told me horror stories of British food, but from what I've tasted it's not bad. Most of it is really good. Everyone also told me it would be so hard to be a vegetarian here. Yes, there is a lot of meet. In fact one restaurant is called "Beefeater." There is always a vegetarian option though. People are very sensitive to it here too; always specifying vegan and vegetarian. Also, for all you celiacs out there, there are gluten free options at most eateries here.

I also went to the Museum of Oxford today. It is situated in Town Hall. There I learned that people have occupied this land since prehistory. The same roads used today were created in the 8th century. That is when Edward the Elder first mentioned Oxford in writing. It's pretty old, to say the least.

Got to go read. Since I've met with one of my tutors I have actual work to do now.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Oxford

1. The best and worst part of my day is waking up in the morning. It is the warmest part of my day, hence the best part. I also know I will never be that warm again through the course of my day, hence the worst part. Alas, I have to wait a full 24 hours to be completely warm again.

2. Everyone actually knows the linage of the Crown.

3. People rarely say 'thank you;' they more often then not say 'cheers'

4. The University colleges still host formal black tie dinners.

5. About 20,000 students attend the almost 40 colleges within Oxford University.

6. Every college has a bar on/near campus. Hertford College now has the only student managed bar in Oxford (all college bars used to be student run).

7. One in every seventh person in Oxford is a student.

8. The Divinity School Library is the oldest University building in Oxford. Construction began in 1427 (that's 65 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue).

9. Students do not actually attend All Souls College. Intellectuals are invited there to write and contribute to their academic field.

10. During the English Civil War Parliament met in the Bodleian Convocation room.

11. Going into the Bodleian Library will change your life.

So number 11 isn't a fact, but it's true for me. Today I was introduced to the Bodleian Library, the most beautiful, inspiring place I have ever been. I also received a tour of the Hertford College Campus and the Hertford College Library. You can feel the history here. It wraps it's big, long, timeline-like arms around you and carries you through the city. I love it!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

"It is all... like an opera."

As I was walking into city center this morning I could hear the chatter of neighbors, they sky was grey, and there were byciclists riding by. It was just as though I were actually walking through those magnificant BBC comidies that show on public television on Saturday nights. I thought at any moment Judi Dench would pop out.

Yesterday I took the Union Tour. The Union Society was founded in the 1800s during a time when student free speech was suppressed at Oxford. The Society is not affiliated with the University, but it is a student organization. Members and/or presidents include Benazir Bhutto, Tony Blair, and Margret Thatcher. The walls of the Union Library were the canvas for Morris, Rossetti, and Burne-Jones in the 1850s.

Today I got my official Oxford dairy (pocket calendar). After that I also visited the Oxford Castle. The castle tower is one of the oldest structures in Oxford. It was built a thousand years ago by the Saxons. The view from the top of the Castle was not as grand as the view from the top of St. Mary the Virgin Church. I visited the church yesterday and got the most spectacular view of the city. The picture in this blog was taken from the church tower and frames All Souls College in the foreground and New College in the background.

Before I headed back to the flat I stopped by the Oxford Museum of Science. The Museum is the original School of Science. I saw a calculator made in 1666. I think my brother would have appreciated that Museum more than I did. I do recommend the Museum though, there are fascinating gadgets there from centuries ago. Also, they have Einstein's blackboard on display.

Tonight I leave you with a quote from William Butler Yeats. He much more poetically expresses the magic of this city:

"I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all... like an opera." - William Butler Yeats

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

I started the day with mass at the St. Thomas Moore Chapel in the Oxford Newman Center. There are beautiful, historic churches throughout Oxford, but thanks to good ol' King Henry the VIII these are all affiliated with the Church of England. Mass at the Chapel was great though. I really enjoyed the sermon. My most favorite thing about being Catholic is the fact that I can walk into any church anywhere in the world on Sundays and know exactly what's happening. It's like being home even though I'm over four thousand miles away.

This afternoon I continued my Museum Tour. The Oxford Museum of Natural History is actually a museum created by the university. It houses the specimens the university's science departments don't need anymore. It housed portions of Darwin's collections amongst fossils representing the entire animal kingdom. There were rhino heads, a stuffed cheetah one is invited to pet upon arrival, and the largest blue tuna fossil I have ever seen. There I also saw the only surviving soft tissue remains of the Dodo Bird. I wish my nephew was with me, because the Museum as very inclusive for children. He would have loved the dinosaurs that hung from the ceiling.

The Museum is just as famous for its architecture as it is for its natural history. Intricate wrought iron and stone carvings of plants and animals adorn the central room of the museum. Besides the flora and fauna adorning the gables the likeness of scientists such as Aristotle, Newton, and Darwin are chiseled from the pillars of the building. Some of them, such as Darwin, studied at the university.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is adjacent to the Oxford University of Natural History. It houses a plethora of cultural anthropological artifacts. One exhibit highlighted an Eskimo poncho fashioned from seal intestines. It also highlighted shoes and handbags from different periods and places, (I hope some of you have noticed that I seek items such as shoes at museums, i.e. Mongolian boots.) including Manchu bridegroom slippers from the 19th century. I also learned the intricacies of Bobbin lace production.

As the daylight faded I made my way back to my flat; another successful Oxford adventure completed.

The Ashmolean Museum

Yesterday, Saturday January 9th, was AWESOME! The cold day dawned sunny but brisk. I ventured from my flat to explore Oxford. My tutorials don't start until tomorrow, so I have just a few days to wonder the city unhindered.

My plan for the day was to find as many local museums as possible. There are a plethora of cultural avenues, including a multitude of "no fee, donations appreciated" museums. I chose to start the day at the Ashmolean, a museum in north Oxford, then work my way south through the city.

The Ashmolean was huge. From the outside it doesn't look that big (as you can see by the picture). Inside though there were four floors. The fourth floor was a roof top restaurant, but the rest of the building was full of artifacts. It began with the earliest civilizations. There were Grecian vases from 600 BCE. I moved on to Italy before the Romans. There was an awesome quote from D.H. Lawrence, "The Etruscans... were the people who occupied the middle of Italy in early Roman days, and whom the Romans, in their usual neighborly fashion, wiped out entirely in order to make room for Rome with a very big R." The Roman Empire had even reached Oxordshire by CE 70. There was beautiful jewlery, pottery, and art on display from this period that made me beam with pride in my Italian heritage.

I continued through the East meets West exhibit where I found an intricatly carved wooden door from the silk road, block printed fabrics from CE 950, and awesome Mongolian riding boots. For those of you who know my love of shoes I can report that replicas of the boots were not to be found in the museum shop. Also in this exhibit were rooms full of pottery. England is very well know for its pottery. I even found a plate that was created in Oxford, sent to China to be manufactured, then returned to England to be sold (the plate dated to 1755). Outsourcing began with the silk road apparently.

I then spent the rest of my time 'oohing' and 'ahhing' over the bountiful displays of paintings at the Ashmolean. I won't bore you with the details of my art explosion. I will say there was an actual Van Gogh on display which I was close enough to breath on. I almost cried with excitment. I should also note that sometimes the best part of a Bristish art museum is the people in it. Brits are very expressive when veiwing art. They talk to each other about the coloring, the landscape, even the subjects of the painting. Unlike American museums, British museums are not quite.

After the museum, where I must admit I lost myself and spent more time than I expected, I continued into City Center where I joined the county library, replaced some items from my lost suitcase, and found town hall. I learned a bit about British culture during my outing. Oxford is very alive town. You never see anyone walking bythemselves. City Center was full of families. I don't think baby sitters exist here because it wouldn't occur to parents to leave there children at home. There is a wonderful vibrancy that I haven't expereinced in the US.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Getting Here

Hello from Oxford, UK!

I thought the application for Oxford was a challenge. Actually, it's getting here that's the tough part. The following accounts took place between January 5th and January 7th.

Although I had a boarding pass for United Airlines flight 196, I did not have a seat. That meant I had to rely on a missing passenger to get on the flight. This was quite distressing considering I was under the impression I had purchased a ticket. Fortunately for me, Miss Carson missed the final boarding call and I was given her seat. It was the last seat on the plane. This proved to be the corrugated start of a very long journey.

I'll just give the highlights from the trip. When arriving in a foreign airport one does not want to see: plumes of smoke from the wing of a grounded plane, police tape, police with automatic weapons, and bomb sniffing dogs. When I landed in Frankfurt the first sight was a smoking plane. I didn't have time to worry about it though because I had a plane to catch. It was 7:40 AM and my connecting flight to London was at 8:10 AM. Due to the lovely German family I met on the flight over the Atlantic I was the first passenger off the plane. I sprint toward the B gates from the A gates. Unfortunately I was halted by by police tape, police with automatic weapons, and bomb sniffing dogs. The area between gates A and B was closed for no apparent explanation (did it have to do with the smoking plane?... I never learned why the area was closed). Slowly the minutes ticked away. The area finally reopened around 8:10. I rushed through security to the B gates. I made it to the info desk by 8:35 and checked with the airport employee just to make sure my plane was gone. "Yes," she said, "it took off at 8:35." I looked at the clock, it was 8:36.

I tried all day to get onto a flight. The weather conditions were worsening in London (For those of you unaware, England was just smashed with a "blizzard." Apparently blizzard means two inches of snow; literally in London there was two - three inches), and my chances of leaving Frankfurt that day were getting slimmer and slimmer. I had to get out that day though, or else I would be late for my Oxford orientation.

At 7 PM I found myself in the InnerCity Airport Hotel in Frankfurt. I was spending the night in Frankfurt, and I was devastated. All sorts of irrational thoughts scurried through my head. But I finally resigned myself to the thought that I would be late for my Oxford orientation.

I left Frankfurt at 8:30 AM January 7th. I arrived at London City Airport at 8:20 (remember, Germany is an hour ahead of London). After getting a receipt for my lost bag (yes, I lost some luggage), I found my way to Victoria Coach Station. The taxi ride to Victoria Coach Station was AMAZING. I saw the London eye, Westminster castle and Westminster Abbey, and a portion of parliament. From the station I boarded a bus to Oxford, which broke down. Finally, by 12:45 PM I found myself in orientation.

Today, January 8th, I settled into my flat, went food shopping, and made my first pot of sauce. Remember folks, this is just the highlights.

I am having an absolute blast. I wish all of you could experience this magic.

Much love from Oxfordshire,

P.S. The photo is a picture of my street!