Thursday, July 3, 2008

Southern Excursion & Arrival at Oxford

We made it to Oxford! I already love it here.
Let me recap the last few days for you:

Monday- Everywhere.
We embarked on the Southern Excursion Monday and went to several places-- Jane Austen's house in Chawton (sp?), Stonehenge (just a bunch of rocks hehe), George Herbet's church at Bemerton, and Salisbury. It was such a full day. After dinner we went for a walk to the water meadows, one of the most beautiful places we've seen on the trip. It's difficult to describe, and if I say we followed a small river through a park and as it went beside fields of tall grass, walking South as the sun set, you still cannot imagine the beauty. Contrast this with the busy scene in London, the city grit turning the inside of your nose black, the noise coming into your hotel room at night from the street and the quiet streets and walk beside a field was perfect and just exactly what we all needed. After the walk (I should mention the animals we saw on the walk, first, a white llama, apparently to keep the foxes away, a few sheep, and a water vole. Look it up) we went to Salisbury Cathedral. It was closed, but we walked around it a little and sat on the grass, which is much softer than any grass I've ever sat on before, and thought for a while.

Hostel Life
A little about the hostels we stayed in over the course of the excursion-- The hostel at Salisbury was huge, multi story. I was surprised by all the hostels and how much I liked them. I had a preconceived notion that they were going to be dark and dirty and unsafe. I pictured a big empty room with a bunch of cots on the ground and everyone's bags lying under their cots completely vulnerable to anyone who shouls pass by. My RA, who went on Wheaton in England last summer, told me that we would have rooms with people in our program when we stayed at the hostels, but I never thought it would be as nice as it was. Arriving at Oxford today, our dorm is pretty similar to the hostel living situation, so it was nice training. For those who, like me, have never been to a hostel, the rooms were 10, 6, or 4 person, depending on the size of the hostel. At Tintagel, the girls took up the entire hostel. You have your shared room, sometimes it has a bathroom attached to it, sometimes the bathrooms are in the hallway, like closets, a room the size of a pantry in the kitchen with a toilet and sink, or with a shower-- the shower rooms usually had some kind of a partition so your clothes didn't get wet, there were hooks to hang them. We slept on bunks. And the food was amazing. The first night at Salisbury, the huge hostel, we had chicken and potatoes and soup and bread and cake and salad. It was so wonderful to get a real, cooked meal instead of going to a grocery store. They also had cafes, so after we arrived the first day, my friend Dayna and I sat on the front porch and she had a mocha and I had tea. And the drinks here were the second cheapest of any caffeinated beverages that I've seen anywhere. They use fair trade products too, including tea-direct, the tea that I thought was my favorite kind before I came back, but I think that will probably change in the course of my trip. I'm going to talk about that in one of my travel essays due later in the month. So, that's a little introduction about hostel life, more about them throughout probably.

The next day, Tuesday, we went to Tintagel. I had been there once before with my mom, sister, brother, and friend of our family a few years ago, so I was really looking forward to seeing it again. It's almost more fun to revisit places you've already been to because you have an advantage over the other people, you know where you want to go and don't have to waste any time. I hoped that we would have good weather, but we didn't at first. It started to rain about halfway through our time at the castle, although before it started, the clouds made it feel very sublime, as the Romantics would say. The wind was blowing so hard and the sea was beautiful. We hiked back up the hill in the rain. I had forgotten about the hills both ways to actually get to the castle. We were given money for dinner and breakfast as the hostel didn't provide it that night, so after some shopping a few of us went to a pub for some hot tea to warm our wet selves. After tea, the girls had to hike about a mile to the hostel carrying all their stuff for the night-- in the rain. This will be something I remember forever. First, when we left London, I was like, "Why did I bring so much stuff for the excursion??" A lot of girls were thinking the same thing. So we already had too much stuff. Add the rain and wind to that, hiking up a hill and across the open countryside-- granted, it was beautiful countryside and the whole thing would have been really enjoyable if we weren't carrying our stuff. Oh, also, we didn't know where we were going. Dr. Ryken and Dr. Colon were leading us, but we saw a sign with YHA and an arrow pointing the way we did not turn. We were headed straight towards the cliffs with houses in the other direction and nothing in sight. It was very dramatic and we were trying to make the best of it. We went down a hill and then the hostel appeared, right on the edge of the cliffs. We scurried in like wet rats and dispersed to our rooms-- this was the hostel that we took up entirely, 20 girls. Afterwards we ate dinner, played cards, watched Yee Sum's picture slideshow of the trip so far-- all this happened in the kitchen which was perfect for our group. It was cozy with four small tables and a couch. Then I went for a walk on the cliffs. The weather had cleared up and the sun came out. I went a little ways around in a few directions and found some empty snail shells and quartz around the path and then went back to get Jana. The woman running the hostel told us about a path where we could go see the castle, so we went that way. Liz came too, and we found Stephanie at the old church on the way, where they were having bell ringing practice for saturdays and sundays. We walked in because we were curious (and hoping that they would let us ring them-- we didn't know it was practice at that point) and saw six older men all pulling a rope. It looked like a lot of fun. I wish we could have done it. I'll add it to my list of future occupations-- bell ringer in old church in England. The walk was great, but I don't have any pictures from that. I didn't fee like taking it with me, just wanted to enjoy it. The night ended talking with my roommates.

Wednesday morning we set off on the mile hike back to the coach park, and this time we made it abour half way before it started to rain. We went to Bath, and this was probably my least favorite day. Everyone was tired from the day before and no one really felt like touring. We saw the Roman baths, went to the assembly rooms, but they were closed. We did get to go to the fashion museum which was a treat and the girls got to try on corsets and the skirt big things that I forgot the name of. It was so fun to see all the dresses women wore, the patterns, and the intricacy in design and how they changed over time. We stayed in another nice hostel that night, in Bath, and it was such a relief to get there and stop going, knowing that we were coming to Oxford the next day. Dinner was so good, penne and meatballs with fruit and real English apple crumble. I played euchre afterwards with Joe, Suzy, and Val, had some great talks with roommates and others and went to bed.

Thursday-Tintern Abbey & Oxford
Breakfast this morning was great. I love eating real meals. We packed up and drove to Tintern Abbey. Welcome to Wales! We drove past the abbey, and I thought, "This is it?" But, when we got inside, it was beautiful and much more complex in layout and design than I thought at first. Also, it's ruins. So instead of stained glass you had trees and green hills through the windows, pink flowers growing out of the walls, cows in a pasture visible from inside. The whole time we were there the sky was changing. It would go from dark and cold and rain threatening to hot and sunny in a few seconds. I was glad we got to see it. Afterwards we went on the traditional WIE walk and had "Tintern Abbey" read to us by Dr. Colon, in a place that was not a few miles above, but it had almost the same effect. We weren't going to have dampened attitudes at this point. I'm glad I get to go back to Wales at the end.
They told us it would take 2-3 hours to get to Oxford, but it only took 1.7, lol. I've been so looking forward to being here, and so far I love it. While we were standing on the street corner, Johnny and I made plans to investigate the candy shop across the street, so I unpack until 4 and then we set off. The candy shop was disappointing, because it wasn't really a candy shop, but we then proceeded to explore Oxford for about two hours. I felt like my dad. We saw the Eagle and Child, and tons of other places. We looked at restaurants, shops, bookstores, cafes, everything. Got back in time to change for dinner, and oh man, dinner was good. They bring it to you in courses. First, fresh fruit with ginger so it has a little bit of a kick, bread, chicken with orange gravy, green beans (it was so good to have vegetables b/c we haven't in so long), potatoes, salad, and for dessert, cream puffs with chocolate drizzled over them, and the best coffee I've had in this country and better than at least 3/4 of what I've had in the US, served in tiny cups with green patterned rim and matching saucers. It's a lot of detail about the food, but it was so good, and so welcome after sandwiches and chips.
We have our own rooms here too, and it's great to have a home base and not have to live out of a suitcase and have lots of space and no one bother you. sidenote.
Later tonight, Dr. Ryken led us on a tour of Oxford, so I saw the half that Johnny and I did not see. I have so many places I want to go and things I want to do, bookshops, parks, seeing people, taking pictures of certain monuments-- did you know, Latimer and Ridley were martyred here in Oxford? I did not until tonight when we saw the very spot and the plaques. Pretty intense.
It's only the first day, well, half day, but I like it so much here. I could see myself living here, and this is the first place that I've really felt that about so far, that we've visited.
Tomorrow we have class and the work begins again. We get Sunday off, so I think I'll do some fun things around here. I've got to go write a reading journal for class. I think I've said everything. If not, it's already too long.

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