Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Beginning of the End


I was on the Quad the other day and ran into a friend I hadn’t seen all term.  We had a nice little chat, and he asked me if I’d updated my blog lately.  “No,” I said. “I’ve gotten so behind—it’s too daunting to deal with right now!”  “Too busy living life to write about, huh?” he said.

So that’s my excuse.

We’re going to leave the traveling stories for now; maybe I’ll make that a summer project.  Briefly: After Prague, Annie and I went on to Salzburg, which is by far my favorite city of all I’ve visited.  I then flew back to London on my own, and my family came in the next day!  We had a wonderful week together, even if some of the circumstances were less than ideal.  After they left, I went to Paris by train and met Annie and some other kids from OOSC.  I ended up doing most of Paris on my own, as I had a much tighter timeframe than everyone else.  It wasn’t my favorite city ever, but I did run into Kelsey McGuire in front of the Musee d’Orsey — definitely the highlight.  From Paris I went to Amsterdam, and Megan met me there the next morning.  Amsterdam is beautiful, and the Dutch people are absolutely lovely.  After Amsterdam the two of us went to Berlin and had a history-rich couple of days there.  Megan then went home to Oxford, and I took a day-long train ride to Krakow, Poland on my own.  I spent a day at Auschwitz and another exploring Krakow before going home to Oxford.  The next couple weeks were all about catching up on sleep, fending for myself in the kitchen, listening to plenty of This American Life, laying in the Parks for hours, watching all the American TV I had neglected during Hilary term, and just a little bit of reading.

Now it’s Wednesday of 6th week of Trinity term, and the end is rapidly drawing near.  This term has been joyfully hectic.  The chaos began on May Day, really.  For the sake of Oxford tradition, we stayed up all night and were at Magdalen College by 5:30 am to hear their choir sing and welcome Spring.  A full English breakfast afterwards made it all worth it, as did the six hours of sleep I managed to get after that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Czech-ing out Prague.

I left for Prague directly from the end-of-term bop.  I mean, we danced our little essay-less hearts out, I washed off my facepaint, and I was off with my REI backpack at 12:30 am on Sunday, March 14th. Annie and I had a bus to catch at the ungodly hour of 1 am, for the horrendous three-hour ride to the airport, all so we could sit and wait for our flight at 7:15.  With a fresh box of doner and chips in hand, I made my way to the High Street stop, only to run into Annie on Cornmarket Street.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“To High Street?” I said. “Where are you going?”
“Our bus leaves from Gloucester Green, you dork,” she said.
Huge crisis averted there.

Managed to get a couple hours of sleep with my cheek smashed up against the cold bus window, and once we were on the plane I was out.  I wasn’t even conscious for takeoff.  Annie was fast asleep too, and we both woke up as they announced our descent into Prague.  Annie sat up fast, looking around her wildly. “Are we turning around?” she asked.
“What?” I said. “No, we’re getting to land.”
“Why aren’t we moving?” she asked, with more than a little note of hysteria in her voice. “Annie, we’re getting ready to land,” I said. “We’re moving. It’s fine.”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Conceding defeat

I'm coming to terms with the fact that I will never, ever be on top of this blog, chronologically speaking, and I apologize. I love writing, but so much of my life in term-time is centered on this fact that when I'm not working, I have to turn my brain off.  But I'm constantly turning words over in my brain, figuring out their precise placement in the sentences I want to use to describe what's before my eyes.  I just never get those words down.

Here's a quick summary of things I still plan on covering once my life slows down.
- I wrapped up my second term at Oxford. Academically, uninspiring. Socially, brilliant.
- I went to Prague.
- I went to Salzburg.
- My family came to visit.

That underwhelming vagueness will have to suffice for now-- I'm leaving for Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Krakow in the morning.  I'll be back eventually, with even more stories than I've already collected, and I'm hoping to use the rest of my vacation to actually put them to paper. Er, screen.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Merrily, merrily


It’s the beginning of 7th week, Hilary term, and I’ve just realized I’ve only blogged about Christmas break trips and asinine events on my walks home.

So I can ease my guilty conscience, and further avoid beginning this week’s massive reading list, I’ll begin posting some categorized updates on what I’ve gotten up to this term.

If you remember correctly, I hated rowing last term. Loathed. Abhorred. Would rather have shards of glass in my eyes.  Our coach was the best combination of expletives I can produce, we had two early morning outings and an afternoon every week, and I was really, really rubbish at the whole thing.

Oh, how things change.

Prepared to quit, I attended the first meeting with our new captain, Rosie.  We’re already good friends, so I at least wanted to hear her out before I dropped the bomb.  She emphasized that she wanted, more than anything, for us to have fun, to have an enjoyable experience since last term was so crap.  On top of that, there was the guilt I’d live with if I dropped out—they’d be a girl short in the boat.  Besides, they were on the hunt for a new coach, and they promised that the one they found was absolutely lovely.
I agreed to stick with it, but threatened to quit if anyone made me run in a pack.

Also, most importantly—no more morning outings.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weirdest.

Okay, forgive the two posts in one day-- I wouldn't normally indulge in such narcissism.  But I HAD to share what I learned tonight.  First, let's recap a few of the language barriers I've had to get over:

pants vs. trousers
cookies vs. biscuits
stroller vs. pram
movie vs. film

etc.

Tonight, we had a rowing get-together, and I brought along some sugar cookies I'd baked and a can of funfetti frosting, imported from the US.  The frosting was pink, and the lid held some Valentine's sprinkles.  I got everything out and put it on a desk, and someone asked me what was in the lid.
"Sprinkles," I said.
She looked at me.
"Oh, geez," I said.  "Don't tell me you have a different name for these, too."
"Those are hundreds of thousands," she said.
"I'm sorry-- what??"
"Hundreds of thousands!" She then proceeded to show the lid around the room and take a poll on the proper name for the little sugary bits.  It was unanimous-- hundreds of thousands all around.

By far the WEIRDEST phrase yet.

Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine's Day.  Even though I've never had a Valentine to celebrate with, I don't mind this holiday.  Say what you will about it being a Hallmark holiday, a commercial opportunity to milk over-achieving, approval-seeking, wife-appeasing men for all they're worth, but I actually kind of like it.

Bearing that in mind, please know that what I'm about to tell you doesn't come from a place of bitterness, cynicism, depression, or angst.  It comes from Fact.

Today, this Valentine's Day, I stepped in dog poop on my way home.

Some kind of sign?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mid-way Mark

Today marks the halfway point of my life in Oxford.  Some days I forget I already have two years of uni behind me.  I forget this isn't permanent.  I forget that my days in the happiest library on earth are numbered.  I forget that I'm not actually going to be able to pop over to my friends' houses next year, that I have no idea who I'll be living with or where I'll be living.  I kind of feel like I'm on hold-- this year is a brief interruption in my normally boring life.  I've been homesick, I've been in love with this place, I've hated the weather, I've reveled in it, I've never wanted to read another word again, I've made mental lists of all the books I can't wait to get my hands on.  I've tried new foods, new friends, new sports, new TV shows, new ways of thinking, new ways of living.  I've grown so much more comfortable in being me.  I've gained confidence in my interactions with others-- both students and tutors.  I like me.

All this in the first half... what's next for the rest?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Back in the UK


I’m slowly but surely going to catch up.

I left the blue skies of Monument on the 6th of January.  By the time we hit Castle Rock, the fog was thick and the flurries were coming.  Cleared up a little by the time we got to Denver, but I did get the surprise of not seeing my flight to Edmonton, Alberta anywhere on the screens.  Talked to the people at the desk to discover it’d been delayed by three hours, meaning I’d miss my connection to Heathrow.  After a long wait and a really nice man’s help, I had to dash to catch my flight to Houston.  Houston was completely non-event.  The plane to Heathrow, though, was AMAZING.  I ended up getting switched to a Continental flight, and they have got the hook-up.  Each seat has a touch screen TV with 300 FREE films to choose from, plus who knows how many TV shows.  I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Good Will Hunting, and The Bourne Ultimatum, plus three episodes of Arrested Development.  PLUS I had a nice chat with the girl next to me, who’s technically American but goes to a British boarding school.  She was cool, and we’re now Facebook friends.  Weird to think that I made a friend my sister’s age… I’ll try not to read too much into that.  The man on the other side of me was British and friendly.  I think he thought we were pretty silly, but whatevs.  Needless to say, I only slept for about thirty minutes.
            At one point I went to the back to stretch my legs and use the bathroom, and there was a guy nursing a drink and… lurking.  He was about 5’6”, potbellied, curly dark hair, stubble, approximate age: 39.  He was listening to his iPod and bobbling his head about.  When I walked up he gave me the ol’ once-over, and then took his free hand and tipped it to his mouth, miming taking a drink.  He accompanied this gesture with a little waggle of the eyebrows and a head-nod in my direction.
            “Huh?” I asked.
            “Drink?” he said.
            “Oh, uh, no. I’m fine, thanks.”
            “Why not?” he asked. Eyebrow waggle.
            “I’m underage.”
            He looked briefly terrified. “Oh really? How old?”
            “Twenty.”
            “Well, you know, it’s, uh, law of the sea.”
            “This is an American plane.  It’s American law.  I’m underage.”
            “No! No! It’s law of the sea. We’re going to England, and it’s legal there.”
            “Whatever.”
            He took a lingering look at my chest region, which was displaying the Regent’s Park crest, and asked, “So, uh, where do you go to school?”
            “Oxford.”  When, oh WHEN, would the bathroom be open? What was taking the occupant so long?  How was I going to escape?
            “Oxford, huh? They got a good debate team?”
            “I don’t know. Probably.”
            “Probably?”
            “Uh, it’s Oxford.”  I tried to let the elitism just drip off my vocal cords.
            “Yeah. Well, law of the sea. Look it up.”
            “Whatever.” I jiggled the door to the bathroom and it sprang open.  Cool.  I’d been chatted up for no reason other than blog fodder.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Part Three: Venice

Venice had the most potential to go horribly wrong, but it was the smoothest part of our trip.  There’s not much to do other than wander, and we had seen just about all of the art our little eyeballs could handle.

We got off the train and were relieved to see Maura waiting for us on the platform.  We caught the shuttle train to the island, and then we had to master the art of vaporettos.  Basically, Venice is a fish-shaped island that has a Grand Canal going down the middle of it.  There are no cars on the island, so to get anywhere you either have to walk or catch a vaporetto—the public transportation boats.  Thankfully, this segment of the journey went perfectly.  We got off at the right stop, and our hostel was right on the water.

We checked in, had minor drama with some woman sleeping in my bed and her stuff sleeping in Annie’s, but luckily they had some beds to spare.  After getting our things all settled, Annie and I went to the bar next door—the only place to get any food nearby.  I had the best grilled ham and cheese of my entire life.

Moods drastically improved, we just lounged around the common area of the hostel, keeping Maura company while she tried to figure out her travel details for her Amsterdam trip.  We sent our parents e-mails, assuring them of our continued existence, and then went to bed.

When Annie and I woke up around 8, Maura was already long gone for the airport.  The two of us had breakfast and then snuck a vaporetto ride to the main part of the island… don’t tell anyone.  St. Mark’s Square was practically deserted, save for a woman or two who insisted on using their bodies as pigeon feeders.  Disgusting.
               More under the jump.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Part Two: Florence

Wednesday morning we got up early to catch a train to Florence.  The ride ended up being about four hours long, since we bought the cheapest tickets possible, and there wasn’t much we could do besides sleep and watch the beautiful Tuscan scenery go by.
            Once in Florence, we meandered our way through the city to our hostel, aided only by our keen sense of direction and a rough map Rick provided.  While our hostel in Rome wasn’t disgusting by any means, this hostel seemed like a palace.  We’ve since learned it’s a more typical hostel—real front desk, real kitchen, Internet access, clean towels, etc.  When we check in they informed us that they upgraded us to a four-person room—meaning a private room just for us.  Once again we were spoiled and free to leave our stuff all over the room—no need to lock it up.
            We went on an excursion to find a restaurant for lunch, and thanks to Rick, we found a place that was so delicious and so cheap.  It felt like a big family dining room—red checkered table cloths, benches, little English spoken.  I had some minestrone soup that was unlike any I’d had before, and the bread was fresh and perfect.
            When we emerged with happy tummies, we were delighted by the beautiful weather.  Absolutely clear skies, and a bright, bright sun making us squint and sweat.  In the weeks of overcast Oxford I had forgotten how shocking the sun can be.  We wandered our way over to the Uffizi Gallery and walked right in.  Apparently lines to enter in the summer can be over two hours long.  Like the Vatican, the Uffizi is a beautified cattle chute—once you’re in, you can’t leave.  But unlike the Vatican, we all stayed together and the crowds weren’t bad at all.
            The days of AP Euro came soaring back to my memory as I gazed upon Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and an Oxford lecture from only a few weeks before made me sound like an expert on his Primavera.  We stayed in the Botticelli room for a long, long time, resting our aching feet and gazing on the works hanging all around the room.  He’s by far one of my favorite painters, and his style and subjects are so diverse.  These two in particular seemed even more significant in real life, and they were enormous.  Nothing like the 2x3 image in a textbook.
            More under the jump!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Part One: Rome

I've been feeling guilty for a month now, due to my absolute inability to put words to screen in regards to my Christmas break.  I have words on paper; I kept a detailed journal, but I just struggled to find time to get it on here.  So I'm going to give you what I have, and promise you the rest is on its way.  I wrote the following section on Christmas break while I was still actually at home, which just goes to show that this has been a work in progress.  Read about Rome after the jump.


I've been home the night of the 14th, and I’m going back on the 6th.  It’s been a glorious break of little brain activity and a lot of sunshine.  I’ve baked a ton of cookies, watched movies and caught up on TV, played games, scrambled the rocks in Garden of the Gods, eaten as much Mexican food as possible, reunited with friends, enjoyed a visit from my grandparents, and generally forgotten that I should be reading Paradise Lost or some Oscar Wilde to prepare for next term.  Oh well.

I did read one book for fun: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  I heartily recommend it to everyone.  Gladwell takes classic examples of success (i.e. the Beatles, Bill Gates, Asians who are good at math, etc.) and picks apart our preconceived notions of what makes someone successful.  I’ll give you a hint—it has little to do with the individual.  It’s a short read, about 285 pages, and Gladwell is a fantastic writer.  I’ve forgotten how good it feels to stay up late reading because I want to—not because I have an assignment due in a matter of hours.

Anyways, I leave the Denver airport around 11am on the 6th, spend a few hours in Canada (eh), and then land in Heathrow around 9am on the 7th.  On the afternoon of the 8th, Teresa, one of my best friends from high school who is spending the year studying in Italy, is coming into Oxford.  And the early on the morning of the 9th, we’re going to Edinburgh, Scotland!  We’re going to see some castle-seeing, and we’re hoping to meet up with a girl who’s friends with my friend Jessi.  It should be a lot more relaxed trip than Italy was—definitely more vacation-y, and I’m really looking forward to it!

In any event, I’ll be back at the grindstone too soon, so I’ll give you the lowdown on Italy while it’s still freshish in my mind.  Luckily I kept a journal, so hopefully I won’t miss anything too important.  It’s under the jump!