Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oxford: "that sweet city with her dreaming spires"

The week before last was very busy for Gabby and I (multiple assignments due!), so when it was over we decided to get off campus and do some sightseeing. We decided to go to Oxford for the day. We woke up bright and early, went to Paddington Station, grabbed a coffee, then boarded our train and began our journey. Once we got to Oxford we split up for the day to do our sightseeing and made plans to meet up again for dinner before heading back to London.

After arriving, the first place I stopped was the visitor information center to grab a map and guide to the university. Here are some basic facts about Oxford I learned from the guide:

There is evidence of teaching in Oxford as far back as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and the world's second-oldest surviving university.

  • In 1167 Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris, causing many more scholars to settle in Oxford.
  • The University is currently made up from a variety of institutions, including 38 constituent colleges.
  • There are many famous alumni of Oxford University, including world leaders, noble prize winners Olympic medalists, authors, and more.
  • Gerard Manely Hopkins, Grahame Greene, John Locke, Christopher Wren, Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein, J.R.R. Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh, CS Lewis, Oscar Wilde, and T.S. Eliot are some notable Oxford alums. 
The Claredon Building, next to the Sheldonian Theare
The Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Sir Christopher Wren
I began my Oxford explorations by walking past the Sheldonian Theater and Bodleian Library, but both were closed in the morning for graduation ceremonies. Throughout the day I saw lots of people dressed very smart and wearing cap and gown. It was very cool to see Oxford students on what must have been a very special day for them!

The next place I stopped was the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, which dates back to the 13th century.

The Radcliffe Camera, a reading room near St. Mary's Church
The Bridge of Sighs, designed like the bridge of the same name in Venice (also near St. Mary's Church)
From there I made my way through the university to the Botanic Garden, which is the oldest one in Britain! Since it's off-season there weren't many flower, but it was still very beautiful and peaceful. I wanted to visit J.R.R. Tolkien's favorite tree, which supposedly inspired the Ents in the Lord of the Rings, but it had been cut down due to safety reason. Fortunately, the Botanic Garden has plans to propagate the tree so that its special connection to Tolkien won't be lost to future generations.
The Thames, called the Isis in Oxford

Remains of the Tolkien Tree
After visiting the gardens I walked along the field of Merton College to Christ Church College to tour Oxford's most famous college and its beautiful cathedral.
The outside of Christ Church College
Christ Church Cathedral
Next I stopped for lunch and a coffee at The Missing Bean, I coffee shop that was recommended in an article I read about Oxford. It did not disappoint- I had one of the best lattes I've ever had and a delicious goat cheese and caramelized onion sandwich!

After lunch I stopped by the original Blackwell's bookstore. It was huge! My favorite parts were the foreign language sections. The store even had ancient Greek and Latin translations of popular fiction!
I booked of the Bodleian Library for 3:30pm, so until then I wandering around and popped into a few of the colleges which were free and open to visitors, including Lincoln College. I also visited the church of St. Michael at the Northgate, the Oxford University Press bookstore, and the Oxford covered markets.
Part of Lincoln College
Next was my tour of the Bodleian Library, the second biggest library in England (the British Library in London is the biggest). The Bodleian contains the famous Divinity School room and Duke Humfrey's library. (Unfortunately no pictures were allowed in Duke Humfrey's library.) I admit I was a little disappointed by the Bodleian, not because it wasn't impressive, but because so little of it was open to tourists. I would have loved to find an interesting book then sit and read in the library for awhile, but unfortunately this wasn't a possibility. Fun fact: parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed at Oxford, and the Divinity School in the Bodleian Library was the Hogwarts Infirmary!
The Bodleian Library
The Divinity School
After my visit to the Bodleian I met back up with Gabby for our final stop of the night- The Eagle and the Child pub. It's the pub where the group "The Inklings", which included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to meet. Gabby and I both ordered the pint and pretended we were Inklings for the night, too.
Cheers!
After a wonderful day in Oxford, Gabby and boarded the train back to London. I'll finish the post with excerpts from two famous poems about Oxford:

I saw the spires of Oxford
As I was passing by,
The grey spires of Oxford
Against a pearl-grey sky;
My heart was with the Oxford men
Who went abroad to die.
-Winifred Mary Letts, "The Spires of Oxford" (1916)
And that sweet City with her dreaming spires
She needs not June for beauty's heightening
-Matthew Arnold, "Thyrsis"

Cambridge

Hello everyone!

The weather here has been pretty nasty the past few days and will be for the next few days, but the forecast said there'd be clear skies yesterday (Monday), so I decided to make the most of it! I woke up really early and made my way to Liverpool Street Station in London to catch a morning train to Cambridge for the day. 


For a little background, Cambridge University was founded in 1209 by scholars fleeing from Oxford, where tensions between "town and gown" had become violent. There are now 31 colleges that comprise Cambridge and famous alumni include, like Oxford, many world leaders, noble prize winners, and writers. Some of the most well-known alums are John Milton, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, and as a connection to Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole.

When I arrived it was really cold, but the sky was a beautiful blue. On the walk into town (the station is a short walk from the city center), I passed the Catholic Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, built in the late 19th century. It was a wonderful place to stop in for some relief from the biting cold and say a quick prayer to begin the day.

While walking in the city center, I passed the Cavendish Laboratory, which reminded me of my brilliant sister Esther who studied Chemistry (among other things) as an undergrad. If she went to Cambridge, she would definitely be queen of the lab!
From there I stopped quickly at the tourist information center before visiting the Church of St. Mary the Great, which is the university church for the University of Cambridge. I climbed to the top of the bell tower for a great view of the colleges. I knew I wouldn't get to visit all of the colleges and buildings that I wanted to during my visit, so it was cool to see them from above. In particular I looked out for Gonville and Caius (pronouced "keys"- weird, I know!) College, which is where some of my relatives used to go.
View of King's College from the top of St. Mary's
After visiting St. Mary's I walked over to King's College to see the chapel and some of the grounds. King's College Chapel is probably the most iconic image in Cambridge, and for a reason- it is absolutely breathtaking. From the King's College webpage: "It was started in 1446 by Henry VI and took over a century to build. It has the largest fan vault in the world and some of the finest medieval stained glass." I've visited a lot of churches and cathedrals since I've been in the UK, and King's College Chapel was one of my favorites so far. It was so bright and open. The beautiful stained glass and white stone looked so bright and heavenly with light coming in through the windows.
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The rest of the King's College grounds were also spectacular. None but senior members of the college are allowed to walk on the grass, so it looks pristine. At the back of the college is the River Cam.
Next I visited St. John's College...
After leaving St. John's I wandered around the city center a bit, briefing stopping at Sidney Sussex College (where Oliver Cromwell went) and the Round Church, which was built in the 12th century (and it's not even the oldest building in Cambridge- that's St. Bene't's Church, but I didn't go there). 
St. John's College Chapel from outside the college
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, commonly known as the Round Church

In the afternoon I went on a punting tour. On the tour I met a girl who was visiting from Cardiff. She told me that she thought I was a Cambridge student, which was pretty cool! We talked about our travels around the UK and studies in school. It was nice to have made a new friend, if only for a few hours.

For the tour, we started on the southern part of the River Cam and traveled north, getting a wonderful view of the famous backs of the colleges. Since I didn't go punting in Oxford, it was on my list of things to definitely do in Cambridge. 

King's College from the back
Swans on the River Cam
Bridge of Sighs and our punter, Sam!
By the time the punting tour was over it was starting to get dark, so I wandered around the market and shops for a while and enjoyed a cup of hot mulled wine before catching my train back home. 

Happy early Thanksgiving to everyone back home! I'm so thankful to have such wonderful friends and family back home!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Norwich

Hey y'all!

The weekend after Paris I took another big trip, this time to Norwich to visit my dad's cousin, Richard. I'd met Richard once before, when he came to visit my family in Texas, but I hadn't seen him since then so I was looking forward to visiting him again and seeing more of England!

I took a train up to Norwich on a Saturday morning and transferred trains to meet Richard in the little village where he lives. After chatting with Richard a little, I decided to take the bus into Wymondham (pronounced "wind-um") to explore a little bit before going to vigil mass at the local Catholic church. The main attraction in Wymondham is Wymondham Abbey. Although it wasn't open when I visited, it was very beautiful, especially since the sun was setting when I visited. While in Wymondham I also popped into a few charity shops and grabbed dinner. While exporing I also came across a pub called "The Green Dragon", just like in Lord of the Rings! 
Wymondham Abbey
The next day Richard took me on a driving tour of the local area where we stopped in a few villages to look around. They were also so small and pretty!
Beautiful fall colors
Richard and me
In the afternoon I took a bus into Norwich to see the city. The first place I visited was Norwich Cathedral, which was stunning. Next I visited Norwich Castle, which looks like a huge grey cube. It's on top of a hill, though, so it actually looks very impressive! I imagine that when it was first built it must have seemed enormous and intimidating. When I first got to the castle I was feeling a bit peckish (British slang for hungry), so I had a cream tea at the cafe, which was delicious. The castle itself isn't very big, but there are several history exhibits and art exhibits. One of the exhibits was a teapot collection! The whole museum was very child friendly, and there were lots of families there. Someday maybe I'll bring my kids to Norwich Castle! 
Norwich Cathedral
Norwich Castle
After visiting the castle it was starting to get dark, so I headed to the busier parts of the city, walking through the famous cobblestone road, Elm Hill. Everything was closed, but it was still very pretty! Once I got to a bigger shopping area I stopped at a Cath Kidston (the British equivalent of Vera Bradley) right before it closed. There was a super cute bag on clearance, so I bought it and have been using it since! 
The famous Bear Shop at Elm Hill
The last sight of Norwich I wanted to see was the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, so I walked across town and popped in quickly. It's a relatively new church, but it's massive and beautiful, too. Since it was dark by this time, I walked through a park back to the city center to find a bus stop. Along the way I passed some of the original city walls, which I hadn't been looking for but was happy to see!
Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Remains of the original city walls
Norwich Castle lit up at night- kind of spooky!
The next morning I walked around the village where Richard lives, visiting the local church and a few charity shops. Afterwards Richard drove me into Norwich to catch my train back into London. I had a nice, relaxing time visiting with Richard and exploring Norfolk. It was just what I needed before the upcoming week, in which I had two major essays due (but more on that later!). 
St. Mary's Church
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In case you don't know by now, I LOVE stained glass!
Thanks for reading, and I'll be posting again soon about my trip to Oxford with Gabby!