My new love: Blenheim Palace.
Reason #1: This view.
Photo courtesy of Damaris Bangean
Reason #2: The library has an organ in it. My favorite things in the entire world? libraries and organs.
Reason #3: Winston Churchill was born here and that’s pretty cool.
Reason #4: There is a pair of dressers by a certain artists and one of the other only known pairs existing is on display in California. So, naturally I feel a weird kinship with the place.
Photo courtesy of Damaris Bangean.
Reason #5: There’s a waterfall. And you can’t even tell it’s manmade.
Reason #6: My tour guide, Julia, might be the funniest woman alive.
Reason #7: With purchase of a one day ticket, annual passes are FREE! So basically, I’m going to chill in a palace all the time.
All in all, my day at Blenheim palace was about as perfect as a day can get. And because pictures are worth a thousand words and I could never do it justice, here’s the main entrance. What a beaut.
We’ve spent plenty of time sitting in old buildings, but not as much time exploring the great outdoors. Enter St. Frideswide. For those who don’t know, St. Frideswide is the patron saint of Oxford. Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know about Frideswide until I got here either, but now I feel like old friends because the story has been recounted to us at least 10 times. If you’re interested, go read about Frideswide here!
Anyway, we thought it would be fun to go off in search of St. Frideswide’s well. And we found it. Here it is!
It’s tucked away in a graveyard by the smallest chapel you’ll ever lay your eyes on, but the grounds are beautiful in a haunting kind of way.
Photo courtesy of Joowon Oh
After Frideswide’s well, we walked down the river Thames to Godstow Abbey and a much needed break at the Trout pub. All in all, it was a beautiful walk down by the river and out in nature on an uncharacteristically warm day. Exhausted, but happy we trekked back home rounding out our trip to a grand total of 11 miles! If nothing else, there is one essential item when packing for study abroad: walking shoes!
Somewhere along the way I seemed to have forgotten the “study” part of “study abroad.” But not to worry, today academics came back with full force like a slap to the face. Or in other words, I had my first tutorial today. Okay, maybe I’m being overly dramatic. Yes, it was completely academic and yes, it was actually kind of fun. So, what is a tutorial? A tutorial is a major part of the Oxford experience. In addition to seminars, which are basically like American lectures, Oxford has tutorials, or one-on-one sessions with a tutor. Let me break it down:
I first walked into my tutorial like a complete deer in the headlights. My tutor, a dashing young British man (with a PhD) wearing a tweed jacket and horn rimmed glasses looking every bit a stereotype, introduced himself. I was then prompted to read my essay out loud. He then proceeded to completely tear it apart. If you’re thinking that it sounds terrifying, you’d be right. My essay happened to be a literary analysis about the Bible, so for the next hour we discussed the basis of religion, the fragility of human storytelling, and the nature of truth. The structure of a tutorial is so much more efficient than any other kind of classroom experience I’ve ever had. It allows for more critical thinking, it isn’t as confined in terms of subject, and it’s much more personal. It was kind of like a dream. A weird academic dream.
Bottom line: Tutorials are pretty intense, but also kind of awesome.
And if you’re thinking that after that experience, I was done with academics for the day, you’d be incorrect. That’s just not the Oxford way. After my tutorial ended, I went to the library to read for the next 6 hours. But hey, at least I snapped this contraband photo of the interior of the Radcliffe Camera. If books are your thing, the Bodleian library is heaven.
While Oxford is in and of itself an institution of learning, it is also made up of 38 independently governed colleges. Basically, there are mini schools within the school. School-ception, if you will. I happen to be associated with New College, but don’t let the name fool you, New College is anything but “new.” Founded in 1379, New College is older than the new world. You read that right, my college is older than my country!
We were recently given our keys to New College and good thing too; the place is like a mini fortress. In fact, at one time it actually was. It’s completely surrounded by a wall and we even have a porter guarding the front gate at all times. However, the porter, is quickly becoming my favorite person in Oxford–super helpful, super friendly.
Photo Courtesy of Joowon Oh
After the amount of times I heard, “at Oxford you’ll be living in the Library,” I assumed Oxonians take the library very seriously, but I never anticipated just how seriously. We were formally inducted as readers of the Bodleian library today. Make no mistake, the Bodleian, a copyright library which has reserved the right to every book published in English past, present, and future is quite the grand affair. However, the grandiose nature of our induction was still quite unexpected, thrilling and beautiful, but unexpected. First, we were ushered into not just any room, but a room where parliament was once held. Then, we were made to state an oath out loud and sign our names one by one in front of a witness. Here are our beautiful smiling faces right after getting our library cards–eager and ready to learn.
photo courtesy of Austin Carroll
Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to take pictures inside the library, and nor would I want to, lest I disturb the complete silence that is inside the reading rooms. I swear, I can’t even breathe without making too much noise. Stress inducing silence aside, the inside of the Bodleian is a magical place complete with seemingly endless staircases, underground passageways, and hidden doors. Uhm, can I say Hogwarts? Yes, I can; because it is.
Idyllic pastoral landscapes and beautiful old buildings: thus was the view driving into Oxfordshire. Speaking of Oxfordshire, the name hearkens back to memories of reading The Hobbit in the middle of the night when I was a wee young thing, but more on Tolkien later. As we got closer and closer to our house the streets got narrower and narrower until finally, the charter bus had to stop and tell us to walk the rest of the way; we were just too fat to fit down the small European streets. If that isn’t a good metaphor for the American stereotype, I’m not sure what is. Our house itself is also rather small, but by some strange magic comfortably houses all seven of us and now we’re trying our best to make our house a home.
Our narrow street
Our front door
Our spacious backyard
In addition to getting acquainted with our new house, we also went on a walking tour of the city of Oxford. Our tour guide, Charlie, gave us the spark notes version of Oxford history, but with more jokes thrown in. I particularly enjoyed the parts of literary history: the door that inspired C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, the pub where Tolkien imagined Middle Earth, and the wonderland of Lewis Carrol’s creation. But perhaps the most memorable part of the tour was the final view: the gardens of Christ church which double as a war memorial
. Who can forget a view like that?
I recently painted the London skyline as part of a set for a production of 101 dalmatians. The process included staring at pictures of big ben, the london bridge, and other notable structures for what seemed like hours on end. After that experience I felt I was well acquainted with the view, but I was completely and utterly wrong. Seeing the London Eye and the parliament building across the River Thames is the the first time it genuinely hit me that I was in England, yet it was still such an unreal experience. I could probably see the view every day and it would never lose its luster.
photo courtesy of Joowon Oh
photo courtesy of Courtney Bramstedt
We spent the first two days in London and the short time frame combined with jet lag left little time to do anything besides hit the major tourist attractions. Even being surrounded by loads of other tourists, I enjoyed the experience. However, I did enjoy our one “local” experience which was riding the tube. I might be in love with the London underground system. If everything in my life was laid out as logically and efficiently, I might never have need to complain about anything ever again. Additionally, everyone on the tube reads the newspaper. That’s right, a physical, hold in your hand, not a smartphone newspaper. And something about that just warms my heart.