Saturday, June 30, 2012

Magdalen: Or, The End of All Things

Magdalen College
Instead of a final day of class on Friday (several of us are flying out of London then), Dr. Snyder scheduled a visit to Magdalen College on Thursday. No offense to Christ Church, but I truly wish I could have been a member of Magdalen just so I would have had an excuse to visit every day.

We walked around the grounds while Dr. Snyder told us about the history of the college. Highlights of the grounds include a deer park, the Fellows' Garden, and the chapel.
Alex and Casey. I think Alex was way more excited
about visiting Oscar Wilde's college than I could
ever hope to be.

While walking through the forest, Spencer found his true calling (see the photo below). No wonder he always insists upon being comfortable ... he's truly royalty. Dr. Snyder took this opportunity to draw our attention back to "Lord of the Rings" by observing the wooden seats remind him of the Council of Elrond. I have a theory that Dr. Snyder can relate anything back to Tolkien if he tries hard enough.
Spencer, Lord of the Woodland Realm

After walking for quite a bit, we made it to the Fellows' Garden, where we relaxed and took pictures before ending our tour.

Taylor was the tallest person I've ever known in real life.

The Grove (the deer park)

After the tour was over, Casey, Melissa, and I went to Granola to grab an afternoon snack. In a way, it was circular. I began my trip with the two of them, having crazy adventures at the airport. And then we began the end. Almost as soon as we reached the flat, we said goodbye to Maddy. And with promises of making Bueno bar ice cream together in the fall, she was gone.

I took Josh to dinner. The less said about that, the better.

Friday, we completed our book analysis papers for Dr. Snyder and prepared our flat for departure. Because I wasn't leaving until (well, at this point I had no idea when I was leaving), I put off packing as much as possible. Khanh and I went to Christ Church to return our key fobs (which I never used) and to say goodbye.

The Christ Church Library ... I loved it there.
As for the whole Scotland trip thing, Josh and I had yet to make any plans because we had been busy finishing our various assignments. After finishing my paper, Josh threw a book on manners at me that was in Bailey's flat and told me it was something I could read up on. (He thought it was a guide book. I was still kind of insulted, especially since Bailey has called me a shrew since the first trip to London.)

Khanh left very early Saturday in order to catch her flight on time. We said goodbye, and Ben walked her to the bus station.

At a decent time today, Josh and I met at Blackwell's to plan our trip (he was late, surprise).

Mini-rant: Penguin Books are just awful. If you're going to sell a book, the least you should do is learn how to spell the names of the main characters on the back. For example, in Charles Dickens's classic novel "Little Dorrit" (read it), Mr. Pancks is one of the most endearing characters. It's not spelled, Panks, Penguin. And you got it right on the inside so ... I don't see what the problem is.

At any rate, we realized we could catch a night bus to Scotland for a decent price (sixty pounds fare for each of us versus one hundred twenty six a person for train). So we went to the train station and bought our tickets for the Edinburgh that leaves later tonight.

After packing up my stuff and finishing things up at the flat, I recruited Bailey and Cameron to help me transport my luggage to Josh's house, where the four of us were meeting so that we could go to the pub one last time. We went to the Rickety Press, ate dinner, returned to the flat, and Bailey revealed he had written me a song. Which he showed to everyone at dinner and then sang to me before it was time to call a taxi. It's main theme? What Hannah Wants, Hannah Gets. 


 So soon, we're off to catch a bus to Scotland, ready for a new adventure. 

I just know one thing: This is going to be a long trip if Josh doesn't cut the crap.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Oxford: Or, How It Came to Be That I Would Run Away to Scotland

Bailey was upset.
Everyone compared his mustache to Hitler.
This weekend, quite a few people gathered in the flat to watch "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King." Because I had to lead discussion on "The Return of the King," it was more than just for fun. I also decided I wanted to write on the films, instead of the books.

We also had white chocolate blueberry toast one last time.

I am the Lorax, Or the walrus.
At this point, my father presented me with an offer: He would move my ticket so I could go to Scotland like I wanted to in the first place.

On Sunday, we had a Dapper Party because when my roommates went to Poundland (think Dollar General), they found mustaches. And decided we would wear them and have dessert together. Kind of as one last party before we all began to prepare to leave. So I made chocolate-covered strawberries.

Somehow, a conversation between Taylor and Maddy led to us deciding to make the event black tie. With the apartment decked out in English and UK flags and our mustaches on, we began to celebrate our time in Oxford. We had quite a bit of fun ... even if some of us ditched the mustaches early. And even if some of us (I know it was your idea, Taylor. Thanks everyone else who went along with it, it was awesomely awkward) felt the need to play jokes on other people.

Taylor, once again creeping in every picture possible.
Melissa and Taylor know how to party.
The next day, I gave my presentation, and I think it went well. I didn't get booed or anything, so I'm taking that as a win. Somehow, Josh and I ended up exploring a different part of town (one I don't really know how to get to ... I use him as my watch and GPS; you may have figured that out by now). We ate dinner at a cheap pub, and I got southern fried chicken out of curiosity of what it would look like. Somehow, I was convinced again to watch another German film. This one was called "The Blue Angel" and was just as awful as the last one. 

This was also notable because I revealed that I know film criticism. Specifically, Mulvey's essay on the gaze. I later got Josh to admit that my knowledge impressed him. No matter what he tells you. He said it.

On Tuesday and today, I had my final tutorials with Dr. Ballam. They both went well, and I received two first classes on my final essays. (Not to brag, but I was excited about that.) That was a big relief, especially because I still have two papers to complete for Dr. Snyder before I finish with the Tolkien class.

I think I killed our final moment of the Tolkien class. Somehow, when we were discussing whether Tolkien was the author of the century or not (I argued he was), a door opened to quote Oscar Wilde. Dr. Snyder's reaction?

Dr. Snyder: Are we really ending our Tolkien class with Oscar Wilde.
Me: Well, it looks like it.

Oscar Wilde. What a dandy. But he is Victorian...

So we did. Well, tomorrow we have the tour of Magdalen College (which is associated with both C.S. Lewis and Wilde), so it's not like I was totally off base.

In the midst of finishing up with my classes, I was busy getting my ticket changed to later in July so I could travel to Scotland. After some unnecessary drama with the airline, it all worked out. And, well, I learned a valuable life lesson.

For the record, Josh was planning to go to Scotland already. Seeing as I hadn't annoyed him on any of our previous trips (minus asking him what time it is or quoting Wilde ... that's another story), I decided to ask if I could go with him. And by "ask" I mean, I told him (semi-jokingly) I was following him to Scotland. And he said ok. So I took that as resounding excitement for the possibility of my presence. His indifference can't fool me.

As for the valuable life lesson: Don't call your mother and say, "Mom, I'm running away with a boy to Scotland. See you in a few weeks. Bye." This ends in a lot of freak outs, conversations about safety, and an interrogation of said boy's life story.

That being said, I didn't really learn anything because I kept doing it to everyone I talked to. Including people on the trip who didn't know we were going together. But seeing as Josh's family lore claims there is a mythical McPhail Manor somewhere, it's not like I was exaggerating when I told everyone a Scottish Laird told me he had an ancestral manor and promised me adventure.

Right. I'm sure my maturity inspires all of you.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Stonehenge: Or, the Train Incident That Wasn't As Cool As Inception

Sometimes, I have great ideas. Like, when I was six, I thought if I jumped off the top of a slide, I would fly. Luckily, the only consequences were a really hard fall and a sore landing. Stonehenge was kind of like that. But worse.

Spencer has, on multiple occasions, wisely told me that "you can't live if you aren't comfortable." On the way to Stonehenge, he furthered his philosophy by explaining that comfort is not merely part of the physical, you have to be mentally comfortable as well. This would come into play throughout the night.

We began Wednesday by meeting for class at the OSAP office to discuss "The Children of Hurin." After a spirited debate on whether it was fate or choice that led Turin to destruction, we moved on to other aspects of the book. Finally, it was time for lunch, and the group headed to Pizza Hut.

After lunch, we journeyed to the train station to get tickets to Salisbury. Because of group rates, we had to split into two groups: Casey, Melissa, Will, Maddy, and Meghan went together and Bailey, Spencer, and Josh joined me. Because Josh was being sketchy about what time we needed to leave, our group ended up not buying tickets at the time.

I spent the day getting ready for the journey (and making sure that I was ready for my tutorial Thursday afternoon). Once Spencer finished with his tutorial, he and Josh made their way over to our flat. Then a really stupid crisis unfolded as we tried to figure out how to buy tickets online and on machines at the station. It basically ended with Josh complaining about the British public transportation system and frustration.

But Josh ended up getting pictures of his fox and we got tickets in the end, so it was ok. Although we didn't catch the same train as the other group, we had hopes of getting to Stonehenge on time. We got on the train, we got off at Reading ... and heard people call our names. It was the rest of our group. We all were together again.

While waiting at the station for our train to Salisbury, Will decided it would be a good idea to dance with me in the station to his rendition of Margaritaville. Casey and Josh got a show, and I wanted to crawl into a hole and never return.

Long story short, we got on the train, got off the train, and eventually made it to the point where cars were parking to get to Stonehenge. It was now around 3 a.m., by my estimates. Of course, it was late (or early), so my narration may or may not be accurate. Oh, and it was rainy. And muddy. So we hiked to Stonehenge.

Spencer and Meghan, happy to be at Stonehenge.
Stonehenge turned into a giant party scene.
I'll come out and say it: We were crazy for wanting to go. We were crazy for going. And we're lucky we came out of it with our only problems being tired and smelling (Unless you're Josh and accidentally washed your passport. Or me. But that comes later).

We lost Josh. We went to go find Josh. I lost Spencer to the Druids (who, by the way, were the only sane people there). I went into the crowds, which made me want to cry. We found Josh. Josh went to save Spencer. Spencer made it into the center of the Druid circle, to the front. I'm still not sure how we retrieved him. Taylor and Alex showed up, in their suits, from getting a lift from some guy they paid to drive them. Finally, our group left and walked back to catch the bus.

I went to Stonehenge. I didn't hear the pipes of Pan.

The group, except Bailey who took the photo. Love you, Bailey.
We went to the Salisbury Cathedral, which may be one of the most beautiful places I'll ever go, ever.

Salibury Cathedral
We explored the cathedral, and I came across the prettiest stain glass window ever. On a disappointing note, a copy of the Magna Carta is at the cathedral, but we wouldn't be able to view it until later on in the day. So we missed that.

The Prisoner's Conscience Window. I love this.
After finishing, we went to the train station (we also grabbed breakfast at a place called The Boston Tea Party. That made me laugh. It was good.) and waited on our train. We got on the train, which was full of people making their way back from Stonehenge. I sat on the ground and fell asleep. That should have been a sign for things to come.

We changed trains several times, and finally made it back to Oxford. I thought I was free ... and then Bailey informed me that we needed to go one more stop. So we hopped back onto the train ... and saw Oxford go by. As I was preparing to throw him off the train, Spencer ditched us, and Josh started quoting "Inception":

"You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you don't know for sure. But it doesn't matter. How can it not matter to you where the train will take you? Because you'll be together."

Either that, or we'll eventually kill that joke.

Eventually, we made it back to Oxford. I took a shower. Went to sleep. Slept through my tutorial. Sent my tutor panicked emails apologizing. Rescheduled my tutorial for next week. Prepared to go to Dr. Snyder's for a dessert party and a viewing of "The Fellowship of the Ring."

Bailey fell asleep multiple times through that. Snyder also impersonated Gandalf. That was entertaining. And so ended a very, very, long day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Oxford: Or, How I Fell in Love

Yeah, don't get excited by the title of this post. I'm talking about food — specifically, white chocolate blueberry french toast. I thought breakfast was my least favorite meal of the day. I was wrong.

On Sunday, Josh arrived at our flat to make us said french toast. At this point, we realized that our kitchen was poorly stocked in terms of cooking supplies, so we stole some things from upstairs. In return, Bailey was invited to join us for breakfast. So, after working hard with what he had, Josh presented us with breakfast. And, in return, became my favorite person of the day.

I still felt horrible, and I spent most of my day working on my paper for "The Children of Hurin" and reading "Measure for Measure" for my Shakespeare tutorial. I thought it would be funny to call Josh (the only person who bothered to sit with me all day, in hindsight I'm sorry about this) all the insults I could find in "Measure for Measure." His reaction to that was kind of like my reaction to his speeches on camera angles and lighting.

Monday, I felt better. And I finished my "Measure for Measure" paper. Which meant I was completely done with my papers for the week. Honestly, not much happened Monday. We spent the majority of it planning out the possibility of going to Stonehenge for the summer solstice. Because on the solstice you can touch the stones.

Today, I came across this outside my door on the way back into the flat:

Photo by Maddy Cook
Melissa, being the kind and good friend she is, left us treats to help us get through our second to last week in Oxford. This week, many of the MSU students are either finishing up their tutorials or, like me, getting their final assignments. 

Today also marked the day that I began quoting Oscar Wilde, randomly in conversation, just for fun. 

Several examples:

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."

"Arguments are to be avoided: they are always vulgar and often convincing."

And, my personal favorite, "By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community."

Maddy and Bailey found my little game amusing ... everyone else a little less so.

Tomorrow, we head to Stonehenge. I'm excited. It's where a man's a man and the children dance to the pipes of Pan.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Return to London: Or, How Bailey Fell Asleep At the Worst Time Ever

When we were in London on Friday, someone suggested sleeping on a park bench or walking around until daylight so we wouldn't have to go to Oxford and then come straight back. I protested, mainly because Khanh was supposed to return with us today to explore the city.

That didn't happen. And thus, Khanh joined The League of Sketches. Which is a lot like The League of Shadows, except not at all.

Running on about four hours of sleep, I went to the bus station to meet Bailey and Josh. (Side note: Josh out dressed both of us. I don't remember getting a memo that we were dressing up. Although, in fairness, I may have just blown it off.). We caught an early bus, and I attempted to read The Children of Hurin. Because I'm a responsible student who understands that play must also be accompanied by hard work. At least, that's my story (and I'm sticking to it).

When we arrived in London, Josh had a few ideas of where we could go for breakfast close to the British Museum, but those didn't exactly work out. So we ended up getting coffee at this place with random Bollywood magazines.

Bailey was clearly made to be in front of the camera.

Josh and his magazines. I don't think I was enough for them.
After finishing breakfast, we headed to the British Museum, where we spent the greater part of the day. The best part about said museum? It's free. Basically, the British Museum is full of stuff from all the countries Britain managed to plunder. Oh, and there's a small room of Victorian England china. I'm exaggerating, but the collection and its variety is astounding.

As a fan of the Victorian poet, I was glad to see his words in an unexpected place.
The Rosetta Stone

Bailey and Josh became obsessed with the lion hunts. Boys.
We ran into a small conflict when Bailey wanted to go see the mock gladiator fights ... I told him to go, just without me. So he ended up not going. Josh and I went one way, and Bailey went the other so we could finish our preferred parts of the museum before we had to leave.

I loved seeing the Greek and Roman exhibits. It was like the myths came to life.
The Lewis Chess Set
Josh and pocket watches. I found this funny.
Josh and I ended up seeing a room full clocks, which I found entertaining since he keeps telling me to get a watch. Fun fact: I can't tell time. This makes a watch quite useless. Sadly, he didn't see my point. He instead decided to teach me to tell time. Similarly, Bailey thinks I should learn to ride a bike. This also will not happen.

Finally, we reunited with Bailey and left the museum to head to Harrods for lunch and The Sale. But not before we spent quite a bit of time taking pictures outside.

I really love the British Museum.
Harrods was a mistake. I do not like crowds. But we did see the toy section, which I enjoyed. Bailey disappeared. We ended splitting up to find him. We eventually got food and went to Hyde Park to eat. I was also sad we did not get to see the pet store part of Harrods. As Josh would say (not for the last time), it's something to come back for.

By taking me to Harrods, Josh cured me of my desire to shop.
After eating lunch, we rushed to get to Westminster Abbey for evensong. Once we reached the abbey, we waited in a long line with others to be seated. While we waited in line, we saw the graves of many famous scientists, including Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. As some of you may know, Charles Dickens is buried at the abbey. One of the main reasons I wanted to go, I admit it, was to see his grave. And worship God.

Soon after we were seated, the service began. And at that moment, I realized that I did not feel well. Again. Of course, throughout the service, I fared better than Bailey ... who fell asleep while standing. Although he may correct me, I believe his story is that he woke up as he was falling and almost caught himself before crashing into his chair. But, at any rate, I was amused.

Once the service ended, we left — but not before seeing The Poet's Corner, which is where Blake, Tennyson, and my beloved Charles Dickens are buried. And that's when I realized pure joy. True story.  So then we left.

Outside the abbey; we couldn't take photos inside.
We stopped by the Turkish Coffee place Josh wanted to go to yesterday after the show but couldn't because it was closed. Bailey and Josh seemed to enjoy their coffee, and I became a storm cloud by asking if we could go home soon because I was starting to feel really unwell. So we left.

And, here I will admit (again) that I'm an unreliable narrator, somehow Josh agreed to make me white chocolate blueberry french toast in the morning. And by "me" I mean my flat. But I'm going to pretend like I'm special. Because, let's face it, I am. (I kid. Mostly.)

We went to Tesco to grab some stuff, and I decided I really, really, really wanted to make cookies. The only problem? I couldn't find cookie dough. I made the mistake of asking them for cookie dough in front of the ice cream, and they pointed me to the ice cream. So that wasted an hour of our lives.

Friday, June 15, 2012

London: Or, How Sketchy People Finally Kept Their Promises

I've been unfair. You see, because Josh was my last hope to go see "Les Miserables" last week after Bailey backed out, I complained about his sketchiness (which was completely justified if you look at how many times he's ditched me and other people for breakfast and other events). However, really the reason we didn't go was Bailey. Because he wanted to go to Cambridge but also wanted to go to the musical. And then he tried to get us to change to "The Lion King."

But I wasn't falling for that. If no one would go see "Wicked," we were going to "Les Mis." And somehow, I managed to convince Josh and Bailey this was a good idea.

Not really sure how I got them to go along with this.

After class, we headed down to the bus station and began our trip to London. Unfortunately for us, our time table once the bus reached our stop had shrunk because an accident on a main motor way had impeded our arrival.

Under the direction of Josh's iPhone maps (which would continuously reappear), we made our way through St. James's Park to the area in which the Queen's Theatre resided, where "Les Mis" is shown Monday through Saturday. For more information about the musical, visit its website.

The Queen's Theatre (Image from Wikipedia)
In order to grab dinner and make the show, we didn't have time to explore all of our dining options — and let's face it, it was a Friday night in London. So there was one clear choice in my mind: The Rainforest Cafe.

Where dreams are made.

Why would you not eat in a place like this? (Image from, which has a great review that proves my point.)
The thing is, Josh and Bailey didn't see my point. Bailey whined the service would be slow. Josh said he felt sorry for the guy working there who had to give a tour. Josh also said that they all thought I was twelve from my level of excitement.

So I decided to prove him wrong. I ordered a daiquiri.

After our meal (in which I randomly would disappear to go exploring), we headed to the theatre and found our seats. And, for the record, they were really good.

And the first act was amazing ... except for the fact that there was some guy behind us who insisted upon singing "I Dreamed a Dream" along with the actress. Really? You're a grown man.

The second act was even better (in my opinion, perhaps because it features many of my favorite songs, including "On My Own"). And maybe Josh's film pretension has been rubbing off on me, but I observed a couple of ways the musical used the light to highlight the story.

Which, he actually had insight into after the musical ended. 

Once the musical ended, we headed back to the bus stop to go back to Oxford (because it's cheaper to go back than stay the night in a hostel). We had to walk through the park at night, which was slightly frightening but mostly cool. We ended up stopping to look at Buckingham Palace at night and, typically, Josh grabbed some pictures. And while I jumped off really high things, Bailey tried to keep me from killing myself.

Eventually, we made it onto the bus and back to Oxford. At this point, it was early in the morning and really cold. It's a good thing I had Bailey with me as we walked back to the flat, otherwise I would have given up and gone to sleep on the street.

Everyone at the flat was still awake, so I told them of my adventures at Rainforest Cafe before falling asleep in order to be ready to return to London for part two of our adventure.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Losing My Voice: Or, How We Saved Ducklings From Death

So, as I predicted, I lost my voice. I could talk a little if I strained and whispered, but for all intents and purposes, I was mute.

Today, however, was no ordinary class day. Today, we had a visitor. You see, because the room Trinity assigned Dr. Snyder was too small (and the day was actually nice), we went outside and sat in a circle of chairs. A cat that looked surprisingly like my cat Polly decided to follow us. And sat in the chair between Ben and me. (Maddy and Ben later switched because Maddy understands the majesty of cats, whereas Ben does not.)

As you can see, I made a friend. Photo by Melissa Atchley.
Armed with my notebook and pen, I did my best to participate in class by feverishly writing down my theories and observations and passing it to Maddy to read out loud. A couple of people, amused by my desire to maintain a part of the conversation with no voice, began to ask me questions like, "Are you writing a novel?" and "Hannah, you've been going on for four pages ... seriously?" 

Suddenly, my friend the cat was no longer interested in class and became more interested in something in the bushes. We heard rustling and then a family of ducks appeared. And the cat continued to stalk the ducklings. Needless to say, with the distractions going on around us, Dr. Snyder decided it was time for a class break.

In the break, Ben tried to save the ducklings from the cat. The cat got a hair ball. The cat continued to stalk the ducks as they ran toward the road. Ben went to go kick the cat. I went to save the cat from Ben. The ducks continued to run. I picked up the cat and carried it back to the circled. Miffed, the cat went to sit by Dr. Snyder ... who accidentally kicked the cat. The ducks escaped.

Class just wasn't as interesting after that.

After class, the Christ Church group took Dr. Snyder and his family (and Will) to lunch. (For the record, it's very hard to order your lunch with no voice. It is also very hard to pay for someone else's lunch with no voice.) After eating, I decided to have conversations by notebook.

To have fun, Bailey and Josh decided to misinterpret everything I wrote. Not cool, guys.

After lunch, we took them on a tour of Christ Church. I helped by stealing everyone's fun facts and writing them down via notebook. Once the tour ended, Josh and I headed to the library to finish our tutorial papers — I was secretly hoping that my voice would come back before my tutorial, since much of it is spent in discussion.

We worked on our papers for a good bit, until Josh went to dinner at Christ Church. I continued to work on stuff for my tutorial until he returned. He then accompanied me to Nando's where I realized I could now talk softly without pain.

Nando's, for the record, is a South African chain that is common around England (there's a few in the US). 

Image obtained from Nando's

After drinking some tea and eating my peri peri chicken and fries (I will really miss the peri peri fries when I leave.), we headed back to the flat. Maddy, being the awesome roommate that she is, bought me throat lozenges. I appreciated the gesture. 

Sappy ending of the day: If there's one good thing that comes from being sick, it's being shown just how many people are willing to help you out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shakespeare: Or, How I Fulfilled My Dreams ... Sorta

My dreams were coming true … I was going to Stratford-Upon-Avon, which is the birthplace of one of my great idols — William Shakespeare. Shakespeare, the man responsible for “Hamlet,” “The Winter's Tale,” and many other plays that show just how compelling the English language can be. As my tutorial focuses on Shakespeare's comedies, I was euphoric over the concept of seeing my education “come to life.”

After lunch with Ben and Khanh at a delicious Thai place, (It should be noted that my food came in a bowl made from a hollowed out half of a pineapple — I was really excited about that.) we headed to George & Danvers for some ice cream before catching the bus. Khanh ordered a waffle sundae, which they forgot about. And then burned the waffle. And forgot about again. Eventually, Ben asked for the sundae to go and we headed to catch the bus before it left without us.

On the way to Stratford, Brian (our tour guide from the previous trips to London and Windsor) told us stories of Blenheim Palace — most of which I knew already thanks to my weekend visit — and Winston Churchill. One amusing fun fact: When Churchill was asked about being buried in Westminster Abbey he apparently replied something along the lines of, “Good God no. I wouldn't take my afternoon tea with some of them much less spend eternity with them.” (That's not a direct quote.)

Once we reached Stratford, Brian took us on a walking tour of the town. According to him, Stratford is the center of British tourism — unsurprisingly as it is home to one of the greatest writers in history. We passed a possible birthplace of William Shakespeare, which requires an entrance fee. I wanted to go (although no one else in the group did) but only because Charles Dickens carved his name into a window that is displayed inside. Think about it — Dickens and Shakespeare in one place. Why would you not want to go? (Note: I lied about not wanting to go because no one else did. And I didn't want to go alone. Or drag someone along.)

I didn't get to go inside the birthplace, but I did get a photo. (Thanks for taking it, Bailey).
We made our way through town, and sites included a Shakespeare monument surround by four of his famous characters: Hamlet (my personal hero), Prince Hal, Lady MacBeth, and Falstaff (who Bailey is a huge fan of).

Hamlet inspires me to think. That's new.

We made our way to the Holy Trinity Church, which is where Shakespeare is buried. On our way, we walked by the river, and I saw one of my favorite sites of the trip: baby swans with their parents. It was precious.

Forget Shakespeare. Check this out.
After telling everyone in my sight about the swans (which included Dr. Snyder, Dr. Snyder's family, students from other universities, and the other MSU students), I realized that my voice was starting to disappear. I told Dr. Snyder I may lose my voice, but he told me not to worry — I could write down my thoughts for class tomorrow.

As we made our way to the church, I began to get a sinking feeling that I was getting sick again — and it wasn't just because I found out the show of "Julius Caesar" we were scheduled to see that night performed by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company would be set in South Africa. (Note: That's what Snyder told me, although Bailey insists it was set in sub-Saharan Africa.) I mean, does no one believe in traditional Shakespeare anymore?

Shakespeare's grave. It was a big moment for me.

Khanh and Josh have a moment. 
After seeing Shakespeare's grave, we headed back into town, where Brian would leave us to our own ends before the play. We formed a group (Spencer, Cameron, Josh, Bailey, Ben, Khanh, and I) and went to go grab a pre-dinner theatre. In our time at the pub, my throat got worse and worse. And then I got a slight fever. And felt dizzy.

But Shakespeare was calling. And that meant I had to press on. Even if it was in South Africa.

After paying for our meal and performing a ticket switch that I managed to pull off despite my illness, we made our way into the theatre. And when the lights dimmed, my excitement grew.

The thing is, I made it through over half the play without feeling too bad. And then the worst possible thing happened: I felt compelled to leave the theatre due to said illness. Being nice, they offered to go with me, but someone needed to enjoy Shakespeare. 

And that's how I ended up sitting at the bar with all the water I could drink, with about twenty theatre workers checking to make sure I wasn't going to pass out. Once the show ended, Josh found me, and we went outside to wait for the bus. At this point, I won't really stand by what I remember, but I'll just throw it out there. Someone compared me to barn animals. And maybe a mystical creature or two. We ended up on the bus, I ended up saying nonsense, which is what I do when I get sick, and Josh threatened to not go to London this weekend if I didn't get better.

We're not missing "Les Mis" again. We're not.

Once we reached Oxford, Bailey, Khanh, and Ben took me to Tesco to pick up things to help me get better ... which ended up translating to Bueno Bars. And then Bailey made me tea. Which I may have spilt.

And my voice began to fade away. I may love England, but I don't think it loves me.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Blenheim Palace: Or, Woodstock With No Hippies

Surprisingly, I was not ditched by Josh for our trip to Blenheim Palace. In fact, we even had time to go to the bus station for breakfast before we needed to board our bus. While at breakfast, we ran into Dr. Snyder and his family who were on their way to London. (Which is where we could have gone if someone hadn't been so uncommitted, but I'll let it go from now on. Just remember, I'm the victim in all of this.)

Despite having traveled on double decker buses before, I had yet to ride on the top level, so I decided we should climb the stairs and sit in front seats. That was a mistake. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure we almost died on the way about four times.

Today's trip to Blenheim Palace was special because it happened to fall at the same time as the 2012 GE Blenheim Triathlon. Because of the craziness going on (and our lack of knowledge of how to obtain tickets), we managed to make it to the palace steps without obtaining tickets. So then this exchange happened:

Palace Worker: Tickets, please.
Us: Tickets? We were already supposed to buy tickets?
Palace Worker, very concerned: What, you don't have any tickets?
Us: No. Where do we buy them?
Palace Worker: Hold on, one moment.

So we stood by awkwardly until we were guided to what looked like an emergency ticket booth set up. Apparently, we weren't the only guests who had managed to overlook the ticket booth in the hubbub.

Valuable life lesson: When buying anything, especially a rather expensive ticket, count your change. Because, when you don't, you manage to pay the wrong amount for your ticket. And when you realize you were only charged one third as much as you should have been, it's way later and too late to correct the cashier.

At any rate, we finally made it inside the palace and entered into the Winston Churchill exhibit. Churchill was born at Blenheim and was also where he proposed to his wife. Unsurprisingly, these rooms were the most crowded.

Somehow, we managed to get trapped between multiple tours (in multiple languages) as we went through the palace. As Josh can speak German, he was able to understand and translate what the German-speaking tour guide was saying. When we later came upon the French-speaking tour guide, I only caught a fragment of his speech because of room's acoustics and his very thick British accent, so my translation was less impressive. The English-speaking tour guide simply would not let us be in the same room. Even though it was a free tour and we paid to be there.

However, thanks to Josh's knowledge of the palace, I technically got a really interesting tour. (I'm not really sure how he knew all of this. Odds are he probably read some sign that I missed because I was distracted by the shiny things.)

According to Josh, the first Duke of Malborough gained the palace as a present from Queen Anne for his efforts in the War of Spanish Succession. Skipping ahead a few generations, the ninth Duke of Malborough married the American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt for her money to save the palace. (Apparently, Consuelo is the feminine form of Consuela, which is commonly confused for a female's name.) At this point, the story reminded me of "Downton Abbey" and the marriage of Cora to Lord Grantham. Except, that's television and they fell in love.

Consuelo's mother was apparently obsessed with her daughter becoming a duchess. And even though Consuelo's parents were divorced, her father paid for the marriage to take place. Consuelo didn't want to marry Malborough but did so to please her mother. And after their wedding, he told her that he loved another woman, never planned to return to America, and hated all things that weren't British.

As you can see, he was a nice guy. It's no surprise that she finally left him years later.

After we finished with the castle, we went outside to explore the grounds. At this point, I discovered my camera was dead and I would be unable to take photos. I was disappointed when I was informed that there was a waterfall.

My disappointment deepened after reaching said waterfall. It was rather gross because it smelled terrible and had suspicious looking foam in it. Honestly, I was terrified I would fall in and become transformed by pollution into a sea creature. This trip was also notable because we saw a type of duck that was not a mallard.

Shortly after my waterfall dreams were crushed, we made our way inside because it began to sprinkle. After deciding to eat at Woodstock, rather than the cafe on the grounds, we made our way through town to find a nice pub.

Suggestion: If you have money to burn, you can enjoy Churchill Champagne Tea for £24.00 a person. For more information, visit Blenheim's website. On another note, the palace also does weddings. 

After eating in town, Josh somehow convinced me to go to an antiques fair. It was rather fun to look at all of the stuff on sale, although unlike some people I didn't try to buy a cane. The day was growing late, so we caught the bus back to Oxford.

After returning to Oxford, I managed to get G & D's ice cream out of the trip, and agreed to watch the classic silent German film "Metropolis." 

Although it wasn't the trip I was originally hoping for, it turned out to be a lot of fun. And although I may complain (mostly jokingly), it has to be admitted that the unplanned can sometimes be the best type of adventure.

But I still maintain we're going to Iceland ... one day.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Iceland: The Dream That Was Snatched Away

I decided to make a miraculous recovery instead of going to the doctor.

This week was supposed to be our travel period (Wednesday through Friday), but because most of us had two papers to complete — combined with the expense of travel over such a short period — almost everyone backed out of the trip to Scotland.

Because we're adventurous people, Josh and I decided to go to Iceland instead (because that's more convenient and cheaper). After telling Dr. Snyder of our plans, we decided to look up flights ... and then decided the twenty-three layover in Germany and/or the thousand pounds tickets weren't worth it. I then proposed we go stalk the "Doctor Who" shooting and get a picture of the Tardis. This was promptly ignored.

So then Bailey, Josh, and I agreed to go to London. But then this was complicated by the fact that OSAP had scheduled a Cambridge trip on Saturday. And then Josh complained about his paper load. So it was somehow decided that Bailey would go to Cambridge and Josh and I would go to Blenheim Palace tomorrow (or there would be no trip for me at all).

Blackmail by fickle people who can't make up their minds.

And the selling point for Blenheim Palace? Apparently, because it belongs to the family of Winston Churchill, Hitler wanted to make it his English summer home once he overtook Britain.

That's all I know. That, and I really wanted to see Les Mis, so not going to London this weekend is more of a disappointment.

Today, Khanh and I went shopping (I went in attempts to replace my boots, which someone broke. I was unsuccessful.) While I was out, I came across Josh randomly on Cornmarket Street. (See guys? I know the streets now.) Because some of the other students studying at Oxford through OSAP were throwing a dessert party later that night, the three of us went to Marks and Spencer in an attempt to get ingredients for chocolate covered strawberries. This failed, but I eventually obtained the ingredients from Tesco.

After making the strawberries, I acted like I had done something productive and wasted time until it Khanh, Meghan, Bailey, and Josh decided it was time to leave for dinner. We found an independent pub in which to eat before heading to the house.

While at the party, we met several Christ Church British students who taught us a party game that resembles Salad Bowl. My team won. Both times. We headed back to the flat after the party and went to sleep, with me personally wondering if I was going to be stood up for Blenheim Palace.

And let's face it, being stood up for that would be just sad.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Garden Party, at least that's what they called it ...

I woke up feeling better than the previous night. However, after attempting to make my way to communion by myself in the rain (a quick thanks to Ben, Bailey, and Josh for ditching), I realized how awful I felt. So, after about fifteen minutes of walking, I turned around and headed back to the flat. After eating breakfast, I decided to take a quick nap on the couch in an attempt to rest for the garden party.

Honestly, I spent most of the morning and afternoon running upstairs to get pills from Ben and Bailey. Once we got ready for the garden party, Khanh, Ben, and I went to Sunday roast at The Four Candles to get lunch. Dr. Snyder called Ben and asked him to pick up sodas and snacks, so we went to Tesco to grab a few things before the party at Trinity.

Although the three of us were technically late, we hadn't missed the party ... somehow there had been a miscommunication with the booking of the room we were supposed to be in, so we found Dr. Snyder and several other students standing outside a locked room. Everyone else, he said, had gone to the JCR.

At this point, my medicine was wearing off (or I was getting worse), so the next few hours went by in a blur. I remember venturing with Ben and Casey to the JCR to find chocolate. (Casey got us lost at her own college, in the rain. To be fair, I got lost in my own apartment building.) After returning, we found the room had finally been opened so the party could begin. So it was a garden party that didn't have a garden.

Life lesson: When you've been taking medication, don't drink everything handed to you. Furthermore, ask what you're drinking before you drink it. Otherwise, you may embarrass yourself and say something stupid, which someone will hold against you for weeks to come.

As time passed, I felt worse. And the rain stopped, so Dr. Snyder decided we should move the party outside. This was rather disappointing to me, as I wanted to come home, change into something warm, and go to sleep. Nevertheless, I rallied (or at least attempted to).

The MSU girls: Me, Maddy, Melissa, Casey, Meghan, and Khanh

The MSU guys: Alex, Cameron, Bailey, Taylor, Ben, Spencer, Josh, and Will

The group with Dr. Snyder
After the party ended, I went back to the flat. I was informed that if I don't get better by the end of class tomorrow, it would be time to go to the doctor. As someone who avoids the doctor at all costs, I decided that the rest of my Sunday would be spent attempting to get better.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Windsor Castle: Or, how I foiled Christ Church's Evil Plot

Fun fact: I'm a conspiracy theorist. A conspiracy theorist who really likes duck.

Khanh and I have discovered that, basically, anytime the OSAP office plans a trip for us (today, for example, we wen to Windsor Castle), Christ Church chooses to serve duck. Which means we never can go to dinner when there is duck because we're not in Oxford.

Clearly, Christ Church looks at the OSAP schedule before deciding on the week's menu and places the duck on the days we are unable to attend dinner.

But, I'll stop my tangent now.

After a night of little sleep (and alien filled nightmares, thanks "Prometheus"), we piled onto the two buses provided for us by OSAP. But, luckily for us, they had booked two large buses so there was twice the amount of seats as people.

As a studious individual, I brought along "The Lord of the Rings" to read on the journey. (I ended up curling up in a ball and falling asleep.) Unfortunately for Bailey, the student sitting in front of him ended up leaning his seat all the way back. After Bailey asked for to move it up, the student did — he moved up by an inch, tops.

Once we got to the castle (which, after doing some quick Wikipedia research I learned was the Queen's preferred weekend home), we waited in line for a very long time. At least, I thought it was. While waiting in line, I asked Dr. Snyder about the changes he is bringing to MSU's Honors College. Basically, if I understand correctly, an honors student will now need to take QUEST classes, which will introduce the student to writings from multiple time periods. The student will also need to complete an honors thesis/project and either study abroad or participate in a similar experience. From speaking with Dr. Snyder, it seems as if the Honors College will be lifted to a new level, and I think it will be especially beneficial to humanities students.

Windsor's Round Tower

After we finally got into the castle, we joined the long queue to see the Doll's House that was built for Queen Mary, the wife of George V (which Wikipedia will also tell you). Dr. Snyder decided he did not want to see the doll house badly enough to stand in the long line, so he left us.

On a side note: Not that I did this, or anything, but if you insist upon complaining about how jerky someone is (see above jerk who was rude to Bailey on the bus), check to make sure he or she isn't standing behind you. It could lead to an awkward moment, followed by declarations of "I wanted them to hear."

After seeing the doll house, we proceeded to look at the rest of the castle. (It should be noted photographs could not be taken inside the royal residence itself — it's the royal family's home.) I sped through the photo collection of the queen to escape the crowds and spent a rather large amount of time looking at the china collection.

According to a castle worker, the china is washed in a rubber sink to prevent damages and one plate can cost 15, 000 pounds. Needless to say, I should never be employed to a royal residence. I went through the armory and realized just how many guns can be in one place. That kinda scared me.

After we finished exploring the castle grounds, Ben took the group to a pub he had been to before. There, Khanh and I ordered duck, therefore foiling Christ Church's plan to deprive us. I also decided, that for scientific purposes, I would attempt to discover the best apple pie in England. Even if I had to get dessert at every pub we go for the rest of the trip, it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

We had a lot of free time after eating, so we went to the river side and watched the swans, ducks, and geese. Obviously, the swans are superior to all other birds.

According to our tour guide Brian, the Queen does technically own all the swans in England. Ceremonially, the birds are marked each year at certain places on the Thames.

Once I got back on the bus, I talked to Dr. Snyder on the return journey and had a rather exciting conversation.

When we reached Oxford, I realized I did not feel well. And, as time went on, I felt worse. Bailey, who considers himself a semi-doctor, gave me pills. Which meant I really felt bad because I'm usually opposed to western medicine.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Prometheus: Or the Worst Decision of my Life

I'm a sucker for movies. Furthermore, I'm a sucker for anything that has to do with "Lost" — in this case, "Prometheus" ("Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof co-wrote the script). When I found out it came out a week earlier in the U.K. than the U.S., I knew I had to go. If only so I could rub it into my friends in Ocean Springs who wanted to see it.

I started out the day by going to breakfast with Ben at Christ Church (as usual, Josh said he would come but did not. Because he's a fickle sketch). We then went to the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology for class.

Dr. Snyder, in order to illustrate the history that influenced J.R.R. Tolkien, took us around the museum.

Of course, my favorite part of the museum had nothing to do with medieval history (sorry, Dr. Snyder) —it was a Stradivarius violin called the Messiah that has seldom been played. It got it's name from one owner bragging about it but never showing it and a violinist exclaiming, "Then your violin is like the Messiah: one always expects him but he never appears."

The Messiah
As we explored the museum, I decided that I could not embark upon my journey to see "Prometheus" alone. (I have this thing where I don't go to movie theaters alone. Furthermore, getting lost on the streets of Oxford made me feel self-conscious of my ability to navigate my way home on a Friday night.) I managed to convince Bailey, Spencer, and Cameron that it was a good idea with little trouble. And, in truth, I think they mostly needed to be convinced to let me come with them. But, for some reason, Josh kept waffling.

Actually, that isn't surprising. For some reason, I was limited to trying to convince him about it once an hour. After a bit, I had a stake in this more than getting him to stop writing his paper for a day — I wasn't getting my way. And I can't remember the last time when I didn't get my way (over something stupid), so I had to keep the streak going. 

Furthermore, I kept being told "It was time for me to get a watch" when I asked what time it was, and harassing him about going to the movies seemed like a good way to be just as annoying as that answer. 

I should note that a person who will go unnamed spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to take a picture of the Alfred Jewel.

Perhaps one of the defining moments of the trip happened at this point: Almost the entire class crowed into an elevator to follow Snyder to the pre-Raphaelites, but we were missing a few people. Spencer, coming upon us ....

Spencer: What are you guys doing?
Us: Spencer, get in the elevator.
Spencer: Why?
Us: Spencer, we're going upstairs. Get in the elevator.
Spencer: Why?

This went on for a bit, before we left him.

After we finished exploring, we joined Dr. Snyder for tea (or, in my case, hot chocolate) on the roof-top cafe. Which, apparently, is the only rooftop cafe in Oxford.

Left to right: Me, Casey, Melissa, and Maddy

Josh and Bailey look happy to be alive.

At this point (whether he remembers it or not), I gave up attempting to convince Josh to go with us and told him to forget about it.

After we left the Ashmolean, several of us went to lunch at this garden cafe. The less said about the food, the better.

Bailey went to go get our tickets early, and we got our assigned seats. (Which, was good, because the movie theater was extremely full. We had to fight some tourists for our seats.) At this point, I discovered that Josh was coming to the movie, after all. So I got my way again. 

When we arrived at the movie theater, I was excited. Halfway through the movie, I was fascinated. A bit later, I was slightly horrified. And then, I went catatonic for the rest of the movie. I wanted to leave, I wanted to cry, I wanted to hide my eyes like I was five, but I was frozen to my seat.

After the movie, I insisted I needed ice cream, so we went to G & Ds. I asked Spencer why he wouldn't get in the elevator with us, and he explained that he knew where we were going but didn't want to get hot and be crowed.

"I can deal with lost, or being late. But not being uncomfortable. You just can't live if you're not comfortable." -Spencer Hall

At this point, the travel period was fast approaching, so I suggested we return to the flat to make plans. We really didn't get anywhere. And some genius decided that watching "South Park" was the best way to help cure me of the nightmares.

Yeah, that didn't help.