Monday, April 26, 2010

Last Post As Oxford Tourist

Well, folks, I hope to be heading home on Thursday.  I'm not anticipating any problems.  I just plan on getting to the airport very early to ensure that I do get on my flight.  I'm sure the planes will be jam-packed as they continue to catch up on the back log caused by the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull.  

This past week I finished seeing the colleges I wanted to see and stumbled upon a few I hadn't planned on visiting.  So, Tuesday, I was trying to find my way somewhere and stumbled upon  Keble College. The buildings are quite different from what you see at the other colleges.
As you can see, it was built with brick and there is a pattern in the brickwork made by using different colored bricks.  Continuing along that same road, I stumbled upon Wadham College.  Visitors were not allowed, but you can stand at the doorway and look in.  Wandering through some narrow roadways,
I finally found New College.  New College is anything but new, being over 620 years old!
This was one of my favorite colleges that I have visited.  The chapel was quite nice, but I especially enjoyed the cloisters. 
New College has not only a chapel, the cloisters, classroom buildings, the dining hall, and the students' rooms, but it also has a large garden.  This garden is a bit of a surprise because When you enter the college from the street it just looks like it will be a tiny little place.  The original city walls can be seen in the
garden.  The garden
itself was a beautiful, quiet, peaceful place to walk around.  

From there I had a peek into Queens College, and then on to Merton College.  I am usually pretty good at figuring out maps, but for the life of me I couldn't follow the map for Merton College!  Oh well, I did find my way out so I guess it didn't really matter. 
Here I came across some students playing croquet, quite a common site on college quads here.

On Wednesday I walked way out through a park, through a part of town I'd never been to, back over around the Cherwell River, crossing on the Magdalen Bridge and then I toured
Magdalen College.  (That's pronounced Mawd-lin).  This, of course, was on my "Have to See" list as it was C.S. Lewis'
college. In fact, this building is where he had his rooms.  Again, there were cloisters,
but not as pretty as the ones at New College. The chapel at Magdalen is quite famous as the boys' choir sings from this tower at 6 a.m. every May 1st after the students have spent the entire night before in revelry in the local pubs (kind of glad I WON'T be here!). 
Apparently this is featured in a scene of Shadowlands.  Magdalen College not only has a surprise garden/meadow right there in the middle of the city, but it also has deer in the meadow!  

From there I did some window
shopping, ending up at Whittard of Chelsea, a shop with a large variety of teas, coffees, and hot chocolate.

Thursday my legs were so tired from my six mile walk the day before that I just stayed home!

Friday was an easy day, too.  John went with his class for lunch, so I headed down town to look for some lunch for myself.  I decided to walk through the Open Market. 
Normally they only have market on Wednesday and Thursday, but Friday was an international day.  I bought myself a beautiful pair of earrings, had galette for lunch, and baklava for dessert.   Then I spent some time browsing in Blackwells Bookstore before meeting John at the Pitt Rivers Museum.  The Museum of Natural History is in the same building.
And no, I am NOT saying John is an Oxford Dodo!  The Pitt River Museum contains a lot of fascinating artifacts from all over the world.  This was one of the most fascinating.
LOL!!!!  It was in a display about recycling.  Who ever would have thought a satala would end up in a museum!???!!

On Saturday John and I went on a special date.  We walked along the Thames River walk.  This was the same walk that I did a couple of weeks ago.  We stopped and watched a boat go through the locks.  Then we had a quick look at the Godstow Nunnery.  Then we ended up at the Trout Inn.  This was our big splurge of our time here. 
Apparently the likes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein also ate here.  We had really gotten warmed up, hiking about two miles in the sunshine to get there.  So we chose to eat on the terrace, but by the time we got our food the sun had gone behind the clouds and it turned out to be quite chilly out there!  Our food was quite good, but we decided you pay more for the atmosphere than for the food quality.  The "pudding" was spectacular!  We walked home through the Port Meadow and petted a pony and dodged cow pies.  

And there you have it.  Probably next time I write will be from the good ol' USA.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cultural Observations

Now, you may think that since English is spoken in England there shouldn't be big differences in culture, right?  Well, compared to going to say, Niger, the culture differences are slight.  But there are differences between England and the States.  Of course, most of my observations are on a surface level so I don't claim to be taking this very deep!  And I certainly mean no offense to either the US or to Britain.  Just making observations, that's all.

1.  My Name.....Well, I don't know since only one person has said this to me, but I've been told that "Nancy is a very American name".  I don't know if that's true or not.  There must be some Brits named Nancy....but I haven't met any.  I mean I have met people with names we would say are very British such as ....never mind, I'm not going to get my self in trouble by naming names.  But after he said that I started looking in places where they sell things with people's names on them and I haven't found one thing yet that says "Nancy".  And I've found tons of stuff that says "Natalie" (my sister's name). 
Now, usually in the US it's the other way around....We can find stuff that says "Nancy", but not "Natalie".  (As an aside, I have definitely noticed that all the Nancys I know are in their 50's and they are either American or Canadian.  Obviously it was a very popular 1950's name in North America!)  And by the way, I like my name, American or not.

2.  Food....British food is not bad.    It seems a little bland and not very salty, but that's probably because in general Americans use way too MUCH salt!  Here are some things I really like.  Crumpets spread with lemon curd. 
I know it sounds weird.  Well, the crumpets were in the clearance basket at the store so I decided to try them.  And the lemon curd was sitting on the table since breakfast stuff is provided.  Now, really, I don't like anything lemon except maybe real home-made lemonade on a hot day.  But I decided to bravely give it a try.  I put just a dab on the crumpet and took a bite and it was delicious!  I really don't know what there is about it because it SOUNDS awful.
And Muller yogurt with choco balls.  This is VERY, VERY delicious!  The fruit kind is good too, but this is the best!  I love it.  I could eat it every day.  We've got to get this in the States!

3.  Queues....That's another word for lines.  I think this amazes me more coming from Africa than it does coming from the US.  Brits line up for everything.  Without anybody telling them to.  Behind some kind of invisible line that everybody can see.  In Niger people group up and surge forward as a crowd.  Shopkeepers deal with four or five people at a time.  The concept of the micro-advantage holds sway.  But not here.  Americans are pretty good at forming lines....ahem, queues....but Britain has even the US beat on that one.
I mean we would normally mill around while waiting for the bus to come then queue up when it gets there, but here they queue up even before the bus is in sight.  It's a good thing, really, because it enables other people who aren't getting on the bus to pass by on the sidewalk.  And think how much pushing and shoving it eliminates.
4.  Signs...OK, I don't want anybody to think I'm making fun of anything in the culture.  All I'm saying here is that English in one place isn't English in another.  So if anybody can tell me what these signs mean, I'd appreciate it!  I think I've got the first one, but the second two are totally meaningless to me.

 5.  Privacy...It seems to me that Brits are much more private with their personal lives and in what they say than Americans are (maybe that's a stereo-type?).  But then walking down the street, in the neighborhood where we live anyway, the houses are very close to the sidewalk and people just leave their curtains open and any body can look in.  It's just an interesting contrast because it seems that Americans would be very uncomfortable with their curtains open but they tend to be very public with their private lives, with what they say.  Personally, I think I'd opt for the closed curtains and the personal privacy, taking the best of both worlds!

6.  Grocery Bags...America...listen and learn.  Here you can get a plastic bag at the store to put your groceries in, but you have to pay for it.  And if you bring your own bag, you get points on your store card.  It's a great motivation to cut down on the number of plastic bags leaving the store.

7.  Walking Paths...Oxford is a perfect city for walking.  And I think some American cities have done a good job turning old rail tracks into bike paths and so on.  But in England, if you are walking on a marked path, the path may lead you through a farmer's field.  If there is a stile or a gate that isn't locked, you are allowed to walk through.  Of course, it is assumed that you will be respectful of his land.  Just down the road from us is an area we love to visit.
  There is a meadow where cows are open range and people sit in the same meadow and have picnics (us included).  The canal is near the meadow and you can walk for miles along the canal.  And the Thames River is on the other side and you can walk for miles along the river.  I don't know if Oxford is typical of England or not, but it is very easy to stay in shape here.  I walk at least two miles every day and some days up to six.  One day I did eight, but not all at one time.

8.  Heating...On general, Brits just don't keep their houses as warm as Americans do.  I think it's partly because there are a lot of older houses and they are very drafty.  I've been very cold here, especially the first two weeks we were here when it was still quite wintry weather.  On the other hand, Americans go way overboard on air conditioning in the summer.  Here, restaurants, pubs, and stores just open windows.  I know we get much hotter summers on general in the US, but there's no reason to make public places as cold as they are.

So, those are just some of my observations.  After four weeks I don't claim to be any kind of expert!  


Monday, April 19, 2010

Another Week of Tourism

This week I did not go exploring quite as much.  I've seen a lot already and I guess I was getting a little tired of being a tourist and have been feeling a little homesick.  Our living situation was a little difficult with nine people in a one-bathroom, one-kitchen flat.  Everybody was easy enough to get along with it's just that when you were desperate to go somebody was inevitably in the loo.  When you needed to get ready somebody else was taking their jolly time primping before the mirror.  Ahhhh....the joys of dorm life.  I'm getting a bit old for that.  Anyway, the family of four left (it must have been difficult for them living all four in a small room) so we are back down to five to the bathroom.  That seems like nothing now!

Anyway, the highlight of the week was getting to see more of our "old" friends.  So, here's what I did....

Monday was grey and dreary and after having walked about eight miles on Sunday I didn't feel like doing much of anything.  I did watch some Inspector Morse on YouTube. 
Inspector Morse is a British detective series that takes place in Oxford.  On the episode I watched, I actually saw things I recognized!  

Tuesday our friend, Vee, who used to work in Niger, came down for a visit.  We went to Christ Church and saw around there.  I believe Christ Church is the largest college in Oxford University and one of the most famous.  Of course, some of its "fame" is that parts of Harry Potter were filmed at Christ Church (personally, I'm not impressed, but I know some of you are fans).  We got to visit the Hall, which I believe is a scene in the HP movies. 
It was quite impressive and all the more so as the tables were set for a banquet coming up that evening.  Famous graduates from Christ Church include William Penn, John Wesley, and Lewis Carroll.  We also visited the church itself.  At first I thought this stained glass window must depict one of the Bible stories of Jesus and the Sea of Galilee.  But it is actually an enormous window telling in pictures the story of St. Frideswide.
I won't recount the entire story here, but she had established a convent in the 600's which remained a religious establishment and eventually Christ Church was built on the site.  Remember the little country church I visited last week?  She had also established a religious community there and people went to the well there for healing. 
Christ Church is an Anglican church, but it had at one time been Catholic, and the Catholic influence is still very strong inside.  After our self-guided tour of Christ Church, we went out and strolled through Christ Church meadow, a park that is open to the public. 
It was a perfect day to stroll along the river and watch the
amateur punters try their hands at poling a boat.  After enjoying the sunshine of the park, Vee and I headed over to Blackwells Bookstore,
which is amazing.  It makes Borders look very small indeed!  This is not my it off the internet.  Then we met John at the Bodleian Library.  We got to go in the courtyard but that's all the farther us peons can go! 
John, however, is a privileged soul and can go in the hallowed grounds of the Bodleian!  From there we went to the Eagle and Child,
which is where the Inklings met to discuss their books (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, etc.).  Again, this is not a picture I took.

So, then there was Wednesday.  I went down to the open-air market which is open two days a week.  I didn't get any pictures of that.  Then I wandered over to Oxford Castle, which used to be a prison. 
It cost 7.50 pounds to tour, which is almost $12.00, so I decided I didn't want to see it that badly.  I walked home along the canal. 
Notice the name of this boat.

Thursday I again didn't do much.  I did go back to the Ashmolean Museum and got some pictures of Egyptian artifacts for a friend whose kids are studying Egypt in their home school. 

Friday I went to the Museum of Oxford at which I wasn't allowed to take any pictures.  I hadn't allowed myself much time, but I didn't really need that much time!  It was a good museum for getting an overall view of the history of Oxford.  By the time I was done there, it was time to meet John and our friend, John F., who had done a GAP year in Niger and whom we hadn't seen for seven years!  We walked through Christ Church meadow again.  John had not been there yet.  Then we went out for dinner together and had an absolutely delicious meal (go where the locals take you! :) ). 
John F. is working here in Oxford with an organization that helps organize studies for foreign students who want to do a semester abroad.

Saturday more friends from Niger came to visit.  Graham, Pauline, Hannah, and Joshua came down to spend the afternoon with us.  They took us out for lunch to our favorite Thai restaurant and then we did some more exploring.  It was a beautiful day and they wanted to be outside, so back to Christ Church meadow we went! :)  On our wandering around we ran into groups of Morris dancers.
Morris dancing is traditional folk dancing and usually involves bells and sticks.  I tried to put up a short video here, but can't figure out how to do it!

Yesterday was church....a mile there, a mile back.....a mile there in the evening and a mile back again.  Four miles!  I spent most of the afternoon sitting outside in the sunshine.

So, that was my week.  I guess I did more than I thought I did!