Oxford is Hogwarts

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It is a Tuesday night as I write this and I am happy to say my cold has diminished to a tedious cough that attacks out of nowhere. Hey, it’s better than the blocked up sinuses I had last week!

This past Saturday, Jen and I decided to take a bus out to Oxford to see some sights. Unfortunately, most cool things like museums and botanical gardens close at 5, so not much sightseeing was done as we had hoped. But, what we did see was fantastic and definitely worth the trip. We woke up rather early to get to the Tube station for 8:30, rode the District Line to Victoria, and made our way to the coach stations there. We took the Oxford Tube bus from Victoria to St. Aldate’s and it was only 13 pounds roundtrip (we paid the bus driver when we got on the bus, no reservations needed)!

As many of you may know, Oxford is famous for Oxford University, but also the origins of Alice in Wonderland and the shooting of scenes from Harry Potter. Jen and I are a fan of both things, so of course going to Oxford was a no-brainer! The first stop on the monstrous list of things to do was Christ Church. We had to pay to get in, 7.50 pounds, but it was well worth it. One of the social halls on the Church’s property was used as a model for the Great Hall in the HP films, so seeing it in person was extremely cool. The stained glass windows were gorgeous and intricate, the ceilings even more so, and pretty much everything about the entire Church felt historical. But, history aside, I was mainly interested in the locations from Harry Potter.

I am pleased to say that I walked up the stairs McGonagall greets the students on in the first HP film (Christ Church), sat in the room where they filmed the dance lesson scene from the fourth film and any shots from the infirmary (Divinity School), and saw the library where they shot the “Restricted Area” scene from the first film and the library shots (Duke Humphrey’s Library)! It was so cool and surreal to be in the same places that some of my favorite movies were filmed; I can’t even really describe the feeling!

After Christ Church, we ran off to the Bodleian Library and purchased a half hour tour of the Divinity School and Duke Humphrey’s Library (5 pounds), both extremely cool because of their historical contexts and Harry Potter associations! If you like the smell of old books, Duke Humphrey’s Library smells IMMENSELY like old books. You walk up the stairs and through the doors and WOOSH you are assaulted with history and time. Even though it is cool, the smell does get a tad overwhelming.

With the library behind us, we only had fifteen minutes before any museums closed. Luckily the Science museum was across the street from the library, so we hopped in and ran about the ground floor taking pictures. Even though we didn’t get to see even a fraction of the place, what we did see was extremely cool and interesting. I would definitely go back! We also hopped into a bookstore nearby called Blackwell’s and had some coffee at the indoor Cafe Nero. The bookstore was really cool, but the coffee I had was what made it great. Caramelatte… yum!

Of course in between our tour of Christ Church and the Bodleian Library, we had about a four hour gap. In that time, Jen and I finally ripped off the band-aid and decided to eat at… believe it or not… PIZZA HUT. And, let me tell you, it was fantastic. We got cheesy-bite margherita pizza and it was heavenly. I’m not sure if the pizza itself was actually great or if I just really needed some actual pizza in my life, but either way I was a happy camper. After the best Pizza Hut experience of my life, we went to do some shopping as our families requested various clothing items donning the “Oxford” moniker. I will admit I spent some serious cash that day, but it was worth it. Between walking tours and a cool sweatshirt and t-shirt saying I’ve been to Oxford, I couldn’t have asked for a better day!

I can’t say our flatmates had the same, however.

When Jen and I returned from our fun day at Oxford, we walked past one of the buildings to see a lot of people sitting in a common room. I commented that they must be a club having a meeting or something, but we soon found out that was not the case. We were just about to walk towards our dorm when a lady stopped us and asked for our flat numbers. We told her, and then she told us to sit in the room where all of those people were sitting. Needless to say, they were not a club and they were not having fun. They had been sitting in that (cold) room for four hours, were promised pizza and drinks, and only received the latter. A bunch of our flatmates were in there livid because they were woken out of naps and had to come out in pajamas in the 50-degree weather. Turns out there was a fire in one of the flats’ kitchens and everyone had to evacuate, naturally, but security checking the rooms took almost five hours to finish. I’m glad I missed most of that waiting, but I still feel terrible for everyone from our dorm building that had to wait that long. Gotta love college, am I right? Thankfully no one was hurt and the person who unintentionally started the fire now knows that trying to put out an oil fire with water NEVER WORKS.

I am now in Week 3 of school and things are going by a little too fast! In just a couple weeks, my first assessments for classes are due. Jen celebrated her 21st birthday yesterday. Jen and I did the London Eye today (finally) because the weather was nice. Side note: it was fantastic and really breathtaking! Definitely worth the money. In terms of school, my readings are getting longer and more convoluted. I’m simultaneously missing my friends from home and absolutely LOVING my new friends here. It’s a weird feeling, both liking here and missing home, but it’s so much better than pouring all my feelings into homesickness. I’m already a fourth of the way through the semester… is it going to slow down any time soon?

Day 5 – A Hodgepodge of Places & Events

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Ever since I have arrived in London, the weather has been uncharacteristically beautiful… and sorta hot. The only rain I’ve experienced so far was the brief drizzle from a couple days ago, but apart from that it has been beautifully clear and in the 70s. London has been treating us well, in terms of weather. Because the weather was gorgeous and awe-inspiring, Jen, Nicole, and I decided to take a bike ride through Hyde Park. You might remember the park from earlier in the week, but this time we went there with a purpose: ride a Barclays Cycle through the park.

The process to rent a Barclays Cycle was quite simple and pretty cheap, actually. Though I wouldn’t advise riding the bike outside of the park (traffic is absolutely terrifying), you can pretty much take the bikes anywhere and drop them off wherever there is a Barclays Cycle station. Basically you stick your credit card in the kiosk, select how many bikes you want to rent, how long (minimum is 24 hours for 2 pounds each bike), and then you get a printed bike code. You type the code into the area next to the bike of your choice, it unlocks, and then you’re free to go for a whole half hour! If you don’t return the bike before the thirty minutes are up, you are charged an extra fee. So it’s best if you keep to that half hour time limit. There are plenty of Barclays stations to return and rent bikes in Hyde Park, so doing so was no issue whatsoever. I felt like a proper Londoner with my bike and the wind whipping through my hair as a homeless man was scolded for sleeping on a park bench! It was truly wonderful, in all seriousness.

After biking, we noticed we were extremely close to Harrods, one of the biggest shopping places I’ve ever seen. We only explored part of the ground floor, but there are at least 4 other floors to explore (with floor four being “shoe heaven” as they call it) and ridiculous prices. There doesn’t seem to be any method to how the rooms are arranged next to each other, but I suppose that’s the fun of exploring Harrods. You walk into an entrance and see purses upon purses but then enter the next room just to see sushi and expensive deli meats. There was even a cooler in the back of one of the food rooms (yes there were many) that held a lot of common grocery items for high prices. Who in their right mind would pay so much for a carton of eggs? Probably the type who regularly go to Harrods. Don’t get me wrong, though, the place is beautiful. The outside architecture is breathtaking and the inside has its own brand of awe inducement. The displays in each room are phenomenal and worth photographing, but unfortunately security won’t let you do that. So, instead, we just gawked and made mental notes of how amazing everything was. I may have to go back towards the end of my stay and pick up a Harrods tea tin. You know, just to say I afforded something from Harrods.

We ate at a chain called “Eat.” and had some Panera Bread-like sandwiches and crisps (chips for you Americans) for a bit more than I’d like to spend. As the still water was more expensive than the sparkling, I sucked it up and drank seltzer water out of a bottle. I’m shuddering just thinking about it. All in all, though, the restaurant wasn’t bad and I’d probably go back again. It’s just your standard pick-up-and-go place that will heat up sandwiches, dole out soup, and serve coffee if you pay for it. Nothing special, nothing terrible.

Just down the road from Harrods is a museum called the Victoria & Albert Museum, home to cool exhibits and (again) large and many rooms. We only had about an hour before we had to return to campus, so we swept through only three or four exhibits. The first was called “Disobedient Objects,” a temporary exhibit referring to revolution through time. The items in the room were disturbing, but I believe that was the whole point. Overall, I thought it was eye-opening and interesting to read about considering I took a Youth Revolt class last semester. The other exhibits we had time to visit were those about fashion, Raphael, and one involving petticoats and family seals. The V&A Museum is definitely a place I need to return to, especially with how amazing the exhibits I already saw were. So far, London has yet to disappoint me with its culture and amazing history. You go, UK!

We ditched the museum in time to return to campus for a School of History Associates (that’s Study Abroad students) Induction, which was more of a Q&A social event. A very cool and entertaining man called Matt walked us through some of the changes we could expect in the history classes offered at Queen Mary. Since I am taking Architecture in London, a class mostly involving field trips, I don’t think any of what he said really applies. However, it was still quite helpful to hear some of my mental questions answered in a friendly environment. It was very eye-opening, to say the least. After the information session, we were pushed off to a general meeting room where there were drinks and finger foods for the taking. Yes, by drinks I do mean beer and wine as well as juice and water. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the comfortableness that London has with alcohol. I met a girl from California here for an academic year, and she seemed quite nice. She, like so many others I have met and talked to, is an English major. We spoke for a while until some third year History students came by and introduced themselves. They were nice enough, but their insistence on joining in the pub crawl on Monday was a little strange to say the least. I explained to them how my home university is a dry campus and they gave me the strangest look almost as if to say “whaaaaaaat? no wild parties every single night of the week?” No, sorry. Even though I’m still in shock by the drinking culture in London, I’m sure I’ll get used to it in time. It’s just the adjustment that will take a little while.

After sitting in the social room for at least an hour and a half, Jen, Nicole, and I decided to leave. It was time for a relaxing night in the flat with some good dinner and a movie. While our flatmates had other ideas involving partying in our kitchen, we turned on Thor and ate grilled cheese with tomato soup. Almost immediately after finishing the movie, the fire alarm went off.

A sheet on the back of each flat door states that if the fire alarm rings for less than four seconds, there’s no need to evacuate. It is only a test. The fire alarm last night, however, was not a test! We all had to walk down the stairs in ticked-off pseudo-silence while everyone wondered who pulled the gosh-darned thing. The night was cold and getting late (about 11 o’clock), so sitting outside waiting for my flat to be called was ridiculous. Jen and I met some other people from our building and talked to them, but otherwise there was no benefit to being called out of the dorms at such a late hour in the night. Thankfully, we were back inside by midnight.

Jen and I tried to watch another movie now that we were wide awake from the cold air, but that was apparently not in the cards. Romeo + Juliet was turned on. While enjoying the ridiculous Leo diCaprio movie, the unimaginable happened. A second fire alarm went off. At 2 in the morning, the fire alarm sprang into action and forced us all out of the building. No one was happy, no one was smiling or joking. Everyone was dead-faced and miserable as most of us were thinking of sleeping. This time, the flat attendance procedure went quicker and we were released back into the building.

Even though I couldn’t sleep for an extra half hour for fear of the alarm going off again, I enjoyed a good night’s rest and woke up to the sound of the busy city outside my window. The promise of a new day was exciting, a feeling that completely erased the anger and frustration aimed at the fire alarms from the previous night. Hopefully I can go to sleep happy tonight hoping that I will enjoy my slumber uninterrupted.