Posted by: mandaleigh | 18th Dec, 2011

The end of an era

So here it is. The obligatory reflective post where I throw out life lessons about my life abroad! I’m about to lay some knowledge on you and get real cheesy, so prepare yourself.

ASE threw us a final tea at a classy hotel. We were served tea, cakes, the infamous clotted cream and sandwiches. After tea, the program director Jonathan (affectionately dubbed JHope) showed us a slideshow of hilarious pictures to “Don’t You Forget About Me.” (The song was chosen specifically because of our Halloween costume, yeah we’re that influential.)  We all clamored for pictures with The Butterworth, the smartest little British man you’ll ever meet and someone who will be at UMW in February to talk about ASE!

Butters!

 

We met for drinks afterwards, and then it was off to Jamie’s Italian, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant! The menu was so impressive we all had a hard time deciding what to nom. We shared wine, more reminiscing, more laughs. Everytime someone would bring up leaving or travel plans, we’d eschew that and say no no, we’re spending New Years in London right? And St. Patty’s Day in Dublin? We’re not leaving. OCCUPY PRIOR PARK! START A REVOLUTION! Last night out—we went full circle by returning to PoNaNa for Squeeze the Cheese night. And saw a fight between two morons. So what an interesting send off!

 

Forgive the logo, I didn't make it lol

There was no way we were going to sleep. Despite having to leave the house around 7:50 to catch my bus to Heathrow, we stayed up all night cooking, talking and stopping the tears because it’s NOT goodbye, it’s see you later. We engulfed each other in bone-crushing hugs and promises to plan a reunion. I left just as the sun was coming up, and indulged myself in a few quiet tears as the bus went by Nelson and the Abbey. Had to get it out of my system, because an airplane/airport is not the best place to have a mental breakdown 😉 I did get to grab lunch at the airport with my beloved roomie and partner in crime though! We took off just as the sun was setting. So it’s another full circle affect—I first flew into London during sunrise, I left during a sunset.

 

The flight was just over 8 hours. The only bump in the road was the family of screaming toddlers one row over—the parents seemed completely oblivious. But that’s alright, I had a window seat and the ability to watch Harry Potter and lots of Curb Your Enthusiasm. We made an obligatory Taco Bell stop on the way home, and it was everything I remembered and more…so special. It was surreal to wake up in my old room and NOT in my little room at the top of the stairs in Prior Park, feel the sheets that aren’t mine, hear my Dad’s deep rumbling voice instead of lilting feminine laughter, not have to wait in line for the bathroom. It’s insane to think that yesterday afternoon I was in England.

My semester's worth of reading

So what did I learn? What did this experience open up for me? Let me just say I now require a job that allows me either enough flexibility to travel often, or a job that consists of traveling, because there’s no way I could stay stationary behind a desk all day. I need mobility, adventurous co-workers, a spark of life in my work. After all the places I went and the people I met this semester, I can’t imagine staying in one place forever.

I learned sleep doesn’t matter so much. You can hit your second wind, and your third, and your fourth. Apparently, a collective seven hours of sleep within a 50-ish hour window is enough for me. I learned that you shouldn’t buy £1 frozen pizzas from Iceland unless you want to throw up in an airport bathroom the next day. I learned that you should never go anywhere in England without an umbrella and 3 layers of clothes—there will literally be snow one minute and bright sunshine the next. I learned:

1) Never turn down an Irish party

2)Prague is the most beautiful city in the world

3)Always pee before leaving the house

4) It’s impossible to laugh too much

5) Never bring your credit card when you go out clubbing

6) Give people chances, they may surprise you

7)Friends are just the family you choose for yourself

8) Don’t EVER settle

9) Get your ass off the couch and go do something outside, even if it’s raining

10) Buy toilet paper in bulk in a house full of tea-drinking girls

11) British men are NOT sissies, they just sound like it

12) Tea cures everything

13) Go to Europe at least once before you die

14) Dance often, it’s good for the soul

15) Turn off the stove so Sarai doesn’t die

16) When facing culinary strugs, always ask Hannah

See you later, Bath

No words could ever adequately sum up this experience for me. It was without a doubt the most incredible time in my entire life. I met so many amazing people, explored so many breath-taking places, took many chances. I shared my writing, got published in a magazine, climbed a mountain, explored ancient ruins, visited my homelands, loved worthy people. I’ll always carry a piece of Bath in my heart. When life gives you lemons, you shoot those lemons in the face and laugh at the remnants. The world is waiting, so GO GET IT!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: mandaleigh | 13th Dec, 2011

Sturm und Drang

Ok, so I used a semi-clever title to suck you into a post entirely about….

12. Learn to love the rain

Hey, it was a hard bucket lister to achieve. And my brain is overrun with terms for my Gothic Literature final tomorrow (For all the non-English majors, it means “storm and stress”). So, this week the weather outlook in England is bleak. Surprisingly, the weather’s been amazing the entire time we’ve been here, seeing sun more often than not is not something I expected. But this week a mega storm is hitting. A hurricane tried to stop us from leaving the states back in August, and now storms are trying to stop us from leaving England. Not that I need any encouragement, I’d just as soon stay here straight through winter! Hail storms are expected throughout the week, and we saw a bit of that today.I’ve never seen such temperamental weather! It went from bright and sunny to hail storms back to sun within 10 minutes, throughout the day.

I braved the weather for the weekly dessert run and was so glad I did, although not so glad I didn’t bring a camera. Let me attempt to put this into words. I looked up from the wet streets and saw the most alluring sky I’ve ever seen. To the right of my house was pale blue with wispy, fluffed clouds, typical of a summer day. The buffer zone had smatterings of dark gray, wrapped in tendrils like glow worms. And the left side, down the hill was smeared with soft pink, the kind of pink that adorns a baby girl’s bedroom. All of it looked like someone had gently spread their fingers and diffused all the colors together. And the sun was still out—but only shining on a small area in the pink, which made it look like the skyline behind the church hosted dying embers. I had another hippie moment and just stopped to look at it, my chocolate withdrawal forgotten for the moment. And none of that would have been possible without the storm and intense rains. I officially love the rain. I’ve never seen sunshine give that much color.

Finals are this week, I just had my first one today. They’re all sit-down, closed book essay exams; 2 hours for 2 exams, so nothing too strenuous. I have two tomorrow and my last one Thursday–then I’m officially done for the semester! Our final tea is on Friday, and afterwards the Prior Park ladies have a reservation at (drumroll)….Jamie Oliver’s restaurant! We’ll probably go out for one final Squeeze the Cheese night at PoNaNa (remember, the awesome cheesy music night at the Moroccan club?). I take a bus to Heathrow at 8am on Saturday, my flight is at 4. An 8 our flight. Luckily, I’ll have two ASE-ers on the flight too. I’ll try not to cry when I have to say bye to Bath, but I make no promises! I love this place too much 🙂

 

Posted by: mandaleigh | 10th Dec, 2011

S&M in Stratford

Oh don’t let the reputation fool you. You hear Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s old stomping grounds and you think quaint little houses with Swiss siding and thatched-roofed pubs right? Sure, there’s that. And there’s also people in leather corsets and leather pants, donning whips and nipple clamps, stumbling around drunk and bondage at every turn. Of course, I’m referring to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Measure for Measure, modernized to include all manner of lecherous dress.

 

But first, a recap! Our program’s last trip (sad face) was a three day excursion in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home before he deserted his family and went off to London to write plays featuring emo, suicidal teenagers. It’s a teeny little town, more commercialized than I had pictured in my mind, and gorgeous at night with all the Christmas decorations. Now, English majors will want to crucify me, BUT….I didn’t go on the tour of the Shakespeare properties. I saw the building where he was born, but didn’t go see where he’s buried or Anne Hathaway’s cottage. I’m just gonna justify that by saying I wanted to absorb the spark of the town, see if I got some kind of literary inspiration? (Naw.)

We stayed in little bed and breakfast inns, that had some strict rules about noise, using towels to wipe off makeup and eating food in your room? They gave us a good breakfast in the morning with that glorious British bacon I’ve become so fond of. Everyday we attended pre-performance chats about the plays. The first night was a new play called Written on the Heart, which is about the Reformation and the history of the Bible.  The actors were great…butttt you can’t make that subject matter very enthralling. I spied a few people actually sleeping! But the SECOND night was amazing, a modernized version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, a play about a man being sentenced to death for having sex. His sister, an intended nun, tries to save his life by appealing to Lord Angelo. He basically says ok sure, but only if you do the dirty. Chaos ensues. The modernized version had the powerful lords wearing leather pants and leather corsets, and I must say they looked amazing. The second scene involved s&m, nipple clamps and raunchy music. Fishnet tights…leopard print dresses….gas masks, the works. Needless to say the audience enjoyed it a lot more than the history of the Bible.

Where Billy was born

 

After two days in Stratford, we went to Warwick Castle. It was so tourist-y but I loved it, we got to dress up in medieval clothes and take pictures with wax figures. We also saw the castle’s dungeon, which reminded me of the mummy vaults in Dublin. You had to climb down verryyy steep stairs to get to the drafty dungeon, where iron cages hung from the ceiling. Solitary confinement was a teeny hole in the ground with an iron grate covering it, big enough to curl up in but not stand up. There was a bird show, where a man showed off two adorable baby owls and talked about how he trained them, and how they were trained wayyy back when.

Comfortable places to dangle from!

Oscar the owl! Soo cuuuuuute

Gettin the hot gos from upperclass-ers..

Christmas in the Great Hall

Rawrrrr

It was a great little break right before final exams this upcoming week. I fly home Saturday 🙁

Posted by: mandaleigh | 28th Nov, 2011

A British Thanksgiving and a Czech Black Friday

Oh that classic day of turkey, football and food comas. It’s a staple of American families on Thanksgiving! This year of course it’s a bit different for me. We decided to do our own American Thanksgiving here in England! And I had the best job of all….GUTTING and cooking that turkey.

1. Cook an American dinner on Thanksgiving.

 

He's so cute

 

The best thing about Thanksgiving in England? You don’t have to battle it out to find a turkey, stores are still open and it’s a holiday that involves excessive eating. As Americans, we really will use any excuse to overeat, and it’s awesome explaining this holiday to people here.

Making a turkey seemed intimidating—people warned it was a tricky business. Honestly I just think people are uncomfortable with the plan of attack–ripping those organs out and tying up the legs like you’re ready for an autopsy. I rather enjoyed it! Once that’s done, you rinse, lather him up with spices and pop him in the oven! Banggg, done. It turned out pretty nice!

 

Our lovely spread

 

There was stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans with almonds, turkey of course, rolls, garlic mashed potatoes and for dessert we had amazing apple crumble! The next night our program threw us a fancy Thanksgiving dinner in a private function room–and dinner was cooked by culinary students! The turkey must have been on steroids—it was massive. We got to dress up, drink wine and be classy.

ASE really goes out of its way to make you feel comfortable here! The staff is so friendly and helpful, you can’t help but feel at home. And nothing says home like exorbitant amounts of food on your plate amongst friends 🙂

 

Last year on Black Friday I was stuck behind a register all day. This year? I was in Prague.

10. Learn snippets of a new language (German and French don’t count)

Me and Natalie in front of the Charles Bridge

It was an impulsive trip (well, we planned it a month ago) to see Prague during Christmastime. And man did we pick the ideal weekend to go! It was freezing but sunny the whole weekend so we got to see the real beauty of the place. Prague Christmas Market was named one of the Best 12 in Europe (Great Britain included, Bath is actually also named one of the best), and we were able to see the official tree-lighting ceremony in Old Town. The tree was trekked from the mountains of the Czech Republic, decked out in gold ornaments and enough lights to rival a KISS concert. Tons of wooden stalls littered the place, selling everything from handmade iron jewelry (you could see the guy in the forge right there) to Obama puppets, combined with the smell of roasting meat and super awesome desserts—trdelnik is my new favorite, which is basically roasted vanilla-coated dough, sprinkled with almonds and rolled in sugar.

Amazing!

 

Carolers were singing church songs in Czech, dancers were demonstrating traditional costumes, and the entire square sparkled with light and life. I haven’t felt this much Christmas spirit since I was probably eight or so! Most vendors spoke English, but my minor exposure to German did help when ordering things! And endless “excuse me’s” and “sorry’s” were obligatory in such a big crowd. There were times when people would just come up to us and ramble on and on in Czech (probably had too much svarak–hot wine), of course you just nod and smile and high-five them. Some things are just universal–including drunk speak. I got some Christmas presents for my family (shh) and ate way too much!

 

Astronomical Clock

Absinthe. For the record it tastes like bitter licorice.

Vltava River

 

The exchange rate definitely helped. We hired a private car to take us from the airport to our hotel for $14 each (550 Kroner total)! It was so fancy, we walked out of the arrivals gate and there was an adorable old Czech man with my name on a sign. However, somehow beer was cheaper than water everywhere we went. We decided to also spring for a hotel and not a hostel which gave us a full breakfast and better security. There’s something actually haunting about the city at night in the quieter parts. Even on a Friday and Saturday night, it’s dead quiet with cold invading your bones. Natalie chalks it up to the Iron Curtain’s lingering presence–I’m inclined to agree. But everyone we met was so friendly and welcoming!

We went on a 4 hour (split up into 2 days) walking tour. For the first part we saw Old Town and the Jewish Quarter, which houses the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe. It’s also insanely crowded, with 12,000 headstones that takes up less than a city block. People are stacked up like Leggos underneath that thing. The second day we saw Prague Castle and Lesser Town–which is where a lot of movies are filmed.

Cute bridge in Lesser Town

View from Prague Castle

 

After a glorious weekend, it was time to go back home to Bath. Getting there was easy, getting back was a bit trickier. Our flight was delayed because they overbooked the plane (yay for planning, huh airlines? lol), luckily we got on. We also had to take a bus from the gate to the plane which was in the middle of the runway, it felt like another private escort but with all of us jammed in there like sardines. No screaming babies on board, thank GOD! When we landed we took the Flyer to the train station and bought tickets for Bath. But hey guess what, no more trains out to Bath for the rest of the night. Thanks for selling me the ticket though, that was nice of you haha Soooo we call a taxi. Half an hour goes by, and no taxi. We call the company and the guy said he was waiting outside of a bar for us…buttt dude we’re at the train station. No matter, we just hailed another taxi and got home just around midnight.

OH! And we saw a guy playing a didgeridoo on the Charles Bridge. We wanted to rave to it. Just being silly Americans of course lol A couple feet down there was a band playing brass, which made it feel like a time warp. I love Praha!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: mandaleigh | 20th Nov, 2011

Sir Lancelot and Clotted Cream Mania

So after three months in Bath, I finally sampled the famous clotted cream I’d been hearing so much about. My roommate and I went to a quaint tea shop, “The Bath Bun.” After being warmly greeted, we were ushered upstairs to a room straight out of the Victorian era–oddly reminding me of Madame Puddifoot’s in Harry Potter. Classical music was softly playing, the tables draped in floral tablecloths, china dotted with ultra-girly florals. Christmas lights were strung up for the impending festivities, and tables were filled with only women chatting amongst themselves. There’s something so loveable about seeing old British ladies chatting over their afternoon teas and cakes…

I got the classic afternoon tea spread—a tea of my choice (jasmine), biscuits (cookies for you Americans), a sandwich (tuna/cucumber), clotted cream and a slice of cake.

Lovely little spread

 

Clotted cream is huge here, and the best way I can describe it is a warm flaky biscuit which you cut in half, then spread it with a light, airy butter and strawberry preserve. It’s refreshingly tasty! The Victoria cake I ordered was basically light vanilla cake with cream cheese and strawberry jam in the middle.

 

I sincerely believe I need to start a Clotted Cream Awareness group for America. How were we not aware of this delectable dessert? And afternoon tea? It’s served between lunch and dinner, as the perfect way to wind you down after a harrowing day and have a little chat amongst your girlfriends.

We felt insanely classy as we sipped our teas and daintily nipped at our cakes.

Worthy of a cupcake show. Notice the edible little jewels!

 

Clotted Cream!

 

 

 

It was so nice and relaxing to just sit down after a day of essays and work to enjoy a cup of jasmine tea in an environment that promotes relaxation amongst ladies. Not to say it was exclusive to women, but you get the feeling men only come here if they’re dragged by force or guilt-tripping. Dolores Umbridge would be proud to have tea in this utterly pink-plastered, floral tea shop!

 

Oh riiiiight, and to throw something else to make all my fellow nerds back home jealous:

I saw John Cleese turn on the Christmas Lights throughout the city! John Cleese lives here in Bath, at The Crescent. There was a little concert given, with a bunch of singing acts filmed by the BBC last Thursday. A troupe of women sang the infamous “Halleluah.”  The Stockingtops, a group of older ladies decked out in red coats and fur hats, sang carols  too. 3000 people came out to see Sir Lancelot turn on the lights.  I just happened to see him from THIS close:

Ask me the questions, Bridgekeeper, I am not afraid!

John----friggin---Cleese!

“Mr. Cleese, is there a character you’ve played in the past that you particularly identify with?”

“No.” *cue the laughs* “I’m shocked all of you came out to see this, you should be at home eating.”

“What are your plans for Christmas?”

“Well I’m going to visit my daughter in California with Jenny (pictured, his girlfriend), that is if we’re not broken up by then. Christmastime is expensive for presents, you know.”

Jenny “That’s a very real possibility.”

 

Very dry sense of humor, but I suppose you don’t have to try to be funny when you’re Sir Lancelot. We went to an Irish pub afterwards and celebrated with the locals. And of course, the Christmas tree is up now too! I live in the most beautiful city 🙂

 

Posted by: mandaleigh | 11th Nov, 2011

Failed Assassination Day!

AKA Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated every year on November 5th (yes, V for Vendetta fans, “Remember remember the fifth of November”). A group of disgruntled Catholics tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. So they celebrate the Catholic’s demise, capture, torture and execution by setting off fireworks, lighting bonfires and consuming excess amounts of alcohol. Cute, huh? The bonfires filled the streets with pandemonium and chaos….like Morgantown after a Mountaineers game! No, not really….but burning leaves and etc.. certainly do fill the air with that crisp autumn-y elixir…

Me and the roomies after the fireworks

 

Apart from celebrating the failed attempt to blow up some Protestants, we also celebrated Halloweeeeen! Although it’s nog a big deal over here at all. Not one trick-or-treater all night! I expected pandemonium! Tomfoolery! At least TP our house! Alas….I was disappointed. But that didn’t stop us from celebrating twice….for my “Ghosts and the Gothic” class, our teacher emphatically encouraged us to dress up and we could have a mini party during class. Me and Amy showed up like this….

Check out the roomie asleep in the background...hahah

Keep in mind, Bath is a very posh city. “Too posh to riot,” our program coordinator Butterworth once told me. Every little kid I see on their way to school wears a uniform. Even the homeless sing to you on the streets! So….needless to say, we got some pretttyyyy interesting looks walking through the streets of Bath looking like Twisted Sister gone wrong.

Other costumes in class included a frame narrative (to make a dig against that godawful dense Melmoth the Wanderer), Ambrosio from The Monk, Minnie Mouse, a lawn gnome, and a Ravenclaw. We satisfied our gluttonous natures by feasting on mud pie, cider, cookies, cupcakes, and all manner of sugar-coma-inducing treats. I also found out big hair was a symbol of power in Gothic literature….score one for picking a costume where I teased the holy hell out of my hair for about half an hour!

 

Then of course, there was our program-given Halloween party, held in the St. James Wine Vaults (yes, it’s as cool as it sounds.) If you don’t know what our group costume was, I suggest you slap yourself in the face for your grave ignorance.

Sincerely Yours...

 

 

For my last Halloween in college, I’d say it was a success! We danced of course to all the cheese-a-riffic songs of our youth….and by youth I mean 2005 when we were all angsty high-schoolers.

 

 

 

 

 

John Bender and Carmen SanDiego

 

A bro and a hipster

 

Oh, right. And I finally visited the Roman Baths—hence the name of the city. Finally! 8-ish pounds to get in, but there’s a museum and a lot to look at! Romans thought the waters had healing powers, and people came from all over to “take the waters.” You can still taste them, for 50p a cup (about $1) in the Pump Room Restaurant—although I’m told it tastes like rusty flat irons.

 

Roman Baths overlooking medieval Bath Abbey

 

Posted by: mandaleigh | 27th Oct, 2011

My new Craic addiction

Well, after five amazing days in Dublin, I’m back for another let-me-brag-about-all-the-things-I’m-doing-post! This time I traipsed around Ireland for a bit.

4.Explore Ireland

14.Dance a jig with the Irish
And of course, two more crossed off the bucket list. We (me and a fellow ASE-er, Natalie) flew into Dublin early Friday morning. Our hostel was in the Temple Bar district, the city’s heart and the absolute center for the pubs and such. The hostel was an experience in itself—literally the same building as the infamous Temple Bar itself. Don’t stay there if you expect little luxuries like sleep—you don’t go to Dublin to sleep, that’s just insane. We had different roomies every night—stayed in a 4 person room with 2 bunkbeds. First, two French boys named Jean and Sophie (yes, not making that up), second an older married French couple, and third from Sunday to Wednesday two American boys studying abroad in Italy.

We went on a pub crawl both Friday and Saturday nights. It goes without saying the Irish reputation of fondness for the drink dominates the nightlife (although I did just saying), although they were so welcoming and cheerful! Pubs full of dancing, smiling faces, cheeky remarks about my American accent and endless “Slainte!” (Irish version of saying “cheers,”).We also did accidentally set off a fire alarm at a club….Dublin is on fire. What can I say.

The Old Storehouse off Dame St

OH! After all the dark Guinness (which is much better in Ireland than the crap we get shipped to us in the states), I went to the bar and asked the bartender if he knew how to make a Cape Cod (fruity refreshing drink, I assure you). He said no,  I said vodka and cranberry? To which the reply was “Well just fockin say THAT then, wot tha feck is that Yankee shoite?” Of course you have to laugh at that….and I went back the very next night and asked the same bartender the same thing with a cheeky grin. Got a new nickname because of it: Princess. 🙂

I saw Dublin Castle, Christ Church and its vaults, City Hall, the GPO, Trinity and the Book of Kells, the Viking Museum, the Archaeology Museum, the Jameson Distillery, St. Michans (where they let us touch ACTUAL mummified bodies..), and my personal favorite Kilmainham Gaol, which is the prison where all the rebel leaders were held and executed.

The spot where the rebel leaders in the 20s (Patrick Pearse among them) were lined up and shot

 

Mummies in the vaults! Touching his hand is good luck

 

Apart from Dublin, we also made two day trips.

1) Wicklow and Glendalough

We picked a great day for it (insert sarcasm here). Record breaking rain hit the area….and guess who trusted the online forecast and went out in Chucks and a leather jacket. Woooops. BUT, Wicklow is riddled with mountains, and famous recluse Daniel Day Lewis lives there. The countryside is filled with peat moss, which gave the hills a sweeping goldish-brown color.

Oh hi mountain, how are you?

2) Cliffs of Moher and Galway

Without a doubt, the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen. Also, the best seafood I’ve ever had.

Cliffs of Moher

It was simply stunning! Also, since this blog is supposed to be semi-educational, I did see the Occupy Dame Street movement, akin with the Wall Street mess going on right now. People were camped out about a block or two from our hostel, rallying at all hours (although funny enough, not on Saturdays. I guess protesting is only do-able when it’s not 3 Euro Guinness night, eh?).

Occupy Dame Street

 

I heard more accents and languages within 5 days in Dublin than I have my entire time in England so far. I had no idea Dublin was such a diverse city! And the things you see in Dublin on a Saturday night….to put it delicately let’s just say I’ll never forget the Irish people in Temple Bar haha I highly recommend Dublin to anybody looking for a vibrant, exciting nightlife!

Posted by: mandaleigh | 14th Oct, 2011

The Welsh Stairmaster

I can definitely say hiking in Wales today was probably one of the best experiences of my entire life. Now let me go John Muir on you for a second.The most amazing feeling is when you accomplish something, right? Add some nature in there and you’re golden (I won’t spit out some Tintern Abbey, don’t worry). We hiked up a MOUNTAIN today. Not a high hill, not even Glastonbury, but the highest mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park.  The highest peak in South Wales. 2906 feet. I just need to emphasize that—for me, a person who lives in front of my laptop and TiVo, this is quite a feat. And that feeling when we reached the very top, in the clouds, with the wind pummeling us and cold seeping into our bones, was indescribable. There was a lot of excited whooping and TONS of pictures. I couldn’t erase the smile from my face!

I’ve never experienced the feeling of a STRENUOUS HIKING workout, first of all. A 7 mile hike, half of it being uphill, does tend to get the blood pumping and your thighs burning. 10 minutes up, all I could think was “Jesus, why did I sign up for this?”. But once you just accept the fact that you’re doing it, you just go.  Once you’re in the clouds, it kind of changes your perspective on your previous piddly gym workouts. And there is definitely something spiritual in it that you can look down at rolling fields of green, sheep the size of quotation marks and think yeah, I just climbed up that.

After we reached the very top and took tons of pictures, we finagled a spot into the crags of the mountain to eat our brief lunch. Of course there was group bonding and all that jazz. We hiked back down (that’s pretty refreshing after the opposite) and headed to a local Welsh pub and had traditional meals—I had beef stew “hot pot”, which was a great concoction of potatoes, veggies and beef. And hot chocolate to drink? Apparently it’s a thing there, no idea.

We did leave one of our own behind….the only guy in the group, go figure. He’s kind of hard to miss. We made it a block away in the bus before we all just realized he was back at the pub. Whoooooops! Oh well, at least everybody made it safely off the mountain! And it’s an experience I’ll never forget 🙂 I can now say me and my ASE-ers have climbed mountains together. And don’t worry, you’ll never see this much corniness from me again in a future post! haha

 

 

 

 

 

By my best estimate I think we climbed one of those...haha

Mini-cliffs where we had snacks

 

First starting out---beautiful Welsh countryside!

Posted by: mandaleigh | 3rd Oct, 2011

East London

Have you ever stood inside an underground tunnel? Not the run of the mill driving-to-Philly tunnel, I mean a legit cold, damp and incredibly eerie underground tunnel? How about one filled with coffins? How about one filled with coffins that are broken open? I can now say I have.

My “Ghosts and the Gothic: The Literature of Terror” class went on a study trip to East London this weekend, notably to go on a Jack the Ripper tour and visit the aforementioned Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx and George Eliot are buried, along with a slew of other upperclass Victorian families. The catacombs were the highlight of the cemetery trip, some people were understandably uncomfortable. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, either. There was something tangible in the air, something that set my teeth on edge and I couldn’t quite place what it was. All I know is that I would not want to be trapped in there! Some coffins had been vandalized and torn apart, in various states of disrepair. Alas, I didn’t see any bodies, because they had filled in the coffins with cement to spare people’s delicate sensibilities.

Cue the creepy music

Karl Marx. How humble, right?

The Jack the Ripper tour wasn’t eerie or strange in the least. In case you haven’t heard, a freak heat wave has hit the UK the past week, sending temperatures as high as 80 degrees! For this area, in October, it’s unheard of (All y’all back in Virginia are used to this, no doubt). So the weather was incredibly sunny and cheerful, setting up irony in all sorts of funny ways. The tour guide first directed our attention to this, a thousand year old wall (no Jack affiliation, just something amazing!)

      The tour began with our chipper guide giving us a background into the speculations of the Jack the Ripper case and walking us through East London. As it went on, we learned specific details of the murders (one thing is for sure, Jack was a messed up boy). The prostitutes are conventionally portrayed in movies as being young, pretty ladies who step out into a foggy night and are savagely torn apart. In reality, the prostitutes were all in their 40s, homeless so they wore all their clothes, and looking to earn enough money to just get a bed for the night. Apparently, the cheapest accommodation you could get for the night was sleeping slumped over in a bench with a rope tied to keep you upright. You’d get a lovely wake up call in the morning when the landlord pulled the rope away (shown in the Johnny Depp movie From Hell).

Since London has obviously changed a lot since the late 19th century, we only know the true location of three facets of the case:

Where Catherine Eddows' body was found, barely a block from the police station

 

(Yellow door/shutters) Where the chalk message was found, inside the building

 

The Ten Bells pub, where they tried to forget their sorrows

 

After the tour, we had Indian food in the infamous Brick Lane district. I caught glimpses of Big Ben, Buckingham and the Tower  and we got to drive over Tower Bridge! I need to go back to London ASAP and see all the fun touristy things. On an academic front, mid-term essays are due this week and next week. Since my professors are from Oxford, they expect a lot from you. My “Ghosts and the Gothic” essay is on the Miltonic concept of the Devil/God/Satan complex in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk and Shelley’s Frankenstein. Pretty interesting stuff! My “Fantasies of Youth” paper is on the construction of the orphan trope in Peter Pan and The Secret Garden. Basically, it’s all about mommy issues, and Peter Pan has a lot. I (ahem) haven’t started the other two….

Ah, and this was my view on the way back from London. 🙂

 

Posted by: mandaleigh | 24th Sep, 2011

Rockin Oxford Lyra-style

So after a week in Oxford, I can say I feel considerably smarter. And yes, I will admit everytime I punched in the door code to get into the college, I’d be smug about it. We got our own dorm rooms at Univ, arguably Oxford’s oldest college (there’s 39 of them total). Since they want to maintain the historical integrity of the building, the dorms rooms are stuck wherever you can fit them—as a result, some kids got hobbit holes with low ceilings and others got rooms that looked like hotel suites with bay windows. I was lucky enough to get a room in the corner overlooking the library and a little quad. I had a couch in my room also, with a sink and a huuuge desk. Didn’t bring my laptop to get the full studious-collegiate-you-know-Oxford-experience. We were served breakfast and lunch everyday in the Great Hall, which looks like the exact one from Harry Potter. There were portraits of scary old men glaring at you as you ate, but nothing could diminish from the taste of British bacon.

And of course another bucket list-er was achieved!

13. Punt on the river.

For all of you that don’t know, punting is basically steering a flat rickety boat with a long pole—that’s it. No oars and it tips easier than a canoe. I volunteered to start us off! Granted, I secured the lead by crashing into other people’s boats but hey, what can you do right?

Ramming speeeeed!

 

Through the treeees!

The most rewarding part of the day was not falling out of the boat! Switching punters was the challenging part…as the boat sits extremely close to the water and rocks with the slightest shift in weight.

Oxford was an amazing little slice of a city filled with little shops that cater to the students—a four level bookstore, cafes with cheap fare, collegiate wear and sketchy clubs. There was a burrito place that played American music–don’t judge me, burrito withdrawal is a serious problem. We did visit The Eagle and the Child, a pub that C.S. Lewis and Tolkien used to frequent. I didn’t exactly catch inspiration to start writing my papers or anything….but it was a good effort, right? We also saw the famous shrunken heads at the Pitts River Museum! Incredibly creepy but AWESOME.

View from St. Mary's bell tower...3 pounds to climb it. Worth the views!

The highlight of the tourist-y things we did….yes, get ready for it….I climbed the Harry Potter staircase. Yessir.

For those of you that are not Harry Potter fans. First of all, you need to evaluate the direction your life is going. Second of all, this is the staircase that the first-years waited on to be sorted. Remember when Draco first introduces himself to Harry? The very same. It’s in Christ Church, which is a college in Oxford as well as an actual church. We weren’t allowed to walk on the lawns and the “helpers”/tour guides wore bowler hats and cute little suits.

The last night of Oxford was lovely. We were served a super fancy dinner in the Great Hall with our teachers, (truffle soup to start us off with!!), dressed “smart” and played pool with the Brits in the Univ bar afterwards.

Perfect homework conditions---tea and a breeze

But no, English weather is terrible right?

In other words, Oxford was a successful mini-trip in the grand scheme of my big trip. I’d definitely be interested in going back, and highly recommend it!

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