Oxford week and spring break!

Hi everyone! It’s been a really long time since I’ve written for this blog, so I hope this post makes up for my lack of writing by being entertaining!

Since I last wrote, I’ve gotten to do some pretty awesome things and visit some really cool places! If you just want to read about my spring break, just skip like a quarter of the way down!

For a week at the end of March, our program went to Oxford for the week. We stayed at University College in what I would call dorms, but hesitate to because our living arrangements were more like awesome historical suites. We stayed at University College, one of Oxford’s 38 colleges. They take it pretty seriously there that you know there are 38 individual colleges that are all unique, rather than one huge conglomerate Oxford University, which most people assume Oxford is (myself included). This is especially important to know if you are interested in purchasing the quintessential Oxford sweatshirt, because the ones that read “Oxford University” are advertising a school that doesn’t actually exist. Instead, a “University College” sweatshirt makes more sense. I didn’t get a sweatshirt (money spent on coffee), but I personally found the Oxford University sweatshirts just as cute as the Univ sweatshirts, a fact that I do not think would go over well if I actually went to Oxford.

The town itself is really beautiful and you can basically feel all of the history as you walk down the streets. We did have classes during the week, which was cool because you realized you were studying in the environment where writers like Tolkien once studied and taught in. Speaking of Tolkien, I got to eat at The Eagle and Child, where the Inklings, including Tolkien and Lewis, used to hang out.

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One of the coolest parts of being in Oxford was (and this will shock you, coming from me) eating in the dining hall. University College’s dining hall looks just like the Great Hall from Harry Potter (and I’m sure me referencing that shocks you as well) and even though didn’t get to eat the awesome food the students get (we were on our own meal plan), you could’ve given me gruel and I’d be happy to eat it in that dining hall (but don’t give me gruel, actually, ’cause I’d probably hate it). We did have a fancy dinner in there at the end of the week with the tutors and staff, which was one of the coolest events of the week.

Anyway, in summary, Oxford was awesome. It has an amazing bookstore, Blackwell’s, awesome coffee shops that give out free cookies after two p.m., cobblestone streets, and what I assume are people constantly trying to access caffeine in order to finish their important scholarly works (or just me wanting coffee in order to make another trip to Blackwell’s).

If you follow my Instagram, you’ll know that I did a photo series while in Oxford called “Drinking Hot Beverages While Looking out of Various Windows.” I really enjoyed this, as it allowed me to drink a lot of hot beverages. And if you follow me on Instagram, thanks for not unfollowing me after my #tbt’s of Benjamin Button, because I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who thinks they’re funny (I would know, ’cause I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’re not funny).

Here’s a photo from the series, picked up by National Geographic (not really, but they totally should):

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After Oxford week, we got back into the routine of having regular classes and attempting to cook our own meals. One important thing to say about the time in between Oxford week and spring break is that it got warmer! I’m starting to love Bath even more as it’s turned into Spring, and not just because it’s getting touristy and there are extra ice cream carts on the street (that is part of it though). There are a lot of flowers everywhere, and they’re starting to bloom! Also, we’ve seen the sun a lot lately, which is a nice in England where it kind of seemed like the sun was mad at us and didn’t want to show up.

And now, I’ll attempt to write about spring break. The three countries I visited were Italy, Austria, and the Czech Republic, which were all so cool in their own ways. My favorite would have to be the Czech Republic, as Prague seemed like it was straight out a fairy tale. But first, Italy:

We went to Vernazza, Italy, which is in the Cinque Terre region, a northern part of Italy’s coast. After taking a good number of forms of public transportation, we finally ended up on a train to Vernazza, and coming out of a tunnel and seeing my first view of the Mediterranean was one of the coolest things ever. You heard an audible gasp from a lot of people in the train car, as the tracks went through a mountain following the coastline and the view was pretty incredible.

One of the first views from the train

One of the first views from the train

Once we got to Vernazza, it was even better than the pictures online. The buildings are all different colors and the town is really small, with one main road taking you from the train station to the water’s edge. There are only cars allowed in the town on one day a week, so it was really quiet and felt like a completely different world than the one we had just left in England. And the view is pretty spectacular, especially if you accidentally fall while trying to get a picture. I managed to fall across the rocks in such a way that everyone thought I fell into the ocean. Got some bruises and a pretty awesome picture from that fall.

 

Vernazza (but not the picture from the fall)

 

We spent four days in the Cinque Terre, taking the train to all of the five towns and hiking, and eating, our way through all of the villages. We ate gelato every day we were there (naturally) and went on a really awesome hike up one of the mountains. It may be hard to believe, but I actually enjoyed hiking, even though it is, by nature, an extended period of exercise.

Smiling after hiking (previously didn't think it was possible)

Smiling after hiking (previously didn’t think it was possible)

The one thing I will say about Italy is that is made up of about a gazillion steps (that number seems scientific to me now, because that’s how many steps we climbed). And I don’t mean just if you want to hike. There is literally a town that the train can’t get to, because it is up a bunch of steps. Italians must have killer calf muscles. I’m not a historian but I am going to assume pasta was invented for the sole purpose of carbing up to climb stairs.

After Cinque Terre, we spent a day in Florence. Florence is a lot more crowded than Vernazza, but it was really cool seeing the Duomo, the Uffizi museum, and the David. The David is so much bigger than I thought and kind of looks like it’s alive. Makes me want a Night at the Museum 3 cameo for the statue. The gelato in Florence was the best, so if anyone goes to Florence in the future I will politely ask you to bring something that will preserve their gelato for however long it takes you to get back to the States. Eating your way around Italy isn’t difficult, so I managed to try focaccia bread, gelato, a cannoli, pizza, lasagna, and a couple different types of pasta. Italy was really beautiful, with friendly people and a ton of amazing food. Rick Steves knows his stuff with Italy, so shoutout to him for picking basically every restaurant we tried.

Eating a cannoli in Florence

Eating a cannoli in Florence

Next came the night train from Florence to Vienna. It was an overnight train, about 12 hours, and one on which I did not splurge for the sleeping car. For me, this meant trying to sleep in an upright position in a train seat while attempting to drown out the Italian yelling in the next car by watching Heavyweights on my iPod. The night train was definitely an interesting experience, full of weird sleeping positions and trying not to get up to pee in order to not leave your stuff unattended. It did seriously improve my knowledge of Heavyweights, as I ended up watching it almost three times. The Perkisystem does not work on cheaters like Gerald Garner.

Once we got to Vienna, I had to move past my zombie stage after the night train, and focus all of my attention of obtaining coffee. It wasn’t hard to forget I was sleep deprived, as Vienna is so beautiful, with the clean streets and everything smelling like pastries. We walked around a lot in Vienna, visiting cafés and going to a Viennese opera. After making a ticketing mistake and going to an Orin-from-Parks-and-Recreation-type art show (not kidding, everything was white and there was one creepy fountain in the middle), we got to see the National Library, which was really pretty and had a lot of interesting stuff about World War I.

We also went to a Shakespeare & Company bookstore, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip. And food-wise, Vienna is wonderful. Hot dogs, pretzels, and pastries. Also, we had a waiter who we were 99% sure was related to Christoph Waltz.

Vienna

Vienna

After spending two days in Vienna, we took the train to Prague. On the way to Prague, I met this really cool lady who spoke English and told me some of the stuff worth doing in Prague. She had a really adorable daughter who tried to get me to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which I couldn’t do because it was in a different language. It was really nice meeting someone on the train who was friendly and curious about the U.S. She was appalled that I knew the end to HIMYM without having seen the whole series and told me she wouldn’t spoil the end of Dexter for me, even though it’s been out for a while.

A part of Rick Steves’ book says that Prague is better than Disney, and even though there is no Mulan in Prague, I have to agree. The town is so old-fashioned looking, with beautiful buildings and architecture everywhere you look. It was also the Easter Festival, so there were a lot of booths and street vendors selling traditional Czech food. We climbed the tower, went to the castle, and even got to go to a Tim Burton exhibit, which has nothing to do with Prague but is something I had always wanted to do!

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View from the top of the tower

We got to eat a lot of traditional Czech food, including fried curd balls, which sound disgusting but are actually really good. It’s basically fried dough and they fill it up with caramel, chocolate, or strawberry sauce.

We also got to visit the John Lennon wall, which is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, as people will write literally whatever comes to mind on the wall. And the awesome part is it gets painted over and then people fill it up again with the most ridiculous and random things. There are some nice Beatles’ quotes on there, along with some inspirational messages, but the majority of it was people writing things like #blessed. A friend on my trip found a personal favorite of mine:

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Our hostel in Prague was the coolest, mainly because the guy who worked there was awesome and served free coffee to whoever was staying there. Prague was an awesome city just because you don’t really have to do anything while you’re there, as walking around and just looking at everything is cool enough. The Charles Bridge is something I could walk over fifty times in a row and not get bored. There are always artists doing caricatures and people playing instruments that it’s hard not to just stand and watch everything.

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View from the Charles Bridge

I was sad to leave Prague but happy I got to come back to Bath. Spring break was definitely an adventure and I’m really happy I got to visit so many amazing places!

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, you are the coolest and I owe you a fried curd ball. Thanks for reading :o)

 

 

 

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