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Archive for May, 2010

Spain!!

So, my last post was ‘reheated’ from a couple of days ago when the computer wouldn’t cooperate…and now I’m in a different country! It’s our long weekend off school,ย  and Alyssa and I are in Seville, Spain! Oh, it’s glorious. The stats on getting here were a little scary: 1 backpack each, 2 languages used, 5 forms of transportation taken…oh boy. But then we stepped off the plane into a tropical, dusky sunset and drove past blooming jacaranda trees and window boxes full of potted red geraniums…:) Our hostel is a converted old mansion, with cool white marble floors and a rooftop terrace with hammocks and a cool-water jacuzzi! Wow, it’s nice to be warm, and to relax. The old Spanish is coming out for some exercise: I’ve asked for an ATM, booked a taxi, bought cathedral tickets, and ordered paella…blessed mother, thank you for all those years of making me do conjugations ๐Ÿ˜›

Today has just been lovely. Alyssa and I spent breakfast trying to decipher the back of the juice boxes. Juice here is ‘zumo’, not ‘jugo’, and pineapple juice is apparently gluten-free and low in calories. Fancy that! ๐Ÿ˜›ย  Then we set out wandering. We’re in the Triana district of Seville, and the buildings are brightly colored along narrow, winding cobblestone streets, overhung with wrought-iron balconies and lots of tropical plants and flowers. Alyssa will tell you, I just can’t stop taking pictures of them ๐Ÿ™‚ (see attached photos…) we visited the cathedral, which is apparently the world’s largest gothic cathedral by volume (it’s HUGE–felt like a small city in itself!) and saw the tomb of–guess who?–Christopher Colombus! I didn’t know this, but Seville’s Real Alcazar palace is apparently the site of his negotiations with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella…wow!

Next was said Real Alcazar–an amazing, old, and beautiful palace. Its oldest parts are fromย  the 10th century!! and its architecture is a cool blend of Spanish and Moorish–at times I almost felt like I was in the Middle East! Gorgeous sculpture and frescoes; every inch of every surface seemed decorated with something. And the gardens were also incredible–everything grows here! So many colors and sweet smells, all in the tropical breeze ๐Ÿ™‚

Oh, and guess what? We saw men sitting on the street corners playing classical guitar, while horse-drawn carriages clattered by (see photo :P) This one’s for you, Daniel!

For lunch, we got brave and ordered seafood paella in Spanish–and it came, complete with a shrimp with its eyes and claws still attached O,O The rest of it was good, though…and we tried fresh-squeezed Sevillan orange juice as well. And when I say fresh, I mean, the orange just jumped out of its peel and into the glass. It was amazing!

And just walking the streets has been one of the most fun things so far. Last night the moon was full and golden, and it was just warm and peaceful and relaxed–so nice. I’m really thankful we came, and am enjoying it a lot ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s so warm they didn’t even give us blankets for our beds, just a top and bottom sheet! Tonight we’re going out to try and find tapas and flamenco…I’m so excited!

Con carino de Espana, *can’t find the tilde on this keyboard*…

Alina

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Insanity on the River Thames

Hello from London!

This is the last stop of BIQ 2010! The quarter ends June 4th, but Iยดll be traveling afterwards for 2 weeks in Eastern Europe, so you can keep reading if you’d like (assuming I can continue to find internet :P).

So, London…is crazy. I was not made a city girl, and this city makes Seattle, let alone San Jose, look like kiddie pools. There is no place to be alone: you share every single space, and I do mean EVERY space, with other human beings. Want to read a word-sketch I did of the Tube (London’s subway system)? If not, skip to the next paragraph ๐Ÿ˜›

a tube

filled up with

carbon-dioxide-breathing

sweating

exhaling

humanity

creating imaginary private space

in a jumble of

shoulders, bellies, elbows, necks

packed and sealed

just add tomato juice

then shipped off packing

hurtling through the

anonymous dark

without an inch of air

to call your own.

eyes dropped

to hide within

in a crowded world that would rather you fell out

to make room for more

on the daily train

to nowhere.

This is the next paragraph ๐Ÿ˜› You can see why London makes me feel squished. Also, I think my lungs are revolting against the cigarette smoke of 7 1/2 million people. Everybody smokes here. After the idyllic quiet of the Quilt and Croissants in Stratford, I’m sorry to say I’m not such a fan of London. There’s good news, however: a) it’s an amazingly concentrated center of culture and history, b) the weather has decided to be Italian summer for the last 3 days, and c) I’ve spent the weekend outside the city ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ll describe all of the above in a bit more detail.

We arrivProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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midday on Friday, dumped our stuff in the cookie-cutter Nido student apartments (Alyssa and I entered our room to find forgotten construction tools all over the floor–apparently the handyman got a bit absentminded after tinkering with the baseboards…), and buzzed around town for 6 hours on a blitz of the history of the world: a.k.a. the British Library and Museum. The Library has to be my favorite place in London, and maybe one of my favorite in the world. It’s a treasure trove of the oldest, coolest books you could think of: from the original manuscript of Beowulf to Shakespeare’s First Folio to the Magna Carta to the Gutenberg Bible to Beatles songs written on napkins ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d been here before, so I didn’t die as much as last time, but having gone to college since then, I felt like I appreciated what I was looking at a lot more. I not only got REALLY excited over the handwritten copy of Jane Eyre; I was able to read some of the Greek on an ancient authoritative manuscript of the New Testament!!! There was also a cool display of beautiful old maps. And if that wasn’t enough mental overstimulation, then we booked it down the street to the British Museum–basically the whole world in one building (also a tribute to British imperialism–most of it was lifted when most of the world belonged to Britain, and never returned…) Nonetheless, it was awe-inspiring: from the Rosetta Stone (yes, the real one!) to the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon (including the one that inspired John Keats’ poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn”!!) and the oldest chess set in the world, the Lewis Chessmen from Scotland ๐Ÿ™‚ I went back today to see the Sutton Hoo artifacts; the 1939 discovery that unlocked Anglo-Saxon culture to the modern world.

Phew. London is insane. I might be a little insane after being here, too… Saturday, a bunch of us went on a bus tour of Stonehenge and Bath (!!!) with a lovely English guide who called us her “chickadees” as she was counting heads on the bus… Stonehenge was crowded on the hot, hot summer day, but WELL worth the visit: it’s just so majestic, standing there alone on the Salisbury Plain; these huge stones that got there so mysteriously. No one really knows what they were for, either, except that they line up with the sun at the solstices. Bath was really fun, too. The golden sandstone of the buildings practically glowed in the afternoon light, and touring the Roman Baths that have been there since the 1st century AD made me feel like I was in Italy, not western England…I also went into the Pump Room (see picture with me making a gross face)ย  and tasted the water from the natural hot spring…it was nasty. Supposed to have curative powers; whatever. I did feel like I was in a Jane Austen novel, though, “promenading” around the streets (even though I missed the costuming memo :P) and watching all the Brits on holiday ๐Ÿ˜›

Sunday Alyssa, Hannah, Laura and I went to Oxford: the university town whose primary draws for me were a) the Bodleian Library (biggest university library in the world, I think; which holds a hard copy of EVERY book and magazine printed…they own pretty much the whole underground of Oxford for storage!) and b) Tolkien and Lewis stomping grounds. I actually got to eat lunch at the Eagle and Child, the famous pub where the Inklings would sit and discuss their work on Tuesdays (!!!) and walked around the beautiful Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis taught (I even saw the windows of his old rooms!) Laura and I strolled down Addison’s Walk, where Lewis and Tolkien would walk and talk about their books and theology…we pretended to be them, and it was marvelous! There was a scent of wisteria in the cloisters that smelled like it came straight from heaven ๐Ÿ™‚

So, getting out of London for the weekend proved to be a very good thing after all ๐Ÿ™‚ Today I stayed in and had class, then met a friend and went back to the British Museum. I braved the Tube at rush hour (BAD idea–even though I think every hour is rush hour–the train was literally PACKED with people, shoulder to shoulder, squeezed into that little box. So many people, herded around like cattle…see above poem ๐Ÿ˜ก )

But, aside from the Tube, there are some very amazing things to see in London. Alyssa and I are going to Spain for our long weekend this weekend (!!! Sevilla and Granada!) and are planning to fill up the rest of the time with such amazements as seeing Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, visiting the Tower of London, and seeing Westminster Abbey. I guess you put up with the mechanics of a city in order to appreciate the treasures it encloses. Nonetheless, I would not live here for anything. Give me green fields and the river Avon any day ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, here are some pictures for you–hopefully they’re pretty self-explanatory, covering Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford, and London in that order ๐Ÿ™‚ Enjoy, and God bless!

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You know how little kids dream of going to Disneyland? Well, I’ve found my version…Shakespeareland, a.k.a. Stratford-upon-Avon!!! It’s a whole town that loves the Bard as much as I do!

Being here is a wonderful dreamland of a break between cities. Our first day, we went on a walking tour with an actor named Jonathan Milton (yes, that would be John Milton for short :P) who was not only a great performer, but had an M.A. in Shakespeare/Stratford studies as well…it was really informative as well as fun. He took us past the house where William Shakespeare was born and told us about the half-timberedย Tudor ‘wattle-and-daub’ architecture (the white buildings with black beams crisscrossing them). We went past the River Avon (with swans swimming on it!), to the church Shakespeare attended, past his grammar school (where little English kids in ties and blazers still walk home from every afternoon!), and finally to Holy Trinity Church, where he is buried by the altar (a privilege attained by his great wealth…) It was just the craziest sensation to stand by his grave and read his epitaph, ‘curst be he that moves my bones,’ย  for myself–writ right there in the stone.

Picnicking here has been some of the most delightful in England…there’s a plaza by the river Avon with a giant statue of the Bard himself, surrounded by his characters, and to sit there among the flowers, watching the swans go by, was just sweet ๐Ÿ™‚ Yesterday we had class in the parish centre of Holy Trinity, and to hear its bells tolling as we discussed King Lear…!! I just couldn’t describe it ๐Ÿ™‚ King Lear is one of my new favorites–such a tragic, but magnificent play.

Speaking of plays, we’ve seen 2 while we’ve been here: Antony and Cleopatra, and Romeo and Juliet. Seeing Shakespeare performed live in Stratford has to be one of the most awesome things around–they probably take him more seriously than anywhere else in the world. The actors have really, really thought through his lines and interpret them beautifully. Antony and Cle0patra was done as a modern war story, and Romeo and Juliet were depicted in modern clothing in an otherwise Elizabethan stage, and for once I liked the adaptations. So many subplots and subtle themes are brought out by the magnificent staging, and to sit with a rapt audience, soaking up those beautiful lines of iambic pentameter is just glorious ๐Ÿ˜€

Today Alyssa and I walked out to the cottage where Shakespeare went to woo his wife, Anne Hathaway. A lot of the ‘Shakespeare sites’ around here have been hammed up into tourist traps, so we didn’t go inside, but the gardens brimming over with spring flowers and the thatch-roofed eaves hanging over the lead-paned windows of the cottage was a snapshot of another time…I’ve attached a few pictures ๐Ÿ™‚ I just can’t stop taking pictures of flowers! The English really pride themselves on their gardens, and it shows at this time of year–sweet, fresh smells are everywhere, and color just bursts through all the cracks in walls and in all the front yards.

Anyway, thank you for putting up with my Shakespeare rhapsodizing…I’m just so excited to be in Shakespeare Disneyland that I can’t stop! We’re heading for London on Friday (after seeing King Lear on stage later this week!!), but I’ve attached some picturesย for your perusal. The first one is from the Orchard in Cambridge, but the rest are from here: me in front of the house where Shakespeare was born, his grave (I was within FEET of the Bard’s bones!!) in Holy Trinity Church, and some of the beautiful cottages and flowers here. Wish you were here!!

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Cambridge, continued

Found some more internet time, so here’s the rest of the scoop on what we’ve been doing in Cambridge ๐Ÿ™‚

Thursday we went punting on the river Cam–no, not hunting; this is the traditional method of using long poles to push flat-bottomed boats down the river. Or, in my case–to push them around in circles ๐Ÿ™‚ Michael punted our boat most of the way and the view was gorgeous–the tranquil backs of the colleges, flowers blooming, willows draping over the water–but then I decided I wanted to try punting, and it was all I could do to concentrate on not falling in the water, not getting my pole stuck between the riverbed and the bottom of the low bridges, not colliding with guided punting tour boats, and not spinning around in circles in the middle of the river…well, I succeeded on the first few ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh well, it was a uniquely British experience and I enjoyed it, even if it gave me sore shoulders after only 10 minutes!

Friday we visited The Orchard, a lovely little tea garden where you can eat scones with clotted cream under the blooming apple trees ๐Ÿ˜€ It was so pretty and relaxing; we blew bubbles and braided flowers into our hair and read books until the clouds swallowed up the sun. It was a really beautiful place. Later that afternoon, I enjoyed some much-needed alone time with some coffee and English shortbread, reading the tales of King Arthur’s knights with a view out to King’s College…wow, I’m really here! Got to hear the King’s College Choir sing an evensong. My favorite part was hearing the perfectly-tuned choir sing psalms word-for-word as songs–I realized that the purpose of matins (morning) and evensong (evening) services is to bookend the day with remembering God, and that was beautiful.

Today was mostly just wandering around, picking up last-minute souvenirs and reading in the (sporadic) sunshine on Parker’s Pieces (for some reason, they call their parks ‘pieces’ here–especially awkward when you get to the one called ‘Christ’s Pieces’ O,O) until Alyssa and I almost got obliterated by some English boys who thought they knew how to throw an American football…

Tomorrow we’re off to Stratford-upon-Avon, home of Shakespeare the Bard himself!!! We’ll be seeing 3 Shakespeare plays (hooray!!!) and staying at the Quilt and Croissants, what sounds like a lovely B&B after the noisy urban hostel of Cambridge. It’s been a lovely time here, butย I look forward to updating you on the next stage of the adventure ๐Ÿ™‚ Love!

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Cambridge

Hi friends and family! I posted my pictures separately because I’m not sure how fast my internet money is going away, so wanted to make sure at leastย SOMETHING got posted ๐Ÿ™‚ We’re in Cambridge–literally, ‘bridge over the river Cam’–should probably be CamBRIDGES, because there are a bunch of them. Most famous are probably the Mathematical Bridgeย (!) and the Bridge of Sighs–this may not be Venice, but they definitely like their river.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Time here has been rather low-key compared with places like Dublin; Cambridge is a town that centers around its colleges, and most of those have been closed this week, so we’ve been busying ourselves with class (a 45-minute walk away), shopping, and checking out the cute coffee/tea shops and bookstores around here ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s so very interesting to see how the lives of my English counterparts work: we’re around college students our own age, but they do college life in a completely different way here. First of all, Cambridge University is made up of a bunch of different colleges, each of which is a largely separate entity. Most famous is probably Trinity College, alma mater of people like Isaac Newton, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and A.A. Milne! On Tuesday, a couple of us went to visit Trinity’s Wren Library, where about 15 precious manuscripts are on display. They include a first edition printing of the Bible in English, Shakespeare’s first folio, Newton’s Principia Matematica (with edits in Newton’s own handwriting!!), and handwritten drafts of Tennyson’s and Byron’s poems…!!! I was really, really excited to be there (needless to say!) Later on, we took a tour of both St. John’s and Trinity Colleges, and they look a lot like monasteries inside–in fact, some of the buildings were monasteries seized when Henry VIII dissolved the Catholic monasteries in England. It’s a very cloistered way of studying, which I’m not sure I could handle. But they sure are beautiful buildings: Gothic spires, Cambridge boys in flowing black robes, walls overrun with blooming wisteria ๐Ÿ™‚

Flowers are a big part of Cambridge–this is the perfect time to be here! I put up some pictures of more brightly-colored doors with climbing flowers around them. I’m coming to see why the land features so prominently in English literature. The land has a sweet charm, especially when it’s coming to life with all varieties of primroses, peonies, and bluebells ๐Ÿ™‚ Bikes are also ubiquitous: while there are cars here, bike is the primary form of transportation for most people. Picture this: rainy day. bike with a basket. little English lady with a woolen skirt. Put them together. Cambridge ๐Ÿ™‚

Internet time is kaput.ย Hopefully I can put up more later. Love to you all!

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Images of Cambridge

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