Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Oxford II: Christ Church & the City

I had to stop typing last night; no one bothered to turn the heat on in my building while I was gone this weekend, and I am absolutely convinced that keeping my hands on the key board for another 30 seconds would have resulted in irreversible frostbite damage. Or, at the very least, severe cyanosis. We did, indeed, explore more of Oxford than the concert hall. And, to answer your question Élise, I might go back to Oxford in December for an Apocalyptica concert if Time and Money don't bail on me to go hang out with their other cool friends. Aside from cello quartets, only hell, high water, and a full tuition scholarship could pull me back into that city. Not that it wasn't lovely, because - as you're going to see very soon - it was. The problem is, our bus never arrived and we were stranded for several hours before finally sorting our travel arrangements. I spent a full £30 more than I planned to. This has made me a very unhappy person.

I dragged Elizabeth and Chad down to Christ Church, but we didn't get to go inside the halls. A combination of things contributed to this: one was the mystery of the vanishing admission booth. The grounds and buildings were gorgeous, though. I would normally not take the time to explain something like this, but I think it might be pertinent given the structure of the university system in the UK. Oxford is a university, and there are 38 individual colleges that make up that university. Christ Church is one of the more famous, elaborate ones. Oddly enough, it is also a cathedral. This panorama shows what it's like inside the main gates:

Various Sights in Oxford

1. The cemetery at St. Giles' in town center.

2. A lovely old building along the High Street.

3. Christ Church at a distance

4. A very crowded High Street.

5. Carfax tower - the remains of a 13th century church, I think.

6. The memorial at St. Giles' where we looked for a bus that would never come....

Monday, October 27, 2008

Oxford I: A Concert

I'd love to list off the noble reasons behind my journey to Oxford and bamboozle you all with talk of higher learning and brushes with long-dead literary celebrities, but I really only went there for a concert. We did explore the city and see some of that jaw-dropping architecture that Lucy told us all about, but we'll talk about that in a minute. We went to the Carling Academy - a haunt of emo teenagers if the club's first room had anything to say about it - but there was a much more mature crowd when we got upstairs for our shows.

I think my favourite part of the night was Billie the Vision and the Dancers. I never knew how sexy Swedish accents were, even if "Billie" isn't exactly stunning to look at. But I would never tell him that! Anyways, there are plenty of Swedish things that are both gorgeous to look at and aurally fascinating, so I'll get over it. So much better than those gorram muppets, I'll tell you what! When you listen to their music, bear in mind that we heard the fast-paced, rock and roll covers of these. OH! I would be remiss if I did not pass along this warning: "Hallo. Ve urh Billie und thu Veezons ob thu Dancers. Ve uhr hund-peeked by thu Peepettes. Ib yoo f*ck vith oos, yoo f*ck vith thu Peepettes. Okay, unjoy thu show!"

Didn't make much sense to me either.

And this crooked little hobgoblin, with hair like my mother's much put-upon shi-tzu, is Stuart Flynn. He was doing a solo-act for us, but his normal group is called The Dirty Cakes. His music was... flamboyant, narcissistic, and lacked any real sense of style. The songs he performed for us are NOT the ones listed on their website, but you can listen to a few of them for free anyways. Shower vs. Grower is the closest approximation to anything we heard.

The Pipettes, on the other hand, are a fun, retro-style group of women who sing happy-dancy music and are famous for their June Cleaver and polka-dot sensibilities. I tried to include a reasonable mix of their sounds, since they cover a lot, but "It's Not Love" sounds the most like the club mixes they played for us. I hope that thing works, by the way... I was really excited when I found most of the covers I wanted in the archives. No Stuart Flynn, though. Oh well, I can't say you're missing much.

All in all, it was a good concert. Nothing I would have attended without Chad and Gager attached to it, but still, I learned something very important: Swedish voices are better than (NOUN / ING-VERB).

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Softer World

OK, so normally I don't blog random thoughts and images, but Mom - and I know you're reading this - this was just too good to pass up. Could this happen in our family (I'm thinking more like one of the aunts) or what? Images are taken from A Softer World, and I am in no way affiliated with them except that they generally make me laugh.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cardiff III: Wyt Ti'n Siarad Cymraeg?

We went to the Cardiff National Museum and Gallery, which was really interesting but not exactly eye-popping. I liked it well enough, I suppose, but I wouldn't call it a huge drawing point of the city. It's located just around the corner from Cardiff City Hall (pictured), and houses an impressive assortment of tea pots and China plates.

1 & 2) We're in the museum and we're going to touch EVERYTHING. 1 is an amethyst and 2 is a meteorite.

3) A carved rock. They say it was the pillar used to support a cross over someone's tomb once upon a time, but I think it's just a really cool carving.

4) I got a really neat picture of Gager standing in front of the dinosaur with the shadows looking all menacing on the walls behind it. Anyways, I tweaked the tone to see how it would look, liked it, and decided to save the changes.

The other really fun thing we did in Wales was go and see Burn After Reading. This movie is hilarious. Dark humour is my favourite, and no, I did not like Little Miss Sunshine. Getting that out of the way, there will probably be a DVD release party in our apartment very soon after it comes out. I'm seriously in love with Brad Pitt all over again. If you get a chance to see it, don't. I want to watch it again! And again. OK, so maybe not that many times, but I have to go fan girl once in a while, it's a woman thing.

P.S. This movie is not for everyone. Obviously.

Cardiff II: Castell Caerdydd

Cardiff Castle is by far the coolest thing to do in the city. Photography inside the buildings is prohibited, so I had to resort to my old standby of photographing items in the gift shop, but the quality on these is only so-so. Anyways, the building's last owners were the Bute family, most notably the 3rd Marquise of Bute in the 19th and early 20th centuries. To this day, Bute still holds the distinction of being one of the all-time wealthiest people ever to attend Oxford University. The family used Cardiff Castle as a vacation home for six weeks out of the year, and because they spent such an unbearably long time there Bute opted to have the entire building redone by architect William Burges. I'm a little fuzzy on what Burges did for the architecture of the building, but his interior decorating makes Cardiff Castle a mandatory stop for anyone within a 100 mile radius of the city.

Outside the Castle

1) The main gate.

2) The rear gate as seen from the courtyard.

3) The Norman keep, one of the oldest parts of the castle. The dungeon is also in this building.

4) The Victorian house where all the good decorations are.

5) Looking down at the moat and well from the top of the Norman keep. This is the first moat with water in it I've seen.

6) Inside the Norman Keep.

Inside the House

5) Inside the clock tower, aka the smoking room. This room is covered in green, red, and 22 karat gold lief, combined with elaborate carvings, tiles, paneling, and some pretty cool hiding places where Lord Bute kept his cigars and brandy. The theme of this room is time, and the ceiling showcases the seasons, the phases of the sun, the signs of the zodiac, and the birds / butterflies of Wales in each season. To put it simply, it's absolutely breath taking. The mantle has an image of Eros over a relief of young lovers, and it reads "Love Conquers All so Yield to Love" in Latin.

6 & 7) The image of twilight - daylight and the moon are also present. Actually, I'll put the daylight woman on here too. They really are lovely carvings.

8) Thor's window - the smoking room shows all of the Gods used to inspire the days of the week on its seven windows. Isn't it cool? And all the rooms tell stories with themes like these. Why don't we do this any more? Such a waste...

9) The Chaucer Room. A horribly low-res, badly tinted picture of the Chaucer room. Sad, I know. The room starts with stain glass windows of the Canterbury Tales (#10), and moves down in tiers. Next comes "The Parliament of the Birds," and "The Legend of Good Women." My favourite part were the good women - Burges took women who killed themselves for the sake of love and placed their busts (and methods of suicide) around the room. Even though it's not clear, this photo has Dido and (I think) Cleopatra in it. The mantel is a statue of Chaucer, and the floor has a labyrinth puzzel printed on it in tile.

11) This is the children's nursery. The Butes had four children - three sons and a daughter - which was a remarkably small family by Victorian standards. The mantle features Chaucer again, namely the proverb that "Him who blows his own horn grows asses ears." Don't ask me to cite the original middle English, it's not going to happen. The walls have scenes from various stories around them; in this photo you can sort of see St. Michael and the Dragon, Aladdin, and Rapunzel, to name a few. The most famous image on the nursery walls is that of The Invisible Prince (#12). You can see his hair in the leaves and a twig outlining his profile.

13) The small dining room. The theme of this room is the life of Abraham. The mantle has images of him, Sarah, and several angels. The stain glass windows also tell Old Testament stories, and the paneling conceals several buttons to ring for various servants. Sorry, that was non sequitur. The table had a hole in the middle and a support on the bottom because a full grape vine was cultivated where the vase is today. For the six weeks the Bute's lived there, guests could pick fresh grapes as they had tea.

14) The ceiling in the Arab room, done almost entirely in 22 karat gold lief.

15) This is the library. The only books in there now are Cardiff city council minutes, but the decorations and shelf carvings are still fabulous. The mantle features five scholars that represent the five dead languages Lord Bute spoke. The rest of the room is dedicated to the other 17 languages he spoke.

Cardiff I: Croeso i Gymru!

First, let me just say that my goals for Wales included hiking Mount Snowdon and strolling around the lakes in Brecon's Beacon. Unfortunately, we don't own a car. So what should have been a 2 hour drive through the country side evolved into 8 hours on the Stagecoach and a hugely over-priced stay in assorted B&Bs. Long story short, we saved ourselves the hassle (aka I couldn't convince Chad and Gager that the parks were worth the effort) and took a train to Cardiff - the capital of Wales - instead. The Cardiff Central Rail Station dropped us off right in the middle of tourist-town, so it was a fairly low-anxiety, reasonably enjoyable experience.

1) Mount Snowdon - the first place I didn't get to go. But hey, there's a horror marathon going on a bit south of there in November, so maybe...
2) Brecon's Beacon - the other place I didn't get to go. These images were viciously stolen from the Internet, by the way.

Cardiff was much less crowded than London, but I guess that goes without saying. The shops in Wales had some interesting things in them. We found lots of tartans, love spoons, Celtic knot jewelery, and inflatable leeks alongside a good bit of "WE LOVE RUGBY!" and "WE HATE THE ENGLISH!" merchandise. Pretty cool to sift through, especially the love spoons. According to the information they had attached to them, men used to carve these elaborate spoons and give them to their lady friends. Now you can buy them around any major tourist attraction in Cardiff, but no, no matter how cool they look, I didn't buy one. These things retail for around £60 each. Way too expensive for a wall ornament, no? But either way, you have to look at it - so cool!

This is a slice of bara brith, or "speckled bread." It has nuts, raisins, candied fruits, and - at least in this case - chocolate. It tastes pretty good, too; Chad and I had it with our tea. This was the only local food we got to sample. Sad, I know. But no one else was really interested in finding a place that sold leek soup or cockles. Oh well, we probably would have wasted a lot of time walking around looking for places that served them. And hey, we did manage to dodge those nasty seaweed pancakes I read about last week.

And yes, this is a smoke stack that says "brains" on it. With the over cast skies, ongoing construction, and generally unpleasant state of my mind, it looked a lot like a scene out of a zombie movie. And, you know, the "brains" chimney didn't hurt. I'm not exactly sure what this thing is for, but I might as well include it. Anyways, Cardiff was OK, but not my favourite excursion. I think the interesting parts of Wales - excluding a few key attractions in the city - are in the country side and at the rugby matches. Hopefully I'll get a chance to experience both of those things at some point, but I doubt it's going to be any time soon. Oh well, there's always my next study abroad in England to look forward to... *pouts*

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bath III: Spoiling Myself Rotten

The BCA took us out to Sally Lunn's for cream tea almost as soon as we arrived in town. The building housing Lunn's Tea Rooms is the oldest in Bath, dating back to about 1483. The building has another claim to fame, though. It serves the original Sally Lunn Bun (aka, the Bath Bun): "an exceptionally light, semi-sweet bread." It's a good thing the bread is light, those things are huge. We had a traditional table setting, and enjoyed half a bun each compliments of Sandy. Trust me, half is all you need. They serve Lunn Buns toasted, with butter, clotted cream, and strawberry jam. It was delicious - possibly better than a scone, but due to the compact size and perfect snack proportions of scones I don't feel comfortable bumping them out of the top spot yet.

These are the Lunn Buns. Enormous, right? They're about the size of a large cereal bowl, and the closest thing I can think of to describe them is a hamburger bun. Of course, they're sweeter and much less dense than hamburger buns, but if you wanted to toast something and pretend, that's what I'd suggest using. The recipe for the buns is a closely guarded secret, but you can get a close approximation here if you're interested.

Sally Lunn's is a must-see if you're in Bath, but I hear they are almost always full, so call ahead if you want to get in during the peak tourist season. They also have a free museum in their basement, showcasing the kitchen Sally originally used to make her now world-famous bread. According to local legend, Sally - a Huguenot - came to Bath in 1680 and started baking. Lots and lots of locals scream and rant over the story and house's authenticity, but even if it's a piece of fictory designed to sell more buns, it's still got a fun museum in its basement. They've got a section that was excavated on display with the stratigraphy marked - cool!

I'm sure you're wondering by now what any of this has to do with me spoiling myself. Well, I'll tell you. That was our first tea of the day. After we finished there, we made our way to a nice chocolatrie, ordered truffles, and then strolled around for a while. Then we had another tea, this time in Hand's Tea Rooms (not nearly as note-worthy, but it's in the neighborhood of Lunn's and quite cheap), and finished it off with Danishes and chocolate short bread. Then we toured some more chocolatries, bought more truffles, and seriously considered investing in some gelato (we passed because they only had a few flavors and none of them could top dark chocolate Cointreau truffles). Oh, and did I mention we sampled fudge and saw a few candy making demonstrations? Yeah...

I also bought myself a really pretty new necklace, as I mentioned in the Jane Austen post. See, there I am looking all snazzy in it. I've started combing my bangs off to the side or pinning them up, partly because they're too long to leave on the front of my face and partly because I'm considering growing them out. I don't really want to have a bob with bangs the rest of my life, you know? Any thoughts or feedback on the hair (keep in mind it's still curly unless I go to the trouble of straightening it)? Getting back on track: I broke about 4 Deadly Sins and had a hell of a time! I wouldn't mind returning to Bath, probably to do more of the same. If I went again, I would definitely make time to visit the art gallery and tour the abbey. Those seemed like really great attractions, but all together too time-consuming activities for a day trip.