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Tea&Bath September 4, 2012

Posted by asmedberg3 in Travel Log.
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Bath, United Kingdom

Growing up in Northern Virginia, I was not raised with an emphasis on cotillion and “coming-out” parties like many of my southern friends were. The closest I had gotten to anything “high-society” was bat-mitzvahs and my high school prom. That in mind, you can imagine my confusion when my friends told me we were going to take a day-trip to Bath to have High Tea in Jane Austin’s original home for fun.

Well, I now love High Tea—especially in England. On Saturday we jumped onto a train departing from Oxford, feeling like professional travellers after realizing if you buy a group ticket it cuts your price down from 27 pounds per ticket to 8 pounds per ticket. By mid-morning we were in Bath, looking like typical college travellers with our miniature travel maps and sporty backpacks. We bee-lined for the Jane Austin house/museum/High Tearoom, instantly whipping out our umbrellas to provide some sort of barrier to the constant English rain. On a side note, I would recommend to any future travellers to keep an umbrella with you at all times. Don’t let a beautiful day lull you into a false sense of security—it will rain every time you forget your umbrella, no matter what the weather may seem like when you leave.

Bath was beautiful; the city was nestled into rolling green hills. Cobblestone roads were lined with small cafes, retail stores, and of course, the Baths! Every few blocks a green square with old marble statues broke up the traffic pattern and reminded you to look above the surrounding buildings, out to the natural horizon line behind them.

Jane Austin’s Tea House looked like something out of colonial Williamsburg (sorry if the Virginia reference is missed by some). The staff wore bonnets and long A-line dresses and light blue paint covered the walls. We sat at a table for four in the corner of the room, grinning at the chance to play “tea-party” as 19-year-olds…. Or at least, I was. The waitress brought out our tea, each of our flavors in its own kettle, and a tray of brown and white sugar cubes. Next she turned the corner with tiered trays of finger-sandwiches and berry scones.  The tray towered in the middle of the table, reminding me of a scene from my American Girl Doll books from my elementary school years. I snatched a sandwich and took a small bite; for some reason the smaller scale of food compelled me to nibble at it instead of dropping the entire triangle in my mouth. It tasted delicate, soft, and light– and I loved it. The scones were better than anything I had ever tasted (Southern or Northern, Chickfila or Paula Dean), and the entire tables was covered in crumbs and an empty tray in approximately 10 minutes.

Afterwards we decided to visit the famous baths. The spa was a split-floor, 4 story building where everyone shuffled around in white slippers and bath robes. We spent 2 hours exploring the sophisticated water park: swimming in the rooftop heated pool, seeing how long we could stand each scented steam-room before overheating, and letting the cool “tropical waterfall” deluge engulf us.

After a relaxing day, we felt unwilling to leave the quaint city of Bath to travel back to Oxford. But we hopped back on the train to Oxford and returned by midnight, settling back in and prepping for another week of engineering classes. And just like that, I was back into the not-so-normal routine that was my life this summer. Only now I felt more sophisticated after spending a day drinking tea and sitting in scented spa chambers.

And so I gained an appreciation for something I had never done before. I can’t wait until the next time I get to eat unusually small sandwiches, pour myself tea, and let time pass slowly like I so rarely get to. This trip is an ongoing opportunity to expose yourself to new experiences; a chance to love High Tea when you figured you would never even experience it. I am starting to recognize that the more you do, the more you realize that you still have so much more to do. Thank goodness I still have a few more weeks at Oxford to explore.


Home is Where the Best Food Is. September 4, 2012

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Oxford, United Kingdom

I stepped off our charter bus for the last time, hungry and accepting the thought of Worcester College with open arms. The travel portion of the trip was a whirlwind of priceless, unforgettable experiences, but it was time to start living out of a space larger than my 5200 cubic inch suitcase. I walked through the main entrance, standing on the tips of my toes to glimpse the main quad over the heads in front of me. The grounds were flawless; the center grass was mowed into perfect concentric circles and the upper walkways were draped in thick, colorful foliage. I stepped through the large, wooden door into Worcester College, picked up my registration papers and my first meal card. A short man with a thick British accent handed me an old-fashion key and led me to my room. I was in the Nuffield Building, just next to the main quad, and was the only room on the first floor. My room was at the end of the hall, and the door was fleshed into the wall without a doorknob. The man slipped the key into the lock, and opened the door to reveal another inner door. He explained to me that it is tradition at Oxford that if you wanted visitors, you keep the outer door open, but if you did not want to be disturbed, you kept the outer door shut so nobody could intrude. I smiled at the thought of learning my first Oxford tradition and walked into the room; it was huge, with a boarded up fireplace, common room, bedroom, and bathroom. The man smiled and told me I had hit the jackpot—this was one of the nicest rooms on campus. He left, reminding me as the closed the outer door that dinner in The Hall would be at 6:30 sharp.

We gathered outside of the dining hall at 6:27, weary of the reminder that they close the doors as soon as everyone enters for dinner. When the massive door swung open, we eagerly filed into the hall and took our seats. Imagine a scene in the Great Hall in Harry Potter; the only differences were that there were three long, wooden tables instead of four, and we were sorted by where we had stood in line instead of by House.

About seven seconds after I sat down, a large bowl appeared in front of me. As I looked to my right and left, the entire hall was suddenly filled with noise as students eagerly dove their spoons into their soup bowls and broke open the bread that had been waiting for us on our napkins. The entire atmosphere was warm—from the steaming soup to the dim glow of the lighting lighting, from the smiles on everyone’s faces to the constant chatter about how – we were home.

The meal was fantastic. We had broccoli (mind you, I had not had real vegetables in about 6 weeks), salmon, and roasted potatoes with garlic sauce. Best of all, we quickly discovered that we were served desert every day. Mealtimes became a staple in my day; they were a time to see everyone I had grown to know as my family, all in one place at one time. And of course, the Worcester food just made it even easier to smile. I can’t imagine what it is going to be like going home and not being served a four-course meal every day….. at least I don’t have to find out for another month and a half!

Putting the “Study” in “Study Abroad” September 4, 2012

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Paris, France

To those of you reading, please bear with me on this. This post isn’t about food or any fun experience I had. Actually, strike that. Classes have been fun over here in that I am learning so much in fields that I previously knew nothing about. But it does mean that sometimes I get to write awkward essays like the one below.

Throughout the trip we have been selecting works from every art museum we have visited. Eventually our art professor told us that, for our final essay, we would have to use these works to create a “museum collection” that we would write about. He left it open-ended, but reminded us that we should put thought into the order of the paintings and the atmosphere of the collection and that we should get creative with it.

So here is what I turned in. Enjoy!

Exhibition Title: The Great Escape

Collection Pieces (in order of museum to affect emotional experience of the viewer):

  • Apollo and Dafne, Gianlorenzo Bernini, 1622-1625
  • The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1911
  • Age of Silver, Pietra da Cortona, 17th Century
  • Orpheus Charming the Animals with Music, Rowland Savery
  • The Primavera, Lorenzo Monaco, 1492
  • Landscape with Green Corn, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
  • Madonna in the Meadow, Raphael, 1505
  • Polittico, Michele di Matteo, 1410
  • Fall of the Rebel Angels, Peter Bruegel, 1562

Respective Music Selections(this will make sense once you read the essay):

  • Elephant Love Medley from the Soundtrack of Moulin Rouge
  • Forever, Chris Brown
  • My Front Porch Looking in, Lonestar
  • New Strings, Miranda Lambert
  • Change, Taylor Swift
  • Hey There Delilah Plain White T’s
  • Lead me to the Cross, Hill Song
  • Sweet Southern Comfort, Buddy Jewel
  • Intro to Foreplay/Long Time, Boston

The Great Escape 

            I walk up to the familiar entrance and slip my keys into the lock, glancing at the oversized welcome mat on my way in: ”throw it away, forget yesterday, we’ll make the great escape”. I let myself fall into my daily routine: keys on the reception desk, purse in the back room, light switch on; I am home. As the room brightens the familiar, modern gallery comes to life. I pick up a fresh stack of pamphlets and spread them across the reception desk.

Welcome to The Great Escape, a temporary exhibit that encourages movement, expression and the whimsical side of life through the combination of art and music. This is a place to forget your fears, an experience to stimulate your senses, and an opportunity to embrace your imagination. Each work has been paired with a song selected by the curator, but we encourage you to search your own iPods to find songs that enhance the paintings for you personally. Enjoy! 

Deciding to experience the new exhibit before opening hours, I step into the first room. It is a circular space with white walls, tile floors and simple lighting. Bernini’s iconic statue, Apollo and Daphne, is in the center. A playful love ballad plays in the background, bringing the story of Cupid’s revenge to mind as I am reminded of my own experiences with the fickle games of love. I let the spiraled, twisting contrapposto poses of the figures lure me to the back of the statue. I catch a glimpse into the next room and see Klimt’s The Kiss glinting in the light due to the gold leaf detail in the background. The personal memories of love and the mixture of colors, textures, and abstract shapes in Klimt’s work guide me to an open mindset and make me alert, serving as an appropriate introduction to the gallery.

An entire wall is covered with Pietro Da Cortona’s charming fresco, The Age of Silver. I feel a sincere sense of joy looking at each figure and noticing the beautiful details in the work: the joy in the ox’s eyes, the ornate braids and headbands in the central femal’s hair, and the farming tools in the lower right-hand corner. The work combines a sense of paradise with the realities of responsibility. After observing the painting I hear a light-hearted country song. Lonestar sings, “nothing takes my breath away, like my front porch looking in”, reminding me to appreciate the details of my own life, flaws included, just like the painting– because life is pretty spectacular if we are willing to look for the beauty and accept the less-than-perfect moments.

The next two rooms showcase refreshing paintings, La Primavera and a work by Savery, that remind me of spring. The thoughts of spring drive me to embrace opportunity, change, and pleasure as New Strings, by Miranda Lambert, plays in the background: “and I’ll grab the wheel and point it West, pack the good, and leave the rest. I’ll drive until I find the missing piece…”. Meandering on, I am slowed down by the comforting sounds of Buddy Jewel’s warm, low voice: “from Carolina down to Georgia, smell the jasmines and magnolia. Sleepy sweet home, Alabama, roll tide roll. Muddy waters, Mississippi, bless the grace lands that whisper to me: carry on, carry on, sweet southern comfort, carry on.” I become absorbed in Van Gogh’s Landscape with Green Corn as I get lost in its thick brush strokes, cool color pallet and inevitable sense of movement. The next two paintings are religious works that ellicit a sense of comfort and balance, but a painting ahead catches my eye and pulls me into the final room.

The gallery ends with Brueghal’s chaotic Fall of the Rebel Angels to an instrumental guitar piece. Insane creatures are intertwined in uncomfortable positions; figures are mixtures of humans, fish, and birds; weapons are nestled into every open nook and cranny. Creativity practically bursts out of the canvas, reminding me of the fantasy books I used to read as a child. The surprising ending to the exhibit leaves me thoughtful, disoriented and wanting more. But it’s 10:00 AM and time to open the museum to the public, so my future explorations will have to wait until the next time I can allow myself to escape.

Gyro-Trash and Sassy Class September 4, 2012

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Prague, Czech-Republic

I donned my trendy, high-low black maxi dress and broke out Savannah’s red lip stain; I was in Prague, about to attend my first opera: Tosca. Excited for the night ahead, we met up with Hope and Savannah (Ashby) in search of a classy meal to accompany our classy event. We wound up in a restaurant with ten different utensils surrounding our plates, ordering fish that came out in overly large bowls for no apparent reason. Finishing the entrée, we decided to actually use the extra utensils on the table and order dessert. We picked out what we assumed to be a chocolate dessert, and were pleasantly surprised when the waiter brought out an 8-inch tall chocolate tower of goodness.

We devoured the deserts in a matter of minutes. Full and happy we meandered back to the hotel and attended our scheduled opera. The atmosphere of the Prague State Opera house was nothing short of elegant— delicate golden accents covered the walls, crowds gathered in sharp attire, and a giant crystal chandelier set a warm glow in the theatre. We watched the dramatic performance and stopped in a 5-star Art-Nouveau style hotel afterwards to drink their famous hot chocolate. The entire night felt like a fairytale of ritzy role-playing.

Yet even after such a sophisticated, unforgettable evening, it was many hours later amongst the playful noises of a late night in Prague that I had my most distinct, delicious memory from the city: my first street Gyro. About ten of us were walking home when the boys of the group spotted a rather populated food stand with a flashing neon sign. I walked up to the stand, heels clicking against the cobblestone road beneath me, and feasted my eyes on the popular local custom that I had not tried yet. I paid the vendor and turned to my friend Raj to continue our conversation, taking in the scent of fresh chicken and keeping the vendor in my peripherals. Behind the counter he waved his tongs in the air and began piling lettuce, cabbage, carrots, chicken, and the ever-important mystery sauce onto a warm, limp tortilla. With one swift motion he bundled up the scrappy mixture and offered it to me over the counter. Excited and hungry, I hurried to catch up with the group, holding the Gyro above my head like I was Rafiki and it was my Simba from The Lion King.

The next 10 minutes captured the essence of Prague in my memory: biting into that delicious, European version of a burrito, observing locals, watching spontaneous street performances of fire-breathers and sword jugglers, being subject to the pranks of bachelor parties, enjoying the sights, and meandering back to the hotel with some of my best friends on the trip.

Although the staples of any travel itinerary are the museums, operas, monuments and class lectures, it’s often moments in between that stay close to your heart. I loved experiencing a Tosca performance at the Prague State Opera House, a visit to the Modern Art Museum, and a reflective visit to Terezin, but the memories that will truly remind me of Prague are the spontaneous experiences between them. This trip is such a whirlwind of new knowledge, cities, cultures, and mapped out experiences. But I’ve realized it’s the spontaneous, unmapped territory that is the most fun to experience; you just have to be open to the adventure.

The Best Place to Be, Hungary September 4, 2012

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Budapest, Hungary

The funny thing about working out in a foreign city is that it seems to make you so much hungrier than when you follow a monotonous routine at home. And the funny thing about being so much hungrier is that the food looks even better than it usually does.

And the food already looked pretty darn good.

After getting back from a typical day of educating, cultivating activities– our itinerary included a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts and a concert at the Bartok National Concert Hall– my roommate and I returned to our hotel room with a specific goal in mind: to take a run through the city of Budapest. So we pulled out our Nike brand shorts from the depths of our suitcases, glanced at a map of the city given to us by our Group Leaders the day prior, and headed out of our room without any particular destination in mind.

What took us about 3 blocks to figure out was that our hotel is in the city center of Pest, an area not exactly conducive to running with the meandering Europeans, cobblestone roads and limited sidewalks. So we weaved our way through the crowds to a side street, laughing to ourselves at the upwards of ten odd looks we received on the way (apparently eastern Europeans don’t see runners very often!). The streets quickly opened up to reveal the Liberty Bridge, a massive iron beauty connecting Buda and Pest over the Danube River. We hooked a left and followed the river to keep a simple route until we hit a massive 3-story building with a semi-circular roof and a constant flow of people entering its doorway.

As I entered the building with my head tilted back and mouth hanging open, I felt my hands drop from my hips down to my sides: the entire space was one massive food market. Eager vendors filled every nook and cranny of the building to sell their beautiful fruit, vegetables, pastries and scarves that filled the market with color. Clusters of dried chili peppers decorated the stands like Christmas lights, fruits tumbled over each other in their baskets, and rustic silver jewelry glinted in the warm light. Price signs with foreign markings and loud Hungarian conversations crashed over me like the continuous waves of the ocean, giving me a constant awareness that I was no longer home.

I shot Savannah a smile and pulled out the 2000 Forints I had tucked into my sports bra. Naturally my first movement was towards the ornate cookies and sponge cakes seducing me from behind a large glass display. But after about 3 minutes of hand motions trying to indicate to the vender that I wanted one of every different type of her chocolate-miracle-cookie-creations, it was clear that the language barrier was defeating me soundly. We moved on in search of snacks for our drive to Prague the next morning, learning how to use the foreign scales to weigh cherries and explaining to the vendors exactly how many bananas we needed. After passing our fifth stand of fresh fruit, I couldn’t resist anymore. I bought a fuzzy, perfectly ripe peach for 20 Forints and held it in front of me. I smiled and I let my teeth sink into the peach as juice dripped down my chin onto my thigh.

And man the food looked good, but it tasted even better.

We went on from there, sampling berries, nuts, dried fruit and sweets. I was even able to get my hands on a chocolate-covered cookie as we left. We walked back with snacks for our trip the next day having consumed twice the number of calories we had set out to burn on our run.

My time in Budapest was so much like my time in the food market: just a little, savory taste of everything: a bit of the ornate architecture that lined the Andrassy Ut; a quick dip in world-renowned baths; a glimpse of the Chain Bridge lit up at night; a single opportunity to explore the nightlife of the city. And unfortunately, while I was taking in as much as I could, so much of me was still trying to adjust to Europe itself. They just do things differently. People don’t walk fast, put ice in their water or split checks. They don’t refrigerate their milk or grab food on the go. Which was truly unfortunate for us… because in the blink of an eye, without any McDonalds snack wraps to eat on the bus, we were already on our way to Prague.