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La Cappella Sistina August 15, 2011

Posted by rachaelcopeland in Travel Log.
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There is a particular scene in the newer version of Pride of Prejudice. In this scene, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy are dancing at a ball. As the scene intensifies, all the other attendees at the dance fade away until all those who remain in the room are the two just mentioned.
Do you have that pictured in your head? I apologize to anyone who has never seen the film and/or to any males who believe the movie is too feminine for their own good. You happen to be incorrect, for your information.
Now, with that out of the way, we are going to transport to the South a bit. I am talking about a little place called Rome, Italy. More specifically, I am referring to the Vatican City. Rome is my favorite city in the whole world, and the Vatican is the country inside of Rome.

St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City

In the Vatican City lies the Pope’s personal chapel, the Sistine Chapel. A certain famous painter messed around on the ceiling about five centuries ago. You may have heard the name, but it’s no big deal.
As you approach the chapel, you are led through a series of rooms in a museum that houses some of the most important artwork of the Early Italian Renaissance. Raphael’s School of Athens is there, among many other of his own works.

Raphael Sanzio's The School of Athens

When I walked into the Sistine Chapel, My jaw dropped. Literally, my mouth was gaping open, which is incredible unladylike, but I couldn’t help it. It was beautiful. Every surface was covered in frescoes, not just of Michelangelo but also Botticellli, Perugine, and more. The most famous portion, though, is the ceiling.

If you have never seen the film The Agony and the Ecstacy, which is about Michelangelo’s commission on the chapel ceiling, I definitely recommend that you check it out. While not perfect in historic accuracy, it provides an excellent perspective on the hard work put into the ceiling and the stubborn personality of the talented artist.

Everyone in the chapel has their neck bent backwards, looking up towards the ceiling. I one heard that they used to provide mirrors with which you could view it more comfortably, but I didn’t see any around. Necks do start cramping after a while, but it is beyond worth it.

Here is where the Pride and Prejudice part kicks in. As I was observing each panel of Michelangelo’s work, I came to the most famous: the Creation of Man. We all know what it looks like, and it is displayed (and parodied) so frequently that we almost become numb to it. However, seeing the piece in real life was mind0boggling. I couldn’t stop staring at it. Every time I looked away, my eye immediately drew right back. It was addictive, beautiful, elegant, powerful, and so much more. And then, despite the thousands of people surrounding me and bumping and squeezing and pushing, they all disappeared in my mind, just like in Jane Austen’s novel. I felt like I was the only one in their with a special privilege to see the chapel alone. I felt an incredible sense of fulfillment and happiness, not lonely at all. It was one of those moments in life when you literally think about nothing else. In this hectic world, those moments are very rare. I treasured that moment because I feel that life will only have a handful of ones which are similar.

A view of the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica, right next door to the Sistine Chapel.

The fresco itself was magnificent, and even beyond an artistically technical level. It is a divine sight that shows the mercy and grace of God on the human race. Michelangelo was pure genius in capturing so many emotions into one work of art.



A Community Affair August 15, 2011

Posted by rachaelcopeland in Travel Log.
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There is one aspect of human nature that binds all human beings together in a sense of community. Religion? There are hundreds. Kindness? That is relative. No, the thing that fulfills the homo sapien’s desire for community fellowship is food. Weird, right? But think about it: everyone eats. Most people generally enjoy it. It is necessary, acceptable in public, and oftentimes social.
Have you ever been to a family event or a Superbowl party that had no food? When you think of visiting your grandmother’s house, what are some of your best memories based around. Needless to say, I enjoy food, but not just any kind. I like great food at even better prices.
During my travels, I have observed how food brings people together within different cultures and also within my travel group. In Germany, they prefer large dining halls with picnic-like tables that people share with complete strangers, and maybe even a band.

The Hofbrau House in Munich.

The French enjoy outdoor cafes where they can sit down with two or three close friends and discuss, ever so eloquently, current events, art, etc. In Oxford (well, all of the British Isles for that matter), they want nothing more than a local, and often historic, pub at which they can enjoy a pint with their closest blokes.

Each one of the aforementioned cultures is incredibly different in all other aspects, but you notice that they all tie a sense of camaraderie around their meals. I love this concept and thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the food culture of each nation.
Of course, I had many incredible meals on this trip. However, there are four that, more than anything, are prominent in my mind. In order of greatness (and consequently the four best meals I have had in my life) are as follows:

1. Prague (Praha), Czech Republic: beef in a cream sauce with cranberries and bread dumplings. (It may have helped that I was with my best friend at the oldest vineyard in the Czech Republic overlooking the entire city from a table on an elegant patio, but that’s besides the point).

First Place

2. Florence (Firenze), Italy: gnocchi in a gorgonzola sauce with bits of pecans.

Second Place

3. Greenwich, England: Sunday roast (lamb shank with potatoes, broccoli, and carrots in a delicious broth sauce with Yorkshire pudding).

Third Place

4. Paris, France: French onion soup (how appropriate) with escargot.

Fourth Place

I wish I could describe how delicious each of these were. However, what was more important was the situation in which these particular meals took place. I was always surrounded by the people I love most, laughing, smiling, and reminiscing throughout the entire meal. So when someone tells you that they had a fantastic meal, they hardly mean just the food. The environment, the company, and the memories made are so much more significant. Food just happens to bring us together. Building friendships over a meal keeps us together forever.

My closest friends from the trip. Here we are in Munich. I am so fortunate to have the privilege to travel with them!

Crossing the Line August 15, 2011

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Everyone in the states knows about the four corners. It is the point where Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah meet. Many people visit it on their excursions to the western United States.
Similarly, most of us learn about Greenwich, England, in elementary school. It is home of the Prime Meridian, the reference point set at zero longitude. How many people actually visit the Prime Meridian?
One Sunday morning, my wonderful travel buddy (Colleen) and I set out on (yet another) train for Greenwich. Little did we know what the day would have in store.
When we arrived in the quaint little town roughly thirteen miles outside of downtown London. We first went to the National Maritime Museum. I had set high expectations for this site as the advertisements all over the London underground gave it nothing but rave reviews. Unfortunately, it was a bit wordy and still maintained the atmosphere of a children’s museum. Needless to say, that is not a wholly enjoyable combination. They did have a lovely exhibit on Admiral Nelson, though, which I found very interesting. Fortunately the museum was free, so we did not mind spending a small amour of time there just to check it out.

View outside the National Maritime Museum.

Next, we walked up a massive hill to see the main event: the Prime Meridian. What makes the site even cooler is that it was the home and work station of the first Astronomer Royal before the longitudinal landmark was established there. Over the years, even Edmund Halley lived in this house.
As we were standing in line for our oh-so-touristy picture with the line, the UK weather had to prove itself yet again. Rain. If anything, we at least know it is consistent. We had come to the point where we didn’t leave campus without either our umbrellas or our rain coats.
We held our own through the downpour and made it to the Meridian. After a goofy picture and a “mom pic” (what we have appropriately termed the nice-looking, Christmas-card-appropriate photos that make our parents smile with admiration of our seeming maturity in sites of historic significance), we visited the largest telescope in the UK. It also happened to be the seventh largest telescope in the world.

Colleen on the Prime Meridian!

There were many exhibits, including a planetarium, in the same vicinity. However, after a day of traveling and museum-hopping, we were ready for a delicious lunch away from the rain. As Colleen and I made our way back down the hill, we noticed a large amount of construction taking place. Of course, as is the case across London and in the surrounding area, it is for the Olympic Games to be held next summer. Stores are already selling merchandise and countdown clocks can be found around the city.
We found a delightful pub called “The King’s Arms,” (a common pub name in England) and sat down to what would be my third favorite meal on this trip. We wanted to explore more of Greenwich, which is also home to the Royal Naval Academy, but we decided that a relaxing evening back on campus sounded much more preferable than trekking through the rain.

An adorable pub for lunch.

We made it home safe and sound. I say that because the night before, the riots broke out in London. Of course we never saw anything, but the fact that it was happening while we were there is a bit scary to think about. I am very thankful that we, and all the other students, made it back safely.

In the end, it was a fabulous trip with a great friend to a surprisingly interesting site.

Mission accomplished.

Mind the Gap August 8, 2011

Posted by rachaelcopeland in Travel Log.
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This weekend was my last weekend in Oxford. It is a bittersweet feeling knowing that in six days, I will be stateside once more. Do not get me wrong, I miss home, and I am thrilled to see my family and friends once more. But there is an emptiness knowing that I won’t be able to wake up each morning to the beautiful Worcester College or spend my weekends gallivanting across the United Kingdom. To be perfectly honest the only reason I am coming back is for football season. I wouldn’t miss cheering on my Jackets for anything.

I spent the weekend in London. It is interesting that this was my last weekend trip because most students here on the Oxford program had already been to London, some much more than once. It is lovely to live only an hour (by train) outside of one of the biggest cities in the world. Being only an hour away, I did not have to spend extra money on getting a hostel. Instead, I commuted into the city each day. The money I saved on lodging I was able to use on exhibits in the city.

Our first stop was the Churchill War Rooms. It was an unexpected stop, and we decided to visit it on a whim. It turned out to be one of the coolest museums around! They have preserved many of the artifacts from how the bunkers were laid out during World War II when Churchill himself would escape to the rooms during a bombing in the Battle of Britain. The museum was informative, fun, and not at all overwhelming. I am really glad I got the chance to go.

Next on our itinerary was Westminster Abbey. After nine weeks, twenty-five different cities, ten different countries, and innumerable historical sites, Westminster Abbey has to be one of my top five. With over three thousand tombs, twenty-nine monarchs, and countless authors, poets, scientists, religious figures, etc., I was amazed with the amount of history present in the nearly one thousand year old abbey. If you are ever in London, it would be a crime not to go.

Westminster Abbey on an uncharacteristically clear British day.

Without a question, we had to visit Harrods. It is a huge department store with five floors of everything material you could possibly want in live. Needless to say, the possibility of actually affording any of it was very slim, but it was exciting nonetheless. They have a food market, designer shoes and clothes, kid’s toys, Christmas decorations, huge useless teddy bears, furniture, musical instruments, and so much more. I had always heard of Harrods, but seeing it really was a neat experience.

The next day, we were fortunate enough to get tickets into Buckingham Palace. It is truly a privilege to be able to visit the state rooms. Her Majesty the Queen is only away from the Palace a certain number of weeks per year, and it happened to open the weekend before we went. Even so, tickets were hard to come by. We arrived at the Palace long before it opened and were able to get our tickets. It was also one of the most astounding experiences I have had. It is magnificent beyond all expectations. I won’t give away too much of the details in case you want to go. Or should I say when you go, because it is a sight not to be missed. One of my favorite parts of the visit though, was the presentation of Duchess Catherine Middleton’s wedding dress. It was gorgeously intricate and far more beautiful than a picture can capture. I already felt like a princess walking up the Grand Staircase in the Palace, but seeing the dress ensured my desire to become a part of the royal family.

Buckingham Palace. There are usually thousands more people out front.

We made our way over to the Tower of London. One thing that you will discover about London is that it is a very large city. A map may be very misleading as to the actual distances between locations. I bought a three-day underground (or Tube, as it were) pass through BritRail to help cut down walking time. It was a great decision, and I definitely recommend it. At the Tower of London, you are given a tour by a Yeoman Warder (colloquially, they are referred to as Beefeaters, but they prefer the more formal title). We had a wonderful and informative tour from a humorous tour guide. I could not fathom how much history was in this one location. Centuries of stories, some gory and merciless, some hopeful and sweet, but all were exciting. Right after the tour, we rushed over to see the Crown Jewels as the Tower was closing in an hour. We had just enough time to see the Crown Jewels without being rushed. They were astounding. I absolutely fell in love with them. This may or may not have to do with my obsession of jewelry and shiny objects, but either way I was in awe. Contrary to my thought of there being only one crown, a scepter, and an orb, there were nearly ten crowns, multiple scepters, and various other objects used in coronation ceremonies since the time of Oliver Cromwell. They were beautiful and a must-see sight in London.

Our Yeoman Warder tour guide.

Dinner was in Chinatown! I had read somewhere that London’s Chinatown is the oldest in the world, so we had to check it out. The food was by no means spectacular, but the experience was very fun. To close out our day, we stopped by Platform 9 ¾ (the train departure point from the Harry Potter series, it that needs explaining at all). King’s Cross Station has built a small feature in the station with a cart passing halfway through the wall where nerdy fans like me can pose for a photograph. It was a great was to end out brilliant stay in the great city of London!

Colleen making her way into Platform 9 3/4 to catch the Hogwarts Express!

The Land of Haggis and Castles July 27, 2011

Posted by rachaelcopeland in Travel Log.
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It was the first free weekend we had in the Oxford portion of the program. Most people decided to stay around Oxford or go to London, but my best friend, Colleen Crouch, and I decided to go to Scotland! We planned out all the details down to our train times and our hostel before we left. One bit of advice I will pass onto anyone who is considering the Oxford Program or just traveling Great Britain in general: look into getting a BritRail Pass. You get unlimited train access for whatever number of days you wish. It is super helpful and incredibly flexible. I believe that I have been able to have twice as much fun on weekends because of the BritRail Pass.

Colleen and I on our first UK train!

At the last minute, we decided to take an earlier train into Glasgow and then make our way to Edinburgh. We hopped on our very first UK train (both exciting and nerve racking; we wanted to make sure it was the right one!). It did not take too long to get to Glasgow, where we checked into our hostel. Two quick tips on hostels: (1) make sure to bring ear plugs, and (2) bring flip flops to shower in. This was my first hostel experience, and it was actually a great one! I had my earplugs, which was useful with the seagulls outside. The cool thing about hostels is that most of them have a bar/hangout area on the bottom floor. There, you can meet a lot of really neat international travelers. We made some of our coolest friends in the hostels.

We left Glasgow the next morning on a whim when we decided to visit Inverness. That is the home of the Loch Ness Monster! Look on a map of Scotland and you can see how much traveling we did in this one day. We went from Glasgow to Inverness and then back down to Edinburgh. When we arrived in Inverness, we noticed immediately that it was a small, slightly tourist ridden, low key town. We also discovered that, although Inverness is situated next to Loch Ness (the lake), that by no means ensured that the lake was nearby.

Colleen at the Inverness Train Station

We walked nearly half an hour through a residential section of town to get to the lake. However, when we made it to the shore, it was very worth it. Loch Ness is a beautiful area. The air feels so clean and the water looks incredibly deep. If you look on the map, Inverness is on the same latitude with northern Canada, but it still was not as cold as we expected. We made a short video of us “finding Nessie.” We had lunch at a cute little pub where we had our first taste of haggis! If you don’t know what it is, don’t look it up; just try it. It was delicious! I really enjoyed it.

Loch Ness. Do you see the monster there in the background?

Back on the train, we were headed to Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. We met our new hostel roommates and discovered that they were from all over the world! They were from Austria, Chile, Brazil, France, and Japan! It was really neat to hear their stories and know their reasons for traveling. I loved getting the chance to make international friends, and I am glad we took advantage of our opportunity.

Edinburgh is a fantastic city. We started our day on the Sandeman’s New Europe walking tour. This company provides free tours in almost every major city in Europe. Please note that they are *FREE. They work on a tip basis, so I was always willing to give them some money since they did such a great job. Nevertheless, it is the perfect way to see an entire city if you are on a budget (and let’s face it, we are all college students. Saving some pounds here and there is always a plus). Our tour guide was hilarious and very informative. We saw every major site, including the castle, St. Giles Cathedral, the cemetery, the café where J.K. Rowling first started writing Harry Potter (!!), the school that Hogwarts was based upon (!!), and a lot of smaller landmarks around the city that the normal tourist would miss very easily. I obviously am a huge Harry Potter fan and a huge proponent of this tour company.

This is me and the Edinburgh Castle!

After the tour, we went up to Edinburgh Castle! Inside is a Scottish military museum, the Scottish crown jewels, a Prisoner of War museum, and a more exhibits. It was a really neat experience. I was expecting more of a castle feel inside, but I realized that castles are first and foremost a fortress, not a place for Disney princesses (sad day). When Colleen and I left the castle, it was raining, which is not surprising for the UK, but nonetheless it is a damper on the day. We visited the grave of Thomas Riddell (the name that was the inspiration for the character of Lord Voldemort). (109)

Colleen has turned into Lord Voldemort. Be afraid!

One thing that I have discovered during my travels throughout Great Britain: the people here are very, very nice. Maybe it is just luck that I have run into the nice ones or maybe it is that they all have cheery dispositions, either way I have had nothing but pleasant experiences with them. Colleen and I walked into a potato shop down a side street called Tasty Tatties (that’s what they call potatoes). We met the store owner who promptly informed us of things around town that we simply could not miss. He was super helpful and gave us great advice on Edinburgh. The potatoes were excellent as well!

One sight I wish we had made it to in Scotland is the Holyroodhouse Palace. It is the official residence of the Queen while she is in Scotland. We saw it from the outside, and it looked absolutely magnificent. One day I will definitely make it back. On that trip, I will also take one of the one-day Highland tours. I want to see more of the rural landscapes of Scotland, and that is the perfect way to go about it.

We finished up Edinburgh the next morning by walking to Calton Hill. It is the highest point in Edinburgh, and it provided astounding views of both the ocean and all of Edinburgh, from the castle to the Palace and the high-end shopping district and beyond. This is a location you cannot miss on a clear day. We grabbed breakfast at a café where the window pointed out right towards the castle. Tea and muffins were the perfect way to end our stay in Edinburgh and finish up our fantastic trip to Scotland!

View of Olde Town from Calton Hill

One last note, you must try IRN-BRU!! It is a soft drink that is similar to cream soda. It is my new favorite, but unfortunately unavailable in America. It will have to be one of the many things I come back to experience.

IRN-BRU, my new favorite soft drink.