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Concluding Thoughts August 23, 2013

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After a high table dinner service with the professors in robes and a champagne reception in the Provost’s Gardens, our time in Oxford was really ending.

I cannot begin to describe the amazing experience I’ve had this summer. Between traveling around mainland Europe and settling in historic Oxford, suffice it to say that this semester featured a truly international experience. Expanding my knowledge of history, culture and nature has been incredible — and that doesn’t even account for all that I’ve learned in my classes!

A recap post wouldn’t be complete without a list of thank yous:

  • to all of the faculty and staff that made this trip feasible, educational, and eye-opening;
  • to all the students (especially Travel Group 2) who continue to be my dear friends after this trip;
  • to the benefactors and staff of the PS Fleet Scholarship, HP Challenge Fund, and the HOPE scholarship for financing the bulk of this trip;
  • and, of course, to my mom and dad for financing the rest, for letting me go for an entire summer, and for believing in me and the value of an international educational experience.

All Around Oxford August 23, 2013

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Our last week of the program meant we had to hit up all the tourist spots in Oxford!

 On Monday, we had lunch of sausage and mashed potatoes at Eagle and Child, the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis famously met to discuss their work. 

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 We explored the beautiful gardens around Worcester College!

 Blackwell’s Bookshop, and absolutely huge bookstore overlooking Oxford’s Trinity College.

 We went on a free walking tour of the city to gain a sense of history form our surroundings!

 And High Tea at the Randolph Hotel!

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 What an excellent week to finish off our time in Oxford!

“She was a Day Tripper!” August 22, 2013

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Our last, week in Oxford was spent in England, taking day trips to see the sites around us!

For Friday, we took a train, and then a bus to Stonehenge and Old Sarum.  We had bought picnic food before leaving Oxford, and spread out on the ground in front of Stonehenge to eat.  It seemed so casual, sitting on the lawn, eating our 3-GBP sandwiches from the Tesco Market, and yet, here we were sitting in front of one of the oldest, most mysterious monuments still standing.  Seeing Old Sarum too, was an amazing throwback to the first settlement in Salisbury, as old as 3000 BCE.

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For Saturday, I took a day trip to London to explore the John Wesley Museum, the British Museum, and Picadilly Circus.  I even a spur of the moment decision to see Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theater. On Wednesday, I made another quick day trip to London to see Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theater.  This was especially neat having just been in Paris two weeks ago!

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One last trip to London (before to the airport home, that is), I specifically wanted to see the exhibit at the British Museum called Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, as this was the topic of my 9th grade Latin course.  I got a time ticket for late afternoon, and toured the exhibit on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation at Buckingham Palace in the meantime.

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Lots of hectic travel, but some great day trips coming out of this week!

Barcelona August 22, 2013

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“Anything created by human beings is already in the great book of nature.” Antonio Gaudí

We left Oxford for Barcelona early Friday morning, and arrived early that afternoon.  We immediately headed from the airport to La Sagrada Familia, an absolutely beautiful Roman Catholic basilica designed by native artist Gaudí. The architecture and atmosphere of this non-yet-complete structure was beyond amazing, and the view of the city from the church tower was incredible.

 

After touring the church, we checked in to our hostel and explored the area around where we were staying.  We then headed into the main part of the city, where we enjoyed a dinner of authentic paella.  We all got gelato to round off our meal, and carried it with us as we walked around the moonlit city.

Saturday morning began with a trip to Park Güell.  We climbed up the hill to yet another gorgeous view of the city, and hit the more touristy sites – Gaudí’s mosaic murals and his salamander fountain known as el drac (the dragon).  We were joined by our Georgia Tech friends attending the Barcelona Study Abroad Program!

It wouldn’t be a trip to Barcelona if we missed the beach, so we headed there after lunch!  We did a little swimming, but we mostly walked along the shoreline or napped in the sand.  After getting back to our hostel, we got cleaned up and dressed up for dinner, celebrating a birthday for one of our travel-mates!

After a leisurely breakfast on Sunday morning, we headed to a docking area to see the architecture, the water, and the shops.  Then we checked out of our hostel and ventured toward the aeropuerto – another great weekend complete!

Back to Paris! August 21, 2013

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I enjoyed France so much on the travel portion that I decided to go back for one of the long weekends at Oxford. I flew into Charles de Gaulle, where I met up with some family friends that used to live in Atlanta and were now living outside of Paris.  After picking up fresh croissants from the boulangerie, we had breakfast in the backyard, enjoying the beautiful weather and clear skies.  We all spent the day at Eurodisney, enjoying Mickey Mouse in a new setting!  (It’s on my lifelong to-do list to visit every Disney Park in the world!  Paris – check!)

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We grilled out for dinner, complete with fresh French bread and vegetables, and then reentered the park for the wonderful fireworks show “Dreams.”  The next day, we had breakfast in the back yard again, and the family drove me to the train station where I headed into the city.  Once I arrived in Paris, I met up with a group of my friends who were studying at Georgia Tech Lorraine for the summer.  We all got lunch together and then headed to the center of town to see the sights!

We first visited Notre Dame, which was under construction, but nonetheless beautiful!  We walked along the River Seine to the Lock Bridge and to the Eiffel Tower.  We picked up a pizza for supper and took it to picnic at the base of the Eiffel Tower.  We spent the rest of the evening there catching up on each others’ European adventures and watching the Tower sparkle with each hour.  We then headed back to the hostel for the night.

Sunday was July 14, Bastille Day! What an incredible time to be in Paris, with everything lit in “Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.” We headed to Sacre Coeur, a church atop a hill with a little shopping area around it.   We climbed to the top and saw an amazing view of Paris, toured the Basilica and did a little shopping before lunch.  Then we headed down to the city via cable car.  We all headed back to the hostel where I packed to leave for the airport after an amazing trip with friends! Image

Val Cenis August 18, 2013

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When I tell people I’ve never been skiing, their immediate response is to tell me I’m missing out. I’ve been told skiing is fast-paced and exciting, the best thrill you’ll find in the deadbeat of winter. And, most importantly, it’s fun. Skiing is one of those things commonplace on southerner’s bucket lists, and one I recently got to cross off of mine.

Val Cenis is a little mountain town in the Haute-Maurienne region of the French Alps, very close to Italy. It’s basically just a big ski resort, which was perfect for our interests. The hostel we were staying at provided rooms, food, and ski rentals. It was an all-in-one ski resort that mainly serviced English customers, as evident by the daily tea-time.

Even though Val Cenis isn’t exactly a big-name city, it is one of the most beautiful in France. There’s a 360⁰, breathtaking view of snow-capped mountains no matter where you are in the city. Literally breathtaking, since the oxygen up in the mountains is spread so thinly that just walking leaves you gasping for air.

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Since Val Cenis was so close to the Italian border, we only had one full day there for skiing. A few weeks ago, I had bought a giant puff-ball of a jacket and some ski pants just for this occasion. The night of our arrival we were outfitted with skis, ski boots, and rods. I was ready to go.

I decided to start at one of the green courses, which were supposed to be the easiest courses to ski on. When I got to the base of the hill, I realized there wasn’t a ski lift. There were little rods floating by on a wire. The rods had a disk on the bottom of them. The idea was to stick the disk between your legs and let the rotating wire pull you up the mountain on your skis. This should have been my first clue that the slope wasn’t going to be the easiest one, but I was determined to go skiing.

About halfway up the slope, my left ski fell off and the sudden friction caused me to face-plant in the snow. I had to scurry to move out of the way of the next person coming up the ski lift. It probably took me the better part of 20 minutes to reattach my ski and stand back up. I probably fell down another 5 times just trying to get standing up straight. The problem was I could either stand up with my skis facing diagonally down the slope, in which case I would immediately start skiing down the slope (if you could call it that) and subsequently fall backwards from the sudden movement, or I could stand with the skis perpendicular to the slope, in which case the incline would cause me to fall over on my side as soon as I was up.

After I cycled through standing up, skiing a few meters, and falling back down again several times, I had reached the base of the slope again. The whole cycle probably took an hour, maybe more, and at that point in time, I was pretty fed up with skiing. What was the big hoot about anyway? All I had to show for my efforts were a few bruises and some wet clothes. My feet were especially cold which made walking in the boots hurt.

So I hobbled back to the hostel, convinced that skiing really wasn’t my cup of tea. Thankfully, I did make it back in time to catch afternoon tea, which was absolutely lovely. They had scones and jam and everything! Walking back to my room, I was set on taking a nice hot shower and never going skiing again. Unless it was the aquatic variety. But I ran into Steven and Erin on the way up and they convinced me otherwise.

They were on their way back to the escargot slopes, which they described as not so much slopes as a very smooth and practically flat surface. Stubborn as I am, it took some convincing, but once they mentioned that there were actual ski lifts with a bench and a safety bar, I was all in. And so we went back out to the cold air and the escargot slopes

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The escargot slopes were true to their description relatively flat. I only fell down on the turns the first time around and not at all the second time. But I still wouldn’t say I enjoyed skiing. Skiing requires that it be horrifically cold outside and wet on the ground, two things that aren’t optimum by themselves and worse when combined. Plus there’s the whole falling off the cliff thing if you aren’t careful, which made me overly antsy when I was skiing.

So I did get to cross skiing off of my bucket list and visit the gorgeous Val Cenis. But you won’t catch me on the slopes anytime in the foreseeable future. But now I can safely tell people that yes, I have been skiing. And I plan on never doing it again. The highlight of the trip was definitely the delicious pizza I ate on the way back to Metz. In addition to tiny purple squid, it also had some seafood I couldn’t identify. Most delicious unidentified food I’d ever eaten.

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All Around Ireland! August 15, 2013

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For our weekend in Ireland, we cleared straight across each coast!  We flew out of London Stansted into the airport in Shannon.  From there, we caught a bus to Limerick, where we stayed for the weekend.  We spent all day Friday exploring Limerick: the parks, churches, and riverfront.

On Saturday, we took the bus to Dublin for the day!  We had a traditional Irish lunch at a diner downtown; I had roast beef, vegetables, and – of course – mashed potatoes!  After lunch, we toured the James Joyce Museum, viewing many items from James Joyce’s life and inspiration for many of his writings.  Then, we walked around the city, hitting the parks and the free museums before landing in the Medieval part of the city.  We saw the old wall of the city, castles, churches, and arches.  We picked up dinner at a grocery store, and took it to picnic on the lawn in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  What a wonderful view!  After our picnic, we caught the bus back to Limerick for the night!

For our final day in Ireland, we hopped on a bus (yet again!) to the Cliffs of Moher!  We walked along the cliffs, looking at the beautiful shore!  One more bus to the airport and we were headed back to Oxford!

All Around Ireland! August 15, 2013

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For our weekend in Ireland, we cleared straight across each coast!  We flew out of London Stansted into the airport in Shannon.  From there, we caught a bus to Limerick, where we stayed for the weekend.  We spent all day Friday exploring Limerick: the parks, churches, and riverfront.

On Saturday, we took the bus to Dublin for the day!  We had a traditional Irish lunch at a diner downtown; I had roast beef, vegetables, and – of course – mashed potatoes!  After lunch, we toured the James Joyce Museum, viewing many items from James Joyce’s life and inspiration for many of his writings.  Then, we walked around the city, hitting the parks and the free museums before landing in the Medieval part of the city.  We saw the old wall of the city, castles, churches, and arches.  We picked up dinner at a grocery store, and took it to picnic on the lawn in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  What a wonderful view!  After our picnic, we caught the bus back to Limerick for the night!

For our final day in Ireland, we hopped on a bus (yet again!) to the Cliffs of Moher!  We walked along the cliffs, looking at the beautiful shore!  One more bus to the airport and we were headed back to Oxford!

To London! August 13, 2013

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For our first of many three-day weekend trips during the In-Residence Portion of the Oxford Program, several of us ventured to London!  We took the train from Oxford, and then got all-day metro passes for the weekend.  We shopped around and had lunch at the market near the Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and toured some of the museums nearby.

We then headed to the Tower of London and toured the many sites there, including the tower greens, the ravens, and a clever exhibit on animals that used to be kept in the tower!  Afterwards, we grabbed a bite to eat, and several of us headed to Her Majesty’s Theater to see Phantom of the Opera

On Saturday, we rode the London Eye to see an amazing view of the city!  We then spent some time shopping and sightseeing around Piccadilly Circus.  We finished the evening with a “London by Night” bus tour of all the biggest sites of the city!

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On Sunday morning, we went to a service at Westminster Abbey.  Not only was the church beautiful, but the all male choir was amazing.  After the service, we headed to Harrods’s for dessert and tea.  As we headed to the train station to journey back to Oxford, we stopped by King’s Cross Station to take our picture with Platform 9-¾ from the Harry Potter films!  We then boarded our train – from a “whole number” platform – to get back to Oxford.

Welcome to Oxford! August 12, 2013

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After five weeks of travelling mainland Europe, we finally arrived in Oxford!  We settled into our dorms – mine was in the Pump Quad, part of the 12th century structure that existed even before the Oxford University Institution was established.  We had our last welcome dinner and said farewell to our amazing group leaders, wonderful professors, and exceptional coach driver.

“Pound Town” was the hotspot for finding the must-haves for our dorm rooms, and the newfound Tesco was a must for stocking our fridges. 

Worcester College, which hosts the Georgia Tech Oxford Program, is home to some of the most beautiful gardens and sports fields in all of Oxford.  Emma Watson also studied at Worcester.  It seems to be quite a beautiful place to explore and study.

As we got ready for the second leg of our journey, I began to study for a new set of classes: a biomedical engineering special topics class called Habits of the Engineering Mind and a philosophy class that will count to my Environmental & Energy Policy cluster, Environmental Ethics.