Guinness and Prison (I’m Safe Mom)

When you take a weekend to visit a foreign country, you’re going to have busy days. We only have 48 hours total in Dublin this weekend and we got our money’s worth yesterday. When we had finally gotten to the Dublin ferry station at midnight, we waited about an hour for a taxi to finally take us home, and as we drove through the dreary city on the way to our little apartment complex run by Trinity College, I almost fell asleep in the taxi. We all barely made it to our beds and it took about half a second for us to fall asleep.

After sleeping harder than I’ve slept in a long time, we woke up around 9:30 and took to the city around 10:30. We grabbed lunch at O’Briens, a quant sandwich shop which we thought was a standalone restaurant but after walking for 10 minutes we began to understand these little places were like Starbucks, on every street corner. As we attempted to navigate the winding and twisting streets of Dublin, it was hard not to compare the city to London or other cities we’ve visited this trip. Dublin feels like a college town. The City Centre, where everything happens, is relatively small and we are able to walk to anything we could possibly want to see in less than 45 minutes. The city is also short. I know this is a weird way to describe a city, but I was actually surprised by the number of incredibly short buildings as we meandered around the city.

On our tourist checklist for our first day, we stopped by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Gaol, and Christ Church. St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church absolutely blew me away. Although these aren’t the first massive churches I’ve seen in Europe, just the day, the setting, and the stories within these massive, gothic walls, windows and archways told a story to which I was so connected. Just the majesty of the buildings made me connected with my faith in a way I was not expecting. I had to take a few moments to sit, think, and pray just to really process what was happening at each spot.

After we made our first stops, we headed towards the Guinness Storehouse. This massive seven story complex contained the tallest building in Dublin that I could find, and only slightly less history inside its walls than the 15th century churches we had just stopped at. The only I could ever possibly describe this massive storehouse would be to call in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory but for beer. Learning about how the beer is made, learning the history of its founder and his impact on Ireland, admiring the advertisements that have revolutionized global marketing, and yes, sorry mom, tasting a glass for myself. The sheer loyalty this country has to Guinness is astounding. It truly blows me away how everyone cares so deeply about this drink and admires Arthur Guinness, its founder. The experience encompassed inspiring all of my senses from the touch of barley and hops used, to the smell of each individual aromatic element present in the perfectly brewed Guinness Draught, to the taste of “The Black Stuff,” (fun fact, the beer actually is ruby red when you hold it up to natural light due to the roasted barley). The Guinness experience ended with me growing an undying, Irish-sized loyalty for the brand and the beer, while drinking my free pint at the Gravity Bar with a 360 panoramic view of Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains.

Our final tourist stop on the adventure for day one was Killmainham Gaol. This fantastic jail turned museum tells the story of the Irish Revolution as well as the political and economical instability that plagued the green island. The uncomforting jail was used to house and kill political prisoners as well as house homeless farmers during the Potato Famine. The jail held exhibits discussing Ireland starting in the 1700s, and pushing all the way to the politics over the last decade. This museum really gave me and outstanding understanding of the political environment surrounding Ireland.

We ended our day grabbing a Moroccan dinner at a side-street restaurant. The food was fantastic and I can officially say that although it is a delicacy, I’m not the biggest fan of couscous. One thing that I particularly admire about the Moroccan meals is that they are very patient with their cooking. As we skimmed the menu, it stated that meals require slow cooking and may take time. This kind of slow-paced lifestyle was something I was not used to. Although I was starving to death after a day of exploring, waiting the extra half-hour for my chicken was worth it and it was absolutely delicious.

Dublin day two is tomorrow and I’m looking forward to another 12-hour day of walking, adventure, and charming food!

By Land and Sea

Today my friends and I make the journey to Ireland. Our trip completely planned in a matter of three hours is real, and I’m still surprised it’s happening. In typical college student fashion, we’ve decided to not go with the easiest, most convenient route, instead we’ve decided to go with the cheapest. This means instead of casually going to breakfast and heading to the airport for a quaint two-hour flight to Dublin from London, we’re going on a land and sea based adventure through England and Wales eventually skirting across the water by ferry to Dublin.

As I sit on a train to Holyhead which is in Wales, I sadly operate as the Wi-Fi-less wonder. As I’ve hopped from bus to underground to train to train to ferry today, I’ve had a blast trying to figure everything out. The London Underground has quickly become one of my favorite places to jump to. The excitement of jumping on trains and jumping off of trains and admiring the perfectly timed logistics taking every passenger exactly where they need to go fills me with way more joy than it should. The Tube is also a fantastic place to people watch. So many different people use the Tube and watching briefcases, diaper bags, guitar cases, duffle bags, and backpacks jet down the long, winding, cement hallways lined with advertisements discussing insurance companies I’ve never heard of.

Train stations are just as fun, but I don’t have the patience to sit on trains; the two-minute tube rides are more in my wheel-house. What I really enjoy about the train rides is the views looking out the window. Yes, there’s English countryside, but the scenery doesn’t stop there. The trains ride through residential areas and looking at how people live in different parts of England. The trains show small farmhouses nestled between trees and hills along the small streams. They show suburban lifestyle with small, square homes adored with tiny backyards covered in drying lines with clothes strung up, and small sheds. We even slid through tight urban lifestyle; the houses have not separation and you share a wall with all your neighbors. There are no yards and no garages but everything about your living is economical.

But, in the vein of being economical, the ferry journey is a cheap one and one that is far better than I was expecting. When I heard we’d be hopping across the ocean in a ferry, I pictured a small boat chopping through the rough waters. Instead I was greeted with a cruise ship that would scoot us around for three hours. But the journey did not start out like it would be nice. 80 people were packed into a bus and driven like a massive pack of sausages side by side and I pictured the boat ride being the same. However, after being led through the undercarriage of the boat where they kept the cars and trucks being shipped, we climbed up 6 flights of stairs to the upper deck. Massive halls of comfy couches and chairs, access to restaurants and bars, and plenty of tables to play cards. It was fantastic and this leg of the journey got a lot more comfortable.

We’ll arrive in Dublin around 11:30 tonight and check in to our apartment which is owned by Trinity College. So far all the traveling has gone well! Almost too well…..

Constance Chatterley and Three Pounds of M&M’s

Today put the “study”, in study abroad. Even though it sounds like I’ve been meandering around England with complete disregard for my education, it isn’t true. Today culminated in finally finishing my second of three papers for this class. Six, poorly worded pages of literary analysis on why Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a book about eliminating people’s loneliness. Every time I write a paper, my setup is about the same. I nestle into my desk with my book laid out in front of me, my computer on low brightness, a warm cup of coffee on my left, a bottle of water on my right, and a three-pound bag of M&M’s (the weight, not the currency) wherever it will fit. This journey at Oxford is no exception. With my fancy, wooden British desk I can easily scatter all of my notebooks, snacks and drinks on the surface and the swanky drawers can be pulled open and used as a makeshift place to store my book for the use of pulling out evidence.

Although I know this feeling isn’t justified, sitting cooped up in my room writing a paper seems like a flawed use of my study abroad time. I’m sitting 4900 miles away from home in a foreign country with adventures calling my name, but I’m sitting in my seven-foot by ten-foot box wasting my time on homework. Obviously that isn’t the case, but nevertheless finding the motivation to sit down and write this paper is hard to do.

Once I had finally shoved all my thoughts into a semi-coherent collection, our group began establishing the logistics for our upcoming trip to Dublin. Although it sounds easy, finding affordable (affordable meaning as cheap as possible) transit and housing isn’t super easy to do in a country you’ve never been to. We used a variety of third-party apps and websites to first find a location, then find out if the place was safe or not. After we eventually settled on our housing option, the next part was deciding how to get there. Although hopping a plane and landing would be the easiest, where’s the adventure in that? So our group got a little creative and decided to schedule our trip across country first via bus, then train, then a ferry. A simple hop and skip across England and Wales into Ireland.

Even though our plan is solid, traveling by so many abstract means adds some anxiety to the event. It’s going to be an adventure for sure.

I am Good at Mini Golf

Wow. Yesterday was a full day, but might be my favorite one to this point in the trip. As of Sunday night, we were completely unsure of what we were doing yesterday, but after frantically putting a plan together, the trip turned in to one of the best adventures possible. A group of seven of us hopped on a bus Monday morning to head to Bath. Bath, pronounced Baw-Th, is one of the most prolific Roman sites in England. In this city, they have on display for the public The Roman Baths. The Roman Baths are a collection of hot springs built in the center of this town that the Romans used as a spa area around 70AD. They believed that the bubbling water was a gift from the goddess Minerva given to them for relaxation and peace. I am still having trouble deciding whether the coolest part was walking on the very same stonework laid by the Romans around 2,000 years ago, or learning how ridiculously advanced the Roman engineers were. Either way, we walked along the paths left to us by the Roman empire and imagining the emperors and travelers from two centuries ago doing the same gave me an undeserved feeling of importance. As we walked, we looked over the protective railing and below you could see ornate steps carved from massive stones to ease these aristocrats into the water. The most impressive feat of engineering I found was the hot spa room. Much like we have steam baths in the present, the Romans built massive rooms with floors heated by a furnace far to hot to walk on barefoot. Patrons would walk in with servants carrying buckets of cold water, sit down along the bench surrounding this absolutely massive corridor, and relax in the steam as the water was poured onto the floor to create an atmosphere of serenity. For the two hours we were in the Baths, I felt like I was in history.

Although this first stop blew me away, the rest of the city did not disappoint. After walking through the baths, we stopped at the Bath Abbey. This massive sanctuary of the Church of England blew me away with its intricate design. The builders left out absolutely no detail. The corners of all the ceilings have angels incised in their pillars, the floor lay homage to bishops and patrons of old, and the ceiling was something I could stare at for hours and still not understand. From front to back there was stained glass telling the stories of the old and new testament. There is no question that this room was filled with majesty and the presence of God.

So as a group, we were two-for-two on amazing sites to see in Bath, but there was still more to be discovered. If I was going to try to describe Bath to you, I would say it’s a city with roads like San Francisco, winding and climbing, architecture like Rome, classic and abiding by Roman traditions, and views like that from the tallest hills of the English countryside. As we walked the 20 minutes from the center of town to its outskirts towards our next destination, we saw buildings resting at 45 degree angles on hills and very quickly I realized my calves were going to look like little diamonds by the time the day was done. We eventually made it across the somehow progressively steeper grade to find Royal Victoria Park. This part was built on the side of a hill in Bath that overlooked the city. At the top of the hill was a building called The Royal Crescent. This building curved perfectly and was so massive, not even a panoramic picture from my iPhone could do it justice. This hillside park also had a hidden away botanical garden. The garden was only advertised by a small iron gate, and was probably easier to find from the smell exuding from it’s colorful interior. Jasmine, and lavender scents wafted from every winding twist and turn in the garden. The aroma hypnotized me and I’m still kicking myself for not taking enough pictures. It was like a perfume shop had exploded and turned into the most beautiful winding trail you could find.

After finally finding our way out of the twisting and winding pathway, we came across our final stop, Victoria Park’s miniature golf course. I won’t lie, after experiencing three absolutely beautiful scenic locations and falling in love with Bath, stopping to do something competitive was phenomenal. As we walked to the first miniature green, me with my small orange ball in hand (orange makes me puke), you could still look out over the forests of the hillside and see bits and pieces of the City Centre spires eclipsing the tips of the trees. The course was winding and compact utilizing its hillside construction to create nearly impossible holes where you would hit the ball off the starting point, and magically it would roll back to where you just hit it from. Although the scenery was hard to beat, if it would’ve been trying to play me in mini golf, it wouldn’t have stood a chance. I annihilated this course going nine under par and beating everyone in our group by at least 15 strokes. But I’m humble so it really wasn’t a big deal.

By far, this was one of the best days of the trip so far. I saw scenery, history, and I kicked some mini golf butt. Bath will always hold a place in my heart and this underrated city to the south west of London should be on everyone’s list to see.

Bahi, Glowworms, and Three-Star Hygeine: A Day in London

“We are all worms. But I believe I am a glowworm,”

Winston Churchill

Today was a real adventure. A six-person group of us took to the big city at 9am and traveled to London for the day courtesy of the Oxford Tube, the best (and cheapest) double decker bus headed from Oxford to London. Naturally we all crawled up the spiral staircase to the top floor and sat the hour and a half ride gazing at the rolling hills of English countryside and eventually rolling into Victoria Station. I had finished snarffing down my chocolate croissant, the European equivalent of hot fudge Poptarts, and the airy pastry was not doing enough to hold me over. But in the spirit of being a trooper, I toughed it out and navigated the swirling underground of the Underground.

Our first stop was the British Museum. Although I’m in no position to give out travel advice, I will say that if you’re going to do the British Museum fully you’re going to need more than two hours. After we had accidentally snuck in through the back door of the massive, five-story, grey-stone building, we located a map and picked out the three main things to check out. Egyptians, Greeks, Romans. . . (oh my).  Sparing the description of my nerdy excitement traipsing through the gallant hallways, granite floors, and glass cases. I remained wide-eyed peering at the contents, and reading the educationally written plaques discussing the history of thousands of priceless artifacts. History is so cool. People, just like me, have the opportunity to look back thousands of years into the past and picture someone: my age, my height, my mindset, with goals, aspirations, thoughts, and feelings using these very objects I am looking at. It’s eerie, but it brings what may appear as a simple walk through a museum to life.

After the museum, my stomach began digesting itself and we had to pack up and move out to find food. We walked for 20 minutes attempting to find what Google called, “The third best Indian food in London,” but instead found a sadly closed storefront blocked by a chair. After a brief moment of hunger-induced panic, we turned around and saw another Indian food restaurant. As one of the pickiest eaters on earth, trying new food is always a game of Russian Roulette. I will agree to play without really knowing what the game entails, then walk in, sit down, and hope for the best. Despite our waiter casually saying, “Wow this is an intense dish, man,” to me prior to setting my plate down, the cartridge came up empty and my Chicken coated in a still mysterious, “Bahi” sauce changed my life.

From Indian cuisine to Churchill’s war rooms, our small group navigated the underground expertly, barely making it in time to slide through the small WW2 museum in an hour. Even though this wasn’t my first trip to this site, walking through the narrow hallways being told the claustrophobic, hysteria inducing stories of being kept underground for weeks at a time in order to be protected from the violent German blitzkrieg still rattled me. It also instilled a strange fondness for a prime minister who was by far the most intelligent and clever Englishman during the war. I could write an entire essay on why Churchill is the best leader I’ve learned about, but it would be a better use of everyone’s time just to click here and read a few of his quotes. My personal favorite of his starts this blog.

Beyond museums, our group happen to accidently run into one of the largest Asian-districts in London. After overcoming the initial shock of teleporting to what felt like downtown Hong Kong, our group marveled at roasted duck hanging in shop windows, and unintelligible writing vertically aligned on signs hanging above. In a matter of only two short hours, I had seen more items containing “red bean mush” than I ever cared to see in my entire life. Despite anxiety, we stopped and ate at a corner restaurant, filled our gullets with hygiene rating level three, on a scale of five (not really sure what we were thinking) Kung Pao Chicken, then quickly left to head back to Oxford.

The day was done and even as I lay here nestled in my twin bed, I know that instead of running across London tomorrow, I’ll be cooped up in my room analyzing Lady Chatterly’s Lover. #PrayForJonathan

From Chipotle to the King’s Arms

Because, most adventuring was put on hold for today in an effort to finish homework, I’ve had a great opportunity to, of course, procrastinate and do everything except finish homework. Last night, a group of friends and I went to a pub around the corner to watch France and Germany play in the semifinals of the European Championship soccer tournament. Over the past five years I’ve really gotten in to watching soccer, and being able to watch a major game in a pub has been on my bucket list for a while.

We showed up to the King’s Arms pub about 30 minutes before kickoff and after showing some patience, we were able to steal a table after a quiet couple had disappeared. The place was a traditional looking, stereotypical pub. Without a doubt old, but not worn down in slightest. The wooden tables were long enough to fit eight complete strangers hip-to-hip and that’s essentially what happened. Although it wasn’t apparent when we first showed up, the pub was not air conditioned; however, at about 15 minutes into the game and a temperature increase of 30 degrees, the slightly cracked windows of the pub were not enough to alleviate the sweat rings on my shirt already partially formed from watching an exciting game.

When the game finally ended it was a surreal feeling to know I had crossed something off my bucket list. I had watched games with friends before; however, 90% of my professional soccer consumption comes from squinting towards a bright, buffering, and pixelated laptop screen at seven in the morning thanks to time change. Although I loved the experience, sitting in my room and reflecting on it makes me kind of miss that pixelated screen and other things from back home.

My girlfriend, Katie Carter, moves into her new home today and it feels weird not being there to help carry in the heavy things in a vain attempt to trick her into thinking I’m strong and my family continues to run around the country like a pack of five confused but calculated animals on separate adventures of their own. On top of all of this, I haven’t had a Chipotle burrito in 12 days and my chicken, tortilla, cheese, sour cream and rice-less existence is starting to impact me more than it should. As amazing as foreign adventures are, being away from family, friends and food that’s important to you, even if it’s only been a week, forces you to realize how great you have it. One of my favorite quotes reads, “Missing something hurts less than having nothing to miss.” So, I consider myself blessed to have so many things to miss.

I’m ridiculously excited to continue my soccer-watching adventures in Oxford this Sunday for the conclusion of the European Championship and I’m equally excited not to have a writing assignment looming over my head. I will most likely continue to procrastinate through the weekend, and everyone can likely expect a blog complaining how I pulled an all-nighter to finish my assignment.

100k and Counting

One of the biggest differences between what I’ve experienced of England and the United States is how compact and connected everything is together. Where I sleep, buy groceries, eat meals, drink coffee, try to find cheap tourist sweatshirts, and have class are all within walking distance. Whether it’s an effort to efficiently utilize the finite resource of land or just an English quirk to be as close as possible to your neighbors, it’s vastly different than the sprawling highway system in the United States.

Although it may seem annoying to not have a car at all times, having the opportunity to walk the Oxford streets have given me a face full of the culture and an appreciation for the landscape you couldn’t get if you were driving. When you walk everywhere, you start to see bus loads of new tourists gawking at the same spires and monuments you so recently admired yourself. You see the quick-walking business man in a suit who looks far too stressed for his own health. You get to see the classroom of English school boys and girls wandering around museums filling out worksheets in a classic educational trick to have them learn during their field trip. Beggars, musicians, activists, vendors, and salesman riddle every street corner from High Street west to Magdalen and up Broad. Both the details of the uneven sidewalks, and the menus of tucked-away, hole-in-the-wall restaurants grab your attention in a way you would’ve otherwise blissfully ignored had you been riding with a crazy cabbie taking blind, hairpin turns at 75 mph. The ability to traverse the streets and see the people brings the place to life even more.

My natural tour guide instincts allowed me to quickly understand the layout of Oxford and my Chacos, Nikes, and Toms allow me to cope with the nearly 100 thousand steps I’ve taken over the past four days. I’ve made the joke several times about how toned my calves will be when I get home.

Regardless of the brilliance of my calves, I’m still getting used to walking on the left side of the sidewalk. For every European I apologize to for blocking their path, I get one more friendly reminder how diverse our world is.

 

Simple to Perfection

In case anyone was curious what the inside of an Oxford residence room looked like, this is it. Regal, majestic, simple. It may not look like much, but this three-pound bag of M&M’s, twin-sized bed and glowing orange lamp welcome me back every night. Being at Oxford is an amazing experience. Today I made a three-mile hike across town strolling through English suburbs, ate the world’s most delicious sandwich in an open market, analyzed Kevin Durant’s move to California in a Hogwarts-style dining hall, and stayed up late with friends playing card games. So much happens in a single day and trying to process everything I’ve seen, heard, and smelled is not easy. The intense beauty of architecture, richness of history, and story behind every cobblestone walkway makes even a simple walk for food an adventure worth savoring.

With all the stately beauty of this university and town, what could be better than coming back to my simple room with white walls, sheets, and drawers provides me an opportunity to swallow everything I’ve inhaled throughout the day. This bed is where I have the opportunity to think back on the day before bed and try to remember every small detail my iPhone camera could never capture. Even if it doesn’t appear to be the most kingly of rooms, it isn’t supposed to be. The sharp contrast between these plain white walls and the ornately incised stone brings out the beauty even more. The gray speckled carpet mirrors the uneven spotted cobblestone in a way that truly allows me to comprehend how my feet feel the raised moguls through the bottom of my sneakers.

So yes, my room may be small and plain, but why would it need to be ornate when I have the outside to explore? It does its job: welcoming me home every night with open arms ready to hold me for likely no more than five hours and kicking me out every morning to the perfection that is an English breakfast.

English Countryside

Yesterday, our Oxford group made an eight-mile round trip journey to the Trout Inn, (close to the Trout House, but not quite), a fantastic riverside pub outside of Oxford. This walk is one of the many traditions for the OU Honors at Oxford program dating back 20 years. On this walk, I learned English countryside is gorgeous; however, if you don’t know where you are, it could be confused for Oklahoma. This might sound like heresy, so let me explain.

The countryside in England is gorgeous. Sprawling green hills, meandering rivers, grazing cattle, and an infinite sky call this place their home. Obviously the pictures cannot do it justice and I could never explain all the fantastic quirks of our journey; however, for the whole walk I can remember thinking: “Wow we have green grass in Kansas, what’s the difference?” The truth is, if you look out over the English country and look out over the Kansas prairie, at the right time these two places can look similar BUT, the way it feels is different. Barbed wire fences adjacent to the highway are exchanged for wooden fence posts put up definitely before the 20th Century. Signs boasting: “Six time 3A basketball state champions,” are quickly outdone by signs saying: “Alice and Wonderland was read aloud for the first time here in 1862.” The tradition and history that still stands along these country paths makes the walk less about making it to your current destination and more about imagining all the previous ones.

So yes, if you held up a picture of Midwestern countryside and put it next to a picture of English countryside 7/10 people couldn’t tell the difference; however, when you’re standing in that same field looking off into the distance and walking along the paths there really is no way you could possibly confuse where you are.

Also, being honest the fact that it’s not 100 degrees in July makes it pretty obvious we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Seriously Magic

After being awake for what feels like an eternity and being in Oxford for less than 24 hours, I’ve learned this place is magic. I know this sounds crazy, but there has to be sorcery going on here.

Let me explain. My first inclination was the bus. Even though this beast of a machine seemed to be wider than any lane on the British highway, we never hit a single car. But this wasn’t the end of it. After walking down a road which has probably been the same since its creation in 1243 AD, I came across a giant gate. Although it seemed there was no one around, all of a sudden a tiny window off to my right burst open, and the smallest but most commanding British woman asked if I was here for housing. After recovering from the jarring experience I said yes, and my bags were ripped from my hands. I was guided through the ever-changing and ever-winding hallways of Brasenose College to a corner room up two flights of stairs tucked away in a lowered corner of the hallway. By this time, it was a bright 6 a.m. in the time zone I was acclimated to, so naturally I went to find any source of food. Again, only by an act of sorcery a street-crepe van materialized outside the walls of the college and fed me.

After a full belly, I took to the streets attempting to gather my wits about the cobblestone streets trying not to trip on the less than consistent height of curbs and constantly looking the wrong way for oncoming traffic. I found bookstores that added staircases and floors the longer you were in them and held more books than there could’ve possibly been written. As the next pang of hunger set in, I found Doritos in the foreign flavor of “Tangy Cheese.” But the best was yet to come. Promptly at 7:30, our group made our way to the Brasenose cafeteria. Three rows of long, benched tables lined this room. Each table was already set with embroidered napkins and more spoons than I knew what to do with. After sitting in a awkward state waiting for waiters to emerge with food, all of a sudden plates of steak, potatoes, soup and cake slowly cascaded from the ceiling gently falling into the exact center of our place-setting. I had been told Oxford was a place of magic but I thought they were kidding*.

* Okay so being honest I was exhausted and most likely hallucinating so it is possible several of the purely magical events didn’t happen… BUT, there is no question this place is beautiful and I can’t wait for the next three weeks to get started.