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Christmas Holidays Part One: Homestay Weekend

Sorry I haven’t written for a while!  I don’t know why I’ve been procrastinating so long about writing this post.  I like writing this blog a lot.  Actually, I wanted to write this the day that I got back to Oxford from my homestay, but I didn’t have time.  That was a while ago, though, so I have a lot to catch up on.  I’ve just been procrastinating in really English ways – putting the kettle on, making sure I put in the exact amount of milk and sugar I want (a few splashes, one slightly heaping teaspoon), letting it sit for the proper amount of time, removing the teabag…anyway, the only real news from that I have from term is that I joined the Mansfield/Merton football team in addition to the uni one.  I’m really glad I did – it immediately proved to be a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people.

In order to get as much out of my English experience as possible, I decided to stay with an English host family for a weekend.  Butler helped to set it up along with an independent programme.  My homestay started the Friday of 8th week (the last week of term).  Priya and I watched Love Actually before I went off to the train station, which was both wonderful and necessary.  I was feeling excited to get out of Oxford for a bit and to be in a real bedroom for the first time in months.  My memory is a bit fuzzy about that weekend because it feels like a long time ago now, but I think that night I just met my host family and hung out with them before going to bed.  They were all really nice.  The mom’s name was Lorraine, the dad’s name was Mike, and they had a fifteen-year-old son named Michael and a thirteen-year-old daughter named Rachel.  AND THEY HAD A DOG, HARVEY, who was a little white terrier sort of dog.  He was SO CUTE AND NICE, and I REALLY miss my dog!

I got familiar with British TV over those three nights, because the Ranaldos (the family name obviously) watched it before bedtime.  We watched one in which they put celebrities into the middle of nowhere for a survival competition, one where they make celebrities dance with professional dancers, and another in the singing competition category.  That last one is called X Factor, which is really popular here so I’m glad I got to see it.  After TV, I WENT TO SLEEP in a huge bed in a Victorian room with a tiny, unusable fireplace.  And I slept in!  Ahhh, I miss that room.

In the morning Lorraine took me to the Malvern Hills.  They’re pretty famous, and I was expecting small rolling hills only a little bigger than the ones in Oxfordshire.  However, they were actually very high – you could almost call them small mountains but not quite.  The views were BEAUTIFUL – just picture a stereotype of England and that’s what it was.

After lunch and a short break (in which I cuddled into my bed – English winters are freezing because people don’t really use central heating in the same way), I met Mike for the first time (he’d been painting his mother’s house).  Mike had a REALLY British sense of humor.  The Brits are REALLY good at keeping straight faces (of course), and he would say things that seemed normal, so I’d start responding to them in a normal way before thinking about it and realising that his comment had been teasing or nonsensical.  Then he’d notice I’d figured out the joke and laugh.  It was really funny – apparently he does this to all the foreigners (the Ranaldos have hosted a lot of students).  He also bought the whole family HUGE Cadbury chocolate bars, which in my opinion is the best way to make friends.

Later Lorraine, Rachel and I went into Great Malvern to see them put on the town Christmas lights and so that we could go to the Christmas market.  The town is cute – apparently the queen gets her water from there, and it used to be a Victorian spa town.  Now there are a lot of nice little shops there.  I was excited about the Christmas market, because the English Christmas spirit makes things SO cozy!  I just wish there was snow, and I’m kind of dreading the winter after the Christmas spirit is gone…but whatever.  The Christmas market WAS very fun, and I bought a bunch of gifts there (as well as a delicious raspberry-chocolate cupcake. mmmmm).  I also saw the town’s priory.  To be honest I didn’t even know what I priory is, but as most of you probably know, it’s a church-like thing.  The one in Great Malvern is almost a thousand years old and was said to have inspired C.S. Lewis to come up with his magical wardrobe.  It was very beautiful, and there were children singing Christmas carols inside.

The next day brought more Christmas markets and shopping.  We went to one at a Victorian needle factory (Michael said that, though it sounded fascinating, he wouldn’t go, but he hoped we got the “point” of it) which was nice but actually not all that Victorian.  Then we went to a more permanent crafts area (which also had a falconry…?).  I think that may actually be all we did that day if I’m remembering correctly.

I really enjoyed the homestay.  I liked spending time with the family and being in a HOME.  At this point I’m pretty sick of being in a dorm and wish that I could be in a house where leaving my room didn’t mean going into a public space.  Just picture CONSTANTLY living in your room at school where you do all your work.  Not great.  But it was time to leave my weekend home, and early in the morning I set off on my own adventure to Wales!

I’d heard from a friend about a little town called Hay-on-Wye in the middle of the Welsh countryside.  I had to take a train and a bus to get there.  The bus ride was BEAUTIFUL.  Seriously, I was not expecting how incredible it was at all.  It was a lot like the scenery in England, but the land rose into HUGE hills which made everything more dramatic.  There were farm animals and old houses scattered everywhere.  And it was almost sunny sometimes.  The town itself was also very beautiful – it was made up of tiny winding streets and very old buildings.  Oh!  I forgot to explain why I was going to this place.  It is known as the “Town of Books” because, though it is tiny, it hosts 20 or 30 independent bookstores of all kinds.  These range from the Honesty Bookshop (literally a collection of bookshelves on the lawn of a broken-down, thousand-year-old castle which asks you to please put thirty or fifty pence in a little box if you want to take a book), bookstores just for children, bookstores just for horror and science fiction books, and antique bookstores.  Needless to say, I had a lot of fun there.  In fact, I felt completely overwhelmed with the amazing surroundings I was in.  It turned out that there were a ton of cute shops that sold things other than books, too.  I loved it so much there that I stopped at the window of a realty store and see how much it would cost to live there.  I had a lovely lunch there too.  Though I narrowly avoided purchasing a couple incredibly expensive sweaters, I did come away with a very old copy of Sanditon in its practically unedited form (that’s Jane Austen’s unfinished novel that she was writing when she died, for those who don’t know).

So that was my first weekend of Christmas break!  It was really nice.  I feel so certain of where I see my future now.  Now I’ll start writing a post about my first full week of break – Italy!

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