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Christmas Holidays Part Four: Camille, Durham and Scotland

As I wrote in my last entry, my French friend Camille came to Oxford about ten days ago and rescued me from death-by-boredom!  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but Camille and I met on the farm last summer.  Lets see…what did we do this past week?

Camille arrived in the evening, so basically all we did was go out to eat Thai food.  The next day was slightly, if not exponentially, more exciting.  While Camille was here we usually slept in pretty late – sometimes so late that I don’t even want to mention the time, actually.  I HATE doing that normally, but as I’d spent so much time not sleeping lately due to boredom or work or whatever, it was pretty satisfying and necessary to get as much sleep as I wanted.  So anyway, on Camille’s first full day we sort of just wandered through Oxford.  I showed Camille places that I’ve discovered since we were here together a year and a half ago.  We went into the Bodleian Library Divinity School, which is the Hogwarts infirmary.  That night was really fun, because Camille and I bought soup on the way back from our cold walk.  We cuddled up with our food, really good tea, delicious Argentinean and Parisian desserts, and both Harry Potter 7 movies.  It was perfect.

The next day we went to Duke Humphrey’s library, which is the prettiest, oldest room in the Bodleian (though not that fun to study in, by the way, because the people that work there are insanely strict).  We also spent two seconds in Oxford’s science museum and went to the top of the Sheldonian Theatre, where there are great views of the spires.  Finally, we spent some time in an interesting graveyard that I’d passed recently and thought Camille would like (Camille has a thing with graveyards).  It did turn out to be very cool, especially for the relatively new cemetery that it was.  For dinner we got pizza bagels and (on my end) ice cream at G&Ds, a necessity when visiting Oxford!

Camille’s final day in Oxford was pretty quiet.  We basically just went to Christ Church and then ate dinner at a pub.  I really liked the pub – I’d been wanting to go into it for a long time – and we had butterbeers, which turned out to just be hot chocolate with butterscotch.  They were delicious despite their simplicity, and the cups looked like the ones from the Harry Potter movies.

The next day we left for Edinburgh (Camille is studying there this year) at about 5:30 (which is nothing compared to the hour I had to get up this morning to come back).  Despite the fact that we got there really early we kind of hung around for a while, because Camille had laundry to do and we’d had very little sleep.  When we finally left her flat, though, my first experience in Scotland was a very Scottish one.  We went to a café for lunch, and at some point a very old man sat down at the table next to us and randomly started talking with me.  He had such a thick Scottish accent that I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so I just sort of smiled and nodded at him and he didn’t seem to mind.  After the conversation had lulled a little, he suddenly burped.  Then he turned to me and said, patting his chest, “excuse me, wind o’ the willows!”  It was soooooo funny and Scottish!  Then he complimented Camille’s hat, though she still didn’t understand what he was staying.  So…I made a friend!  For the rest of that day Camille showed me some of the basic Edinburgh sights…parts of her university, Victoria Street (which is a beautiful, famous street that winds up a hill in a curve), the graveyard which inspired JK Rowling, and Armstrongs, two vintage stores for which Edinburgh is famous.

The next day involved more wandering of the city.  We ate lunch at The Elephant House, the café in which JK Rowling did some of her early writing of Harry Potter.  It felt so cool to be where it all started, and you could see why she chose that café – not only was it pretty in itself, but there was a perfect view out of its huge windows of the city’s famous castle and graveyard.  After eating, Camille and I went briefly to a slightly disappointing used bookstore and then moved on to the Writer’s Museum.  This museum features exhibits (some of which are creepy and involve life-sized, realistic but fake people who talk) on Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, all Scottish writers.  After seeing this Camille went to a café and I moved on to Edinburgh castle.  It’s pretty big – there are several war museums and prisons, a museum for the Scottish Crown Jewels, beautiful views of the city, and, my favorite part, a few rooms where Scottish royalty used to live.  After I finished there, I went to find Camille and she brought me to Calton Hill which is…a hill…with monuments on it.  The views were beautiful and the moon was huge and orange.

For the next two days I went on day trips to visit university towns that I almost called home.  I very nearly went to Durham University this year instead of Oxford, so I was really excited to see it.  It didn’t really surprise me – it was very pretty but not as pretty as Oxford.  It was also smaller and more isolated than Oxford.  Durham has the same collegiate system as Oxford and Cambridge, but the colleges felt very different at Durham than they do at either of the other two universities.  At Oxford and Cambridge the colleges are usually grand with huge gates and castle-like architecture, but the most desirable Durham colleges were more like beautiful houses.  Durham Cathedral was stunning – it was probably my favorite cathedral I’ve seen in Europe so far – and the castle was impressive as well.  I really enjoyed my visit there, and I could see myself attending Durham for grad school based on the little taste of it that I had.  However, the visit gave me some peace of mind concerning my decision to study at Oxford this year.  Back when I didn’t think I’d get in to Oxford, I made myself feel better by sort of making Durham a mini-Oxford in my head.  I could tell even from my four-hour visit that this was not the case.  That doesn’t mean that Durham is worse than Oxford (except academically, obviously) – it’s just different.  More modest, and cozier.  You know – you can walk on the grass there, which you aren’t allowed to do at almost every Oxford college.  Despite the fact that I always worry about the amount of culture I’m getting at Oxford, given that so many Americans study here, I’m happy with my decision about my study abroad location, and that feels good.

The next day I went to St. Andrews.  Ah, St. Andrews.  It brought me so much pain almost three years ago.  For those of you who don’t know, I applied there as a senior in high school.  I got in and eventually decided that I wanted to go, and my parents went back and forth for a very long time trying to decide if they’d let me do so.  Eventually they didn’t, which was extremely disappointing for me.  Well, at least now I know that it was worth the pain.  It’s amazing.  Two thirds of the building that I would’ve lived in as a first-year is a castle (there are three wings and one is hideous), but on top of that I found that there are SEA VIEWS from one side of the building.  While I was a little disappointed in the modern layout of the town (the streets lacked the romantic windy quality that one can easily find in Oxford and Durham), the beauty and antiquity of the buildings themselves was painful to see.  The academic buildings are like castles on the outside and the inside (they were almost maze-like), and you can see the North Sea and the ruins of an ancient castle and cathedral from almost everywhere.  There is even a beach (not that Scotland has very consistent beach-going weather).  On top of all that, St. Andrews is one of the best universities in the UK, and in the whole world for that matter.   Honestly though, the most painful thought I had while I was there was how St. Andrews would have been a perfect place to integrate myself into Britain like I’ve always wanted.  I might have found friends and good job prospects – ways to get myself a future here – and now it’s ten times harder to do so as a visiting student for only a year.  I love Kenyon, and I especially love the people I’ve met there, but probably the only important thing it has given me is the ability to study more than one subject (though this is extremely important, since it might have changed my career choice).  I always thought that St. Andrews would have been an incredibly unique experience and would have allowed me to grow in ways that Kenyon never could, and having finished more than half of my undergraduate career I now think that I was probably right.  I may not have been able to attend St. Andrews as an undergrad, but I will definitely apply there for a postgraduate degree if it is at all possible for me to afford.

Anyway, Camille and I had a relatively slow last day in Edinburgh, just as we’d had a slow last day in Oxford.  We slept in very late and then went on a long walk to an area of the city that Camille had never been before.  We saw a creepy church and found the entrance to an area that used to house an old market.  I also discovered something very important – THE BUTTER TABLET.  Let me tell you, everyone, that if you ever go to Scotland YOU MUST TRY THIS.  I mean, it will probably give you a heart attack in twenty-four hours, but IT’S SO WORTH IT.  All it is is condensed milk, butter and sugar.  Healthy right?  DELICIOUS.  I am so glad I discovered it so late in my Scotland trip, or I would’ve eaten too much of it.  I almost didn’t buy it at all – I was really intrigued by it, decided not to get it, and then literally ran back to the store after I decided that I might as well try a traditional Scottish sweet on my last night.  I’m so glad I did.

This morning I woke up at 3:30 to catch a 6:25 flight back to England, so that means I’ve been awake for nearly twenty-four hours at this point.  It’s time to get some rest.  I’ll leave you with my excitement about term starting again.  Even just being around all of the returned students today made me happy in a way that I could never feel while I was on break.  I’m anxious about the social and academic issues that naturally occur during term, but I feel ready to motivate myself to do some fun things this time around.  I am getting the feeling that I’ll be less stressed academically than I was during Michaelmas, and if this is true I hope to be able to go to some lectures and experience some things that I missed last term.  Now I’ll REALLY leave you – with this quote:

“What’s comin’ will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.” – Hagrid

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