Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Oxford and Alleyway Pubs, Birthday Celebrations, and Lots of Sheep

Time March 16th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello again!

If you recall from my last (vlog!) post, I mentioned that March was already shaping up to be quite an exciting month. Two weeks into it, I’m already having the time of my life.

When I last left you, I recently completed three essays and was looking forward to a nice easy week before diving into the next set due March 30. Well, after my cozy week, I ventured out to Oxford on a Saturday day trip with IFSA. Unfortunately, in my ‘taking it easy’ week, I forgot to charge my camera batteries. So apologies for the lack of Oxford pictures. We had a wonderful tour from a student at one of the many colleges and his anecdotes about the university’s traditions and rituals really emphasized my love for local knowledge about these cities surrounding London. For lunch, we followed his suggestion of a pub down a few alleyways and had, again, fantastic food. Apparently, an alleyway is a key feature in the local pubs with fantastic food I’ve visited outside of London. (Remember Winchester?) Anyway, after a satisfied appetite and a pint of a local bitter beer that was phenomenal, we visited Blenheim Palace, the residence of the Duke of Marlborough and his family about eight miles from Oxford. The palace, also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, was magnificent on the inside. There were many French touches and the state rooms were all matters of extravagant. Personally, however, I fell in love with the gardens and grounds outside the palace. With the lack of pictures, you’ll have to take my word for it, but the gardens (against the sunny backdrop we were lucky to have) were breathtaking. I wish I had the day to wander around the grounds, with the flowers beginning to bloom in the first tastes of spring and the sculptures decorating the grass. It was truly amazing.

Upon return to London, I geared up for my 21st birthday. That week was the most homesick I’ve been since first arriving, knowing that 21 is rather important in the U.S. and my closest friends would not be here with me. However, with the never-ending enthusiasm from my flatmates in London, the slight homesickness quickly subsided and they organized a spectacular birthday party for me, complete with tons of sweets, candles, and a wonderful card. It’s fantastic how quickly they’ve become good friends in the short time I’ve been here. Sweets and Friends Flatmates

I additionally lucked out because the IFSA Adventure Weekend coincided directly with my birthday! I adored spending the weekend in North Wales, where we kicked things off correctly by winning Oran’s Friday night pub quiz. (My team gave me the trophy for my birthday and it sits next to my computer in celebration.) Pub Quiz!

Saturday I hiked into the old slate quarries and had a tremendous view of the Welsh countryside, complete with the vast amount of sheep commonly found in Wales. I also visited Caernarfon Castle, which was designed as a palace by Edward I after conquering Wales and offers a fantastic view of coast and town from atop the towers. To get up the towers, there are about four flights of steep, narrow, winding steps that are equally hard to navigate in both directions but completely worth the view. Slate Quarry Miners Countryside Caernarfon Castle Tower View

Before returning to London, Sunday morning featured a trip to the coastal town of Llandudno, along the Irish Sea. This town had the perfect coastal feeling that reminded me of Cape May, NJ (for those of you from that area) and the fish and chips surpassed anything I’ve ever imagined! The beach itself was actually rocky- no sand at all. (Not that I minded the lack of sand everywhere for the bus ride home!) There was even a pier reminiscent of the boardwalks down the shore and against the backdrop of the mountains, I would make this my summer home in an instant! Llandudno Llandudno Pier

After the excitement of Adventure Weekend, I settled back into the study part of study abroad. Though, with two great friends from the U.S. coming for their spring break and participating in King’s Musical Theatre Society’s production of Hot Mikado at the end of the month, this brilliant month is just getting started. See you in two weeks before I head to the continent for my spring break! Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Happy British Mothers’ Day (March 18) to my wonderful mom, my fantastic Nana and Mom-mom, and my amazing aunts, cousins and family friends who are mothers!


St. David, Ghosts, and Hogwarts…(sorta)

Time March 15th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Happy St. David’s Day!!

What, you don’t know what St. David’s Day is?  Seriously, it’s a more famous day than Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day!  Um…not really, but I think the Welsh like to believe in the next 50 years it will become a largely well-known day outside of Wales.  Disneyland Paris even had a St. David’s Day parade with fireworks.

So what is St. David’s Day?  St. David is the national saint of Wales, just like how Patrick is the saint of Ireland, George for England, and Andrew for Scotland.  David went on several religious pilgrimages throughout Wales and west England and founded many religious centres.  He settled in southwest Wales where he preached and performed “miracles.”  St. David’s Day is celebrated on March 1, and it is custom to wear either a leek or a daffodil, along with the national costume.  This year was a beautiful day for Welsh festivities, and this was the first time I actually heard the native Welsh language.

Boy Welsh Costume

Boy in traditional Welsh costume.  The yellow cross with black background is St. David’s flag.

welsh flags

Welsh Flags at the parade

Welsh costume

Traditional Welsh costumes

Women in Costume

A women with a large daffodil in traditional costume

In order to celebrate St. David’s Day, two friends and I went to Llandaff Cathedral for a dose of Cardiff history by going on a ghost walk!  Llandaff is an area of Cardiff that was its own city until Cardiff swallowed it up.  It includes ancient castle ruins, its own cathedral, and medieval architecture.  For the ghost tour, we met up at an ancient preaching cross that immediately set the mood for the rest of the night: spooky!

We walked north of the cathedral a few hundred feet to an open field where the tour guide talked about some of the spooky and mysterious tales of Llandaff.  If you owned a pub or were a landlord, you were doomed at Llandaff.  We walked along the River Taff on the Taff Trail slightly west until we came upon “the Walk of the Dead” and listened to more ghost stories.  The Welsh have their own mix of the Grim Reaper and a Banshee.  She’s the Gwrach y Rhibyn, the Hag of the Mist.  She has a green and white face with long fangs and flapping wings.  She likes to appear and shriek at the people’s windows, and then shortly after she takes him/her back to hell with her.  Whether or not you want to believe these stories, this also gives a little bit of history of the Welsh culture.  Before weirs controlled the River Taff, it was a very violent river that had strong tides and quick floods.  The open field next to the cathedral was a part of the river until the course was controlled, and it flooded a lot.  Many of the ghost stories dealt with accidents or disasters surrounding the Taff.  We also walked through an abandoned graveyard next to the cathedral which is a site for many ghost children.  Sound like a great way to spend a Friday night??  Well, it actually was.  My flatmate was the most noticeably freaked out person in the group of about 25 people (and she wasn’t the youngest).

  Llandaff Cathedral

Llandaff Cathedral in the dark


In the graveyard.  See any ghosts?

The following weekend I went to London because it was time for IFSA-Butler’s second excursion to Blenheim Palace and Oxford.  On Friday, I managed to do a bit more sightseeing.  After I arrived to Victoria Station, I made my way up to Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes.  Unfortunately, 221B Baker St is completely made up, but 221B Baker St is actually a Sherlock Holmes museum.  I didn’t tour the museum itself, but I spent some lovely time in the gift shop and bought a souvenir.  The people working in the museum had lavish costumes from Sherlock Holmes’ 19th century era.  After hanging out at 221B Baker St, right next door at 231 Baker St was the London Beatles Store.  I was in heaven.  I wanted it all, but I just settled for a mug which included all the albums.  A few days after I bought it, I noticed the mug had a typo: “Meet the Beagles” instead of “Meet the Beatles.”  Someone had dogs on the mind when they were making the mugs.  I needed my own personalized mug for tea time in the flat.  I then made my way up to Trafalgar Square to go into the National Gallery.  This is just like Chicago’s Art Institute.  The building was gorgeous, and it’s free for the public.  There was a free concert going on and being filmed featuring a cello and acoustic guitar.  That added to the atmosphere as I was looking at various works of art.  Though, one thing that museum is lacking is some modern art.  There wasn’t much after the 1900s, but their art collection went as far back at the 1400s.

  Sherlock Holmes Museum

Sherlock Holmes Museum

Beatles Store

The London Beatles Store

Baker St Tube

Baker Street tube station

National Gallery

The National Gallery

On Saturday, I went to Oxford first.  It was a beautiful city, and I haven’t seen anything like it before.  This is what I thought England looks like outside of London: old and beautiful buildings.  I took a tour of the city where we went to many of University of Oxford’s individual colleges.  The University of Oxford is the second-oldest surviving university in the world, dating as far back as 1096.  There are thirty-eight individual colleges at the university.  The day I arrived happened to be graduation day.  I got to see a lot of students and faculty in robes around Oxford.  Oxford was also a site for many religious public executions, and there were small memorials throughout the city to mark the death-place for many bishops, etc.  Emma Watson is supposedly studying abroad at Oxford through the Butler program, but I was unable to catch a glimpse of her.  However, I was able to see different parts of Hogwarts because much of the Harry Potter films were filmed all over Oxford.  I was unable to see the Great Hall though (I ran out of time).

Randolph Hotel

The Randolph Hotel

Oxford stores

Oxford shops

Religious cross

Crosses throughout Oxford that mark religious executions

Sheldonian Theater

Sheldonian Theatre.  Where you graduate among other ceremonies.

Oxford bridge

Bridge resembles those in Venice

Oxford Library

The Bodleian Library.  Has every single publication stored in the library.

More oxford streets

More Oxford shops

Christ church

An Oxford church

graduation robes

Students and professors in graduation robes

more buildings

A university building

more grass with great hall on left

Christ Church College on left that holds Hogwarts’ Great Hall

After Oxford, I made my way up Blenheim Palace, which is the home of the Dukes of Marlborough, and it is the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  It was a beautiful palace, and we had a tour that unfortunately took up my entire time, and I wasn’t able to roam the grounds.  During World War II, it was used by MI6.  The filming of Harry Potter also took place on the grounds of Blenheim Palace.

gate into palace

Gate that leads to the Palace

grounds looking to Column of Victory

The grounds that lead to the Column of Victory

Palace headon

Looking at the palace straight on

Palace to the left

Palace to the left

me at the signs

At the signs


more gardens

The gardens

me with garden

My favorite place was at the Italian gardens

side of palace

The back end of the palace

British Word of the Entry: Squash.  Not the vegetable or the sport.  This is a concentrated fruit juice that needs to be mixed with at least water.  My flatmates drink this and it’s all new to me.