Archive for June, 2013

A walk in the park with Sherlock

We have been incredibly blessed with beautiful weather here in Cheltenham. Almost every day this week, we have had temperatures around 70 F, with lots of lovely sun. Because of this gorgeous weather, Dr. Calhoun decided (with student encouragement) that our class would meet in a park this morning. We were quite excited!

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The setting was beautiful, and it was nice not to be cooped up in a stuffy classroom. However, traditional English weather decided to play some tricks on us. Instead of the sunny 70s, and the temperature dipped down into the high 50s, with an intermittent breeze and a thick layer of rain-heavy clouds. We still had class outside, but because many of us had dressed for considerably warmer weather, we were released for the day considerably earlier than usual.

The highlight of my day came not when class got out early, but as we were walking to class. Our route takes us directly past Spencer’s Café, where some of us ate lunch on Sunday. We had heard rumors that the film crew from the BBC show Sherlock had filmed at the café several weeks ago, but we had no confirmation. This morning, however, we received our proof.

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Our usual path was blocked by several people in fluorescent vests, lots of equipment, and some camera men. That’s right – the Sherlock film crew was back. As soon as we realized what was going on, we stopped dead in our tracks with looks of awe and amazement on our faces. (And yes, we girls fell into fits of excited giggles. It was pretty silly.) One of the men standing near the camera with a look of authority on his face (I think he may have been the director) saw our looks of wonderment and chuckled at us. I sort of wanted to stick around to see if Benedict Cumberbatch or Martin Freeman were on the set anywhere, but we had to get to class. Regardless, it was still super exciting!

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For lunch, I had a chicken tikka ‘toastie’. Toasties are essentially what Americans would call paninis. However, the English also have their paninis. Here, paninis tend to be made on baguettes, whereas toasties are made on traditional “square” bread. Chicken tikka is available in almost every cafe you visit. This variant of British Indian food was my first exposure to the cuisine. It resembled chicken salad, except it was made with curry and a tomato cream sauce; the curry added a rich, complex flavor to the dish. I definitely want to find a recipe for this, so I can make it upon coming home. :)

Tomorrow, our Cedarville group will take our first field trip! We shall travel to Stratford-upon-Avon, to see Hamlet performed in Shakespeare’s hometown! Since Shakespeare is fabulous, and Hamlet is one of my favorite plays, I’m super duper stoked.

That’s about all I have for the night. Cheers!

~Taylor

PS – In England, the term “cheers” does not always refer to drinking. (I haven’t participated in any drinking in this country, so I don’t actually know if they say it in that context…) Instead, “cheers” is a term one says instead of “see you later” or “have a good day”. Clerks and cashiers in shops frequently use the term.

She blinded me with science!

We are fortunate enough to be in town during the annual Cheltenham Science Festival. Each year, this festival brings in dozens of excellent speakers and puts on exhibitions that appeal to people with all levels of science knowledge. This year, some of the big-name speakers include James Watson (one of the co-discoverers of the helical structure of DNA) and Peter Higgs (one of the namesakes of the Higgs-Boson particle).

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Today after class, Steven and I decided to explore the wonders of the festival. Of the group of Cedarville students, Steven and I are the sole science majors, and thus the only ones interested in attending. Even so, we had a great time. We were privileged to listen to a lecture held by Jenifer Glynn, the sister of Rosalind Franklin.

IMG_1457Rosalind Franklin was a prominent scientist in the mid-20th century who studied the structure of carbon and analyzed the composition of the tobacco mosaic virus. She is most famous, however, for her contribution to the discovery of DNA’s helical structure. James Watson and Francis Crick used her discoveries (largely without her knowledge), and published their treatise on DNA’s structure before anyone else in the world. Franklin would have received the Nobel Prize for this discovery along with them, but died of ovarian cancer at the age of 37, five years before the prize was awarded. Although the story has a sad ending, Franklin accomplished significant works within her short life. It was neat to hear from Ms. Glynn, and to get a perspective of Franklin’s life outside of the lab.

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Incidentally, Gustav Holst, a Cheltenham native who wrote a series of pieces called The Planets, was Rosalind and Jenifer Franklin’s music instructor when they were children. A statue of him is installed in a fountain at the center of the park where the science festival is held.

This afternoon has been filled with the menial tasks associated with living on one’s own…doing laundry, buying groceries, making dinner, etc.

It was my first time using a laundromat!

It was my first time using a laundromat!

A group of the Cedarville students in my set of flats have joined with those living in the adjacent flats to form a sort of dinner club. One person makes (or buys) dinner for the group, on a rotation schedule. It saves a bit of money in the long run, and is a good way to build friendships. Tonight, we had pizza and vegetables. It was probably one of the more nutritious meals of late, and we had a lot of fun :)

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That’s all for this evening. Time to review for class tomorrow!

Blessings,

Taylor

Monday, monday

‘Ello, lovelies! Today was our first day of classes. Our professors have been kind enough to ensure that classes on Mondays don’t begin until the afternoon, to allow some recovery (and homework) time for people who travel on the weekends. It was nice to be able to relax a bit this morning, and get some extra reading in. :)

The class I’m taking (Introduction to Literature), will focus on five different works: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis; Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling; and The Hobbit and Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien. In studying each of these works, we will also discuss the lives of each of the authors, in addition to how each work incorporates elements of faith. (In summary: it’s going to be a great class. ;) )

After class, Regan and I knocked around the town centre for a while before stopping for dinner at Bon Appetit. This place is excellent for university students on a budget: everything they sell costs only 99 pence! (That’s roughly equal to $1.64.) They don’t have a large selection of items, but that’s a non-issue. When you’re getting food for that cheap, you don’t complain about selection.

IMG_1445They even give you fairly large portions for the price. I had sausage and mashed potatoes (known to some as bangers and mash). This meal has been on my British bucket list ever since we first learned about English customs in British Literature class in high school. The verdict: a simple, filling, tasty meal. It doesn’t score too high on the nutrition scale, but I still enjoyed eating it.

Looks unappetizing, but tastes delicious.

Looks unappetizing, but tastes great.

Oh! Exciting news! Yesterday, 2 June 2013, marked the 60th Anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Last year, the country of England celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – the 60th anniversary of her reign — by adding an extra bank holiday to the traditional schedule, in addition to various royal tours and ceremonies. (When Her Majesty first became ruler, they held back her coronation a full 16 months to allow proper mourning for the death of her father, King George IV.) This year’s celebration is to be a bit more low-key, but surely will encompass the same grandeur of any celebration of royalty.

Well, folks, that’s all for today. I hope you have a wonderful evening, afternoon…whatever time of day it is that you’re reading this. ;)

Blessings,

Taylor

Sunday

Our first Sunday in Cheltenham! How exciting! This is the first time I’ve been outside of the US and have been able to choose my own Sunday activities, so I was excited to join a group of Cedarville students and walk down to a local church. We visited Trinity Cheltenham, which meets in a beautiful restored church building. Listening to the message, and looking at the website, I’m still a bit fuzzy on where they stand theologically, but was obvious that the people attending the service loved Jesus.  I was really encouraged to see that the church had a lot of outreach programs.

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It seemed like a juxtaposition, to have the drums and band set up where the altar usually stands.

Worship consisted of a contemporary band (like at Cedarville), but some of the songs were a little different. My favorite was a kids song, which the congregation sang just before the little ones were released to children’s church. One of the verses went something like this: “God is big and God is great,/ He’s so fab and He’s my mate.” I love hearing all these British terms, especially when we get to use them to worship our awesome God. :D

After church, our group had lunch at Spencer’s Café. For all of you fans of the BBC drama Sherlock, keep an eye open for Spencer’s when you watch the upcoming the third season – apparently a crew was filming some scenes here just a couple of weeks ago.

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The food was delicious. I had a brie and cranberry baguette panini. Oh man. I think it was the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten. (But that also has something to do with the fact that brie is my favorite cheese….)

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We relaxed for a while after lunch, and then took an outing to Sandford Park. This part of Cheltenham was especially beautiful, full of lovely trees and well-kept lawns.

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We chose this spot to spend about two hours, reading and writing and doing some preparatory homework.

We chose this spot to spend about two hours, reading and writing and doing some preparatory homework.

The locals were also enjoying the gorgeous weather. We saw lots of people on bicycles, as well as a group of guys playing cricket.

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We took the scenic route home, and had the chance to interact with some locals…

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Overall, it was a lovely, relaxing Sunday.

 

Blessings,

Taylor

Frolics in Bath

For our first Saturday in England, Regan and I went on an outing to the city of Bath. Located about an hour from Cheltenham, Bath was established by the Romans in the first century AD. The Romans were so enthralled by the natural hot springs in the area that they built canals from the springs to feed public bathing houses, as well as to feed a temple to the goddess Minerva. As time passed, people groups continued to marvel at the hot springs, and began claiming the sulfuric waters possessed healing powers. In 1687, the barren Queen Mary bathed in these waters and miraculously bore a male child the following year. Other members of royalty, like Queen Anne, highly valued the waters, thus boosting the town’s popularity.

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In the mid-1700’s, Bath gradually became the resort center of English society. People of means would come to the city and stay for “the season”, idling away their time while engaging in dances at the Pump Rooms and going visiting to all of their rich friends in town. The Pump Rooms were also a place where people could easily become acquainted with strangers – and sometimes fall in love. (Such is the fate of Catherine Morland, in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.) But, I digress – enough with the history lesson. (If you want more history, read this article. It’s fantastic.)

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Upon entering the city, Regan and I walked down to the city center, marveling at the gorgeous Romanesque architecture.  We were lucky enough to arrive before most other tourists, and thus were able to more fully enjoy the sights, as well as the shops.

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My main motivation for wanting to visit Bath was a recent interest in Jane Austen. This past semester, I had the opportunity to take Romanticsm with Professor Belliveau, in which we had an amazing time learning about Gothic and Romantic literature. (It was one of the best, most enjoyable classes I’ve ever taken in my life!) One of the first novels we read was Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which is partially set in Bath. Later in the semester, I was priviledged to write my final paper on the influences of Austen’s works.

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All of this to say – our second stop in Bath was the Jane Austen Centre. This site offers information on the now-legendary author’s life, and also has a small exhibition about life in Georgian Bath. Jane lived in Bath for a few years, around the time that her father died. Two of her works, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, are also set in Bath, and describe the frivolities of the upper classes during the early 1800′s.

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Regan and I enjoyed playing dress-up at the end of the tour ;)

After visiting the Jane Austen Centre, Regan and I continued browsing about town. The best part about our day was not having a plan. Though there were specific places we wanted to visit, we had no specific time schedule, allowing us to browse shops and explore side streets to our hearts’ content. At one point, Regan and I visited the most wonderful bookshop in the world. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful, and even gave us free tea! It was delightful :)

The little sugar jar even held sugar cubes! It was a fantastic surprise.

The little sugar jar even held sugar cubes! It was a fantastic surprise.

Late in the morning, we discovered a large courtyard in the middle of town, edged by quite a few tourists. In the center stood a group of men (and a few women), dressed in some rather funny clothing. These people – a troupe of Morris dancers  — were dancing around to the music of a small buttonbox accordion, waving blue and yellow handkerchiefs in the air. Soon, they began their next song. One of the men called out to the audience of tourists: “For this next dance, we can ask anyone we want from the audience. Young or old, tall or short…” At these words, Regan and I began hightailing it to the next street. We wanted to see the dance, but by no means did we want embarrassed. However, as we were about to cross, I stopped. Why not dance with them? After all, it wasn’t like I knew anyone in town, and plenty of other people were participating, too. And we’re in England, for goodness sakes! Why not embrace the traditions? Although Regan decided not to join me, she graciously offered to take some photos whilst I volunteered and joined the dance. It was so much fun, and definitely an experience to remember!

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For lunch, Regan and I grabbed some Cornish pasties (yes, they’re good enough to eat two days in a row!) and found a spot enjoy them near the river Avon. 

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After lunch, we took a tour of the interior of Bath Abbey. Gorgeous stained glass windows lined the walls, and carvings covered the 75-foot-high ceiling. The floor and lower portions of the walls were covered in graves and memorials of former parishoners and their families. It was touching to see the kind words people had written in memory of their deceased loved ones. Construction on the Abbey began in 1499; although the building has undergone some renovation (especially after bomb damage during World War II), the stones commemorating people from times long-past still remain.

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After visiting the Abbey, Regan and I trekked up to the Circus. The buildings lining this roundabout were constructed in the mid-1700′s in a then-revolutionary circular pattern. Each building houses several mansions, which serve as vacation homes for incredibly wealthy. A current famous (sometimes) resident of the area is Nicolas Cage, who owns a house (complete with a heated indoor swimming pool) on the Circus.

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Just down the road is the Royal Crescent. This architectural marvel holds only 30 houses, each of them taking up approximately 6,000 square feet. Like the circus, the mansions on the crescent have always been meant to be vacation homes, and have housed the wealthy for over 200 years. A super-informative guide informed us that one of these houses is currently on sale. The asking price? £4.6 million, or about $7.4 million.

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Fun fact: The designer of the Royal Crescent and the Circus was obsessed with Stonehenge, and built the two marvels so that they were perfectly in line with the ancient site. The three are so perfectly aligned, in fact, that on the summer solstice, the line of the sun follows the road between the Crescent and the Circus. In addition, the shapes of the two sets of buildings held significance: the Crescent was meant to represent the moon, and the Circus to represent the sun

As we continued our walk, Regan and I frequently stopped to explore other bookshops, side streets, and any interesting-looking locales. We kept a constant eye out for a tea room; though the Regency Tea Room at the Jane Austen Center was completely booked that day, we still wanted to have our first “true” English tea (with scones!). Soon, we came upon a church door advertising “cream tea for two” for a fairly cheap price. Taking our chances, we entered the building – only  to find ourselves in an absolutely gorgeous church with a small café at the back.

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We ordered our tea, sat down, and relished in our surroundings. Regan and I could hardly believe our luck. We kept saying to one another, “Can you believe this? We are in England. We are in a beautiful church. We are having cream tea!” We felt incredibly blessed. Soon, the server brought over our tea (with milk and sugar, of course), and then our scones with jam and clotted cream. It. Was. Amazing. The scones were sweet, with a few raisins and a biscuit-y texture. The clotted cream was like butter, except not quite as firm. It added a soft, fatty, delicious richness to the scone that made you close your eyes in revel in the flavor. Mmmm. It was so good. (It’s possible that our tiredness added to our deep appreciation for the sweets…but still! We greatly enjoyed it.)

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After tea, we continued to amble for the rest of the day, finally taking an evening train back to Cheltenham. Though rather tiring, our day was absolutely incredible, which I wouldn’t trade for the world. This entire trip to England is a huge blessing, and I am so thankful to have this opportunity!

 

Blessings,

 

Taylor

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