February 2018

My Fair Lady

Last Tuesday evening I visited the Theatre Royal to see a showing of My Fair Lady.  I grew up watching the 1964 film with Audrey Hepburn, so I was excited to experience a stage production.

The night started off strong when we discovered we had been upgraded to Dress Circle seating, giving us a great view of the stage.  The numbers with Alfred P. Doolittle were hilarious and fun, and the actress cast as Eliza was amazing, with an absolutely wonderful singing voice.  I knew it would be hard to see someone other than Audrey Hepburn as Eliza, but she did a fantastic job embodying the character.  The costuming was also great, especially for the Ascot scene, which featured elaborate black and white designs.

Overall, it was a lovely introduction to British theatre, and I hope to attend more productions soon.

Bath Storytelling

Last Monday I had the opportunity to visit the Bath Storytelling Circle, hosted at The Raven.  We were able to relax with a drink and just listen to the most classic form of entertainment.  One of my former professors used to say that stories are how we as humans connect to each other, so it was wonderful to see people practice this art.  People would take turns telling stories or singing songs, ranging from the hilarious to the emotional.  Hearing these tales in person was amazing, as you not only get to hear the tone and intonation of the speaker, but also see all of the hand gestures and physical embellishments.  Have you really experienced storytelling if you haven’t seen an older British woman reenact the epic journey to use the toilet in a tiny pub?  Nothing compares.

Hiking to Bristol(ish)

My housemates and I decided that we would spend our Saturday on a hike to Bristol along the canal path.  There are beautiful views along the water, and several smaller towns where we could stop along the way.  The first section of our hike began along paved sections near Bath where bikers often casually glided past us.  Our first major adventure came along the canal, where we saw a swan charge a group of kayakers (who did survive the encounter unscathed).  My housemate Bea captured the powerful moment on camera.

We saw many gorgeous views of the English countryside.  Everything is so lush and green, and looks beautifully picturesque in the sunlight.

Bea and I even fashioned makeshift walking sticks to further our travels!  Though this was not quite as fashionable when we wandered into some more suburban areas.

Our journey took a turn for the worse when we entered farmland.  In one section, the path had essentially dissolved, but there was no way around it due to high bushes on either side.  We were forced to traverse the mud.

Since our shoes were rather worse for wear, Bea attempted to wash hers off while on a nearby floating dock.  I was very concerned that she might unknowingly float away on the contraption.

Alas, we did not make it Bristol proper.  We aborted our mission at Keynsham when we discovered signage that suggested that Bristol was still 8 miles away.  So instead we stopped for food at a pub before making our way to a station to grab a train back to Bath.  We calculated that we had walked about 10 miles, but Google Maps suggested that Keynsham was only 6 miles from Bath.  How did this happen?  We now believe that our overconfident estimates were probably due to Google assuming that we would naturally take the shortest routes along highways, rather than the more scenic and practical hiking paths.  On the bright side, we technically made it to Bristol, as Keynsham lies in the county of Bristol!  Our shoes were a little worse for wear, but it was nothing a good wash didn’t fix.

The day was a great success.  We saw some absolutely breathtaking views along our journey, plus we had a great opportunity for some quality housemate bonding, and tales that will last a lifetime.

Scottish Dancing in a Local Pub

The pub scene in Bath is very much my kind of evening out.  You can casually try different drinks, sample good food, and chat with your friends.  Prices help keep you in moderation, and you can focus on enjoying the laid back atmosphere.  There are also some excellent deals to take advantage of.  This past week, the Canon offered pancakes for 25p each (in connection with International Pancake Day), which we decided to give it a try.

In addition to some pancakes, we decided to sample a tray 3 sharer, which was filled with enough junk food to satiate my housemates and I.  It was fairly reasonably priced too, with each of us essentially chipping in four pounds.  While nothing on the tray particularly stood out, everything was decent, especially with the price in mind.

 

While eating our food and bantering back and forth, we noticed a few men dressed in kilts.  Over the course of the hour, more and more began to trickle in.  We eventually learned that a dance or lesson would begin soon, and sure enough, exciting Scottish music began shortly thereafter, culminating in a grand entrance by a bagpipe.

The great thing about being based in Bath for such a long period of time is being able to stumble upon these small local experiences that are so characteristically British, and I look forward to continuing to do so in the future.

The Roman Baths

ASE offered an amazing deal to visit the Roman Baths (usually around 16 pounds) for only 5 pounds on Monday afternoon.

We were given an audio tour which provided a wealth of supplemental information about the site and its history.  The actual water of the baths is rather stagnant and green now (and definitely not a place to bathe anymore) but beautiful in the evening lighting.  In addition to the main waters on display, there was a very thorough and detailed museum that was fascinating as well.  I was particularly interested in learning about the “curses” recovered from the site, where visitors would wish misfortune upon those who had wronged them.  These people were intense.

The design and stability demonstrated throughout our visit was also remarkable.  It’s amazing to think how portions of these structures have survived for thousands of years.

The visit was also an opportunity to reflect on the numerous people who lived and died at this location.  Various graves and relics from the site inhabitants were present.  We often have a tendency to forget the emotion and humanity of the past.  The visit was in some ways a humble reminder of our connection to history, and I’m glad I had the chance to experience it.

Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Lacock

As a sort of conclusion to our orientation week, we had an ASE trip to several different historic locations on Sunday.  The first (and oldest) was Stonehenge.  While extremely cold, there was enough morning lighting for some beautiful pictures.  It’s absolutely incredible to think that thousands of years ago, humans were able to use ingenuity and manpower to create these structures.  Apparently the reigning theory regarding the purpose of Stonehenge is that it was a place focused on death and the afterlife (hence the burials in the area) and the winter solstice, while the nearby wooden structures were focused on life and the summer solstice.

We next visited Salisbury for a historic tour with Andrew (who has an incredible array of history knowledge while also being highly entertaining).  Salisbury Cathedral was amazingly impressive.

The architecture is stunning, and we were told some of the interesting stories about some of the entombed inhabitants.  Apparently Queen Elizabeth I did not appreciate people marrying without her permission.  And never go to a dinner party hosted by someone who wants to marry your wife.  Bad plan.  You’ll end up with a mummified arsenic-tinted rat in your skull hundreds of years later.

From the Cathedral we were able to see the most well preserved copy of the Magna Carta.  While reading a modern English translation of the document, it was apparent that it was a product of its times.  In addition to revolutionary assurances of personal freedoms, the document also laid out that you cannot be forced to build a bridge across your river, and had many passages concerning the particular barons responsible for the document.  After this, we were able to wander around the town, though unfortunately this wasn’t particularly comfortable because of the cold.  At one point I went to Iceland (a frozen goods store) to warm up!

We ended our trip in Lacock, a beautiful historic village, often used as a filming location.  Apparently the scenes for Godric’s Hollow were shot here for the Harry Potter movies!

Finally, we went to dinner at The George Inn.  My dinner consisted of roast chicken and sticky toffee pudding (which interestingly reminded me more of a caramel brownie).  All in all, it was a full day of exploring some of the history of England.

ASE Orientation Week

It is finally time to start my spring semester with the Advanced Studies in England (ASE) programme.  I was very lucky in that I could coordinate my travel plans with my friend Maddie, so we could navigate the airports together.  Traveling was a little bit like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, sans the terrible mishaps.  Flying with British Airlines was a nice experience.  Plenty of refreshments and great entertainment options for the flight.  Going through immigration was easy enough; and the official who stamped my visa even asked about my “Got Xena?” shirt.  From there we were able to grab a bus to Reading, followed by a train (with some finagling) to Bath.  We later learned that there were some much cheaper travel options from the airport to Bath, but at least we were able to try a variety of transportation.

I was immediately struck by just how Englandy England actually is.  I feel like there are preconceptions about the architecture and landscape that I were expecting to be disproved, but honestly everything fulfilled my expectations, even to excess.  Many of the cities have older architecture, everyone has amazing accents, and public transportation is everywhere.  The one thing in particular that surprised me is just how green the English countryside is.  It’s absolutely lovely.

Once in Bath, I arrived at our townhouse.  Everything is built up, so my room is on the third floor, up a rather small staircase.

We have nice wooden floors, a kitchen/laundry room, a lovely living room with a fireplace, couch, tv, and other furnishings.  My room is rather small (the bed in particular is tiny) but still nice enough.  It’s been good meeting my roommate and housemates; we’re a pretty solid group.  We helped keep each other up watching the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie to help combat jet lag and adjust to the new timezone.

The next few days involved a lot of information.  We learned a little bit more about the history of our program and some statistics regarding our group.  Interestingly, there’s about a 1:5 ratio of male to female students, which is apparently typical of a European based programme.    We also went on various tours of the programme buildings and the Bath shopping areas.  Everybody involved in the administration seems really passionate about the the upcoming semester, which is great.

The week also involved various diagnostic papers; a sort of pre-assessment so our professors have a writing sample to gauge our level of knowledge/skill before the course starts, and so we get to preview their grading style.  The papers were a bit of a throwback to AP English and History essays from high school.

We had the opportunity to visit Bath Abbey and get a sort of highlight tour, learning a bit about the history of the church from a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide.

I was also able to meet the company I’ll be interning with and get situated for next week when I start.  I really think this will be a great way to build my digital media skill set.  The internship coordinator is a really wonderful gentleman, who is quite passionate about supporting local businesses, and seems to have a vast wealth of historical and artistic knowledge.

On Friday we visited Bath Spa University, where we can potentially join their clubs/sports.  The campus was absolutely gorgeous.  Two lakes, swans, beautiful trees, gold tipped gates, and land owned by Prince Charles.

We also had a welcome reception that evening in the Victoria Art Gallery.  Here we were able to meet and greet our tutors over wine and art.

The major orientation events concluded on Saturday with a tour of the markets, where numerous vendors sold all sorts of items, from produce to soaps to movies.

It’s been interesting getting set up here.  My housemates and I have a nice system where we have sections of communal food that anyone can use, and sections of our own personal food.  I’m also very lucky in that a few of my housemates like to cook, which makes dinner much easier (and probably much more palatable).  We’ve been exploring many of the cheaper local grocery stores.  Food is fairly cheap here, but food expires fast.  A lot of the fruit have labels indicating that they expire in just a few days.  But so far this has been an indicator of freshness, and I’ve been pretty impressed with everything I’ve had so far.  The cheese is absolutely delicious.  I’ve been having cheese almost daily, and it’s wonderful.  I greatly amused my housemates with my lack of familiarity with white cheddar (I thought orange was the default).

I think the programme itself does a really wonderful job of getting us adjusted.  It seems to me that the different residences mesh fairly well together personality-wise, which gives everyone a nice base to start from.  Then the various activities help us get to know each other and make new friends.  And they greatly encourage us to be involved in the community of Bath.  All of which has made the adjustment to a new place a much easier one.

All in all, I look forward to starting my classes and internship, meeting new people, and continuing to travel and explore new places!