April 2018

Things You See at the Canon

You never know what you’ll see in an English pub.  Sometimes it’ll be Scottish dancing.  Other times it will be a herd of geeks and nerds undergoing some form of initiation.  This past week was the latter.

Some friends and I had quietly gone to the Canon, after the last class of the group had finished.  We had just found ourselves a nice table when suddenly we noticed all the seating around us being filled by strangely dressed people.  Bright colors.  Hats.  Even some forms of homemade costuming.  The room was absolutely packed.  What was going on?

It soon became apparent that this was some form of Pokemon club.  Freshmen were dressed as Pokemon while upperclassmen were trainers.  The Pokemon were assigned to trainers by random draw and then proceeded to “fight” other Pokemon in duels.  Don’t worry, the fights that we saw consisted of arm wrestling and dice rolling.

It was certainly not something we expected to encounter on our Thursday evening.  But you never know what you’ll see in England.

 

Bath Storytelling: Take Three

It was lovely to return to the Raven to hear more British stories.  This session was led by the original founder of the group, who told Maddie that she looked like a singer in an effort to get her to perform (alas, this did not work).  One of the night’s stories included special appearances by teddy bears.  Another was a piece of poetry recitation.  One man puzzled us with riddles where we could only glean information by asking yes or no questions.  Another was a 500 year old story that was apparently an inspiration for The Taming of the Shrew, told by a man who is always excellent at accents.  The session concluded with a more close-knit and conversational tone as people took turns sharing stories and opinions

Unfortunately this is the last piece of Bath Storytelling I’ll be able to attend this semester.  I’ve greatly enjoyed being reintroduced to the art of storytelling, to hear the funny anecdotes, insights, and tall tales.  It’s been a wonderful experience.

Swordfighting

In a time of essays, in the foreign land of England, American study abroad students are in natural need of a stress outlet.  What better way to relieve tension than to wack each other with swords?

The session was led by Rob, who took us through some basic moves in the style of Western medieval martial arts.  He led us through various stances before demonstrating a few strikes and counters.  We then had the opportunity to practice some on our own and even dual each other.  I could almost hear the “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” sequence from Mulan as we trained in the art of war.  Rob emphasized to us that this style of fighting was not a sport like fencing.  The moves were originally designed to kill, and he explained many of the strategies you could use in battle to ensure that you survived and your opponent did not.

Probably the highlight for me was getting to fight Rob.  Towards the end he was allowing people to dual him one on one, and Bea and Pippa volunteered me for the last fight.  Getting to swordfight was always a childhood dream of mine, so why not give it a go?  Fighting was like a dance, with added commentary going on behind me.

“Go for the knees!” Pippa advised with a yell.

I obliged.

Rob was by no means going purely easy on us, but he showed a lot of restraint in letting us wack at him.  He would attack us himself, but any blows he landed were taps.  We showed no such control… I wacked his hands and neck.  After a pause we resumed, and suddenly I was on the defensive, barely able to deflect his strikes.  One of his stances reminded me of the famous crane from Karate Kid.  Ah crap, I was done for.  But I managed to somewhat hold my own. For his last attack, he spun his sword around to hit me on the opposite side, but not before I hit his unexposed ribs.  It was a fun bit of wish fulfillment, even more so while wearing my “got xena?” t-shirt.

The atmosphere was fitting as we packed up our things to leave.  We saw birds in the distance.  Ravens.  No doubt drawn to death someone speculated.  Bea broke our ominous ponderings.  She pointed exasperatingly at their white forms.

“You guys, those are seagulls!”

Well, we may not have attracted ravens to our practice, but we ourselves had a blast!

 

Mary Stuart

I knew the general outline of the story of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart.  But this play brought the volatile historic situation to life.  There was so much tension in this real political chess game, any move threatening both lives and countries.  It was almost like a Renaissance version of the Cuban missile crisis, with each decision or lack thereof fraught with danger.

The show started with a bang as a coin flip literally determined which of the two lead actresses would play the imprisoned Mary Stuart.  As the verdict was reached, the rest of the cast bowed to the night’s Elizabeth I.  The floor began to rotate as loud ominous music ripped through the theatre, and immediately the actress who played Mary Stuart had her coat stripped from her as she was roughly shuffled off stage to begin her imprisonment.

The show did an amazing job of using mirroring and parallels to continue emphasizing the similarities between these two queens, and reinforcing the idea that at a flip of a coin their positions could be reversed. The costuming was largely modern day in terms of style until the final moments of Mary Stuart, when Elizabeth I was dressed in full period regalia, emphasizing the final contrast between these two women as they approached their respective fates.  It was nearly Shakespearean in terms of the drama, soliloquies, and themes.  You could fittingly insert, “Two households, both alike in dignity…”

It was especially interesting to watch this play as a Catholic.  Much of the tension had religious undercurrents, and it lent an interesting perspective to the humanitarian aspect of freedom of religion.  Basic aspects of religious life, such as Mary Stuart being able to take communion in her last moments, and being denied burial on consecrated ground, meant more to viewers who understand the weight of those rituals.

Overall this was a great piece of English theatre, filled with history, drama, and great acting.

The Dorset Hike

ASE took us on an arranged trip to Dorset for some hiking and a visit to a local castle.  We began by trekking towards the path, surrounded by greenery, sheep, and mist.  We hung back with Andrew the internship coordinator, with whom we had a lively discussion about moles (as we passed many of their hills along the way).  We talked about what it would be like to be a mole, and how could we warn the moles that they were tunneling towards the cliffs?  We ultimately settled on posting signage with mole braille.

But our group moved out of the back once we heard that we were already running behind schedule, and could be late for lunch.  Bea took charge and began to set the pace for the group.  She and Pippa even started playing music, which greatly enhanced the hiking experience.  It’s quite something to hike along the English coast listening to Footloose.  After passing some cows and climbing up a huge hill, we reached an area where the mist had cleared, allowing us to see some breathtaking views.

But eventually we encountered a huge staircase that can’t be properly conveyed in pictures.  It took quite a bit of motivating music to get up the huge height, including  a replay of Footloose and I Need a Hero.  The image below does the best job of describing the distance we needed to travel, and this is probably halfway up.  The small figure in the distance is Maddie as she’s approaching the top of the giant staircase.

Our subsequent trekking involved going through mud that approached the level we hit on our famed hike to Bristol.

Now Bea had chosen the proper footwear for such a muddy excursion, choosing her wellies that she bought when we first arrived in England.  She was able to slosh right through the worst of the terrain.  And once she changed into her clean trainers on the bus (she was one of the few to bring a change of shoes), in the words of Maddie, “You look like a new person.”

Our hike eventually ended back in town, where we got soft drinks and pasties.  Bea brought supplemental snackage that amusingly seemed to be sorted by color, as her carrots and Doritos where carried together in one plastic bag.  We then sat around on stone tables outside, discussing the fact that English lemonade is basically Sprite, and our various opinions on terminology for restrooms vs bathrooms vs toilets vs the loo.

We ended our day with a visit to Corfe Castle, a fascinating set of ruins.  Lopsided chunks lie all over the place due to the fact that the castle had been blown up during the English Civil War.

Maddie and friends had a tendency to perch on every available high horizontal surface.

Overall the hike was a beautiful view of the English coast.  And while the weather was not ideal, it certainly added to an authentic English experience.  We may have seen a great deal of mist, but it was English sea mist.

Jane Austen Dancing: Take Four

After two weeks off for Easter, it was nice to get back into Jane Austen dancing.  It’s always something to look forward to after a long day’s work.  I really feel like we’re getting the rhythm of it.  There are all sorts of patterns created by the movements, and you can start putting the pieces together.  One couple switching places usually means the other pair will follow suit by the end of the section.  The beats and counts are what allow you to keep in time, and focusing on the music is very helpful in this regard.  I still struggle with the faster steps.  There’s a sort of one two pattern of skipping that I haven’t quite mastered (hence why I tend to look like I’m galloping).

This week we had a fair amount of ASE students, so the callers seemed to use easier songs with slower movements.  Alas, no sea shanties or stomping this week.  But I’m hoping in the coming weeks as we improve we’ll be able to master the more difficult and faster paced numbers.  We’ve already started to recognize songs from previous weeks, and we’ve nearly memorized The Duke of Kent’s Waltz!

Jane Austen dancing is definitely a highlight of each week, and I’m so glad we’re getting a chance to experience it.

Great People and Small Moments

I haven’t mentioned the people I met on this tour too much because they deserve a post of their own.  Coming on this bus tour accompanied by two friends, I anticipated that we would largely stay in our own little group, with the bus simply taking us from place to place where we could independently see the sights with occasional guided tours.  I didn’t realize how quickly we would bond with fellow travelers.  We were experiencing and living all of these intense experiences with new people, which facilitated fast bonding with people from all over the globe.  We determined that people with ties to every continent except Antarctica were represented on this tour.

So who were some of these amazing people that we met?  Becky and Jess were Australian, and we spent a great deal of time analyzing our own accents and slang differences.  Perhaps the favorite discovery of us Americans was that McDonald’s is known as “Mackers” in Australia (or more accurately, “Maccas”).  We did all sorts activities together, from the Parisian dinner to the San Sebastian cable car views.  ultimately we ended up traveling to Europe to learn that we need to visit Australia and New Zealand!

Jess was also a really great photographer.  I’m pretty sure it was her who got this amazing shot of me, which is now one of my favorites.

We also bonded very quickly with Renee, who was the only person we ever incorporated into our little American rooming group.  She was from Quebec and English was her second language.  Her fluency was inspiring, and she was so helpful whenever we struggled in France.  We had all sorts of discussions about cultural differences, including an analysis of our different education systems.  I would never have anticipated we would be staying up till 2am with someone we had known for less than a week having in-depth discussions about life, perspectives, and identity.

Our tour guide Anne-Elyse was fantastic.  She was so knowledgeable and helpful during our trip, and while she may have had a slightly different impression of what a student budget is, she was a huge part of what allowed our trip to run smoothly.

We had so many smaller moments during our trip that our worth mentioning.

For instance, Keiren, a Canadian (I swear the stereotype of Canadians being nice really does hold true) caught this fantastic shot of us leaping into the air, really capturing the amount of fun that we had at the dunes.

The spontaneous yoga session was also amazing.  What better backdrop than the ocean?

Becca also got a great shot of me racing down the dune.  I’m fairly certain somebody’s picture is ruined by a little grey blur of me sprinting past.

Yoga/stretching on beaches was a recurring theme of our time in Europe.  Maddie and Becca kept saying I was a great photographer, but honestly the two of them are just naturally photogenic.

Traveling together was naturally filled with all sorts of funny little moments.  Maddie doesn’t do well with sitting in one spot for extended periods of time.  Hence the following photo on one of our last legs of bus traveling.  In the words of Maddie “That’s what best friends are for; to tell you you look like a model when you look like an egg.”

Here we were goofing off after a ridiculously long walk.

Poor Maddie had been operating on an empty stomach, as we really struggled to find gluten free food.  We had found one bakery that advertised gluten free options, but the only option was gluten free loaves of bread, and Maddie informed us that she would have to go for days without food before she’d walk down the street gnawing on a loaf of bread.  Thus walking 25,000+ steps hungry with a sun induced headache was not ideal…  Krishna (a fellow American) on the end there was a good sport, who stuck with us on this extended journey.  By the end we were joking that our group represented the characters of Inside Out.  Renee was Joy, Becca and I were jointly Fear, Maddie was Disgust, and Krishna was Sadness.  But together we got some of the best pictures of the trip.

We also made new discoveries about each other.  Now I’ve known Maddie for a long time.  But I don’t think I quite understood her love of rocks until we were in Barcelona and I personally witnessed her foraging for them along the shore.

Her bag was so stuffed with her favorites that it was a miracle she was allowed to leave the country!  I tried to assist with picking out specimens, but I quickly learned that I don’t have the best taste in rocks, as apparently I had a tendency to keep picking ones that looked like noses.

I really couldn’t have asked for better travel companions than Maddie and Becca.  We spent much of our last two days reflecting on our many travels and new friends as we enjoyed our time in Barcelona.  Together our little trio of Americans saw and did so much, meeting incredible people along the way that I hope we continue to stay in contact with for a long time.

Visiting Spain

It was probably only forty-five minutes from our last French stop to our first city in Spain, San Sebastian.  Yet in crossing the border it seemed like we had entered a whole other climate.  The sun beat down on us, and we all began shedding layers as we exited the bus.  At our hostel we shared our first Spanish communal dinner, where we mistook the pasta appetizer as the main course, only to be surprised as a whole other plate of chicken was placed in front of us.

Unfortunately, my time in San Sebastian began with a bit of a bang.  I went to use the bathroom, and upon trying to exit the stall, realized I couldn’t open the door.  I tried pushing, pulling, sliding, but nothing was working.  It was funny at first, until I realized how many layers there were between me and the outside world.  See, the stall was one room, in another room, in a glass hall that connected to the lobby.  I realized if the exterior door had automatically locked as well, it might be nearly impossible for someone to hear me.  Without my phone to call for help, I began to yell and pound on the walls and door.  Do I attempt to kick down the door?  If I succeed, am I responsible for the cost of repairing the door?  Am I even strong enough to do that?  What happens if I’m trapped for an extended period of time?  Do I live off of toilet water?  Luckily none of these ponderings came to fruition, as our bus driver Barry heard my yelling and banging and freed me after about ten minutes.  But our tour guide confirmed some of my fears.  She had literally been on the other side of the wall in the lobby and had not heard me at all.  Thank goodness for Barry, but unfortunately I think from then on I was known to him as the girl who got locked in bathroom.

Luckily after this unfortunate incident we continued our exploration of San Sebastian, including checking out the nightlife, which featured absolutely stunning views by the water.

This continued the next day when a group of us took a cable car up to one of the nearby high points where you could see the whole city laid out below you.  The area appeared to feature an amusement park, so a few people tried out a small roller coaster and flume ride (which included a strange interior portion with Disney characters).

We then grabbed lunch where I had a chance to try my first croquette.  They’re similar to tater tots but with the size of a hush puppy, filled with warm mashed potato and small pieces of meat.

We then spent a fair amount of time relaxing at the beach.  While the water was too cold to swim in, its picturesque beauty was breathtaking.  We could just sit in the sand and contemplate the horizon.  It was nice to slow down and take a breather from our travels.  San Sebastian was easily the most beautiful place we visited during our tour.

After some peaceful relaxation and some goofing off where Becca and Maddie did some fun stretches, we did some more exploring around the beach.  Probably the most interesting thing we found were some stairs to nowhere, that literally just dumped you into the sea.  Were they more useful during low tide?  Or had the landscape changed since they were made?

After returning to our hostel the bus took us to a place where we could find tapas characteristic of the area, known as pintxos.  These resemble appetizers, and you can sample a few different types to get a feel for the cuisine in the area.  Unfortunately portion sizes are much smaller in Spanish restaurants, and pintxos are rather expensive.  However, we did find some relatively inexpensive gelato, which we ate while viewing a sunset over the water so breathtaking that it looked like it was taken straight from a painting.

The next day we continued our travels by bus, where even the views from the window were majestic.

We stopped by a town that I believe was called Zaragoza, which featured religious buildings with amazing architecture, clearly influenced by the historic Moors.  As we continued our journey, we saw stunning views even from rest stops.  We had Anne-Elyse and Barry’s meticulous planning to thank for this.  They worked incredibly hard to improve all aspects of our experience, including travel that easily could have been boring, but instead gave us a feel for the countryside.

Upon reaching Barcelona we took another bus tour around the city to give us a taste of the sights and our options for activities the following day.  We concluded this with a stop outside la Sagrada Familia, an unfinished church that has been in construction for over one hundred years.  The architecture is something else.  I described it as an ugly Christmas sweater personified.  While this may seem harsh, those that actually visited the interior of the church said that it was absolutely incredible, and it sounds like it’s the work of a genius.  The idea of the place is also fascinating, as the construction means each viewing is different.

In the evening we were taken to a flamenco dance and dinner.  The food was amazing, as numerous plates of tapas and other dishes were placed before us.  Meat, kabobs, pane con tomate, sangria, and more.  One dish in particular apparently consisted of some form of eggplant, and I honestly never knew that eggplant could taste so good.  Once again we mistook the feast of appetizers for the main course, and I could barely manage to even taste my beef stew and rice when it was presented to me.

Then the actual show began.  An expert guitar player was accompanied by two singers who provided the live music for the dancing.  There was such intensity and passion in the dances, with footwork that reminded me of Irish dancing and hand clapping and movements that reminded me of step teams.  This was complimented by the serving of crema catalona, which is best described as a more liquid version of creme brulee.

We began our exploration of Barcelona the next day escorted by Anne-Elyse, who took us by a rather crowded metro to a few of the sights before dropping us off at La Boqueria, a huge historic market with fruits, meats, and fish of every variety.  The members of our little group each grabbed a smoothie, before making our way to Park Guelle, a beautiful area with great views of the city.  Unfortunately on the way up we were told that tickets for the day had already been sold out.  Having hiked a fair distance we were determined to finish our quest to at least get pictures out front.  Much to our surprise, a fair portion of the park was free, and it seemed that only the sculpture section (where it looked like construction was going on anyway) required payment.  We meandered through surrounded by flowers of all different shapes and colors, palm trees, and wonderful views.  We saw all sorts of fascinating sights, from a band playing a cover of Viva La Vida, to a headless street performer seemingly sitting on nothing.

A few of us then continued on to a cable car up to heights at the outskirts of the city where you could see all the buildings laid out below you and the Mediterranean in the distance.  We could then walk down while taking in the beauty around us.  We’ve become professionals at finding ways to hike in cities.

We passed by an Olympic stadium from the 90s, now essentially a monument for tourism.

We then made our way to the font magic, a fountain specifically created for the international exhibition, finding churros and drinking chocolate along the way, which we ate while giving our legs a break from the huge amount of walking we had completed (this was another 25,000+ step day for us).

As we took the metro performer back to our hostel, we were greeted by street performers who began playing music for the underground travelers.

This was our last night with our Contiki tour group, which we ended with karaoke and friends.

After saying our goodbyes the next morning, we headed to the airbnb that Becca, myself, and Maddie had booked for the night.  The location was ideal, as it was much closer to the markets and sea than our previous hostel had been.  We were able to spend a fair amount of time on La Rambla, the main shopping street.  From there we were able to more thoroughly explore La Boqueria.  It was so big that we got overwhelmed before reaching the end of it, but we exited with spectacular chocolate banana coconut smoothies.

After grabbing lunch we made our way to the beach, making a way along a pathway where either side featured a row of vendors selling all sorts of wares.  The salesmanship continued at the beach, where a lady immediately offered me a massage, giving my shoulders a short demonstration.  It was quite surprising, but I must admit she was good and I was half tempted.

We made our way to the shore, which was filled with the most diverse assortment of rocks, already smoothly polished from the sea.

After this we simply took a seat in the sand.  Here we were, gazing at the Mediterranean Sea.  It was hard to believe.

We took a stroll along the shore, where we discovered that we may have inadvertently been on a nude beach, as Becca and Maddie apparently saw a naked man.  Whoops.  We eventually headed back to town, and I picked up some drinking chocolate along the way.

For dinner we found an incredible deal for three tapas and paella.  This was a true communal meal.  Our paella was served in one giant dish that we all took portions from, we split our pina colada, and we even traded some of our tapas.  From there we went back to the font magic in the hopes of seeing the famous light show.  Unfortunately we had traveled in vain, as it we seemed to have missed it.  However, it was nice to sit perched on a wall and just chat.

For our last day we slept in till around 9:30 (during the bus tour we had been accustomed to waking up in the 6 or 7 oclock hour) before heading to the fairy cafe recommended to us by Anne-Elyse.  The interior resembled a forest filled with trees with faces, and occasional “thunderstorms” would roll through, complete with lightning.

From there we made our way to the remains of some ancient Roman columns (they really got around in their time) before making it back La Boqueria for two more smoothies.  They were so rich and flavorful, and were probably the best smoothies I’ve ever had.  Anything with coconut was absolutely amazing.

We then began our trip back to the U.K.  We had allotted ourselves three and a half hours to get to our plane, but the metro ate up much more time than we had anticipated.  This, coupled with an unbearably slow boarding pass line made for a stressful race against time (which was not a race at all because we were making such slow progress).  Almost thankfully, our plane was delayed by French air strikes.  But this posed another problem, as we had ordered bus tickets in advance to get us back from our UK airport to Bath.  Luckily we had built in over an hour buffer to account for travel delays such as this.  Even so it was tight, and we arrived at the airport with only 20 minutes to spare, and still had to have our non-EU passports checked.  Thankfully we encountered very nice border control officers who allowed us to proceed to the front of the line in order to catch our bus back home.

I didn’t know what to expect with Spain.  As someone who had taken French, I knew very little about the culture, language, or landscape.  But the experience was incredible.  Compared to England, the weather was practically balmy.  Aspects of our trip resembled a beach vacation, yet we were only in March/April.  The food was so delicious (I am now a huge fan of croquettes), and I loved the communal approach to meals.  The experience of being in a situation where I didn’t speak any of the native language was also very informing.  We largely relied on Maddie’s high school and college Spanish classes to navigate us through the country.  I ultimately came back to the U.K. refreshed with a new perspective on travel and culture.

Visiting France

Spring Break during study abroad is the ultimate opportunity to travel.  Maddie and I had decided that this would be our one big trip to Europe, with a week to effectively explore the mainland.  She, myself, and Becca had booked a Contiki bus tour to France and Spain in order to make logistics easier.  With travel and accommodations (and some meals) taken care of for us, we could focus on enjoying the sights.  After finagling joining the tour quite early in the morning on Friday, we began our bus ride to the ferry that would take us across the English Channel, giving us a view of the cliffs of Dover along the way.  Unfortunately with the cloudiness and industrial background, they were a bit underwhelming.

This sense continued in France for a bit.  We were in another country, but the weather and climate seemed very similar to England.  This all changed upon entering Paris, where our fortunes turned as we were greeted by rainbow.  After a quick bus tour that showed us the landmark highlights, followed by our first french dinner, we took a trip to view the Eiffel Tower at night.  This icon is already incredible during the day, but lit up it is even more majestic.

The next morning we had a lovely breakfast, featuring archetypal croissants.  Our first major excursion was to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which granted beautiful panoramic views of the entire city.  We went early enough that you could still see the faint tints of pink from the morning sunrise on the horizon.

We then walked down the Champs d’Elysees, a sumptuous road featuring all sorts of high end designers and shops.  It’s so fancy that it even forced McDonalds to conform, as its trademark golden arches had to be converted to white in order to have a store on the street.  One set of toilets here were two euros, and featured an attendant who escorted you to your stall, with a store selling toilet paper in every color you could imagine.  This extravagance was complimented by the end of the street, where just past an Egyptian obelisk lies the Louvre.

We then walked in the direction of Notre Dame.  After seeing the daunting line to enter, we decided to take a side detour to get some crepes.  Once satiated we returned to the cathedral.  The interior was dark, gothic, and somber.  A statue of Joan of Arc in particular caught my eye.  The design of the building created this sense of holiness and awe that is difficult to convey.

We ended our formal Paris exploration with a trip to the Shakespeare Company Bookstore, an atmospheric place with a deep literary history.  After some trouble with the metro (only one ticket machine was functional) we opted to walk back to our hostel.  We were lead by Renee, a delightfully positive member of our tour group from Quebec.  You would think there are no hiking opportunities in Paris, but you’d be wrong.  You can hike along the river Seine to then find a macaron shop on a street less traveled by.  Then you can hike through the parks along the outskirts of Paris.  It was a fun time, and we accumulated over 30,000 steps in the process.

Once we returned to the hostel we went to a fancy Parisian dinner.  My courses included french onion soup and duck l’orange, followed by dessert, all of which was complimented by red wine, white wine, and champagne.  We even tried escargot (surprisingly similar to shrimp/mushrooms in texture, with a fair amount of garlic sauce).  The experience was incredible, but this was just a precursor to seeing a cabaret show at the Moulin Rouge.  Here we saw sensational and exquisite dance numbers punctuated by incredible acts of acrobatics, all accompanied by champagne.  It was a night to remember.

The next day was a travel day, and our tour guide Anne-Elyse informed us that she had selected the song Greenlight as our anthem.  Our main hashtags for the tripwere the contiki staple #noregrets (the motto for the company) and #where’samanda? (Because one girl had simply not shown up for the tour and had not contacted the tour office, standing to lose thousands of dollars.  What had happened to her?  No one knew).  The bus ride itself was surprisingly pleasant.  Music was usually played, along with occasional movies, and we stopped often for refreshments and bathrooms.  Our bus driver even nicknamed myself, Maddie, and Becca as the “small luggage brigade” (a fitting moniker considering I was literally living out of my backpack).

But on this bus ride Anne-Elyse informed us that some extraordinary circumstances had occurred.  We had been double booked with another Contiki tour at our next destination, and thus had nowhere to sleep.  The tour had been desperately trying to find a solution, but with Easter weekend, the hostels and hotels in town were booked up.  The last minute arrangements ended up being a plot of land for camping (even though the campground wasn’t open yet).  We would be divvying up tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and constructing our tents.  We would be sleeping two to a tent, so we would be keeping our same roommate assignments.  A few of the boys were ecstatic, but many of the rest of us were not exactly pleased at the prospect of having to camp outside with no heating or wifi or showers or toilets on Easter.

But all of our worries were laid to rest when Anne-Elyse informed us that there would be no camping.  Easter had overshadowed the fact that the day was April 1st, and this was simply an elaborate April Fool’s joke.  And indeed, we did in fact have perfectly fine accommodations in Bordeaux.

Bordeaux was a beautiful city, with incredible architecture and an interesting tram system for transportation.  But the highlight was something called the mirror d’eau, a reflecting pool imbetween impressive buildings and the water.  It would occasionally create mist in dramatic fashion, and at night you could see the lights mirrored on its surface.

Dinner for me consisted of a sandwich ordered from a local shop accompanied by an eclair.  We ended the day with two new friends we made from Australia, Becky and Jess.  By contributing three euros each we were able to buy two bottles of the Bordeaux wine in red and white.  After some finagling to try and find a corkscrew, we stayed in our Australian friends’ room to play cards and a rousing game of heads up (which attracted other members of our Contiki tour group).

While Bordeaux was gorgeous, we only spent one day there, and early the next morning we were on our way to Spain.  But before crossing the border, we stopped at the Dune of Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe.  Upon arriving at the base of the dune, you could choose to take the stairs or a simple footpath.  Maddie turned to me, saying, “Let’s go!” before proceeding to literally run up the sand dune.  I was obliged to follow, and it was honestly the most fun I’ve had in a long while.  We were like kids in a sand box, taking numerous fun pictures, and Maddie even did some spontaneous yoga.  We ended our hour of exploration by sprinting down the sand dune.  It was the kind of experience that was unique to going on this tour.  I never would have thought to look for sand dunes in France, and yet it was one of the absolute highlights of the tour.

Our last pit stop before entering Spain was Saint-Jean-de-Luz, which featured a waterfront.  We grabbed some lunch and sat by the beach to enjoy the view before going on a quest for something sweet.  I completed my sequence of french desserts with a humongous apricot filled beignet, and we ended our time with a stroll around the town.

Our time in France was amazing.  We saw many aspects of French culture, from food to architecture to music.  I even had the chance to practice some of my rusty language skills.  While I didn’t have as much vocabulary as I would have liked, I knew enough to get by with french menus, read signs, and attempt the proper french pronunciation of words.  We were also able to see a diverse section of France, from the countryside, to cities, to the french coast.  Incroyable.

Hidden Sights of Bath

We had a grand opportunity to go with Andrew the internship coordinator, who led us on a tour of the hidden parts of Bath.  We saw all sorts of pieces of Bath’s history, including the city’s old medieval wall.  We got some great quotes, such as, “Oh, we’re being invaded!”  We also heard terrible yet wonderful jokes about how the Smithonian was literally conceived in Bath.  At one point I was literally serenaded about the grand old Duke of York by Andrew and Bea.

But the highlight of the trip for me was when Andrew showed us a water sculpture and asked where we might have seen another sculpture by the same artist?  The sculpture was labeled 2009, so it was a recent artist, who seemed to like incorporating water into his work.  That immediately reminded me of the holy water structure at Salisbury Cathedral, which I voiced aloud.  Andrew tossed his gloves to me in delight, and announced that he’d by me a drink at the Star Tavern at the end of the tour.  And he did!  I was able to try a great new cider.

The tour was a wonderful and fun look at some of the quirkier and less well known facts of Bath.  Andrew’s enthusiasm was contagious, and I don’t think there was anyone who wasn’t smiling during his tour.