Monday, 16 August 2010

A Universe Within a University

Among the many excursions our class has taken over the course of our London stay, I believe it's safe to say that Oxford University is the unanimous favorite. Our class is a (self-proclaimed) group of history buffs, literary nerds, Harry Potter fanatics, and medieval groupies; thus Oxford is an academic Mecca for each of us alike.

During our day, we made the typical ‘Oxford stops’; the Eagle and Child where the Inklings met, Blackwell’s bookstore, the University shops, the Natural History Museum, etc. It was chilling to imagine how many revolutionary minds have walked the same streets, eaten lunch at the same places, and studied on the same campus.

But what set our trip apart from perhaps anyone else’s who visited Oxford that day, is that in our company was our very own Oxford alum! While Dr. Hornbeck, having received his PhD from Oxford, was able to share with us the traditions and ways of Oxford from an insider’s perspective, the most memorable part of the day occurred when it came time for dinner.

We met outside Christ Church, Dr. Hornbeck’s former college, and made our way in, feeling very VIP as we passed the ‘No Visitors’ sign! We saw the famous Christ Church courtyard, and the Great Hall, as the squeals and literary references escalated dramatically (i.e. “OMG, Harry sat in here!”). We then made our way to dinner, which took place in one of the Senior Dining Rooms. The meal was beautiful, complete with china tableware, a kind butler, delicious food, table talk on education, and post dinner coffee. Thanks to our professor, we undergraduates experienced what few non-Oxford alums get to. The day was beyond memorable, and we regretfully loaded the bus to leave what felt like an imagninary world. Our brief glimpse into the way Oxford students live and study was eye-opening; one would think that an inside view of a place such as this would have had a disenchanting effect, but it did just the opposite. Oxford University is indeed a vast universe of its own, and thanks to Doctor Hornbeck, we five undergraduates, and of course our most favorite TA, had a most unforgettable day discovering it.

Helpful English Hint of the Post: If you do get to Oxford, you should try the famous 'punting' there. A 'punt' is a shallow-water boat propelled by a pole with which the 'punter' (that would be you) sort of pokes at the riverbed. An Oxford tradition and a must!

*Cheers to Greta Chapman for her contribution of this post.

Country Walks Near London

A few weeks ago, a couple of classmates and I decided we needed a break from the hustle and bustle of busy London city life and took a day trip out to Surrey, where we took a walk through beautiful British countryside. Most of us had never been on a country walk like this before, but we were all very excited, so we put on our sneakers and slathered on the sunscreen before heading out to the country. Being a group of mostly beginners, our walk was one of the easier routes we could have chosen - although it definitely didn't seem that way in the beginning.

Our walk began with a climb up a long, steep hill. We didn't think that boded well for the rest of the walk, but were pleasantly surprised when, having made it over the first (literal) hump, our walk took us through wide green fields, a wonderful little forest, and past cute a few adorable little streams - one of which we stopped in the middle of to play Pooh Sticks! Although the forest we walked through was a little more Forbidden Forest than Hundred Acre Wood, with dry grass and overcast sky. We also passed by a lovely medieval church on the Pilgrim's Way trail, St. Martha-on-the-Hill, set on the top of a hill in the middle of the forest, which afforded us stunning views of the surrounding towns and countryside. Our walk ended with a late lunch in a small pub in a quaint little Surrey town (unfortunately not Little Whinging). It was an afternoon I'll not forget any time soon, and definitely an experience I'd reccommend to anyone the next time they're in the UK.

Helpful English Hint of the Post: Sneakers are called 'trainers' in the UK, sweaters are 'jumpers', and pants are 'trousers'.

*Cheers to Patricia Kriebel for her contribution of this post.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Castles and Kilts: A Weekend in Edinburgh

Last weekend, a group of us visited Edinburgh. It is definitely a must-see while in the United Kingdom. It is a city of two halves- Old Town and New Town. Old Town is like something out of a storybook with amazing, old buildings including Edinburgh Castle, which sits atop Old Town. Among other things, the Castle houses the Crown Jewels of Scotland (which are older than those housed at the Tower of London). The Castle is also home to the Edinburgh Tattoo, a military festival that runs through the month of August and is designed to show off the skills of Scotland’s troops.

Edinburgh Castle is just one of many things that you can explore while in this exciting city. The National Museum of Scotland is also a must-see! It traces Scotland’s history from the formation of the land up to the present day After visiting the museum you can head down the street to The Elephant House, the cafĂ© where J.K. Rowling began writing the Harry Potter books. As a tribute, fans have begun writing quotes from the books on the walls of the loo! A final must-see destination in Edinburgh is Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is an inactive volcano that offers great views of Edinburgh. The hike up is beautiful as the land boasts wild flowers and tall grasses. It was definitely the highlight of our trip!

Edinburgh is a wonderful city and we barely scratched the surface during the two days we were there. It is a great weekend destination while in London especially because it is easy to get to by train or bus and there are plenty of good, inexpensive hostels in the city. In fact, the journey itself is part of the fun as it takes you through English and Scottish countryside, which is absolutely beautiful! If you haven’t been, you must put Edinburgh on your list of places to visit!

Helpful English Hint of the Post: If you do go to Edinburgh, remember: don't pronounce the 'gh' like you would in 'Pittsburgh'. In a lowlands Scottish accent, it's almost 'Edinborough'.

*Cheers to Rachel Malinowski for her contribution of this post.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Henry the Eighth I Am!

As our time in London comes to a close, the first in a long series of "lasts" for the Heretics and Mystics course came to pass on our last class outing, and we couldn't have ended with a bigger bang. Hampton Court Palace, located only a half hour train ride away from London, was one of Henry VIII's favorite homes, and later one of the homes of William and Mary as well. Even excluding the rich history the palace holds, the enormous and meticulously well-kept gardens, as well as the world's oldest hedge maze, and actors walking around in period dress make Hampton Court a must-see.

Our class was guided by an audio walking tour, presented by "Master Tom," a servant at Hampton Court preparing the palace for the marriage of King Henry to his final (sixth!) wife, Katherine Parr. Several events throughout the day pertaining to the upcoming marriage, such as choosing Katherine's wedding dress, speaking with Henry in his few remaining hours of unwedded life, and even the marriage itself were scheduled as events for attending that day, although we opted instead to have tea at Hampton Court gardens' cafe and try to find our way through the hedge maze. We couldn't ask for a better day.

Helpful English Hint of the Post: Have you had a pie yet? Most pubs serve some sort of meat pie (there are veggie options, too!). This is no dessert, folks; pie is a meal. In medieval England, the pastry crust wasn't even edible (which we learned at Hampton Court); it was just a vessel for baking the stew-like interior of the pie. Nowadays, though, the flaky stuff is indeed delicious and meant to be devoured!

*Cheers to Liz Certa for her contribution of this post.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Bibliophile Paradise

We visited the British Library (BL) yesterday, and I don't think our lives will ever be the same. If we hadn't been in a library, I'm sure there would have been band groupie-like squealing and screaming.

The BL is a fantastically varied institution. It holds over 150 million items, in the form of manuscripts, maps, newspapers, magazines, prints and drawings, music scores, and patents. And it's growing at a rate of three million items per year (it receives a copy of every new publication produced in the UK and Ireland).

The bench shown in the photo above is a sculpture (and actually a bench in practice, too) of an old-school chained book. Access to the fantastic collections at the BL is put into stark contrast with the libraries of the past. Books were expensive: the pages were made with animal skins (vellum), and the writing alone would take years to complete for a Bible (by scribes, monks, etc). So libraries shackled the books to the shelves (think Harry Potter Restricted Section), setting up reading stands for users that were just within reach of the chains.

We found out that the BL requires multiple visits. Their permanent exhibition holds some of the gems of the collection, amazing to see (for free!): Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Folios of Shakespeare... Oh, and they have free podcasts available on the website: Magnificent Maps (current exhibit), Henry VIII, From Parchment to Pixel, what have you. If you see five items each day, it would take you over 80,000 years to see the whole of the collection. I'm off to start work on a philosopher's stone, but if anyone out there has any leads on a fountain of youth or elixir of life, do let me know!

Helpful English Hint of the Post: Considering the weather we've been having lately, you should know that 'brolly' is short for 'umbrella' and 'mac' is short for 'macintosh' (a raincoat). Also, if someone says it's 'pissing it down', that's equivalent to 'raining cats and dogs'.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Great theater, even better price.

A few of us could hardly wait to see the recently released Inception, but were afraid to find out how much theaters in the area charge for admission. Surprisingly, after doing some research, we found a beautiful and historical movie theater in the heart of Notting Hill, about a 15 minute walk away from campus. We were overly pleased with their Monday Student Special which offers tickets to students for just 3.50. They also offer half price tickets every Tuesday, which also comes to 3.50. The theater is extremely charming and even has a cafe/bar inside (you're allowed to bring coffee, beer, and wine in the theater). I highly recommend that if you are looking for an inexpensive movie night out, go to the Coronet.

Here's the website:

Helpful English Hint of the Post: Do you have tourist hypnosis yet? Seeing red double-deckers in your sleep? When you're really exhausted, just complain that you're 'knackered', which means 'really tired'. It can also apply to an object, i.e., 'that suit is knackered', meaning the suit's seen better days...

*Cheers to Stefanie Wheeler for her contribution of this post.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Discovering the Whomping Willow

The Fordham in London Medieval Studies class traveled outside of London to visit the Cathedral and Abbey of St. Alban, an English martyr from around the third century in Roman Britain. Alban was beheaded for sheltering a Christian priest who was being sought out by the Roman authorities. The Cathedral of St. Albans is believed to have been built on the site of his execution, atop a hill overlooking the town.

The surrounding area was once home to many monks who lived in the Abbey; today most of this area is now a public park, and the remaining buildings from the Abbey now house a boys' school. The church itself is a massive building that was built in sections over the years. The class was able to see original medieval paintings that are still in great condition on the Norman arches throughout the church.

However, one of our favorite sights to see was the large tree in front of the church that had a striking resemblance to none other than the Whomping Willow tree from Harry Potter! Being in England makes it very easy to make the best references to Harry Potter (see photo). The Whomping Willow tree look-alike paved the way for the remainder of the day, as St. Albans from afar began to take on the image of Hogwarts with, conveniently, a great lake in front of it!

Helpful English Hint of the Post: If someone in the UK tells you they'll get something done 'in a tick', that's the equivalent of 'in a second' or 'give me a minute'. Nothing to do with biting insects.

*Cheers to Liz Alleva for her contribution of this post.

Friday, 9 July 2010

We've Hit the Market Motherland

Borough Market, about a twenty-five minute tube ride from Heythrop College, is something you don't want to miss during your stay in London. The market has something for everyone's taste-buds. There are vendors for just about everything, including fish, meat, beer, international food, dairy, baked goods, juices, fruits and vegetables, desserts, and even wholesale items. The prices are not bad at all, but be sure to keep your eye out for free samples because they're everywhere and you'll want to try a bit of everything.

Borough Market hours are limited, so plan accordingly, and expect to spend a couple of hours there:
Thursdays: 11am-5pm
Fridays: 12pm-6pm
Saturdays: 8am-5pm

The Borough Market is located at 8 Southwark Street. For more information click HERE.

Helpful English Hint of the Post: Both "Cheers" and "Ta" mean "Thank you" in the UK.

*Cheers to Stefanie Wheeler for her contribution of this post.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Victoria *Hearts* Albert

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were quite the famous royal couple in their time; and Kensington has been rather advantageously blessed with multiple monuments, projects, and museums that are a lasting testament to Victoria's period of mourning following Albert's death. Nearby Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens boast the gilt Albert Memorial, the formidable Royal Albert Hall stands nearby, Imperial College London has the Queen's Tower, and the massive Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) is within easy walking distance.

The V&A has recently finished a three-year refurbishment project on its Medieval and Renaissance collection wing, and the results are inspiring. Particularly for the "Heretics, Mystics, and Historians" class (pictured above inside an Italian chapel reconstructed within the museum), the new exhibition space houses lots of promising displays to pair with their coursework. There are numerous illuminated manuscripts, choir books, reliquaries (gilded statues for displaying saints' relics), and massive tapestries to be explored. The V&A's textiles, fashion, and jewelry collection is also second to none, and the tea room and cafe offer delicious treats in a breathtaking series of decorated rooms (complete with a grand piano player!).

Well worth several visits. And it's free, with a low suggested donation.

Helpful English Hint of the Post: If someone in the UK asks you "are you all right?" take it as a greeting. It's equivalent to "how are you doing?" and doesn't actually mean they think you might not be all right...

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Getting Started

Most of Fordham in London has been in the UK for over 24 hours now, and we're beginning to battle jetlag like pros. We have our London Pocket Atlas, a full syllabus, a little sleep, and a lot of tea; now what?

How about one of the Hop-on Hop-off bus tours for London? Every major international city has some version of the multi-stop bus tour. You purchase a ticket for 24 hours, and although it's rather pricey at around 25 quid (that's "pounds"), you get to survey the city without wearing down the shoe leather. And the quirky tour guides with the genuine accents will wow you with history, trivia, and notes on which museums are free (completely free!).

My advice: If you can, start your 24-hour ticket in the afternoon on one day, and get on the bus again the next morning to split up the journey. Bring something to write on, because you'll definitely pass areas you'll want to revisit on foot later.

Helpful English Hint of the Post: Try not to refer to trousers as "pants" when speaking to a Brit. Over here, "pants" means underwear. I learned this the hard way when I first visited London, when asking a saleswoman at a camping store if they sold waterproof pants...

Welcome to Fordham in London

This blog will provide a space to chronicle the activities inside and outside the classroom at Fordham University's London Centre at Heythrop College. Please check back shortly for information on upcoming events!