Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Happppppy 27th Birthday to MEEEEEEEEEEE!

Okay. I've decided that 27 is the limit, it's as far as this girl goes. Nothing against 28, 37, 62, etc., but I think I can do without. I'm just going to oscillate back and forth between 25-27 for as long as it's believable, and maybe longer depending on how bold I get. :)
Luckily, I have a fabulous new crew of friends who helped me through the mildly traumatic event. It also helped that I book-ended my birthday with weekends in Sevilla and Paris! Check out my picasa web albums here and here to see pictures from the festivities. On my actual birthday, I was sick, so we stayed in and ordered pizza, but we made up for it a few nights later by going out on the town for some delicious thai food! :) All in all, it was a fabulous birthday. And I bought myself new boots! :)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

See ya in Sevilla!

Is there anything better than a place where oranges grow year round? Probably not. We spent the last weekend in January and the last few days of my 26th year in the beautiful city of Sevilla in the south of Spain. We arrived late Friday evening, but that did not stop us from walking around the city in the starlight and misty rain to find some tapas bars and sangria by the pitcher.
Saturday morning, we got up bright and early to the prettiest day I've had in 2009 yet. The sun was shining, it was in the low 60s, and the day was ours for the taking! First stop, the Cathedral and La Giralda. The Cathedral was built in 1401 on the site of the city's old mosque left over from the Arabic presence in southern Spain. La Giralda, a former minaret tower in the mosque, was converted into a big bell tower the for the Cathedral. We climbed to the top of the tower for amazing views all over Sevilla. Interestingly enough, the tower was built with ramps instead of steps. Great butt workout, really, but it was built that way so the Arabic soldiers could ride their horses all the way to the top to look out for enemies and guard the city. Super neato. The Cathedral also is where Christopher Columbus lies in pieces (not sure why they split him up).
Next we headed to the Alcazar, the Royal Palace of Sevilla. Built in 1181 but continuously updated for the next 500 years, Real Alcazar is a hodgepodge of Arabic, Christian, and Andalusian styles of architecture. It was fabulously, fabulously beautiful. Every inch was rich in detail and ornate. The gardens out back were probably my favorite, though. We played among the fountains and the labyrinths, the orange trees and statues. It felt like a truly magical place.
Saturday evening, we went to a live Flamenco show that made me wonder what I had been doing with my life as of yet, and question why the answer to that question did not include the study of Flamenco dance. It was insane! Followed by a lovely dinner of tapas, sangria, and many unknown fried things, it was a perfect evening.
Now, up until this point, our trip was just about as perfect as it could be. Sunday, however, the winds changed, and bad luck befell us with a vengeance!!! The calamities include:
  1. My roommate's laptop was stolen out of our locked hotel room.
  2. Torrential rains kept us from most of the city's attractions all day Sunday. We got soaked.
  3. Half of us came down with a bitter, bitter cold.
  4. Our plane to London was forced to make an emergency landing in Birmingham due to the largest snow storm in the last 20 years which raged through London, forcing the closure of all 3 major London airports.
  5. After keeping us in the plane on the tarmac at Birmingham for 3 hours, they finally let us out around 2 am to find no trains or buses available to Oxford for the next 15 hours.
  6. We had to barter with a truly neurotic cabbie to drive us the hour and a half back to Oxford. 5 seater cab, 8 people, 3 sick at that for an hour and a half.
However, we did finally make it back around 6 am that morning , and we were all very grateful to make it to our beds. Needless to say, many of us did not make it to class that day. :) All in all, I had one of the best days and one of the worst days since I have been on this fair continent, but we all kept our heads and remembered to laugh through it all. Check out my picasa web album of Sevilla for pictures of the city, the one called Sevilla The Cathedral for pictures of the church and La Giralda, and Real Alcazar for pictures of the palace.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Oxford University

Well, I had been feeling rather ashamed because for the last month, I was walking around this grand city of Oxford not knowing what I was looking at, so I decided, "THIS MUST STOP!" I promptly signed up for an Oxford walking tour, and let me tell you, I'm so glad I did! I still feel as though I've barely scratched the surface of learning all of the history of this place, but what I did learn, I will share with you now. :)
First things first: Oxford University is made up of about 40 independent colleges ranging from 0-600 students each. I include zero purposefully--there's one college, All Souls, that is so exclusive, it doesn't even have students. It's just a college for people to be professors in. Pretty awesome setup, really. Oxford University itself provides administration to the lot and also the fabulous Bodleian library system. Each college is responsible for its curriculum, admitting students, etc. If you apply as an undergraduate to Oxford, you're really applying to individual colleges within it, and you have to be accepted to that particular college to get in. There's only one university with this same set up, and that's Oxford's sister school Cambridge. Cambridge was set up actually by a few disgruntled Oxford students in the 1300s I believe who were sick of the damp weather here. I don't blame them really, Oxford always looks like it just rained, even when it hasn't for days. It's so damp that the streets are always wet.
Please check my picasa web album entitled Oxford Walking Tour to see the pictures and explanations about some of the historic colleges I visited on the walking tour. Some little nuggets to get you excited: a famous alley seen in Harry Potter, Edmund Halley's observatory where he spotted his comet, and Bill Clinton's old dorm room are all included!

London Calling!

London! What a fabulous weekend we had there! It all started in the Oxford train station where we spotted a British celebrity, Anna Popplewell, famous for her roles in the Chronicles of Narnia series as the oldest sister Susan. Click here to see a picture of her to jog your memory! Funny enough, she was on our train to London, and we ended up sitting with her. We were polite and did not annoy her. Plus, she was interesting to watch as she was memorizing lines for an upcoming production of Emma! I also saw her pick her nose... that's a child actor for you, I suppose!
When we arrived in London, we went to the famous Harrods department store, where everything was luxurious, designer, and costly! I almost bought my first pair of designer jeans, but then I thought better of it. :) The best part about Harrods was the food halls--imagine a gourmet food market full of fancy cheeses, foods, chocolates, and meats. They even had a fish section! The fish section actually made me kind of nauseous, because fish smells like fish, no matter how much you charge for it, so I did not tarry there for long!
We then traveled to Tunbridge Wells, an exclusive suburb of London, for a party of a friend we knew there. On the way, we met the Crown Jeweler!!! He is in charge of the Crown Jewels for the Queen, and also designing all of her new jewelry! Pretty cool, eh! He was our second British celebrity of the day. We were stoked. Click here to see a picture of some of the crown jewels guarded at the Tower of London.
Day 2 included the National Gallery of Art, Trafalgar Square, a walk down Parliament Row, and sightseeing by Westminster Hall, the Abbey, and Big Ben. Later we rode the London Eye, the gigantic ferris wheel constructed for the millenium which opened in 2003. It was truly a lovely day. We concluded the evening by going to see Chicago, the musical, in the lively West End district. It was a fabulous production, and it had us all singing little ditties about foxy ladies committing murder for the entire next week. After the show, we had some drinks, enjoyed the bars of London, and called it a night. Please click here to see my picasa web album called London town for pictures of our lovely trip. :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Well, I told you I was nervous about driving in the UK...

But, I did what I had to do! 6 people wanted to go to Stonehenge and Bath via two truly minuscule cars. 3 of us knew how to drive a stick shift. Kate and I took first shift, with Travis as the third capable driver ready to take over if either of us should need it.

About an hour and fifteen minutes into the drive, I was feeling pretty good! Driving a stick shift left-handed was kind of fun, and the only really stressful thing was going through the roundabouts. I don't like those suckers in the U.S., and I REALLY don't like them going in the opposite direction w/tiny British cars whipping menacingly around the bend.

Then, as we were about to merge onto the Motorway, I accidentally merged into a van. Ooops! I'm not trying to name names, but my passenger had been quite adamant about turning left RIGHT that moment, and so, well, I turned left! Into a van... We were so lucky. We pretty much just touched off of each other with a resulting dent on our passenger side and a small scratch on the gigantic van. Also lucky, we took out the full insurance policy on the rental car so we wouldn't have to pay anything, not even a deductible. Phew!

When I called the rental company to report the accident, they didn't even seem to care! The lady did seem to enjoy the fact that I'd only had the car for about an hour and 20 minutes before getting into an accident... and she also seemed truly disappointed that there were no gory injuries for her to report. Sorry, bored rental car lady!

And just like that, all of my dreams of renting cars for Mark and my parents' visit vanished into the smoggy air under a motorway's overpass. I will likely never drive in the UK again--no tempting fate or my luck here!

Enjoy the pictures detailing the damage. We managed to have a lovely day regardless, with Travis taking over my driving post. I was not the only one having difficulties as the picture with Dan and Travis retrieving a lost hubcap demonstrates.

When in Bath, do as the Romans did.

After spending a freezing morning at Stonehenge, we began the hour journey to Bath, England. Of course, we got lost a few times on the way, but no one seemed to mind too much as we were lost in some of the most beautiful countryside we had ever seen. Personally, I was in the back seat happily eating chocolate.

Bath is famous for its natural hot springs and its Roman heritage. When the Romans invaded England long, long ago, they set up shop in Bath to make use of the hot springs. They built a beautiful temple and Roman bath on top of the springs, the ruins of both still standing and working today. The temple is in pretty bad shape, but the baths themselves miraculously have withstood the test of time, looking much as they did for the last 2000 years. Crazy.

The city of Bath, known by its Roman name Aquae Sulis, has been a tourist town since the baths were constructed. It's often referred to as the oldest tourist town in Europe. Author Jane Austen resided here for a good part of her life, and many kings were crowned at the magnificent Bath Abbey which you can see peeping out over top of the baths. Bath Abbey was built in 1000 something or other, and it is quite a sight to see, too. Sadly, we were too late to go inside, but I think I'll make it back to Bath soon to see the Jane Austen museum and to tour the Abbey.

After a glass of wine (for me, at least), the weary travellers began the trek home. Luckily, we had no car accidents and we didn't even get lost. I'd call that a success, wouldn't you? Check out my picasa album for more pictures of our trip to Bath:

Til next time,
Laura Bionix

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Calling all Druids! Stonehenge Day!

This past Saturday, 6 brave law students rented cars and drove the hour and a half to Stonehenge. More on the car rental saga later--for now, STONEHENGE!

Interestingly enough, Stonehenge was constructed around the same time as the Pyramids in Egypt. It's pretty obvious who won the Craftmanship award between the Druids and Egyptians, but Stonehenge is still extremely impressive for a bunch of rocks sitting on top of each other!

Waaaaay back in 3100 BC, some prehistoric Englishmen decided to make the area which is now Stonehenge a burial mound. There is a large ditch surrounding the circumference of Stonehenge which used to be filled with timber poles. So I guess it really started out as Timber Henge, if you will. The timber poles are long gone now, but the ditch remains. It was kind of neat to see a really, really old ditch. The stones were first added in 3000 B.C. and were dragged from the Welsh Mountains 160 miles away. We don't know how the English did it, but they did. Each stone weighs around 4 tons, so the transport was quite a feat. Not to mention getting the stones to stand up on their sides! Over the course of about 1500 years (3100 to 1600 bc), various stone circles were constructed, arranged and rearranged. The ones standing today are from 1600 BC, although the stones themselves were probably already there from preexisting arrangements.

Regardless, Stonehenge was fabulous to see up close and personal. We had a great time despite it being absolutely freezing! Somehow, it felt warm and sunny in the parking lot, prompting many of us to leave coats and scarves behind only to be ambushed by strong, gusty winds and what felt like a 20 degree drop in temperature at the site. Maybe it's all the dead Druids... maybe! For more pictures, see my picasa web album entitled "Stonehenge."