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Anna in the United Kingdom: Chapter 4: Oxford, Bath, Stonehenge and Salisbury
Emily's smiling face was waiting for me at the station, and as we walked back to she and Peter's beautiful central apartment, that has a canal on one side and a castle on the other. I talked so much on the way home I didn't see where we went, and got very lost later :-)
That evening Peter had a gig with his band, so Emily took me on a walking tour of Oxford at night. Everything is very nicely lit in England; the councils really have their building uplighting sussed.

Me outside a beautiful tudor building in Oxford the first evening, very close to the oldest building in Oxford, a church tower, dating back to 1013. Ironically, this building here is now a Nokia store: old meets new.

Oxford is beautiful; cobblestone streets with amazing old buildings everywhere, and a real student atmosphere with people out and about, seemingly all on bicycles. I asked Emily so many questions, that as she had the next day off, we decided to do a walking tour of Oxford the next day.

Unfortunately, that day chose to be freezing. I learnt an awful lot, about the way the university works, made up of 39 colleges, all of which study the exact same subjects, but each college has its own distinct personality. We learnt how much it cost to go to Oxford (bundles! 32,000 pounds if you want to do medicine, cheaper if you study other things), the funny etiquette (one 'goes up' to Oxford, or 'comes down' from Oxford, or one can be 'sent down' for doing something bad. We learnt one of the things you can do wrong is to walk on the grass in the quad of a college (the front square of grass when you first enter), an honour allowed only for the head of school, and the gardener. We got to go into the dining hall at Exeter College (the guide got all excited as it doesn't happen often apparently) which was very Harry Potter-esque with wooden beamed ceilings and panels. We learnt about Rhodes Scholars, handpicked as being potential future leaders (Bill Clinton and John Howard were Rhodes Scholars, for example).

In the back courtyard of Exeter College, with beautiful wisteria in blossom.



Emily and I in Exeter College



In Exeter garden, with the Radcliffe Camera ( a big round, domed building used as a study room and library, named after a past scholar and benefactor of the university) in the background. The Bodlein Library, in Oxford, used to traditionally get one copy of every book published in the UK, which means that they've had to build a massive underground library to house them all, that stretches across the entire courtyard, under the Radcliffe Camera, to the street beyond, and for ages under the different streets. Apparently it can take a week to get a book out!



The Radcliffe Camera on the right, and the Bodlein library behind it



After the walking tour, being cold to the bone (I could feel the cold coming up through my shoes even), Emily and I went for a restorative hot chocolate and marvellous slice of cheesecake in the fantastic Blackwells bookstore, an unassuming little shopfront that opens into a bookshop the size of Borders. We then went for a ramble through the tiny streets, through to the Oxford covered markets, where the shops range from delicious cheese shops, to fruit shops, butchers, with massive carcasses strung up, specialty tea shops (where I found the following teapots!) and a host of other niceties.

I'm such a tourist... I thought these were great! And well worthy of a photo (I think Emily disagreed)



After a cornish pastie for lunch (I'm going to be Portly Anna on my return, but its all so yummy!) we headed for an afternoon stroll in Christ Church College grounds, the most well known college in Oxford. It was SUCH an English experience for me. I saw my first ever squirrel! And then people playing a real game of lacrosse! And then rowers on the Thames! And then punters! And then bluebells! And then a real meadow! And doves! I was in raptures.

A real meadow! Looking back towards Christ Church College.



Me in the grounds of Christ Church College



A branch of the beautiful Thames

By that stage, we'd walked a long way. So while Emily had a well-deserved coffee, I climbed to the top of the The University Church Of St Mary The Virgin, for a great view down onto the spires, sundials, squares and streets of Oxford.



Cool gargoyles at Oxford



The next day was Saturday, and Emily, Peter and I were going on a roadtrip! I'd told them I'd planned to see Bath, and since they hadn't been yet either, Emily had organised for us to go to Bath, stay overnight at a lodge that's also a working farm + B&B in the surrounding countryside, and then head to Stonehenge the next day before returning to Oxford.

In the car we played "Pub Cricket" whereby if its your "innings" (your turn), you get "runs" based on how many legs are in the name of the pubs you pass... ie, if you pass the Horse and Cart, you get 4 runs, your innings is over when you get no runs, ie if you're unlucky enough to pass "The Bell" during your innings. Good fun, but Emily got lucky and won by a long strip ("The Four Mice", or something like that!)

Emily and Peter in front of a beautiful field filled with bright rapeseed in full bloom. I've been seeing it everywhere in the UK, and it's spectacular; the yellow is so intense you see it for miles. I'd been trying to get a good picture for ages, so I made Emily and Peter stop by the side of the road so I could be a tourist :-)





Me with the rapeseed field behind.



We kept driving through amazing little villages like this, where there was a pub, a church, a smattering of stone or thatched cottages, and a village green. Then they'd be another almost identical village 3 minutes up the road.



Bath was lovely; all the buildings constructed in a creamy white stone, pastely colours, and beautiful streets with buildings curving around elegant central islands with big old trees. We strolled down to the river, then along to the original Sally Lunn shop, then, as that was packed, on a bit further, and stopped for lunch at a cute little green in the middle of the town, with goodies from Marks and Spencers. I'm very glad I was introduced to Marks and Spencers. The food section is incredible; they have so much yummy gourmet foods ready to eat, amazing salads and sandwiches etc that make for a cheap and excellent lunch.

A street in Bath



Beautiful curved avenues in Bath



Here's the river at Bath



A beautiful park in Bath by the river where everyone sat around on striped deckchairs in the sunshine. The weather was glorious.



Us on the river in Bath



Then off to the Roman Baths after lunch.

The beautiful Roman Baths... in Roman times the baths were covered, so the water was crystal clear...





The museum itself was great... I hadn't realised the extent of the Roman ruins and what they'd constructed at Bath, and the audioguides and layout of the place were great. It would have been great if we could actually bathe in the water too, like the Romans did, but you can't have evrything :-)
I asked Emily and Peter for a cheesy shot, and they delivered :-) Inside the Roman Baths.



Me at the Roman Baths


Where we stopped for lunch in Bath



After the Roman Baths, we checked out Bath Abbey, which I loved... I've decided I best like the churches that are beautifully lit, its so much more uplifting and inspirational. Bath Abbey had high windows that flooded the church with beautiful light.





A beautiful little sunny chapel within Bath Abbey.



Suddenly it was 6pm. We drove on to the little tiny village where the lodge was situated. It was overlooking beautiful rural fields, and we were met by the lovely host who bought us tea and cake on the terrace :-)

Emily pouring our tea, with the beautiful view behind her.


We then went for a stroll down the country lane to the local pub for dinner. Along the lane were some seriously picturesque and most likely very expensive houses...

Some of the houses we saw on our stroll...







At the pub I had the best Steak pie ever, rich and gravy filled, and a treacle pudding that was drowned in custard. Who said English cuisine was bad?

My list of things I wanted to see in England had involved the usual suspects; Oxford; London, Stonehenge, etc, but I also had a separate list of things of things I wanted to see... like a squirrel, thatched cottages, cornish pasties, and blubells ;-) So on Sunday, after checking with the lovely B&B lady, we were able to go for a stroll on a piece of land they owned with was supposed to have bluebells aplenty. And there was! A purple carpet through a forest. Beautiful.

Bluebells!!!





Then we drove to Stonehenge, going via the "fastest route" according to Peter's GPS. Fine by me; we went through lots of tiny traditional English villages with thatched cottages on the way. Stonehenge was right by the road!!!! Tonnes of tourists, and distinctly lacking in atmosphere, but very interesting.

We then drove on to Salisbury for lunch. Salisbury had lots of Georgian places like Bath, and a huge green outside their cathedral. The cathedral itself was huge, not as pretty as Bath's Abbey, however they had an enormous and beautiful cloister, and a beautiful Charter Room with one of the remaining Magna Carta, a document which I found fascinating.

After Salisbury we drove home via the motorway. That evening we drove to Banbury (Of Banbury Cross sign, I've seen it now!) to see Peter's band play.

And then home!
Posted on 17 May 2007 by Anna
Anna in the United Kingdom: Chapter 3: Scotland
So I'm now in Paris! And furiously trying to make up ground with this blog! Apologies!

So after Dublin was Scotland. Scotland was grrrreeet (that was my best impression of a scottish accent).
Arriving in Edinburgh, the city had the same dark stone feel but sprinkled with blossoms as Dublin had. With the castle dominating the skyline and rambling cobble-stoned streets everywhere. After a night in my hostel, which was just around the corner from the castle, and near to the graveyard where Greyfriar's Bobby originated, I slept well after a pub dinner (I tried a Scottish specialty dessert that was described to me as oats, fresh berries, cream and vodka, which I thought would be like a crumble... no, actually it was a glass full of whipped cream ladden with alcohol, with a few berries and some oats sprinkled through it; welcome to Scottish food.)

The next morning bright and early I met up with my Haggis Adventures Highland Tour. 1- of us, about 6 Aussies, 2 German boys, a Spanish couple, 2 Americans, a Chinese girl and a Korean, and me and one other kiwi, Kristen from Christchurch, yay!
Oh, and two great guides, Debs and Martin, Martin told terrible jokes the entire time that still made us laugh :-)
So we headed off... the first day we visited the William Wallace monument near Stirling Castle, the site of one of William Wallace's greatest triumphs over the English. We then continued up north, stopping in to visit Hamish, a Highland "Heearrry Kooo" (hairy cow), who despite seeming to look like a bovine Cousin It, was pretty placid, most of the tourists headed for the gift shop;
We then headed through the Great Glen near Glencoe, which was made all the more dramatic with the hazy rain.

Me and two fellow Haggis adventurers, Kristen, the only other kiwi, and Sarah, from Perth, on the first day in the Highlands. The scenery was incredibly dramatic, but it was freezing and pouring, so I had to buy an umbrella....in tartan of course :-)





And to put the scale of the landscape into perspective....




Rugged scenery again...



We stayed the night at Fort Augustus, on the shores of Loch Ness. Because it was awful weather, we went to an indoor attraction which was an old Scottish guy that had built a replica peat house like the highlanders used to live in. It was fascinating; the room was about 6 metres by 10 metres, and would typically have fitted a family up to 13 people, plus their livestock would come in every night. Everyone had only 1 kilt each which they wore year round. As you can imagine, things got pretty dirty, but the highlanders were also very adverse to bathing... it just wasn't done. Instead, once a year, all the kilts were soaked in a massive barrel of urine to kill any bugs. Lovely huh? Suddenly Mel Gibson doesn't seem so appealing... The guy also showed us a traditional claymore (a bloody big sword) and relished in showing us exactly how the Scots used it on the English. He also showed us how a kilt is traditionally folded up, from carpet size to pleated skirt styles. Fascinating.

The next day we headed to the Isle of Skye, via the picturesque Eilean Doonan Castle, perched out on the water, which we got to ramble all over. Again, the stuff of movies, multiple films have been done here.

Me in front of Eileen Doonan Castle, looking absolutely freezing (cos it was)





Eilean Doonan Castle: Spectacular!




Then it was across the aptly named Skye Bridge to Skye, for breathtaking scenery. We only got to see such a small part of the island, it was a real teaser, I'm definitely going to hqve to go back. The whole place is windswept and rugged and fresh; hardly any foliage, just heather, craggy ranges, rivers and the bright yellow gorse.

A river on the Isle of Skye - we were told this story about a Scottish princess who dunked her head in the water for eternal beuaty and youth, so we all had to do the same... as you can see, it was pretty icy, but most refreshing! So far haven't seen any signs of eternal beauty on my part, but I live in hope... :-)




My afro obscuring the beautifully rugged Skye scenery




We passed SO many absolutely beautiful lochs, mountains and glens, I was forever oohing and aahing and taking multiple photos like the rest of the group... except for Kristen, who felt a lot of the scenery was very similar to the South Island. Having never been to the South Island (I know! Scandalous!) and not about to admit it, I instead resolved to make that my next trip.

Another beautiful loch



Me and Nerilie way up on a hillside they made us climb to see an, admittably pretty fabulous, view out over the island to the mainland.





Day 3 we headed back down the length of Loch Ness, stopping to peer down on the picturesque Castle Urquhart on the shores of Loch Ness



... and then again to perform some strange haka-like dance of Guide Martin's invention to supposedly summon Nessie. All the grey headed tourists at the gift shop opposite looked on bewildered as we strutted and chanted.





They like their tacky tourism here... yes, its a giant purple floating pontoon Nessie, it'd be interesting if this actually helps tourism...



But the atmosphere and the view were truly spectacular.

The eerie and beautiful Loch Ness



The beautiful Loch Ness again (albeit sideways... sorry, can't figure out how to turn it on this french computer) But look!!! There's the monster on the far right!!!! Just kidding :-)



Back to Edinburgh, and one more night in the hostel, before a fast morning looking around Edinburgh. Luckily I was able to meet up with my fellow Haggis mates that night for dinner, and then with Kristen again at Edinburgh Castle the next morning. Here's a few pics I took (or taken by Kristen) at the castle, which was very interesting, lots of cool tales and great little nooks and crannies to explore.

Anna investigating the cannon at Edinburgh Castle :-)



Overlooking the castle from the top. Sorry, hav lots more photos but they,re all vertical, you'll just have to see them all later.



And on my way back I saw this... Scottish puns :-)



The one thing that really bugged me about all of the castles in Scotland though was how someone would come in and conquer a castle, and then because they wanted to go on and keep conquering more land, but not leave a perfectly good castle for the enemy to come in behind them and use, they'd trash the castle! So heaps of the castles are either in ruins, or have had to be rebuilt multiple times. What a waste! Seems so pointless to me, but I ain't no warrior ;-)

Anyway, after getting completely sidetracked in a cool shop on the Royal Mile, I had to run for the train, but was then able to relax for 5hours while we chugged through the countryside to Oxford...
Posted on 12 May 2007 by Anna
Anna in the United Kingdom - Chapter 2: Dublin
So on the Thursday night I took a £5 or something ridiculously cheap Ryanair flight up to Dublin to visit Bex and Johnny. Johnny picked me up from the airport (yay! thanks Johnny! One less manky bus ride and a much better guide) and I spent the whole journey back talking non-stop and doing the trying-to-twist-my-head-in-multiple-directions-silmultaneously-in-order-to-see-everything thing again to take in the Dublin scenery. Dublin is pretty. Lots of dark stone buildings with perfect gardens. The place is very laid back, and everyone was pretty friendly. It was also my first taste of looking like an eskimo while everyone else looked summery (haven't yet acclimatised, or perhaps more accurately, am wuss).

Bex and Johnny's apartment is very central, and I was relieved to be able to chill the first night and eat home-cooked noodles (I never thought I'd get sick of eating out, but sometimes it's quite nice NOT to have to make a decision on what you're next eating!)

The next day I jumped on the Dublin Hop-On Hop-Off bus to have a wee look at the city. I would thoroughly recommend it... the bus drivers give live commentary as they circle, and joke and tell hilarious stories the whole way round, different drivers tell different jokes, and none ever sounded like it was the 50th time they'd regaled that particular joke that week. I did a whole circuit to get my bearings, passing such sights as the Guiness Storehouse (now pipped at the post of being largest brewery by the Guiness Brewery in Nigeria of all places), Trinity College, O'Connell Street, Temple Bar, a whisky distillery and some very pretty churches of which I forget the names, eek!

Hopping off, I did a walk through Temple Bar (the old bar area which comes alive at night), up O'Connell Street (the oldest and main street of Dublin) where I had to waste a bit of time looking for a cheap pair of jeans (I only brought one pair with me from NZ, thinking it was going to be much warmer, and have been suffering... very dumb), and then after lunch, I hopped off at the Kilmainham Jail, a forbidding looking building that many leaders of Irish rebellions were imprisoned in and executed.
It was supposed to be a revolutionary new jail with better conditions, but proved to be pretty awful.

Kilmainham Jail, Dublin, the bleak looking spot where 10 of the Easter Rising rebels were executed.


One of the corridors in the prison.


The main courtyard of the prison, used in a good few movies.... ie the original The Italian Job and In the Name of My Father.


Pretty Dublin church (I forget the name, arrgh!)


On Friday night, Aneela arrived, so Bex and Johnny took us out on the town.... we went to a pub where I cautiously tried my first ever Guiness... and liked it! Definitely a meal of a drink, but very tasty.

Saturday we went to see Newgrange. Well, I was way more impressed than I'd anticipated, mainly with the age of the things. They are massive burial mounds built during the Stone Age, around 3300-2900 BC.... that's 500 years older than the pyramids at Giza, and 1000 years older than Stonehenge. So hard to comprehend that amount of time, when the oldest building in NZ is 1820's. Definitely makes you feel completely insignificant in the grand scheme of things :-)
The rocks all around the edge were huge, hauled from quarries a fair distance away by teams of men. There was a tiny opening in the centre that lead through an incredibly narrow stone passage (no fatties in the Stone Age) about 20 metres long, that came out into a tiny burial chamber at the centre. No cement going on; the rocks were stacked in such a way to hold up the tonnes of earth above us. In cruel irony, we discovered our tour guide was in fact claustrophobic (perhaps in the wrong profession).
The mounds are designed so that on the week around winter solstice the rising sun comes up and through the tunnel, illuminating the tomb inside - an eerie sight that entices thousands of people to enter a lottery they have each year to get places on that day to potentially see it.

Me at Newgrange, massive Stone Age burial mounds older than the Pyramids at Giza....very cool! (I look freezing.)


Dublin countryside....very like New Zealand, and yet I keep expecting to see Postman Pat.


After Newgrange, we drove through the countryside, stopping to let me ramble through a cool ruined abbey.

Me in front of cool Irish ruins :-)


And then we ended up in Howth, where we had fish and chips and an evening walk along the pier.

Bex and Johnny :-)


Me, Bex, Johnny and Aneela on a walk out on the pier at Howth after fish and chips.


A very cool day!

The next morning I spent trip planning. It took a whole morning because the Virgin trains website was down, so in order to get my ticket, I had to call. To find that the stupid automated ticket booking system for the Virgin trains (voiced by a pre-recorded plummy englishwoman) couldn't recognise my kiwi accent, and so I had to put on a plummy english accent to get it to work, which Johnny and Aneela listening in thought was hilarious. Anyway, the day went very fast, and suddenly I was winging my way to Scotland....
Posted on 08 May 2007 by Anna

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