Sarah and Annie's Blog

Sarah and Annie's Blog of their trip to England during the Summer of 2012. All photos can be downloaded here.

Day 22

Today was our last full day in England, which snuck up on both of us! In the past couple days we’ve had some huge adventures – on Thursday we visited the Harry Potter studio tour to see the actual sets used in the Harry Potter movies and on Friday we had a free day in London, where Annie spent her 21st birthday and Sarah saw a production of Sweeney Todd featuring Imelda Staunton – better known as Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic. After the hustle and bustle of the city, it was nice to have a calmer day in Oxford, which feels like a second home by now. We picked up some last-minute souvenirs for friends and family back home (and some for ourselves, of course), had a final lunch in the middle of the city, and took one last stroll along the River Thames. Tomorrow we head to the airport at five in the morning to come back home, but for now we’re thoroughly enjoying our last few hours together having the time of our lives. This has been an absolutely amazing opportunity for both of us and it’s bittersweet to know that it’s all coming to an end now. But we’ve made friends we know we’ll keep forever and memories to match. It’s amazing how close we’ve gotten with all of the students on this trip. It feels like we’ve condensed a lifetime span of friendships into three weeks. The discussions we’ve had with them, the laughs we’ve shared, and the experiences we’ve had together have brought us all closer than we’d thought possible. But now, when we come back to Bloomsburg and people ask “What did you do this summer?” we can say “Oh, you know, just spent a couple weeks in England having the time of our lives.”

Hogwarts Castle Model in the Warner Bros Studio

The Entire Group Outside of our Hotel

Annie and Sarah

Day 19

The past few days here have been very Tolkien-focused, which is just as well since it fits the theme of our trip. Yesterday, we ate dinner at the Eagle and Child, which is the pub where Tolkien along with C.S. Lewis and several other writers of the time – collectively known as the Inklings – used to meet regularly to compare notes on their writing projects. We sat in the same booth the Inklings frequented; at the time, it was the back room of the pub, but nowadays it’s only the beginning of the rest of the dining area. After dinner we stopped at the Lamb and Flag, another pub where the Inklings used to meet. (One of the girls on the trip is doing her culminating project on the Inklings, so this was all research, we swear!)

Today, we traveled to the Cotswolds, a scenic area of England just outside of Oxford that Tolkien used as inspiration for the Shire. There were farmsteads and rolling hills galore, complete with sheep and horses grazing the grass. We stopped in a couple of towns in the area, all of which were suitably cutesy and full of bakeries and stationary shops. Like many of the other places we’ve been to, the history of the Cotswolds is palpable, from their humble beginnings as a wool-manufacturing headquarters to their current status as one of the most beautiful places in England – it’s no wonder Tolkien wanted to feature the landscape in his work.

Getting a taste of Tolkien’s Oxford was another wonderful way for us to immerse ourselves in the culture of the area. Oxford has inspired hundreds of literary works and it’s easy to see why; something about the lay of the land and the spires of the city makes you feel like you’re living in a fairy tale. Maybe we’ll accidentally wander into an enchanted castle and then accidentally never come home…we could be all right with that.

A Plaque in the Eagle and Child about Lewis and Tolkien

Lamb and Flag Pub

Annie and Sarah

Day 17

Oxford and London are only about an hour apart by coach, so the plan for today was to venture to England’s capital to see all the necessary tourist attractions – Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and a river cruise on the River Thames. Unfortunately, due to two separate car accidents involving overturned lorries, all of the motorways from Oxford to London were closed so we had to make the incredibly difficult decision to abandon London for Warwick Castle. Built in the twelfth century, the castle was used by many of England’s rulers as headquarters in times of war and peace, perhaps most famously by King Henry I during the Wars of the Roses in the 1400s.

The castle itself was the main attraction of the day: we walked across the parapets and through the jail (which was appropriately dark and damp), then lounged in the castle courtyard for a while. There was also an archery demonstration, a peacock garden – in case anyone was wondering, peacocks are much bigger and scarier in real life – and the grand finale, the launching of the world’s largest medieval-style trebuchet. Although our visit to Warwick Castle wasn’t in the plans, it turned out to be a pretty good day overall. We’ve got some free days coming up towards the end of the trip, so we might make it to London yet!

Warwick Castle

Annie and Sarah

Day 15

Today, we ventured outside Oxford to visit Cressing Temple, a historical landmark whose claim to fame is a couple of wooden barns that have been standing since they were first erected by the Knights Templar in the thirteenth century. There was also an old well-house, a functioning chicken coop, and a walled Tudor garden where the curators of Cressing Temple grow the same plants that would have been used during the time of the Tudors, particularly for medicine, cooking, and cloth-dyeing.

A couple of old farm buildings seems like a silly thing to be proud of, until you consider the fact that those barns have existed since centuries before the United States was so much as  British colony. That’s one of the things we have discovered to be most strikingly different between England and the US: at home, our idea of old is something from the 1800s, but here, old means medieval or earlier. American history is all well and good, but it only goes back so far. Being in England and studying the Middle Ages has given us a sense of history and cultural identity that is more pervasive than America’s.

Part of that history and cultural identity is, of course, tea time, which we enjoyed at Cressing Temple with a lunch of tea cakes and sandwiches. It’s taken a while, but Annie is slowly coming to the realization that she does in fact enjoy drinking tea – as long as there’s plenty of milk and sugar!

Tudor Garden at Cressing Temple

Annie and Sarah

Day 14: Canterbury!

Yesterday, we went on an excursion to Canterbury Cathedral.  It was seriously one of the most amazing pieces of architecture we’ve ever seen. And trust us, we’ve seen some pretty amazing buildings here. Sarah had a rough start in the morning and almost missed the bus, but luckily, she got there in time and the bus didn’t leave without her. When we got there, we were given a guided tour of the cathedral by a man who went to Oxford himself. He was full of stories about the University and his days of being an undergraduate there. I think that it made the University of Oxford a bit more real to us. Here, standing in front of us, was someone who actually graduated from the place we’ve been studying. He had been a part of it and that just made it seem like an actual place for the first time.

It was such an amazing place, even besides our amazing tour guide. The building was marvelous to behold, considering it was made with almost fewer tools than wooden ladders, stones, and chisels. It was awe-inspiring. We also had a chance to explore the city around the cathedral for a while. It was interesting to be able to compare how the city differed from Oxford itself. It was smaller and more self-contained, but just as busy as Oxford.

Today, we got the chance to try our hands at punting. It was fun to watch everyone look like typical tourists accidentally getting pushed downstream since we couldn’t figure out how to control the boats. We did get some helpful advice from locals who lived on the river, though! So I guess we weren’t totally irredeemable punters! Later, we went to an Anglican Catholic Mass at the Holy Rood Church. It was a beautiful service and they had the most beautiful choir. Unlike Annie, Sarah isn’t Catholic. That being the case, the beauty of the service and the scripture readings wasn’t lost on either of us.

Well, it’s about 2 o’clock in the morning right now since we and a few other students along with our professor Dr. Crawford have been up discussing the core differences between Catholics and Protestant for hours. I guess it’s time for bed since we have an early morning tomorrow!

Canterbury Cathedral

Sarah and Annie

Day 12: Simply stated, Oxford is the best.

Yesterday, we went on a walking tour of Oxford. We explored all of the colleges and heard about their rich history as a part of the town of Oxford. After that, we were able to go to the Oxford covered market to find lunch. There are tons of little vendors that sell the most deliciously simple and inexpensive paninis and other types of food.

We walked around and explored as we made our way to the Bodleian Library. We got to go on a tour of the Library, which allowed us to walk onto more sets where Harry Potter was filmed. (If you haven’t already figured it out, we both are a bit obsessed with good old HP.) We walked through the room where the Hospital Wing was filmed and then got to see the “Restricted Section” of the library. There were books there that were hundreds of years old. They have a security system on the shelves to make sure that they are not mishandled and only Oxford students are allowed to see them. One thing that is so amazing about the Bodleian is that the man who made the library what it is today, Thomas Bodley, made a deal with British printers to give one copy of every new book free to the library. This deal is still in place today and the library gets over 3,000 books a week. They keep running out of places to keep them! It was heaven for a couple of bookworms like us!

Today was Sarah’s birthday! We went out to lunch to celebrate. Lunch in England is special though. We just wandered around Oxford until we found a pub that looked intriguing. We went in and got exactly what we wanted: traditional English food. Sarah got a cottage pie, which was a kind of ground beef stew in a flaky piecrust while Annie got fish and chips. It was absolutely delicious. Afterwards, we went to the Ashmolean Museum and got to see some wonderful artifacts such as mummies and centuries old musical instruments.

We already feel as if we have been here for months and every day, we feel as if we are closer and closer friends with our fellow study abroad students. It’s like we’re fitting in a lifetime of friendship into three weeks!

Radcliffe Camera, a part of Bodleian Library

Sarah and Annie

Day 10: We have now been in England for two days and we must say, it is the absolute tops, wotwot!

The journey to get here was pretty intense. We spent Monday morning packing and making sure we were prepared for what was in store for us. We did that with ease! By noon, we were being whisked away on a bus (or coach as it is called here in England) towards our destiny! Well, the airport, at least. We had a short flight to Charlotte, NC and then boarded the jumbo plane that took us to England. It was a long flight, but we were able to use the time to get to know our fellow Oxford journeyers better. We had intellectual discussions with each other about what was expected of us in regards to our projects, what we wanted our projects to accomplish, and what we hoped our trip would accomplish in general. It is so refreshing to be surrounded by people who want nothing more than to learn.

As soon as we got to England, we had to jump right into our plans. We weren’t allowed to sleep since we traveled through time as well and skipped over night and straight into morning. Our heads told us to sleep since it was after midnight, but our eyes said it was only 7 am. Very disorienting. But, we were determined to work through it. We visited Chaldon Church and saw a gorgeous medieval mural depicting Heaven and Hell. It fit perfectly within the topics we discussed last week. Then we toured Christ Church College, a college within Oxford University. It was where several of the scenes from the Harry Potter films were shot, which was exciting for both of us. The tour inspired Sarah’s research project topic. She decided to compare Hogwarts and Oxford as institutions, or Oxwarts, if you will.

More adventures are soon to come! We’re going to be exploring Oxford and seeing the Bodleian Library tomorrow. So exciting!

Christ Church College

Sarah and Annie

Day 8: Our last full day at CalU and the United States!  This past week has been a whirlwind of lectures about cathedrals and universities, Harry Potter and hobbits.  On Friday we got to visit the special collection at Pittsburgh University’s library, where we got to get up close and personal with books and atlases dating all the way back to the fifteenth century (Annie was probably more excited about that than she needed to be). 

We spent Saturday at Kennywood, which is Pittsburgh’s version of Knoebels, but way better. We got sunburned, went on rollercoasters, and ate deep fried oreos, which were absolutely delicious. When we got back, they had a pizza dinner waiting for us, which was only made better by the fact that we ate it as we watched A Very Potter Musical. This show was one that was written by college students as a parody of Harry Potter. It was hysterical! About halfway through, we heard fireworks and all of a sudden, about 15 Honors students were sprinting across the CalU campus to get a front row seat for the show. It was the kind of spontaneity that is what makes this trip so much fun. We already feel as if we have been best friends with these people for more than a few days. We can’t tell if that is because of our similar backgrounds and love of learning or simply because of the feel of this trip as a whole.

Today, Sunday, has been spent doing last-minute shopping and last-minute packing in preparation for our transatlantic flight tomorrow. We’ll arrive at the London airport at 7 am English time, 2 am American time – so we’ll be absolutely exhausted, but also absolutely excited. When we land, we’ll jump right into a tour of Christ Church College in Oxford University so that we don’t nap and get jet lag. Our adventures will just be beginning!

Book of Hours

Sarah and Annie

Day 3. We have run out of water and are now living off of the few strips of beef jerky we have left. Just kidding!

We have however finished our first two days of classes at CalU about the most awesome topics ever. Book-making, Oxford, Old World maps, medieval architecture (actually very interesting if you can imagine), and plenty of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings; it has been a true nerd’s smorgasbord of literary and historical knowledge.

Life at CalU has been interesting. First of all, the dorms are glorious. They are all suites with bathrooms included and they are all air-conditioned. We feel like we’re living in the lap of luxury!  The hotel in Oxford will have a lot to live up to. The food here at Cal has been pretty good too – no meat pasties or blood pudding yet, but we’ll get our share of traditional British food once we hop across the pond.

We’ve been having a great time getting to know the other twenty-six students, especially now that we have everyone’s names memorized. Even without doing tons of awkward icebreakers, all of us have been spending time together (mostly by hanging out in the lounge to catch up on all our readings for the week – typical college honors students!).

There will be more exciting things to report on once we make it to England, but for now we’re having fun in the sun in California – PA, that is.


Sarah and Annie


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