Monday, March 20, 2017

U.K. Visit: Oxford

University of Oxford

Oscar Wilde, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lewis Carroll, Tolkien, Jeanette Winterson, Aung San Suu Kyi, Prince Naruhito from Japan, C S Lewis, T E Lawrence, Stephen Hawking, Gandhi, T S Eliot, and a long list of many more influential people, all share something in common: they studied at the University of Oxford.

I'm an avid reader so following the footsteps of some of my literary heroes during my U.K. travels has been really exciting. Just walking the streets around Oxford, surrounded by old stone buildings and narrow alleys, you have the feeling that you could turn a corner and run into one of the greatest writers, leaders, scientists, human beings of recent history.

I only spent a day in Oxford so this will be a brief description, but the beauty of the architecture in and around the university really impressed me. We started off just walking through the university grounds, which were a mix of gardens and tiny paths that cut past warm stone halls and libraries. 

Beautiful gardens on the Oxford campus

Friday, March 17, 2017

U.K. Visit: Countryside walk from Bradford to Bath

The city of Bath in southwest England

Since arriving in the U.K. in October, I've been staying in Bristol in the southwestern part of England near Wales. Very close to Bristol is Bath, one of the most picturesque cities I've ever visited. 

Although a lot of the current city of Bath was only built fairly recently, the presence of humans in the area goes back an incredibly long time, all the way to the Mesolithic period (10,000-5,000 BCE.) Romans were attracted by the hot springs in the area and built baths there in AD 60, giving the place the Latin name Aquae Sulis which means the Waters of Sulis.

The Arthurian legend nerd in me got excited when I learned that Bath might have been the location where King Arthur supposedly defeated the Anglo-Saxxons around AD 500. At any rate, a monastery was built there possibly in the 7th century and the place continued to be known for its natural hot water. This quote from Nennius, a 9th century historian, is kind of funny: "It is surrounded by a wall, made of brick and stone, and men may go there to bathe at any time, and every man can have the kind of bath he likes. If he wants, it will be a cold bath; and if he wants a hot bath, it will be hot." (Wikipedia)

Map of Bath from 1610 (photo credit)

Monday, March 13, 2017

A very British mystery

I've been pretty intimately acquainted with British English for a while now, thanks to Anna and my many friends from the U.K. over the years and all the British TV I've watched. I've read a lot of books by authors from the U.K. as well, not to mention I've been staying here since October.

Despite all that, I still occasionally come across words or phrases that I don't understand. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Mingin' (adjective.) "I think we should get rid of that sofa, it's a bit mingin."  (American English tranlsation: "it's a bit gross".)
  • Bob's Your Uncle (exclamation?). You've just managed to fix a broken bicycle and you exclaim, "Bob's your uncle!" (or something like that.) (American English translation: "there you go".) The origin of the phrase is pretty funny, read about it here.
  • Naff (adjective.) "That gold clock is so naff." (American English translation: "so tacky.")

Friday, March 10, 2017

U.K. Visit: Stratford Upon Avon

At the birthplace of Shakespeare, Stratford Upon Avon

Just after the holidays, we took a little day trip to Stratford Upon Avon, a small town that's famous for being the birthplace of Shakespeare. We got tickets to see a performance of his play, The Tempest, at the Royal Shakespeare Company. 

The town is small but charming, with lots of Tudor architecture (the buildings that are mostly white with dark timber support beams) and a river running through the center. Even if you're not there for a show, it's a nice place to walk around and you can see some famous sites, like the location of Shakespeare's home as a child, as well as the homes of some of his family and the cemetery where he was buried.

A Tudor building in Stratford

Monday, March 6, 2017

5 of My Favorite British Pubs

Pubs - possibly (probably) the best way to enjoy the U.K. 

So far one of my favorite forms of sightseeing in the U.K. is visiting old or unusual pubs, and we've definitely stopped in a few great ones during our visit the past few months. Here are some of my favorites from my travels so far.

Friday, March 3, 2017

U.K. Visit: London

Fun times in London

Like Tokyo, London is the kind of place you could spend years exploring and still just scratch the surface of things to see and do there. I've only spent about 4 days there total so far, so I'm far from being very knowledgeable, but here are some of the highlights from my recent trips there.

First some of the big touristy ones:

Buckingham Palace is sort of the quintessential London tourist hot spot, but it is undeniably impressive, especially when it's lit up at night. We visited just before Christmas so the guards were wearing different colors than you'd expect to see, and there were Christmas trees all over.

Buckingham Palace at Christmastime

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Month in Greece: Athens

A windy day at the Parthenon in Athens

The last place I visited during my month-long trip around mainland Greece was Athens, after stays in Meteora, Thessaloniki, Kalamata and the Peloponnese. I stopped there overnight a couple of times early on in the trip, but didn't do any real sight-seeing or exploring until the last few days before I left. 

Like everywhere else I visited, Athens has a long history and it's visible as you walk through the streets of the main downtown areas. The Acropolis stands in the center on top of a large hill overlooking the rest of the city, so that in many areas you can turn a street corner and catch a great view of it.