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Je suis arrivee! …and G$

Paris. Land of love, land of lights, land of the Eiffel Tower, land of glorious stained-glass windows in Gothic churches, land of excellent table wine, land of cheese, land of baguettes, land of croissants, land of wide boulevards, land of striped shirts, land of ‘oo-la-la’, and land of realllly tiny apartments, such as this one in the 3rd Arr. near the well-known bistro “L’ami Louis” favored by those such as Woody Allen and Bill Clinton (not, however, by me).  But it’s my base of operation for the next 2 weeks, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it (it even has a tub!). The price and location are certainly right.

My itinerary? At least 2 full days in Louvre spending time with my beloved Greek vases, and then hopefully I’ll manage to explore the other galleries. And at least one full day is in store for the Cabinet des Medailles. .However, the rest of my itinerary is open to suggestion, and those are pouring in by the bucketload! I love it! I have only been to Paris once before, and it was only a week and I spent every day on the Left Bank (except the Louvre and Notre Dame). Now that I’m about to spend 2 weeks on the Right Bank, I plan to wear out the soles of these poor feet as often as I can! I will just need to remember to charge my camera…

Meanwhile, this weekend was not just one of travel (Oxford to London to Paris), but also one of the Crossfit Games. For those of you who don’t know what that means… well then you haven’t spent enough time around me, obviously! games.crossfit.com and GRETCHEN KITTELBERGER, #45 (a.k.a. “G$”)!!! Yes, folks, one of my very good friends gave it her all to place well enough in the Open Qualifiers to make it to Regionals, at which she placed 2nd (top 3 go on — a total of 49 women from around the world competing for the title of The Fittest), and now she is about to compete in the final event at the Crossfit Games. They make cuts each day, and she’s made it into each final cut. She is currently in 12th place (top 12 are in the 8th workout), and she has been tested on skills of various sorts, endurance, strength, and determination. She is pretty damn determined. And above it all, she manages to keep a constant smile and is never seen without ribbons and sparkles adorning her hair.

Gretchen even flies higher than I do

I’m honored to have had the pleasure of training with Gretchen at Crossfit Charlottesville. She’s the one I chase in lifts and WODs, and of course I never beat her (except maybe on the rowing stuff…), but she’s always always always been there to help and encourage and I can’t say how happy I am for her not only that she made it to The Games (HUGE achievement), but that she’s just out there having a blast living the dream of kicking serious @$$ at the Games.

Watching Gretchen over the weekend (thank you livestream and archives) I finally understood football fans (proper football, not American football). They REALLY love their teams and REALLY get emotional over a win or a loss or even a yellow card. I never truly understood how one fan could be so involved with the success of a team enough to cry when they win or lose (and I cry at almost everything, but never at a sporting event). And then, after I got settled into my Parisian flat, I watched the archival footage of an earlier workout from today, during which Gretchen took 1st in her heat and 4th overall. She was all heart out there. And when she was done, with a fantastic time of 8:09 (over 3 minutes faster than the 1st place of the previous heat), she didn’t just gloat in her glory, she didn’t plop down on her arse due to exhaustion, no not Gretchen. She immediately turned around and cheered on the girls still fighting to finish. (watch here: http://games.crossfit.com/finals/live/jumbotron/629724 )       And you know what I realized? I was crying. I was crying for her success, and I was crying for her awesome spirit of camaraderie. Yeah, she’s an athlete I can get attached to.

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Cheers, Oxford

My last dinner in Oxford consisted of a pint of Guinness. My lunch today was a beef and stilton pie. I think I’ve grown much too accustomed to British life. Luckily (and sadly, in a way), tomorrow I make my way to Paris for Part 2 of my Travels around Europe(an Museums).

In the meantime, I’ve been quite busy and all over the place.

I realized there are other museums to see in Oxford besides the Ashmolean, and they’re free, too! The Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum are connected by a building and are FULL of wonderful things to see and even touch.  The Natural History Museum is home to many a skeleton of animal and dinosaur, stuffed animals for the touching (I got to pet a cheetah), exhibits of biodiversity and gems and minerals, and even home to the Oxford Dodo.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is almost like a house museum of a very organized hoarder, in that it is just brimming with this and that object, though thankfully each case is grouped thematically. Even the floors are (sort of). The 3rd floor is weapons and armor — they have some ‘war quoits’ which are basically circular blades which REALLLLY is another name for Xena’s chakram. 😀 The 2nd floor is all sorts of games. And the 1st floor, the bottom floor you see here, is full of EVERYTHING ELSE: boat models, instruments, a totem pole, shrunken heads… you name it, I bet they have it.

Did you know that Oxford is also very centrally located to many interesting cities, sites, and even castles? I did. Many of the students here went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Blenheim Palace, Nottingham, London, Salisbury, Stonehenge…  I went to Broughton Castle. I took the train to Banbury, which is best known for the nursery rhyme “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross”, and from there walked west and just south for about 3.5 miles to Broughton Village. Turn right at the “Saye and Sele Arms” pub and soon you will come upon Broughton Castle, home to Lord Sele and Lady Saye (the Fiennes family, yes of Joseph Fiennes and Ralph Fiennes). The castle, church, and grounds date back to the 13th century, and have since been improved and updated and added on to. It is encased by a moat, has a charming little garden, the stables are now a tea room, and the grounds beyond the moat are free for public use.  The castle is full of portraits and period rooms and it is well preserved, and the docents are full of knowledge. It also comes with a very friendly current Lord Sele and Lady Saye, the latter of whom striked up conversation with me on the staircase.  If you can get there, I recommend you go.

Now it’s not all fun and games here in Europe, you know!

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I’ve been occupying my academic time slots in the Brasenose Library, for one, which has a pretty good selection of scholarship on Classical literature and such.  Not to mention it’s got a good interior view!

I also got to spend my time among the books and photos and drawings at the Beazley Archive! Yes, there is the entire database online for worldwide accessibility, but being able to physically spend time with the photographs and notes, and being able to spread multiple images across a very long table, really puts a new perspective on visual comparisons. Plus I got to meet Sir John Boardman, Donna Kurtz, and Thomas Mannack! And of course I’ve been spending much time still at the Ashmolean with the lovely Archaeology class.  Awww aren’t we just a good little group! We also managed to take a field trip to the British Museum and that was lovely (naturally).

Afterward the BM, I took advantage of being in London and went to the Tate Modern, but after one floor I’d had enough of Modern Art. I also stopped by CrossFit Central London, where I’d visited when I was last in London over Thanksgiving break, and saw Brian, the owner, and did some clean and jerks under the careful eye of Sauro. He was an enabler and had me attempt a max effort clean and jerk at 75kg (165#) — which I just kept failing (barely). Sadly. The clean was not happening. Needless to say, yesterday at Oxford Powersports I tried it again and got it nice and easy on the 3rd attempt. Speaking of Oxford Powersports, and this being the end of my trip, I made them all take a farewell group photo with me on my last day!  Because every girl loves to be surrounded by men with muscles, right? Right!

I’m going to miss all these people, including all the other Oklahoma University Honors Program kids who were staying at Brasenose. I like to say I left knowing all of their names, and I assure you that our ‘funny farewell photo’ should more aptly be named a ‘personality photo’: Good bye, Oxford! I’ll think of you fondly during my onward travels!

Next stop: PARIS.

Trout, Bath, and PB

Week #2 in Oxford is flying by, but at least it is packing itself full of goodness.

The first goodness began on Monday with an afternoon spent walking from the center of Oxford to The Trout Inn, stopping at interesting sites/spots/pubs along the way. The theme of our lovely walk through the countryside was authors of note, including: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, etc. We first wandered into the “Eagle and Child” (where I sipped on cider later in the night, see below), a spot where Tolkien and Lewis used to drink and discuss. Then we walked through Jericho and out of town along a path where perhaps Lewis Carroll recited “Alice and Wonderland”. 

There was a little history, too, which was brought to our attention when we came across the 16th century ruins of an old Abbey. Oh hey, really old decrepit building! (Full of cow poop on the inside.) By the side of the Isis river, we learned what a ‘lock’ is (not a ‘loch’). We stopped for a pint (half pint in my case) at The Perch Inn, which you got to by stepping off the main path –not road, definitely just a path — and into a very green path strewn with metal arches that took you to an outdoor area of picnic tables under weeping willows. The pub itself had a fake sheep ‘perched’ on its roof (hence the name). Very adorable, very cozy, quite lovely. After we had finished our drinks we headed back onto the main path along the river and towards The Trout Inn, which is where many an Inspector Morse episode takes place. There was a live peacock and some very good crisp cyder (only a half pint for me, please!).  Most of the group who headed out took cabs back, but 5 of us opted for the 3 mile scenic route back to Brasenose. I do not regret it in the least.

The second goodness was an entire day (Tuesday) spent in Bath, with a good couple hours of that day  in the Museum of the Roman Baths.

Bath, Bath house, Bath Abbey

After the fantastic self-guided audio tour of Roman Bath (which included its archaeology, the entire bath complex, and reconstructions of the complex and the temple architectural sculptures), I walked around the town as I made my way towards the Circus and Royal Crescent (anyone familiar with Jane Austen should get excited). There I encountered two of the girls from the OU Honours program, and we walked around the Queen’s Park (Victoria, that is), enjoying the freshly mowed grass, the dogs being walked, the children playing, the flowers blooming, and all that’s lovely about Bath. Then we made our way back to the train station, but, having 45 minutes to spare before the next train, stopped in at “The Hobgoblin” (awesome looking ‘pub’ that turned out to have this creeptastic punk vibe to it with skull decorations everywhere and a basement level called “The Crypt”), and had a half-pint of Hobgoblin Ale (not too bitter with a nice ruby colour).

Spent after a full day at Bath, some of us found ourselves enjoying a pint (or two) at the Eagle and Child pub (previously called “The Bird and Baby”), a favorite watering hole for Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

The final goodness is a British PB. Not peanut-butter, but a “personal best” (what we call a PR [‘personal record’] in the States). After a mentally rough day of lifting on Sunday, I came to the gym Wednesday and finally hit 72.5 kg (160lbs) for a clean and jerk (I had previously cleaned successfully at that weight, and jerked successfully, but had never managed to put the two together). It only took two attempts (got a little scared on the jerk the first time around and bailed back), but I stuck it!!! It’s nice to have an Oly gym around; this is something I will miss for the next 6 weeks while traveling around Europe (should have this luxury again once I’m in Athens).

OXP: where I get to do some Olympic weightlifting while in Oxford

No English bulldogs as of yet

Oxford is always full of tourists, but on the weekends the town really comes to life — especially on the pedestrian shopping streets. Whilst wandering (slowly) among crowds of people speaking a motley of languages, I came across these buskers: The Two Busketeers

They were a great encounter, and a warm welcome since the first hours of my Saturday were dominated by a dreary rainfall (first rain since I arrived on Monday).

The streets around the colleges were strewn with gowned persons holding caps in hands and wearing large (and relieved?) smiles — students who just matriculated. It really is quite a sight, and regretfully I did not capture a photo. Never fear! I am sure there will be many more opportunities.

The first week at Oxford has been good — although I am often reminding myself (or being reminded) that even though I am in another country this is most certainly not a vacation. I am here to study, to work, to be productive, and all of those things I like to think I have accomplished thus far. In one week’s time I have only been out at night once — some of the OU Honours kids and I went to a pub (we tried The Turf but it was much too crowded for our group, so we ended up at The Chequers) then on to The Purple Turtle night club for a dancing. Also when not working, I’ve been occupying my muscles at either the Iffley Sports Centre’s Powerlifting Gym, which is predominantly college boys doing squats and deadlifts,  or Oxford Powersports Olympic Lifting Gym, which greeted me with this sign:

I guess they had a bad CF seed visit them once. HOWEVER, besides the welcome sign they are a great group of very strong men (and a couple ladies) who are extremely encouraging and funny and have some great advice for my technique issues. One of them was just named “Britain’s Strongest Man.” Another just placed 4th in a British Oly Meet. Another guy dead-lifted 300kg x2 right in front of my eyes. A couple of them also train with me at Iffley. I’m meeting locals! Yay!

I did NOT see the last installment of the Harry Potter series, yet (to be remedied soon, Loves, soon). Some of the students here did, and one of them even dressed up like Harry. He was quite convincing. Before they went to the show they paid the admission fee to Christ Church college, where much of the first 2 movies was filmed (dining hall, great staircase…).

I have, however, been stealing away to the nearest bookstore every now and then to read (chapter by chapter) the latest George R. R. Martin book! It’s like my little afternoon treat to myself. 😀

But really I’ve been spending my days at the recently renovated Ashmolean Museum! They’ve re-thought the way a museum should be organized and the way objects should be displayed. More of a cross-cultural interactive learning experience than a display of really old objects. Read about it! http://www.ashmolean.org/transforming/

Before I even stepped foot inside a single exhibit room, I first entered through the “Study” entrance. I was led up quite a few flights of stairs to the study room in which 5 vases and 1 sherd awaited my attention! The staff apologized for not being able to have prepared a few of the items I requested to view since 2 were off-site, 1 was not in an easy location to remove from display (the giant lekythoi display case), 1 was hiding somewhere in display (same location), and the others were prominently on display (I had assured them they need not remove anything for my personal study which was already on display).

notice the missing lekythos front row on the left (removed for my study)!

Needless to say, I was allowed as much time as I wanted with those objects, and they were a glorious few hours! When I was done, I still had a little time left before lunch at Brasenose College, so I took advantage of the wonderful location of the study room exit (inside the Special Exhibition) to peruse the objects in the “From Heracles to Alexander” exhibit. The Lady of Aegae really is something!

The Ashmolean occupied much of my week and weekend, as I went back a few times to see all I could see. They have Titians, a Tintoretto, a drawing of Michelangelo’s, wonderful Buddhas from India, a Samurai’s armor from Japan, an incredible collection of porcelain, the “Messiah” (finest Stradivarius there is) among other incredible musical instruments, an amazing collection of Greek vases, Sir Arthur Evans’ Minoan finds, Chinese calligraphy, Byzantine jewelry, the smallest portable Qu’ran I ever did see, and many many more highlights that I just can’t mention here otherwise this post will never ever end!

I still haven’t been to the Natural History Museum to see the remains of a Dodo bird! This is on my list!

“So it begins.” –Tolkien

“Not all those who wander are lost.” — also Tolkien

6:30am this morning my flight landed at Heathrow airport. Pretty uneventful (thankfully). I went through customs, collected my bag, proceeded to the Oxford X70 coach, paid for my ticket, sat down. An hour later I was walking along High Street towards the main entrance of Brasenose College.

I collected my key from the porter, crossed the Old Quad, 

walked around Deer Quad

and into New Quad and towards my staircase. Half an hour later I was in my single dorm room, unpacked and ready to shower when I heard the familiar voice of my advisor just outside. I peeked out my head, greeted her enthusiastically, then proceeded to get cleaned up and figure out the internet connection. By noon I was ready for lunch, which wasn’t served until 1. I ate with the professors (yayyy adults!) in Brasenose Hall, under the protection of a quite ithyphallic wooden unicorn (NSFW otherwise I’d post a pic, but you can always google it).  After lunch, my advisor showed me a bit around (I hadn’t been to Oxford in 17 years) as we made our way to Blackwell Book Store (and went straight upstairs towards the Classics section, naturally). We found my advisor’s recently published book right there in the shelf, and so of course she posed for the camera!

I saw what looked like a fantastic book by Robin Lane Fox called “Travelling Heroes”, but it was too thick (and expensive) to purchase. Read a review here:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/nov/08/greeks-travelling-heroes-review.

So I left to stretch my still jet-lagged legs as I took in some of the sights of Oxford. And boy did I walk. I came back (2 hours later) tan! In England! Whoa.  Cornmarket St., down George St. and all the way around until I cut through Pembroke St. towards St. Aldate’s

and crossed that to walk along Christ Church (where they filmed some of the Harry Potter dining hall scenes)

I took advantage of the lovely ‘high of 71 and sunny’ weather and walked along the Meadow towards the Botanic Gardens, through the rose garden out front (stopped to sniff a few), and down Iffley Rd. I caught the middle of a tennis camp at Christ Church Sports Ground (grass court!), and then decided to double back and head home before it possibly rained (hmmm still no rain). Stopped on the Magdalen Bridge to capture a scenic view:


No one was trying to punt with these boats, but I sure saw some failed attempts earlier. I hear it’s a lot harder than it looks!

And now it’s time to relax a little before we are ‘seated’ for our 3-course dinner, again in Brasenose Hall. I started this by nursing some newly purchased dark chocolate (Cadbury Bournville!) and Skype-ing with my parents! I have a feeling I’ll sleep early and well tonight.

Scrippsie Staycation plus a Birthday!

It’s hard to imagine that only 5 years ago I earned my BA from Scripps College. Along with picking up a college degree, I picked up some wonderful amazing lifetime friends. Here we are, celebrating our academic achievement: Quite mature, yes? Such BEAUTIFUL ladies! (where is Megan?!?!)

Since 2006, we’ve all scattered to different corners of the country and world and grown as scholars, women, people, and friends. We’ve attempted to get together at least once every other year and so far have achieved some lovely reunions. The last big one took place in Boston and Cape Cod 2 summers ago. This summer, not everyone could make it due to financial concerns or simply being in another country (very valid excuses), but 4 of my lovely ladies came to my very own Charlottesville the weekend before my birthday!

It’s amazing how much I take Charlottesville for granted, and only realize it when friends come to visit. In one long weekend we: explored Jefferson’s rotunda and lawn, ate southern BBQ, had fun at the Farmer’s Market, acted like a local at Friday’s After Five, visited Monticello , went peach-picking, danced our feet off at 80s night, and of course we visited one of the many glorious local wineries. It sure was grand to be reunited with such splendid Scrippsies! The weekend passed all too quickly and I can’t wait for our next reunion (whenever it might be)!

In other news, I turned 27 last week.

Any birthday between 25 and 30 for me is going to be a ‘I should reflect on my life’ sad sort of birthday. Sad because I outlived my dear brother Dandan yet another year, sad because when I was little I was certain at this age I would be married with a job and kids (ha), and sad yet again because so many others seem so much more successful at my age. I, however, am quite the optimist and rather prefer to reflect on the positive. So here goes…

I have lived another year and during that time have: 1) formed further friendships to cherish; 2) laughed more often than cried; 3) note that I am in superb health; 4) have both of my parents who are always there for loving support; 5) have a full belly and  a roof over my head and a Plan A followed by a Plan B followed by a “I’ll go with the flow and see where it takes me” direction in life.

I also got to eat ice-cream cake that was home-made by none other than the wonderful Elizabeth of http://www.sweetsnickerdoodles.blogspot.com/  Pretty darn tasty looking, right?! Right! That’s a triple layer chocolate cake with mint-chip ice-cream and sweet buttercream frosting!!! Phenomenally delicious. Why ice-cream cake? When I was younger I used to celebrate my birthday (which I share with my wonderful mother!) by having a pool party in our backyard complete with dressing up like a princess and ice-cream cake (generally bought at Baskin Robins).  

Well, this year I went all nostalgic on everyone and said I wanted to celebrate turning 27 by: 1) lying by the pool (check), 2) eating ice-cream cake (check)  , and 3) watching a movie with friends (check). In fact, I got more than all that. I got to watch XENA (“Warrior… Princess… Tramp”) and then “Wet Hot American Summer”!!! Fantastic times. Oh, and I still dressed up like a pretty princess, tiara and all. 

You know, I find there’s little in life about which I can legitimately complain.  I think I’ll remind myself of this little truth more often.