Abroad in Oxford: Heading home

I’m writing from Heathrow Airport, in London. I’d like to say we’re at our gate to board and get home, but we got here so early that it hasn’t opened yet. So we’re just relaxing and sitting—a welcome experience after our last few days.

A lot has happened since I last wrote. On Wednesday, we had a class with a war hero (he won a battle in the Falklands War when he was outnumbered and outgunned). He was awesome—Google him, Chris Keeble. We had a British accent contest, a longstanding Oxford trip tradition (congrats to John, who won a majority of the votes—I made it to the final round, by the way).

Everyone went punting, which is gondola-style rowing on a nearby river. I couldn’t make it on that excursion because I was behind on work, but two people fell into the river, and according to Dr. Redekop, they were the first CNU students to fall out of the boats in the history of the trip.

While I wish I had seen those guys fall in, I managed to get a lot done on my project then. For our big projects to save the world, we had to write a 10-piece annotated bibliography and a brief project outline—about 3,500 words total, but a lot of research. We all spent a lot of time in the libraries. The branch of the library I frequented was about a mile from our campus, so that walk was rough and it rained pretty hard once. But it was nice enough; I got to see a bit more of the city, especially when I got lost and wandered the old neighborhoods.

Four of us climbed St. Mary’s Cathedral, which didn’t look that tall, but the trip up was an adventure of its own. It was a lot of stairs, and the final leg was an extremely narrow spiral staircase. From the top, we could see all of Oxford, and I finally got the view of Oxford I wanted. At that moment, looking down on the old libraries, the camera, the churches and the main castle, I felt as if I had arrived. Because the university is dispersed throughout the city and its central location is blocked to the public, I never felt like I was there—it just seemed like another beautiful and ancient city—but not like the University of Oxford as I imagined it. But seeing everything, the big picture, the vast antiquity, was a moment of realization of where I was and what it meant to be there. I credit this moment as the most breathtaking of the trip and the final motive and push for me to finish my project.

Those projects consumed our Wednesday and Thursday. On Thursday we had a fancy, formal dinner, complete with a nice table setting, cocktails, Harris Manchester wine and three courses, and we played a final croquet game (while still wearing our dress clothes). Besides that, it was writing and research. The papers weren’t due until the next evening at midnight, but none of us would be able to turn in the paper because we were leaving England. That quirk to the assignment pushed our due date to whenever we left, and I submitted at 4:50 a.m., moments before we ran through the streets of Oxford to catch our bus to London.

Seven students (including me) and Dr. Kidd spent a few days in Paris, and nine students and Dr. Redekop spent their weekend in Dublin. To get to Paris, we rode a bus to London and took a train to Gare Du Nord station. We arrived at approximately 10 a.m., Paris time, and immediately set out for Notre Dame Cathedral. It was packed there, and we did little besides take pictures, but it was nonetheless beautiful and profound. It’s definitely one of the sites you have to see in the city. After that, we happened upon a bridge that was covered end to end in padlocks. I recognized it from one of those “just girl posts” or “before I die, I want to..” accounts on Twitter that so many people retweet. Basically, couples bring a lock to the bridge, scribble their names onto it, and latch it on, signifying a commitment or promise (I think it’s a pretty lame gesture considering the thousands of locks attached) to the relationship. While unexpected and mostly insignificant to us (none of us happened to be carrying locks or in the company of a significant other), it was cool to recognize the bridge, and we spent a good amount of time taking pictures of it.

Then, we broke off from Dr. Kidd and his wife, Holly, who joined us for the weekend, and visited the Louvre. Now, I don’t know anything substantial about art, but I know the Louvre is as good as it gets. And while everything on the inside was really cool and picture-worthy, nothing about the museum quite hit me like when I first looked around its interior courtyard. It is a massive, old, and beautiful building—impossible to see everything in one day. In the courtyard are these giant glass pyramids and fountains, and from the proper angle, we could see the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, our first live glimpse of Paris’ other crown jewels. Beyond the adjectives you’d expect me to use to describe the Louvre, the main one that comes to mind is exhausting. There is so much art and so much to see and so much walking. We were there for a few hours, and once we saw the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, we had to quit. There is such thing as an art overdose, and we were fast approaching it as we left.

After dinner, we decided to see the Eiffel Tower up close. Once there, we decided to climb it. It was bright out when we arrived, but by the time we began, the sun had set. The Eiffel Tower is really tall, and we took the stairs up to the halfway point. It was a lot of stairs, and I feel like all of us had a freak out moment at some point, thinking about how high up we were (some struggled much worse than others). Regardless, we trudged on—actually we just got in line—the rest of the way up was by elevator. It’s irrational to be afraid on an elevator ride, but that was probably the worst part for me. The fear evaporated at the top, 281 meters high at the peak of what was once the tallest structure on Earth. Only a chain link cage and some bars confine you. You feel the wind and chill of the height. You can reach out to the city and see all of it. At night, all of it is lit up and it looks as if the sky repositioned itself to sit below us on the ground.

We stayed until the tower closed—about midnight. On the ground, we saw the train was closed. At that point, we had two options to get home, by cab or by foot. Being college students in a city where the currency is one-and-a-half times more valuable than the U.S. dollar and everything is overpriced anyway, we walked. The route was simple. Walk along the river, turn left at Notre Dame, follow the road until you get to Gare Du Nord, and the hostel is a couple blocks to the left. It was about five miles away though. It was an interesting walk, and while Paris is glamorous, it is one the world’s big cities and its debauchery is magnified at night. But it was a cool experience, and we got to see the parts of the city hidden from tourist brochures. After getting barely any sleep, crossing the English Channel, walking the city during the day, hiking the maze that is the Louvre, ascending the Eiffel Tower’s seemingly perpetual stair case (up and down), and trudging back home, I was tired, and my feet hurt. We all stayed in the same room that night and slept incredibly soundly. I can’t believe how much we did that day, and it was only day one of three in Paris. I’ll get to the rest later, because this post is getting long, and thinking of the last two days in the city is just exhausting (besides, my feet still ache from it).

I’ll write my last post soon, and I’ll recap the last days and talk a bit about the overall experience. The other group is already in England, and I’m about to be home. I’d say (still reluctantly) my Oxford trip is just about done. All that’s left is a flight, a train ride and one last blog post.

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