Tuesday, February 22, 2005

To Sing About Tourist-y Things

It’s been rather a tourist-y weekend indeed! But I think every once in a while, even in the midst of trying to spend a semester here so as to blend in with the natives and experience authentic British culture, one has to embrace one’s tourist status and see that side of things as well. Accordingly, I have spent the past weekend in the very throes of tourism. The result—excitement, exhaustion, a few new friends, about a billion new photos, and an even greater appreciation for this country I am spending the semester wandering through.

It all began last Friday with a trip into London to see the philosopher Hilary Putnam speak on "The Epistemology of Just Warfare." Although the talk wasn’t until 5:45, the megabus necessitated that we leave at 12:30 that afternoon, to arrive two hours later and a good three hours prior to the talk. My travelling companion, a fellow American student of Metaphysics named Justin Horn, and I passed the hours on the bus discussing Aristotle’s theory of virtue and the relative merits of rationalism and religion.

Upon arrival we decided to spend some time exploring until it was time for the talk, and I proposed a walk along the Thames to the Globe Theatre, which I was interested in viewing close-up. Along the way we also passed Westminster Cathedral, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament. It was a lengthier walk than I expected from the map to reach the Globe, and when we arrived it turned out you had to pay a rather hefty admission fee to even enter the theatre, so I figured I’d wait to pay about the same price for a theatre ticket and actually get to see a show there, and simply took a few photos of the outside.

We now had only a short time until we had to head across town to find the lecture, but as the Tate Modern museum was right next door, and had free admission, we decided to pop over for a quick peek. The building was intimidatingly huge. We wandered about for a bit poking gentle fun at the authoritative nonsense printed on the descriptive wall tags, but just as I had begun to contemplate the artistic merits of the guard seated in a chair against one wall of the gallery, it was time to head out.

Past time, in fact, since we had realized too late that I had failed to bring my map of London or the address of the place where the lecture would be held. So we had only our combined hazy memories leading us to Euston Station, Gordon (?) Square, and Something Williams (?) Library. This all being halfway across downtown London, it might have been wise to leave ourselves more then half an hour to get there. Things were tight as we arrived at the proper underground station with only the vaguest sense of which direction we needed to proceed in. Fortunately a friendly law enforcement officer let us glance over his map. Still, without the address or precise name of the venue, and with only five minutes to spare, things didn’t look promising. Especially when every building on the appropriate street resembled a library. But when we finally found the proper building, and discovered that the talk had in fact been moved to another building several blocks away, still we did not despair, but, sprinting through the darkening streets, made it to the correct lecture hall just as Mr. Putnam began to speak.

The talk itself was rather interesting. Putnam’s proposed criteria for a just war basically involved (1) the knowledge that war would be the only effective means to stop a certain bad event, and (2) the knowledge that war would be successful in stopping that thing without replacing it with an equal or greater bad thing. Which seem like pretty sensible criteria, although they raise the question of what bad things are worth going to war over. If nothing else, the philosophical atmosphere and collection of characters had definite theatrical potential.

When the lecture concluded, we had another megabus-enforced period of several hours’ wandering about London. Fearing another mad dash, we decided to do our wandering near to and with constant locational awareness of the megabus station. Hungry, we sought out a place to eat dinner and pass the time, and managed to find an Indian restaurant which seemed harmless enough from the outside. The interior contained several amusing aspects, however, one of which being its rather absurd resemblance to the gaudily decorated cafe described as the Valentine’s Day meeting place of Cho Chang and Harry Potter in the Goblet of Fire. Also, the waiters were a rather forceful breed, subtly but constantly urging you to order more food, while trying to remove what they’ve already served you as quickly as possible. When we decided to keep our half-eaten appetizer even after they had delivered our main courses, I think every waiter in the restaurant came to our table on at least two separate occasions each to try to remove it.

We managed to pass quite a bit of our evening under those waiters’ watchful eyes, but finally we had to depart, and, after another half-hour in another bar/restaurant nearby, we caught our ride home. On the bus, as we continued our discussion of materialism and the concept of free will, a random fellow passenger popped up from the front of the bus to deliver a brief lecture on the non-determinist nature of quantum physics. Wonderful!

We returned to the University around 1:00 that night, and I returned to my flat to pack for the next morning’s early departure. I met the coach the next day at 9am, to discover several acquaintances would also be taking the trip, including Linda and Miriam from my theatre class and Savannah from the Skeptics/Nuthurst group. I read and dozed on the three hour trip to Stratford. When we arrived, we were first taken to the cottage of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, and given a tour of the interior. On the way there, we were given a general overview of the life of Shakespeare...by a guide! ... who invariably spoke! ... all his sentences! ... in spaced intervals! ... of three words! ... And each phrase! ... was delivered! ... as if it were! ... the most exciting! ... information imaginable! Quite, quite amusing.

We then drove into the town centre for a walking tour, which passed by Shakespeare’s birthplace, school, church of burial, and the houses his daughters lived in. We also saw the theatres of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and walked along the banks of the Avon River. We then had several hours to wander about by ourselves, so I explored the town a bit, then sought a late lunch of vegetable pasty (in a cafe playing Man, I Feel Like A Woman—the official song of travelling and adventure!) and triple toffee ice cream. That night we grabbed dinner in The Dirty Duck, one of the pubs the RSC actors frequent after their shows, and then saw an incredible production of Julius Caesar at the Swan. We spent the night in a nearby youth hostel—quite a nice one, in fact—sleeping in bunk beds in those fun little sheet-sleeping bags.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hostel—an amazing buffet with very British repast, including baked beans in tomato sauce, which is a common breakfast food here, which I find a bit odd. On the other hand, they looked at me like I was crazy for eating my beans with RICE and a tortilla I had melted CHEESE inside of—what madness!

We then headed over to Warwick Castle, a very well-preserved castle complete with armor, torture devices, furniture, wax figurines courtesy of Madame Tussaud, and live actors playing medieval characters. Ooh, and a haunted tower! It was a really neat (albeit majorly tourist-y) site, with lots of historical facts and exhibits. My favorite parts were the mill, tucked away on a lovely spot by the side of the river, and the ramparts, from which you could see miles of surrounding countryside.

After Warwick we traveled a few more hours to Oxford, where we were dumped with a map of the town and two and a half hours in which to explore. I wandered around with Savannah in a circling path to see as many of the more notable colleges as we could. Many of them were closed to visitors, with rather grumpy old men standing guard to fend off the tourists, which was unfortunate. We peeked into Magdalen College, which seemed to live up to its name as one of the prettiest. We found a few we could actually look around in, visited Blackwells, the biggest bookstore in England (or something—3 miles of books, supposedly), and finished things off by paying three pounds fifty for admission to Christ Church College, which was well worth it, as you’ll see if you check out the photos. Overall, Oxford was a very darling town, especially once you got off the main road. An intriguingly eclectic mixture of architecture spanning a millennium at least makes for a very unique atmosphere. And Savannah got excited whenever we saw someone around our age: "Look! A real live Oxford student!"

Well, that was essentially my weekend. It was mainly one of spending a few short hours in a bunch of places I could have spent an entire day exploring—very whirlwind. But at least I have a conception of the various places now, and if I ever get a chance to return I’ll know my way around. And I definitely got plenty of photos, which you can view by clicking on the link on the sidebar or here.

Tonight I completed and printed off all my essays for the week, which means, except for reading, I’m done until May. Hooray! This means, hopefully, I’ll have some more time over the next few weeks for exploring, experiencing, and planning trips for the Easter holiday. Today’s snow flurry was very exciting, since this part of England gets snow only rarely. Some snow still remains on the grass, cars, and tree branches, and additional flurries of reinforcements fall periodically. The air feels so crisp and smells so fresh! It’s glorious. Ok, anyway, unfortunately I’ve rambled rather mercilessly long, so I’ll cut things short for now. My love as always!


Blogger GrandpaFred said...

Awesome photograph of the clouds with the parade of unclothed trees as they march on sentinel duty across the land...

11:59 PM  

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