Monday, February 28, 2011

Ode to a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

It's that time of the quarter again. Spring break is less than three weeks away (insane!! In 16 days I'll be frantically packing up and heading home!!) and so is currently occupying a fairly large amount of my concentration. Of course, in order to get to that spring break, I need to push through some fairly significant academic hurdles which require more than a partially-diverted mind. So, I've been at a bit of an impasse these past few days. Add that in with the sinus infection/death cold that has been plaguing me since Friday, giving me such bad headache that I had double vision and actually couldn't read, and I've been getting a little stressed about my lack of productivity.

In the light of this stress, I was looking for a little home remedy. And what was the first thing I turned towards?

A little dose of comfort food. More specifically, grilled cheese sandwiches - my favorite 'home-for-a-rainy-day' food of all time (and and high in the running of all time favorite growing up food, right up there with mac n cheese, homemade pesto, and chicken/chik'n nuggets with stuffing and peas). As far as I can tell, the British don't really get the joys of the GC - they would probably call it a "cheese toasty" or some such hogwash - and so it's been months since I've even laid eyes on one of these beauties, let alone enjoyed one myself.

(nom nom nom nom)

So, a few nights ago I went out to Sainsbury's, bought my first loaf of bread in the UK (I don't really eat bread otherwise unless it's a baguette smothered in brie), and got cooking. I was a little nervous because Pa is the go-to grilled cheese chef of the house, and every one of my previous attempts has resulted in a smoking and charred mess - since I've already set off the fire alarm once, I was really hoping not to do it again!

(oooh ahhh - so buttery and delicious! A pretty damn fine GC if I do say so myself)

Fortunately I got it right this time and ooooh lordy it was good. Crispy and buttery on the outside, warm and cheesy on the inside, piping hot out of the pan and smothered in as much ketchup as I could get on every bite. It was a wonderful little taste of America, even when I'm currently feeling very far from home. Now back to studying!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pilgrimage to The Kilns

Every day and every hour the light became more brilliant and still they could bear it. No one ate or slept and no one wanted to, but they drew buckets of dazzling water from the sea, stronger than wine and somehow wetter, more liquid, than ordinary water, and pledged one another silently in deep draughts of it. And one or two of the sailors who had been oldish men when the voyage began now grew younger every day. Everyone on board was filled with joy and excitement, but not an excitement that made one talk. The further they sailed the less they spoke, and then almost in a whisper. The stillness of that last sea laid hold on them.
--CS Lewis

(Lewis' sitting room)

I was fiendishly obsessed with CS Lewis growing up. It started with that weird '70s animated movie of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which, admit, you know you've seen too) that quickly became my favorite movie and got watched, I'm sure much to my parents' chagrin, ad nauseum whenever I could get my hands on it. I then quickly progressed to the audio tapes of the whole series and, at the same time, to the books themselves. I loved the richness of Lewis' world and the deceptively simple way he told a story: something that I needed then, as these were some of the first real novels that I ever read.

(The plaque in the study where he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia)

When I hit nine or ten, I briefly forgot about CS Lewis in favor of my new obsession, the Redwall series (if you hadn't gathered that I am, in fact, a huge nerd, the picture should now be coming clear). These, coupled with Lord of the Rings and other assorted fantasy adventures carried me happily through middle school without much thought to Narnia. It wasn't until my freshman year of high school, when I was shocked to discover that CS Lewis' works had religious undertones! that I went scrabbling back to reread them and discover this (I could only imagine) covert brainwashing myself.

(The view out Lewis' window)

Instead, what I discovered was that the stories were even more full and complex than I'd remembered them. Whereas before I could only understand the plot, now I could just begin to grasp the much deeper and more complicated thoughts at play the series. Instead of staunchly rejecting the books as Christian propaganda, as I'd expected to do, I realized that I suddenly loved and appreciated them even more.

(The original sign from The Eagle and Child, the pub where Lewis and Tolkien would hang out)

Over the next few years I slowly went through as much Lewis writing as I could find. While I'm not religious in the slightest, I was deeply impressed by the clarity and brilliance of his thought, and the unbelievably simple and yet still profound way he had of putting his arguments to paper. This man was someone to respect, for sure.

Since coming to Oxford, Lewis' name has kept popping up. He did spend the majority of his life here, after all, and was a don at Magdalen (the college right across the street from the Stanford House) for over 29 years. That, coupled with his famous friendship with JRR Tolkien (who was based at Merton College, literally the next college down the street from the Stanford House, pretty much makes Oxford a Nerd's Paradise. When my TA for one of my classes discovered on Wednesday that I was a fan, he suggested that I go visit CS Lewis' house, The Kilns. I was planning a verrryyy quiet weekend otherwise, and so decided to go for it. The house isn't open to the public except on appointment, but a few emails later and I was all set to go.

(The sign at the entrance to The Kilns)

After a brisk hour and fifteen minute walk (during which time I discovered a hill that will be great for running, as I was chugging just to get up it at the walk with my double-camera-laden bag) I got to Headington and the little suburban neighborhood where Lewis' house now sits (when he lived there it would have been open countryside for the most part). I met some nice older American ladies who were in for the same tour and we were all greeted by a very friendly Oxford student (and soon to be head of the Oxford Lewis Society) who would be leading us around.

We started in the sitting room, and then made our way around the various rooms of the house, including the kitchen, the study where Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, and his bedroom. Along the way we heard stories of Lewis' everyday life, which pretty much confirmed that this was a man after my own heart.

(Lewis' pond)

Afterward, I walked up to the pond that used to be part of the The Kilns' property but is now the CS Lewis Nature Reserve. Apparently Lewis used to go swimming every single day in this pond, though from the looks of it today that seems a bit incredible to imagine. I had a very nice, albeit muddy, walk around the pond's perimeter, imagining myself following the path that Lewis and Tolkien would have taken on one of their many ambles here, and finished at the bench over the water where they were known to spend many afternoons sitting and chatting. It was awesome.

(The bench)

It was then another hour and fifteen walk back to Oxford, made ten times better by the appearance of the sun!! Seriously, I'm pretty sure I hadn't seen my shadow in over a week before that. Add that in with the crocuses and daffodils starting to pop up everywhere, and it looks like spring is finally coming to Oxford!! Seriously exciting =)

(Britain one minute...)

(...Britain the next - no wonder the Pilgrims felt at home in New England!)

(Oh herrrooo shadow! Good for you to show up again!)

(Crocuses are out with force)

(Spring is coming!!)

Friday, February 25, 2011


And no, not the gourd. Yesterday I got to play the game again for the first time since high school!!

Squash, if you were wondering, is an indoor racket sport much like racquetball but with a smaller, less bouncy ball and different court boundaries. Basically you and your opponent face the same wall and try to hit the ball against that front wall and then back to one another (well, keeping in mind that you actually score points by hitting shots that your opponent won't be able to retrieve!). It's super fast-paced and a great workout, both mentally and physically.

(I don't have any photos of me playing, so here are some other folks)

It's not played very widely in America (I think New England is about it, and even then it's pretty uncommon outside of prep school), but it's pretty common in the UK and nearly every college at Oxford, it turns out, has its own courts. I played throughout my time in high school, and though I failed to ever develop as a very competitive player, I got an almost immoderate amount of enjoyment from every season. It's just not like any other athletic activity I've ever done: with both riding and running, at the end of the day you're only ever competing against yourself and your own standards of perfection. In squash, when push comes to shove you can be as scrappy and ragged as you want, but if you can hustle and keep the ball in play longer than your opponent you're going to win the match. It was a mentality that I never quite cottoned on to fully (hence why I was never super competitive) and am still struggling with now in polo (which is quite similar in the need for scrappiness), but even the small amount that I could put myself into that mindset was incredibly helpful for the rest of my daily life.

(Cool black court squash where the ball is white!)

Now, I'd heard that there was squash at Oxford and so had optimistically brought my racket (and my tatty old shoes, straight from junior year of high school!) along with me. It wasn't until yesterday, though, that I finally got to play.

And it was awesome!!! I was super worried that I would have forgotten everything and wouldn't even be able to make contact with the ball (my hand-eye coordination was never something that came naturally to me), but miraculously it all for the most part came back. Muscle memory is so cool!! I played with a friend from the Stanford House who was certainly better than I was but not so much so that the game was totally lopsided, which was nice. We hit the ball around, played a game which I lost gamely (9-7, not a bad way to go down the first time out in four years!), and then hit the ball around some more. I was so out of shape that I was literally dripping sweat by the time we finished, but also couldn't stop smiling because I'd had SO MUCH FUN.

I hope I can get back and play a few more times before the term is out, because the person I played with is going back to Stanford for the spring and I don't know if I'll have another partner after him! Plus, it was a seriously nice change of pace to get to take out a small fraction of my pent up academic stress on hitting a small rubber ball as hard as I possibly could, and one that I'll probably be needing again as the term races to a close =)

Today I'm taking a break from schoolwork and going out to visit author CS Lewis' house, The Kilns, which is about an hour's walk away in Headington. I was a HUGE CS Lewis fan growing up and have read pretty much everything he's ever written, from the entire Narnia series multiple times right down to his published letters and essays on religion. He taught at Magdalen College, the place where I played squash yesterday, for over 29 years and called Oxford his home for the majority of his life. The Kilns is supposed to be super beautiful, and even though the forecast is for rain and gloomy skies, I couldn't be more excited.

(The Kilns in sunshine - aka NOT how I'm going to see it today!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Giselle and Gelato Part II: Florence is Fabulous

That title have been one of the hokily alliterative things I've ever set to print. No matter, I'm rolling with it.


Anyway, after VERY little sleep on Friday night (early Saturday morning?), I leapt out of bed thanks to the adrenaline rush that traveling to new and exciting places always gives me, grabbed my seriously light overnight bag (which, probably for the first time ever, contained EXACTLY what I needed and not an item more - huge packing win), and set off for the train station. It was grisly, rainy, and dark, and I arrived twenty minutes later feeling a bit like a drowned rat. I had planned to spend the two hour train to the airport (seriously??!) catching up on sleep, but had overlooked the fact that my soggy state + a mostly unheated train cabin would make for seriously uncomfortable times. Instead, I spent most of the trip shivering lightly and trying to forget myself in a book.

(It was worth it, though!)

Once arriving at Gatwick everything went super smoothly - I managed to get a bite to eat, read an entire Horse and Hound cover to cover, and warm up a bit. Then, my airplane ended up being deliciously warm which allowed me to pass out instantly, giving me a few more precious hours of sleeping before touching down in Florence.

(Tuscany = incredibly beautiful)

And, my god, what an experience that was! I woke up a few minutes before landing and looked out the window onto an utterly alien landscape: sun-drenched green fields bordered by silver-leaved trees and terra cotta-roofed farmhouses. Big cotton ball clouds filled an azure sky. I think my jaw literally dropped.

(Is this real?)

When I got outside, it was warm. Like, I coat off and walked around in a T shirt level warm. I actually haven't been outside without at least two jackets on (excluding athletic activity) since Egypt over seven weeks ago. It was unreal how amazing it felt to have the sun shining on my skin, and I knew right away that I'd made a good choice even if everything else about the weekend fell apart.

(Picture perfect)

I met up with my friends Justine and Maddy (who I haven't seen since June of last year - so crazy!) and we quickly set about to catching up on one another's lives. Maddy has been studying abroad since September in Paris and Justine in Florence, and so they had a lot to reflect on in these last few weeks of their stays. It was interesting to hear how the programs differed and how different experiences could be form quarter to quarter. It made me both incredibly excited and bit nervous to see what next quarter will bring for me.

(This view + great conversation = the makings of a great evening! Even if we did have to pay 5 Euros just for some cokes to get to keep our seats by the river)

We wandered up to a lookout over the city, stopping for amazingly oily pesto sandwiches and gelato along the way--both of which I ate so quickly and passionately that I very nearly made myself sick. The lookout was probably one of the more beautiful things I've seen in a long time, and it made my heart happy to look out on so much blue sky and sun-splashed stone.


Afterwards we grabbed some drinks and watched the sunset (also unspeakably beautiful) before sitting down to a HEAVENLY dinner, enjoying some great conversation, and heading back to the hotel. Since I was running on two hours of sleep and Justine was getting sick we decided to call it an early night, but not before some last minute chatting and brief watching of a "Stars of Italian Rock" TV program that made me seriously question the legitimacy of Italian non-classical music.

(HEAVEN. Seriously. My stomach felt like it was going to explode by the end of the night but I would have gladly eaten twice as much of this if they'd been willing to supply it to me.)

(Seriously gorgeous full moon over the Arno)

The next morning dawned cool and quickly turned to cold and rainy, but the magic from the day before was hard to shake. We wandered through some beautiful gardens and climbed the 414-step campanile before grabbing one more gelato and sending Maddy off to the train station. Justine and I took a nap (soo amazing) and then wandered the city a bit more, seeing Santa Croce and a few other sites, before enjoying some early cocktails and probably the earliest dinner ever served on Italian soil (6:30 pm - gasp!!). Once again I had pasta that was indescribably awesome and gave my taste buds a much-needed jolt after so many weeks of chips and carrots. I had to get up at 4:30 the next day and Justine was, if possible, even sicker than the day before, so we decided to be old ladies again and call it early. In what felt like the blink of an eye, my trip to Florence was over. But man, what a good one it had been!

(Maddy and Justine)

(Smoky morning)

The whole experience, while utterly exhausting, seriously whet my appetite for more travel. Unfortunately, the amount of work I was faced with when I came back reminded me of how difficult that is in my program. I knew coming into Oxford that it would not be the ideal situation for weekly jaunts to different corners of Europe, and I'm at peace with that (I've been seriously lucky to see Europe a few times before now, after all, and the opportunities I'm getting at Oxford are pretty unique), but weekend like this reignited my wanderlust in a way that's pretty hard to ignore. Hopefully I can do a nice day trip this weekend, even if another international sortie is probably out of the question.

(Gin fizzes and bellinis - a great way to finish off a great weekend!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Giselle and Gelato Part I: London High Life

When I was making plans for the beginning of the quarter, I think I somewhat overestimated my ability to magically appear in different places hundreds of miles apart from one another with little or no intermediary period. A prime example: this weekend I scheduled both dinner and a ballet in London on Friday night (something that would have been a fairly sizable weekend adventure in itself) and then a 9am flight out of Gatwick the next morning to go to Florence for 36 hours, getting back with enough time (hopefully) on Monday afternoon to polish off a good paper for Tuesday midday. Sounds simple, right? More like... what was I thinking???!

Fortunately, everything turned out FABULOUSLY--seriously, the best weekend of the quarter so far--with only a small (okay, fairly large) sacrifice of sleep on my part. But who needs sleep, right? So here's the first part of what went down--the ballet:

Friday was a nice quiet day for me, where I could just whittle away some work (I fortunately had finished my reading the night before and so was just organizing notes) and watch music videos instead of packing. Of course with nothing to do all day I managed to leave everything until the last possible second, leaping in and out of the shower, making a flying jump into my gown, and sprinting out of the house with my hair still wet to try to get to the station on time. I would have been fine, but ended up getting stuck in a massive queue at the last possible step when I had to pick up my pre-ordered tickets (note to self: Friday afternoon = a busy time to go into London!) and missed my train by actually 15 seconds (I watched it pull away as I pushed my way through the stiles onto the platform). Whoops! Fortunately I was able to sneak onto the next train, stow-away style (as my super saver tickets were technically only good for the one I'd missed) and even had said void tickets checked and approved by an either oblivious or very forgiving ticket agent with no trouble. I got into London, had incredible Tube luck going for me, managed to sit down long enough to change into my heels, and got to the ROH with literally no more than five minutes to spare for my dinner reservation. Phew! I had just enough time to check my coat and order a drink before my company for the evening--my mother's good friends Lynda and Peter--arrived and we settled into our table.

(The only picture I'd seen of the ballet going in - I would later discover that these were the Wilis, the ghost brides - courtesy of

I certainly felt very fancy indeed at the Amphitheatre Restaurant where we ate, and was super thankful for Lynda and Peter's generosity in letting me join them. We had a lovely dinner where I tried very hard not to be too boring or drop my cutlery on the floor (two of my biggest dinner table fears) and had a great time getting the update on their lives. Funnily, Lynda had just seen my mother and brother two days earlier (she had been doing business in New York), and so she could tell me how they were doing better than I could tell her! All in all I felt extremely welcomed and couldn't be more indebted to their generosity and kindness for inviting me into their evening.

At the call we went our separate ways, me to the super-cheapo partially-obstructed view seats and Lynda and Peter to rather a more respectable location, and settled in for the performance. I hadn't seen a ballet since I was probably six years old, and didn't really know what to expect.

(Giselle and Albrecht, Act II - courtesy of


Seriously, I was enthralled. Sure, the first act had some moments where I could have missed a peasant dance or two and not been too upset, but overall I found it magically beautiful and entertaining. Even from my seats, which were so high I was basically looking straight down on the dancers and so far over that the entire left half of the stage was blocked, I could seriously admire the grace and beauty that was going on before me. The ballet I saw, Giselle, is split into two fairly distinct halves, with the first act containing a fairly fast-paced sequence of narrative, and then the second act containing more or less one extended dance. This made the work feel VERY different between the acts, with the second act hands down my favorite of the two (at the end of the first act the title character kills herself and then entire second act is her joining a group of ghost brides who lure men to their deaths, except for her own lover who she saves - super ethereal and super creepy... just the way I like it).

(The Wilis again)

At the intermission I got to meet up with Peter and Lynda again for the remainder of our meal (how very civilized), and then after it was all over scuttled straight back to Oxford as quickly as I could. I got back at around 1, furiously packed and prepared for an hour, and then fell in bed, completely satisfied but totally exhausted, before my 4:30 wake up the next morning to head to Gatwick.

...Which, I will have to talk about tomorrow as I've got a paper to write!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Over the Hump


The past five days have been... rough. As in, 6+ hours in the library daily (even getting kicked out of the Bod on Friday night... talk about lack of social life), 13 books read, and 3 separate 2500 word essays written. The sad thing is that, reading that back, it doesn't even sound like that much - but oh dear god it was!!

(Friday night at the Radcliffe Camera... at least I wasn't totally alone in my loserdom)

Fortunately I was able to get everything finished with only a medium sacrifice of sleep and sanity, and learned about my daily limits for studying (in other words: yes, there is indeed a studying wall out there... and I hit it about four different times over the weekend) and about what I can produce under pressure. I've lost some confidence in my ability to actually produce something that Oxford folks will like (seeing as they haven't seemed to like much yet), but I don't think I could have tried harder, and so I can't really complain.

(Happening night at the Sackler)

Equally fortuitously, on paper this past weekend was the most difficult of the quarter, and I survived. There will certainly be some crunch at the end trying to get everything squared off, but hopefully I can stay on top of that and keep it from getting too overwhelming. For this week, I've just got to make one last grind through to Friday, and then am off to Italy to visit some Stanny friends - so excited!!

(Meanwhile, spring is creeping into Oxford! Sooo purty)

Here's to many productive hours of sleep and study between then and now... =)

(And maybe a few study breaks like this one along the way...)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bing Trip

(Me and Shannon experiencing some wind situations on top of Dover Castle)

I'd always been planning to go abroad in college, so when I first started investigating the Stanford abroad programs, it wasn't so much a question of wooing me to the prospect of going in general, but more choosing what location was best for me. When I first heard about the Bing Trips--the fully funded quarterly excursions to different parts of each host host in each abroad location--it just seemed like the icing on the cake. I'd heard some crazy stories about programs that had flown to exotic locations, gone to sunny islands and experienced rare cultural opportunities. I was beyond excited, and when this winter came around and it was finally my turn to have a Bing trip of my own, my expectations were incredibly high.

To be upfront: the trip didn't quite live up to the hype, but I don't think it was the fault of Stanford. It's hard to find any sunny beaches or incredibly exotic locales in Britain in early February--in fact, it's hard to find anywhere that isn't freezing, grey, and rainy in Britain in early February. Then, we did get some very cool and rare cultural experiences, but they were somewhat dampened by incredibly averse weather in one case and the worst tour guide I've ever experienced in my entire life in the other. Let me explain:

We set off bright and early on Friday morning for Canterbury, with a mid-morning stop at Hampton Court Palace. The weather was cool and grey--classic British, and the sort that I'm actually really coming around to now that I've discovered Barbour coats and the secrets of layering. The palace, aesthetically, wasn't really my cup of tea (only British folks would make a brick palace, I think), but the tour was actually a lot of fun because we were basically released onto the grounds with a map and time to meet up again, and then were left to our own devices. I had a lot of fun going from room to room at my own pace, pausing to hear stories about midgets baked into pies for the entertainment of 17th century nobles from an incredibly friendly guard. My group didn't have the best time-management and so didn't get to see a lot of the gardens which was a shame, because they looked super lovely, but all in all it was a great experience (well, besides paying £3.50 for a tiny slice of apple crumble in the cafeteria afterwards... surely you must be joking).

(The Dining Hall)

(Admiring some Rubens)

(The Gun Room where, yes, the wall decorations were constituted solely of weapons)

(Nice grey British gardens)

(Crazy topiary trees!)

A few hours later (which I took full advantage of to catch up on my sleep) and we arrived in Canterbury. I was really excited to see the cathedral there, as I'm a huge cathedral fan but have never really experienced the British version. When we arrived we were split up into three groups to go with three separate tour guides. My group got an older woman who very briefly appeared sweet... but oh lord what a mistaken impression that would be. After asking the first few members of the group what denomination of Christianity they were and being horrified to learn that (gasp) we weren't all god-fearing Christians, she started berating a member of our group for talking (very quietly and unobtrusively at the back of the group) during introductions and then humiliated another person who quietly received a text message in the back of the group (thus causing far more of a disruption than the actual texter ever would have). She went on to say that we must be from a special needs school and then talked down to us for the rest of the tour, asking questions like, "Have you ever heard of Kings? You haven't, have you," and "Do you even know what Christianity is?" She also made some extremely racist comments and implied that we Americans had done the world a great favor by taking "those crazy Puritans" off their hands (what??). She also not only got offended when we tried to take pictures while she was talking but also got offended when we'd try to take pictures when she was done talking instead of directly walking along with her. Needless to say, I had a hard time enjoying the sense of contemplation and celebration that I usually get in these spaces.

(Canterbury Cathedral in the brief, wonderful window before the tour began)

(No fun)

After the tour, I was feeling pretty down on Canterbury as a whole... until we found Poundland. Poundland is a British dollar store, but unlike a lot of US dollar stores that actually sell stuff that is over $1, here they stuck to their guns and offered every single thing in the store (including a massive array of name-brand candy) for £1 each. After four weeks of mind-bendingly expensive food and necessities, this was a serious sight for sore eyes, and I think seriously revised my opinion of Canterbury for the positive. We loaded up on as much stuff as we could gather and headed back to the hotel for a quiet night of group dinner (which was good but unremarkable), word games, and finally watching British television (Tool Academy!!!). It felt good to sleep in a comfy bed and actually get to sleep early - if there was one serious plus to the trip, it was getting to catch up on sleep!!

(Poundland Love)

(The three dinner options: I'm sensing a pattern with the sauce...)

The next morning we headed to Dover via the seaside town of Whitstable. Whitstable was quaint but rather unremarkable; it reminded me a lot of Rockport, but without the sweet warmth of summertime and the smell of New England Clam Chowder lurking around every corner - though, Rockport probably wouldn't be like that it this time of year, either! I did get a delicious jam doughnut for incredibly cheap, so that was a win.


From Whitstable it was on to the last stop of the trip at Dover Castle. It was incredibly cold, wet, and windy from the instant we got off the bus at Dover, but I would still say that it was my favorite location that we visited. The castle was seriously impressive brooding on top of the hill, and the wind was so strong on the towers that it became a sort of low-impact game to just try to walk along and not get blown over. There were some WWII tunnels to tour, but they ended up being a lot like "The Blitz Experience" at the IWR, which meant that it was less than thrilling.

(Posing with some fake sides of meat in the "interactive" section of Dover Castle)


And then, almost as suddenly as it had begun, Bing Trip was over. I had a great time getting to know the folks in the program better and a moderately good time visiting the sites, though winter travel is never going to be my favorite. Unfortunately, the Bing Trip totally threw me off for work, making this past week even more stressful than it had to be. Oh well! How often do you get a two-day vacation to some of the country's best historic attractions for free??

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Night at the Opera

Just a few days after the Imperial War Museum, it was off to London again, this time to experience a real treat that I'd been looking forward to for months: a trip to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. I saw my first opera this past September in Paris (ahhh the very memory gives me shivers of wonder) and have been itching to get out to another ever since. One of the first things I did when I got to Oxford was look up the season schedule for the ROH and start day-dreaming about possibilities.

To my great amazement and luck, not only could I find tickets to a very famous opera that I'd actually heard the music to before--The Barber of Seville--but was also able to get pretty good seats at a price I could afford: so much win! The production I saw in Paris had not only been one I'd never heard of before (Eugene Oneguine, though that almost became better in the end because I had no preconceptions at all and so was utterly blown away) but also a serious splurge for very non-central seats that had had me craning around to see the entire stage and the supertitles at once. Here in London, I was able to get dead center seats, even if they were in the absolute nosebleeds of the theater.

So, on Wednesday afternoon I went straight from my Art in Oxford class (and I really do mean straight - complete with in-bathroom change at the Christ Church Picture Gallery into my evening gown!) to the train station and hopped the first direct service into London (I've found a website, The Trainline, which is a total life-saver and got me a round trip fare into London and back for only £9! Score). I felt a little foolish to be riding the Tube in my floor-length gown with a tatty Barbour coat on top, but was way too excited to get overly hung up on it. I finally got to Covent Garden after about an hour and a half of travel, checked all my civilian gear at the coatroom, and took my first steps into the world of Cultured London.

(A serious "My life be like ooh ahh" moment)

And, my god, was it wonderful. I ascended a grand staircase to emerge into a vast and airy fin-de-siècle-style hall where sleekly urbane sophisticates sipped champagne or politely tucked into some pre-theatre fare. My ticket included a free flute of champagne that I got to enjoy at a gorgeous copper top bar while soaking up the magic of my present situation: I'm generally a pretty rough-and-tumble sort who doesn't wear makeup and doesn't dress up, and here I was, feeling so beautiful and so lucky to be in an atmosphere of such relaxed elegance and glamour. That sounds incredibly corny, I know, but man it was true. Plus it definitely helped that I got numerous compliments from total strangers on my dress!

(Is this real???)

Eventually I allowed myself to get swept up in the crowd that was filing upstairs to take their seats. I did indeed have a very nice, if distant, view, though I was utterly mystified by my entire row's lack of armrests, which seemed like a strange oversight in a setup that otherwise clearly meant to give the viewers a fairly lavish experience. I could hardly complain though, because the theater was so beautiful in a traditional, red-velvet and gilding kind of way--the exact opposite of the Paris Bastille, where I'd gone before and fallen in love, but no less wonderful.

(So beautiful! And you can appreciate the basically bird's eye view I had of the theater)

And of course, after all that build up, there was the opera itself. I would say that I found it to be highly enjoyable, though certainly not as transcendent as my experience in Paris had been. I think, ultimately, that I liked the music of Eugene Oneguine better (I don't think I'll ever be able to think of that opening song, with the women's voices echoing like bird-calls, without goosebumps), though Barber of Seville was certainly nothing to scoff at. I was highly entertained from start to finish and laughed out loud several times--something I wasn't expecting, even though I knew the opera to be a comedy. In all, the three hours passed far too quickly and soon it was with a heart craving for more that I got back on the Tube and started the journey home.

The only downside of my super-saver ticket was that I had to wait around for two hours at Paddington Station for the last train back to Oxford, which meant getting a LOT of odd stares from janitors and security guards as I slowly froze on a metal bench in a frosty open-air train terminal. It was incredibly worth it, though, and I'm doubly excited because I was able to get extremely cheap (read: partially obstructed view) seats for the ballet Giselle a week from today, which means I'll get to go back! Yay! Definitely something to look forward to in these grey and library-filled days... =)