Monday, September 30, 2013


Special thanks to my friend Claudia for this photo.
This is the last post, folks.

It's been quite a ride. I've enjoyed writing this blog, just as I've enjoyed every minute of my Fulbright experience, but as we know, all good things must come to an end.

When I first left my house for the airport, I was excited, but nervous. Nervous about making friends, nervous about my classes, nervous about finding my way around campus, like everyone is when they first start at a new school. I was also scared. Scared of a lot of things actually. Missing my flight. Plane crashes. Being too homesick to enjoy anything. Low trees. Some of these fears were definitely more rational than others, but all of them flitted through my mind at least briefly (except for the low trees - that fear came later). And all of them proved to be unfounded (except, once again, for the low trees. Okay that joke's stale now).

I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived in England (certainly not the heat). I thought I would have a great time and I was vaguely aware that the experience would probably change me in profound ways, but trying to see into the nebulous future was of course, impossible. So, it is with great pleasure that I say that my experience in England was far better than I ever could have imagined.

My friends and I on the Seal Isle boat trip in St. Ives
It was challenging to be sure, both physically and psychologically, but also extremely rewarding. I saw sights that I had only ever read about or seen in the movies. I saw sights that I never knew existed, but were nonetheless wonderful. I climbed up steep embankments in Dartmoor, sailed along the Cornish coast (twice), trekked through an indoor rain forest at the Eden Project, retraced the steps of the Romans in Bath, braved the no-longer-wobbly bridge in London, and trudged up and down the endless hills in Exeter. There were little adventures along the way too, maybe not as grand or dramatic as those I mentioned above, but they all had their own, quiet sort of magic about them. I drank in darkened pubs, canoed along the shimmering, swan-filled Exe, browsed art galleries and shops, ate scones and clotted cream. I wandered through tree-shadowed gardens, gazed dreamily at sunsets, and ate lunch in the shadow of an ancient cathedral. I watched meteors burn across a star-strewn sky, while I lay on my back talking philosophy with a girl who lives halfway around the world from me. I studied. I photographed. I explored. I danced. I laughed. I cried.

Dear readers, do you want to know what the best and worst part of this whole experience was? Making so many wonderful friends and then having to say goodbye to them with the realistic expectation that I probably won't see most of them ever again (not to be a bummer but hey, let's be real here).

My Global & Imperial History pathway class.
Special thanks to my friend Sandy for this photo.
So it's hard sometimes to remember England. When I came back home, I was bitterly homesick for my adopted city of Exeter. I missed the view outside my window, the gentle rolling hills with their forests and farms, lined with the occasional hedgerow, periodically dotted with cows and sheep. I missed walking down to the cathedral, strolling along the quay, and even trying to cross the murderous traffic circle by the clock tower that plagued us every time we walked into or out of town. When I came back home, I longed for flapjacks and cream tea, pub atmosphere and pitchers of toffee cider. When I came back home, I missed the friends that had become my adopted family. I missed their jokes, their smiles, and all the wonderful things they had taught and still have left to teach me, about their countries or states, their cultures and customs, about themselves, about me, about life. Some of you may be thinking, "But you only knew them for a few weeks!" To that I say - you'd be surprised how close you can get when you're dropped off in a foreign country with no other social contacts. You forge bonds like no others.

Nothing like sharing a cream tea with friends
The hardest part is coming back and leaving those friends behind. It hurts very badly sometimes, but it is a good kind of pain, a good kind of ache. That is the mark of how strong those friendships were and still are. That is the mark of how wonderful the entire experience was and still is in my memories. I wish so very much that I could go back and relive every minute of it, even the moments where I was homesick, afraid, or struggling to haul my out-of-shape butt up the side of Dartmoor's embankments in the baking heat, fearful that I was going to go tumbling down into the void of pain, possible death, and an awful insurance claim.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is when the worst part of any experience is that you don't want it to end, that means it's a pretty damn awesome experience.

The Fabulous Fulbright Four
I loved my Fulbright experience. Every single moment of it, even when I thought I was going to get hit by a bus (this happened twice) and even when I had a bus driver deny me the student discount rate in Falmouth because he was quite frankly an a------ [word redacted for the benefit of polite company]. (As you can see, I had a lot of unfortunate encounters with buses.) In all seriousness, it was perhaps the best experience of my life. I learned so much, both inside and outside the classroom. It opened my eyes to the world and what's out there and more importantly, who's out there. From Hong Kong to Turkey, from China to the Netherlands, from Ghana to Thailand, from England to the U.S. state of Montana, I now have friends from around the globe that I will never forget.

Karoake night at The Ram, Exeter's on-campus pub
And that's the most important part of life, isn't it? The most important part about history, my chosen field of study. The relationships that people form with one another is what drives and has driven our world for thousands of years. Relationships, connections between people, even ones who lived in the past (especially for me, as a historian-in-training), are what make life worth living, places worth traveling, subjects worth studying. Both Fulbright and ISS, at their cores, have always been about forging these connections and I am
intensely grateful that I was able to form so many wonderful ones in Exeter.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the US-UK Fulbright Commission for making this experience possible, Valerie Schreiner for coordinating the Fulbright programme and being so gracious and understanding with me when I showed up to one of our meetings a half hour late (oops), Lyndon McKevitt and Lucy Thompson for coordinating the University of Exeter International Summer School programme and going waaaaay above and beyond the call of duty, and last, but certainly not least, Professor Clive Sabel, who led the Fulbright week with spirit, humour, and passion. You guys are the best.

Our group photo - be sure to click to make it larger!
Photo Credit: University of Exeter International Summer School
To my all my friends reading this - my fellow Fulbright participants and ISS students, the Exeter buddies, program coordinators and professors alike, I miss you and I hope our paths cross again someday. We can share a pitcher of cider or Pimm's and reminisce about old memories and create new ones (Fulbright and ISS reunion anyone?)

It's always hard to say goodbye. So I'm not going to. During my last night at Exeter, several students gave beautiful and poignant reflection speeches at the gala dinner. One student ended their speech with a quote that went something like this, "It's not goodbye. It's see you down the road." See you down the road my friends.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Last Call for Alcohol

Apologies for the hiatus that passed between the last post and the one you are reading now. On top of adjusting to my new classes, I was diagnosed with a walking pneumonia-esque illness that I've actually had since I left England and which I am still recovering from now, believe it or not. It basically amounts to a persistent cough and a boatload of fatigue, but it's not a fun addition to all the stuff I have to do and all the places I have to be. Anyway, without further ado, I will present this rather belated blog post:

With my 21st birthday having recently passed, I thought this would be an appropriate topic to write about (for my non-U.S. readers out there who may not know this, the legal drinking age in America is twenty-one, not eighteen - I had several students from China and Hong Kong ask me if this was a myth. I assured them that it was quite true and they were completely shocked).

So I've talked a bit about alcohol and pubs throughout this blog, but I've never really gone too much into depth. You can imagine that, as a twenty-year old American with no bar or alcohol-ordering experience and little to no English brand familiarity, I was a bit overwhelmed by all the choices in an English pub. After getting the run-down on the types of alcohol available I set myself these rules:

1) If it's something you recognise and can easily order in the States, don't bother ordering it here
2) Conversely, if it's something you can only really get in the UK, go for it!
3) If you're with a large group, gauge interest and get a pitcher (or several) of whatever it is you all agree on
4) If it's on draught, awesome!
5) If it's more than £3, either don't buy it or split it with someone

Two of my fellow Fulbright friends and me at the Firehouse
This essentially boiled down my UK alcohol experience to ale and cider (though I did drink a lot of the free wine provided at our dinners in London and also at the gala dinner). I avoided beer as I can't drink anything that's too heavily carbonated (the physical effect on my body is quite unpleasant - it feels like my whole tongue and throat are burning - and that's just going down. Coming back up is like my whole nasal passage way explodes in a fiery inferno. Whoops, TMI). Ale and cider are only lightly carbonated so I was able to drink them without much problem.

When I wasn't drinking in a large group, I generally ordered real ale for myself, which is naturally carbonated and served warm. I usually ordered the bitter ales on draught. Bitter ales, as the name implies, are bitter, but the kind I drank were much less bitter than Guinness or other dark stouts. I avoided Guinness because I knew I could always drink it in the States. Ales differ from brand to brand and pub to pub. No two ales I tried tasted or even looked alike, but they all were generally bitter. Ales are mostly served in pints or half pints. Unlike the U.S., a pint in England (sometimes called an imperial pint) equals about twenty ounces instead of the American sixteen. I usually ordered the half pint, since I didn't want to take a chance of ruining the next morning for myself.
Upstairs at the Firehouse, drinking cider with friends

My friends and I probably enjoyed drinking cider the most, as you can tell from our pictures. We would order pitchers of different flavoured ciders at the Old Firehouse, which included elderflower, strawberry, toffee, and cinnamon. Toffee and elderflower were the most popular. Toffee was sweet and tasted, as I may have mentioned before, how I always imagined butterbeer to taste in Harry Potter. Elderflower was milder and only slightly sweet.

"What about Pimm's?", you may be asking yourself now if you read my earlier post involving this lovely drink. The truth is, I never ordered Pimm's out at a pub. I always drank the free servings provided at social events since the stuff is damned expensive - about £8 or £9 for a pitcher (cider ran about £5 at the Old Firehouse). I already discussed Pimm's, but in case you may have forgotten, it's a summer gin-based drink with a mild fruit flavour than is often served with sliced up fruit floating on the top. I recently looked into getting Pimm's stateside and found that you can buy it in the U.S., but very few liquor stores sell it. Thankfully, I was able to find one that did on my 21st birthday and my family and my boyfriend and I enjoyed a Pimm's-filled evening.

Pimm's is generally mixed with lemon lime soda or gingerale (I prefer gingerale) and served over ice with a lemon wedge or a generous portion of mixed fruit - mostly citrus, but strawberries work too, as well as mint leaves. One and a half ounces is the recommended serving. I prefer one part Pimm's for every two parts soda. I found this to be roughly similar to what I had tasted in England and it also produced the characteristic iced tea colouring that had so confused me upon my first experience with the drink.

So that about rounds it up for the alcohol I experienced, now what about the pubs? Well, pubs were probably one of my favourite things about the UK - and not at all for the alcohol! Pubs have a relaxed atmosphere and charm that bars in the U.S. lack completely. For one thing, although many pubs definitely have a few televisions (tellys) going so patrons can catch the latest match, you are generally not assaulted on all fronts by twenty massive flatscreen televisions as is the case at many U.S. bars. The Old Firehouse had perhaps the best pub-ambiance (and pizza!) in Exeter and we frequently patronized them. The first pub I ever visited was called The Fat Pig and it was a delightful little place, painted green, with cosy wooden tables and chairs. London had a variety of pubs that we hopped through before settling on a cheap one and they each had a unique and fascinating atmosphere - one was a converted sewer and another, located at 221B Baker Street served as combination pub and Sherlock Holmes museum. The pub we settled on was friendly and well-lit. I can't imagine a better place to socialize than a pub, for both drinkers and non-drinkers alike (we had several people who simply ordered water when we went out to pubs and they still had a wonderful time - there's no pressure to order alcohol if you don't want to).
The Sherlock Holmes pub

Of course, pubs can get quite rowdy depending on the location, day of the week, time of night, and outcome of football (that's soccer for you Americans) or cricket matches (the Firehouse had a blanket ban on all football jerseys - I assume they've had quite some brawls in the past), but my friends and I had nothing but positive experiences on all our pub excursions.

Another reason I loved pubs was for their quizzes. I believe I mentioned this in a previous blog, but pub quizzes are a favorite tradition in the UK. A little under half of all pubs in the UK offer weekly pub quizzes, bringing the grand total to something to the tune of 22,445! That's a lot of quizzes! Source:

The famous Firehouse pizza!
Prizes are awarded for most questions answered correctly as well as best team name. The prize money usually comes from a pot which each team donates to before the quiz commences. In my limited experience with pub quizzes, questions were broken into several categories. A pub staff member will ask the questions out loud and the teams write down the answers on a provided answer sheet. There is usually one category that is not asked verbally and requires team members to label or identify certain things from a series of pictures or a map. All and all it's a fun way to spend an evening.

One thing I noticed during my stay was that drinking culture in the UK is quite different from that of the U.S., though please keep in mind that the following statements are generalisations and do not obviously hold true for everyone in either culture. My observations were that the English tend to drink more over an extended period of time while Americans tend to drink more (i.e. binge) over a short space of time (usually the weekend). In other words, the English are the marathon runners and the Americans are the sprinters of the drinking world. To me, drinking in England seemed to be more tightly bound with socialising with other people than in America, though it definitely plays that role here as well. As in the U.S., people in the UK are concerned about drunk driving. Possible penalties for driving whilst drunk include fines, imprisonment, rehab, and the suspension of one's license. If you are interested, more information about the drunk driving laws in the UK can be found here:

The interior of the Firehouse, first floor
It might be easy for a person who has never visited or lived in the UK, especially given my rather romantic descriptions of the Firehouse and the Fat Pig, to assume that all pubs are privately owned ventures based out of charming buildings that can trace their history back several centuries. That's not entirely true. While there are many such pubs, there are also many pubs that are based out of modern buildings or are part of a large chain or franchise. For instance, a local pub located just off campus called The Imperial was part of the Wetherspoons chain of pubs. Alas, I never got around to visiting it, so I can't really speak to what it was like, but I heard positive things, although I also heard it lacked the ambience of the Firehouse. There is, of course, nothing necessarily wrong with chains, but they do tend to go against the image of the quintessential English pub. Of course in the age of corporations, it makes good business sense to turn such a popular destination into a franchise.

So, that about wraps it up. There will be one or two more posts before I retire this blog for good. Since my school schedule is already crazy and is only going to get crazier, I will ask you to kindly bear with me as I write the remaining post(s).

See you next time!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Food, Glorious Food

England is known for many wonderful things. Stonehenge. The Magna Carta. Shakespeare. Tea. Gardens. Charles Dickens. Oscar Wilde. The Beatles. Doctor Who. What is missing from this list? Well, a lot of things, but we covered architecture, historical documents, fine literature, music, and TV shows, but...not food! (Unless you count tea as a food.) Let's face it, the English are not known for their food. That title (supposedly) belongs to France (even though I personally don't like French food).

So, having heard all the stereotypical horror stories about blood pudding and steak and kidney pie, I went to England expecting to live off fish and chips, ethnic restaurants, and whatever vegetarian dishes the dining hall was serving.

Mmmm, pasty. Photo courtesy of my friend Caitlin.
And I sort of did do that, but I'm happy to report that English food really has received a splendid makeover in the past decade or so.

There is more to English cuisine than just fish and chips. Cornish pasties, Sunday roasts, soups, salads, sandwiches, and all sorts of tasty vegetable and meat pies are just some of the things that await your taste buds as a visitor to this fine country.

"What is a Cornish pasty?" you may now be wondering to yourself if you're a non-Brit. First of all, it's pronounced pa-sty (the 'a' sounds like the 'a' in the word 'cat'). It is NOT pronounced pAY-sty. Cornish pasties (sometimes called 'oggies') originated in Cornwall like their name suggests, but they are found throughout England. They are essentially little handheld pies, filled with any combination of meats, cheeses, and/or vegetables. They can be made vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free and are delicious as hell.

Sunday Roast served at the Firehouse
One of my favourite things about eating in England was the Sunday roast. Sunday roasts, as the name implies, are only served on Sundays. They are popular in pubs and restaurants and, depending upon the location, there are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options available. A typical roast consists of meat (or vegetable pie if vegetarian), potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding (a fluffy, tasty pastry-thing). It is usually served with gravy.

No mention of food in England would be complete without Indian cuisine. Indian food is quite popular in England (not surprising given England and India's history) and some restaurants even have their own variation of the Sunday roast with tasty buffet options. I had never eaten Indian food prior to coming to England and completely fell in love at first bite. If if you haven't tried any yet - DO IT. It's delicious!

Worried about spiciness? Don't be! Certain Indian dishes definitely cater to the spice connoisseur, but there are plenty of tasty non-spicy options available for the more taste bud timid.

Of course, English Indian food is not nearly as good as India Indian food, and unfortunately American Indian food is not nearly as good as English Indian food most of the time, apparently. Still, I'm going to hunt for the best Indian restaurant in my area and try to recapture this experience.

Like the U.S., England has different chains of grocery stores and supermarkets. The most popular of these, at least in the areas we frequented, are Tesco, Sainsbury's, and Waitrose. Tesco is the cheapest and often operates like a convenience store. This was where I usually did my shopping. Sainsbury's is your standard supermarket and Waitrose is the upscale food store (sort of like Wegman's or Whole Foods in the U.S. if you're familiar with those). I was unpleasantly surprised to see Aldi in England. We have Aldi in the U.S. too (it's a German company) and it was horrible to see that its windowless, prison-like, poorly-designed, poorly-stocked stores had been exported further than I had originally thought (no offense to anyone reading this who likes or is involved with Aldi). Needless to say, I avoided those and made a beeline straight to Tesco.

When ordering and eating food in the UK, I discovered many cultural differences. For instance, tipping is optional and is never done in pubs. In the U.S., we always tip in restaurants and bars because of 1) cultural etiquette and 2) because our servers are often paid below minimum wage and are expected to make up the rest through tips. The UK does not have this system - all servers are paid at or above minimum wage.

Another thing I picked up on right away was that, if your food should come out before the rest of the table's, it is impolite to start eating before everyone else is served. This is something that perhaps some people in the U.S. also observe, but it's not something I've ever seen in New Jersey!

Other differences I noticed were actually in the language. British English obviously differs from American English in some ways (lift is elevator, toilet is restroom, lorry is truck, etc.) but I never realised this extended to the food!

When I was at Embercombe a dish was served that looked like fried pieces of zucchini. I asked someone if it was, indeed, zucchini and they gave me a confused look and said, "It's courgette!" I had no idea what a courgette was, had never even heard the word before. After a simple taste test, I soon figured out that courgette was simply the British term for zucchini. (Note: The word for eggplant in Britain is also different. They call them aubergines.)

Earlier the same day, I was asked by Lyndon, our programme coordinator, if I would like a flapjack. I knew that there were no pancakes at Embercombe, nor was it the typical time of day for pancakes (it was lunchtime). It also seemed strange to me that I would be asked if I would like one singular pancake. Having no idea what else a flapjack could be, I asked, rather incredulously, "Do you mean like a pancake?" Lyndon decided that the best way to explain a flapjack was to bring one out. It looked like a small, fatter and squarer version of a granola bar. And it was delicious! Softer, moister, and tastier than a granola bar, flapjacks quickly became my new favorite snack.

Cake or biscuit?
The world will never know!
Another snack I discovered, though I didn't like them nearly as much as flapjacks, was the Jaffa Cake. Jaffa Cakes are small chocolate-covered cookie-biscuit-things that are also coated with jam, giving them a fruity flavour. They are about the size of an Oreo cookie, though much thinner. The Jaffa Cake was involved in a huge controversy around twenty years ago when the value added tax (VAT) classifications stipulated that chocolate-covered biscuits (or cookies - yet another British v. American English discrepancy) were to be taxed, but chocolate-covered cakes were exempt. A debacle ensued and the question of whether Jaffa Cakes constituted cakes or biscuits went all the way to court, where allegedly, McVitie's (the company that produces Jaffa Cakes) presented a giant Jaffa Cake as evidence that the product was indeed a cake and not a biscuit. The court agreed and now you don't have to pay VAT on Jaffa Cakes, but the debate remains...biscuit or cake? Read more about this hilarious court case here (make sure to scroll down until you see the heading, Jaffa Cake or Jaffa Biscuit? but the rest of the article is interesting too if you'd like to learn more about VAT):

Many Americans are probably familiar with the following British concept: chips are fries and crisps are chips. I went to England confidently expecting to order chips and crisps properly and was rather disappointed when the majority of food service employees asked me if I wanted fries or chips with my order (maybe they heard my accent and thought they'd make it easier for me). When picking out crisps to go with my meals on the go however, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the flavours were different than in the U.S. As an American, I'm used to seeing sour cream & onion, barbecue, salt & vinegar, and plain flavours. Sometimes there will be an exotic sriracha flavour or chicken & waffles or something like that, both of which are fairly recent phenomenons, but aside from that, the flavours are pretty standard. In England, the plain chips are 'sea salt' and there was no sour cream & onion that I saw, but rather 'cheese & onion.' Most amusing to me however, was the everpresent 'prawn & cocktail' flavour which both tempted and repulsed me.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I discovered in England was that they served some of the best pizza I had ever had in my life! Between the Old Firehouse and On the Waterfront, there was a veritable party in my mouth.

And who said vegans didn't eat good?
My tasty vegan mushroom dish at the gala dinner
You may have noticed that I mentioned vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options several times throughout this post. Whilst in England I met several vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-intolerant people (and one gluten-intolerant vegan!) so I became more in tune with their dietary needs as we traveled throughout the southwest of England. I found that the UK generally has more vegetarian options than the U.S. and is also *somewhat* more accomodating to gluten-intolerant and vegan people (though not simulataneously - my gluten-intolerant vegan friend couldn't order this tasty vegan wrap we were all eating at this one place because they only made gluten-free paninis not gluten-free wraps, which I found rather stupid). As someone who is an aspiring vegetarian/vegan, I found myself eating mostly vegetarian dishes and the abundance of vegetarian, Indian, and Mediterranean restaurants in Exeter made this quite easy. So, if you're planning on travelling to the UK and have any sort of dietary restrictions, chances are, you will be able to find accomodations somewhere that are definitely better than those found in New Jersey!

So there you have it. Tune in next time for a post on pubs and alcohol! I start class tomorrow, so I may be a bit slow on updates. I'm expecting to put up about three more posts before retiring this blog. Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Flowers! Flowers Everywhere!

I wish more U.S. buildings looked liked this!
No blog about England would be complete without at least a mention of its gardens.. Everywhere I went there were flowers - professionally crafted beds, small pots clustered in front of townhouses, or growing wild along the highways. Obviously, the most flowers I saw in one place was at the fabulous Eden Project which I posted about earlier, but there were also fabulous gardens in the parks at London and Bath. Of course the flowers weren't just limited to the parks - there was even a pub in London whose storefront was completely covered in flowers! Embercombe's gardens were filled with flowers along with vegetables and herbs and many small towns and cities like Sidmouth and Falmouth splashed colour around their narrow streets with hanging baskets and planters. Some of these coastal villages also had quite a few palm trees, which are not something you usually associate with England.

Part of the botanical gardens near Reed Hall
Some of the most fabulous flowers and trees that I saw however, were right on the University of Exeter's campus. I was never more than a few yards from a tree, it seemed. I may have mentioned this statistic earlier, but Exeter has the highest tree to student ratio in the UK, which was a fun fact the student ambassadors were often fond of sharing. Exeter's campus is also widely considered to be the most beautiful campus in the UK, above even Oxford and Cambridge, and it is very easy to see why. I spent an entire afternoon wandering its botanical gardens by myself, utterly entranced by the trees, fountains, and flowers that I saw. The architecture in this part of the campus is especially beautiful as well. At least half a dozen ornate staircases wind around the gardens by Reed Hall, itself a gorgeous structure. There are plenty of benches to sit upon along the way, so you can take in the beauty around you whilst studying or simply resting.

Here unicorn, unicorn...
One of my favorite spots was a small clearing surrounded by tall, beautiful trees. In the center of this miniature glade was a single tiny tree. The way the shadows fell at the particular moment I came upon this spot made the little tree look as though it was bathed in a singular solar spotlight. It was very special - almost magical. In all honesty, I would have only been mildly surprised if a unicorn had walked out of the trees at that moment.

There are two large fountains behind Reed Hall and the first one I stumbled across was where I beheld another special moment. I saw a perfect little rainbow reflected in the soft spray of water. I stood there for a full two or three minutes, just absolutely mesmerized by it.

There were other wonders to discover around the university as well. The trees on campus, especially in the school's botanical gardens, are often massive things, with wild tangled branches and sometimes multiple trunks. One tree I saw had no less than a dozen trunks sprouting from the same base. I had never seen anything like that the U.S., not even in the Smoky Mountains which boasts an incredibly diverse biosphere of plantlife.

In the main section of campus, where the Forum (student center) and many of the academic buildings were located, there were still many flowers, trees, shrubs, fountains, and ponds to gaze at. I found myself constantly clutching my camera, even on mundane trips to class in the morning, because I was never sure if I'd see a new flower or grove of trees that I had missed before.

The funny thing is, I don't even particularly like flowers. I don't know anything about them at all, except that they're actually giant plant sex organs (thanks fifth grade science class!) and they produce pollen which I'm allergic to. Also bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds like them for their nectar (speaking of bees, the UK's bumblebees are better than U.S. bumblebees - they're larger, fuzzier, and yellow-er). Aside from that, I'm pretty clueless when it comes to flowers and I'm absolute rubbish at identifying them (I am a bit better with trees, thanks to my dad). I don't grow them because I know I'll probably kill them and I've never found them particularly inspiring or romantic (except for the time my boyfriend gave me roses, but that was less the actual roses and more the gesture and the fact that he drove an hour and a half to surprise me for Valentine's Day. Thank you Isaac!)

So, having said that, my time in the UK has definitely boosted my appreciation for flowers and their beauty. We have beautiful gardens in the U.S. and our fair share of flower enthusiasts (the annual Philadelphia Flower Show is a great showcase of this, and interestingly enough their theme for 2013 was British) but somehow the feelings I experienced when looking at flowers in England were simply different - and better. Perhaps this was because there were more flowers in the UK and a much greater variety - I saw the craziest colours and petal shapes there - or perhaps it was because the gardens seemed to be laid out and cultivated with more care than in the U.S. I don't know what it was exactly, but aside from perhaps the Philadelphia Flower Shower, I had never marveled or appreciated gardens more than I did when I was in England.

Tune in next time for a post about food in the UK! There will be tasty pictures =)

In the meantime, please enjoy more not-so-tasty, but lovely pictures of flowers and trees! You can click on all the photos in this blog to enlarge them (something I just discovered literally an hour ago). Also if anyone would like to help me identify the plants in these pictures, don't hesitate to leave a comment!

More gorgeous shots of Exeter's gardens
I adored the shape of this tree
One of the ponds at Exeter. You can see a fountain in the distance.
More Exeter!
Reed Hall at Exeter
This was taken at the Eden Project. No idea what kind of flower it is.
This flower reminds me of a sunset. Also taken at Eden Project.
More Eden Project goodness!
Gardens outside of Mediterranean Biome at Eden Project
This tropical-looking flower was taken in the Rainforest biome in Eden.
Bizarre, but cool-looking just the same. Taken at Eden.
These look kind of like lillies, but I have no idea. Taken outside of the Rainforest Biome at Eden.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sign Language

Needless to say, things have been very hectic since I've been back home. Rest assured that I haven't forgotten about my blog though!

This entry is one that I've been wanting to write for a long time. As the title suggests, it's about signs!

There are probably two things on your mind right now:

What kind of signs is she talking about? Street signs, but also random notices that I've seen posted around the UK.

This sounds boring. A whole post about signs?

Perhaps this will be slightly more boring to my friends in the UK (and possibly in the rest of Europe; I'm not sure how they structure their signs) than in the U.S., since they see such signs on a daily basis, but I'm hoping everyone will find my comparison of U.S. to UK signs at least slightly amusing.

We're a bit blunt in the U.S., especially in the Northeast region, where I hail from. We don't mince words. We get straight to the point. We also assume certain things and don't bother to spell them out.

Oh no, not the Low Trees! Anything but the Low Trees!
So you'd never see a sign like the one on the right:

My first thought when I saw this sign in London was, "What? Low trees? Why is that on a sign?"

As a double decker whirled past, the meaning became slightly clearer, but as the top of the bus barely brushed the lowest branches of the line of trees, it still seemed rather ridiculous to me. What really amused me though was the sign colouration and the exclamation point. Low Trees! Oh no!

I don't know about you, but it looked fine to me.
Speaking of trees, there was another amusing sign that we came across in Sidmouth that had us roaring with laughter. It's a little hard to read but it says, "This ailing tree will be replaced in the autumn." Well thank goodness! In case you were worried about this little tree that actually doesn't seem like it's doing all that badly, we have you covered. Rest assured, it will be removed. In my hometown, the trees the borough plants along the street turn completely brown half the time and are left there for months. No signs are ever placed on them. We just sort of jog by and go, "Ooh, that tree doesn't look too good," and keep going, only complaining if said tree is directly outside our home.

In case you were wondering why...
Another plant-related sign I noticed was right on the University of Exeter's campus, pictured here. In the U.S., our signs simply say, "Keep off grass." No explanation, no frills. Just do it. In case you were wondering why exactly you should keep off the grass, well you're out of luck in the U.S. England will provide you with an answer.

I'm not trying to make fun of either the UK or the U.S. for their signs. Oh who am I kidding, I suppose I am a little bit, but it's not meant in a mean-spirited way. It's one of those little cultural differences that's amusing, but also perhaps illuminating. The Northeast is sometimes criticized by other regions of the U.S. (particularly our Southern brethren) for being too fast-paced and curt. One of my European friends that I made in Exeter who had visited the Northeast U.S. said much the same thing. Perhaps this is reflected in our signs (or rather lack thereof). Keep off the grass. Low trees? That's your problem. Pole got flattened by a car? Unless it's going to electrocute someone, we're not going to put anything up (London will treat you to a paragraph-long explanation, complete with a number to call in case you're still concerned). England is different. It seemed more laid-back and slower-paced than what I was used to. Even London seemed more relaxed when compared to the cities I'm most familiar with, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C. And perhaps this is reflected in their signs. Time is taken to explain the situation, care is taken to put up a sign to begin with.

I'm not going to say which is a better method. I think there's room for both, don't you agree?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to be searching for a place to hide from the fearsome Low Trees.

Thanks for your patience in waiting for this post. Next up: Gardens in the UK!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

St. Ives, Shooting Stars, Bertrand Russell, and Fond Farewells

Before I go any further, I should take this opportunity to say that I am home safe and sound, typing this post from my room in New Jersey. It has been a fantastic experience and I am both bewildered and sad that it has ended so quickly. This will be my last 'chronological' post in the sense that this will be the last post that outlines where I went, what I saw, and what I did in the order that I went, saw, and did it. However, in the coming days/weeks, there will be several more anecdotal posts that will focus on random things I found interesting about England, i.e. the gardens, street signs, pubs, etc. The last post will be a reflection piece. So, not surprisingly, when you see a post titled, 'Reflections,' that means that'll be the last you'll be hearing from least until I go someplace awesome again, which I really hope will be sooner rather than later. Now, without further ado, I shall regale you with tales of what happened last week when I was still in England.

Sign for the Old Fire House
I was a social butterfly and went to the Old Firehouse on both Monday and Tuesday with some friends. On both nights I had the wonderful opportunity to try toffee cider, which is absolutely delicious and very much what I had always imagined butterbeer to taste like in Harry Potter. (Incidentally, I have tasted the 'butterbeer' they serve in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Orlando's Universal Studios and I don't think it tasted at all like what I imagined.) I also discovered that the Firehouse serves some of the best pizza known to man (their Hawaiian is particularly tasty). Like On the Waterfront, their pizza comes out in a wicker basket. Unlike On the Waterfront, their pizza is square. Squares are a nice, novel shape for a pizza, I think. I'm still a bit jet lagged, in case you couldn't tell.

There was a mini-meteor shower on Monday night that we witnessed on our way back from the pub and I saw somewhere between 8-10 shooting stars, which is about 8-10 more shooting stars than I had ever seen before in my life, making this quite an exciting event for me. On a clear night, you can see more stars in Exeter than you can see in most parts of New Jersey, so even when there was a lull in the shooting star show, it was still mesmerizing to look up at the sky. We stayed out so late stargazing that Exeter's campus police showed up to make sure everything was okay!

The village of St. Ives
On Wednesday, we took our last day trip to the Cornish village of St. Ives. This was perhaps my favourite day trip of all. St. Ives is located right on the coast and its shimmering clear waters are at once turquoise, sapphire, and aquamarine. The town is known for its art galleries and workshops and we made sure to nip into a few of those!

I had my last Cornish pasty in St. Ives at the Yellow Canary Cafe before heading off to the pier with my friends to take a boat trip to Seal Island.

Seal Island is a small rocky outcrop a few miles out to sea, well within the view of the jagged Cornish coastline. It is named for the small population of Grey Atlantic Seals that live there. They often sun themselves on the rocks, but when we saw them they were mostly swimming around in the water.

A seal!
As nice as the seal viewing was at Seal Island, we actually got our best view of a seal when we returned the pier. This particular seal was extraordinarily friendly. He or she would swim up to passing boats, passing kayaks, passing swimmers...basically anything remotely interesting-looking that passed by. Even though this was awesome for tourists like ourselves, I am a bit worried about this seal's future and I hope that most people are smart enough to simply take photos and otherwise leave the seal alone.

There was an extra note of melancholy in our departure that had not been present during the other trips. We all knew this was the last one. Still, we gathered up our strength and trudged up the insanely steep hill to the coaches and started back to Exeter.

Discover St. Ives' glorious art galleries and beaches here:

Those of us who had presentations the next day spent a feverish night putting the finishing touches on them. My group presented on Bertrand Russell. Our task was to show how he illustrated some of the global themes we had discussed in our previous classes. We talked about his anti-imperialist, anti-war, and anti-nuclear proliferation protests and general activism and we made sure to throw in a few jokes in there as well. All in all the presentation went swimmingly on Friday, as did all of the rest of the presentations in the Global and Imperial History pathway.

I spent my last afternoon in Exeter eating lunch with friends at Herbie's Vegetarian Restaurant before meeting with Valerie to discuss my Fulbright experience. As you may have guessed from reading this blog, there were many positive things to report. Valerie explained that upon returning home, many people who study abroad for any length of time experience anti-homesickness and reverse culture shock. It has been about one week since I had that conversation with her and I think I'm still suffering a bit from those things to be honest. Writing about them certainly helps though.

We attended the gala dinner that night. We were all dressed in our smartest clothes for the occasion and the dining hall was decked out splendidly. There was champagne and wine. There were speeches and toasts. There was a performance by the Shakespeare pathway which summarized our time in Exeter. Highlights of this performance included people panting their way up steep inclines and screaming at the infernal seagulls that lived alongside us in Holland Hall (these seagulls were twice as big as Jersey seagulls and sounded like children being murdered). There was photography galore. There was music and dancing. There was laughter and tears. It all went too fast. Suddenly I was in a cab, then on a bus, then on a plane. Suddenly it was all over.

I'm still sad about it. Still frustrated that it all went by so quickly. I miss England. I miss the architecture, the landscape, the atmosphere, the accents, and yes, even the food.

But most of all I miss the people. I miss the friends that I made during my time there. Many of them are half a world away now. I don't when or even whether I'll see any of them again. I sincerely hope so. That really is the hardest part of all this.

As sad as I am, I'm also tremendously grateful and happy - to be home safe with my family and friends and to have had such an incredible experience to look back upon. To be that sad about something means the converse is also true - that it gave you extreme joy. I never could have imagined how wonderful this experience was and part of me is still incredulous of it all.

I will write more about my reflections in a later entry. In the meantime, keep checking in for short, fun posts about English culture. See you soon!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Adventure Ends Tomorrow...but the Blog Does Not

Hi everyone! Due to the whirlwind of academic work, day trips, and packing, I will not have a chance to write and upload my St. Ives blog until I return home to the good ol' US of A. But even though my adventure ends tomorrow, I will still be updating my blog for the next few weeks to share more pictures and random anecdotes about the UK that should be very interesting (and fun)!

So keep checking in for more UK-themed goodies!