Tag Archives: Travel

A Night at Oriel College

Last night we were invited to dine with one of Scott’s colleagues. It was at Oriel College, one of the many colleges here at Oxford.

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The dining hall awaits.

Oriel College is one of the oldest colleges at Oxford, and is very keen on its traditions. For instance, every evening the college serves dinner in its dining hall to the students and faculty, and has done so for 700 years.

Seven hundred years. Just soak that up for a minute.

The dinner is not only multi course, but multi-stage. This is how it went:

First we hung our cloaks in a cloak room and followed our host and his trailing robes to the dining hall. (The Oxford professors and students wear their school robes to dinner. Guests–like Scott and I–could come in a suit or dress.)

Just before we were allowed into the hall we chatted for a bit in a waiting room area. Here there was a long wooden board displayed on an easel. The board represented the High Table, and around the board were cards with names. That was how we knew where we were to sit once we entered the dining hall. I was (purposely?) not seated next to my husband.

We headed into the dining hall. The high, beamed ceiling arched above us and the walls were lined with paintings of past provosts and knights and The Queen. Our places were set with china, glass and silver goblets, and loads of shining silverware, expertly arranged on a long wooden table that was probably older than Columbus’s mother. The students of Oriel College sat at the student tables, and we sat at the High Table.

IMG_7853If you think of Hogwarts Dining Hall you will have the proper mental image.

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That bright portrait is of the Queen, watching to make sure everyone uses their best manners.

The presiding faculty member banged a gavel and a priest gave a prayer in Latin. I understood the word AMEN.

We ate by candlelight. First there was the bread. Then soup. Then a delicate slice of fish. Then the main course. Then an artistic dessert. Each course had its assigned cutlery and I was grateful for all those etiquette dinners I had as a youth, so pay attention kids. You never know, some day you might get to eat dinner at Oxford.

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When everyone was finished the presiding faculty banged the gavel again and we all stood. He said another prayer in Latin. We took our linen napkins with us and headed outside, across the chilly, starlit courtyard to another chamber.

We entered a large pink room with a blazing fire, two giant crystal chandeliers, life-size portraits, more candles, goblets and china (Now think Downton Abbey) and another table that was not quite as old as the first–perhaps as old as George Washington’s mother. We had assigned seats here as well, but we were seated next to new people, so all the conversations were fresh.

On the plate in front of me was a mysterious bowl of water with a lemon in it. I was not sure what I was supposed to do with it. Drink it? Wash my fingers in it? Gargle? So I just did what everyone else did which was move it to the side.

Then came the fruits. Beautiful platters of exotic fruits were passed around the table, some of them I didn’t even recognize nor have any idea how to eat.

Following the fruit there were three crystal decanters of alcohol in lovely shades of pink, rose and burgundy, which I passed on their merry way. A little tin box of snuff came next, which I also passed. Scott told me later there was also a plate of sweets which somehow didn’t reach me. Curses!

When everyone was finished we moved to another room: a drawing room-type place (think Jane Austen) where we were served coffee and tea (and for us Mormons, more water. I drank A LOT of water last night).

During this whole exercise (which took three hours) I was surrounded by brilliant minds. Over the years I have had many opportunities to talk with very intelligent and accomplished people (through Scott’s job). This used to intimidate me a little, but not any more. First of all, I love talking to academics. They are attentive, curious, inquisitive and enjoy explaining things as much as they like asking questions. They are very knowledgeable in their field and in some cases they know more about a certain topic than anyone on the planet. I love to see how animated they become when they have a captive listener who wants to know about their life’s work. But even they will admit that they know a lot about a little and they are always interested in learning something they didn’t know before. After all, is that not the very nature of academics?

For the first stage of dinner I sat across from a man named Mark who was a lecturer on The Classics. Now, to me “the classics” means Charlottes Web, To Kill A Mockingbird and Where the Wild Things Are. I knew enough to know I had no idea how to progress in a conversation with this man. So I said, “What would be an intelligent question to ask someone who lectures on The Classics?” He gave a broad smile and then we were off like a couple of race horses, having a fantastic discussion of Greek papyri and ancient Greek songs which I think we both found quite satisfying.

In the second stage of dinner I was seated next to another Classics professor with brown eyes. Thanks to my new friend Mark at the previous table, now I actually had some background in the subject and could ask intelligent questions on my own. Mr. Brown Eyes and I had a truly fascinating conversation about Greek love poetry while eating passion fruit with tiny forks. It is a good thing I’ve never been attracted to brown-eyed men.

These academics were just as generous with questions about my life. When I told them that my magnum opus is raising five children they were dutifully impressed and wanted to know more about my kids and how they were “getting on” in Oxford. We talked about many other things last night including Mormon handcart companies, British Parliament, the vastness of the state of Wyoming, 2nd Amendment rights of Americans, genealogy, the proper way to heat tea (NOT in a microwave), what my mother is doing with her life at 75, cougar hunting, and why so many Brits are wearing a poppy on their lapel this week (Armistice day/Veterans day).

It was a wonderful evening of food, conversation and tradition. To sum it all up: everyone is interesting. Everyone has a story to tell or knowledge to share and no matter how much you know there is always something to learn. How I love living in a world filled with so many wonderful and different people. Thank you Oriel College and especially Mike Devereux  for a lovely and unforgettable evening!

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The Year We Changed Our Lives

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After months of deliberating, strategizing, decision-making and then fine-tuning those decisions, Scott and I are finally on the brink of a dream we’ve wanted to achieve for many years: we are taking our family to England.

We gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, put our house in beautiful North Carolina on the market and just finished driving across the country. All of our things are going into storage, and now the only obstacle between us and the biggest adventure my family has ever had is 8 days.

Scott will be working at Oxford for only a semester, so we will be back to the States in December, but it will be enough time for us to have a wide range of experiences in the United Kingdom and surrounding areas that we would not have if we were simply tourists. To make things even more interesting, we won’t have a car and we will be living in the middle of a city.

If you are wondering how we are feeling about all of this, imagine you are about to jump off of a bridge, step into the gladiator’s ring, or are standing on a street in Pamplona, Spain just before the bulls are released and you will have a good idea.

Wish us luck. Updates to follow.

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Confessions of a Xenophile

Before we begin, I have to tell you that I have passionate love/hate vibes towards those who post photos of themselves in foreign countries (ah-hem: Steve…Vanessa…Rebekah…Keri…).  I salivate just looking at passports, suitcases and maps. Photos of people I know having experiences abroad make me feel like a fish in a fish tank, watching the world go by without me. And yet, as painful as it is, I can’t look away.

So I hesitate sharing these photos with you, lest you are a fellow xenophile whose heart yearns to see photos like this yet breaks at the same time. But listen, we just have to face the fact: there is a place called the Bahamas, and somebody has to go there and help boost tourism in that country.  Hate me or love me, we are all just going to have to deal with it. Scroll through the photos if you have it in you. Like my guide said before I jumped into the Blue Hole last Friday, “it’s over quick.”

(Too quick for my liking.)

Here is the story: Scott completely took me by surprise last Wednesday morning when he handed me a pair of new sandals and said, “Pack your bags, Chelsea. Tomorrow we are going to the Bahamas!”

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This has never happened to me before–getting surprised with a trip or going to the Bahamas.

IMG_7254We went to Nassau and then to a more remote island. This might give you an idea of how big the island is:IMG_7255It is still hard to believe I was there. Sniff.IMG_0650The first day there we went kayaking, snorkeling and cliff jumping. IMG_0667IMG_0669As for accommodations, we roughed it . . . no luxury hotel for us! Instead we stayed in at “Surfer’s Haven” with our guide and his wife. He was an incredible guide. She was an incredible cook. IMG_7332I’m always trying to learn new things for my books (I write mesoamerican fantasy romances. It’s a new genre, soon to be the rage) and our hosts had a great variety of tropical plants in their yard including coconuts, orchids, lemons the size of grapefruits, pineapple plants . . . IMG_7292. . . and poisonwood, which was very well marked.IMG_7296This is Tom, our guide, surfer, kayaker, diver, and native Bahamian:IMG_0677I have to admit that the weather wasn’t ideal every day. On our last day it got a little windy. IMG_7298Here is a little surfer’s hangout at the beach. I suppose they use car seats because they are the only chairs heavy enough to not blow away. And if a hurricane came rolling through at least you could buckle up. IMG_7312IMG_7316To escape the wind our guide took us underground to a mile-long cave filled with graffiti, some of which dates back 200 years. IMG_7387Here were some of our favorite signatures. IMG_0748IMG_0770IMG_0775And this is how we got out.IMG_0776Saturday night the BYU/Utah game was on. Of course being in a foreign country on a small island was not going to stop Scott from finding a tv, even if it happens to be in a bar. We had a great time watching the game and teaching the 18-year-old bartender the rules of American football. IMG_7330We drove over the famous “glass window bridge” many times while we were there. This is the left side of the bridge (the Bahamian Bank, or the Caribbean side):IMG_0807And this is the Atlantic side of the bridge: IMG_7334On our way home we hung out in Nassau for a few hours.IMG_7361IMG_7365This is how they celebrate Christmas in the Bahamas. IMG_7367But we missed our kids so it was time to head home. IMG_7381Flying over Charleston, SC.

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I hope you were able to make it through the photos okay. Are you crying? I am. I know it is hard. Now that I am home I can hardly stand looking at them! The agony!

But I have to keep reminding myself that the best is yet to come. So much to do in this world. So many things to discover. What a glorious place this earth is!

I’m so glad Scott threw caution to the wind and planned this adventure for us. We have so much to celebrate this year. It was the perfect time, at the perfect place and with the perfect person.

I hope YOU are the next person to go do something memorable. Go ahead! Make it happen! I want to see your photos. Really, I do. 😉

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