A lot has happened in the past week. One thing, in particular: I officially decided that I love it here. I’m not original in that thought, and basically anyone that makes a Europe trip says the same thing. But there’s a reason why everyone says it; it’s an amazing place. I’ve been asked what my favorite thing has been so far, and, to be honest, it’s been the simple, day-to-day life. Walking to and from the city center; buying cheap takeaway meals; spending hours in places like Blackwell’s. The famous sites and places are great, but they take second place to the simple, seemingly mundane aspects. That being said, here’s a look at what I’ve done in the past week or so:
Last week, my students and I did a day trip to London. We started by going to the British Museum, which is towards the top of the list of attractions for almost anyone that visits London. It’s an absolutely huge museum with all sorts of pieces, from ancient Egyptian artifacts to contemporary African art. The biggest “No way!” moment was seeing the Rosetta Stone. I was a bit speechless at the sheer historical and cultural magnitude of seeing it. But, beyond that, here’s two of my favorite pieces from the British:
^This is a Netherlands boxwood microsculpture from the 1500s. It might be hard to tell, but it contains various mini depictions of Biblical stories, all highly detailed and exact, and from one piece of wood about the size of a football. Absolutely impossible to imagine how someone did this.
^This might be my favorite thing I saw all day. It’s Crowd Looking at a Tied-Up Object by Henry Moore (1942). What exactly is the object under the sheet? Why are the people transfixed? I was mesmerized.
After the British, we had a quick lunch right on the Thames river at a place called PizzaExpress, which was right next to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Aside from its cliche name, the food was fantastic and the view was even better. We ate quickly so that we had plenty of time at the museum next door: the Tate Modern. I always love modern art museums. I got to go to the great one in D.C. earlier this summer, and I’ve been to MOMA in New York. The Tate did not disappoint. As soon as I got in the door, I knew I was going to love it. I gave my students two hours to browse on their own, and that time seemed to go by way too quickly. A few of my students would disagree with that, though…
^ George Braque, Mandora (1909-10). I felt very fortunate to see this famous modernist piece. Ironically, I had this piece on a PowerPoint I showed my students earlier in the class without realizing we’d get to see it in person.
^ There was also an entire room of Rothko pieces. Perhaps no modernist painter inspires the “What the hell?” and “I could do that” sentiments than Rothko, and an entire dimly-lit room of his huge canvases was quite the experience.
The tip to London was a success. The city is huge, and we had a few moments of not being sure exactly which street to take or towards which underground station to head. But we enjoyed ourselves, and we all made it back safely. That’s really all I cared about.
As soon as class ended on Thursday, half of my students caught a bus to Heathrow for a weekend trip to Rome. A couple of others spent the weekend in Scotland, while a few stayed here in Oxford. I woke up on Friday morning and caught my train to Liverpool for the one Europe trip I’ve had planned for many months: The Open Championship. I arrived in Liverpool early afternoon and went directly to my AirBnB, which happened to be literally next door to a significant site:
^Goodison Park, home of the Everton Football Club. I’m not kidding: it was right next door. I could have hit a pitching wedge from my front porch to the middle of the pitch.
I then had the entire afternoon to spend in Liverpool. I caught a bus and headed to the city center, which turned out to be so much more than I expected. To be honest, I knew nothing about Liverpool other than it being the home of the Beatles. Turns out that its city center is a lively, hopping place full of open-air shopping for what I would guess is a good square mile. I really enjoyed my time walking around, eating, and of course sitting down and reading for a few minutes in an awesome bookstore. I then killed a few hours seeing Dunkirk at the Odeon in the middle of the shopping center, which was a great place to see a movie. The movie was good, although there were parts of the narrative that fell flat for me and/or begged for so much more explanation (something I’ve found to be the case in all of Nolan’s movies). After the movie I headed back to my rental, grabbed a quick pint at the local pub (pictured below), and tried to get some sleep.
^Liverpool’s city center. On the right you can see a sliver of the largest and cleanest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen.
^The friendly (and very inexpensive) pub right down the road from my AirBnB.
I didn’t sleep very well, because I was too excited about my trip to Royal Birkdale the next day for the 146th playing of the Open Championship. I woke up early, walked about a mile to the nearest train station, and figured I’d be ahead of the pack. I was very, very wrong. When I got on the train, it was standing room only. This was at 8am, and the first tee time wasn’t even until 9:30. Regardless, I was able to get on the train and get to the course, through security, and in the gates by 9am. Birkdale didn’t disappoint. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the experience. I was very fortunate to get to go to the Ryder Cup last fall in Minnesota, which was also an awesome experience, but the Open exceeded it. The course was amazing, and the fans were so much better than American fans. There’s a level of knowledge of and respect for the game of golf over here that simply isn’t there in America. I’ve always rolled my eyes when Open commentators have made comments about this in the past, but now that I’ve been in the middle of it, I am convinced it’s true. The weather was perfect, the course was everything you want for an Open, and the golf was top-notch. I feel so lucky to have gotten to go, and another trip to the Open is now officially on my bucket list. Next time, though, I’d like to be with a group of friends.
^A panorama I took from greenside on #12 (the par 3). I got to this spot early and had a perfect spot for the first 7-8 groups that came through. This picture is looking back towards the clubhouse and the rest of the course.
^A look at #18 green from the spectator crosswalk. This is the spot where I just watched Spieth receive the Claret Jug on tv. His performance on the last five holes was unreal, although I have never been as frustrated as a golf fan than I was during the 20-minute delay waiting for him to figure out his drop on #13.
I ended up leaving Birkdale around 4pm, which was right about the time the leaders teed off. That might sound ridiculous, but I had been there for 8 hours and was envisioning an absolute nightmare trying to get back on the train heading to Liverpool alongside 80,000 other people. I don’t regret the decision to leave early at all, other than the fact that the minute I got off the train and started my mile-long walk back to my AirBnB, it started raining. And then, right about the time all of the trees, awnings, and phone booths disappeared, it started really raining. I went from being annoyed that my shorts were damp to accepting the fact that I was going to be absolutely, 100% soaked. If you’ve ever been caught in the rain with no option for escape, you know the feeling. I ended up taking refuge at a gas station, but the damage was already done. Luckily I was able to put my shoes, shorts, socks, shirt, and underwear in the dryer as soon as I got back.
^ My classy escape from the torrential rain in Liverpool. I was standing by the door to the station, looking exactly like a vagrant. I ended up buying a soda from inside because I felt bad for loitering.
A few more pints that night at the same pub, a good night’s sleep, and then my long, 4.5 hour trip back to Oxford, which involved three different train changes and a bus from Banbury to Oxford. I was able to get lots of grading and reading done during the trip, though, which was a blessing. And I also had the chance to step outside of the train station in Stafford during my hour-long layover. Right across the street was the amazing Victoria Park. A small, seemingly taken-for-granted park here, it was better than almost any park I’ve seen in the States.
^My view from the walking bridge in Victoria Park in Stafford.
My trip to Liverpool was a resounding success. Combined with my trip to Bath the previous weekend, I’m realizing that a longer trip to another European country isn’t even necessary; the UK has so much to offer. In fact, I’m now thinking that rather than going to Amsterdam or Spain once class ends, I might simply catch a train to somewhere like Whales or Edinburgh for a few days. I’ll probably change my mind multiple times between now and then, though.
My students and I head to Paris this coming Wednesday. We are doing a bike tour of the city that night, will spend the day on Thursday seeing famous expatriate spots around the city, and will be spending the entire weekend in a hostel right on the canal. I plan on staying in Paris for an extra night and then heading back to Oxford to prepare for the last week of class. I’ve actually been rather busy with schoolwork since I’ve been here. Anytime on trains, in bookstores, or between meals is spent either reading or grading for class, which reminds me: This is actually a work trip.
Rough job, right?