Believe it or not, classes are already nearing an end. I will update soon with a series about the actual “studying” that goes into study abroad. But for the moment, I’m a little bit more focused on what I’m going to do with all my newfound free time.
I’ve seen quite a bit of London. Sure, there’s certainly more to see, but I have reached the point in my stay here where it’s not as easy as it used to be to just come across new things. In the first two months, I could rely on the fact that whenever I went out walking, I was bound to stumble upon something that I’d heard of but not yet visited. As I enter my third month here, that no longer feels true.
I’m redoubling my efforts to keep myself busy in London. For instance, while I’ve been to the British Museum, I’ve only been there once. And it is a place you could visit again and again and again and always find some room you didn’t see before.
But I’ve also decided that it’s high time I made a few more voyages outside of London. In the last two months, I’ve paid visits to Edinburgh, Stonehenge, and Bath. I’ve discovered that the Scots are exceptionally friendly, that Stonehenge is mind-blowing even though it’s just a circle of rocks, and that Bath feels like a gorgeous jaunt to the Continent. But there’s a lot more to see, and so last weekend I made a start at continuing my travels around the U.K. and Europe.
I went with a tour group on a trip to Wales, and it was amazing. It was really nice to get out of the city for a bit and see something of the famous British countryside.
Our first stop was the little town of Chepstow, just over the Welsh border. It had rained that morning as we were riding on the bus, but by the time we disembarked, the skies were clear and blue with fluffy white clouds. I was with two friends, one of whom had been to Chepstow before, and she led us to a little fish and chips joint. After a delicious lunch, we went to Chepstow Castle.
The castle is really more of a ruin. Standing in what used to be the Great Hall, I looked up and could see the sky (and yes, I am enough of a nerd that I immediately thought “Hogwarts!”). The walls were all crumbling, the steps were uneven, and there were few plaques to tell of the castle’s history. It was, in many ways, one of the only castles I’ve seen that have not yet been commercialized. I’m sure that in time there will be guided tours and red velvet ropes keeping visitors from all the most interesting bits. But for us, it felt like we were the first discoverers of the ruin, navigating rather treacherous staircases and slopes, imagining what it must have been like long ago.
Our next stop was Tintern Abbey, yet another ruin and the place referenced in William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” After admiring the ruins for a bit, we turned our attention to the hills beyond, and proceeded (since we are all English majors and tend to geek out about things like this) to try to imagine where Wordsworth would have stood, composing his poem. Then we stopped in the gift shop, where I acquired some rather snazzy souvenirs, all embossed the red dragon of Wales.
The final stop for the day was in Hay-on-Wye, a town famous for its bookstores. Again, the three of us are all voracious bookworms, so this was like heaven on earth. The town has something like 25 different bookstores, all with unique selections of classics and secondhand books, first editions and ancient things that are all torn and mildewed, and brand spanking new editions of the latest hits, too. Every store has a different feel, but they are all their own little libraries, with rows and rows of bookshelves. Our time there was only too short, but we did manage to hit up five or six of the stores and find a few things to take home with us.
Around seven, we reached our hotel. I was expecting a dingy hostel with mysterious stains on the carpets, but to my pleasant surprise, we were staying in a manor house-turned-school-turned-hotel. We were staying in the servants’ quarters, but it was okay, because there was a grand staircase and grounds for us to stroll around in and a music room and a breakfast parlor. We took breakfast there the next morning (after taking a walk, reading in bed, and falling asleep around nine), and looked out the windows onto the greenest hills I’d ever seen.
Then it was off through twisty and hilly country lanes to the national park to go horseback riding. First, we all got to meet our ponies: mine’s name was Xanadu and he was black with a big white patch. Then we mounted up and rode off (at a walk, in a single-file line) into dirt lanes lined with hedges. About an hour into the ride, we left the roads and started off across a grassy mountainside. We could see snow-capped mountains in the distance, and it was magnificent.
After about three hours of riding, we were all sufficiently sore, and it was time to dismount and head home. Overall, it was quite the bookish weekend: for most of it, I felt like I was wandering around in a Jane Austen novel. It was perfect.