Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Royal Pavilion

The weekend I took a short break from revision, aka studying, and went to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. It was built in the early 19th century by King George IV while he was still the Prince Regent. It definitely stands out with its Indian inspired exterior, Chinese inspired interior, and from what the tour suggested may have been an early predecessor to the Playboy Mansion. I've been to a lot of castles and other grand buildings now and none of them were as over the top as the Royal Pavilion. We were allowed to take pictures inside the pavilion and there is really no way to try to describe it without them so here are some pictures of the exterior.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


I decided to take a day off from studying the day after my first exam and went to Windsor Castle with my friend Liz. Liz is another American who is working at Sussex for the summer. She doesn't have any exams and I have a weird exam schedule so the two of us skipped out while the others were studying/taking exams. We didn't put a lot of thought into this excursion; just bought train tickets and figured we'd find the castle. The castle proved very easy to find and seemed bigger than some of the other castles I've visited . However it was difficult to tell since it's right in the center of town.

The castle has been the primary residence of the Sovereign for over 900 years so most of it was not open to tourists. The State Apartments, St. George's Chapel, and Queen Mary's Doll House are the main attractions. The gardens surrounding the Round tower were really pretty too. The State Apartments were very similar to all the other State Apartment's I've seen with lots of antique furniture, weapons, and paintings. One of the really nice things about the apartments at Windsor was that I recognized a lot more of the royal names than usual. St. George's Chapel was constructed in roughly the same style as King's College Chapel. However St. George's Chapel is the finally resting place of several monarchs including but not limited to Henry VIII, Charles I, and George VI, and their spouses; Jane Seymour, and the Queen Mum. Seeing names from my history book on actual memorial slabs was borderline freaky. Seeing a tomb, painting, building, or location that suddenly makes something I've read about very real is a phenomenon that I'm slowly getting used to. Queen Mary's Doll House beat the pants off my trusty fischer-price doll house. The house itself would have taken about half of my room at Sussex, and had over two dozen completely furnished rooms plus a four-car garage and back-garden. It was all beautifully made.

Visiting the Queen's residence was a really nice break from studying especially since the weather was bewautiful. The toughest part is going to be making myself go back to studying tomorrow since it's a Bank Holiday weekend which would normally mean three-day weekend, but not during exam time!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rainy Days in the UK

Anyone who has ever visited the UK has probably been warned about the how much it rains. I know I was. However, no matter how many times you hear it you really are never prepared for it. It's been eight months since I arrived in England and I still get some sort of crazy cabin fever/desire to hibernate every time we get rain for several days in a row. I have yet to experience a "pleasant" sort of rain here. Ever since September, if it's going to rain for more than about 10 minutes, it is a grey, cold, dreary rain. We're mid-way through May and it looks like the end of October out there. Unfortunately I have several deadlines looming over my head which means that I can't curl up with a movie and wait for it to stop. So please, rain, rain, go away!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Canterbury and Leeds Castle

Canterbury Cathedral

Leeds Castle

Poseidon in the Grotto

This past Saturday I went to Canterbury (like The Canterbury Tales) and Leeds Castle, both of which are is county Kent and no where near Leeds, England. Canterbury was a small English town with a huge Gothic cathedral in it. It's also where Thomas Becket was assassinated, which is way Chaucer's pilgrims were traveling there. However, no one in my group new who Thomas Becket was so the importance was lost to us. Outside of the cathedral was a pedestrian-only shopping area where my friend Claire and I got some of our favorite pub food (Bangors and Mash!) for lunch. After lunch we found a "Canterbury Tales tourist attraction" which featured all of the tales that I read in high school. It was just a tad over-priced so we didn't go in but it looked like it would have been very Disney-esque.

Leeds Castle was beautiful. Much like Warwick, it is surrounded by huge grounds which are a lot more pleasant to walk around when the weather is sunny and warm. Lady Baillie lived in the castle until the 1970s so the interior has been restored and refurbished from its original 9th century design. It is still used for meetings, parties, and wedding receptions. Although the castle felt much more comfortable than some of the other castles I've visited that are essentially a stone shell, Lady Baillie had an obsession with birds that was a little scary. Just about every room had some sort of bird decoration in it. Outside, there was a duckery, and an aviary, and several birds of prey. It was just a little bit intense. In another area of the grounds there was a hedge maze. Claire and I managed to get halfway through about three times for the guy at the end took pity us and told us how to get out. In order to get out of the maze you went through 'the grotto' which was meant to be a creepy underwater cave of some sort. The inside was pretty nifty with seashell and driftwood scupltures, but after coming from "bird heaven" it seemed really random.