Saturday, August 23, 2008

Good-bye Olympics!

We've been doing a lot of this before bedtime lately...

Friday, August 22, 2008

The University of Oxford

We only had about 2 1/2 days in the UK on our trip, and it was hard to narrow down what we were going to do. We decided to spend one full day exploring as much as we could in London and one day taking a day-trip somewhere else. We thought "there's no way we can see everything" so we might as well get just a taste of some different things, and we can always go back.

So after a lot of research we decided to spend a day in Oxford. (Secretly I wanted to expand our collection of t-shirts from fancy colleges that we have going for the boys. We have Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford now. If anybody goes to Connecticut...will you pick us up a t-shirt from Yale?) Anyway, it was a great choice. We thought the campus was beautiful as you can hopefully see from the pictures, and we learned a lot about the way the university works by taking a walking tour with a local guide who was born and raised and educated at Oxford. I thought it was fascinating, and so I'll bore you with it now...

Oxford is the oldest university in the English speaking world. It was started in the 12th century because the nobility, who typically were the only ones who went to college, got kicked out of the Sorbonne in Paris. Their troubles continued even while studying at Oxford because the townspeople resented having them there and actually attacked them frequently. That's why they built walls around the colleges. The resulting interior courtyards were called "quads." These quads were so beautiful that my eyes could almost not stand it.

Oxford is comprised of 39 individual colleges. Each college was started by a particular founder, usually a royal or other member of the nobility. Some are named after their founder and others after something from Christian theology. (Christchurch, Trinity, Jesus College, etc.) Jesus College was founded by Queen Elizabeth I. You can see her portrait hanging in the dining hall below.

The dining halls are all decorated with portraits of their most prestigious alumni. Here is Laurence of Arabia. I thought that was a neat picture.

Each college has roughly 50 "fellows" and 500 students. The students are each assigned to a fellow who is responsible for laying out their entire course of study. They meet with their fellow weekly if not more and this is the most important part of their education. Lectures are secondary, and take place in lecture halls that are shared by all the colleges.

The colleges are not organized around a particular discipline like science, literature, or math. Rather they are just individual organizations that accept students based on their fellows. For example if I'm studying history I would apply to a college where there is a history fellow who is an expert in the time period that I'm interested in. We gathered that the older, wealthier colleges with larger endowments and more prestigious alumni were probably hardest to get into. This is a picture of the bust of J.R.R. Tolkien that we took in the chapel of the college where he was an undergrad.

Every college has offices for the fellows inside the buildings surrounding the quad. Some of the colleges have cloisters and meadows.

Each college also has it's own library, pub, student residence, and a separate lounge area for fellows and students.

They each have their own Chaplain and chapel. Here are two of the chapels we looked into.

And they each have their own dining hall (above) where the students dress casually for lunch and in robes at dinnertime. They filmed the dining hall scenes of the Harry Potter movies at Oxford's Christchurch College. They were actually filming something on campus the day we were there, but I'm not sure what it was. We snuck into this area where the filming was taking place.

So when we arrived in Oxford on the bus, we knew nothing. Luckily Mat had read a little bit and knew that we needed to join a walking tour. The oldest colleges are inside the old city walls and cars/buses are not allowed inside. Here are some of the old city walls.

We probably wouldn't have really seen or learned about any of this on our own. Our guide, Stuart, was really funny in a British kind of way.

There was a woman from Moscow in our tour group and that was a bit awkward when we all introduced ourselves because it was the day that President Bush spoke out against the Russian aggression in Georgia. The conflict was all over the news. She was actually perfectly nice, but Stuart ended up telling several jokes about Americans and Texans at our expense. It was funny at first, but eventually we got sick of it. :-)

After our tour we spent a lot of time walking around Magdalen College. This was C.S. Lewis' college and one of the most beautiful. Since Mat and I love Lewis and Tolkien so much, this was really a highlight of our lives to walk the paths that they probably walked together as they discussed their writing.

We stopped into a pub for some lunch and it started pouring. It was nice to be inside this cozy warm place and wait out the rain.

I have so many more pictures and memories from Oxford. The strange thing is, I started a new book when we got home called "The Children of Men." I've had this book for over a year. I bought it after I saw the movie which was really good. So I started reading this book, randomly, and realized that he entire thing takes place in Oxford. The main character is a fellow at Merton College. So it's been a great book to read since we were just there and all the locations are familiar.

I know it's a longshot, but I would be thrilled for one of the boys to attend a university like Oxford someday. The main city of Oxford is much like any other big city, but inside the old city you can feel the rich history there just by walking around. Highly recommend this day trip if you ever get the chance.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Quick post before bed...

Well, this is just a teaser for London. I'm going to try to post more pictures while we're waiting at the airport tomorrow.

Sunday night after we arrived.

One of our favorite things was Westminster Abbey.

We didn't even intend to go inside, but decided to on a whim. It was very interesting and we loved the audio tour narrated by Jeremy Irons. :-) The Poet's Corner was my favorite where all the famous British writers, actors, and musicians are buried or memorialized. Mat's observation after we left was that sometime after the monks were no longer living in the Abbey it became more of a shrine to British royalty and culture than to God. So true, but it was still (unexpectedly) a great place to learn about the history of the country.

Here's more:

Cheesy, but couldn't resist this pose.

The Churchill Museum.

The Household Calvary.

Couldn't resist this pose either.

The Tate Modern.

Oxford. (More photos of this coming soon, this was a highlight)

We had a great time but we're really looking forward to getting home to our boys tomorrow. More soon!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Quelques images de finale de Bruxelles

This was our craft service spread on Friday. Let me tell you the "Crack 'n Salty" is addictive. haha. Actually the Hula Hoops were my favorite.

Night scene.

After dinner in the Grand Place (pronounced gran plahs).

Place de Palais

Becky, is this the window you remember? It seems different to me, but I checked every floor at the hotel and they were all the same...

Downloading footage at the Brussels airport. We're about to catch our plane to London...more to come.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bonsoir! Voici mes images de Belgique...

Welcome to the Grand Place in Brussels.

In was raining in Antwerp but so beautiful.

After our shoot we met Walter for dinner at a lovely old restaurant.

They serve Filet de Cheval here in Belgium.

Yes folks. That's horse steak. Yum. (I didn't try it. :-)

The "Last Best Hope" group.

We shot in a professor's house in Antwerp that was VERY old. These stairs went down to a cellar that dates back to the 13th centruy.

Here is a picture of the kids we interviewed yesterday. There are more work-related pictures posted on the company blog here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bon Jour!

For anyone out there who doesn't know...we traveled to Belgium this week to start working on a new documentary project about the country of Rwanda in Africa. We made it to Brussels at about 8:30am on Wednesday. To us it felt like the middle of the night, but we stayed up and completed a full day's work. We rented a car and scouted locations, picked up equipment, and even got to shoot footage of the subject of our film as he was being interviewed in a TV studio by Al-Jazeera. By sheer coincidence Rwanda was big news here yesterday because its government issued a statement accusing France of participating in the 1994 genocide. So that's why he was being interviewed.

We got room service last night and slept from 9pm to 7am. I cannot remember the last time I've gotten so much sleep. It was great. We've been interviewing Paul this morning, and we're about to drive to Antwerp for another interview. This one is with one of the world's experts on Rwanda and the genocide.

Mat is planning to keep track of our work-related progress on our company blog here. I will try to post here on the family blog about some of the fun parts of the trip. So far the most fun :-) and challenging thing has been driving! Actually I got the hang of driving fairly quickly even though our rental car is a manual transmission and everyone here just cuts in front of each other and crams into any space in the road they can fit. It's the finding our way around that's challenging. It sure makes you realize how easy we have it in the US where everything is clearly labeled with big green signs.

The weather was extremely sunny and warm yesterday. Today it's rainy and cooler. Everyone has been really nice. I've only had a couple of times when the language barrier has been a problem. Most people here speak at least some English. I loved this phrase that's on our room service menu "meusli of choco pops." That one cracked me up.

I will post some pics tonight if I get a chance to download the camera.

Au revoir!

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