Weekend at Windsor

After a morning chock-full of academic seminars, my classmates and I were all ready for a break that afternoon.  Cumberland Lodge provided us another fantastic meal for lunch (seriously, we were ridiculously well fed while we were there), and the lady at the reception desk was kind enough to call us a black cab.

Originally, we thought we might make the three-mile walk through the park to Windsor Castle to see some more of the scenery, but as we only had a three hour break, we realized that a walk that long might cut significantly into our time.  Also, it was pouring.  The cab got us there in ten minutes and, though it stayed overcast and slightly damp, the rain lightened up right as we got out.

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For a Saturday, Windsor Castle was not too busy at all with visitors – but we’re also in the down period between the end of the summer tourist season and when things pick up again at Christmas.  Regardless, it was nice to have a bit of space to stroll around at our own pace, and to not have to battle with too many random people in the forefront of our pictures.

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The castle is laid out in a very interesting way, and the path took us through the outer fortress and then around the perimeter for a while before we entered.  The castle is up on a bit of a hill, with the pretty little town of Windsor and the English countryside stretching out around it, so the walk gave us some wonderful views of the valley below.



There were these amazing and colorful gardens surrounding the castle that were sort of jungley – I loved them!  They were lush and thriving from all the rainfall, and almost overflowing their beds.


A couple of us remarked that the gardens reminded us of something from a Dr. Seuss book, and then had fun trying to explain Dr. Seuss to our Belgian friend who had never heard of him.  I unhelpfully tried to sum it up with, “You know… Green Eggs and Ham!” which I realize now makes no sense without context, but eventually Leo pulled up a photo of The Lorax on his phone and we sort of got our point across.


Eventually we entered the castle – I don’t have any of my own pictures of the interior, as no cameras were allowed, but it was absolutely breathtaking.  Aside from a brief foray through a display of Queen Mary’s gargantuan dollhouse (too creepy – I just kept thinking of the Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode where kids get sucked inside the dollhouse and trapped), I could have spent days wandering around in that place.

The rooms were a hundred times grander than anything I saw in Kensington Palace.  Grandeur does not necessarily equal beauty, but believe me, these were beautiful, too.  The cathedral ceilings towered above us, and every chamber was intricately detailed with meaningful and historical features.  A few of us thought that it was reminiscent of the palace of Versailles, but somehow softer and more welcoming.


I loved wandering through the long gallery which was inlaid with thousands of shields and crests (can you see them up on the ceiling?), each representing an individual member of royalty, aristocracy, or military and dating back hundreds of years.  The imposing chamber displaying suits of armor and weaponry, which might have seemed dark and heavy with its red velvet drapes, was brightened by a beautiful skylight overhead that filtered in the soft gray light from outside.

Finally, there was a lovely exhibit of artwork done solely by members of the royal family, dating back to Queen Victoria and even earlier.  Biggest shocker of the day: who knew Prince Charles was an incredible watercolor landscape artist?  Seriously, Bob Ross would be impressed with this guy!

Windsor Castle was definitely a case where a picture would be worth a thousand words.  It’s hard to describe just why it was so lovely and striking, but I really could have circled back through ten more times.  However, we all headed back out into the drizzle to conclude our visit.


This is a great representation of how international our program is.  From left to right, we’re from France, Belgium, Australia, England, America (me), Germany (that’s Anna), and India.

We took our time walking back the other way around the castle.  The sun was starting to fight its way through the clouds in places, and the light was really neat.


Finally, even the castle guards headed home, so we figured it was time to take our leave as well.


We walked back down the hill into the village of Windsor, where I finally found a coffee shop and grabbed a cappuccino while we waited for our cab.  I also gazed longingly down the street at the Windsor Christmas market, which we didn’t have time to check out.


Soon enough our taxi arrived and we piled back in to make the return trip to Cumberland Lodge.  The rest of our day there was spent in more seminars, followed by a delicious dinner, oh wait another seminar after that, and finally a little down time in the bar and basement, where two fabulous things happened: I had a pint of London porter and I learned how to play snooker.  It’s not that different from pool but it sure is fun to say.

The next morning, Sunday, was bright and cold.  Anna and I woke up early and got out of our beds just long enough to boil water in the tiny electric kettle in our room, before crawling back under the covers and chatting while we drank our tea.

We attended our first seminar of the day, and then some of us elected to attend the morning service at the Royal Chapel of All Saints.  This is actually where The Queen attends church most weeks, although she was back in London on this particular Sunday to lead the memorial for Remembrance Day.  However, because there was still a chance she would be there, we were briefed on how to behave and address her (apparently she enjoys meeting visiting students and would have likely come over to be introduced to us after!).  It would have been really cool to meet The Queen, but is probably for the best that I didn’t as I was wearing jeans.

I really enjoyed the service.  I was expecting it to be very rigid and formal, seeing as it’s steeped in tradition and the royal family is often in attendance, but the pastor was funny and conversational and gave a really kind welcome to us visiting students at the beginning.  They also had a young boys choir which reminded me so much of Les Choristes – there was even one little boy who looked like Jean-Baptiste with Justin Bieber hair, who caught my eye and laughed at me when we all accidentally stood up at the wrong time.

And then, in honor of Remembrance Day and those who have died in war, the choir sang a hymnified version of the poem “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye.  It’s a very beautiful and haunting poem as is, but I had never heard it sung before.  Whoa.  Guess who got all teary in the royal chapel?  Yup, that happened.  Click here to listen to a version of the song I found on YouTube (I think the soloist we heard was actually even better than that guy, but it still gets the point across).  Ahh!  It makes me want to cry again.  I’m such a dork.

After the service, we returned to Cumberland Lodge and had a bit of time to walk around outside and get our first sun-soaked views of the place (finally, no rain!).


The entrance road approaches the back of the lodge, so we walked around to the front to get the full brochure-worthy picture of it.


Anna and I looked at it for a minute, noticed all the little windows of the bedrooms, thought about our own view… and suddenly realized where our room was:


Our big, comfy room was the only one in the main tower, and stretched almost twice as wide and twice as deep as the rest of them.  Oops.  We decided not to point this out to anyone else but it was kind of fun to realize where we’d been sleeping!

Here we are trying to point at our room and not doing so well:


We rejoined a few of our classmates and walked down a little side path to an open meadow that looked out over the rolling green hills.


There was an old greenhouse and a few garden beds (empty at this time of year), as well as plenty of big logs and stumps to play on (this is Lola’s photo).



Finally, we took a last look at the English countryside, tried to breathe as much fresh air into our lungs as we could, and boarded the bus to head back to the big city just as dusk was starting to fall.


I already miss being surrounded by green and seeing the stars at night.  I spent so many years thinking I was totally a city person that I never realized how much I need the country!  I love London, but I need trees and mountains and water to balance it out.  Until next time, Mother Nature!

Cumberland Lodge

I’m back from my “academic retreat weekend” with better stories than I expected.  Let’s start with a bang-up embarrassing one, shall we?

Our coach bus was scheduled to depart from LSE at promptly 4:45pm last Friday, which meant I should leave my flat about an hour before that to get there with a little time to spare.  Unfortunately, at about three o’clock, I got a text from my friend telling me that the District Line (the tube line I needed to take) was completely shut down, as were a couple of other lines.

This meant taking the bus.

I have been really trying to repair my relationship with the London bus system, but this is made difficult by the fact that it is just terrible.  The buses are hardly ever on time, they get completely caught up in traffic, and they generally mess up your travel plans no matter how hard you try to plan ahead.

Case in point: I left immediately – seriously, I was out the door by 3:10 – and my London transport app estimated that it should still only take me an hour and fifteen minutes to get to LSE by bus at that time of day.  Yet, at 4:45, my red double-decker was still standing still in traffic, barely past Kensington Gardens.  I’d been texting with my friend, who was already there and desperately trying to get them to hold the coach for me.

And did I mention it was dark and raining by this point?  Ugh.  Eventually I had to acknowledge there was absolutely no way the bus was going to get me there in time, so I had nothing to lose by trying it another way.  The only other way I had was my feet, though.

So I leaped off the bus and ran, wearing my wellies and my big heavy backpack, the mile from Piccadilly Circus to LSE.  It was the worst.  In retrospect, it’s kind of funny, but it took me a few days to see it in that light.  I kept thinking I was going to fall on my face in a puddle and just lay there out of sheer exhaustion.

Anyway, I don’t really know how, but somehow I actually made it, tumbled on to the coach bus as a sweaty hot mess (where my classmates and lecturers were super nice about being held up!), and we all set off for the countryside only fifteen minutes late.

To add insult to injury, we drove straight back the way I had come and nearly passed by my flat.  Oh, the humanity!

Do you need some pretty pictures now?  I thought so.

Our retreat was hosted at Cumberland Lodge, a beautiful old country house in Windsor Great Park in Berkshire.  They gave us the history of the lodge when we first arrived, which was extremely interesting, but I’m already getting quite wordy so I’ll let you read about it here if you’re interested.

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Cumberland is grand and cozy at the same time – the perfect English country home! – and after an excellent supper we were allowed to explore a bit on our own.

If you’ve seen The King’s Speech, you might recognize this main staircase!

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We even found a secret library with amazingly old books (although the lighting does look sort of weird and fluorescent here, it was much softer in person).  And every single room had a fireplace.

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We had the first of our seminars that evening, where one of our professors and a PhD student presented their research involving cyranoids (people directly speaking the thoughts of someone else – named for Cyrano de Bergerac!).  It was a bit sci-fi-ish but also really cool, especially when they told us about the experiments they’ve designed and how they’ve learned to shadow-speak (mimic what they hear through a radio transmitter in real time) almost perfectly.

Finally, it was time for bed.  There were about 50 of us on the retreat, from all across the social psychology and philosophy departments, and our rooms were randomly assigned and scattered among three different buildings.  I was rooming with my classmate, Anna, so we headed upstairs in the main building and wandered down the hall to find our spot.

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We were giddy with excitement at the sight of our comfy digs and immediately plopped down to try out our lovely squishy beds.

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It was only when a few our of friends popped in to say goodnight, and gaped when we opened the door, that we realized we had somehow lucked into being assigned the biggest room in the building – including the biggest beds.  Anna and I tried to react indignantly on their behalf, but couldn’t stop ourselves grinning a bit when we closed the door again.

We appreciated our good luck even more the next morning, when we woke up and threw open the windows to this view:

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Our other window looked out over the lush green lawn and a bit more of the rolling hills in the distance.  Breathing in the country air was so refreshing after months in the city that it made me want to bound downstairs and start my day (this is not a feeling I often have so I was rather impressed).

We were greeted with a full English breakfast, which we enjoyed in one of the lovely old dining rooms.  I can’t even decide whether to compare it to the Hogwarts Great Hall or a scene from a Jane Austen novel.  Too perfect.


Predictably, this room had another fireplace with a beautiful herringbone brick pattern (they were all fully functional but it’s not quite cold enough for them to be lit yet), as well as shelves upon shelves that were visibly bowing under the weight of the books they carried.


We wandered around the lodge a bit more after breakfast, peeking into some of the sitting rooms in the front of the building.


Can’t you just picture Mr. Darcy writing letters of business at this little table?!


The mental image was even more vivid as I’d just seen Mr. Darcy in the flesh a few days before (I love England!!).

Soon it was time for our first seminar of the morning so we bundled up and made the quick walk from the main lodge to the Mews building.

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Along the way is the Grooms House, where some of the philosophy students were staying.  I never had a chance to go inside, but isn’t it just perfect?

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The rest of Saturday was mostly packed with seminars and discussion.  Our first started at 9am and our last finished at 10pm!  We did have meals in between, and a three-hour break in the afternoon, but we were still all mentally exhausted by the end of the day.  Cumberland Lodge is very strict about keeping the nature of your visit academic, and one of our lecturers told us that he’d asked if they could forego having a final lecture after dinner (you know, let us off easy and only end at 8pm), and Cumberland said no.

The large majority of the seminars were really fascinating, though.  They were related to our fields of study (so sure to be something we were at least generally interested in), but not the sort of subjects we’re covering in class.  They mostly had to do with our professors’ research, and ranged from the above-mentioned cyranoids to global diversity to field studies of ghettos in Brazil.

A few of us made use of our free time that afternoon and took a quick jaunt to the main attraction in the area.  I’ll give you a break here, though – check back soon for details of Windsor Castle!

On the Rooftops of London

First day of school!  First day of school!


Okay, I wasn’t exactly channeling Nemo on Monday, because it was actually the start of a full week of registration and orientation activities, but it was still exciting to have something concrete to pencil into my planner!

Monday started with an informative presentation about the details of student loans from a very funny fees office dude named Glenn.  He was perfectly witty and British.  That’s about all that can be said about that.

After that, I had some time to kill so I wandered around Lincoln’s Inn Fields, at the top of the LSE campus.


The Fields are actually more like a park with a lot of open meadow spaces, a little café in the center, and some tennis courts on the edge.  There are also some more jungley parts in the middle with paths running through them.  It’s easy to forget you’re in the heart of London!


My favorite parts are the edges of Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  There’s something that excites me about seeing the sprawling, old trees contrasted with the big urban city behind them.  I don’t really identify myself as strictly a “city person” or a “country person” – I honestly love them both, so the seamless blend of greenery and metropolis suits me perfectly!

Plus, most of the buildings in London are so interesting and lovely that I don’t find them to be an eyesore.  I like gazing up at them and imagining what it would be like to live in one of the pretty little flats at the top.


This next photo reminded me so much of the classic animated Disney version of 101 Dalmations… especially because people were walking their dogs.  I think it looks like the park where Roger and Anita first meet while they’re walking Pongo and Perdy at the very beginning of the movie.


After wandering around for a while, I went to meet some other members of my degree program for lunch at a little bakery on the corner of the park.  There were at least twenty of us who showed up and it was nice to establish some familiar faces with all the different events we have coming up this week.  I got to chat the most with a few people sitting right near me and it was so interesting to discover the different origins and backgrounds of everybody in the program.  I spent the most time talking to a girl from Australia and a guy from the Netherlands.

We all went from lunch straight to our general registration, which was basically a quick photocopy of our passports and took about five minutes.

The next day, we picked up again in the morning with a welcome presentation from the dean of graduate studies.  He was very funny, played Supertramp and Led Zeppelin to “fix” certain information in our minds, and assured us that the sun does shine in London… specifically, it will shine while we have our exams and while we’re writing our dissertations.

After that I attended an informal orientation, again just with the other members of my specific master’s program.  Everyone was there for this, about 40 of us all together… and I’m the only American.  I think that will make for a really interesting year and is exactly one of the reasons I was interested in LSE.  It has a reputation for being extremely international and I think that can be a learning experience in itself (nerd).  It also made me very popular during get-to-know-you bingo, because one of the squares to check off was “born in the USA.”  As a sidenote, I’m not trying to be an Eeyore, but do we ever outgrow having to play those games when we meet a new group of people?  I’m just not a fan.

I was in serious need of sustenance after this, so one of the girls in my program and I (yes!  I made a friend!) went to find a good spot for lunch.  We were walking through the center of campus when we noticed that people all around us were eating from paper plates heaped with hot food.  It somehow had the look of being FREE food about it, so we decided to investigate further.  We got in the queue, which moved very quickly, and soon found ourselves in front of a man with a tiny food cart who was doling out Indian food.  A guy next to us in line told us that he’s there every day, giving free lunch.  Is this real life?!  This could be a great asset to me as a poor graduate student in a very expensive city.  We’re still not really sure what was going on (the man didn’t actually speak at all), but I am not one to question a free lunch.

We were going to head back to the tube station after this, but took a quick trip up and through the Old Building just to see a bit more of our campus.  We climbed the stairs and came out on to the fourth floor roof terrace, a popular lunch spot because there’s a restaurant right indoors.  It had a great view of the main street through campus below, where the freshers fair was going on.


The Old Building also has one of LSE’s many walkways between academic buildings, which I think are so cool!


We kept heading upwards and stopped on the sixth floor.  We discovered the library of the anthropology department, which is small and private and looks like it could be a very well-kept secret if you’re looking for a quiet study spot!  I will have to keep that in mind.

We also poked our heads in to Shaw Library, which looks like it could be Mr. Darcy’s study at Pemberley.


That cool old wooden table towards the right is where Mr. Darcy would sit and write letters of business (how odious, I presume).  It also has TWO baby grand pianos (although, being a library, I can’t imagine you’re allowed to play them often), and is replete with squashy armchairs.


Directly through those windows above, we spied a little frog, so we headed outside to investigate.  This little guy was standing on a pedestal with no name or explanation other than a cryptic poem engraved in the stone column below him.

Seven lilied seas | We leap into adventure | Talei Jones and I


It was hard to find any information on this, but I was really curious because something about the poem just struck me.  After some pretty deep Google searching, I pieced together that Talei Jones was an LSE alum originally from Fiji, who was killed in a car accident just a couple of years ago.  I couldn’t find any mention of this statue anywhere, but I would imagine it was put in place by friends of hers from the school.  I thought it was a really lovely and whimsical little tribute.

From the same outdoor space, we could look down on the fourth floor terrace we’d just visited:


I can’t wait to bring my lunch up there on breaks between classes!

We followed a professor with a REALLY bad toupee, skipped down a little fire escape, and found our way back inside a half-floor down from the top.  The LSE campus seems to have all these little twists and turns, secret doors and funny passageways, and I absolutely love it!  For a large school in a big city, the campus is relatively compact, so I think it has expanded upwards and taken advantage of every bit of space it can!

Back inside, we had a dizzying vantage point down through the stairwell.


We spiraled down the stairs, stopping at each landing and floor.  The corridors and offices on each level were completely different, as though they’d been decorated one by one over many years.  Every window gave us a different view, and eventually we looked out to see our free lunch benefactor!


I’m very curious to see if he’ll actually be there every day.  I mean, we’ve all heard that there’s no such thing as a free lunch… but here’s hoping!

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