Espresso and Dickens

I was woken up early this morning to the sound of drilling mixed with mumbled British accents outside my window and have just said goodnight to a pair of British maintenance men who came to repair my broken fire alarm. I can’t decide if this counts as an unusual or a very typical day.

Unable to read amidst the cacophony of drills, harsh mutters and a beeping fire alarm, I threw on clothes and crossed the street to Rosemarino’s, a little Italian café I’ve been wanting to try since moving next door.  A good looking British-Italian boy took my order for an espresso and eggs royale, and it proved more than worth leaving my cozy bed for. Sometimes I feel my days revolve largely around finding new study corners.

The problem becomes footing my coffee bill. Starbucks is only a fifteen minute walk from mine and for £1.50 I can have actual filter coffee in a grande (if I bring in my own tumbler). I if I choose a café in Clifton Village, they’re almost always quieter, but the coffee is more expensive and usually comes only in pretty, but tiny cups (why I do need so much coffee to get through the day?). So, lots of time I make my own French press and head to the graduate school to study, but it’s cold there and people are always shushing you. But then, if I opt to stay in my room I inevitably get distracted and the books stay on the shelf. This marks the current struggle of my life. As difficult as it is, I somehow cope.

Today it was a rota of Rosemarino’s, the Manor Hall library and my flat. Tomorrow I have class all day and Friday’s study locations are yet unknown. Thus follows the excitement of completing my MA.

No more traveling for me for quite some time now as I finish my last two months of classes, and with them, final essays and my dissertation. I’m so thankful to have met such amazing women in my program. It hit me this week especially that I could not do this alone. When the reading lists are literally endless and the course so unstructured, it makes all the difference crying and laughing over it all with kindred spirits.

And now to finish Wilkie Collin’s ‘John Jago’s Ghost,’

Em

 

Two Minutes Before Midnight

It’s two minutes before midnight, and Maddy and I have just returned from The Clifton, a cosy pub just down the hill and around the corner from my flat. Molly, my Chinese flatmate whose dream is to marry an Australian and live on the Brisbane beach, joined us and over a few pints, we enjoyed the evening.

It’s probably only because I’m in a new country that my eyes notice people and details in ways I wouldn’t at home. Like the thin man sitting at the table opposite ours, reading the newspaper, sipping a pint of dark ale, and eating a bag of crisps as though it was eight am in the morning, the ale a coffee and the crisps a croissant. The noise of conversations and music filled the room, but he just sat quiet, reading the newspaper as though you could hear a pin drop.

I like the energy of Bristol. I like that from the moment I wake up and cross Queen’s on my way to the library to the moment I hit the pillow, something is happening. Cyclists are breezing down the street, girls in boots are busybusy with someplace to be, and lights are always on in the pubs. The other morning, Maddy and I went to Wetherspoon’s for a stack of pancakes and sausages (all for only £ 2.20), and men were crowded round the bar sipping pints as though it was eleven o’clock at night. Rule #1 about Bristol: it’s never too early or too late for a cider. Rule #2 about Bristol: Don’t order anything other than a cider.

Another thing about Bristol is that grocery stores, be it Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, or Waitrose, are always busy. To the point of queues (lines!) being a normal feature. Dairy products, bread–almost everything–have fewer preservatives, and thus shorter expiration dates, but the more frequent trips to Sainsbury’s are worth it. The little 49p baguettes are almost always warm, and the milk and yogurt taste fresher. I certainly spend more time preparing meals here, and though I’ve always enjoyed cooking, I enjoy it especially here. When I’m not traveling, my days revolve around reading lists and finding necessary books, and sometimes deciding what to have for dinner feels more exciting than it should. A point of variety. And it’s rewarding, that no matter how many chapters I have left, I can at least do something from start to finish. That’s probably why baking and cooking have always been fun for me; every other detail of my life can be messy and incomplete, but in following a recipe you commit to completion. Otherwise you can’t have your cake. And I, at least, can’t enjoy my cake unless the mixing bowls and spoons are cleaned and put away. Hmmm. I have a feeling I might be baking quite a bit this term. Let’s just hope I’m not the only one eating everything…

To sleep!

Em

Leaving my heart in Cornwall

It’s the start of a new month–a brand spanking new month–and I haven’t missed it yet. Haven’t yet sped ahead to next week, or my (hopefully) upcoming week in Paris.  Being back in Bristol has, in some ways, been harder than I expected. In my month home in Minnesota, I became a little too comfortable. Fell back too easily into the routine of having a car, having my currency back (“what! everything seems free in America”), my family near and boyfriend close. And every night when I fall asleep, be it on the extra mattress in Maria’s room or the couch (upstairs or downstairs tonight?) or retreating to the quiet of Brady’s parents, I had a small puppy sleeping at my feet. I had a different sort of variety at home than I have in Bristol, and I’m coming to appreciate the chaos of eight siblings (Maria, Luke, Joey, Gina, Drew, Jackson, Natalie and Brigette), one adorable niece and even James and Avery (my mom’s daycare charges) more than I thought possible. I guess a bout of homesickness is one way to keep me in the present, whether good or bad. I constantly had people around me at home, and leaving a house of twelve to return to my room of one has been a process.  I shouldn’t even be complaining because my close friend, Maddy, is here visiting from Minnesota and in these last almost two weeks, we’ve had more adventure than some people might experience in a year.

I met Maddy in London to kick off our English ramblings, and it was my third time there. In my past couple visits, London seemed as huge and unfamiliar as ever, but this last time, I knew where I was going. I remembered which tube stops to take. I had a sense of direction, which is rare to me (!), and I enjoyed London so much more because of it.

Cream Tea in Devon

After a couple days in Bristol, we took a day trip to Exeter, Devon, and were quickly enchanted by the beauty of the rolling green hills and charm of the place. Maddy had her first proper cream tea, and I felt I had somehow ‘done my job’ as  Iwatched her love for England grow. Something that never fails to interest me about England is that each place I visit is steeped in history.  In Exeter, we took in the world’s oldest medieval cathedral and accidentally stumbled on the execution site of the ‘Devon Witches,’ the last women executed for witchcraft in England. The manager of the café even left his post once we finished tea to show us Exeter’s vaults–underground passageways built by the Romans. America does start feeling like a baby in comparison to England’s wrinkle lines.

We spent the next day in Bath in the unrelenting rain, and the city seemed a bit smaller than how I remembered it from October–not in a bad way at all, but in a cosy, familiar way.  I still couldn’t get over the romance of people who live in this city today alive with the architectural feats of the eighteenth century.

We left bright and early the next morning for Plymouth. After hearing mixed reviews about this town on coast, the immense beauty of the place took me by surprise. The previous post was my time to swoon about this! Also wanting to show Maddy Cornwall (and wanting to see it for myself), we left from Plymouth on Saturday to spend the day in Falmouth, Cornwall, a little sea village I hoped would be worthwhile.

Again, my expectations seemed impossibly small as we walked from the train station to the long stretch of cliffs down to the  stunning coastline. The sun was at last out (it’s normal to go days and days without sunshine) glittering over the water so strongly I had to look away. Feeling tired and stiff from constant traveling, the view made any crustiness on my part entirely out of place and obsolete. A young couple was chasing their daughter and black Labrador puppy across the beach, and a couple of old men (no doubt the best Grandpas) stood talking it over while their dogs, a standard poodle and this scrappy little mix, wrestled in the sand. To be part of this scene, so alive with beauty and energy, hit me again of how blessed I am to be  experiencing this dream.

Falmouth Beach

Across the road from the beach was Falmouth’s harbor and a string of pubs, cafés, and a disproportionate number of pasty shops. We chose a corner table by the window in one of the cafés, and I ordered a Cornish heavy cake (as bad for me as it sounds) and an espresso. Maddy ate a panini, and we looked out the window at the people walking by and needed to pinch ourselves. We then walked across the little road to take in the harbor. Often, pictures can’t capture a scene, but this one did.

The Harbor

The colors–the contrasting blues, the yellows and reds of the sailboats, seemed deliciously out of  place for the end of January, and as different from white and grey Minnesota winters as could be. I love how much diversity of climate and sights are contained in this relatively small island.

It’s a dream of mine to live by the water someday, even if it’s a lake or river, but if I can’t, pictures of Falmouth will tide me over.

Cheers,

Em

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