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Return to the South West
Last two years of school. Return to the South West. Bristol University.
When I was sixteen I had a choice - to leave school and find a job, or stay on for another two years, which would help me get into university. I decided to carry on at school until I was eighteen, and then find a university which would have a course I liked. I didn't know what subject I wanted to take, but I had more than enough time to decide.
The last two years of school in England are called 6th form (this is the name that was used in the old system, but has not changed from those times). Students can choose a maximum of five subjects to study (I chose English Literature, Psychology, Art, History and Russian) at the beginning of the first year; they then sit exams at the end of it. (The results of these exams are very important, because they help potential universities to decide if they will offer you a place. Every student can choose a maximum of six universities and then wait for their response. I chose University of Glasgow, St. Andrew's University, University of Edinburgh, Leeds University, Sheffield University, and, finally, University of Bristol which I am attending at the moment.). Out of my choice of six universities, four offered me a place: Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds and Glasgow. But this was only half the battle, because to guarantee my place I still had to sit exams in my final year and get the results which the universities wanted. After the first year of 6th form students can choose to stop doing one or two of their subjects, so I dropped History and Art (because I wasn't very good at history and didn't like the programme of my art course). Last year of school was very stressful and difficult but luckily I passed my exams with good grades and was accepted by my first choice university - Bristol.
Bristol University, photo by Adrian Pingstone (2004)
Bristol is an old city in the South West of England. When I went there for the university's open day I was very impressed with its architecture - a lot of the buildings are made of sandstone, a very light yellow material that is very popular in this region, which makes the city look very light and positive. The main building of the university (used for all sorts of things - from exams to graduation ceremonies), the Wills Memorial, is a tall tower which attracts a lot of attention because it is so big. There is also a beautiful gothic cathedral in the centre. My mother and I went there at Christmas time for a special service, organised by very talented young people. It was amazing. Bristol is very well known for its hills! It is hard work to walk around because you are always going up and down hills. I spent a lot of time trying to get used to them. I had to, because in my first year at university I lived in a student hall half an hour away from my department. I had to walk across a large field (in the rain, mud and in the snow!) and then downhill. Going down the hill is fine, but when you are tired and hungry after lectures it is not very pleasant to have to walk up a steep hill and then a dark field.
My choice of degree was Russian and Czech. I can't remember why I made that choice, but I am glad I did, because I am enjoying it a lot. I don't have a lot of lectures - only about twelve or thirteen a week, but there is a lot of reading and translation homework too! Last year we did a lot of Czech and Russian literature, so when it was time to write and hand in essays I was living in the library! The A.S.S. (Arts and Social Sciences) library is only a minute away from my department, so that is lucky.
The university is popular with law, politics and engineering students. Sir Winston Churchill attended the university and kept close contact with Bristol after he graduated (he was the "vice chancellor" of the university once. A portrait of him is on the wall of the Wills Memorial building). Other famous people who attended the University of Bristol are the internationally known and popular musician James Blunt, the illusionist and magician Derren Brown, a few important English politicians, and our very popular comic duo - David Walliams and Matt Lucas who write and play in the humorous and satiric comedy program "Little Britain". Last year David Walliams swam across the English Channel (La Manche) for charity.
The university is very much a sport orientated place, and our university teams go to national championships very often. There are sports clubs for everyone: from mountain biking and climbing, to lacrosse and horse-riding, to competitive Latin and Ballroom dancing. There are, of course, other clubs. I was the secretary of SlavSoc - a new club for people who are from Slavonic countries and for people who just have an interest in the Slavonic culture. We won the "Best New Society" award in 2005. There are dozens of other clubs, for example BRA (Bristol real ale) - a society for people who like good beer; BUMS (Bristol University Music Society); and Arabica - a belly dancing society. There are many many more (Chocolate Society and Cheese Society!). With all these clubs, the university students can make their lives exciting and lively - there are always meetings to go to, parties and exhibitions, concerts and competitions. Bristol has a very good night life - there is eating, drinking, dancing and music for all ages and tastes. There are some very good jazz clubs, a few nice waterside (we have a water canal) bars and pubs, and a Carling Academy (a place for big concerts of big stars, most of them play rock music.). The nature in and around Bristol is beautiful, so it is great for people who like running or just walking and enjoying the view. The world's first suspension bridge is also located in Bristol. Isambard Kingdom Brunel is the name of the architect who constructed it. Brunel also built a lot of the railways in the country - he was very clever and talented. There are a few streets and buildings named after him in Bristol (as well as other places in the country).
I enjoy spending time in Bristol, not just because it is a great place, but also because I see a lot of my university friends. My father told me that I will meet some of the best people in my life at university, and he was right. I have made friends with very pleasant and supportive young people who have helped me every time I had a problem. I miss them all a lot when I don't see them.
The city of Bath is very close to Bristol. It takes only ten to fifteen minutes by train to get from Bristol to Bath. Bath is famous for being the birthplace of Jane Austen, author or Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Very often in Austen's books people went to Bath to "take the waters", because this place is an ancient spa city. The beautiful and world-famous spa was built during the time of the Roman Empire (so the spa is called "Roman baths"), and it is located in the centre of the city. You cannot use the baths any longer, but the spa is open to visitors as a museum. I have not been there yet myself, but my mother visited it and thought it was lovely and very impressive. I don't know if the word "bath" came from the name of this city and the fact that it is home to this spa, but who knows! This city is a very "pedestrian friendly" place, which means that you have priority if you are walking, and can cross roads and not be afraid of being hit by a car. You still need to be careful though - there are different kinds of people on the road, and not all of them are nice! There are also a lot of pretty little churches and chapels around the city and all of the houses in the centre are quite unique and beautiful to look at. I have also noticed that the people in Bath are dressed very well and with their own individual and original style; they are also very polite and pleasant to talk to. Very often you will see a lot of "buskers" in Bath - these are musicians (sometimes a guitarist, sometimes someone with a bagpipe, and sometimes a whole string quartet) who play on the street for the people who pass by, hoping that they will give them some money for their music. What they play is usually very good and you feel good about giving the musicians some money. Another thing that is popular in Bath is its Christmas market. During the Christmas period, people from all over England and Europe (that's why it is called "Continental Market") come to Bath to sell their products outside, on the streets of the old city. You can smell the French cheese stall from a mile away!
The West Country (this is the name for the general South Western area of England) has a lot of farms and other agricultural things and places. This area produces a lot of food (vegetables, meat, etc.) that is sold in the country (and is also exported to other places). It is famous for its dairy (milk) products, especially cream. A lot of different desserts are made with Cornish cream, for example ice cream. The taste of it is nice and rich, and very natural. Another traditional thing is the Cornish pasty - it is a very fattening, very oily pie (but SO tasty!), filled with potatoes, meat (usually steak meat or any kind of mince), carrots, swede and onions. When you are in the West Country you see shops that make nothing else but Cornish pasties, and the best Cornish pasties are, of course, from Cornwall itself. I have had the privilege and pleasure of trying a real Cornish pasty last summer?
Last summer, after all of my exams finished and I was free to go home, my parents picked me up from Bristol and we went camping! Not long ago, we bought a caravan, so we decided to try to travel with it. It was so much fun! We went all around the South West (again!), and visited the counties of Somerset, Cornwall and Devon. There is always a lot of rain in this part of England, but we didn't know it was going to rain EVERY DAY. Every single morning we woke up in a sea of rainwater that was all around us. Fortunately for us, usually at midday, it stopped raining and we could go outside for a walk. We traveled around the South Western coast of England, so we saw the sea every day. I like the sea, because I have lived by the sea all my life. This region is very popular with tourists and campers, so we never had problems with finding a camping place.
|Land's End, photo by Catherine McCurrie|
Sometimes the roads very quite scary - very steep and narrow, especially for our very wide caravan, but it was like an exciting adventure for us (Indiana Jones style). There were a lot of interesting places for us to visit; there was SO MUCH that I can't really remember everything, so I'm going to write about the best places and times. Our main destination was Land's End. It really is the end of the English land, the very edge of Cornwall. There is not a lot there; a small tourist centre where you can buy souvenirs and have very expensive coffee, beer and food (tourist prices!), and take a lot of pictures. The views there are truly amazing. When we were there the weather was not great, but still, it was a very good experience. There are high cliffs and sea everywhere. Before we got to Land's End, we visited a few quite interesting places. One of them was Newquay - the English surfing capital. Surfers from all corners of the country go to Newquay hoping to catch some big waves. I can't say it was VERY interesting, but now I know where Newquay is and what it looks like. The other, absolutely unique place is Minack theatre. It is unbelievable. Minack is not very far from Land's End, and it is an outdoor theatre, with a difference. It is built into the side of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. It looks like an ancient Roman construction, but it is not even a hundred years old! We were thinking about staying there for a performance in the evening, but the weather was not looking very good, so we decided not to risk being caught in the rain (that is the problem with open air theatres!). We went down to the beach instead, and watched two surfers (one on a surfboard, and the other one on a smaller bodyboard), but they weren't very good so we left and started looking for a camping place. That night we decided to camp in the middle of a field with nothing in it. Just cows. Maybe not the best idea, because we needed electricity for cooking and somewhere to wash the dishes. It also rained A LOT that night. The next day we continued on our journey. Next stop - St. Austell. We went there because it is very close to the Eden Project (there is nothing to do in St. Austell!). Eden Project is a modern oasis. It is home to many different types of plants from all over the world. Eden is amazing! It really is like paradise. There are two large structures called "biomes" - one of them has tropical plants and the other has plants from the Mediterranean climates. There are always different exhibitions and displays in the rooms of the Eden Project, usually giving information about the bad things people are doing to nature, and ways in which we can help it.