Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Adventures In The North

I’m back in Cardiff sat at my desk, alternating between writing this blog, editing an essay I have due Tuesday, filtering through pictures to post, and unpacking my suitcase. Earlier today I spent 5 hours traveling from North Wales, into England, and back to South Wales, even though I wish I could have stayed in Snowdonia for another month. This past weekend was the big IFSA Adventure Weekend, and it was probably one of the most amazing weekends of my entire life.

We had all been looking forward to Friday since we first learned what Adventure weekend was on the second day of IFSA orientation, and I could not believe it was finally here. Our adventure started with the walk to the train station where we were greeted by Andrew and our mini-coach. We all piled into the coach for the five hour drive from Cardiff to Llandberis. I wasn’t really looking forward to such a long drive, but the whole journey was accompanied by some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen in my life. Everything from the mountains to the plant life was just amazing, it all felt like it was straight out of a fairytale.

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The sunset made it even more unreal.

I never really realized it until the drive, but I had never seen mountains until this weekend so every single one was mind blowing to me. The craziest part was that I thought every mountain we passed was Snowdon (Mt. Snowdon is the highest peak in Wales), but then we would turn the corner to see a brand new, much larger mountain. It was absolutely breathtaking and I could have probably stared out the window of that coach for another 5 hours. But I was also ready to jump off the bus as soon as it stopped to get going on the weekend’s activities.

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We pulled up to The Royal Victoria Hotel at around 6pm Friday night and I was blown away, yet again, by what I was seeing. The hotel is right in the middle of a valley in between the mountains, how insane is that? And as much as I wanted to see what was all around us, I was equally as eager to run inside and find our other IFSA friends and check out the room. We ended up having a suite that five of us shared that was infinitely nicer than I was expecting. I didn’t really know anything about where we were going, but this hotel blew any expectations out of the water. We had a view of the mountains, a huge room, and a lovely bathroom fully stocked with any amenities that we could have asked for (there was even a heated towel rack, which we utilized to its full capabilities I might add and I never want to go back to room temperature towels again).

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After we got all of our stuff settled, we all but ran downstairs to get in line for dinner, which ended up being sufficiently long (as it would be with 200 IFSA students) but the wait was completely worth it. Dinner was a buffet and we all took full advantage of that. We had spaghetti, chicken, garlic bread, chips, coleslaw, and tomatoes, and we all spent the entire time raving about how delicious everything was. Then they carried out all of the desserts and I almost fell out of my chair I was so excited. I may or may not have tried all of the desserts available (ok let’s be completely real here obviously I tried all of the desserts) and they were all amazing. I think the last time I ate that much food was thanksgiving.

The night got even more exciting with the pub quiz night; all 200 of us crowded into the little banquet hall for a rousing night of questions. Sherlock and His Holmies were back for round 2 and we weren’t going down without a fight. Round 1 was sort of a disaster for us despite being a true or false round, but we came back from an awful start and were one point away from placing. Round 2 was a logo round, which we got all but one wrong (we totally should have gotten it right too, the answer was Aston Martin and there’s one across the street from us) but the highlight of the night was definitely the third round. It was the connected round, which means all of the answers are connected somehow, so if you figure out the connection, its a lot easier to get the answers. We got through the first 4 or so questions and were completely lost, but then Forrest had an epiphany and totally guessed the theme so we were able to go back and figured out all of the other answers. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so proud but when they were reading off all of the correct answers, we were almost off the floor jumping up and down we were so happy. I think there were only two or three groups that got the theme so we were so stoked. The fourth round was pretty fun especially because the first question was about “the pensioner who had a wardrobe malfunction and fell at the brits” which I saw in person last week. I think between the last three rounds we only missed three points and we found out we only missed placing by 1 point, and knowing how bad we did in the first round was a real bummer. But it was really fun nonetheless.

After all of the nights festivities, we went up to our room and just spent the night hanging out and we had a really lovely time just catching each other up on all of our adventures at our various schools. It was one of those nights where you didn’t really do much but just had an awesome time with awesome people.

Saturday morning we woke up at 7:30 and rolled out of bed to throw on some clothes before walking down to breakfast. This morning was our first full Welsh breakfast, which was definitely a new experience for me. I’m absolutely obsessed with the triangle potatoes and the sausage was good but the beans were everywhere and I didn’t really like them that much. ANYWAY…enough about food let’s get to the adventure!

Saturday was the big day. All 200 of us set off in all different directions to do all kinds of crazy cool things throughout the mountains. For the morning, I was off to Llechwedd Slate Mines for Bounce Below! Bounce Below is this crazy cool place where you get to jump around a bunch of nets in the middle of a massive slate mine. How cool is that concept? Whoever came up with that idea deserves some kind award because it’s so innovative and it was an absolute blast. We had to wear these very attractive helmets (luckily we got to forgo the bright orange jumpsuits) before we walked through the mine and down to the cavern. After a walk through the mine and its incredibly low ceilings we made it down to the massive cavern that was lined with multicolored nets running in all different direction. We also got to see the start of their underground zip lining, which is also insanely cool and I would love to go back and try. But we eventually made it onto the nets and spent the next hour jumping around like fools and exploring the different levels of the netting. There were three different levels all connected by various slides and angled nets to climb up, and I made sure to check them all out. The slides were unlike any other slides I have ever been on, namely because they came with their own safety talk. We were specifically told to “keep our feet together and cover our face with our hands” which was very intimidating to think about but it was basically just to prevent rope burn on your nose. I think the top level was my favorite because it was a little more low key, and I could just sit down on the nets (it was really exhausting ok) and just take in the fact that I was in the middle of a mine. Being down there is sort of a combination of disbelief and awe because you’re in a mine; people used to be down there causing explosions and mining thousands of tons of slate, and now we were down there acting like hooligans on a bunch of netting. I was sad when we had to leave but I guarantee if I would have stayed any longer, I wouldn’t have been able to walk afterwards. Jumping is exhausting.

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All the nets strung across the cavern.

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Hottest new fashion trend.

After the drive back to the hotel from the mine, we had a while to sit and eat our lunches before we all split off for our afternoon activity, which for me ended up being a tour of Caernarfon Castle. The castle is absolutely massive and located right on the coast so it’s gorgeous, but that also means it was incredibly windy. At one point I genuinely almost got blown over, that’s how insane the gusts were. Inside the castle wasn’t too bad because the walls are really high so they keep out the brunt of it. We had about 2 hours to check out the castle and the town surrounding it. For the first half of our time, we had a tour guide which is always a great way to get a crash course in local history. Our guide was absolutely lovely and just kept giving us more and more information about the history of the castle, which was fascinating. Apparently, back in the castle times they used to lay straw down as a carpet, which back then was called ‘thresh’ so they would build up a little wall at the base of a door to keep the thresh in its respective rooms which came to be known as the ‘threshold.’ My mind was slightly blown when she said that. Those little random facts are my favorite.

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Castle on the coast.

Caernarfon castle is actually an English castle, so it’s absolutely massive and very ornate with some really interesting fortifications that we learned all about. This castle is actually where Prince Charles had to swear loyalty in order to become the official Prince of Wales, so basically we walked on the same grounds as the Royal family. We spent the hour after the tour just wandering the castle and climbing the tours to see the amazing views over the ocean. The Black Tower had the most intense spiral staircase that I have seen to date, and it required a lot of specific coordination between the people coming down and the people going up, but the view was definitely worth it.

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When we exhausted the castle, we wandered through some cute little cafes and shops where it became even more obvious how north we were. Northern Wales is almost an entirely different world from Cardiff. Cardiff is very urban, and although all of the signs and things are always in both Welsh in English, when you get up north things become largely Welsh-only. I find it incredibly interesting because I am studying Welsh, so it was really fun to try and interpret the very little that I do know, I even got to teach people a few things, despite me being incredibly rubbish at it. By far the most significant difference up north is the number of people speaking Welsh. I heard it all over the place, I think in Cardiff I’ve heard it maybe once. It was really cool to get to see the Welsh culture out in the open and embraced so heavily, and a lot more naturally. We definitely got to see the culture of Wales in a completely different light up there in comparison to Cardiff.

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Saturday night at the hotel was a fun night hanging out at the dinner table playing with money (the British coins are basically puzzle pieces which is really cool) and just enjoying each other’s company. There was another fantastic dinner where we ate some more delicious food and just hung out for a couple hours before the party. Back in the banquet hall that we had quiz night at, we spent the night dancing like lunatics to some great music (I Wanna Dance With Somebody was definitely a highlight) and just having an all around lovely evening.

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We all reluctantly rolled out of bed a little after 7am on Sunday morning to pack up all of our stuff and grab another breakfast before we had to meet up to head off to Llandudno for the morning. It was an incredibly foggy and raining morning, which made the exhaustion a lot more intense, but we all found enough energy to wander around the coastal town for a few hours.

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Llandudno

We found some cute places to shop and explore, eventually stumbling on what has probably become the biggest plot twist of my young life. We found the dress. That’s right, we just happened to find the dress that had the world split into two fervently adamant halves. For two or three days you were either team white and gold or team black and blue, and everyone on the other team was completely confused as to how one picture could look completely different to someone else. I found the entire debacle fascinating, so stumbling across the dress that started it all was incredible.

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I can in fact confirm that it is black and blue, even if I can only see white and gold in the picture that had the Internet at a stand still.

Unfortunately, almost as quickly as it started, adventure weekend quickly came to an end. We grabbed Starbucks as we waited for our mini coach to pick us up, and then we were back on the road to Cardiff. The ride back wasn’t nearly as riveting as the ride there (sorry England, but the Welsh countryside is a lot more interesting) and we were all so tired we just wanted to be in bed sleeping.

Even though the weekend was about adventure and exploring an incredibly stunning part of this beautiful country, some of the best moments were spent lying around our hotel room just talking about anything and everything. I think it’s absolutely amazing that two months ago I had never met any of these wonderful people, but now I can’t imagine life without them. I don’t really want to think about having to say goodbye, even though that day is quickly (ugh way too quickly) approaching. Can adventure weekend happen every weekend for the rest of my life?

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