Trains, Planes, and Buses that Depart at 2 AM
Spring has sprung! And Cardiff is filled with blooming daffodils that are literally everywhere. Each day that I run through Bute Park (gotta counteract all of those Welsh cakes) brings more and more of the bright yellow flowers that are sprouting up everywhere. I’m pretty convinced that by the end of the month I won’t be able to see grass anymore, just daffodils. Speaking of the end of the month, it’s March. Who would have though I’d have made it this far?
Anyways; it’s March, my hair has gotten longer, I’ve turned in three essays, I’ve learned how to make a proper meal, and I’ve gotten to season six of Gilmore Girls. And if you have any intentions of watching Gilmore Girls sans spoilers I suggest that you stop reading this now because I am about to spoil the ending of season five, and I’m deeply sorry for any pain this may cause. Rory is leaving Yale. She’s dropping out. She’s having an existential crisis, doesn’t know what she wants out of life, and is making rash decisions that will have pretty big repercussions in her life.
So you’re probably thinking, Alex, why are you writing about Gilmore Girls? Well I’ll tell you: watching her make these big, monumental decisions made me feel some sort of solidarity with her. Not that I’m dropping out of Drake, or Cardiff, or moving into my grandparents’ pool house, but I’m reaching the point in my semester where I’m questioning what I want out of my time here, and if I’m getting it. I’ve blinked and suddenly I’m halfway done with my time here. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m realizing one distinct fact: four months is not enough time abroad.
I remember my first week here—I was so sick, which made me homesick, which made me wonder what I had gotten myself into. I remember talking to my mom about how many of my friends who went abroad for j-term were just getting home and getting ready to go back to Drake for the semester. I asked her, “Should I have just done that?” She told me no, I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t have a whole semester.
Mom, I know you’re reading this and so I’m just going to encourage you to refrain from jumping up and down with glee as I write these three words: you were right. A j-term simply wouldn’t have been enough time. It wouldn’t have given me a chance to get homesick every now and again, to struggle through the tough days where everything seems unfamiliar, and to learn how to be on my own. All of which aren’t always pleasant experiences, but what self-growth comes from easy days and familiarity? A j-term also wouldn’t have been enough time to travel everywhere I want, to see all of the sights that are on my bucket list (which seems to get longer and longer every time I go to cross something off), and to make the friendships that I’m finding myself surrounded by. I’m not even sure four months is enough for all of those things even with every weekend jam-packed with travelling like mine have been, which I will now segue into describing.
The other weekend I left my cozy room in Cardiff to head to the lovely town of Lucerne, Switzerland—a place I fell in love with completely. It was one of those places that make you say “I have to come back here someday.” It had all of my favorite things—mountains, a lake, and really great cheese. The weekend was magical for many reasons, but there are two things in particular that I will probably always think back on with a smile when I reminisce on my trip to Switz: Fasnacht and Mount Rigi.
Fasnacht taught me something about the Swiss people—they are doing something right. It’s a carnival that runs from Thursday to Tuesday right before Ash Wednesday that’s dedicated to eating, drinking, and dressing up in elaborate costumes that put my 20 years of Halloween outfits to shame. Confetti covers the streets where marching bands parade up and down playing music all throughout the night (and at 5:30 on Monday morning because apparently that’s part of the tradition too). Food trucks are everywhere with grilled sausages, raclette cheese, and warm wine. There were people of all ages, all adorned in costumes, and all seemingly having a wonderful time. It was amazing. It was filled with joy, and I consider myself to be so incredibly lucky that my one weekend in Switzerland fell over this carnival.
But it gets better. Ever heard of the Swiss Alps? That was a joke I’m sure you have. Have you ever seen them from across a sparkling lake on a sunny day? I’m bragging now but Katie, Annelise, and I hiked up Mount Rigi and had lunch on a grassy hill with a view that can only be described as a glimpse of heaven. I’m pretty sure I heard the hallelujah chorus to Handel’s “Messiah” as I took a bite out of my prosciutto sandwich.
My final note on Switzerland is the inspiration for this blogs title “Trains, Planes, and Buses that Depart at 2 AM.” I’ve decided that when I’m old and rich and much less spry I am always going to get the most direct mode of transportation everywhere I go. And I say this because Katie and I left our flats at 2 AM to catch our first bus, which took us to London. After, we took a second bus to get us to the airport. We flew. We landed in Zurich, late, and had to find our way through a Swiss train station and figure out how on earth to get to Lucerne. Our trip took 15 hours. That’s all that needs to be said on that.
Another trip that took half a day (literally 12 hours on a bus) was my journey to Scotland. Riley and I left our flat at 6:30 AM and were on a bus for pretty much the rest of the day. We ate dinner that night at a place called “The Boozy Cow” and were so hungry I think we both finished our burgers in under four minutes. On Saturday we went on an all day tour through the highlands, saw loch ness (the lake not the monster), and met a few other girls who were also travelling. We went out with them that night and on a walking tour through Edinburgh with them the following day. Then it was back on a bus for 12 hours, but Scotland was beautiful and the trip was so worth it.
In between Scotland and Switzerland was a weekend trip to Lake District, England planned by IFSA-Butler. The food was delicious, there were mountains abound, we went Ghyll Scrambling, and most of all: it was a trip that I didn’t have to plan a single thing for. I was told when and where to be places and all I had to do was show up and enjoy the weekend, which feels like paradise after a weekend of navigating a 15-hour long puzzle of transportation.
So I’m at this point in the semester where I’m halfway through and I’m wondering what I want out of my time here, and if I’m getting it. And here’s the answer: I don’t know what I want out of it anymore, but I’m getting something. When I first signed up to come abroad I thought it was going to be all adventures and wild stories but I’m finding it to be more of an educational experience than anything. I’m learning how to travel, how to interact with people who have had completely different upbringings than myself, and I’m learning what I like and what I don’t like. I’ve learned how to travel independently, how to cook a meal, and, thanks to my flat mate Katie, how to say the longest Welsh city, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
So you stuck with me through this odyssey of a post and another small glimpse of my time abroad. Enough realizations about life and such for now—I’m off to go eat more Welsh cakes.