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An Irish St. Patrick’s Day

Time March 22nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Top O the mornin’ to ya!  Can you guess it??  I finally ventured out of the United Kingdom and entered Ireland for the very first time in my life!  I was so excited to see some leprechauns and a big pot of gold.  Unfortunately, that stuff doesn’t exist in real life (that I know about), but Guinness beer does, and boy was it good.  So why Dublin?  It was St. Patty’s Day of course!  I was the one of many tourists who visited Ireland that weekend to spend all my money in the pubs.  Besides celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, this was my trip to visit my friend Norah who is studying at Trinity College in Dublin!  What a double whammy.  Thankfully, I have a friend in Dublin because accommodation in Dublin was completely booked, including hostels.  If I didn’t book my flight as early as I did, I could have been looking at a £200 flight ticket one way.  On normal days, tickets could cost as low as £20.  Everyone worldwide knows to come to Ireland on March 17.

I arrived in Dublin on Thursday, March 15 around 8 pm after a long day of traveling.  Unfortunately, flying out of Cardiff has its challenges.  If you look on a map, Cardiff and Dublin are pretty close, so what’s the problem, you ask?  Cardiff is not a well known city (despite being a capitol city), and the only airlines flying out to Dublin was extremely expensive.  Finding my route to Dublin was a challenge, and I did a lot of homework to figure out how to do it.  I first looked at ferries from Wales to Ireland.  I would have to travel to Holyhead (northwest Wales), which would have been a 5 hour train ride, and it would have been more expensive taking the train than flying.  Flying was definitely the best option, but flying from where?  Bristol!  Bristol, England is only a 45-minute train ride from Cardiff, and I found tickets very cheap (it does help that I have a student railcard; the discounts are amazing!).  On my way to Bristol, I had a lovely chat with my mom on the phone before I headed off on my adventure.  Once I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads train station, I took a bus from the station to the airport, which is one of the smallest airports I’ve ever been to.  Of course I’m used to O’Hare.  I arrived with two hours to spare because I had no idea how long it was going to take me to get through security.  It was nice to keep my shoes on as I was walking through the metal detectors.  I flew out of Ryanair which is one of the cheap airlines to travel throughout Europe.  Sometimes, they sell plane tickets for £12 anywhere in Europe.  Too bad there isn’t a Ryanair in Cardiff, or any part of Wales.  It’s annoying traveling to England just to fly out of the UK for a decent price.

The flight to Dublin was just less than an hour.  I got a lovely new green (of course it’s green) stamp on my passport, and I was on my way.  There were green, white, and orange balloons everywhere, along with many decorations inside Dublin Airport.  I took a bus from the airport to the city centre at Trinity College/Grafton Street where I finally met up with Norah!!  I hadn’t seen her since the fall semester ended in December, so it was a very happy homecoming for the both of us.  My first night there was a relaxing one.  We watched Forrest Gump at her apartment while we ate dinner.  This Forrest Gump night was a long time coming.  We planned on having a Forrest Gump night in the fall at Iowa, but with different schedules, it was hard to coordinate a date.  Watching this movie in Dublin made the moment a whole lot sweeter.

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“My name’s Forrest, Forrest Gump”

Friday was rainy.  It was very hard to see the city because it was either misty or pouring.  Sometimes it was raining with the sun out to show off some nice rainbows.  I hoped there was a pot of gold on the end of them.  Why I came to Ireland without an umbrella or a raincoat is beyond me.  I think I wanted the weather to be nice, and therefore I didn’t bring appropriate raingear.  So dumb.  Norah and I mostly ventured into the city centre where we saw a lot of St. Patty’s decorations.  We walked around the Bank of Ireland, Temple Bar, and touristy souvenir shops.  Eventually, we sought shelter at a pub called MacTurcaills, and that is where I had my very first Guinness!  I honestly didn’t know what to expect.  I have been saving up for this moment for a long time, and it actually wasn’t bad at all.  I don’t know what it tastes like in the States, but in Ireland, it is delicious.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the Guinness Storehouse (the Guinness factory) nor the Jameson Whiskey distillery because tickets were all booked.  It is a crazy touristy weekend after all.  After we finished our pints, we ventured back into the rain and went shopping.  Norah needed a green Dublin shirt for St. Patty’s and I was just looking for Christmas ornaments and souvenirs.  I ended up getting a shamrock ornament that says Ireland on it, along with a Guinness keychain, which can also be an ornament.

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I found a leprechaun!

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Hanging out with Molly Malone

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Bank of Ireland

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Norah and I at Temple Bar

We went back home to escape the rain and dry out our clothes.  I was completely soaked.  My feet were totally wet, and there is nothing more uncomfortable than wet shoes and socks.  After we dried off and took quick naps, we went out again.  We picked up sandwiches along the way to pub called Porterhouse where we met up with Norah’s Trinity friends for a pint.  This was an interesting pub: they make all their own beer from all over the world.  You cannot find a Guinness there.  The only downside was that the place was completely packed.  We ended up finding a small table available in the beer garden along with all the smokers.  It wasn’t too horrible and the house beer was quite good.  We went back to Norah’s friends’ apartment where we all hung out until it was time for us to go to bed.  We needed our rest; the next day was Patty’s Day!

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Getting ready to go out!

Here is my impression of St. Patty’s Day: crowded, loud, crazy, and green.  It’s basically what you would expect for an Irish holiday where you celebrate the national saint by drinking your heart out.  My day wasn’t that over-the-top extreme, but I had quite a good time.  After we woke up and got ready in our green, Norah, Norah’s roommate, and I headed to the parade on Dame Street.  It was a beautiful day, except during the parade.  The only part it rained that day was during the parade.  Go figure.  Unfortunately, I am 5’5’’ and couldn’t see the parade.  I found out later that there were more than 500,000 attendees.  From what I did hear and see, it was pretty good.  The music was great and I heard a lot of bagpipes, and some of the tall structures in the parade were interesting.  Because none of us could see the parade, we went to the Porterhouse again for a pint.  They were giving out free pints so that was awesome.  After the parade, we went back to MacTurcaills where the Trinity College International Society was throwing a party with free food.  I met some interesting people from all over the U.S., Mexico, Norway, Italy, Australia, etc.  I was slightly taken aback when the Australian guy asked me right off the bat if I lived in a red or blue state.  I thought that was slightly inappropriate for the very first topic of conversation.  We hung out at that pub for a few hours playing fun games and having nice conversation with different people.  We tried to go meet up with some other friends at a pub called Peadar Kearney’s on Dame Street.  Worst idea ever.  The pub was so packed, we couldn’t even make it to the bar.  I was hanging out with six other American study abroad students, and there was no way we were going to make it back there.  We literally couldn’t move forward, only back out the door.  They had live music, and our friends were all the way in the back.  Our group went out for pizza and burgers and came back to the apartment to watch…Mulan!  Yes, imagine 10 university students watching Mulan on St. Patty’s Day.  Yes, it was pretty ridiculous and a lot of fun.  The Mulan watching crew consisted of a mix of American and Irish students.  It was great when everyone was singing along to the songs, especially “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.”

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At the parade.  Like my view?

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Decorations

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At MacTurcaills with a Guinness

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Waiting for the pizza

Some of the Americans in our group had to go back to Limerick, so Norah and I were on our own for the rest of the night.  We went back to Peadar Kearney’s again hoping we could get in this time.  Our friends stayed there the entire day, but of course, it was still packed with people.  They actually had security blocking off sections of the pub because it was still so crowded.  We headed back to MacTurcaills for a while and were surprised to see many people still there from the party 7 hours earlier.  After some time there, we went back home.  Despite not seeing much of the parade, my Dublin St. Patty’s experience was a blast.  Dublin itself was a madhouse, and no matter what nationality you were, everyone was Irish that day.  My next journey: Mardi Gras in New Orleans (though that might be a few years down the road).

The day after St. Patty’s was gorgeous!  Blue skies, sun, and warmth.  This was the perfect day to do some sightseeing.  We walked around Dublin’s main park, St. Stephen’s Green.  The grass was very green and the flowers were an extraordinary color.  It had a cute footbridge and lovely fountains.  It was extremely lively, especially the day after St. Patty’s.  We walked out to Grafton Street where a lot of the main shopping is.  Flowers and buskers crowded the streets, but we were more interested in the gelatos we just got.  I had pistachio gelato which was absolutely amazing.  After gelatos, we went to Norah’s school, Trinity College.  It’s the highest ranked and oldest university in Ireland.  The buildings were absolutely beautiful, but campus was filled with tourists.  Trinity holds the Book of Kells, which I had the pleasure to see.  The Book of Kells is a Gospel book in Latin circa 800.  I don’t know much about it, but it was very cool.  This was a part of the old library which had many old texts out on display.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take pictures of either place, but the library was definitely my favorite part.  After visiting Trinity, we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I didn’t go in, but there were plants, flowers, and trees everywhere, including a massive fountain.  The rest of the day we just hung out, and at night we were finally able to get into Peadar Kearney’s.  There was a live musician singing Irish pub songs and people of all ages.  There was a large group of mid-twenties Swedes that took up most of the dance floor.  Personally, they were the best entertainment.  After a pint, we met up with some friends at Temple Bar.  I couldn’t find one Irish person in that place.  The drinks are outrageously expensive because tourists don’t know any better; it’s such a tourist pub, though it didn’t start out that way.  The live music was good, but a large group of French people started chanting and singing French tunes over the live guitarist and bassist.  I was extremely peeved by this, and we left the bar soon after.

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At St. Stephen’s Green

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By some flowers

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The footbridge

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Seems slightly out of place, but beautiful nonetheless

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Gelato break!

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The front of Trinity College

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The Trinity interior

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Trinity building

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The Book of Kells

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Flowers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral

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Fountain at St. Pat’s

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Flowerpots

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At Temple Bar getting ready for some live music

I left Dublin at 8 am the following morning.  It was nice to spend three full days in the city experiencing Ireland; however, I need a trip back to Ireland soon.  How London is to England is how Dublin is to Ireland; they are cities within a country, but there is so much more to the country than that one city.  Once the weather starts getting nicer, I might make a trip to Cork by ferry since the ferry departs from Swansea (an hour west from Cardiff).

I hope you enjoyed your Patty’s Day just as much as I did.  As for St. Patty’s in Dublin, that’s one item scratched off my bucket list.

Irish phrase of the entry: “What’s the Craic?”  What’s happening?  How are you?  Craic is pronounced crack.

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Cardiff? What’s Cardiff? Whales or Wales??

Time February 13th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 3 Comments by

Hello there my loyal blog readers!  Do not worry if you don’t know the questions above; that is what I’m here to talk to you about.  I have noticed along my travels that not many people (including some Brits) know what Cardiff and Wales are!  Cardiff?  Wales?  Ugh, it’s like a foreign language to some people, and in a way it is; it’s not England!  For all you non-geography majors out there, Cardiff is the capitol of Wales.  Wales is one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom, and it sits on the main island of Great Britain.  Whoa, what??  Don’t worry, I have a map below to help you.

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The United Kingdom

So the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (extreme official name) consists of: Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  Great Britain is the name of the giant island that homes Scotland, England, and Wales.  No, the Republic of Ireland is not in the UK; they wanted to become independent in 1916, and now they are a separate EU (European Union) country with zero ties to the Commonwelth.  Unfortunately, the top/north half of the island wanted to stay in the UK, so Ireland split into two countries: Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Actually, at this very moment, Scotland is trying to become independent.

So enough about them, let’s focus on Wales.  Wales is pretty small to say the least.  In total area, it is slightly smaller than New Jersey.  About 20% of the population speak Welsh, the rest English.  In the larger metropolitan cities, like Cardiff and Swansea, English is more widely spoken.  I still have yet to hear people conversing in Welsh.  The Welsh are very proud of its language and culture.  Every single sign is written in both languages, from signs in grocery stores, street signs, school buildings, and my residence hall.  It’s easy to pick up a few words, but it’s definitely not easy to pronounce.  Here’s some examples:

Croeso i Gaerdydd = Welcome to Cardiff (actually, Cardiff is Caerdydd, but the “c” changes to a “g” after an “i”, hence Gaerdydd)
Cymru = Wales
Os darganfyddwch dân = On discovering a fire (that was on my fire prevention poster in my room)

Money, money, money, money, money…oh money.  I like the money here: every coin is shaped differently (and there are more coins), and the paper notes are all different shapes and sizes.  You can tell what is in your wallet by the color without having to take it out, unlike US Dollars.  So, what currency?  The Great Britain Pound Sterling (£).  One of the girls in my orientation came to London with Euros in her wallet.  Yes, you need at least a 3.0 GPA to get into Cardiff University.  Ignorance is bliss, until you realize you can’t buy anything with Euros in the UK.

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British Pound notes…what a colourful creation

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From left to right: 1 penny, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, one pound, two pounds

So what is Welsh culture?  My English flatmates say it consists of four things: sheep (there are more sheep in Wales than there are people), Tom Jones, leeks, and daffodils.  It’s more than those stereotypical items.

Welsh Love Spoons.  What’s more romantic: men carving love spoons for their girl or men giving flowers to their girl?  Please, flowers are so cliché; the real romance lies within Welsh love spoons.  This tradition started hundreds of years ago where a young man would spend hours carving the spoon in hopes that the girl would accept it.  If the girl accepted the spoon, she would demonstrate her interest in him and commence a relationship.  Where do you think the origin of the word “spooning” came from?  The word might have evolved a bit over time, but the same basic love element is still there.  Spoons could also suggest food on the table and a cozy family life, which would impress the girl and his ability to care for her and her family.  Wales was a poor society whose youth could not afford presents or expensive jewelry, so the men would do their best to create the most beautiful spoons possible.  This also demonstrated the young man’s skills.  The more complicated and difficult the design, the more it would symbolize the depth of the creator’s love.  How romantic!

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Beautiful Welsh love spoons

Dragons.  There are dragons everywhere, and actually the Welsh flag has a giant red dragon on it.  One of my university buildings, the Bute Building, has a giant red dragon on the roof.  But seriously, what’s up with this dragon?  Well, here’s the folk tale:  There were two dragons, one red and one white, that remained at Dinas Emrys for centuries until King Vortigern tried to build a castle there.  However, the castle’s walls and buildings were demolished by some unknown force.  Vortigern is told by his advisers he needed to find a boy without a father to sacrifice (nice, right?).  This boy, named Merlinus Ambrosius, is to become the powerful wizard Merlin, whose father is supposedly the devil making him half demon.  I know, complicated story, but it gets better.  This wise boy told the king of the two dragons fighting in the hill.  Vortigern dug up the hill, freeing the dragons.  The white dragon was about to defeat the red dragon, until the last minute where the red dragon defeated the white dragon (the part of the story where the red dragon defeated the white dragon in the final moments is an important attribute for the Welsh attitude).  The red dragon symbolized the Welsh and people of Vortigern while the white dragon symbolized the Saxons.  It also symbolizes the constant struggle the Welsh had with the English.  The red dragon is also a prophecy of the upcoming King Arthur.  Whew.  I hope you understood that because that was a lot to grasp in class.

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Flag of Wales

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The dragon on top of the Bute Building, Cardiff University

Rugby.  These fans are crazy about their rugby.  They also like their cricket and football (soccer for you Americans), but rugby is the main sport.  For February and March, there is the 6 Nations rugby tournament that consists of six nations: Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy.  They play at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff in the city centre, just south of my campus.

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Go team!

Welsh cakes.  Honestly, I don’t know how important Welsh cakes are to Welsh culture, but I have been eating a lot of them, so I think they’re important.  They are made up of eggs, butter, flour, sugar, and currants.  They look like mini pancakes, but they are much more firm.  You can find these anywhere, especially from vendors in Cardiff Market located in the city centre.

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Yum…Welsh cakes

I am located in Cardiff, which I said is the capitol.  It is the largest city in the country, with around 330,000 people.  This is also one of the cheapest cities in the UK, and that’s great for my wallet.  Cars are driven on the opposite side of the street (like the rest of Great Britain), but I’m pretty much used to that by now.  Cardiff’s city centre is known for their shopping arcades, which are like mini shopping malls between the buildings and main shops.  The city centre also consists of the most high-tech library I’ve ever been in.  I got a library card and took out two books, and honestly it’s one of the nicest buildings there.  There is no circulation desk, but there are a bunch of computer stations on all floors where you can “self-check out” your books.  Just scan your library card, scan your book, and you are good to go!  However, the books are the British versions (obviously) and the grammar and terminology is different.

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The front entrance to the Queens Arcade

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Cardiff Central Library: one of Cardiff’s 20 library branches, this is the biggest located in the City Centre.

Cardiff has the reputation of being “UK’s party city.”  The nightlife is pretty awesome.  The routine is pub-hopping (traveling from pub to pub), then settling down at a club.  The students don’t go to the city clubs on Saturday because that’s when the rural Welsh people from the boondocks come out.  Everyday besides Saturday is fair game.  I have found the best night out has been Wednesday, which is convenient for me since I don’t have class Wednesday, and I start at 2 pm on Thursday.

My school is Cardiff University.  Even though it is located in a larger city right next to the city centre, a museum, city hall, and Cardiff Castle, you know when you are on and off campus.  It is not like DePaul or other city schools where the city and campus blends.  My uni (short for university) has about 30,000 students, so it is quite a big school, but everything is in walking distance!  I live just under a mile from campus, but once I’m there, all my buildings are close.  The Student Union is so cool, with a pub and nightclub right in there!  Sometimes, the union nightclub is the largest one in Cardiff.  Crazy huh?  We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.  I have joined the Cardiff University Tennis Club, and the courts are right next to Cardiff Castle.  Literally, the far court is pretty much touching the wall that surrounds the castle.  How awesome is that!?  I play tennis next to a castle.  I bet you have never said that before.  The only downside is that we don’t have any indoor courts, so, rain or shine, we are out there to play.  They have hard courts and astro-turf (basically fake grass).  I could not get the feel of the astro-turf, and I thought I was going to slip and do the splits any second.

I am still adjusting to the academic system.  It’s hard reading for class when some textbooks are unavailable to students.  Students do not buy their books; they check them out of the library.  The professors give a ridiculous reading list (maybe 50 references), and we (students) select what we want to read.  This is such a different concept; I’m still figuring it out.  There are almost no online articles that I’m used to in the States; everything is in textbooks.  No procrastination allowed.

British word of the entry: Quid.  Slang for British Pounds.  Instead of saying something costs 50 pounds, you say it cost 50 quid.  Just like US Dollars, you would say 50 bucks.  Same idea.

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A Day in the Life…of my travels throughout London

Time February 10th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Almost a month has passed since I first arrived in the United Kingdom, and I have so much to say.  I have been on an incredible journey and learned so much about different cultures and attitudes, not only from the Brits, but from other people worldwide.  School has started, and I am busily adjusting to my life in Cardiff.  But let me back-track.  I have had an incredible week in London that you don’t know about yet….

Let’s look back to January 18 while I was still in London.  My cousin Jenni and I became the ultimate tourists, driving first to Abbey Road Studios.  I definitely had to make my Beatles pilgrimage out there and cross that zebra crosswalk.  I’m sure the cars and traffic weren’t too happy because they had to wait until I crossed the crosswalk before they could continue.   I was taking my time.

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Abbey Road sign

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Front door of Abbey Road Studios

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The famous zebra crosswalk

We parked at a nearby parking garage, but this garage had the most elaborate cars: Porsches, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys, Audis, Mercedes…you get the picture.  I did find the coolest Mini in this garage as well.  The car was detailed as if it was an X-ray.  There was a skeleton that looked like it was driving on the side of the car, and the hood showed an x-ray of the engine.  It was so creative and so cool.  After buying some Beatles souvenirs at a local shop, we took the St. John’s Wood tube to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the Guard.

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The sweet Mini. Notice the x-ray/skeleton

I wish I was taller.  Buckingham Palace is a madhouse for tourists, especially during the changing of the Guard.  I saw most of the ceremony through some man’s video camera because I couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd.  The Guards weren’t donning their more famous red coats, but instead they were wearing lavender purple.  Don’t worry, they were still wearing their tall, funny hats.  After we saw most of the ceremony, we took the tube from Green Park to Westminster to check out Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.  We came out of the tube station right at the bottom of Big Ben, and it was so grand and beautiful.  I took lovely pictures of the amazing architecture.  Across the street of Parliament was Westminster Abbey.  I have never been inside Westminster before, but unfortunately, it cost £16 just to get inside, including the student discount.  I passed, but I still plan on going inside sometime before I leave.

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Changing of the Guard

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Big Ben and I

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The back end of Parliament

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The front of Westminster Abbey

We made our way back to the Westminster tube station.  This tube station was not like the rest of the tube stations: it was high tech and extremely modern.  It was a very impressive station.  We were both getting hungry for lunch, so we made our way to the best place in town: Harrods.  Now that is an impressive department store.  The wall and ceiling decorations were breath taking, and the food halls were gorgeous.  We took an Egyptian themed staircase/escalator up to a café and had lovely sandwiches and tea.  Everything about Harrods was grand and definitely attracted a certain demographic (usually people that have lots of money to spend).  After lunch, we made our way back to the food halls and bought big, beautiful cupcakes and a bunch of mini cupcakes for the kids.  I had a red velvet cupcake, and we also bought flavored marshmallow cubes.

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Hanging out at Westminster tube station

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Cupcakes galore at Harrods

The following day on Thursday, I met the Chewing Gum artist.  Jenni and I found him on the street working on two pieces of gum, and he stopped to chat with us for a few minutes.  He was a local artist who paints on old gum from the sidewalks and turns them into works of art.  He has gotten a lot of recognition in the art world around London, and even in New York.

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Meeting up with the Chewing Gum Artist

Later that evening after dinner (fish and chips), Jenni, Jon, and I went to the Duke of York Theatre to see a play called Backbeat.  Here’s the synopsis: Backbeat is the story of how the Beatles “became” the Beatles when John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best, and Stuart Sutcliffe embarked on their journey from the famous docks of Liverpool to search for success in the seedy red light district of Hamburg.  The compelling triangular relationship between the band’s original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, the striking German photographer Astrid Kirchherr whom he fell in love with, and his best friend John Lennon, became an intrinsic part of The Beatles’ story – and put them on an unstoppable trajectory onto the world stage.  Obviously, I just copied that from the website, but it was fantastic!  It was raunchy, hilarious, had great music, and I would really like to see it again.  The actors who played Stuart, John Lennon, and Paul were fantastic!  When they were playing, they actually looked like the Beatles!  The Paul actor had all of Paul’s head movements perfectly, and he looked just like him.  The only small hitch was that the actor was not playing lefty (of course that would bother me).  The actor that played John was spot on with the way he bounces.  Even for the brief time Ringo was in it, the actor played a perfect Ringo.  He smiled constantly, and played his drums just like him.  They had such Liverpool accents that even Jenni and I were having a hard time understanding occasionally.  There would be laughter in the crowd, and we were clueless, unsure on what they said.  At the end, the actors played a few Beatles numbers which got the crowd up and we all sang and danced.  I screamed and sang like those darn Beatlemania girls.  They played “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Love Me Do,” “Twist and Shout,” and so many more.

On Friday, it was time for me to leave the Alpert house and move to Notting Hill where my Butler orientation was taking place.  I traveled by tube, and the one hour it took to travel from Muswell Hill to Notting Hill was the most miserable time on the Underground to date.  I had my giant suitcase and bags with me, and the stations had neither escalators nor lifts (elevators).  I had to make a transfer from the blue Picadilly line to the red Central line at Holborn station.  Worst station ever for lots of luggage!  It only had stairs!  Once I made it up and down the stairs to my platform, I almost couldn’t lift my big suitcase onto the tube itself!  There is a tall gap between the platform and the tube and that was miserable; I seriously thought the tube was going to start moving with my suitcases still on the platform.  I finally reached Notting Hill Gate station, walked up more stairs (my arm was seriously about to fall off), and made it to the exit.  The only problem: I couldn’t fit my giant suitcase through the exit in time, and the gate closed on me.  I was essentially trapped and couldn’t get out because my Oyster card already scanned me for leaving the station.  I was definitely miserable, and I had to get Underground personnel help me out.  Finally, they let me through a restricted gate and I was free.  One of them even helped me carry my bags up the final set of stairs, and I was at street level.

The rest of the weekend was very touristy.  Friday evening I had a joint dinner at Wagamama, a chain Asian restaurant, with the rest of the girls in my orientation (5 going to Cardiff and one headed to Bristol).  We were from all different parts of the States: Fargo, Madison, Kansas City, North Carolina, Michigan, and of course me from Chicago.  After dinner, we decided to go to a pub called The Windsor Castle.  It was a cute pub with a big heated outdoor patio.  Half of us got drinks, but the minute we started asking questions about the different beers, they decided to card us and give us some nonsense about how we needed to be 21 past 7 pm (it was 6:45).  They weren’t denying us drinks per say, but we got the hint that they didn’t want American students at their pub, so we finished our drinks and left.  Not cool.

The next morning we had orientation at Butler’s London office.  We talked about how to succeed in the British academic system, and we talked about differences in studying compared to the American system.  School is very different in Europe compared to the United States.  Getting a degree at university in the UK only requires 3 years, and you only take major classes; there are no general education requirements.  Lectures are only once or twice a week, but there is a lot of independent reading a student needs to do.  Assessment is done by either an essay or exam at the end of the semester.  There might be a presentation due during the semester, but there is essentially no “homework.”  Your homework is basically reading up for your final essay or exam.  It takes a lot of personal responsibility to succeed.

After the morning’s orientation, we all had lunch and traveled to the Duchess Theatre to see The Pitmen Painters, a play about northern England miners who become painting sensations and artists.  It was very good, but it was extremely long: 2 and a half hours.  I’m pretty sure all of us dozed off at one time or another because it was a very long day.  The audience was mostly an older crowd, but if you made the slightest noise, audience members would look and yell at you.  I adjusted myself in my seat, which made a little noise, and the person in front of me looked back at me as if I was making a racket!  Ridiculous.

The rest of the evening was spent taking a nap and walking around London’s Kensington nightlife.  Unfortunately, one of the girls in my orientation had her purse stolen at a Starbucks.  Her purse consisted of all her cash, all her credit and debit cards, local UK phone and iPhone, and her license/ID.  Basically the only thing she didn’t get stolen was her passport, which would be the worst thing to lose.  Apparently, she had her purse behind her chair (why? I don’t know) and that’s how it got stolen.  I think she underestimated how easily it was to get things stolen in a big city, and what a hard lesson to learn.  It was kind of ironic because we talked about personal safety and theft at orientation earlier that day.

The following day we had hop on, hop off tour bus tickets that takes you all over London.  We went past Baker Street and Burberry, and we eventually got off at Trafalgar Square.  We took great pictures of the lions and of the National Gallery behind it.  We split off into 2 groups and had lunch.  My group walked our way to Picadilly Circus and around Chinatown.  Chinatown was decorated for the Chinese New Year that day (Year of the Dragon), and it looked stunning with gold and red lanterns hung up everywhere.  We eventually found a pub and had fish and chips, with a half pint of beer (it was only lunch after all).  I found that it does not matter what time of day it is, beer is accepted at all hours.  We met back up with the rest of the girls and walked to Parliament, running into the royal horses’ museum.  We saw some horse riders in red coats and pointy metal helmets.  After Parliament, we walked through St. James Park and made our way to Buckingham Palace.  The Union Jack was flying at Buckingham, and that usually means the Queen is there.  We took our tour bus from Buckingham to Hyde Park, and that’s where I visited Speaker’s Corner.  It was full of soapbox orators, which are people standing at least 6 inches from the ground, and they are able to say (or yell) anything they want.  The audience can choose to listen to whomever they want.  All the ranters that day were ranting about religion; what an unoriginal topic.  Close to Hyde Park was Marble Arch, a giant arch that was used for public hangings back in the day.  It was actually very pretty, despite the context it was used.  We took the Underground from Marble Arch to Notting Hill where we relaxed at our hotel until 6 pm.

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Girls from my orientation on top of the lions at Trafalgar

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Piccadilly Circus

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Chinatown getting ready for the Chinese New Year

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Fish and chips, with a beer

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A horse at the Royal Horse Museum

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Royal Horse Museum with the London Eye in the background

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I love the telephone booths, but I don’t think I would ever make a call in one

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At St. James Park

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The statue in front of Buckingham Palace

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Buckingham Palace

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Listening while at Speaker’s Corner

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Marble Arch, the site for public hangings

We had the opportunity to take a ferry along the River Thames from Parliament and the London Eye all the way down to Tower Hill.  It was beautiful at night.  The London Eye was lit up in blue and Big Ben was lit up in green.  On the river, we passed the OXO building, a Shakespearean theater, the Savoy Hotel, Millennium Bridge, London Bridge, and we finally came to our destination at Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.  We were on the ferry for maybe 20 minutes, but it was a beautiful and breath taking view of the waterfront.  After the ferry, I had to meet up with Jonathan at the Savoy Hotel.  It was an extravagant hotel that had people in the bathroom give you a towel to dry your hands, and you had to give them a tip.  It was extremely fancy, and definitely not for most people’s bank account.  The girls from my orientation and I were way underdressed; most people were wearing elegant gowns and tuxedos.  It honestly reminded me of a James Bond film.  007 always got put in these elaborate hotels with beautiful people.

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London Eye along the Thames

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Parliament and Big Ben, from a distance on the river

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Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge!)

The next morning was Monday, January 23, and we were on our way from London Paddington Station to Cardiff Central Station.  The two hour train ride in first class was wonderful, and this is where my life as a Cardiff University student began….

British word of the entry: Fancy dress.  It does not mean wear fancy clothes, it means dress up in costumes.  I learned that the hard way.

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I found my favourite pub: the Sherlock Holmes pub

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I Have Arrived!

Time January 17th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Hello from…Muswell Hill, London!!

It has been a long and tiring journey since I departed Chicago, and the United States.  My flight was ok at times, but 8 hours in those small coach seats aren’t particularly comfortable.  I sat next to a 17-year-old British girl who has the craziest life story I’ve ever heard.  Let’s just say she was talking about herself for at least an hour and a half, and I was still baffled by her story.  Across the aisle from me was a young English mom going home with her 6-month-old daughter.  I quickly became instant friends with the baby.  I have never seen a baby that smiles and laughs as much as this baby did.  According to her mom, she was born laughing!  This baby had the biggest eyes and was a model for a lot of parenting magazines.  My flight wasn’t dull to say the least, but I wish I would have been able to sleep for more than an hour.

I touched down at London’s Heathrow at 11 am local time, and it was hard keeping my heart rate down from all the excitement.  Once I got a lovely stamp on my passport and cleared immigration, and I was on my way to the baggage claim and freedom.

I took the London Underground, Picadilly Line from Heathrow to Bounds Green.  About halfway through the tube ride through central London, my tube car was jam packed with people.  Luckily I had a seat!  After arriving at Bounds Green, I walked a short distance to the bus stop.  I had to cross the street, but I got much needed help from the sidewalk, which said to “Look Right” (I still looked left first of course).  Having the cars drive on the opposite side of the street is something I’m going to have to get used too.  Something I noticed that is different from the States is their parking.  Cars can park on both sides of the street and not have to face in the direction of travel.  Sometimes cars are facing each other on the same side of the street!  By this point, it was already 1 pm and I couldn’t wait to just sit down arrive at my cousins’ house.  A red double decker bus was approaching and I stepped on the bus, only to find out my Oyster card (the tube and bus fare card) was out of money!  Of course I looked like a tourist by getting off the bus with all my luggage and asking the driver where I could “top off” my card (topping off means putting money in the card).  I had to go back to the tube station and insert more money.  After adding £5, I went back to the bus stop where another bus was approaching (at least I didn’t have to wait long).  I got off at “St. Andrew’s Church,” walked 2 blocks, and finally arrived at the Alpert house!

The whole rest of the day was a challenge not to fall asleep.  I drank a lot of coffee on the plane before we arrived, so I was somewhat zombiefied on coffee.  It felt like finals week all over: tons of coffee and caffeine without sleep.  My younger cousins Caitlin, 5, and Sophie, 3, made sure I was wide-awake; they needed a playmate of course.

I finally fell asleep about 10 pm GMT (fyi I’m 6 hours ahead of Chicago’s central time).  I did pretty well for myself waking up at around 7 am.  I got to see a wonderful London sunrise that will jump start my fantastic adventure here in the United Kingdom.  Today’s plan: getting a cell phone and buying an electric toothbrush and blow dryer.  I might have another family day, and tomorrow will be designed for 100% sight-seeing.

Till then!! :-)

British word of the entry: Chav.  It’s trashy people that knows they’re trash, but they still try to present themselves as better than others.  Big puffy silver coats and tracksuits are some examples that person is a chav.  Apparently they’re easy to spot (if you’re a local Brit), but I’m still having a hard time distinguishing a chav in a crowd of people. Jenni and Jon are helping me through this process.

 

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New Year, New Opportunities, New Experiences

Time January 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Happy 2012!!  Well I finally can’t procrastinate on packing anymore, I leave for London in 10 days!  Seriously, where has the time gone?  I feel like I have so much to do in so little time.  This winter break has been anything but dull: catching up with friends, gaining 10 lbs of holiday food, having all four wisdom teeth out, and now I finally have the rest of my time off to get ready for the biggest adventure of my life!  I had a very enlightening visit with my British cousins who were in town a few days ago, and now I am able to figure out what I need and what I don’t need for my trip.  Obviously we talked about the UK and what I should expect, what I should pack, money related issues, and insurance (specifically health insurance).  When I arrive in London on January 16, I will most likely take the tube up to my cousin’s house in north London where I will be spending a few days before the Butler orientation on the 21st.  They gave me their Oyster card, which is London’s pass to ride the tube and bus (essentially a CTA card for all you Chicagoans).  The thought of riding the tube is very exciting, and slightly nerve-wracking.  I remember the tube from when I visited London in 2005, and it can’t be much different from the L I’m used to at home.  Money is another thing we talked about.  Surprisingly, the current exchange rate of the US Dollar to British Pound is very favorable to Americans (yey!).  It’s about $1.56 to £1, which is remarkably lower than 7 years ago when it was $1.82 to £1 (though it’s still expensive). But what I still have to keep in mind are the ridiculous exchange fees my bank will have for the exchange rate.  That is still another thing I have to figure out: how should I use my money. Not how to spend my money (that’s easy), but how should I use debit/credit cards without it costing me a fortune in ridiculous fees. Over the next few days, I’ll be in contact with my bank so I know the ins and outs of all foreign exchange about my cards. I’m also going to learn the British money before I leave so I don’t look like the stereotypical dumb American who can’t count money.

What I need to get in the States: Clothes.  I thought I would go shopping in Cardiff and try to “wear their style,” but apparently I’ll be spending much more money on the same pair of jeans as if I just bought them in the States.  What kind of clothes?  Not sure yet, but a few new things.  How can I go on a huge trip like this and not go shopping for it??  It’s also not as cold in Wales as it is in Chicago, so I won’t need heavy jackets (which means more space in my suitcase!).

What I need once I’m in the UK: Electrical appliances.  I am not going to go through the hassle of blowing fuses every day for a hair dryer that’s on a different voltage.  I’m not even going to bring my electrical toothbrush (don’t worry, I’ll still brush my teeth).  The only electrical items I’ll bother bringing is my laptop and camera/camera charger.  Everything else I’ll buy cheap once I’m there.  Obviously I’ll need a cell phone, but I’ll just get a pay-as-you-go phone.  Thank god I live in a technological age where the phone isn’t the only way to get in touch with people.  Email, Facebook, and Skype will be my main ways of getting in touch with family and friends overseas.  That will also help keep the phone costs down.

So…how does it feel to leave in 10 days, you ask??  Well, let me just tell you I’m writing this blog at 2:22 a.m. because I can’t sleep from excitement.  Or maybe it’s also because I am in a little pain from my wisdom teeth extraction, but either way, there’s not a minute that goes by when I don’t think about London or Cardiff.

Welcome aboard to my crazy life as I write about my experiences as an American student living the dream in the United Kingdom.

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How to Pack to Live in London… (video)

Time September 7th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

How do you squeeze one very large closet and two dressers into a suitcase to take overseas? Here’s how!

How to pack to live in London… from Elizabeth Erickson on Vimeo.

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The Red Shoes Project: Londontown!

Time August 6th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Check out my new “Red Shoes” project as I embark on my journey to study abroad in London!

The Red Shoes Project Intro from Elizabeth Erickson on Vimeo.

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