So unfortunately this is the first week that I don’t really have any big adventures to report back on. As of today (16/2) I have officially been in the UK for a month, and apparently that’s about when reality sets in and you realize that a semester abroad isn’t all travel and fun.
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It’s been multiple days since this weekend, but I’m still trying to make up all the sleep I’ve missed, all whilst trying to keep up with school (can’t forget the study part of this whole study abroad deal) and I have a paper due next week and a presentation the next. Time management is going to have to become my best friend if I want to try and avoid a full on stress meltdown. Despite the exhaustion and incredibly sore feet, this past weekend is not something I would trade for anything. It was absolutely incredible. Read More »
About two days ago I was thinking about things, just a jumble of things, and the thought of how long I’ve been in the UK came to mind, and while I was fully convinced I had been here for three weeks, I was later reminded that its really only been two. I’ve only been here for about two weeks but I feel like I’ve done three months worth of living. In 14 days I’ve flown over seas for the first time, discovered one of the World’s biggest cities, and started school in a new country, and while I’m living like a local, I’m still exploring like a tourist.
One thing that makes Wales one of the coolest places around is that it is believed to have more castles per square mile than any other place in the world. I have absolutely no reason to doubt that fact because almost every day, I get to walk passed Cardiff Castle. Where the city has an amazing City Centre and shopping area, there is also a castle planted smack dab in the middle of the city.
What we have here is my first week in CARDIFF! It feels incredibly surreal to finally be here, especially after all of the planning and research time that I’ve put into this trip. Obviously a weekend in London was cool, but I’m finally in the city where I’ll be living for 5 months. Holy cow.
In just a little over 24 hours (27 hours and 8 minutes to be exact, but who’s counting) I will be getting on a flight to London to start a semester abroad in Cardiff, Wales. I told myself I was going to study abroad in England over 4 years ago and it’s finally happening.
Each semester the IFSA office puts together an extended weekend trip for students which involves tons of options for activities throughout the weekend. Our weekend was in Snowdonia, which is located in Northern Wales and about 4.5-5 hours away from Cardiff. We all headed to the train station to meet up with some other students who had trained in and were sharing a bus with us for the trek North. The drive was immaculate as we went winding through mountain ranges, past sheep farms and through a multitude of towns. This was my first time really venturing outside of Cardiff besides going to London, so the scenery was much appreciated!
For the weekend the whole lot of IFSA students from the UK (including Leeds, Wales, Bristol and London to name a few) stayed at The Royal Victoria Hotel. Dinner there was incredible, but the queues got long quick! We learned fast that arriving early to breakfast and dinner was a must if we didn’t want to get stuck waiting around for forever.
Saturday was our first day of adventure for which we could choose either one full-day activity or two-half day activities. The full-day activities included things like going through mines or hiking to the top of a local mountain, while half-day activities consisted of mountain biking, visiting a castle, a high ropes course, rock climbing, hiking and go-karting. Wanting to try something new I opted for rock climbing and the high ropes course.
I can easily say that I have never tested my courage as much as I did that day! I figured being pretty athletic and coming from a gymnastics background the two activities would be challenging but nothing major. However, when I was in the situations of scaling a towering rock wall and attempting to walk across wires 150 or so feet in the air, with brutal winds to increase the challenge, I found myself testing my endurance, self-confidence and courage. Although I shook like a leaf at points (in all honesty more from the cold temperatures than the fear, ha), I was extremely happy with my choices. I felt so proud at the end of the day to be able to say I had made it to the top of a difficult climb and that I had jumped off a huge totem pole to catch a trapeze bar. The adventures were an awesome experience to force myself out of my comfort zone.
The following day we all went into a city where we got to explore tourist shops and venture to the beach of the Irish Sea. It was cool to finally see the water (a part of home I am missing daily). After some time in the city, we were due to head home. However, this proved to be easier said than done as the “adventure” wasn’t quite over yet. Prior to leaving we realized that our turbo had gone, so we planned to travel around the hills rather than through them. But as we began our journey and drove to a petrol station we quickly noticed the small bus smoking. The latest discovery that our mini-coach wasn’t having it meant a rapid change of plans to get us all home (which on a Sunday afternoon is not an easy feat). Our IFSA leader did some quick problem solving and got us on a train to Cardiff instead.
The weekend was full of adventure from start to finish. It challenged me in ways I would have never imagined, and ending up being an unexpected growing experience for me. The extension toward the out-of-reach rock and the initial step onto a wind blown wire proved to parallel my experience with studying abroad. The idea of leaving family, comfort and normality is frightening and overwhelming. The courage to take the first step makes us question our choices, while the challenges in the middle force us to go beyond our comfort zone. But the ending, a euphoric moment of accomplishment and pride, makes us wonder why we were even scared in the first place. As I face challenges throughout the coming months, I know at the end of this amazing journey of adventures there will be no regrets, tons of accomplishment and growth to reflect upon as well as memories to last a lifetime. So, although adventure weekend may be over, the reality is, the adventure has only just begun.
One fantastic thing about studying with IFSA-Butler is that they plan day excursions throughout the semester so that we can see and explore various historical sites in the UK. Naturally, who am I to turn down a planned excursion!?! Since the departure is out of London, I had to get my own transportation to the departure site and back. By train, Cardiff is about 3 hours away, which meant catching the 4:55 ride so that I could make it in time for the 8:30 departure.
I was feeling really good about it all. Sure I had gone to bed later than desired (what else is new!), but I had a lunch waiting in the fridge, clothes laid out ready to go, all electronic devices charging and multiple alarms set! Although I had woken up a little later than planned, I was still feeling confident that I could make it to the station in time since it was only a 30-minute walk from my residence.
I finished getting ready being sure to pack my rain gear and even made a coffee to-go. Leaving at 4:15, I put on my fast-pace and got to walking. About ten minutes out my stomach dropped to my toes as I realized “Oh no! I didn’t write down the address of the office!!!!” Normally this slip up wouldn’t be a problem, but when Wi-Fi is your sole source of internet, that feat isn’t as easily achieved! Thankfully I noticed my slip-up while I was still by campus and was able to pick up a signal. Unfortunately, if I walked too far the signal was lost which meant having to stand stagnant by the school to ensure I could pull up the address and information. This took about an extra five or ten minutes and the thing is…THE TRAIN WAITS FOR NO ONE!!!
Finally, after resurrecting my email from the depths of my inbox and retrieving the information I needed, I knew there was only one thing left to do- I had to run! Yes, imagine it now: as others were stumbling home from a night out in the city there I was running toward them. Now mind you the station is right next to the gym that I go to; so I knew I had, at the least, a mile left to trek. On I went passing drunkards, fellow morning runners and a few cops—I can only imagine what was running through their minds as I passed.
Thankfully, I made my train with about ten minutes to spare, and did so with coffee in hand! The rest of the day was much more relaxing and did not involve any more running – thank god!
Arriving at Paddington with address in hand I caught a cab to the offices where we were meeting. We took a coach bus to Warwick Castle and Stratford-Upon-Avon (the birth place of Shakespeare). Sitting at the front of the bus proved interesting as we had mini-heart attacks with how large the bus was and how skinny the streets were. Our eyes widened various times throughout the drive with anticipation of something happening, but we had little to be concerned about. The driver navigated like a gazelle through the streets and roundabouts. I think he found a little pleasure in our uncertainty and the gasps that came out of some peoples mouths at times. In my defense, I’m still trying to grasp driving on the opposite side of the road.
Upon arriving, we had two hours to explore Warwick Castle. We went quickly through the buildings and rooms and made sure to walk up to the castle on the hill as well. Wax figurines were placed throughout to add some realism to the space – I even made some new (figurine) friends as we pondered over…well I don’t really know, but we looked deep in thought! I didn’t get to see any simulations of jousting unfortunately, but I did see some folks dressed in costumes and even got to be put in the barracks for being a drunkard.
Next we went on to Shakespeare’s birthplace where our immediate thought was FOOD!!! We went into a small restaurant that served Chinese and then continued to explore all of the little shops that lined the cobblestone streets. Although there were different tours and buildings that we could go in to truly explore Shakespeare’s home, we were too stingy to spend the money. But hey, at least I can say I was there, right? After walking, and having a sweet tooth in mind, we went to this little café that had some of the most insane desserts I have ever seen. The glass case was lined with cheesecakes, pies, bars and pastries of literally a million different flavors. This was obviously a difficult thing for an indecisive person like myself, but in the end I settled on a raspberry-rhubarb crunch slice and OH MY GOD! Literally just thinking about how good it was makes me want to hop on a train to head back now. After our time there we then headed back to London and I made my departure back to Cardiff. You can probably imagine my relief to make it to my bed, that night. Needless to say, I slept like a baby.
Although the day was long and adventurous, it was definitely worth it! Plus, I can officially cross attending one of the planned day trips off of my abroad bucket list!
My first two days after arriving in the UK were spent at orientation for IFSA-Butler. Besides being informed of tid-bits of information for study, travel and daily living in the UK, we also went on a walking tour of London. The two-hour walk was packed full of information and covered LOTS of London ground. From Apple Market to Buckingham Palace and everything in between (including the London Eye and Big Ben) we learned tons of interesting facts about the history of London and the monuments embedded in the streets.
For instance, the iconic Big Ben clock received it’s name because it’s designer’s name was Ben and he himself is said to have been shaped like a bell. In fact, the name “Big Ben” refers to the bell inside the tower, not the clock itself.
Another fun fact is that the London Eye was a design entered into a contest by a husband and wife. But, disappointed by the entries, the officials canceled the competition. Disheartened and hell-bent on making their vision a reality, the couple went to contest that their design be employed. Now, years later, the Eye is one of the most iconic components of London. The 30 minute go around was easily worth £20 for the experience of a lifetime, and is something that I recommend any London visitor to embark on. Take a peek at my video to catch a glimpse of what I saw during my quick stay in London!
Internet access, I have come to find out, is not always the most reliable when you are European-country-hopping for six weeks and staying in budget hostels.
Nevertheless, I have returned from the excursion of a lifetime back into the eagerly awaiting and open arms of my dear Oxford. Yet another reason why I urge anyone studying abroad to spend at least a whole semester (two terms at Oxford) abroad: It will take at least the first several weeks just to get acclimated to your surroundings. Come Spring Break time, you’re eager to get out and explore, which is amazing and mandatory in every sense of the word. Yet it is an equally wonderful feeling to know that, while you are looking forward to going back to your home home, you have a new home-ish city to return to. Coming back to Oxford really did feel like coming to a home away from home. It’d be such a shame to miss out on that feeling– I’m definitely not ready to say goodbye yet.
I decided the next few posts will be more photo bloggish on account of me feeling like I’m swimming in photos. I’ll pick a few pictures of from each city I traveled to (in order, for the most part): Wales with the Butler group, Dublin, London, Matlock, Paris, Florence, Rome, Venice, Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, and Amsterdam. I’ll spread them out over the next few posts, however, so as to not entirely crash the internet.
(I’m hoping to create some sort of video slideshow with music and all of that nice stuff, but I can’t make any promises as to when that will be accomplished. If I put it in parentheses I don’t feel quite as guilty if it takes longer than planned.)
It was a beautifully, delightfully long six weeks of travel. I feel like I soaked up a big part of the world I’d never experienced before. And, let me tell you, it feels good.
So now, let us begin in Wales, London, Matlock, and Dublin.
The Butler excursion to Wales was unbelieeevably fun. A couple weeks before you go, they let you list some top picks for activities you’d like to do. Some choices are half- and full-day hikes, a castle tour, a trip to a beach town that I currently forget the name of (Welsh is not a pronounceable language, mind you), kayaking, canoeing, a high ropes course, mountain biking, etc. I elected to do the castle tour to get a bit of history, a trip to the beach town, and a half-day hike (a word of warning. By half-day hike, they do not mean ‘leisurely walk through a nice park.’ It is very, very much a hike. But a breathtaking one, at that). It was a wonderful three days conveniently placed right at the end of my term. Lovely to see all of the Butler friends we met at the London orientation, and the perfect way to start of what was to become an insane six weeks straight of travel.
I then headed off to Dublin for about a week to visit a friend of mine who’s living there. I elected to take the ferry, per one of my tutor’s suggestions. Cheaper than flying? Probably. It depends. I for one went during the week of St. Patty’s Day, so all of the flight prices were painful to even look at. The ferry will cost you about £40 each way. It’s kind of a fun, new way to travel. Depending on the ferry you take, it can take either 3.5 hours or 1.5. The 3.5-hour is essentially a floating hotel. It is massive and comfortable, though pretty slow. The appropriately named “Jonathan Swift” ferry is what it promises. Swift. But in ferry-speak that also means 1.5 hours of so much sloshing around that it takes all the concentration you have in you just to make walk 20 feet to the bathroom. I’ll leave the pro and con weighing up to you. Overall, I’d recommend it as a method of travel.
ANYWAY. Dublin is just wonderful. It has all the old-world-y charm of London, but at about a quarter of the insanity levels. It’s a much easier city to be in, overall. Don’t get me wrong- I absolutely love London. Dublin is a bit more relaxing, however. Some must-sees: Trinity College, the Book of Kells (staggeringly awesome), the Guinness and/or Jameson factory tours should you so desire. Also! I HIGHLY recommend catching a train to Howth. A lot of tourists seem to be under the impression that you can’t see the impressive, obligatory Irish cliffs/ocean views unless you’re on the west coast. THIS IS SILLY. The train takes all of 45 minutes, and plops you down in a charming seaside village. If you walk away from the station east toward the ocean, you can walk up into some of the neighborhood streets, which will then lead you up to some mind-blowing hiking paths. Do it. For the sake of your Dublin experience, please do it.
My Dad then flew into London, where we stayed for a couple days. The must-sees here are all pretty obvious and easy to find. Unfortunately, I haven’t spend enough time there to really have insight into the cool, lesser-known things. But I’m sure all of the London study abroad folk have and would be happy to recommend some. All I can say is, prepare to be impressed. London is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s stressful, busy, sometimes difficult to navigate, and if you don’t go in with an open mind and a patient attitude I can see it being easy to be overwhelmed by (especially if you’re like me and until now have been inept in the ways of travel). So the solution is simple: be open-minded and patient. You will get SO much out of the city when you are. Trust me. So much.
And lastly (for now) is Matlock. Matlock is an area of the Peak District, Derbyshire in England. It’s a couple hours outside of London, I believe (after taking at least a dozen trains, I can’t even remember the timing of it all). Let me attempt to convey the beauty of this place. Have you seen the 2005 Pride and Prejudice? Do you remember Mr. Darcy’s house? Firstly, if you haven’t, I recommend that film. Secondly, and more importantly, I recommend this place more than just about anything. The kindest people I’ve encountered in Europe to this day (we got hopelessly lost, found out we were a whole town away from our hotel, and a realtor offered to drive us in her miniature car to the hotel, if that helps describe it). It’s like wandering around some kind of dreamland. Full of the tiniest, most charming towns you can imagine. Hills everywhere. And just. So. Much. Green. London and Oxford are relatively flat, so this place was very unexpected. Chatsworth House (Mr. Darcy’s House) is, in my opinion, THE must-see here. It’s a massive palace full of some incredible art (the sculpture room, also in the movie, is stunning). And the grounds are enormous. Gardens everywhere, one of the most beautiful views you’ll ever see, and I just can’t even think of anything else to say except ‘go there.’
I think you’re probably with me when I say that’s enough for this time around. I’ll return with some, hopefully slightly more brief, words and photos of the other cities. And then I’ll return to blogging about life in Oxford, when I can focus on some more interesting writing rather than feeling completely overwhelmed by how much I have left to post. Stay tuned for Italy!
Travel-high-ly, sincerely, and until next time,
Wow, I can’t believe it’s already been a month since my last post. Time has just been flying!
This month alone I have ventured across the border to Wales twice, and I’m already planning my next trip. What a beautiful country!
Early this month my flatmate Steffan invited us to stay with his family in Cardiff – obviously we accepted his generous offer. (Oh, and by ‘us’ and ‘we’ I mean me, my flatmates Becky and Hannah, and another friend of the flat Mat.) Through many public transportation struggles we managed to all make it there and back, having a lovely time along the way and meeting some fun people. Steffan started an attempt to teach us Welsh, or at least the Welsh alphabet, but struggled… Here are some photos of Cardiff Bay, one of our last stops before returning to Bristol – so lovely to see some ocean!
Then later in the month I joined the rest of the IFSA-Butler students and staff for an Adventure Weekend in Snowdownia. In all honesty I was quite sore from the hiking and rock-climbing activities for a few days after the trip, but the beautiful landscapes we saw over the weekend have inspired me to make a return trip up to the north of Wales for a little bit more adventure-ing. I’m hoping to head up to Angelsey in May when I have another break from lectures and exams. I have a ton of photos from my hike alone, but here are a few of my favorites:
I was also able to make it on a short excursion to Llandudno, a cute seaport town. A few friends and I had fun just strolling the pier and eating ice cream before the long train ride home.
More news on Bristol and my upcoming Easter Holiday plans shortly!
If you recall from my last (vlog!) post, I mentioned that March was already shaping up to be quite an exciting month. Two weeks into it, I’m already having the time of my life.
When I last left you, I recently completed three essays and was looking forward to a nice easy week before diving into the next set due March 30. Well, after my cozy week, I ventured out to Oxford on a Saturday day trip with IFSA. Unfortunately, in my ‘taking it easy’ week, I forgot to charge my camera batteries. So apologies for the lack of Oxford pictures. We had a wonderful tour from a student at one of the many colleges and his anecdotes about the university’s traditions and rituals really emphasized my love for local knowledge about these cities surrounding London. For lunch, we followed his suggestion of a pub down a few alleyways and had, again, fantastic food. Apparently, an alleyway is a key feature in the local pubs with fantastic food I’ve visited outside of London. (Remember Winchester?) Anyway, after a satisfied appetite and a pint of a local bitter beer that was phenomenal, we visited Blenheim Palace, the residence of the Duke of Marlborough and his family about eight miles from Oxford. The palace, also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, was magnificent on the inside. There were many French touches and the state rooms were all matters of extravagant. Personally, however, I fell in love with the gardens and grounds outside the palace. With the lack of pictures, you’ll have to take my word for it, but the gardens (against the sunny backdrop we were lucky to have) were breathtaking. I wish I had the day to wander around the grounds, with the flowers beginning to bloom in the first tastes of spring and the sculptures decorating the grass. It was truly amazing.
Upon return to London, I geared up for my 21st birthday. That week was the most homesick I’ve been since first arriving, knowing that 21 is rather important in the U.S. and my closest friends would not be here with me. However, with the never-ending enthusiasm from my flatmates in London, the slight homesickness quickly subsided and they organized a spectacular birthday party for me, complete with tons of sweets, candles, and a wonderful card. It’s fantastic how quickly they’ve become good friends in the short time I’ve been here.
I additionally lucked out because the IFSA Adventure Weekend coincided directly with my birthday! I adored spending the weekend in North Wales, where we kicked things off correctly by winning Oran’s Friday night pub quiz. (My team gave me the trophy for my birthday and it sits next to my computer in celebration.)
Saturday I hiked into the old slate quarries and had a tremendous view of the Welsh countryside, complete with the vast amount of sheep commonly found in Wales. I also visited Caernarfon Castle, which was designed as a palace by Edward I after conquering Wales and offers a fantastic view of coast and town from atop the towers. To get up the towers, there are about four flights of steep, narrow, winding steps that are equally hard to navigate in both directions but completely worth the view.
Before returning to London, Sunday morning featured a trip to the coastal town of Llandudno, along the Irish Sea. This town had the perfect coastal feeling that reminded me of Cape May, NJ (for those of you from that area) and the fish and chips surpassed anything I’ve ever imagined! The beach itself was actually rocky- no sand at all. (Not that I minded the lack of sand everywhere for the bus ride home!) There was even a pier reminiscent of the boardwalks down the shore and against the backdrop of the mountains, I would make this my summer home in an instant!
After the excitement of Adventure Weekend, I settled back into the study part of study abroad. Though, with two great friends from the U.S. coming for their spring break and participating in King’s Musical Theatre Society’s production of Hot Mikado at the end of the month, this brilliant month is just getting started. See you in two weeks before I head to the continent for my spring break! Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Happy British Mothers’ Day (March 18) to my wonderful mom, my fantastic Nana and Mom-mom, and my amazing aunts, cousins and family friends who are mothers!
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.
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.
British Pound notes…what a colourful creation
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!
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.
Flag of Wales
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.
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.
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.
The front entrance to the Queens Arcade
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.
I’ve tried to remember as many of the little differences as I can between English and American culture. Here are the main one’s I’ve noticed so far:
American vs. British
Trunk (car) vs. Boot
Elevator vs. Lift
Biscuits vs. Cookies
Cell Phone vs. Telly
Mail vs. Post
Call (a person on the phone) vs. Ring
French Fries vs. Chips
Chips vs. Crisps
“Have a good day!” vs. “Cheers!” or “Cheerio!”
Friend vs. Mate (apparently not just an Australian thing :0)
To Rent (apartment vs. To Let
Grilled Cheese vs. Cheese Toastie
Line vs. Queue
I’ll add others as I think of them. But overall, adjusting to English culture hasn’t been that difficult. Sometimes I forget I’m the foreigner and find it funny when they can’t understand my accent. It takes me a minute for my brain to digest the fact that I’m the one with the accent…not them.
As far as accents go, I can distinguish where people are from, for the most part. People from southern England, especially London, have a more westernized accent that is really easy to understand. The others British people often call them “posh.” Those from northern England can be harder to understand, especially when they are speaking quickly or in a big group. People from Wales and Scotland have distinct accents too…but I think the easiest ones to pick out are the Irish. Their accent, in my opinion, is by far the best! I haven’t purposely tried to pick up on an accent yet, mostly for the fear of failing horribly! :0) But I do notice every now and then a word slips out that has a British sound to it. Secretly, I would love to come home with a full-blown British accent, but I want that to happen naturally. We shall see!
…by which I mean, the Internet is down in my Residence complex. Horror of horrors! Which means I either have to hang out in the library or the Humanities cafe, both of which are a bit of a walk away and aren’t open 24/7, but I don’t really have time for that because I have Welsh to study. Hence the absence of blogging. And I really did want to write another post after my last one which was, admittedly, rather on the depressing side.
So what have I been up to? As much as I’d like to say I was living up my last weekend in Cardiff enjoying all the nightlife/social events on offer and interacting with my lovely fellow students, that would be completely inaccurate. I’ve mainly been sitting at a desk for the past week and a half. No, literally. I just move from desk/table to desk–Humanities Building, Library, Humanities, Library, my flat.
BUT I am more or less delighted to inform you that I have finished all my essays for my modules in the History and Ancient History Departments! As of 26 minutes ago, I have also completed my very last non-Welsh module here. It was a great lecture by the School of Ancient History’s very dynamic and engaging Dr. Evans, on the delightful topic of death in the Ancient Roman world (including a fifteen minute discussion about worms. Delicious).
Another thing to be happy about–the essay I mentioned a few posts back on Ancient Coins that I had such difficulty with and agonized over and thought I would fail–well I did NOT fail, far from it in fact! I was very, very excited about this, as Dr. Evans saw when I picked up my essay from his office yesterday (I think he was amused by my excitement, though).
It’s really amazing. I have learned so much from my modules here, truly; I was so scared when I got that assignment. All I could think was “I don’t know anything! I can’t do this!”…but with many hours of effort, I managed to figure it out all on my own. And I think that’s one of the great things about the academic system here, painful as it is at times–in cases like this, when you are thrust into an academic situation where you are given VERY little guidance at all and know almost NOTHING about the topic, YOU have to go and do the research, starting completely from scratch. I didn’t have any professor here giving me step-by-step instructions as to how to begin evaluating Ancient Coins. I had to figure it out myself.
So I think I get what people mean when they say that the academic system here is much more “self-motivated” than in the United States. And the interesting thing about this process (and probably part of the point) is that because nobody is pointing to reading/sources/etc. and saying “that’s what you need to read/do,” you end up doing a lot of sifting and reading of sources and things that may not be directly relevant, and you learn quite a lot from that in addition to whatever you discover about the topic.
I understand the British academic system! Maybe. Close?
In any case, the countdown to departure is now a mere three (!) days. I still have three Welsh exams, a Welsh writing assignment, and two Welsh lectures to get through, so it’s not over yet! That probably sounds dreadful, but I love Welsh so much, I’m going to try to enjoy it insofar as it is possible to enjoy yourself with your first major oral exam in a crazy foreign language looming.
Many thanks to Anjie, the IFSA Spotlight Blogger studying abroad in Chile, for her comment on my last post; she said “I have a feeling that neither of us are going to lose what we have learned nor who we have become in our semesters abroad” and I think she’s right–thanks, Anjie!
I allowed myself to wallow a little in that post, and I’m sure there will be other times when I want to (and perhaps will let myself) do so (briefly), but I think that what I must do in order to make the transition back to my American life easier is to approach leaving Wales with the attitude I tried to go into it with–a positive one. I have to leave; that is a fact. The only thing I can change is my attitude towards leaving.
I have gained so much out of this experience and I must always keep that in mind–imagine if I HADN’T had to courage to go?! I would have missed out on so much. I wouldn’t have discovered such a wonderful place to which I most dearly hope to return. I don’t know how I will go back, or when, but someday, I will.
So here’s to going out the way I came in–head held high, ready to learn from and take on anything and everything that comes my way. And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my semester in Wales, it is that I was living life a bit passively before I came here, and I don’t want to go through life that way ever again–because that’s no way to live at all.
In exactly one week, I will be back in the United States.
…and my heart is breaking.
I can’t think about this now; I have finals to content with. Essays due in. Welsh exams to revise for.
But it keeps ghosting back into my thoughts.
I Skyped my family tonight. My grandmother is so glad that I am coming home. I wanted to enthuse with her, but instead I just sat, paralyzed at the thought. Not of going home, really; I love my family. Home is home and it always will be, especially at the holidays.
But after that? What will I do then? Who will I be? I don’t want to go back to being the person I was before I came here. But how can I be the person I am here without being here? Without my Wales? My Cardiff? Fy nosbarth Gymraeg? I have never in my college career been so happy as I am right now, as I have been these last weeks. I don’t dislike my school at home; it is a fine institution. But there was always something that never fully clicked. Something has always been missing. I’ve never felt totally at ease, totally comfortable; there’s always been something niggling at me, a feeling of waiting for something to happen, to find something…just waiting…
I didn’t know this would hurt so much at the end.
“Y drafferth efo breuddwyd, ydy bod chi’n gorfod deffo”
– Pobol y Cwm
“The trouble with dreams is that you have to wake up.”
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I finally got the opporunity to return to London again–I hadn’t gotten to go since IFSA Orientation in September! Due to the amount of course work waiting to be done, I could only afford to go for a single day. But it was a GREAT day, and I definitely want to return to London again someday.
The night before, that Friday night, I met up with my flatmate Molly in Cardiff City Centre for dinner. Instead of going to a restaurant, we decided to just walk around and get food from one of the stalls at the Christmas market! City Centre is really quite lovely at this time of year; in front of the National Museum there is Winter Wonderland with ice-skating, rides, and games, and then down in the actual center there’s the Christmas market and lights everywhere and small groups of musicians, and just a lot of holiday cheer in general!
We ended up getting something to eat from the German sausage stall!
We didn’t hang around for too long because we knew we’d have to get up early (for uni students) to catch the train in the morning, but it was still quite nice to just walk around and people-watch.
Anyway, we took the train out of Cardiff Central Station a little after 8am the next morning; on our way to the station we noticed that there was a film crew setting up in Bute Park. We’ve actually seen them a few times now, but have yet to figure out what exactly they are filming! In any case, it was an easy two hour train journey to Paddington Station; I’d brought a backpack with all my Welsh work in it, so I passed the time studying. I just love taking the train here; the carriages are so much nicer than the ones I am used to on the train to New York City.The whole time we were on the train I had the song “No Place Like London” from the musical Sweeney Todd stuck in my head.
After arriving in Paddington, we decided to get Single Day Travel Passes for the tube; it was seven pounds for the day, unlimited rides across zones, and included busses! And let me tell you–I love the tube. I just think it’s fantastic. I was really worried about getting lost and confused, but it’s really very clear and easy to follow, and even if you do get on the wrong train, it’s incredibly easy to hop off and just hop back onto the correct one. The circle line was closed for maintenance, so we had to figure out an alternate route, but like I said; clear signage makes a huge difference!
By 11:30 we were at the Tower of London, which was our only solid plan for the day. Given our limited time, we knew we couldn’t do a lot; both Molly and I had visited London previously and taken a walking tour to at least see the big things (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, etc), so we didn’t feel as though we had to do that. Given my interest in British history and especially Henry VIII and his wives, I knew I couldn’t study abroad here without making it to the Tower. And since Molly wanted to see it, too, that’s just what we decided.
There was an ice-skating rink set up in the moat! A pretty cool place to be skating, I must say (although perhaps slightly less so when you remember that the moat was actually used as a cesspool for hundreds of years and wasn’t actually drained until Queen Victoria’s time). Atmospheric, none the less.
Molly’s cousin, who lives in London, planned to meet us at the Tower, so while waiting for her we decided to nose around the gift shop for a bit. I was extremely amused by this mug and seriously contemplated the purchase, but I am rather concerned about the amount of space I have in my suitcases and resisted the urge.
By the time we had met up with Molly’s cousin and purchased our tickets (the line was long; there were so many people there!), we were all starving, so we made a beeline for the Tower’s restaurant before even bothering to look at anything. The food there was actually excellent! I’d definitely recommend eating there to anyone visiting; just make sure you go to the one inside the castle grounds.
After lunch we decided to take the hour-long official tour with one of the “Beefeaters,” which gave a nice general overview of the castle; the Guardsman was also hilarious! The only downside to the tour was that there were about fifty other people on it so it was sometimes difficult to catch every word he was saying.
The Thames and London Bridge from the castle.
After taking the Yeoman’s tour, we decided to keep touring around by ourselves, following the path suggested by the Guardsman; basically it starts on the Thames side wall and you walk along the battlements from building to building and explore each one. The whole thing takes quite some time, but it’s all fascinating.
There was an enormous queue to see the Crown Jewels, so that is the only part of the Tower we didn’t do.
And of course, the infamous Tower Green; site of numerous private beheadings, including that of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (Henry VIII’s wives two and five, respectively). It’s a horrible thing that happened there, really, but I couldn’t help but be excited as we walked around, and I did stop and have a little moment of silence at the Green:
After we’d seen all the outer parts of the castle, we headed for the White Tower in the center of the grounds, which was just as well because it had gotten very cloudy and was quite raw out. The interior of the White Tower is more of a traditional museum, with all sorts of collections, including a really cool one on armour (
We ended up staying at the Tower all afternoon! We left when the guards came round and told us they were closing in 15 minutes, at 5. So we said goodbye to the Tower and headed back to the tube. It was TOTALLY packed at that hour; we were packed like sardines! When we arrived at the stop we needed for Covent Garden the lines for the lifts were so long we decided to walk up the biggest spiral staircase I’ve ever seen in my life. It was super steep and tall, and so many people were having to stop halfway up and rest! It was a workout, but I appreciated all my gym sessions, because Molly & I made it to the top without stopping.
I tried to get some pictures around Covent Garden, which was very festive and buzzing, but alas, it was too dark and they are horribly blurred. We didn’t have a good map of Covent Garden, so we basically just wandered around until we realized we were starving and ended up going to the first restaurant we saw, which was a PizzaExpress. We had a long, leisurely dinner & dessert, and then somehow managed to find our way back to the tube without getting lost, which was rather a miracle given how many turns we’d made down random streets in our Covent Garden wanderings!
When we got on the train in Paddington (note: as soon as the platform number is posted, GO, or else you won’t get a seat!), we were happy to have seats at the back…although we had to share the space with a bunch of men who’d been in for the rugby (I think), and were very boisterous and spent the whole journey drinking more! Their conversations were very interesting (it’s not eavesdropping if the person is talking at the top of their voice a foot from your ear, right?).
Our train was going all the way to Swansea this time, so I was afraid to fall asleep in case we missed our stop! So I stayed awake and studied more Welsh, of course.
We got stuck for a while in Newport, and at around the two-and-a-half hour mark I got a little tired of inundating myself with Welsh vocabulary and took this picture:
So there you have it! One day in London, mostly spent at the Tower of London. There is just so much to see in the city, it was hard to have to pick and choose. But I really enjoyed it, as I said, and am eager to explore London further one day.
It was very interesting; I liked London, but visiting made me really appreciate the smaller size of Cardiff! It was also so weird to see signs without Welsh on them! I’ve gotten so used to seeing that here, it’s kind of a comfort now. In any case, it was really quite easy to get from Cardiff to London and then get around London; I frequently visit New York City when I am at home in the US (the train journey is also a little over two hours), but for some reason traveling felt much easier here, the only exception being that New York City is a lot easier to navigate, street-wise; London is just a big jumble! But charming in that way.
That’s enough for now–I have to go and do some revision for class tomorrow!
Ah, reading week. That glorious time in the semester during which one receives days free from lectures, study abroad students frolic around Europe…etc, etc. If they aren’t heaped with work, that is! While most students, I think, do try and take this week to do some traveling around Europe, I felt as though I really did need the week to catch up on work, especially with Welsh, as I had been very out of it when I was ill and went to lectures in a medicine-induced fog.
I know that sounds very boring of me, to spend my reading week studying, but I did manage to get in a few “mini adventures,” we’ll call them.
On Tuesday I decided to go on a tour of the Wye Valley, once again with the WhereWhenWales tour company (they are fantastic!). I’d been very lucky weather-wise when it comes to tours, but last week I finally got a taste of the real Welsh November weather–it was grey, rainy, misty, foggy, and quite cold and raw out. Now, one might think this would make for a highly unpleasant touring condition, especially when said tour involves walking around outside, but the thing about Wales is that it manages to enchant even in the most awful of weather. Honestly.
Our first stop, in the rain for this one, was to the archaeological site at Caerleon, also known as Usk, where the Roman Second Legion of August was once stationed. We started out visiting the remains of the amphitheater–and boy was I glad I was wearing my Wellies*, as the ground was quite squishy and muddy in places. Anyway–unfortunately there is only so much of the amphitheater left, as much of it was built from wood, so you are forced to use your imagination a bit when trying to envision what it would’ve been like there in the 1st century AD. From afar, it doesn’t look like much, but when you stand in the middle of the arena, it’s not difficult to imagine the stadium seating rising up around you.
I’m sorry these pictures don’t really offer any real perspective–an aerial photographs would’ve been much more appropriate!
Next we headed to the Roman Baths, which have been covered over (thankfully, given the weather that day). The museum has added light and sound affects so that when you stand there looking down into the damaged and now-empty pools, you can quite easily imagine them once being full and in use. It was too dark to get a photo of the frigidarium (cold plunge pools) and other small pools, but here is a (pretty dark) photo of the natatio, the main swimming pool. I’ve also included a picture of a small-scale model of what the bath complex would’ve looked like. One really fun, random thing you can see when visiting the baths are boot prints and canine footprints in the concrete from when they were building the complex–pretty neat!
Following the baths, we headed into the Roman Legionary museum. It is pretty small, but has quite an interesting display of artifacts, ranging from funerary monuments to the hoard of gems, dice, hair pins, and other items found in the bath drains. The gems are especially interesting because it’s one of the largest caches to be found ANYWHERE in the Roman world, and because some of the engravings are astonishingly minute, & would have been made without magnification tools as we have today.
The next stop on the tour was…another castle! This time it was Chepstow Castle, situated right on the English/Welsh border. By this point the rain had become a fine mist, but it was very, very chilly (especially at the top of the river cliffs where the castle was) which made me seriously consider whether anyone in their right mind would actually have wanted to live in a castle prior to the modern conveniences of electricity, heating, and warm water taps (the answer? NO).
Even though I was quite freezing, I thoroughly enjoyed the visit. I don’t seem to get tired of visiting castles at all; for the most part, they just push my imagination into hyperdrive and my thoughts are filled with stories who might have lived here and everything those stones have witnessed.
After that, I was very, very ready for a hot lunch! We headed to our next location for lunch–Tintern Abbey. The Abbey itself is in quite an isolated area; there wasn’t much around, BUT there was a very warm and inviting pub on the ground floor of Tintern’s Anchor Hotel, where I had the most marvelous pumpkin soup and some pretty amazing quiche. I had a lovely time warming up and chatting with an older woman who was on the tour as well, visiting from Idaho. She was a very sweet woman and at the end of our meal she gave me a pin in the shape of a potato to remind me to visit her home state someday! It’s just one of those random little things I’ll remember about being abroad; I can be quite shy, and at home it’s probably unlikely that I would sit down and just start talking with a random person from my tour, but these are the things Study Abroad will do for you.
Here’s a picture of the amazing food!
And now, on to the Abbey itself, of which Wordsworth himself besottedly wrote in some of his poems.
Tintern Abbey is really just staggering. Though it has been reduced to a ruin and shadow of its former self, the ruins are absolutely stunning, made even more so by the misty-fog, which gave it a mystical, mysterious sort of feel. I don’t know if you’re allowed to do this, but it would be and incredible place to have a picnic in the summertime.
It’s a difficult place to capture in words and especially in pictures, because you just can’t capture the perspective and the feeling you get standing inside the ruin and being dwarfed by the columns and faced with the ramming of the window tracery. Never the less, here are a few more photos–
Like I said, impossible to really capture with my humble little camera. But I’d definitely put Tintern Abbey on my “must visit” list for anyone headed for Wales.
The final location of the tour was Monmouth in the Welsh Marches, where yes, Geoffrey of Monmouth was from! Unfortunately my pictures from this location came out very dark and blurry, so please forgive me for not sharing.
Well, I think this post has gotten quite long enough! I’ll write another one this weekend to talk about the rest of Reading Week and what’s been going on in the week since it ended!
*An interesting note about Wellies in the UK: Back home in the US, everyone wears rain boots when it’s raining (obviously), but here, at least among University students, it is apparently considered very uncool to do so (unless it is a full-on, practically-a-monsoon, deluge). My fellow American flatmate and I always wear them when it rains to keep our pants (or trousers, as I must say here) and shoes from getting soaked/damaged, but our British & Welsh flatmates are constantly making fun of us for it!
Here’s the problem with the idea of catching up on your blog: the longer you leave it, the more you have to catch up on, the less you feel like doing it!
I’ve determined that there really isn’t anyway I can catch up on everything that’s happened in the last month in detail. From now on, I will just make more of an effort to post more. School has gotten extremely busy, so I may just need to designate a day and time to do it!
I was extremely lucky to have my wonderful parents visit me for a few days in mid-October. It was really nice to see some familiar faces from home! I had a wonderful time showing them Cardiff and doing a little bit of Welsh exploring with them.
On the Sunday of their visit, we headed out with the Where When Wales tour company (wonderful, if you ever visit Cardiff, head to the tourism office and ask about them!) on their Gower Explorer tour, which focused on the city of Swansea and the absolutely gorgeous Gower Peninsula.
Our first stop on the tour was the Swansea Marina itself, where we visited the National Waterfront Museum and Dylan Thomas Centre.
While driving through Swansea, we passed actress Catherine Zeta-Jones’ house, and then we had the option of taking a really amazing coastal cliff walk, which we did! We were so lucky that the weather ended up being gorgeous on this day, which made the cliff walk very pleasant.
The Welsh coastline is absolutely beautiful. Little did I know, we then headed to Rhossili at the tip of the Gower Peninsula, which is hands down one the most beautiful places I have ever been in my entire life. I have never seen such a wide, sweeping beach anywhere! The coastline in Wales is so lovely and so much less spoiled than in the US. Standing on the end of the peninsula, you really feel as though you are in a fairytale (I think I said this about my last trip, too-but it’s true!). We had lunch at a bistro overlooking the beach itself, and right above it, there were about twenty people parasailing!
Unfortunately, the pictures can’t really do it justice! After spending a good deal of time at the end of the Gower peninsula, we visited another part of the Gower, a Neolithic burial site known as “Arthur’s Stone” which offers amazing views of the Llanrhidian marsh and Llwchwr estuary below. The walk from the road to Arthur’s Stone was also pretty cool–there were wild ponies everywhere! They didn’t seem to mind us walking right in the middle of them, either. I suppose they must be quite used to people coming and going up there.
Unfortunately, my parents were only able to stay in Cardiff a few days, but I was glad to have them there for any length of time.
The next weekend I had quite a few more adventures–the highlight was my very first Tea Crawl with the Cardiff University Tea Party Society! Almost everyone was dressed in skirts or dresses and suits; we walked into the nearby neighborhood of Roath where we spent nearly 5 hours in three different tea shops, tasting different teas and cakes! We got lucky here too, and got another cool and sunny day, so we were able to spend much of the morning and afternoon sitting in outdoor tea gardens, sipping and chatting away. It was a wonderful, low-key, relaxing way to get to know a few more people. I very much hope there will be another tea crawl soon!
This picture pretty much sums up the day. This particular piece of cake (coffee-walnut!) was from a fantastically homey little place called the Coffi House.
After the tea crawl, I decided to visit Cardiff Castle. I had been there previously, but never for the tour inside the house itself, so I did that right at sunset, which was lovely! Unfortunately, it was too dark for pictures, but my dad sent me some of his from my parents’ visit while I was in class the week before.
Aside from that, there isn’t too much especially interesting I can report. My week days are pretty standard–due to the amounts of reading and studying I need to do, mid-week adventures have diminished somewhat. I was, however, able to attend the IFSA Butler lunch at PizzaExpress, hosted by our IFSA program representative from the London office, Andrew! It was a really good time and nice to see the other two students in the program, as I don’t see them too much around campus!
Sadly, last weekend was a major bust–I have been fighting a very unfriendly cold for the past week, and last weekend was accompanied by a fever as well, so I spent the entirety of it in my room drinking tea and trying to get through all my homework in preparation for the FOUR additional seminars I had this week! I’m not entirely recovered yet, so this weekend has been spent going out to lunch in City Center with my super-cool flatmates and doing essential errands-and that ever important task, LAUNDRY!
Until next time! It is currently Reading Week in my department, so I will be spending most of this week study for my Welsh exam next week and working on an essay for my Material Evidence for Ancient Historians course, but on Tuesday I will be going on a tour of the Wye Valley, so I will post pictures of that!
SUNDAY, 2 OCTOBER:
What a great Sunday it has been! Today I went on the Coach Tour of South Wales offered by the Cardiff University International Office. There were two options for the trip, both of which included a trip to St. Fagan’s National History museum; when I purchased my ticked, I had a choice between the Big Pit National Coal Museum or Caerphilly Castle. I decided to pick the Big Pit National Coal Museum for a few main reasons: firstly, because it is further afield than Caerphilly, and secondly because my parents are visiting me in October and I thought that they might prefer to visit Caerphilly rather than spending an hour down a mine shaft. And thirdly, while I don’t know much about Welsh history, one thing I was aware of is that the mining industry was extremely important to the development of Wales and really helped shape modern Wales, so I felt like this could be a more unique learning experience.
In any case, I am very happy to say that I am VERY glad I made the choice that I did and I had a marvelous time on the trip! We left Uni at 8:30am for Big Pit in Blaenafon, about an hour away from Cardiff near Abergavenny. It was another gorgeous sunny day, but again, quite hot once the sun was up!
The first part of our trip to the museum was to go on an underground tour–WHICH WAS TOTALLY AWESOME. The idea of spending an hour down a coal mine might sound boring to some, but I found it extremely fascinating and quite a unique experience. When we got there, we had to hand over all our watches/cameras/phones, etc, because anything with a battery is dangerous in a mine shaft. The miners working there then kitted us up with hardhats, headlamps, and waist belts weighing about 5 kilos (~11lbs) containing a battery pack and a special type of gas mask. Once we were all prepared for our excursion, our miner guide took us to the cage lift and we descended into the mine itself! Our guide was a very good-natured and extremely funny Welshman. Like nearly every Welsh person I have met so far, he was very friendly, very proud of his Welsh heritage, and just seemed very genuine. I don’t want to make any assumptions based on my brief experiences thus far, but my initial impression of the Welsh people is that they’re a very spirited, good, honest people.
Anyway, so we headed down into the mine and began our tour, which took us down many dark and winding tunnels, walking even deeper into the mine. It was quite a surreal experience–there were a few moments when I was having difficulty believing that I was really deep beneath the earth, in an actual coal mine. But hearing the stories of the mine’s history and learning about the dangers of mining emphasized the seriousness and reality of the trade, and was rather sobering, in a way–it’s easy to feel, as you descend through these tunnels and see the carts and gaze around you, that you’re in some kind of adventure film, like Indiana Jones or some such figure. But, as our tour-guide who came with us from Cardiff put it, the wonderful thing about Big Pit as a museum is that it is so “real”–it hasn’t been “Disneyfied.” Nothing about the mine or the village has been changed to try and soften it, or to gloss over the realities of mining in Wales. It might sound rather dramatic, but I really felt like I was having a very peculiar and vey heightened experience. There was something that felt so unnatural about being down in the mine that made it an almost mystical, supernatural journey; the entire time we were below, I felt as though I was intruding on something, in some odd way. And it really is rather spooky down there, especially when our guide had us extinguish all of our lights! The cold (it was around 52*F in the mine, while it was around 73*F at the surface) and the utter silence and stillness, and that little sense that you are far below where humans are meant to reside and that being in a mine is inherently dangerous can really get to you.
All I can say is, the men who worked those mines were incredibly, incredibly brave. Our guide told us one story, about how boys around 10 years old would work down in the mine listening for the carts of coal coming, to open and shut the ventilation doors at the right times, and how they would be forced to work in complete darkness for 12 hours a day, because their candles wouldn’t stay lit due to the ventilation. It’s just insane to imagine. Another aspect of mining that I found particularly interesting was the way they used horses; being a horsewoman myself, that sort of thing always interests me. Horses were used to pull the carts and such down in the mine, but the interesting thing is that most of them were brought down at the age of 4 and then resided there permanently, never coming up to the sun light ever again. In later years, practices were changed and they would be brought up perhaps twice a year to have some time at the surface, but as our guide explained, they’d often go a bit loco when reaching the top, and would need many hours to calm down. We got to see the actual stables in the mine where the horses were kept, their nameplates still there–in some places in Britain, horses were actually used in the mines until the 90s! Very interesting. Our guide also explained that while the horses were obviously useful, they were also incredibly dangerous–in Big Pit, a horse snapped one day and killed a man, and they would frequently pin miners to the wall if irritated. The manure also posed a serious safety hazard, due to the accompanying methane gas, so little boys would also work down in the mines specifically to clean up the manure and get it to the surface right away. The horses, however, were generally well-loved and extremely well cared for by the miners, as they provided a sort of comfort and company to the men below. More facts about animals in the mines: rats would often be attracted to the horse feed, so terriers would be brought down to scare them off/catch them; canaries were used to detect dangerous gasses–for every one breath a human takes, canaries take seven, so the canary would be the first to go if poisonous gasses were in the air…
Anyway! So after an hour spent down in the mine, we headed back to the surface, after which we checked out the 1920s (or was it 30s?) miners’ showers, which sounds a bit weird, but was actually incredibly important to the miners and their wives–up until that point, miners would typically exit the mine and have to walk home, dirty and drenched (mines are very wet places, as we learned), and would often catch cold or get pneumonia from the exposure. The showers thus allowed the men to bring fresh clothes to the mine, shower immediately after exiting, and thus walk home clean and dry, reducing the occurrence of illness. In addition to the showers, there was a small museum containing artifacts from throughout the mine’s history.
After spending a few hours at Big Pit, we all hopped back on the coach, where we ate our lunches, and then spent a few hours at St. Fagan’s Open-Air National History Museum. The cool thing about St. Fagan’s is that they have taken buildings from quite literally all over Wales, disassembled them, and then re-assembled them on the museum property. There are all sorts of buildings; general stores, a post office, a bakery, cottages, farm houses, barns, a manor house, etc., some of which were originally built as far back as the 1500s! It was very enjoyable visiting all the buildings and wandering the gorgeous grounds on such a sunny day. Some of those farm houses are really amazing–many of them only had two rooms, and would have housed anywhere from 4-14 people! The manor house on the property was very beautiful, especially outside, where it had many landscaped gardens for visitors to stroll through. There was also an indoor, more traditional museum on the property–my favorite part was the section on Welsh fashion through the years, which included some traditional Welsh dress.
Following St. Fagan’s, we very briefly popped down to Cardiff Bay. It was really just a taste of the Bay–we got to see the Welsh National Assembly, the Millenium Centre, and the Tower from the BBC show Torchwood (any Dr. Who fans out there?), but there is so much there, I definitely plan to head down there and see everything on another nice day.
MONDAY, 3 OCTOBER:
Today was a very important one–the first day of classes! I had two today. My first one at 10am this morning was Early Modern England & Wales 1500-1700, which I think will be a very interesting class. Today was really just an introduction, so our first real lecture will be next week. After class I walked down into City Center by myself to pick something up from Boots, one of the pharmacies here, and spent some time just walking around. There are always so many people down in City Center it is a lively place and great for people watching at all times! I started to get pretty hungry and decided to eat lunch back at my flat today, so I headed there and picked up my parcel containing my Welsh textbooks on the way. I flipped through the grammar book and am now a little scared, but that’s pretty much how I feel every time I start learning a new language.
After lunch I spent a few hours getting my school things organized, reading course guides, and filling out departmental forms. At 4 o’clock I headed off for my second lecture of the day, Material Evidence for Ancient Historians. I am pretty excited about this class, as it is all about, as the title suggests, how to interpret ancient artifacts and use them in conjunction with literary evidence. Most of my Classics background back home at Gettysburg has dealt almost exclusively with ancient literature, so this will be very educational. We also get to go on two field trips–one to the Roman settlement at Caerleon, currently being excavated, which I am very excited about because it was an article about this very archaeological site that directed me to Cardiff University in the first place! We’ll also have one class right here in Cardiff at the National Museum. So that should be fun! The only thing about the class is that because it is an upper level module, everyone in it already knows one another. That is okay, though. I am sure it will be fine and I will meet people in tutorials.
Even though it’s only the first day, I decided to head to the library after class ended and get a jump-start on my reading for Early Modern England & Wales. When I exited the library, I got my first true taste of Welsh weather! While it had been boiling hot and sunny earlier, when I left the library at around 6:30 the sky had gotten dark, the temperature had dropped, and it was windy and misting!
Tomorrow will be exciting as well–I have one lecture in the morning, “Gods & the Polis,” and then in the evening I am planning to attend a fitness class and also the first meeting of the Harry Potter Society! Wednesday I start “Life in Ancient Rome” and then Thursday and Friday I will be having my first Welsh classes.
The first week of school is always so exciting. I am rather nervous, though, if I am being honest. The academic system here is radically different from the system we use in America. Here, there are no specific homework assignments–there might be one or two “essential readings” for seminar, but other than that you are given an ENORMOUS list of starter sources and are basically expected to do your own research on the topics being covered in order to prepare for class and write papers.
I feel as though I’m starting college all over again! It’ll be a bit of an adjustment. Fingers crossed I’ll get the hang out it quickly!
*EDIT* Yay for finally figuring out how to add pictures to my posts!
CARDIFF: Day 1, Wednesday
Those of us going to Cardiff Uni took the train to Cardiff out of Paddington Station on Wednesday morning along with Andrew from the IFSA London office and it was really a very nice journey-the train was so much nicer than any I have traveled on in the US. Along the way we saw many fields, horses, and sheep. I’ve never seen such green grass in my life! After about an hour and forty-five minutes we arrived in Cardiff and took taxis to the University, where Andrew dropped us off to check in and then said goodbye.
University staff members helped check us in and then took us and our luggage to our residences to get our keys. Once I’d gotten my key, two very nice girls, students helping out for “Welcome Week,” helped me carry my bags up to my flat. It seemed like I had a lot of luggage when I was dragging it through airports and train stations, but it took all of ten minutes to unpack and it really made me think how little you can take with you!
I knew I needed to go to Tesco to buy some essentials and wasn’t sure where it was, but lucky for me those two girls appeared at the door to my flat and said they’d show me the way to Tesco and help me carry things back, which was so very nice of them! It was also nice to have some company since there was nobody else in my flat when I arrived. So anyway, I went to Tesco with the girls and got sheets/pillows/towels/duvet and some basic kitchen things. The room was a lot homier once I’d gotten that stuff!
I actually ended up going back to Tesco twice more that day with other people-another girl from the IFSA program and also another boy in my flat. It isn’t a particularly far walk to Tesco, but you can only carry so much back and forth! What’s interesting is that you also have to pay to use a grocery cart in the store (you get the pound back when you leave), because they are trying to deter students from the University from pushing the carts all the way back to their residences!
The rest of the day was spent just getting settled, getting the Internet to work, and meeting the other three flatmates that moved in-a boy from New York and two girls from Wales. The girls asked me if I wanted to go out with them that night, but I was still way too tired and hadn’t quite adjusted to the time change!
CARDIFF: Day 2, Thursday
When I woke up the next day nobody else was awake, so my IFSA friend and I went to the Students’ Union with our passports to get our ID cards made-the queue was so long, it took quite a while! We were rather hungry by the time we got out of the line, so we walked into the City Center and found a pub that I’d read about in a guidebook to have lunch at, called The Goat Major. Their specialty was British pies, so we each got a different pie to try–I got chicken, leek, & potato pie, which came served with peas and chips (they seem to be very into chips, aka French fries, here and serve them with everything), and it was very delicious!
After lunch we just wandered around the City Center, checking out the various shops. I needed to buy rain boots, so I did that, and we also stopped by a little Farmer’s Market right by Cardiff Castle that was selling all kinds of food–I definitely would like to go back one week for lunch. In the center of Cardiff there is also the Central Market, where you can buy all sorts of things such as fruit, vegetables, fresh meat, fish, records, books, bags, even small pet animals! It was a very interesting place to walk around, and I also go to try a miniature Welsh cake (baked on a Welsh baking stone), warm off the stone, which was delicious! It was rather similar to a good scone in flavor, though perhaps a bit less dry. Mine had raisins in it and cinnamon/sugar sprinkled on top.
By the time we walked back to our residence, we’d been out and about for almost 6 hours! The rest of my flatmate had moved in by then, so we now had 8 total-4 boys, 4 girls. That night most of the “natives” went out with friends they already knew, so the three Americans in my flat stopped by our residence’s “Social Center,” where a lot of people were drinking. Once again, though, we were all pretty tired so we turned in quite early.
CARDIFF: Day 3, Friday
Another busy, busy day! On Friday there was an International Students’ Fair as well as walking tours of the Cathays Park campus, where all my classes will be, so I did both of those things along with my flatmate Molly, which took up most of the morning and early afternoon. At 3 o’clock there was a meeting for new International students in my school at Cardiff, the School of History, Archaeology, and Religion, so I went to that and got to me students from the US, France, the Philippines, Switzerland, and some current Cardiff students in those departments. We also had a tour of the building, classrooms, cafe, library, etc., all very helpful for when classes begin in a week!
Friday night there was another event for International students–“Twmpath,” where we learned traditional Welsh folk dancing! It was so much fun, and because you changed partners a lot during the dances, I got to meet a lot of other new students, if only briefly. Some of the dances were more challenging than others, but I think I did pretty well. I went to a Civil War Ball at my home university once where I learned to do 1860s dances, and a lot of the ones I learned here were quite similar, so I had a bit of an advantage. In any case, it was a great event!
CARDIFF: Day 4, Saturday
More fun in Cardiff! On Saturday the other two Americans in my flat and I once again were up early, before our other flatmates (I think they were all recovering from their night’s out!), so after filling out and turning in some forms required by the University, we walked down to the City Center again to attend the Great British Cheese Festival inside Cardiff Castle! It cost about 7 pounds to get in, but it was a lot of fun. There were hundreds of types of cheeses to sample from creameries and dairies all over Wales, everything from mild cheddars to super stinky aged blue cheeses. It was really quite an experience-if you happen to think that the British are unfailingly polite, you haven’t seen them at a cheese festival!!
In addition to the cheese there were also European wine samplings, and many stalls selling traditional food as well as Welsh ciders. We tried the Welsh Pear Cider, which was amazing! After making it through the first circuit of the cheese tasting tent, we decided we needed a cheese break, so we spent some time watching the World Cheese Tossing Championships-yes, cheese tossing. Pretty fantastic. While the main living quarters of the castle, the Victorian part, was not open, we did get to go inside the “inner ward,” the tower on top of the motte, which, after climbing an extremely steep twisty staircase, afforded a full view of most of the city to the surrounding countryside.
After climbing up and down all those stairs we decided we were ready for some more cheese, so we then went to the second circuit of cheese tasting! Good thing we’d chosen to have super light lunches!
Finally on Saturday night most of my flat got together to go have a few drinks and listen to some live music at a place called the Live Lounge in the City Center. It was a lot of fun just hanging out and getting to know one another. Everyone in my flat seems very nice and I don’t think we’ll have too many problems living with one another!
CARDIFF: Day 4, Sunday
Today has been pretty low-key so far. We all decided to sleep in today and nobody was really up and moving until around 1 or 2pm! Most of my flat then walked down to the City Center to buy some cheap shirts for the Welcome Party tonight-everyone is supposed to wear a color assigned to their residence and our color is yellow!
Some other random thoughts:
At Cardiff Uni, everyone gets a single room, and 75% of residences have en-suite private bathrooms, including my residence, which is really nice. On the downside, they have what is called a “wet shower”, meaning the spigot is basically just sticking out of the wall right between the sink and toilet, so EVERYTHING gets wet when you take a shower! Oh, well.
It’s been a really interesting first few days in Wales. So far, I really like it. Everyone I have met, either at school or in shops or pubs, has been extremely nice and willing to help with any questions/confusion. It’s a big change for me, going from a school with 2,500 students in a pretty rural area to as school of 27,000 in a city (even if it’s a small one). There are just people everywhere all the time! Also, there is a very distinct drinking culture here which is very different from the US. There is no stigma associated with drinking and as most people know, the drinking age is lower here. From what I’ve seen, students tend to drink better quality alcohol, and while they do drink a lot and there are always those people who get extremely drunk and make a scene, drinking generally seems to just be more of a social thing here–you just go out with your friends and dance and have a drink and it really isn’t a big deal. I am not much of a drinker at all, and sometimes at home I felt like people really pressured me or judged me for not drinking, but here I have not felt that at all. People really don’t care if you just order a glass of water or a diet Coke, or just stick to a half pint of something. Nobody questions you about it, which I must say, is a nice change.
We have also been extremely lucky with the weather so far! It did rain last night, but most of it was between 3 am and noon today, and this afternoon it was very sunny and warm! The temperature has been staying mainly between 55-65 degrees during the day, though when they say about the weather being very…mercurial here is absolutely true. One minute is bright and sunny, then it’s quite grey and cloudy, then sunny, then sprinkling rain, then back again. As the girls told me on my first day here, “just make sure you always have sunglasses and an umbrella with you and you’ll be fine!”
In other news, with the exception of when I visited Greece, I have never walked so much on a daily basis, as a matter of routine, in my life! You really must be very sensible about what shoes you choose to bring here–if they’re comfortable in the US, try walking 6 miles in them one day and see how they feel! Even my blisters have blisters and I’m running through bandaids like crazy!
I apologize for the multiple, super-long text posts! Now that I am settled in here with reliable internet access, I should be able to post more frequently!
I can’t believe it is halfway (more than halfway?) through March already. Time needs to slow down or something. On the bright side, this term is almost over and everything has been going really well. So well that despite the fact that I keep telling myself I need to blog (and write in my journal), something always comes up and neither gets done. A lot has happened since my last post. The “Adventure Weekend” in Wales, organized by the lovely London Butler office, was incredibly fun. While I didn’t participate in any of the more risky or adventurous activities like Abseiling or Mountain Biking, I very much enjoyed my two activities. My first choice had been kayaking, but that filled up pretty quickly and I was placed with the group who went to explore Caernarfon Castle instead. I was not disappointed. Our tour guide was funny and very knowledge about the history of the castle and Wales. I learned a lot about its construction. Apparently there’s an arch used in its design that has come to be called the Caernarfon Arch because it was imitated by many later castles. This is almost two weeks later and I still remember that (among other castle facts, but I don’t want to bore you.). Anyway the castle tour was in the morning and in the afternoon I went on a “Hill Walk”. I use the quotes because to me it seemed much more like a “Mountain Hike” which is very different by my own definitions. Expectations aside, the hike was really very nice, if a bit strenuous and there were beautiful views of mountains and the small town we were staying near. I’m going to try and upload some pictures, but I always seem to have trouble with that. Regardless, Wales exceeded my expectations and I would love to spend more time there, especially at the seaside town of Llandudno (though somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen on this trip.) If you happen to be in Wales definitely visit the town, the pier and the water is beautiful and the most of the buildings were built in the Victorian Period so they’re all very pretty. Plus I had some really great fish and chips there!
Since getting back to Wales, I haven’t done much else except coursework. I haven’t even done laundry, though I’m just about out of clothes so that’ll probably happen tonight or tomorrow. My lectures and seminars have kept me very busy with reading, but the end is in sight! Next week is the last week of the teaching term which means that when all the students come back in May it will be all about revising (studying) for exams. I lucked out a bit because all the English courses are full year courses meaning that I don’t have to take exams. I do however have to write 4 essays that are due right when we get back from Easter break (aka April). Yikes! But I am excited about next week and the upcoming break because
- My aunt is visiting London (and consequently me) for 5 days next week
- One of my roommates from last semester at Ursinus is coming to London next weekend
- My family is visiting towards the middle of April for a little over a week
There was something else too . . . oh yeah, I’m going to ITALY! I’m so excited. The roommate who is visiting me is also traveling with me from London to Rome and then to Venice and Florence. I’ll only be in Italy for about a week, but it’ll be a lot of fun I’m sure (even if my bank account isn’t thrilled.) I don’t speak any Italian so that might be an issue, but I’m probably going to get a guidebook/phrasebook of some sort and then just go from there. At the very least it’ll be an experience, right?
Well I’ve covered the Wales and lectures part of my title, but I really should address the pancakes. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is known in the UK as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. The idea is that you use up all your eggs and fats before the fast of Lent. While a lot of people don’t fast over Lent anymore, they definitely still make pancakes. A friend from home invited me to make and eat pancakes with some friends she had met here and it was really a delicious and fun experience. I have come to realize that pancakes here are very different than in the States. They’re much thinner and more like crepes than American pancakes and while you can put all the same toppings on them, the more traditional topping is a little bit of lemon juice and some sugar. Though I had mine with strawberries and Nutella (I have eaten sooo much Nutella since coming here. I’m not really sure why. It’s available at home, but somehow I’ve just come to buy it more regularly here.) Long story short—I ate an obscene amount of pancakes and was very full and felt like I should be fasting over Lent.
Well that’s what I have been up to. I will try to write again before I leave for Italy. Hope you enjoy a few of my pictures from Wales!
I know a lot of people blog only about their travels, but I have to say I’m so glad that I’m here, in Lancaster. I am increasingly more glad that I didn’t go to London (because that was a conscious choice for me), though I think it is a great city. I love living in the countryside, and we travel a lot. I have the incredible chance to be involved with a group of kids here who belong to the same church that I do, and they are all local-ish (some of the Uni kids are from other cities, but there is a hefty chunk of people who have lived in Lancaster their whole lives). Anyway, I love where I am, right here. I do love to travel, but I love my little community here.
Trip to Blackpool to visit Show-zam’d, a little carnival:
The coast in Morecambe:
Back alley behind the bus station in Lancaster:
I love BBC News. I’ve been following the news in the Middle East the past few weeks (Go Libya!), and have appreciated it more than all American news channels which I try to avoid.
I love when people try to have me speak with a British Accent. My friends’ favorite thing is to make me say, “I just can’t be bothered!” It’s so honest. In the US, we’d be more inclined to make something up as an excuse (“Oh I can’t reach it”, “I don’t want to wash another dish”, “I might be busy that day”) but the English just tell you they don’t want to do whatever.
So you might think it’s funny to poke fun at British spelling of things, people actually get kind of offended. They are very quick to point out that “you speak ENGLISH. We invented the language.” I was trying it out just as a social experiment, and I think I’m over that one. Yeah, they don’t like it. Another social experiment I tried was asking the boys playing Call of Duty in my flat if they’d ever fired an actual gun as opposed to a gun in a video game. One of them had, during a visit to is sister in America, but the rest had never even touched one (I come from gun-happy Idaho). I think I earned some street cred with them for saying that I’ve been shooting before. And then, just as Andrew an Lynn said, they asked, “Have you shot anyone?” Nice joke. Real original. Hahah.
I’ve had to do my housing application for next fall at GW already, and I am registering for classes in just a few weeks. This makes me sad. I’m not ready to think about being back in GW, and rightly so! I still have 17 weeks left here. Nobody better ask me about it.
We decided this weekend, on the IFSA-Butler Adventure Weekend, that we were 3 degrees removed from reality. Reality is a stereotypical salaried job etc, once removed is Uni, twice removed is studying abroad, and then three times removed was being on vacation. (Wales, as you can seen from the pictures below, was stunning/spectacular by the way. If you’re a future IFSA student, please please please make sure you go. SO much fun. Oran and company did an excellent job planning it all out.)
View from castle ruins in Llanberis, Wales:
Coastal view from Llandudno, Wales:
Caernafon Castle, Wales:
Our Next Top Model winner, Wales:
I’m shipping my moving boxes tomorrow and it made me realize I have only a couple of weeks till I’m gone. I’m leaving earlier than most people in my program, I decided to live independently and want to get settled before starting orientation. This summer has flown by and I still feel like I have a lot to do before I’m gone for a year. I’m still waiting for all my financial aid, visa forms, and where and when exactly I’m starting my orientation. Not to mention figuring out what classes I’ve been approved for and how much books and transportation will cost. There is a lot to think about and a lot of unanswered questions still, but I guess that is the whole point of study abroad, you just have to get lost and roll with it.