Edinburgh and Bristol

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Since being back from break I've been to Edinburgh and Bristol. Going to Edinburgh, Scotland was a UMD programme trip. It was nice to be back with the group and the group chemistry has picked up quite a bit which is great; I also really enjoyed getting to know the new staff members that came in to replace the first two UMD teachers from semester one. I wish I had more time in Edinburgh because I feel like I didn't get too much of the city's flavour this trip. The weather was pretty terrible as well which didn't help. Walking around the castle was cool but good lord, it was pouring outside! Other than that, I really enjoyed going to the National Gallery because we caught the last day of their Turner exhibition which was actually really great. Plus, we had an amazing lunch one of the days: cheese platter, a butternut squash soup and gnocchi, it was delicious :D I think that was also the day that I had a nutella cupcake (AHHH, yes! So amazing!!)

Oh, and there was a day trip to Birmingham the weekend after Edinburgh just to go to a couple galleries (only made it to one because the weather sucked again). My friend and I made a deal that we go somewhere each weekend, be it abroad or in the UK so that was our trip that weekend.

Bristol was another fun city. It has a sort of hip, artsy vibe which I appreciated and I thought the See No Evil permanent street art exhibition was great; there's a full street with some side streets dedicated to this street art movement where artists from around the world have come to display some of their stuff. It was pretty cool and we also saw a few of the Banksy art pieces. I also thought the Bristol city art gallery was pretty great. Bristol was just a fun city to walk around too; we basically just walked, saw art, sat in coffee shops or pubs and talked so it was a good outing!

The next trip is Oxford tomorrow for a night and a day so I'm excited for that and then the weekend after is Ireland (Dublin and Galway with a side trip to the Cliffs of Moher)!! I'll hopefully be more on the ball with blogging about trips from here on out :D

Traveling Part II

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After a break that was a little too long in Worcester, I was off traveling again; this time I was going to Istanbul, Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia/Herzegovina and Dubrovnik, Croatia. We left from London on the 18th after pulling an all-nighter at the airport (always fun) and after getting settled in at our hostel in Istanbul (which turned out to be pretty easy to find), we went and just walked around the neighborhood a little bit. Our hostel was perfectly situated in town: a five minute walk to both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, ten to the Topkapi Palace and fifteen to the Grand Bazaar. I couldn't wait until morning when we would actually go into the Blue Mosque... that was the site I was most looking forward to in Istanbul and it ended up being my favourite!

The following morning we went to the Blue Mosque first thing and it was absolutely beautiful. The mosaics covering the walls and ceiling were amazing and I was just so happy to be in the place I had studied in my art history class. Back then, I had thought to myself throughout the whole class that of all we had studied, Istanbul - to see the mosques and the mosaics and the history and religion behind all of that - was the one place it would be coolest to visit. And there I was. In the place that I had wanted to be back then, seeing what I hoped to one day see. It felt magical to finally be in the Blue Mosque. Plus it was fun to have my shoes off and walk on the carpet :P

After the Blue Mosque, we headed over to the Topkapi Palace which was cool but certainly not a highlight of the trip, especially since the weather wasn't great. It started to pour midday so we ducked into a restaurant near our hostel and had one of the best meals of the whole trip. The meal was really made by the huge puffed crispy bread and an herb and spice infused oil to dip the bread into. Until the rain stopped we just stayed at the hostel and played cards but a few hours later we were off again to visit the Cisterns. Those were pretty cool (they're basically the underground water storage facilities for the basilicas in the area) and it was much more expansive then I thought it would be. When we got back from the Cisterns we went on a boat cruise on the Bosphorus with a few Argentinians who were in our hostel room. The boat cruise was a lot of fun and there were great views of the city but it was freezing and incredibly windy so by the end of it we were all pretty ready to get off and get warm! We had dinner with them too and hung out at a pub for a little bit before heading back and chilling in the little lounge place with some of the other people from the hostel.

The next day was filled with going to the Aya Sofia (or Hagia Sophia, depends on where you're from) which was beautiful and it was great to be able to see the contrasting decor from the time when it was a church to when it was transformed into a mosque. Then we went to the fish market to get lunch from a boat; it was yummy but not the easiest thing to eat. Thankfully, it gave us enough energy to climb the Galata Kulesi, a tower overlooking Istanbul. There were some great views from the top and it wasn't a difficult climb... actually, it was harder to climb the gigantic hill leading up to the tower than the tower climb itself! After the Galata tower we headed over the Egyptian Spice Market and then over to the New Mosque where we caught the prayer! It was so powerful to be listening and watching maybe eighty or more people doing the whole prayer ritual; it was mesmerizing and ended up being a highlight of the trip for me. That evening we also visited the Suleymaniye Mosque; it was probably my least favourite of the mosques because the interior wasn't as cohesive as the other mosques we saw.

Our last day in Istanbul consisted of the Grand Bazaar which was cool and not as chaotic as we were expecting; that made me feel comfortable enough to do some bartering and I picked up a couple nice gifts for people back home. We also visited the Egyptian Spice Market again to pick up a baggie of treats (I tried a few varieties of Turkish delights and they were pretty good!) to eat as we got our last looks of the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia. Then we were off to Sarajevo in Bosnia!

Sarajevo was relatively low-key and uneventful but we did have some amazing salami pizza and enjoyed walking Copper Street (also got a couple gifts here) in the old town but overall Sarajevo was generally forgettable. But Mostar in the Herzegovina part of Bosnia was beautiful and we had taken a beautiful bus ride from Sarajevo to Mostar. There aren't many things to do in Mostar but it's such a picturesque town that it's fun to just walk around. Plus, the family who ran the hostel we stayed at were so nice; we had coffee with them and the husband showed us a video about Mostar during the war which was really powerful. He kept stopping the video and saying 'this is my street' or 'this is the street right around the corner' which really drove home how central this war was to Mostar and how rebuilt it's been in the past decade and a half plus.

After a couple nights in Mostar it was onto Dubrovnik, Croatia. The bus ride was gorgeous and Dubrovnik itself is lovely. It really gave me a taste of Duluth, MN which made me so happy! Again, especially with it being the off-season for traveling there, there wasn't much to do in Dubrovnik but walking around the Old Town was fun and just being able to sit on the rocks, listen to the waves and catch a few rays was the perfect way to end the trip. Plus, we got some exercise since the stairs from the Old Town to our hostel numbered 487!! Yeah, doing that three times in a day will do it for ya! Helped me not to care so much about the pastries and the ice cream we ate :)

Christmas and Traveling Part I

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Just two day ago I got back from an awesome winter break trip that I spent with one of my best friends from back home. It was so nice to get a taste of home after really craving it. Christmas was one of those moments where I was just wishing to be home; don't get me wrong, I had a great Christmas: I spent it with a friend from over here and she invited me to Christmas with her and her family. I went over on the 24th and spent two nights with them. They were all great and the food was amazing after having basically the same two meals everyday for the previous two weeks! I really enjoyed being able to experience a British Christmas and it was nice being able to spend it with a friend and her family but it just made me realise how much I was wanting to be having Christmas with my family back home.

After Christmas it was right to getting ready to head out on the 28th to meet up with my friend from back home in Birmingham in order to make our way to Paris! We arrived in Paris in the evening and had an interesting time trying to find our hostel. Finally we asked a man working a panini stand and he pointed us in the right direction. The hostel was really nice and we pretty much crashed that first night. The next day we went to meet up with one of my UMD programme friends, who was also in Paris over the same time, and his cousin at Notre Dame. The line was crazy to get into Notre Dame so we decided to head over to the Eiffel Tower and get to the very top! We stood in about six lines before we were finally on the third floor and the whole experience took about half the day but it was worth it. The view was great but even better was the wind!! It was ridiculously windy and I loved it! After that we grabbed dinner and made our way to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur for a beautiful view of the city and the church was really pretty too. I had a crepe that night too; it had nutella on it and I was really happy :)

The next day we spent a few hours at the Louvre which I realise now is actually just too big. It's great but kind of unfocused so it's really draining to find your way around. But seeing the Raft of the Medusa was amazing; it was my favourite painting I had learned about in my art history class last year and seeing it in person was the best part of my day! After the Louvre, we went to see the Arc de Triumphe and walk along the Champs Elysees. That was cool but relatively uneventful. A visit to the Latin Quarter was next and I loved it. It has a ton of food places and bars and a lot of little shops. We came back to the Latin Quarter a few times before we left. That night we went for a couple drinks at a bar in the Latin Quarter and I got this great ham, egg, cheese and mushroom crepe before we left to catch our metro. We nearly missed the last train too because it stops at about 12:30 and we were just barely there in time!

On the 31st (New Years Eve, duh) we went back to the Champs Elysees to go into the Disney store because my friend and I are basically Disney freaks... it was actually smaller than I expected but they had some cute stuff. Then we weren't totally sure where to go next because the Catacombs were closed but then I mentioned the Opera House and that was really cool! They were setting up flowers along the banister of the grand staircase and they were real flowers! It smelled great walking up the stairs :P and there were a lot of cool costumes worn by the dancers of different performances. Then it was basically time for celebrating the New Year which basically ended up to be a bust because, as it turns out, they don't actually set off fireworks at the Eiffel Tower for New Year's. So we ended up standing outside in the rain for three hours for something that didn't even happen :( Worse than that disappointment though was the mob trying to get back to the hostel using the metro... it was total craziness!

Unfortunately, our luck didn't change until Barcelona because the next day we headed off to Madrid and had the hardest time finding our hostel. Apparently, my friend and I just cannot read maps because we spent two and a half hours searching for our hostel. Finally we found it with some help from locals but the hostel was awful; the sheets were disgusting and the power went out within five minutes of us being there so clearly we needed to get out of there. Then we were on a quest for a decent hostel with 24 hour reception so we could have a bed for the night and thankfully we met an Argentinian man who was staying at a hostel just blocks from the pizza place we crashed at to figure all this out. He directed us to the hostel and then when we had gotten turned around yet again, there he was, miraculously walking on the same sidewalk towards us! This time (since we were clearly incompetent) he walked us to reception and we got ourselves a room!! We also had a mini laugh attack as we were getting into bed and I could hardly hoist myself up into the bunk bed I was laughing so much. Which is slightly unfortunate because we did have one other roommate so we disturbed her a bit... oops!!

We met her the next morning and yes, we had woken her up but she wasn't mad about it thankfully. She was from Australia and was escaping the winter heat (I hadn't known this but apparently Australia's warm season was in our normally freezing season) for a month in Madrid. We hung out with her until we left the next afternoon so on our only full day in Madrid we went to the Prado Museum after not being able to locate the walking tour (of course). The Prado was super cool, I just wish I had been able to spend more time there. After the Prado we went to this really nice park just next to the museum and it was the best part of the day. It was relaxing and pretty even though nothing was blooming or really green. We were all exhausted by about three pm so we decided to do as the locals do and take a siesta which, for us, turned into a three hour nap! It was amazing we all just konked out. Once we all came back into the real world we went out for tapas and as we were heading out we ran into our Argentinian savior so I invited him along. He came and that was a good thing because my bet is we wouldn't have found the place without him! The tapas were really yummy and all you had to do was order a drink and the tapas would come for free so it was a cheap meal. Flamenco was on the schedule for the night but my friend wasn't feeling well so we just decided to crash at the hostel that night.

The next day we were heading off to Barcelona for the last leg of our trip but first we went to the Reina Sofia Museum which was great; again, wish I had more time there to see more. Then we hopped on a train (best train ride ever; amazing seats and the best views of the Spanish countryside, it was absolutely beautiful) and got to Barcelona with a little bit of sunlight left on our side. Finding the hostel was a piece of cake which was the most amazing thing that happened to us the entire trip!

In the morning we went on a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter with a really funny British guy who reminded us of the tour guide we had on a school trip we had a couple years ago. He was cynical and didn't give a crap about anything and was super knowledgeable about everything Barcelona; it was a great tour and one of my favourite parts of Barcelona. We went to go get some lunch with a girl from the tour from Boston and that was fun and a really good meal too; it was a lot of seafood. Next we decided to get a pic next to the s-curve shaped Olympic building for our AP stats teacher and walked along the beach. Then we tried to find Casa Mila, one of Gaudi's buildings but of course, we could not :P so we just decided to walk La Rambla and go through the La Boqueria Market which was really cool, especially the fruit and veg sections, just really pretty stuff... and amazing juice too! I also had a great Belgian waffle on La Rambla and it pretty much measured up to actual Belgian waffles from Belgium!

Trying to wrap this really long post up, the next day we went to Casa Mila and went inside. It was really cool, especially the roof! We went to La Sagrada Familia next and didn't go inside... surprisingly, it's still not finished which kind of took away from the rest of it; it was still cool from the outside though. As we were trying to find a cupcake shop we had passed on the way over we ran into yet another Guadi building... we didn't find the cupcake shop but at least we found something interesting. We then headed over to Parc Guell which is one of the most beautiful parks I've ever seen! That night there was a huge parade happening so after checking into it and getting sick of the crowds real quick we decided to just hunker down at the hostel.

On our last full day in Barcelona we went to the aquarium which was neat and then spent the last half of the day at Castell de Montjuic which is just a castle on top of a big hill and it was really cool. We also got to take the gondola up there so there were great views of the city. The next day, which was the day we headed back to the UK and it also happened to be my 20th birthday, we were beach bums all day; it was great and my friend treated me to a Belgian waffle as my birthday cake which was delightful! The next day was all travel, more missing trains and figuring it all out in the end so as fun and great as the trip was, I'm happy to be back in Worcester for about a week to do some recovering.

My next trip is with a UMD programme friend to Istanbul, Sarajevo, Mostar and Dubrovnik and I am pumped!

Thanksgiving, Christmas Fayres and Break :)

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Well, we have certainly got some catching up to do!

I will start with Thanksgiving which was my first holiday away from home, let alone in a different country! As a programme we decided to make Thanksgiving dinner ourselves with each of us bringing a dish; this was all fine and dandy until we needed to make Thanksgiving dinner for our group plus an extra 20 UK or international friends we have made over here and who we invited. It was super stressful up to the minute until we finally all sat down. After that, it was one of the more fun Thanksgivings I have had... I did not expect to enjoy it that much since I was not able to be with family or eat my favourite Thanksgiving dishes: my aunt and uncle's dressing and my Grandma's famous Jell-O Mold. But I guess it was just nice to be surrounded by a different kind of family and the food we all made was not half bad either! In fact, I am going to want to incorporate some of the dishes we had, like the amazing sweet potatoes and the delicious pumpkin pie with caramelized pecans on top. Plus, this was the first Thanksgiving I had ever dressed up for; usually my family is pretty chill for Thanksgiving so wearing a dress was different but kind of fun!
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Then, after the Thanksgiving meal, a group of us went back to one of our flats to watch Elf and start getting into the Christmas spirit and it was just a really great night and thankfully, not one that made me too homesick :)

Speaking of Christmas spirit, soon after Thanksgiving the Birmingham German Christmas Market opened up and as one of our programme trips we went to Birmingham for that... but first, we went on a tour of Cadbury World (yes, the place that makes amazing chocolate and yes, we got multiple samples of chocolate and yes, that made me very happy!). The tour was only decent but the free chocolate samples were delightful and got me on a good sugar high until about 9:30 pm which was perfect timing to head home after exploring the German Christmas market. The market itself was super cool; there were brats everywhere (I had one for lunch and one for dinner :P) and a ton of neat stands with goods people were selling. I also stopped into the Birmingham art gallery with a friend so that was really fun to check out and I am hoping to go back at some point to explore more of that and the Bullring (the big shopping centre of Birmingham; got a pair of pants on this visit and resisted the urge to buy another flannel shirt... kind of regretting that now ha ha).

The week after returning from Birmingham's Christmas market, Worcester's Christmas Fayre opened and I went a couple times which was pretty fun. It was no where near as big as Birmingham's, as was expected, but it had some really great food stands along a couple streets.

Finally, the semester is actually over. This was a rough one class-wise just because of how homework intensive a couple of them were. I still have a paper to write for my popular cultures class and drawing to finish up for my drawing module. I am here until the 24th of December though, so I have time and a plan to finish those things up in the next week. On the 24th I will be going to a friend's house because she and her family invited me to spend Christmas with them; I am really excited to spend Christmas with a British family... really any family actually ha ha. It will just be nice to have a family surrounding me, a real Christmas meal and a Christmas tree to celebrate around. I will be coming back to Worcester on the 26th because the next day I will need to get all packed to prepare for meeting my friend coming from the States and heading over to Paris for New Year's (!!!!!). After Paris, she and I will go to Spain to visit Madrid and Barcelona which should also be really cool; I've never been to Spain so I'm pumped to see it (hoping she remembers some of her Spanish! :D ) Then I will be back in Worcester from the 8th of January to the 17th when I am off to Istanbul, Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia/Herzegovina , and Dubrovnik, Croatia until the 28th. It should be an amazing winter break and I am so pumped for all of it!!

London for Reading Week Part II

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So, last time I left off we had just finished off a great Saturday in London with a museum, Hot Pot and a good long walk to the Tower of London Bridge and back... but now it's Sunday and we've got to get moving!

On Sunday morning we went to a large market in London called Spitalfields. It was way larger than we thought it would be and there were great stalls with artwork, jewellery, leather bags, clothing and my personal favourite, food!! For a late breakfast we got breakfast crepes (my first crepe: very yummy!). So we did some window shopping at Spitalfields (escaped without giving all our money away; it was quite difficult in some cases) and then we headed over to St Paul's Cathedral because we were going to tour the place and stick around to see Evensong and the Organ Recital they were putting on. Unfortunately, we couldn't tour St Paul's because it was Sunday and they are only open for services. We somehow lost all our energy after that and basically walked around a little bit and ended up in a Starbucks staring off into space. The hot chocolate was good though. We got back for Evensong and the Organ Recital and those were both pretty good, however not as good as I had hoped... I think I had built it up in my head too much and then it was just a bit disappointing. Either way though, it's neat to be able to say I went to Evensong at St Paul's! That basically ended our day; we got dinner and went to the Black Lion for the rest of the night and got excited to go to the Tate Modern in the morning!

Our morning on Monday consisted of being intrigued and confused in the Tate Modern art museum and I took some pictures of the ones I really liked (didn't think about taking a pic of their descriptions which was stupid of me but here are some of my favourites):
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After the Tate, we were really in the mood for a chippy but it turned out to be closed so we went to a burger place we saw on the last street we passed and had the yummiest burgers and the onion rings were delightful! It really hit the spot for us; we had been losing steam (museums really take a lot out of you!). Good thing we were revived because then we went to our second museum of the day: the National Gallery. This was my favourite museum visit because it had about half a dozen paintings that I had learned about and loved in the art history class I took the year before. I got so excited when I saw the entire series of Marriage a la Mode that it was hard to contain myself (if you don't know the series, you should look it up, they are quite entertaining and poignant)! There were also a couple Turner paintings, many Van Gogh, Monet, Manet and Cezanne paintings so I was quite happy. We grabbed some delicious dinner in Chi-town again (I wanted to try dumplings :) ) before heading to a local park for Guy Fawkes day (the dude who tried blowing up Parliament and now, on Guy Fawkes Day, has bonfires to burn his effigy and fireworks to entertain people, probably). The fireworks were great and it was cool to be where the fireworks were actually going off - typically my family's Fourth of July celebration takes place in my room because it faces my high school that hosts fireworks but I have never been there when the fireworks are going off.

Tuesday, aka Election Day, was spent climbing St Paul's (it was wonderful, I'd totally recommend it; and the 500-some steps up there goes really quickly so it's not even bad) and getting the tour we missed out on Sunday. We also went to see Parliament and sit in on the House of Lords and the House of Commons (both really interesting and a great experience to have on Election Day!!). Then, since I hadn't gotten a Belgian waffle last time I was in London and it was calling my name the whole week, we went to get a Belgian waffle (it was really good and yes, it did have chocolate sauce on it, duh!). We also got some real dinner - okay, so it was a burrito from a stand on the street, but I swear I liked it better than Chipotle - before heading over to the Black Lion for pub quiz night. The pub quiz host guy was great: really funny and nice and he came to talk to us afterward and we talked politics for a couple hours... alright, so I really just listened and nodded but it was interesting nonetheless ha ha. That night/early morning was spent in a stairwell listening to the live streaming CNN coverage of the election; I was quite happy when it was over (and not just because I could finally go to sleep).

Wednesday was basically us getting some breakfast at that homey cafe we had frequented throughout the week and getting on a train back to Worcester. We were pretty tired from staying up so we were so happy to be sitting on the train back home.

This past week (I can't believe it's only been a week and one day since London!) has just been about homework and trying to avoid sweets. By the way, it's way to easy and cheap to get chocolate and other amazing sweets here and I have been getting into a bad habit of buying and eating too much of it so now I'm trying to avoid them unless it's actually necessary ha ha. So far so good: I've only had sweets on two out of the past eight days, woohoo!! I'll keep you posted on that as though you really care :D

London for Reading Week Part I

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After a full five days in London, I finally feel like I've seen what I've been waiting to see for three years. Ever since my AP Euro trip to London and seeing the British Museum, I've been longing to be back to see it again and to see more museums that I had missed. Then, when visiting London for a weekend a few weeks ago we were basically doing just touristy things: all fun but all expensive and not very culture-filled. So finally, visiting London over our Reading Week (just means no school) was wonderful and I got to see a museum per day... sometimes two :) Plus, we really only spent money on food and Tube transportation... still an expensive place for sure, but I am always happy to spend money on food!

Anyway, from the beginning: on Thursday of last week we were off on our train to London, basically uneventful, we just played cards. Then we had to find our hostel which was conveniently right near the Tube station and easy to find. It was probably about 10 pm so we found a pub near our hostel and hung out for a little bit (plus we found what was to be our breakfast place the next morning right across from the Black Lion aka the best pub EVER) before going to bed.

Friday was a busy day... well, I guess they all were really, but we felt quite accomplished by the end of the day. We started off getting breakfast at that cafe we found the night before; I had a scone and water and we ate on our way to the British Museum. I was so excited to be back because I remembered how much I loved it the first time I had been there. And it was really great! We even decided to go grab lunch and come back to finish it up; it really is a huge place and even we didn't see all of it even though we were there for probably a solid five to seven hours. The one thing I was disappointed about was that there weren't any paintings at the BM. I either hadn't realised it last time or had forgotten but I'm a big fan of drawings and paintings but there wasn't a single one there! Lots of cool artefacts but I would probably visit the National Gallery again before the BM. After the BM we made our way down to Westminster to see Big Ben and the Abbey and we actually got to the Abbey right as they were letting people in for mass and communion so we sat in on the ceremony. I found it really interesting and informative because I had never been to either ceremony before and it's just plain cool to be able to say I've been to mass and communion at Westminster Abbey, right? :) Once the ceremony ended we made our way out into the chilly night air and went for a walk in search of dinner and we found a really yummy noodle place so I got a veggie stir-fry with udon noodles and it was just perfect. Since it was nearly nine by then we decided to head back near our hostel and do a pub hop type thing however by the time we got to our Tube station we realised we really only wanted to hang out at the Black Lion near the fire on their great leather couches... so that's what we did :)

Saturday started off with the idea that we would catch Singing in the Rain the musical but we couldn't seem to find the theatre for the life of us, so on this random walk (on which we ran into the Waldorf Hotel) we came upon the National Portrait Gallery. What I remember of this place from three years ago is basically my friends and I being so jet-lagged and wet that we just sat in one room staring at the wall trying to move. Needless to say I was quite excited to actually see stuff this time! It was very cool and a lot more fun than the first time but the real excitement of the day came after the Gallery: Hot Pot in Chinatown. Hot Pot, for those of you who don't know (as I didn't before this trip), is basically where you have a bunch of things to cook: meat, veg, noodles etc, and a big pot of broth which you get to a boil. Then, you just stick the uncooked whatever into the now hot pot and cook it! Then you eat it and you smile. So yeah, that's the gist of it. We had beef kidney (actually not gross at all), pork belly, spinach and lettuce, mushrooms, udon and glass noodles, mussels (wouldn't get it again, just didn't really work with what we had going), sea bass and a few other things to put into our spicy broth. It was delightful. We were pretty stuffed afterwards and decided it would be a good idea to walk off as much Hot Pot as possible so we headed towards Hyde Park, did some window shopping along Oxford Street, and later had quite a long walk to the Tower of London bridge (which is lots of fun to walk across... and to really, it's long if you're going from Westminster but worth it) and then stopped at a pizza place on our way back for a late dinner. And you guessed it, headed back home for some Black Lion time... it's such a great place honestly: it's basically all wood and metal with leather couches near a fireplace on one side and cool lighting. We were saying how much we wish we had a cool pub like that in Worcester... my guess is that we do but we just need to find it first.

I think that'll be the end of my Part I post; there are three more days to cover and I'm tired of writing so I'll get to the rest either later today or tomorrow!

Highlight Reel

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It's been WAY too long since I've written and I'm sorry for that. It's been a few hectic weeks to say the least. I'll give you a quick run-down of the stressors and then we can get on to the fun stuff!

First off, I only really got into 'school mode' this past week (and I've been here for over six weeks, oops!!) so I had been feeling super behind in homework. An eight-hour stint this past Sunday at the library really helped though! And it was actually fun; whodah thunk?? Aside from the school stuff I am struggling with being part of the rowing club here. I really want to be part of it but my knee has been giving me trouble since the first week of rowing and it really hasn't gotten any better. I've got an appointment with the physical therapists in town now though, so hopefully that can help and I can continue in rowing. The other major stressor for me the past few weeks has been the fact that I had been traveling each weekend and I felt like that was taking away time that I should have been focusing on the work I had to do. Don't get me wrong, I do not regret the traveling... just at the time it was making me more stressed.

So anyway, time for fun things! In my last post I was talking about London I believe, so I'll get on to next weekend: Devon and Cornwall. This was a programme trip from the 12th to the 14th. So, on Friday we boarded the coach and were off to Cornwall. Before even getting to our hostel to put our stuff away, we stopped to surf! I had never surfed before; I hadn't even been in the ocean! So I think the coolest part about surfing was the fact that I can now say "the first time I was in the ocean was when I was in England surfing." I think that's pretty neat :) Other than that, surfing was fun but hard... I only ever could get in the one-knee-up position and I usually couldn't catch the waves. The salt water wasn't as bad as I had imagined though... although, eventually in was in everyone's noses and throats and that was a bit uncomfortable.

After surfing for about an hour and a half, we were on our way to the hostel. The coach had to stop about a 15 minute walk away from the hostel because the coach was too big to fit the rest of the way! It was a beautiful walk and our location was amazing: right on top of a cliff overlooking a beach that we could easily walk down to. Later that night, I was on kitchen duty and we had some fun making tacos: Coldplay in the background and fun people and I didn't have to be on cleaning crew; doesn't get much better! That night's entertainment was provided by watching several programme people playing pool and taking part in lively banter... got a bit intense but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. A few of us decided to wake up really early the next morning to try to catch the sunrise... that didn't really work out; we got up and everything but we didn't catch the sunrise :( Would've been pretty but oh well, a sun rises every day so there'll be more chances!

Our Saturday fun was exploring a nearby town, St Ives, which was wonderful. I had so much fun exploring the beautiful town and I had cream tea for the first time! Cream tea is traditionally two scones with jam and clotted cream (the heaviest thing on the planet) and tea. It was delightful but it was so filling that I really wasn't hungry for the rest of the day so I've stayed away from cream tea since.

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Anyway, we explored some cute shops in the area and then were off to the Bodmin Jail. Not spooky, pretty cheesy and not something I'd do again. I think the people who were excited about it in the first place were pretty disappointed. But we did see a double rainbow as we came out!! The night was pretty uneventful in terms of fun things and then we headed back home the next day.

The next weekend I went to Scotland with a few friends (one of them drove) and it was amazing. The drive was beautiful and it was incredible driving through the misty hills, listening to Bon Iver and feeling like I was finally being adventurous. I never would have thought I'd be on a road trip to Scotland with people I hadn't known just a month earlier, but here I was. We got into Scotland pretty late (around ten or so) because it's about a seven hour drive. We had rented a private cottage for the weekend and we still spent less for gas and a private cottage than we would have on a train ticket up there, so we thought it was well worth it! After settling in we decided to explore Oban for a bit and grab something to eat in town. We had amazing burgers at a steakhouse and we all shared an appetizer of haggis and black pudding (aka sheep's stomach and coagulated blood, yummmm). It was actually really good and I'd have it again for sure! No joke though, it was good. After getting back in from town we basically just chilled in our amazing cottage :)

The next day we were able to see how beautiful the land we were on was... last night we really couldn't tell it was so dark. But there was a loch right by us, rolling hills all over and chickens and ducks roaming about the property! We got a late start and went off to climb part of Ben Nevis, the largest mountain in the UK. It was a pretty rough climb: very steep, very uneven and very tough on my knee (mostly on the way down and yes, I slipped about five times... in my defence it had started raining!). The hike was absolutely gorgeous though and I'm so happy we got to go up over halfway! That night we decided to make dinner ourselves and had a very nice pasta meal with music and candlelight and us in our pj's :P

The next day, our last :(, we went to Oban in daylight and while one of our group went to tour the whiskey distillery, I went with the other two up to a cool 'tower' thing (it was more looking like a Coliseum but they called it a tower). Then we all had fish and chips (the best I've had here so far... I am so going to miss having a chippy right near where I live when I go home!!!) and then started the long drive back home. The trip to Scotland is definitely one of the top three experiences I've had here yet; I was with amazing people in a beautiful place and had tons of fun!

Alrighty, this past Friday was a lot of fun too! We went on a programme day trip to Malvern Hills; it was just a 12 minute train ride and it was wonderful, I definitely want to go back at some point this year!! We saw the Priory and the lamp post that inspired C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" book, and we saw a puppet show in the smallest theatre in the world (it used to be a man's lavatory aka bathroom)... it was... interesting ha ha

The best part though was climbing the hills.... it was beautiful and SO SO windy, I absolutely loved it, probably because it reminded me of Duluth. We stayed sitting in the gusting wind for at least ten minutes and by then I was frozen... not wanting to leave, but cold enough that it was time. Then I literally fell down the hill and that was cute :P I didn't get hurt because I didn't fall far but yeah, hilarious and typical of me. We got some amazing lunch after getting down the hill: it was broccoli, cauliflower and carrot soup with homemade bread... oh, it was so good and totally perfect.

Another highlight of course, is Halloween! I hadn't really participated in Halloween for maybe five to seven years so this was really fun. I went as the Black Swan (had a black tutu, a mask and feathers taped on... I had shed them all by the end of the night... probably fell off even before getting to the club). It was so much fun going to the club, especially because I went to the one I hadn't been to before and thankfully it wasn't too busy because I hate crowds.

Other than that, classes have been going pretty well (I'm thinking I'll make every Sunday a library Sunday just to have a solid block of time to do some major catching up) and I'm feeling a lot less stressed than I was a couple weeks ago!

This next week is Reading Week (basically just a week without classes) and so I'm off to London in a few hours with a friend. I'm so pumped because we've got a museum visit planned for each day!!! We'll be gone for about six days so I'll get an update in by Friday next week. Anyway, I've got to run to class now but hope you enjoyed the highlight reel of the past few weeks! I'll post on London soon :)

Pictures On This Thing Hate Me

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That is all.

London, Baby!

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It's been a while since my last entry but I have fun stuff to share! Oh, and pictures are just going to be put right into the blog because nothing is working for me... so don't expect tons of pics, I'll just pick the best few each entry and call it good.

I'll start with my weekend trip to London; this was the first trip that was taken without chaperons so it was much less planned and much more stressful but still a lot of fun. I went with a group of five other UMD kids and we left Friday morning on a train to London. Up until the day we left I was really stressing about all the things I needed to do: homework, rowing, figuring out the trip (a few roadbumps along the way: hostel not having enough rooms, figuring out what we wanted to do etc) and just general stressing out. So, needless to say I was happy to escape that for a bit... though, I'm basically just coming back to it without making any progress. Oh well!

The train ride there was uneventful but good. We arrived at Paddington Station midday and began by trying to figure out the Tube situation. The Tube is London's metro system and it's excellent: it gets you anywhere you'd need to go, it gets you there fast and it's easy to understand if you sit and stare at the map for a bit. We got ourselves an Oyster card (refillable card for Tube travel) and made our way to our hostel outside of downtown London. It was so nice to put down our bags at the hostel (which was really nice: decent beds, clean, alright toilets [they call restrooms 'toilets' so no need to be grossed out, it's the same thing] except it was hard to get one with a sink every time, and really good service) but we were soon out and about on the town! One thing that struck me about the town where our hostel was located was that we were the minority by a long shot... I'd say about 3/4 or more of the population was of African, Indian or Middle Eastern descent. It was very cool to be in a place where I knew I was the minority because that almost never happens. Plus, it made for a lot of fun produce markets and beautiful window shopping with all of the beaded saris!

We started out going to Westminster to check out Big Ben, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament etc.
The London Eye
Big Ben

Friday night we basically just walked around looking at the big sights while avoiding to spend money. Unfortunately, we couldn't avoid the rain! It rained for at least five hours and we all got pretty wet; thankfully, I had my umbrella but I was still chilled when we finally came back to the hostel. Once there, we met a couple of our hostel roommates, sisters from Ohio. The younger one was also studying abroad but for a semester in Ireland and her sister had come to visit her. They were both really nice and had just come back from the Harry Potter Studios tour (we had planned that for Saturday but it turned out we had needed to book it online to get tickets; needless to say, those particular plans didn't pan out!). Apparently it was great though, so I'm excited to possibly see it with one of my best friends later in the school year if she's able to visit! The hostel also had a pub downstairs so we hung out down there for a little while before we crashed.

The next morning we were off to meet up with four other friends who were just coming for the day (for the Harry Potter thing, oops!) at Westminster. We took the bus (yes, it was a double decker, thank you very much!) and the Tube to make it over there. Most of us stuck together to go on the London Eye; it was so cool being in the pod and seeing the city from that vantage point... definitely worth the 18 pounds!
Almost at the top!
Great view of Big Ben :D

After the Eye, we went to the 4D Experience movie that we could get into for free with a London Eye ticket. It was actually pretty cool; we got a nice tour of some of the big attractions by a seagull. By then, we were all really hungry so we were trying to find a nice pub for some fish and chips but it was hard to find an authentic feeling pub so close to all the action. We had to wing it and it sorta worked out... I got chips and a salad while others got chips and little fried fish (heads and all... I tried one and it wasn't bad, a tad unappetizing though). After a semi-successful lunch we made our way to Madame Tussaud's wax museum. It was an incredibly long line to get in but it was cool once we were in there. It was the oddest thing though; I mean, there are hundreds of tourists posing with wax celebrities, sports figures, political figures, etc. I am glad I went but I'm also glad that I won't have to go there again :) It was one of those things you do to check it off your list.

Since it took so long to get through the museum, we said goodbye to our friends so they could go back to Worcester and then we headed out to dinner. We had a fun dinner where I had my first cheese souffle... it was DELICIOUS!! I loved it and I'm so excited to try to make one at some point. Here's a pic of my adorable souffle and my side o' veggies.

Our last item of business Saturday night was to try to figure out where and when we could get a London Tour By Night ticket... lo and behold we happen upon the exact spot where the tour starts right as the bus pulls up. I was very excited about that and the tour didn't disappoint! We saw all the major sites: the Wellington Arch, the Tower Bridge (super impressive!), Harrods (looks so calm and peaceful on the outside, too bad it's not that way inside) and plenty of the other places you'd think of when you think London. The only downside of the tour was that it was absolutely freezing but it was definitely worth it!! After the tour (it was about eleven pm) we had to make our way home and with the unanticipated Tube closures we had quite the adventure coming home but made it to the hostel safe and sound by one am. I slept like a baby that night.

Sunday was another good day; a few of us were really ready for the weekend in London to come to a close so we took a nice stroll in Hyde Park (was super busy with what appeared to be a charity run/fair event) and then split up with the others and took the train home. London was excellent and I'm excited to go back (hopefully over our break in November so I can get to the National Gallery Museum, the Tate and the British Museum!!) but more than a few days there is quite overwhelming... and talk about expensive!

In other news, rowing has been going well: we did our first "test" of 2000 meters on the rowing machine to look back on as a starting time. Mine was 9 min 25.5 sec which is pretty good for a girl's first attempt so I was quite happy with that! Still haven't been on the water so I've got to figure out a time to get there because the first race is the 17th of November, dun dun duunnnn!!!

Modules are fine: drawing is going pretty well, working on a piece about doubt so that's fitting since I doubt my artistic ability all the time; lots of reading in my marketing class; nothing too special about the other classes.

This coming weekend is a UMD field trip to Devon and Cornwall right on the coast (surfing anyone?!) so that should be fun :) That's about all for now; I'll have more updates soon!

First Three Days of Modules (aka Class)

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Here is a link to the pictures that may or may not work... we shall find out once I publish this :)

So I've officially had three modules (I have one module per day except two on Tuesdays and none on Fridays! Three day weekend :D) and I've really enjoyed all of them.

On Monday I have Popular Cultures which is a Worcester module and is an Anthropology course. About half of the class period (four hours :P) is lecture and the other half is seminar based; and I actually spoke up in class once! For those of you who know me, this is pretty big (not a fan of speaking in front of people). Even with the four hour class period, I stayed engaged and interested basically the whole time.

Tuesday is Drawing and I am super excited for this class because, even though I am an Art History major, I wish I could draw and I'm hoping this class will pull a bit of creativity out of me. Plus, it sounds like we'll be doing little field trips nearly every week so I'm psyched for that! Other than class on Tuesday, I went shopping for actual food I can cook so that was nice; the trek home with what felt like 20 pounds of food was not so nice however. I have had healthy, yummy meals the past few days though, so it was well worth it! Unfortunately, I got caught up in the class and the grocery shopping and completely blanked the Worcester Rowing Club Welcome Meeting (I'm planning on joining the rowing team for the workout and the community feeling). I was so upset for missing that but everything turned out okay; I went to the selection meeting today... more on that later.

Wednesday (today) was also super busy! I had class again in the morning (this one is a UMD marketing class) and it went well. I really don't have much of an interest in marketing because that's just not my focus but the class seems like it will be interesting and I really like all the people in it (four other UMD kids and two Brits); we even have a facebook group already :P After class, I made some lunch and went straight to get some art supplies for my Drawing module and I got great deals; it was amazing the amount of stuff I got for the amount I paid! Then I did laundry and ate again before heading to the Rowing Club Man V Machine session. It was intense! First, we got some one-on-one instruction to get the form down. Apparently, I had great back posture while I was rowing so that was nice; plus, the senior helping me out asked if I was a dancer and that basically made my night (I'm not a dancer but I've always kinda wanted to be). Then came the challenge: we were put into teams and had to do six, five hundred meter rows. So in total, each team rowed 15000 meters. It was SO HARD! The first round went pretty easily but then the second round hit and it was like "Six of these, really??!" Thankfully, by the third go around I had wrapped my head around the fact that I was only half way done so it was actually a little easier than the first couple. It was just so great to look around and make eye contact with other exhausted people and just have that look like "You're exhausted, yeah, me too." It built a sense of we're-all-in-this-together and I loved that even as I was panting and feeling dizzy and like three more rounds was not going to be physically possible. Anyway, we got through it just fine... well, most everyone, and I loved meeting a lot of new people. I also was told several times by the senior rowers that I did a "brilliant" job and they were all pretty surprised when I said that I had never rowed in my life so that was all quite encouraging :D

I'm excited to do a couple more rowing things this week; we've got another selection meeting on Friday and then on Saturday or Sunday, I'm going to a, what they call, taster session where we are actually on the water to see how we get along there.

Feel free to post comments, questions etc. I am happy to explain more, or give more detail or hear your own experiences! Cheers!