Last week whirlwind.

This past week has been very interesting and entertaining. Although I’ve spent most of it hidding out in our flat (I literally left campus once during the week) trying to get my last minute work done, the excitement for the week came in the form of a snow storm!  Earlier in the week we had seen a very very light snow fall that my friends from California were impressed with but I was sorely disappointed in. On Wednesday, I made a quick trip to the grocery store and then forced myself to write papers all day. To all of our surprise, the snow started coming down in heaps all afternoon into the evening. I think the whole of our housing complex was outside playing in the snow even after only an inch or two had fallen. Thursday morning we woke up to what we guessed was 8-10 inches and to all our excitement A SNOW DAY! Now I’ve had at least 50 snow days or delays in my life time but for some USACers this was their first ever (It was even one girls birthday present!) and we all took advantage by relaxing and playing in the snow. But not just the campus was closed, it seemed the whole of Brighton had shut down too. Because they don’t have snow plows and drive smaller cars, no one is very prepared for driving in this sort of weather. The buses and many trains stopped running and we were stranded up on our campus (thank goodness I’d just gone grocery shopping)! The only major bummer of being snowed in was that we had made plans for one last big night out in town with all USACers and we had no way to get there. So we compromised by all getting together in one flat and having a party together one last time. The best part was we got to take a break to go sledding (or in British: Sledging) and play in the snow together. All in all a great last night together.

On Saturday, we took off for a field trip to Oxford and Stratford Upon Avon. We spent the afternoon in Oxford where we saw some of the Oxford University college campuses, the Bodleian Library which is known for housing a copy of every published document in the English language, perused the shops, and stopped in for lunch at a local pub. Our next stop was Stratford Upon Avon where we were staying at a quaint bed and breakfast. Our beds in Brighton are actually pretty awful (I usually call them “cots” not beds) and the B&B’s beds felt like we were laying on clouds. It took all my will power not to fall asleep at 6 pm! We headed to a pub for some dinner and then found our way to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre where we saw Matilda, A Musical. I have seen the movie Matilda before but the musical was something new to me. The coolest part about seeing the musical was the different interpretations they took from the British perspective that I never saw in the movie from the American perspective. After the musical, we walked back through town, admired the beautiful Christmas decorations and lighting, and crawled right into our cozy beds!

On Sunday, we woke up and had a proper English breakfast of course! Then our advisors took us on a short tour of Stratford Upon Avon and showed us the birthplace of William Shakespeare as that is what the town is most famous for. We had some free time so a few of us headed down to the riverfront for a beautiful view of the town life. As we wandered around I saw a store called Laura Ashley that I remember my mom shopping in when I was little but all the US branches have since closed. I stopped in and was greeted by the nicest sales people I had ever encountered. After seeing Stratford Upon Avon we headed to Warwick Castle. I had already been here in October when a few of us went to Liverpool but in October the castle was decorated for halloween and now it was decorated for Christmas. The great hall had a huge Christmas tree and decorations everywhere. We also went up on the walls of the castle and the outer towers which I hadn’t done the last time I was there and got to see a cool view of the surrounding town. From there we headed back to Brighton where I once again spent all too much time writing a paper due the next day.

Three months has come and almost gone. There were many moments that I wished I could be home with my friends enjoying my senior year with my best college friends in Grand Forks… and now I just want to make the days in Brighton last longer. I am very excited to go home and see my family and friends at last but I know the week ahead will be full of bittersweet tears. Starting today our Brighton USAC 2010 crew has begun to take off one by one for European travels or home and we’re all feeling nostalgic. We just aren’t ready to go yet… Although I’m sure if we were able to extend our time together we would never be quite ready to head back to the US and leave our Brighton home. The next couple days will consist of me trying to finish my last paper (I use the word last loosely since I have another to write and email in over Christmas break) early enough to enjoy my last full day off in Brighton with my USAC friends. I want to hit up a few places I haven’t seen yet and those of us who are still around want to do a final pub crawl night as well. Friday morning I will say goodbye to all my friends in Brighton and spend the weekend in Dublin with my Irish friend Shana. My study abroad experience as a whole will end happily though since I get to spend my last 5 nights in Europe having slumber parties with different camp friends. I will try to write next week when I get back from Dublin but there is a good chance this will be my last post from this side of the pond.

Things I’m Loving: A good first snow and being snowed in with great people, My first Bed and Breakfast experience, Random home owned pubs with friendly staff in every town we go to, Finding a Laura Ashley store (My mom use to shop there when I was little), Being days away from family, best friends, and Chipotle,

Things I’m not quite loving: Still having lots of Christmas shopping and what feels like not enough time to do it all, Saying goodbye to a great city and friends,

Things I’m learning: How to reach down deep and find my inner student who has been on a break since May and now needs to buckle down and get stuff done, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Peace, Love, Goodbyes and Hellos.

Jane and I at the beginning of the snow storm. I came out in my pajamas (I was wearing shorts under the long sweatshirt fyi) to prove that I was a tough Minnesotan who wasn’t phased by a little snow!

Shakespeare’s house.

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The beginning of the end…

As the semester winds down, I find myself spending more and more time working on schoolwork and less enjoying England. But I still try to make a point to do something a little different and fun everyday. For example last Friday the 19th, I channeled my inner 40+ year old woman and headed to a craft fair in Brighton. After paying 6£ to get in the door, I realized that most of the crafts were well out of my price range anyway. I wandered around and admired the hand embroidered pillows, artfully designed suitcases, paintings of the Brighton pier, and loads of handmade jewelry. The next morning we were up bright and early to start our trip to Stonhenge and the city of Bath. As we pulled up to the Stonehenge car park (American: “parking lot”), I realized what many a visitor has realized before me: Stonehenge is really just a bunch of big rocks. I was a little surprised by the location of these big rocks though. I always imagined having to hike through a big field before coming across the marvel of the big rocks but instead Stonehenge is on a sort of grassy peninsula surrounded by streets and highway. We walked around (you’re not allowed to get up close and personal with the rock formation), snapped some pictures, and got back on the bus on our way to Bath.

Bath is a historic city in England most commonly known for the only hot spring in Britain used hundreds of years ago as ancient Roman baths. Our first stop in Bath was of course to see this site. You are no longer allowed to bathe in the hot spring and are advised not to touch it either but I decided to risk the potential warts and boils and touched the luke warm water for myself. It definitely wasn’t hot tub temperature but on a cold November day in England I sure wished I could have taken a dip. The architecture around the bath was also very stunning with pillars and Roman influence galore. After wandering around the Roman baths museum we headed to get some lunch at a local pub and for dessert picked up a Bath classic called Bath Buns. These are pretty much just very sweet bread with a large sugar cube inside and they were delicious! Our bus then took us to our hotel in Bristol which we were disappointed to find out was on the outskirts of town and too far to go explore the city. We didn’t let a night in get our spirits down of course because we all took advantage of the swimming pool and restaurant at the hotel!

The next morning (Sunday the 21st) we went back into Bath to explore the city some more. I went off on my own to see the Bath Fashion Museum. The museum was pretty small but still had a few exhibits that I found very interesting. One exhibit was called “Dress of the Year” and displayed a specially picked dress off the high fashion runway from each year since the museum opened. The coolest part about this exhibit was a display of music album covers next to the dresses that showed how the high fashion dress related in style, color, material, etc. to the popular culture of the time. The museum also had a large display of items from hundreds of years ago including ball gowns and gold-embroidered gloves. Along with these displays you could try on a corset and a crinoline to see what it felt like to be a stylish women when these items were popular. However, the best part of the whole museum was an exhibit which featured 10 of Princess Diana’s dresses. The dresses were displayed in individual cases chronologically so as you walked around the room you could see how Diana’s fashion sense and taste changed from being a teenager to becoming royalty as well as a mother to life without the royal backdrop. At the end of the exhibit, visitors were able to write their thoughts on Diana’s dresses but many of the notes ended up being written to Diana herself and it was very apparent the love the British people have for Diana is still very strong today. After visiting the museum, I did some shopping of course! Bath had a clearance version of one of my favorite stores in Brighton called Cult. I couldn’t pass on the great deals and left with some gifts and a dress for myself. Before I knew it I had to back on the bus and we were heading back to Brighton.

This week I felt like I was non-stop working on papers. Except on Thursday when we celebrated our own thanksgiving as a USAC family. As much as we were all really sad to not be with our own families on Thanksgiving, it was great to keep the tradition alive. A few people in our program I was especially thankful for because they cooked the turkey and prepared all the food which I would have had no idea how to do! I had class until 3 on Thanksgiving (first time for everything I guess) and when I came home I got to skype with my dad, siblings and his side of the family and then an hour later I got to skype with my aunt, uncle, and little cousin! It was great especially skyping my dad and siblings because I haven’t seen them since I left in September. After I had talked to my family, the feast began! We had 20-some people over at our flat and we all ate until we were stuffed! It was great to have everyone together. After dinner and dessert, a few of us headed to a club called Digital to see a DJ that my friends knew of. The club looked straight out of a movie about an underground music scene with a damp unpleasant smell, sweat seeping off the walls, and the entire coat check line hard-core rocking out while they waited. While the line up of DJs were entertainment enough, my friend Jane and I couldn’t help but find entertainment in the glow stick wielding club enthusiasts.

 This weekend was dedicated to paper writing although I still don’t feel very confident in my understanding of the assignments. However, we did take some time to enjoy ourselves and headed to a pub called “The King and Queen” (a classic pub name of course) on Friday night for a few drinks and the University of Sussex student union bar where we discovered they had a life-size Jenga game with foot long blocks on Saturday night. Today, a few of us girls woke up early to head to a vintage fashion fair in town. The fair was held in a gymnasium that was wall to wall with vintage clothing and accesories. I found myself a few good deals on a 1950s-esque sweater and 2 pairs of earrings that I am very excited about! After the fashion fair, we went for lunch at a restaurant called Wagamama which serves a wide variety of delicious pan-asian inspired noodles. I had yet to try Wagamama and I definitely hope I can stop back at least once before I head home! Following lunch, Jane and I were still in a shopping mood (I’m kind of always in a shopping mood!) so we wandered around the north lanes looking for more vintage shops and I hit the jack pot when I found a oversized wool cable knit sweater on a super discount! After a successful morning/afternoon of shopping and eating, we headed back to our mounds of homework we had left to finish. 

Things I’m loving: Seeing more and more of the UK, Booking my flight to Ireland for post-semester travels, My first full English breakfast since I’ve been here at the Bristol hotel, Princess Diana’s wardrobe, Celebrating Thanksgiving even 1,000′s of miles from home, Wagamama, Finding a wide variety of vintage clothing and accessories,

Things I’m not quite loving: The daunting task of several papers and a test and not being able to fully enjoy my last few weeks because of it, Knowing that in less than 2 weeks I’ll be leaving Brighton for good,

Things I’m learning: I may not enjoy traveling on my own but I do enjoy taking a few hours to do my own thing when I am traveling, All about the start of social work in the UK,

This week I will be continuing my pattern of doing loads of homework but there are still quite a few places I want to go to before I leave Brighton for good. On my list is the ice skating rink, the well-known graffiti painting by Banksy of 2 police officers kissing, heading to a few clubs that I’ve heard great things about, seeing the inside of the Palace Pavilion, getting a bit of christmas shopping done, and so much more. Plus this weekend we are taking a trip to Oxford and Stratford-Upon-Avon (Shakepeares hometown). It is gonna be a busy week so hopefully I can stay productive, get everything accomplished, and have some fun this last week.

Peace, Love, Fashion and Homework.

At Stonehenge.

All the ladies at our Thanksgiving celebration (Including some first Thanksgiving girls from England and Denmark!)

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Spain.. Finally! Carnage… Finally!

Prior to my departure on Wednesday, I thought my biggest travel trouble would be navigating the Madrid metro and traveling by train to Ciudad Real. But fortunately after the mess I was in Wednesday in England (see previous post), traveling in Spain on Thursday was a piece of cake. The only time I thought I had to use my terrible Spanish after a 2.5 year hiatus was to pay for my train ticket and when there was some confusion on the time of train departure the clerk started clarifying in English without my verbal prompting (although I suppose my confused look and use of my hands to tell the time was a bit of a prompt). On the train the woman next to me began complaining about something to me, or at least I think she was complaining, and I just smiled and nodded my head hoping I was being polite. When I reached Ciudad Real, my friend Cami met me and we headed to her apartment where she lives with two native Spanish speakers. It was funny staying with them because almost every conversation was bilingual as Cami spoke to them in English and they responded in Spanish (although Cami said they usually speak just Spanish but since I was there she spoke English). I also enjoyed listening to them make plans for the evening because it reminded me of Spanish class when the teacher would play a conversation several times until we understood it. Cami took me right into town to do a little site seeing. Cami claimed there wasn’t much to see in Ciudad Real but we both agreed that the city was full of beauty in its greenery, fountains, courtyards, architecture, etc. As we wandered through the city we couldn’t help but do a little shopping too. This little excursion ending tragically when I fell deeply in love with a pair of dark purple suede boots that were out of stock in my size. I tried to keep my chin up as we continued our trek though. We went into a little cafe where I attempted to order a Coke but lacking confidence in Spanish I spoke too quietly and Cami ended up doing all the talking. I expected to just receive a plastic bottle of Coke with a cap so we could just keep walking around but instead we received open glass bottles of Coke and a glass to pour them in. We sat down and the waiter brought over 2 pieces of bread with a sausage on each. This was my first tapas encounter. In Spain, generally anywhere you order a drink (Beer, Coke, Sangria, etc.) you will receive a little snack on the side called a “tapa”. I had heard of tapas before but thought they were simply Spanish appetizers. Cami and I headed back to her apartment, got ready for a night on the town, and headed out with the biggest group of English speakers Cami could assemble for me.

Our first stop was of course a tapas bar! This place was nothing like the way you would picture a bar in the U.S. or even England. It reminded me more of the kebab shops that are scattered across Europe or to relate it to something in America I would think its most like a Subway (the sandwich shop not the mode of transportation). Imagine a well-lit Subway where when you go up to the counter you replace buying a sandwich with a round of drinks and instead of being asked which veggies you want with it you get to choose which tapa you want. The first round of drinks came with the group’s choice of hot ham and cheese sandwiches, a very basic treat. The place was packed and Cami explained that this was a typical starting point for most Spanish nights out. After a few more rounds of drinks and tapas, we headed to a bar that seemed more familiar with a pool table and darts. Here we met up with more of Cami’s English-speaking friends, most of whom are English teachers originating from different parts of Europe. I had a Calimocho (Red Wine, Coke, and blackberry syrup) which came highly recommended and everyone played a few rounds of pool before the crew moved on to another bar. As the night went on we hit up a few more hot spots around Ciudad Real where I learned that there is rarely toilet paper in the bathrooms and that Cami is practically a celebrity in Ciudad Real because she is tall, blonde, and is a native English speaker which is not the norm in those parts. After exhausting the night life of Ciudad Real we decided to call it a night/morning, stopped to grab some Chuches (gummy candy), tried one of every flavor that looked appetizing, and made the trek back to Cami’s apartment for a good nights/mornings rest.

The next day we got up and did another lap of sight seeing in Ciudad Real. Just being outside in the city was amazing because the weather was tropical compared to November in the Midwest and England. I’d say it felt more like early September to me. Unfortunately, we must have been enjoying our afternoon stroll too much because by the time we got back and found a cab to bring us to the train station we were too late to get on our train to Madrid. It was just my luck. Another train came an hour later and we hopped on but not without having to buy our tickets once again. When we arrived in Madrid, we navigated our way to Cami’s friend Laura’s apartment. Laura is also from North Dakota and teaching English in Spain. We got our barrings for a few minutes and then headed out to a tapas bar. This tapas bar was different from the tapas bar in Ciudad Real as it was more of a bar like atmosphere and the coolest part was if you ordered just one drink you could eat all the tapas you wanted from a buffet. Most of the tapas here were just slices of bread with different toppings such as mustard and ham or coleslaw but occasionally they would bring out cocktail hot dogs or our personal favorite deep fried green peppers. As we enjoyed our drinks and massive amounts of tapas, a group of men came over to chat with us. Initially, I assumed they were just hitting on us but as we began to talk I realized that they were genuinely friendly and more importantly trying to practice their English. After we were sufficiently stuffed with tapas and exhausted ourselves of conversation with our new friends, we headed out to see the city of Madrid at night with a few of Laura’s friends. We wandered around to the Mercado de San Miguel, the Plaza Major, and a popular area to go to clubs and bar. Cami, Laura, and I were very tired and had a busy day the next day so we headed back to Laura’s for a good nights rest.

On Saturday, Cami and I headed into the center of Madrid for a guided walking tour. We had a bit of time to spare beforehand though and we couldn’t help but do some shopping! I really love the shopping experience in Europe because malls are not the norm so as you wander from store to store you get to admire the beautiful city life outside. We met our walking tour in the Plaza Major and for an 1.5 hours (we only went on half the tour) we were shown around the city by a very informative guide. The tour we went through was called “Sandeman’s New Europe” and it was completely free with the exception of an optional tip for the tour guide. They operate in several different cities and I highly recommend them. Our guide showed us old criminal hideouts, the oldest restaurant in the world, tons of sites made famous by the Spanish inquisition, the oldest building in Madrid, Muslim wall ruins, the Madrid Cathedral and more. The tour guide pointed out all the pig legs hanging in the windows of shops  (after my few days in Spain it had become pretty apparent to me that the Spanish absolutely love their pork products) and said that during the Spanish Inquisitions the easiest way to prove you were not practicing Muslim or Jewish religions was by blatantly displaying that pork was in your diet. Following the tour Cami and I headed back to Laura’s apartment where she cooked us a traditional Spanish meal of a very salty pork with yogurt sauce that had curdled into what looked like a cheese (I have since forgotten the name of this dish). We took our time getting ready to go out and didn’t head to a friend of Laura’s apartment until midnight. After doing a little convincing of Laura’s friends, we finally headed out on the town to an Irish bar near the center of Madrid. The place was packed and when we left at around 5 am it was still practically impossible to move!

The bad thing about starting our night so late is not getting into bed until just before sunrise and therefore sleeping most of the day away. By the time we woke up it was almost time for me to catch my plane back to England. We did one last lap of the neighborhood, said our goodbyes, and I headed to the airport where I got my blue Ryanair stamp and was allowed on my flight home.

Monday was the big day of my first Carnage experience. Carnage is a pub crawl that occurs in college towns all over the UK and I had heard about it from all of my British friends as a must-do event. The name Carnage comes from the idea that its destructive like a scene out of a deadly war battle and a lot of students try to live up to the name by drinking excessively. My friends Jane, Lars, Sophia, and I had planned on going to the event together with Sophia being the only veteran of the event. We paid 10 pounds each for a tshirt that got us in to several different clubs and were supposed to dress to the theme of “Emergency Services” which proved to be difficult since most firefighter, police officer, etc. outfits were sold out. We ended up opting to just bring whistles and I wore neon green shorts to represent an ambulance (ambulances here have bright reflective material on them). Sophia brought us to a house party before heading to the clubs where Jane and I realized we were very over dressed and did not fit the typical Carnage ensemble. Most of the girls had cut their tshirts so that they barely existed and were wearing very little beyond that. We promptly found a scissors and cut the necks on our tshirts but we still hardly fit in. When we finally got to the town center around 11 pm we decided to start at a club we were familiar with called Yates. After spending maybe a half hour at Yates we were told by an event organizer that the final club, Tru, would stop letting Carnage participants in for free after midnight so we had to hurry over there. After dancing for a while at Tru and enjoying the spectacle, we decided to head out. We didn’t catch the spirit of Carnage right away but overall we had a good night out and naturally enjoyed some cheesy chips on our bus ride home!

Things I am loving: Tapas, Seeing a good friend from home, Seeing first hand the culture differences just a 2 hour flight away, Staying out til just before the sun comes up, Christmas festivities starting in Brighton, ShoppingShoppingSHOPPING, Flying over Brighton and being able to recognize the pier, Finally seeing what Carnage is all about, Thinking about the snow that will hopefully be greeting me when I return to Minnesota,

Things I am not quite loving: All my clothes smelling of smoke still from Spain, Missing flights and trains and having to pay the price, Living in dorms is getting to be very boring and monotonous, Feeling like there is not enough time to do everything I wanna do and finish my course work, No Pandora makes it hard for me to find a good free Christmas music playlist,

I’m starting to realize my time abroad is slowly coming to an end. I have 3 weeks left of classes which also means I have 3 weeks to finish a bunch of assignments and enjoy my time here. Fortunately, the next 3 weekends consist of 2 field trips across England and 1 weekend in Brighton to finish up my schoolwork but still have a little fun. This weekends field trip is to the city of Bath and the historical marvel that is Stonehenge. It should be really fun because the field trip is put on by our program advisors and most of the USAC students are going.

Peace, Love, Tapas and English Travels.

Finally with Cami! and enjoying my first Tapa bar experience! (Photo copyrighted to Cami’s Camera)

In beautiful and SUNNY Ciudad real (Photo Credit to Cami)

The symbol for the city of Madrid!

A birds eye view of Carnage!

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The Dangers of Flying Cheap

I spent a good chunk of the last week in Spain visiting my friend Cami and on my flight home I began to write a bit of a blog post but never finished it (I’ve been getting kind of bored of this blogging thing but I know its best if I keep documenting). So here is the first part of my blog post this week:

Well here I am blogging once again from my blackberry in the midst of my travels. I’m currently in the Madrid airport waiting for my Ryanair flight home (and by home I guess I mean England). The very first thing I was told when I decided to study abroad in Europe was “use Ryanair.” It’s an airline with ridiculously cheap flights to locations all over Europe and when I first heard about it I thought it was a gift from the poor college student travel Gods. Boy was I mistaken!

This trip was my first time using Ryanair and I’m not sure if I did something to upset those travel Gods but absolutely nothing went right. Initially, I got my flight round trip for about 36£ which I’ll admit was a heck of a deal but a few days after booking it I received an email saying my return flight had been cancelled and I would have to fly out of a different location. Although this was a minor roadblock I still had to call the airline to re-book a flight and paid for every minute I talked to them.

Fast forward to the night before my departure and I’m in the library printing off my boarding passes (if you forget to do online check-in its an extra 40£). A notice pops up as I’m checking in reminding me to get a stamp in order to fly and I continue the check in process thinking it was referring to a passport visa stamp. The next morning (Wednesday November 10th) I’m up at 6:30 and take a train to Gatwick airport. Not wanting to get charged for checking in at (or even looking at, thinking about, etc.) the Ryanair counter, I head right to security which goes surprisingly well compared to my fond memories of being publicly groped at Gatwick security back in September. Gatwick is a bad place for a young lady with a credit card because they refuse to display your gate number until the last possibly second giving me two options while I wait 1. Sit and watch the departure screen or 2. Shop in the terminal which rivals the size of the Columbia Mall. They are very tricky like that! On this particular morning I purchased a new headband while Ryanair opted to prolong the wait until 9:40 when the flight was to leave at 10:10 which resulted in a mad dash of passengers to the gate since you don’t have an assigned seat on Ryanair flights.

Now here is where this pretty typical airport experience turns sour. I hand my boarding pass to the flight attendant and she says with a scoff “You won’t be going anywhere today, Mam.” First of all, I am 21 years old and nowhere near old enough to be driving my teenage children to viola lessons in my minivan so under no stretch of the imagination do I qualify as a “Mam” and secondly, I have a ticket, I have a passport, I do NOT have a bomb so there should be no reason I can’t fly to Madrid today. Well Ryanair found a reason. Remember that notification that popped up when I was doing online check in? Apparently I was supposed to stop at the scary Ryanair counter before security and get some sort of stamp. I had no idea what this stamp was but I took off in a dead sprint to get back to the counter for a stamp. Panting and heaving (this being the first time I’ve run anywhere since I decided to take a jog to the Bakery sophomore year) I headed to the information desk where I was informed that I couldn’t get back through security without an escort and the escort would take 20 minutes. With my flight departure in 10 minutes, I sat in chair watching the departures screen in hopes my plane was delayed as I tried to fight back the tears. Ah who am I kidding, for those of you who don’t know me I’m a cry baby and naturally, I was sobbing hysterically.

Looking back it wasn’t that big of a deal but I think homesickness kicked in at its worst at that moment. A lady who’s first language was not English even stopped and tried to console me. At the time I thought it was nice of her but was too caught up in my own woe to be particularly polite and thankful. The kindness of strangers is amazing sometimes. She just told me it would be okay and it was nice to have someone show kindness when it felt like the world was against me. Ultimately, I waited for over an hour and was referred to as “Mam” about 17 times before someone finally came to escort me out. She brought me to a desk where I could re-book my flight but the cheapest flight was 100£ (about $170) and not until 9 at night.

Feeling defeated I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t going to Spain and sulked my way to the train station, headed back to my dorm in Brighton, changed into my comfiest sweatpants, and crawled into bed to wade in my pool of sorrow. The worst part was everyone else in my program had signed up for a trip to Paris and I would have to spend the weekend alone. I was a wreck. But I tend to live by the motto “When life gives you lemons, make a phone call to daddy (or mom, best friend, aunt, etc.).” My dad reminded me that I wasn’t going to be able to jet off to Spain for under a couple hundred dollars when I got home and I already had a return flight so I should just re-book for the next morning. Plus an unexpected check had come in the mail for me which would cover the cost of the flight the next day. Thursday morning I woke up at 6:30 yet again and made the same trek to the airport only this day it was downpouring. This time I stop at the Ryanair desk to get my stamp which looks absolutely UNofficial! It’s a blue stamp directly on my boarding pass that says Ryanair and the date. I make my way to security where even though I am wearing the exact same outfit as yesterday (I’m very particular about what I travel in because I hate being uncomfortable on flights) I still don’t make it past security without a full body pat down and fondle.
Fortunately, when Ryanair posts the gate I am able to get on the flight and make it to Spain 24 hours late.

Overall, all it cost me and extra 70£ for the flight plus the train ticket to the airport and back to Brighton which was about 16£. So much for traveling on the budget.

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Halloween in Cardiff and Bonfire Night

The Thursday of Halloween weekend I arrived in Cardiff at Midnight. My camp friends Lauren and Francesca were waiting for me at the train platform. We stopped to grab something to eat and I was surprised to see a Papa John’s Pizza place, one of my favorite pizza places at home. Unfortunately it was closed so we picked up food somewhere else and spent some time catching up at Lauren’s place.  On Friday, the girls showed me some of the tourists spots in Cardiff. We ate lunch at the Cardiff Bay and headed to the National Museum Cardiff where we saw several Monet’s impressionist paintings, a Van Gogh, and a Degas. It was so cool to see some of Monet’s water-lily paintings because when I was little my mom use to read me a book called “Linea in Monet’s Garden” and I have always loved water lilies because of that. I also did a little shopping on Friday because I had wanted a dress at a store in Brighton but they were out of my size and luckily they had the same store in Cardiff with the dress in my size! That evening we got back to Francesca’s and decided to take it easy. In honor of the first Men’s Hockey home game at UND of the season, I threw on my Sioux jersey and we settled in for a night of watching Mighty Ducks with the girls. The next morning we woke up early to go pick up our Irish friend Shana at the airport and later our friend James drove down from Liverpool. We all went into town to do some last-minute Halloween shopping and got ready for a night on the town in our costumes.  It was Saturday night and Halloween wasn’t until Sunday but back at UND I have always dressed up every night of Halloween weekend so going out all decked out as a Sock Monkey, Harry Potter, Mr. Incredible, Bat Woman, and Dracula’s Wife seemed normal. I was wrong. Our friends brought us on a pub crawl around Cardiff and we all looked pretty silly because we were the only people dressed up almost everywhere we went. We had a great time looking foolish and running around town together. The next day was Halloween and we headed to the Cardiff Castle. They were having a special Halloween tour but we unfortunately bought our tickets too late so we could only go on the normal tour. It was still a very interesting tour as our guide brought us through the royal apartments and every room had a different theme. My favorite rooms were the men’s lounge room and the nursery. The men’s lounge was in the clock tower and so the theme for that room was time. The decor consisted of zodiac signs, wood carvings of the different times of the day, and the different phases of life. The nursery was decorated with different nursery rhymes which were portrayed more as gruesome lessons than the quaint, happy tales they have become today.  After the tour we headed up to the Castle Keep and climbed to the top for a view of the city. We left the castle, headed for a dinner on the town, and took a long night stroll back to Francesca’s house.  On Monday, James and Shana had left and Lauren had a big presentation so Francesca and I took the day to do some serious shopping. She brought me to the shopping center which had all the typical British stores that I’ve been shopping at  but we also went to a section of town that had vintage shops and a typical Welsh market where I bought Welsh cakes for my friends back in Brighton. We also went to a store that sold Love Spoons. Love Spoons are wooden spoons traditionally carved by Welsh men as a pre-engagement present for his future wife. The store also had the largest and smallest Love Spoon ever made on display. The largest spoon was 44 feet long and was made from a single tree branch. That night I hung out with Francesca and Lauren for the last time and we set up a cab to pick me up at Francesca’s at 7 in the morning the next day so I could make my 8 am train back to Brighton. I’m not quite sure why I thought that was the time I was leaving because when I arrived at the train station and picked up my tickets I realized I wasn’t leaving until 2 in the afternoon. That gave me 6 hours to either sit in the small train station or find my way back to Francesca’s. Because I didn’t want to pay for a cab again I walked all the way back to her place and fell back asleep for a few hours until I decided that I might as well just walk back to the train station.

After a long day of traveling, I still decided that a night out in Brighton would be a good way to unwind.  My friend Shawnya’s boyfriend came to town so we wanted to show him around. Down the street from our University is the University of Sussex which has a lot better set up with restaurants and pubs that are run by the University and open better hours. It’s the only pub with in walking distance and since were all a little sick of taking the bus everywhere we went there for a few drinks. The next couple days in Brighton went by as usual. I went on a big grocery trip and I hope I have enough food to last me until the end of November. This week was also my reading week which means I didn’t have any classes in my main course (kind of like a major) so the only class I had to go to was French. Thursday night was one of the guys in our programs 21st birthday so we went in a big group to Oceana (the club that has 7 different rooms representing different countries) and stayed out until all hours of the night which was really fun since bar close at home is always 2 am.
This past Friday night was the 5th of November which is celebrated all over the UK as Bonfire Night the night Guy Fawkes was unsuccessful in his attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament in 1605. The small town of Lewes is a hot spot for this night as it has one of the biggest celebrations in the area and thousands of out of towners flock to Lewes every year. Lewes has quite a bit of history relating to the conflicts that lead to Guy Fawkes’ escapades as many Protestants in the town were martyred for their beliefs during that era and so the celebration is a big deal to the town history. We were advised that the trains would stop running into Lewes and that it is very hard to leave Lewes once you get in. We left around 3 pm to get into Lewes early enough for dinner and get a good spot for the first procession (like a parade) at 5:30. When the processions first started we were a bit confused about the best spot to stand but after a bit of moving around we found a spot where we were able to see 4 different processions from different Bonfire Societies throughout the night. The processions are similar to parades because there are bands and people dressed up in costumes marching through the streets. They are very different from parades however  as almost everyone in the parade is carrying a torch and the fire comes with in inches of your head if you are standing on the curb. The youth in the parade also throw fireworks at the ground which make loud noises and smoke goes everywhere. The whole event is full of loud bangs and people cheering! It was definitely a site to see.  The processions then head to different bonfire and firework show sites. We were all pretty tired and didn’t want to have to wait a long time to catch a train later so we decided to head back to campus and skip out on the fireworks displays. The next morning my friend Jane and I woke up early and went on a bit of a shopping spree! I finally found a winter coat that I thought would make it through the North Dakota winter and I’m looking forward to wearing it come December when I’m back in the bitter cold! I also stocked up on cheap tights, sneakers, and heels at Primark, took advantage of a sale at a store called Republic that I hadn’t checked out yet, and did a little more shopping at the boutiques in the lanes. That night we headed to a club that had another DJ that Lars and Jane were excited about and I tagged along to see what all the hype was about. There is always something going on in the music scene in Brighton and I’m really glad I have friends who know where to find it!

Things I’m loving: Spending time with good friends I haven’t seen in a while, Seeing impressionist art by Monet,  Shopping a lot so I have a revamped wardrobe when I get home, Watching English guys play American football out my window, Exploring the music scene here, Bagelman bagels, Experiencing a local tradition that is Bonfire night,

Things I’m not quite loving: Bouts of homesickness, Not being able to get ahold of my advisors at home,

Things I’m learning: I’m getting much better at knowing what to buy when I’m grocery shopping,

This week I have a lot of homework and tasks to complete before I leave Wednesday morning for Madrid and Ciudad Real, Spain to visit my friend Cami! I’m super excited for this trip since I get to spend some time in a new country and get to see my first friend from home since September. Its gonna be a fun week!

Peace, Love, Bonfires and Espana.

At Cardiff Bay.

Lauren and I dressed as Harry Potter and Sock Monkey! (Photo Credit to Francesca)

The Royal Apartments at Cardiff Castle

This Devil carving was outside the men’s lounge in Cardiff Castle inorder to scare the women away so they would not enter.

The start of a Bonfire night procession (again my camera screen is broken so I haven’t been able to get the best pictures).

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The Amsterdam Experience

I’m currently on my third and final train ride of the evening as I travel to Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. Its thursday night and I’m done with class for the week and excited to meet up with a bunch of my camp friends for a Halloween reunion even if it means 5 1/2 hours of travel! But the extra time gives me a rare opportunity to reflect on my week without being rushed to make a blog post before I set off for the clubs in Brighton or another trip across the UK or Europe. It also gives my fingers a new workout since I’m writing this all on my blackberry.. We’ll see if I make it through a proper post like this.

Last weekend, a group of us USAC students jumped on a packed coach bus at 9 pm and set off on a 10 hour journey to the city of Amsterdam. I know now that overnight travel with minimal leg space is not my style. Both my red-eye flight to London and this coach journey were an experience of tossing, turning, and mangling my legs in every yoga pretzel position I could remember from my one-and-only trip to the wellness center last year. I just could not sleep. As annoying as it was knowing I had a whole day of excitement ahead of me and not a wink of shut-eye, I surprisingly held strong throughout the entire day. We arrived in Amsterdam and started a frigid walking tour of the city around 8 am. As our tour guide pointed out sites and told us about the historical significance of the city, I was beginning to think my California-born counterparts we’re going to pass out from exposure to the elements! My friend Steph’s hands even turned purple. Granted I’d never willingly subject myself to a 2 hour stroll in the cold, but I couldn’t help to think of all the times the hairs inside my nostrils froze into iced daggers on my way to class in NoDak so these kids shouldn’t be complaining. I suppressed my urge to mumble tales of walking uphill both ways in a snowstorm and reminded myself that they just weren’t in their normal comfort zone which is exactly why we were all traveling, that pioneering spirit to experience new adventures.

 After the walking tour we split from the larger tour group and headed to the Heineken Experience. I’ve never been on a brewery tour but this was one of the coolest things I’ve done in my time here and plan on going to many more. The first part of the Experience is a museum about how Heineken came to be, then we entered the old brewery where we got an idea of the beer making process and even got a sip of a pre-beer beverage which I thought tasted like liquid bread. After the brewery we were shuffled into a movie theater for an interactive film that went through the brewing process casting us as the beer itself. My favorite part followed the film when we not only got our own pint of Heineken but were also taught about the proper way to serve and drink it. I learned:

  • Even though the foam seems like a nuisance it actually serves an important purpose by keeping the carbonation in the beer.
  • The proper way to serve a pint of Heineken always includes over flowing the glass so that there is a certain amount of foam and then using a wet square plastic wand to scrape the excessive foam off. The water particles keep the foam around longer.
  • The proper and most flavorful way to drink a Heineken is by holding the glass perpendicular to your mouth and taking a large gulp as opposed to sipping it at a smaller angle.
  • If the beer is poured and drank properly the foam will leave a ring on the glass for every time you took a gulp. Its kinda like looking at the rings of a tree to see how old it is.

Along with the pint of beer for the taste test we also got two more beers at the end of the Experience. Not too bad right? Wrong! Unfortunately, my so-called-friends must have some sort of vendetta against me and my love for the nectar of the Gods because they taunted me incessantly throughout the tour. Let me further explain: Upon receiving our first pint of beer at the taste test, they each took one or two meager sips and set their beer back on the counter leaving approximately 4.25 pints to be dumped out. When I confronted them about their blatant disrespect of something so precious as a free beer they spit out some nonsense about it tasting delicious but not wanting to be too tipsy before noon (to be fair they collectively have the alcohol tolerance of a hamster). As if that encounter wasn’t heart wrenching enough, they scurried right past the bar at the end of the tour because they claimed they wanted to keep the two little “free pint” buttons on our admissions bracelets as souvenirs. Five days later and I am still in a state of shock at the audacity. Souvenirs!? SOUVENIRS?!? I personally think an ice-cold Heineken in my belly is an ideal souvenir not a plastic button to remind myself of something I never redeemed. Now this whole fiasco could be cleared up with one of my favorite phrases “to each his own” except for the fact that I had felt bad for holding the group up as I spitefully drank my second beer and therefore never received my third free beer. Yes folks, I have to admit I too did not take advantage of free beer. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself and I hope you don’t either.

Reminding myself that I was still in the beautiful city of Amsterdam, I tried to turn my spirits up and not dwell on all the wasted free beer behind me. And what better way to drown my sorrows in tourist happiness than a trip to the Hard Rock Cafe. As much as I hate to admit it, I love Hard Rocks! I always think I’m really clever because of my signature move to ask the waiter what the coolest bit of memorabilia is at that location. It’s odd because I always thought the premise and charm of a Hard Rock Cafe was the memorabilia but I don’t know many people who actually take a look at it when they’re busy stuffing their faces with overpriced fajitas. Although, on this occasion I ended up being one of those people (I had the SOB Burger though, so that’s actually pretty different from the fajita crew in my opinion). We were in such a hurry to finish eating and get to the Anne Frank Huis that I didn’t even take a moment to scope out the coolest signed guitar or music video ensemble.

We were in a rush to get to the Anne Frank house because we had free tickets to a canal cruise tour later in the afternoon. But when we got there we were greeted by a long line. After waiting a half hour in the rain we finally got our chance to experience firsthand the internationally known story of Anne Frank. We made our way up several floors of videos, quotes from Anne’s diary, and exhibits from the era on our way to the hidden annex that Anne, her family, and their friends hid in for over 2 years. We walked right past the bookcase that once covered the entry to the annex and found ourselves in the empty dark rooms. After the Nazis raided the annex and captured the occupants, they removed all the furniture. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, upon his return from Auschwitz found the annex in this state and asked that it remained this way when the annex became open to the public. I personally found Anne’s room to be the most interesting and chilling as the decorations from magazines that she glued to the walls are still in place today. My one disappointment in the experience as a whole was how busy it was. As I walked through the annex I felt like I was just in one big line at all times. It would have been nice if they sent small groups in sporadically so we could really take it all in. After making our way past the last exhibits of some of Anne’s writings, my friend Shawnya and I booked it across town to catch our canal tour. The boat proved to be a little too calm and serene for our tired bodies and I spent more time daydreaming with Shawnya fast asleep next to me than we did actually taking in the city. One thing we did see which was pretty cool was the smallest house in Amsterdam. It was squeezed between two normal sized houses, had only two visible stories, and was no wider than the front door frame!

After a long day, we took the coach to our hotel which was a 20 minute drive from the city centre. We freshened up a bit with the intent of heading back out to see the Amsterdam night life. Our plans became jeopardized as we plopped our exhausted bodies down on our beds and were lulled into a lethargic state of comfort. As the time came to take the coach back into the city, I felt like a sack of potatoes perfectly content to stay in bed for the night. Fortunately, a little voice in my head repeatedly whispered “Y.O.L.O. (You Only Live Once)” and I dragged myself out to see the infamous Amsterdam nightlife. The first stop of the evening was a pleasant stroll through the red light district. All day long I had been bombarded by coffee mugs, t-shirts, key chains, and shot glasses all depicting cartoon images of this Amsterdam landmark and I wondered how it would compare in reality. We were advised to walk through the area in groups of no more than three as the prostitutes would close their curtains if they felt they were being gawked at with no chance of a sale. This advice seemed pretty useless as the walkways were so full of people you couldn’t really distinguish who was with who. There is also a strict “no picture” rule in the district which is supposedly enforced by a set of big scary men or the prostitutes themselves throwing your camera into the canal. As we wandered through the walkways and looked at the scantily clad women in their windows, I was never shocked or surprised at what I was seeing. After all, they were simply just scantily clad women, something I have seen on a million televisions shows and at every Halloween party I’ve ever attended. However, there was one instance where I actually felt sick to my stomach. We had entered a very tight alley with walking room for only a single file line each way and windows of prostitutes on both sides. Maybe it was a feeling of claustrophobia or maybe it was the sudden fear of being separated from my friends for a brief moment but I did not like the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach as I became surrounded by the catcalls, high fives, crude conversations and bodies of tourists and shoppers alike. I just felt sick. It didn’t help matters that we hadn’t eaten since the early afternoon and I was starving. We marched our way out of the red light district, past loads of “coffee” shops sporting cannabis symbols in the window, and found ourselves at a quaint Italian restaurant where I ordered a delicious gorgonzola pizza and tried to play with the well-fed tabby cat that roamed the restaurant. It was a happy belly filling end to a long, exhausting day.

The next morning we woke up early to head to the traditional Dutch village, Zaanse Schans. Here we watched wooden shoes be made from a log, got a peek at the inside of several windmills, and tasted 30 different kinds of Dutch cheese. As we wandered around the village, we commented on the nice weather we were having compared to the day before and within five minutes of our conversation we found ourselves caught in a sudden hail storm. We quickly made our to the bus and I magically fell asleep for 3 hours as we headed to Bruges, Belgium where we had only a few hours time to explore the city. I took the time as a opportunity to explore the tradition Belgian food. We had Belgian chocolate, Belgian waffles, and fries (apparently they were initially Belgian, not French). The rest of the ride home was eventful with a stop at British customs and the bus pulling inside of a train for us to go through the Chunnel. We finally made it back to Brighton around midnight.

Life in Brighton has become pretty routine and between all my travels I haven’t really had time to do much more exploring. It’s becoming more like a home in the sense that we are becoming very comfortable in our daily routines and after a long weekend of traveling it feels good to relax in my room and sleep in my bed. On Monday night, we went to see the movie Easy A which I have been dying to see since it came out at home the day I left. Tuesday I spent a lot of my time working on a practice essay that I didn’t quite understand and Wednesday we took a shopping day where I got a few dresses and a cute dome umbrella since my other one was destroyed in the hail storm. All in all life in Brighton is beginning to reflect life at home! 

Things I’m loving: Re-reading Harry Potter books in the British version this time, My new-found love for Heineken, Getting our t-shirts for the Carnage pub crawl in mid-November, Experiencing a real bit of the Holocausts history, Devouring a box of Belgian chocolate, Finally getting to see Easy A, Replacing my normal lingo with very British words without realizing it, Shopping in the Lanes, Our go to pub The Geese, My new dome umbrella,

Things I’m not quite loving: Being entirely confused on how to write an essay here, Gross cheeseburgers, Doing anything not on my campus takes a minimum of 2.5 hours with the bus ride, Putting together my Halloween costume (A Sock Monkey) only to find out many British people have never heard of it

Things I’m learning: No more night traveling for me unless I either have a lot of room to sprawl out or have the next day to sleep, all about how to drink and serve Heineken beer,

As I finish this blog post, I’m sitting in my friend’s living room in Cardiff chatting about our camp days and making plans for a Halloween night out! While I’m here, we’ll be going to the Cardiff Castle, an art museum, the Cardiff Bay, and some shopping of course. I also have every intention of wearing my Sioux hockey jersey Friday in hopes that my spirit will be felt across the globe for the first game in the Ralph this season! Sioux Ya Ya! After my weekend in Cardiff, I’ll be spending a good chunk of time in Brighton once again and have plans to scope out more pubs, fun shops, and other quirky locations in my home away from home.

Peace, Love, Heineken and Hockey!

*Pictures to come*

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A weekend in Liverpool

Well I don’t have too much time to blog about this week because in 1.5 hours I am leaving for Amsterdam! A group of us are going through a tour company that takes students to different areas in the UK and Europe. It’s really convenient because they set everything up for you and send a tour guide. Last weekend we went with the same company on a tour to Liverpool and Manchester. We left super early in the morning for a 4 hour drive to Warwick Castle. This is the 4th or 5th castle I have seen so far and although every castle has unique things about it most are pretty similar. Warwick Castle was set up more as a live working castle with actors to help illustrate the history of the castle which was a nice change of pace from other castles I’ve seen. For example there was a section of the castle that was set up so you felt like you were at a dinner party there and got to hear all about the scandals going on at the time. After the castle, we headed to Liverpool where we got a grand tour of the city and all its famous spots. That night we hit up the town and visited The Cavern Club, a famous Beatles show spot! It was definitely a more popular spot for an older crowd but the live band and whole atmosphere made it fun for us college kids too. Everytime I turned around a 50-something year old man would be raising his glass to cheers me! One man even told me I was beautiful and insisted on giving me a kiss on the cheek.. it was a little odd but now I can tell my friends back home about the cute English men i’ve been meeting! We went to a few other clubs too that were pretty similar to the clubs in Brighton. One club was playing some really sweet remixes of old school songs like Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson and 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton and I was loving it. The next morning we headed to the Albert Docks which houses the Beatle story. I love the Beatles music so it was great to learn more about how they started and got so famous. I bought a pack of playing cards that had a different picture of the fab four on every card and on the ride to Manchester my friend Kait quizzed me on who was who on the cards because I could never tell the difference before. In Manchester, we went to the Manchester United Football Club stadium and got a tour. I’m not a big football/soccer fan but it was fun to see the stadium and hear stories about a sport so many English men and women love. From there we started the long drive back to Brighton.

Things I’m loving: Brighton is becoming more like home, Finding a chill pub off the beaten path to go for drinks during the week, The farm store down the road that sells fresh produce and home-made bread, The movie Easy A finally came out in England (I left the day it came out in the US and really want to see it!), Seeing even more of England, Being able to see the Beatles hometown,

Things I’m not quite loving: Not fully understanding assignments for class, Some days feel like they are wasted by just hanging out in our flat, Using a 5 pound hair straightener instead of my own, It being colder in England than in North Dakota, Breaking my camera screen (we’ll see how good the pictures turn out now…)

Things I’m learning: To navigate new places, that I need to make the most of my time while I’m here, “The love you take is equal to the love you make…” -The Beatles

Tonight we take off for Amsterdam and Bruges! We are riding a coach through the night and should arrive in Amsterdam around 7:30 am. I’m most stoked for the Heineken experience and the Anne Frank house! I’ve heard amazing things about Amsterdam so I’m sure we’ll have a great time. I don’t know much about Bruges but the tour company claims theres amazing chocolate there.. and I love chocolate! The only bad thing is Monday morning I have a paper due and it’s nowhere near done. Hopefully the long bus ride will give me plenty of time to write it!

Peace, Love, Essays and AMSTERDAM!

Warwick Castle

Apparently if I weighed more than the book I was a witch!

In Liverpool. Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.

At the Beatles story Museum.

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