19 February 2012

Just a Random Update

Oh man! A second post? THIS MONTH? Crazy! But it's a Saturday night, and I am worn out from spending an early morning and the great majority of the day shopping in Manchester. Thusly, I figured I would try to uphold my oath of doing a better job at updating my travel blog... and avoid doing laundry (£3 per load.. and I have to walk so far away. I'm just being a lazy bum and can't be bothered with it.)

I find, now that I have started writing this post that I really don't know what to talk about. I don't have near 3 months of material to cover this time, so I guess I'll just ramble. Give you all an idea of some of my study abroad-related thoughts, goings-ons, and shenanigans. Or maybe just thoughts and advice... I haven't really done much since my last post, and I'm not really one for shenanigans, myself.

I don't think I have yet showed anyone what my room looks like here in England. Just in case you're curious:

The first picture is more of what my room looks like now (with a few layout changes. Duvet cover is still the same... had to show my American pride somehow. :P ...actually I found the duvet cover humorous, so I bought it from Primark for cheap. I actually really like it.)

Second picture is from when I moved in, but it gives you a GENERAL gist of my room. I took that one the day I moved in. I have obviously changed the layout quite a bit, and I now have 4 pillows instead of 1, and of course you can't see my sink and closet. I'd take more pictures, but that is another thing I am avoiding-- cleaning my room. I'll post more updated ones soon. I've re-arranged my bed and desk, and my room looks ten times bigger. 

I can't believe I haven't talked about where I live and my room sooner... For those of you interested in Keele, I live in Templar House of Hawthorns Hall. It's a bit different from all of the other halls/buildings in Hawthorns in the fact that we have six separate kitchens (one per hallway), there are only two floors, and we have six separate bathrooms as well (one, again, per hallway). Our rooms are a bit smaller than most, but that is okay. I don't exactly know how much longer Hawthorns hall will exist as a part of Keele, but I really really like Hawthorns :)... only issue is that it is about a mile from campus. There IS a bus, but make sure you always have your Keele ID on you when you are going to get on... because when you forget your Keele card, the bus driver makes you pay... or walk to campus in the rain (not bitter at all.) It is free to go to campus or anywhere around campus. Otherwise, it is £1.65 for students to use the 25 bus and go to Newcastle or Stoke/Hanley, and another £1.65 to return. (In all honesty, I haven't been entirely impressed with the bus system. But it's all you have, aside from Taxis... which can be more expensive or cheaper, depending on the number of people, where you're going, etc. When it is cheaper to take a taxi, I recommend doing it.)

Here is an idea of what a kitchen looks like in Templar House (Note: they are very different in other halls/buildings. But, it still gives you an idea.)

As you can see, we were playing Uno when I took these. But most kitchens have one table, a few chairs, stoves, refrigerators, a sink. They are also the general hang-out areas. As you can see.

Here are a few images of the area around Hawthorns:

I call these the 'Gingerbread Houses'... because I feel like Hansel and Gretel would live here.

Just behind the intersection of X block and House 1.

Hawthorns Bar-be-que pit and picnic tables. Quite a nice little area when it is nice outside. 

Parking lot across from the primary school, next to Hawthorns administration and Select and Save.

What the walkway to Hawthorns looks like when there are leaves on the trees. I miss leaves.

The upside of living at Hawthorns: We are closest to Starbucks, Burger King, and KFC. This is the road you take to get there.

Same road as above. :)

We are also closest to Sneyd Arms... which has amazing food, fun quiz nights, and of course drinks. A very English pub.

Cutest dog lives here. Some days he just sits and watches people from off of the porch. This is also where the bus stop is.

Lots of farms around Keele. Especially Hawthorns.

Main Hawthorns entrance and block A.

Now, for a few pictures of Newcastle:

I apologize for not showing these before. Sorry I don't have more. I will try to take a few better pictures of the area to give those of you interested in coming to Keele a better idea of the area.

Next off, I don't know if any of you noticed in those pictures... but there is no sun. That is about the normal sky in England. I never realised how not seeing the sun could really affect my mood. When you come from a place as absolutely sunny as central Texas, and go immediately to an area where the average amount of sunlight (found by averaging the average of each month in the year) is not quite 3 hours a day (the average amount in San Antonio, calculated the same way, is just about 8 hours)... it begins to wear on you a bit. I think the weather has been my toughest obstacle to overcome since I have been in England, because, no matter how much people say, "You're really going to miss this sunshine", you still don't think about it affecting your mood. However, all you have to do (and what I have done) is adjust and just mentally reassure yourself that you can still have fun and enjoy yourself, then make yourself to do things-- even on those dark, gloomy, cloudy, and rainy days when all you want to do is stay asleep in bed. I can just tell you, I will never complain about there being too much sun again. :P

But, things are still going great. I feel like I will feel much better once it starts warming up a bit. I have felt really good this week. It hasn't been what I would call warm, but it has gotten... less cold. And I can tell. It's beginning to feel and smell more like Spring (Until tonight... we are having random snow flurries/tiny hail, and it was actually quite cold as the day wore on) But it is almost March. I look forward to Spring so much.

I kind of disappeared to hang out with blockmates in the middle of writing this, so I kind of forgot where I was going... so I apologize if it seems a bit everywhere and disconnected. But hey, it is a journal post! Maybe I can do this more often. Not as painful this time.

111 days until I return from England... Kind of starting to freak me out. It's becoming that crunch time where it's now or never for me to do things. SO I am trying to make the best of it (I even bought 2 new dresses to go out in. I'm getting serious.) Hopefully we will go to Hanley and to the clubs next week... but we'll see.

Peace out, everyone. :) Until next time!!

08 February 2012

I Return From the Dead!

WOW. Two months? I can hardly believe it. Life has been really busy for these past few months (I admit, that is always my excuse... but it's just so true. Such is the life of an Exchange Student.) I'm thinking I need to go ahead and just... schedule "Update Blog" into my life, much like a class. "On Wednesdays at 2:30, I must update my blog!!"

...We'll see how that goes.

But no, really. I've been having so much fun. I've been to London (twice), Oxford, Devon, Greece, York, Newcastle (Proper Newcastle), Edinburgh, and the Lake District. Now, I'm on to planning my Easter trip... which will take me to Amsterdam, Netherlands, Brussels and Bruges, Belgium, Köln and Berlin, Germany, Warsaw and Krakow, Poland, Bratislava, Slovakia, and Budapest, Hungary. 9 cities, 6 countries. On top of that, I would still like to get to either Romania and Bulgaria, or Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Now can you all see why I am busy?? Trying to make the best of this Study Abroad experience, even at the semi-sacrifice of my Blog.

School's been busy, too. I stopped writing in my blog when Essay weeks hit. Talk about STRESSFUL. I pulled my first, literal, all-nighter. Never. Again. That was the most agonizing night of my life... and the worst part, I wrote a paper worthy of a 70 or a 1st (An American equivalent, "A")... but because I was so rushed, I left out three major points, and so he bumped my points down to a 65. SO CLOSE. But I know what to do differently next time.

Then came finals... after the Christmas break. Also a little stressful, because I sat for three weeks-ish thinking about nothing but my finals. Then, when finals were over.. I barely had a break. Needless to say, my brain is still in "Break Mode" and it has been hard to start school again... Can't wait until I get my grades back. Though I am a bit nervous... first time having finals in England and all.

The Holiday season was a bit rough. Out of the five months I've been in England, this was the first time I wanted to REALLY go home. It was pesky, and I had to get over it. Thankfully, I did and was able to have fun, despite my homesickness. First there was Thanksgiving. My American friends and I found a way around it by going to a good ol' English Carvery. Pretty much the same thing. It was cheap, delicious, and a whole bunch of fun! Next was Christmas break. I started this off by going to London on a three day adventure with Joan and Hannah! (Two other Americans)

It snowed in Keele on the day we left. Little bit of a bummer since I wasn't able to play in it long, but that's okay. I got some nice pictures, which are on my Facebook. ((If anyone came here through UTSA Study Abroad and would like to see my pictures, feel free to friend me, just state why you are friending me so I don't accidentally ignore you. There are just so many pictures to put up, it would take me even LONGER.)) The first night in London we went to stay in Astor Inn, a hostel off of Russell Square. It was nice and clean, but a little loud. Once settled in, we were off to find the nearby Chipotle (for a little taste of home) and to the Odeon Cinema to see Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows on its opening night.
Taken at the Baker Street Underground

As you can see, London was excited for it, as well. 

The next day, we did loads of things. A Jack the Ripper walk, Museums, Portobello Market, Tower of London, Sherlock Holmes museum, and lots more! However... I think the Jack the Ripper walk was my favourite. Basically, we went with a guide around East end London through all of the sites important in the Ripper story. He explained the history, what happened, and the significance of certain places, as well as show us what East London used to look like. This was accomplished with a tiny, hand-held projector. What a dodgy place! I would not have wanted to live in London in the late 1800s... particularly the Eastern portion. Oi. BUT we did get to pass through Diagon Alley...and a few other sites. 

Baker Street Sherlock statue!

221 Baker Street. I'm sitting in Sherlock's parlour.

Tower of London from the outside.

London Bridge is falling down!... Not really.

Across the River Thames from the Tower of London.

London Bridge from the Tower of London.

Recognise this place? Do ya? Do ya?? I'll give you a hint: Diagon Alley. Or at least, its inspiration!

Now, before this trip, I had made another trip to London earlier in December to 1.) present myself to the BUTEX committee-- one of my generous scholarship donors-- and, 2.) To visit the magnificent Katelyn, one of my very very good, childhood friends. She had been studying in Oxford with her University. We had already planned to meet this weekend, but when BUTEX contacted me, offering a free trip to London (They would pay my train fare), we decided to spend one evening in London, and the next in Oxford. London was great, we wandered around doing all kinds of wonderful Harry Potter things, visited the Christmas festival going on in Hyde Park at the time, and went to Hamleysssss. The LARGEST toy store in the world... and that, my friends, is not an exaggeration. It is literally 7 floors of toys, each floor being about the size of a small department store. It went on FOREVER. And it was AMAZING.

Oxford was the best. It was exactly everything I expected from England. I can't even express how amazing that city was through text. It is one of those things you have to see in real life. All I can say is, I'm jealous of Katelyn for getting to at least study in the city! Didn't see Emma Watson, though. :P Our day in Oxford was basically just a day of relaxation. I got to meet Katelyn's wonderful roommate, Maegan, and we spent most of our day hanging out with her around Oxford. It was just a wonderful day. Unfortunately, Katelyn had to go back to Texas... Sad. I miss her! 


Hyde Park~

Alright. Back on track. After London the second time (The time with Jack the Ripper and Sherlock), I took a train to Exeter in Devon to stay with my friend Beth for Christmas. It was really really nice. I was a little homesick at this point, which affected my mood, unfortunately (It was my first Christmas away from home. I was a bit emotional about it.) but Beth's family welcomed me into their home and put up with me. It was also really exciting staying in an English home! It was so cozy, and just overall relaxing. Devon is kind of the.. stereotypical image you get of England (Even though it is a pretty specific area.) While here, Beth and her sister, Megan, took me to Haytor. A giant rock in the Moors that was actually quite fun. I went on an epic hunt for the ponies that run loose around the area. Found them taking shelter behind the rock. I don't blame them... BOY was it windy. 

I found this sign to be highly amusing~

Then, Christmas came. Beth's family even gave me my own stocking, and filled it with goodies. They were so kind to give me a few little gifts of my own-- especially since I was already taking up space in their home, and my parents' gifts had yet to arrive (Ironically enough, the package came the day I left for Greece) However, that evening we had a very good dinner, and just spent time together. It was very relaxing!

Everyone at Christmas Dinner with their Cracker crowns!

Playing with the cards that came as a prize from a cracker.

Finally, I had to say farewell. But I was off on a new adventure for New Year... I was going to GREECE!!!  Now, this was my second time going, but it was still just as exciting. I got to see my high school friend, Sam, and her sister Nicole... who has now grown to be a very good friend! It was soooo nice getting to see them again! And I had sooo much fun!! I love Glyfáda and Athens. It was a little bummy that they both had to work, so I was stuck at home a lot by myself. I did go out, usually. To downtown Glyfáda or the Athens Metro Mall... eventually to the big mall in Athens. And we always did stuff together at night. However, I still couldn't get over my fear of not being able to speak the local language, and often pointed stupidly to the things that I wanted. I don't like being "that American" who can only speak English. Not that I'm expected to know Greek, but still. A bit awkward. And foolish, really, seeing as how almost everyone in Athens can speak SOME semblance of English! I don't know what my problem is. I hope to work on it, though, this Easter.

Sam's grandmother also threw Sam a birthday dinner. That was REALLY fun, and I got to see their dad again, as well as meet their grandmother, Leni, and their step-sister, Leni's daughter. It was loads of food. I have never been so miserable from eating so much food... but it was worth it. Food, wine, snacks, Greek music, chatting like the Greeks do... a great cultural experience! Everyone was so friendly, and I just had a great time. It was surreal being back in Greece.

For New Years, Nicole's boyfriend's parents were going out of town, so they left the house to us (They live in a nice, large house in Athens.) The first night there was Sam's birthday, so we made a Harry Potter cake! Then, as we waited for it to cool so we could ice it, we went out to eat at a delicious Noodle house. The next day was New Years eve. Sam and I hopped on the metro to downtown Athens in hopes of seeing the Acropolis. There were bands of Roma (Gypsy) children and families playing music in the streets, and Athens just had an exciting air about it that day. Unfortunately, the Acropolis was closed (But the museum was not? It was weird.) So we met up with Nicole and her boyfriend, Lefti, in Omonia. After a quick Starbucks, Lefti and Nicole decided to show me around Omonia... the part of Greece that is very, well... Greek. With open-air butchers and markets, peddlers on the side of the road, strange new smells and sights... pretty much what you expect when you think "Greek Market". Not a place I'd want to be alone or at night, though. Then, when we got back, we had to ready the place for the New Years party Lefti and Nicole were throwing that night.

It was amazing how fast time went by, because before we knew it, we were all knocking champagne glasses and shouting "Happy New Year!" to one another, with Lefti, Nicole, Sam, Lefti's brother, myself, and a friend of Nicole and Lefti's from work (also named Sam. He was from London.) Then, at near 1AM, we sat down for dinner. It was great, and went really well. And not long after, guests began arriving. At this point, Sam and I were a little tired from the day, so we retreated to the second floor to play cards and chess, and finally to the room we were staying in to watch Harry Potter and sleep (apparently the party died down around 6AM... yeesh)

All I can say is... I had an amazing time in Greece. I already miss it... and Sam... and Nicole... It was really nice being able to go back.

Lefti and Nicole

Sam and I. Buddies~

Sisters, Sam and Nicole

Nicole and I

All three!

Harry Potter cake! Apparently Greeks are a little unnerved by eating stuff that colourful. Particularly cake.

Lefti's house... Living room

And, finally, I had to say good bye. But all was well... except I had to go back and take finals. NOOOOO. But they were okay. 3 days of finals in 2 weeks, and I had all of the days in between to relax. Plus, I knew I was looking forward to a road trip with some friends around the island!

That is the next and last portion to what I have done since I last posted: The road trip.

A few friends and myself decided before break that we wanted to take a road trip around the UK. So, that's exactly what we did! We were all internationals, Britta and Lena from Germany, Michael from France, and myself from the USA. We woke up early one morning to retrieve the car from Stoke. Britta was going to be driving since 1.) She had already driven on the Left side before from being an Au Pair in England a while back, and 2.) Because she and I were the only ones with licenses... and they wouldn't let me put my name down as a second driver since I was not yet 21. Not that I had intended on driving anyway, but if Britta had really needed a break (because we did go ALL the way to Scotland) I could have at least relieved her on the easy motorways. But it was all up to Britta.

First stop was York! It was a very nice town, guarded by walls, and interesting to see. We only spent about an hour and a half here, though, but I did get a few pictures. 

Britta's a rebel.

The Duck of York

Next was on to Newcastle! (Proper Newcastle. Not the one I live in.) I don't have any good pictures of it, but this is where we stayed the night... and OH DEAR what a fun experience that was.

We stayed in a budget hotel... and it was definitely that! The staff was very friendly, and for £25 for two people, it really wasn't that bad. But it was a bit dodgy... no soap, no trash cans, and everything seemed to be breaking, despite the repairs that had been going on at the time. It was cold and barren... but we made the best of it and it was a lot of fun! Staying up, playing Uno, going downtown to get pizza and walk around. Good times!

The next day, we left in the morning to head to Edinburgh. This was an exciting part of the trip, because on our way we stopped in Burwick... which is the northern-most town in England. It's also right on the ocean. An old garrison town, we walked along its walls and observed where military barracks and cannons used to be. It was really quite interesting! Watched dancing birds... 

Lena, Michael, and Britta

I just thought the bench frames were cool~

And then to Edinburgh.

I absolutely loved Edinburgh. And I am so excited to be going back in March! It was everything I expected Europe to be in general. The large, intricate architecture, the gorgeous... everything, really. Only thing that surprised me was the subtlety of the accents! I about asked everyone what part of the States they were from, until they'd say a vowel just a bit off. It was mind blowing. But apparently the accents get thicker the further from Edinburgh you get-- like Glasgow for instance. But, that's me stereotyping. Just expecting everyone in Scotland to have a thick Scottish accent, when not everyone really does. But it was still mind boggling how close they sounded to Americans.

Basically, while we were here, we walked around (much like Newcastle) and saw different bits of Edinburgh... The castle, old town.. Princes Street... so much. It, as with everywhere else, was loads of fun. Eventually we sat down in a student pub that night to unwind. We ended up staying quite some time talking. Then, we went back to the hostel and piddled around there until we finally nodded off to sleep (avoiding the creepy, drunk Australian guy in the Billiards room)

The next day, we hit the road pretty early. Today was our longest day of driving, but by far the most beautiful! Let me tell you. We don't have landscapes like this in America anywhere!! So breathtaking. Especially through Scotland.

We were on our way to the Lake District, and finally back home. We ended up getting a little lost trying to... you know, actually FIND a lake in the Lake District... but we did. Stopped, got out, and took a few pictures. But boy was it wet and muddy! Poor Michael's shoes got soaked. But it was all good fun! We ended up finally getting home around 7:00 that night. And even though we had so much fun, we were ready to relax again. Well, not for long, since Britta and Lena were having a going away party at 8:00 or so. That was sad. I'm still sad that they're gone... but they're hopefully living it up back in Germany! I'll see them again. (:

Now I'm back in classes. They're going well, but I have no motivation due to still being in vacation mode. Missing Texas a little bit again. But looking forward to these months to come!! Now to start booking hostels and planes for Easter. Then possibly an 'end of the semester' trip with the blockmates. This semester is going to go by fast and furious! I can barely fathom it, but I will be making the best of it, you can be sure of that!!

Until next time.


...I honestly need to stop leaving these things until last minute... Then I spend 5 hours writing them, as I did today. BUT IT'S DONE. That's all that matters!!!