Friday, March 7, 2014

Hello! Since my last post I've just been keeping up with my classes and assignments and making more travel plans. Two friends and I bought Eurail passes that will allow us to hop on and off trains throughout Europe over our Easter break. Our break is 3 weeks long! Right now our plans include starting in France, then going to Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria! I'm excited for this adventure but I am constantly realizing how difficult it is to make travel arrangements. When I went to Scotland and Ireland with RSU I just followed the group and didn't have to worry about booking flights, hotels, and navigating. There really is a lot to figure out before we can get to where we want to be! I was never very good at directions but I think I'm getting much better while over here.

It was a bit sad not being home on my birthday but my nice friends here surprised me with a doughnut cake and a small party. On our way to town we got on a bus full of tipsy Brazilians who decided to sing me Happy Birthday in Portuguese! It was pretty memorable!

February 28th through March 2nd I went to Amsterdam! 

Thursday went to the Rijks Museum to see some of the famous Dutch paintings

Rembrant's Night Watch is their most famous painting. There is even a "Rembrant Square" in town that has most of the painting's characters represented in life-sized statues. The museum also put on a Flash Mob that depictied the painting to announce the reopening of the museum after it was closed for a while. The video is pretty good! You can watch it here 

The Van Gogh museum was my favorite place we visited. They didn't allow pictures inside but it was great! It's usually a treat to see one Van Gogh in a museum but this was full of them! There were a few other impressionist painters as well. 

I learned that there are more bikes in this city than there are people! It really is pretty dangerous to walk around and only look for cars. The bike come out of nowhere pretty quickly! 

We thought about renting some to ride around but we didn't feel experienced enough. We settled for taking a picture on someone else's... 

Some of my favorite parts about the city were the flower and food markets! Even though it is not Tulip season there were plenty of flowers out around town. 

This is an outdoor bakery! We really enjoyed walking around the streets Saturday morning looking at all the fresh food. There are also some nice art and book markets! 


It was a bit too cold for Chris when we got to the city

This was a really strange exhibit(?) of iron Iguanas in the middle of the city. They looked very lifelike! 

Friday we went to the Anne Frank house/museum. I read her Diary in junior high but I don't think it struck me how intuitive and reflective she was at such a young age. In the house we were able to see the attic where they stayed in hiding for several years. The bookcase hiding the door to the attic still remains and we were able to walk around what were their small kitchen and bedrooms. 

This quote from Anne's father reads, "We cannot change what happened anumore. The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and to realize what discrimination and persecution of innocent people means. I believe that it's everyones responsibility to fight prejudice."

This is inside the coolest library I have ever seen (sorry Stratton Taylor)! The library had eight floors and an amazing cafe at the top with lots of freshly made food and snacks, kind of like the one at Whole Foods in the States. There was also a movie theater that we wanted to look inside. While walking in we somehow got swept into a class tour. We were already half way in so we just sat down with them and their teacher started lecturing in Dutch while the kids started staring at us. We decided to awkwardly sneak out after 10 minutes.  

The cafe also had an amazing panoramic view of the city. 

Apple cake/pie and a cappuccino from the cafe! This was the first place we went where everything was actually labeled in Dutch. Everyone we ran into spoke English as well as Dutch, though. I read that 86% of the people in Amsterdam speak three languages! 

Saturday Hannah and I split off from the boys to wander about the flower markets and shopping areas; they didn't want to stop and smell the roses! We decided to buy some fresh bread and cheese from one of the markets and have a picnic in this huge park!  

Again, the labels were in Dutch so we were taking a gamble when purchasing this cheese. It turned out to be the smelliest awfullest (and most expensive) cheese I have ever tasted! Neither of us could eat very much of it. We decide to go back to the market and buy some fruit instead! 

It was much easier to get lost in Amsterdam than London! We often found ourselves on back streets and alley ways. We always figured out where we were going eventually! It wasn't so bad to be lost during the day but we were less adventurous at night. Our hostel was right in the middle of the Red Light district! It really was pretty scary trying to find it the first night we got there. It was really uncomfortable for me to see all the women in the windows as well. Our hostel was run by a Christian company that does some outreach in the city. They told us that many of the prostitutes are immigrants who chose to work there and send money home to their families while others may have been promised dance careers in Western Europe and ended up there instead. 

I didn't realize there were so many canals in Amsterdam. They're everywhere! Apparently they had to reclaim some of their land, so some of it would actually be underwater. 

While Hannah and I chose to eat from the bountiful fresh food, Will was adventurous enough to eat from one of the famous vending stores. There are lots of these around the city and they are just vending machines full of hot food. It looked a little too unsavory for me. The fried tube Will got was full of a chicken/beef paste. 

I had never seen a draw-bridge working before so it was interesting to watch them go up and down. 

Our time in Amsterdam was pretty good overall! Our flights in and out of Bristol went smoothly and the bus ride back to Swansea wasn't too bad. Like London, Amsterdam was a nice break from the Swansea weather that welcomed us back with characteristic wind and rain on Sunday. I have six weeks now till our European adventure. During this time I need to motivate myself to finish all my course work before we leave! I'll have to find something interesting to post about in the mean time.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trip to Bath and London!

Hello all! Since my last post I finished up my British Culture and Politics class and enrolled in my classes that I'll be taking for the rest of the term here. I decided on a Health Psychology class as well as a class on American Literature and Cinema in the early 20th century. (They have a whole degree on American Studies here! Strange.) I really like both of the classes so far and I think they will be pretty interesting. I'm used to taking 5 or 6 classes back home but they do the credit system here a bit differently. So I seem to have a lot of down time! I went to a "societies" fair to see what type of things I might fill my time with. There is one that trains you to become a first-aid responder at the Rugby games (which you then get free entry to) and all I'd have to do is be responsible for thousands of people in the event of a crowd fight or stampede... I also looked at the yoga club and the hiking club! So I'll keep you all posted on which, if any, of these I actually join. On a more academic note, I've started helping one of the 3rd year psychology students here with her research project. She is doing a series of reaction time studies to correlate to self-control and young adult drinking habits. I'm excited to gain some research experience as well as start thinking about what I'd like to do next year for my psychology capstone project.

January 6th through Sunday the 9th a couple friends and I went to London and it was great!

I was a little worried about staying in a hostel for the first time but it was surprisingly nice! 
On our first day Hannah and I went across the Millennium Bridge here to Tate Museum of Modern Art and got a nice view of London while Martyne took a tour of St. Paul's Cathedral 

Some of the art installations were... interesting. 

I was excited to see this Rothko exhibition. The pieces were different from the ones I had studied but were neat to see nonetheless. 

The view from the Tate balcony 

You can kind of see St. Paul's behind me

Later we went to Trafalgar square to visit the National Gallery. One great thing about London is that most all the museums are free! 

The National Gallery was definetly my favorite of the ones we visited. It had pieces from many of the Impressionist and Post Impressionist painters I like such as, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Picasso. We even got to see the Sun Flower paintings after waiting in line a bit.  

A less cultural experience was found at the 6 level M&M store near West End. 

The Soho district had a big China Town that we walked around later that night.

The next morning we made it to town in time to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

 They kind of just marched around and played some music. It was still neat, though. 

 Near Westminster Abbey we saw all of London's iconic monuments! 

 Here are some young Italians taking selfies with Nelson Mandela

 The London Eye! It was a bit too much for us to take a ride but it was nice to look at from afar! 
 After the first day we were getting pretty good at navigating the tube system and could successfully get places without getting lost! It really was quite convenient.   

 At the National British museum we saw the Rosetta Stone! It was neat to see something so old and important! 

The museum also had lots of stuff from the Pantheon in Greece. The remains of the sculptures were beautiful. 
 This is an altar piece from Nebakanezer's Palace. It was cool to see something from a place mentioned in the Bible. 

While on a mission to do some shopping we ran into this cool marble arch none of us had heard of. It was supposed to be the entrance for Buckingham palace but ended up being in the wrong spot or something. 
Turns out that it rains much less anywhere that's not Swansea. We had pretty good weather throughout our stay. 
These are some unlawful pictures of the inside of St. Paul's Cathedral. It was normally like 30 pounds to go inside but we attended the 5:30 Evensong and it was free! We got to hear the choir sing beautifully as well. 

After having packed peanut butter and honey sandwiches the whole trip we decided to go out for some real food. We decided on the historic Ye Cheshire Cheese where Charles Dickens used to hang out and write! It was a really cool pub that had about four different floors with narrow walkways and really low ceilings at some points. Parts of it are over 500 years old! I got a really good mushroom and chicken pie. I think it tasted abnormally good after so much walking around and peanut butter. 
Sunday morning we again avoided an entry fee by going to Westminster Abbey's morning Eucharist service. They sang a lot and we stood up and down and then awkwardly avoided drinking out of the communion cup after 80 other people did! The inside of the chapel was beautiful though! And we stayed a bit for a passionate and almost scary organ playing performance.  

After church we had some nice afternoon tea and warm apple pie! 

Just before leaving we ran into the queen! She was very nice. :) 

Saturday February 25th we went on our final excursion with our British culture and Politics pre-sessional class. Bath is about a 2 hour bus ride from Swansea and a very historical town in England.   

A former patron of the baths. 

The baths themselves date back to the 4th century! Other parts of Bath became more of a heritage site after several of Jane Austin's Novels. 

There was a museum I would have liked to go to about her works but it was closed when we visited. We settled for buying discounted copies of Austin's novels from a not-so-historic book store in Bath. 

After all our educational journeying we took some time off to have lunch in the town square. We were serenaded by a skilled Spanish guitarist! 

This is not the guitarist. 

It seemed like we weren't even in England anymore with the sun shining on us and all. We decided to stop off for some desert before exploring the rest of Bath. 

After that we walked around to see this nice bridge! While we were walking it started to rain and got incredibly windy so we stopped in a couple stores to look around. I got a real British scone (pronounced scon... it think) and it turns out British scones are actually just biscuits...  We then looked around an art museum and headed back to the bus. 

I was waiting for a better (cleaner) time to post a picture of my room here. Its pretty nice actually! Its different using a radiator and not having air conditioning or ceiling fans. Not that I will ever need my room to be cooler... I would post some pictures of the rest of the house but it might be better to wait till the cleaners (yes, they have people clean the house and take out the trash for them here!) come in another week or so...