Friday, April 3, 2009

tales from the road...#1

ok, so here is the deal. We have been traveling for right at two weeks today. Currently I am in Vienna, Austria. As it stands I and two of my friends from Swansea University, Will and Davis, have made it to Barcelona for two days, Nice-2, Rome-2, Florence-2 1/2 (for me), Venice-2, and now Vienna for 2 (give or take). We had to make some changes because originally we had planned to visit Marselle instead of Nice, but we couldnt find any good train routes from Marselle to Rome. We have also finally met up with mz good friend from Swansea Universitz, Nate, here in Vienna. From here I dont know what will happen. Plans may change? I´ve had a strange urge to break from the pack and travel the rest of the trip solo. Like this is something I need to do for myself. Does that make sense?


So, we started in Barcelona and honestly didnt reallz see a thing...(fyi if i spell anzthing with a z instead of a y, it is because the kezboards in mz hostel are a little off), ok mmmm, oh zeah, so we are in Barcelona and all we really did is take in the scenery. We hit up the beach, walked Las Ramblas (sp?), ate some tapas, sweets, beach again, got lost in a beautiful city....I walked up the highest hill surounding the city and tagged my name on a metal rail. Sure, it sounds terrible, but i figured i had too. I was coming down from the top of the hill where they had these lifts that could carry u over the bay and I came accross these kids with a spray can. They were about to tag this rail along a dirt path when I came accross them. They saw me and began walkin away like they didnt want me to see them tag stuff. So i did what any responsible adult would do....I asked if i could tag my name on the rail. They all laughed and thought it was cool that I would suggest something like that. Needless to say, they gave up the can, I did my work and got a picture of the kids (that they were all to happz to pose for) and continued down the hill/mountain. Barcelona was more about getting our feet wet for this trip and experiencing the culture more than anzthing. I dont feel too bad not seeing any museums. I made up for that in Rome and Florence. We hung out in our hostel and I made conversation with our roomates from Rome. It was a mother and daughter, Pilar and Poema, on a weekend holiday. They gave me some pointers for Rome and we mostly chatted about Barcelona and so on. They gave me their info and I was suppossed to contact them when I got to Rome, but I couldnt make out the email so I gave up. Barcelona overall was wonderful! It was warm and sunny. I ate some squid out of a can, had squid tapas, had some McDonalds, had some....doughnut-e thing that was wayyyyy too sugary and some desert that had kiwi and strawberry with a creamcheese-ish paste on it. Not the best food, but it worked. As soon as I get back to Uni I will post pictures too. The best source of internet has come from internet cafes along the way. And let me tell u. Depending on the city and how close to the tourist places u are, they can be quite expensive for fifteen to thirty minutes online. This is the first hostel that has had a computer for free available in the lobbey, and supprisinglz it didnt have anyone on it. I do need to wrap up this post for the time. We have lots to see in Vienna. I apologize in advance for not being able to upload pictures right now, but I promise I will get to it when I get back to the University in Wales. There isnt even a spot on this computer to plug in a memory stick from mz camera. Next time I will update on Nice, and Rome. I will say this....Florence was by far my most favorite place to visit this far. Coming from an art background and studying art historz for nearly the last fifteen years made Florence like being in the pressence of gods and monuments of the gods. I woke up at 4 and 5 every morning because I was so excited to go out and see the city. And I will point out that my travel mates said that Florence was their least favorite spot. They have absolutely no interest in art and were ready to leave. I wound up staying an extra half day after they left in order to see Michelangelo´s David. Let me tell ya....I lost my breath on multiple occasions looking at it. It was quite overwhelming and magnificant. Okay, i gotta go, my mates are staring at me. I think I´ve burned up too much time writing/facebooking etc. etc. Plus I´ve been trying to school my mother on some travel tips by email. She and my father are planning on meeting up with me in Paris. They have a mini-trip planned from Rome to Florence, to Mareselle, to Paris. I wish them the best of luck! Later All!

Friday, March 20, 2009

I'm at a loss

I have no pictures for this post....only thoughts. You have heard me mention on a couple occasions about easter break, well the time has arrived. I leave in a few short hours for possibly one of the most amazing, astounding, moving, lengthy, trying trips of my life. We are leaving on a four week journey through Europe with a 12 city list of stops along the way. Barcelona, Mariselle, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. This list may change as we go. We have tentatively planned on spending two to three days in each place. I feel as though I am prepared in some ways but not at all in others. I've got my passport. I've got my air up pillow for sleeping on train rides. I've got my Eurail pass that gets me into 21 different countries by train and all paid for. I've got my large travel bag with a removable day pack that I have bought since I came over here. I have my travel pants with tons of pockets and zippers to carry my essential and important items. I'm packing three shirts and two pants. One bandana and one hat. A ipod, sunglasses, passport, id's, tooth brush/paste, deodorant, and some paper work to work on an essay while on the road. We have made few plans to book hostels or train rides, because we don't know how or when exactly we will be moving to a new city or country. I am packing light. I need to be able to be on my feet with a large pack for extended amounts of time. Our plan as of right now only gets me from the city of Bristol in the UK and on a plane to Barcelona. We will arrive around 1 am. We will spend the first night sleeping in the airport. Then we will have to track down a hostel and transportation. There will be three guys other than myself traveling together. Others will join and disperse along the way. Most students plan on roughing it. We will smell bad and look worse by the end of this journey. I hope all goes well. I am excited, nervous, and not packed. I leave in two hours to catch a train for Bristol. Do I have all that I will need for four weeks on the road? I dunno? It'll be great fun. I sure don't wanna lose any valuable ids or info. That would be wicked bad. Since I have been overseas my eyes have been opened to the world. I no longer see only inward in my own little town, in my own little country. This is the best time in my life to attempt such a trip. Does it sound like I'm not ready? I am. I'm ready to tackle the unknown. Physically I think I will be pushed to the edge. All trips thus far have been two to three days and generally it is wonderful to be 'home' to my dorm. We don't know other languages. I know some dirty/slang spanish from working in a restaurant with Mexican cooks. I don't think that will help. I will try and blog along the way. I will have access to internet hopefully in hostels. I'll have to pay for that. I'm about to see what its all about. I'm about to take a month and see more of the world than most could dream of. I'm so very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be here. now. I can't wait. Peace out!

Pony Mountain, Mumbles, and Gower/Worm's Head

In the last couple of weeks, since London, I felt I needed to lay low and consider reading a few of my books for my classes. I also am trying to prepare for the 'giant...daunting...over-the-top...out-of-control easter break trip. In doing so I need to conserve some money, because I spent WAY too much in London. Which by the way is very very expensive. Oh, fyi I had some amazing Leboniese food. Oh and in chinatown I ate some shark fin soup that was way over priced and tasted just like egg drop soup and I had some fried eel that tasted like some old school fried catfish back in Oklahoma. Okay, enough of that tangent. I'm laying low the last couple weeks....kinda. I had some great local journeys and my very best friend, Daniel Clark and his girlfriend Kinda Wilson, from back home in Oklahoma were able to visit me. In fact, they just left this morning. They both stayed in my small peanut sized room for the last three nights and I gave them a guided tour of the full Swansea experience.

First off: Pony Mountain

So, it isn't really named that. It happens to be a large hill that is directly behind my dorm and from the top it has a beautiful view of Swansea, Mumbles and the ocean. I/Daniel so aptly named it Pony Mountain because of the beautiful, yet hairy, ponies and horses residing on its peak. Its only about a fifteen minute hike from behind my building and along the way is a very cool, albeit scary mansion. Here are some pics:

Secondly: Mumbles

I've been to Mumbles a few times and this was the only time I was able to remember my camera and actually take some decent pictures. We visited the castle in Mumbles and visited some of the shops and delis. The best part of Mumbles is walking the boardwalk and going out on the giant rock islands and lighthouse off the pier that are only available when the tide is low, and if you don't make it back in time you can be stuck on out there until low tide or the next day.

Thirdly and certainly most impressively: Gower/Worm's Head

Words and pictures CAN NOT describe the beauty to be found at Rhossili Bay. This is the bay located in Gower that leads to Worm's Head. All I can say is that it is awe-inspiring and at every new turn and cliff I stopped and thought too myself that it was the most beautiful place/view in the world. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking, but bear in mind that these in no way capture the shear scale and impressive boasting that this coastline deserves.

On a final note...

You'll notice the bearded man with glasses hanging from cliffs and posing with his girlfriend to be Daniel and Kinda. The pier that can be seen in the pictures is from the top of the giant rock islands in Mumbles. It is a most impressive climb and the view from the top is humbling!

Nick-2, London-0

I visited London for a second time recently on a weekend when I had nothing else planned. I decided last minute after spending a weekend at home after Amsterdam that I absolutely did not want to just sit around and waste another spectacular weekend. So booked my train and hostel a little last minute, but still didn't have to pay too much. I went with will, one of my friends from Swansea University. I'd seen mucho the first time I visited London, but of course that was the first day I arrived overseas. I knew after leaving the first time there were quite a few things I had to go back and visit. I accomplished most of these things this second time around. We spent Saturday, Sunday, and some of Monday touring London. We arrived at Paddington and navigated our way through Hyde Park through south central London past Harrods and the Science Museum finally finding our way to our hostels after a couple of leisurely hours looking and sampling some tasty treats at little bakeries along the way. The hostel was a bar on the bottom floor and all the rooms were upstairs. It was a great looking hostel with some intimidating bathrooms.
I fully felt capable of navigating despite the fact that our map didn't show far enough west to allow us to see how to get to our hostels.
This time 'round Will and I saw the Natural History and Science museums, and since I'm a nerd for dinosaurs and science, this was particularly special. I hadn't ever seen a full dinosaur skeleton put together in all its magnificent glory.
We made our way around to Harrods, where I had some amazing chocolates and sweets,
then to the London eye and caught the most spectacular view of London from the great ferris wheel.
/I saw the Big Ben and the Houses of Parliment for a second time, we ate some eh....sketchy and pricey food in the chinatown district of London. We went back and around Piccadilly Circus, which I feel is somewhat equal to the feeling of being in Times Square in New York City. We went out for drinks on Sunday night with some friends of Wills in a pub in central London near Piccadilly Circus. I really enjoy riding the London Underground (the tube), it is the easiest and far cheapest way to travel. So, once again I have conquered London. It all went seamless, and I am happy to be able to check a few more spots of the

Thursday, March 12, 2009

more amsterdam

We've got everything here from random wooden horse sculpture pictures, to the back of Nate as we are riding our bikes through the streets of Amsterdam, to The Bulldog 'coffee' shop, city centre, and lots and lots of bicycles.

I AMsterdam

I'm not sure I know how to talk about Amsterdam without getting myself in trouble, so I believe I'll stick to the basics. We took a bus to Amsterdam from the University on a Thursday evening at 5:30. We arrived in Amsterdam the following Friday morning at 9ish a.m. Needless to say it was a long bus ride, but we got to take a ferry from England to France. We took two charter buses filled with students from all over Swansea University, so not just Americans this time. Once checked into the hostel, we were all set free to do as we pleased in Amsterdam. We had the opportunity to choose our roommates for the hostel. So, the crew that I most generally travel/hang-out with here all roomed together. That'd be Nate, Katie, Jeph and myself. To start, everyone was tired and hungry, so just about everyone set out for breakfast. Beyond breakfast, there was no time to rest, so we ventured into the city. Amsterdam is a very artsy city and fairly expensive as well. We visited the Anne Frank museum, the Van Gogh museum (and yes I saw Starry Night!), the Red Light District, Hard Rock Cafe, numerous windmills and outside markets. The absolute best way to travel in Amsterdam and I highly recommend, is by bicycle. The most noteworthy thing about Amsterdam was that it seems to be the bicycle capital of the world. I've never ever seen so many bikes in my life. Cars and pedestrians alike all give way to bikes. Bicycles have their own street lanes, traffic lights, road ways. It is unreal! It is without a doubt the best way to get around the city though. It seemed very complicated to navigate the intense roadways, traffic, and people on a bicycle, but it becomes very natural after a while. I got to experience and see so much more of the city by bicycle. The only downside is the high bicycle theft rate. It is very important to lock up your bike every time you stop, which became somewhat of a nuisance. The Anne Frank museum, though I was skeptical about visiting, especially with the high entrance fee, was jaw dropping. The whole museum/house was very well designed and interesting. The Van Gogh museum offered almost every one of Van Gogh's most important works of art. It was a real treat to see them in person. The red light district was exactly as I had imagined it would be from the movies. It isn't quite as 'shady' as you might expect. During the day, parents and children alike all walk through the district. Prostitutes parade around the window rooms dressed in lingerie at all hours of the day and it is quite the popular tourist spot. At night is when the district really shines however! I learned that you must always stay cautious in a city like Amsterdam. People offered drugs on the corners of streets and friends of mine had close encounters with pick-pockets. By all means, don't misunderstand me, I loved Amsterdam, you just have to use caution. Although I haven't been to Venice yet, Amsterdam seems to resemble the same type of set up. The main centre of town is surrounded by water-ways splitting up the city into sections like a stadium. The food in Amsterdam was also a treat. They had fantastic pastries such as doughnuts and pancakes (which is more like an American crepe). On the way home we stopped in Belgium at a small diner where I had the most amazing Belgium waffle's in the world and at a Belgium chocolate shop. I fully understand why they are known for their chocolates and waffles. mmmmmmmm I enjoyed them for days after the trip was over!

more York pictures

Starting from the top left:
-Me getting cozy with the viking in our hostel
-The last nights dinner our group had in York. (that'd be Fiona, me, Audrey, Jeph, Katie, Nate, Ethan, and Jared)
-We played truth or dare in the car. Fiona's dare was to run around the car in the middle of Manchester waving her arms around in the air three times.
- Um...that small top one, above Manchester United Stadium is my room in the hostel.
-The of course is Manchester United Stadium. We only drove through Manchester on our way home from York.
-Purple living statue riding a bike. He wasn't a very good statue. He moved all the time. But it is a cool idea with the bicycle.
- The next three, me, me all acting dumb in a castle museum in York and getting arrested.
-The final photo is one of the York sightseeing boats that was docked up on the shore. I thought it was quite peculiar how they dock them!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Up to date

On someone's front door in York. She, the owner, was checking us out from the window.
view from the tip top of York Minster
from the bottom of the minster
gargoyle on the minster
supposedly you rub this cow's nose for good luck!
I couldn't resist. These doors were intended for hobbits.
About half-way up the minster
One of the coolest old, haunted pubs of York.
First day in York. That would be Jeph and Katie!

Oh, yeah we drove. Ha ha ha!

Let the games begin...

I hope I can summarize this chapter better than the last. So, I'm enrolled the first week, start my classes which I managed to get down to just two days a week, Tuesday and Friday. I go to class Tuesday and meet all my teachers, and my Friday teacher cancels my Friday class. Sweet! I only have one class my first week. But...I also had that stinking paper due the following Monday. I was supposed to go to Stonehenge that weekend, but my alarm made that an impossiblity. Honestly that was fine. I needed to do some serious work on my paper. I had tracked down some sources, but had not opened them yet. The paper was due in like two days. I spent my Saturday doing research for my paper instead of going to Stonehenge. I wrote my paper on Sunday and turned it in Monday. I hate waiting to the last minute, but I just work so much better under pressure, Ha Ha! That was the only weekend I did not leave the city. The next week...which happens to be last week, played out very well. It snowed...hard. The United Kingdom has had the worst weather its seen in a very long time. The biggest hit day for the snow guessed it, Tuesday. All my classes were cancelled. I witnessed and took part in some of the biggest, most incredible snowball fights I've ever seen. The students in the village went nuts for the snow and they played/faught in it all day and into the wee hours of the night. It was fantastic!

York!!!! The original

Okay, so we are just about summed completely up. This last weekend, I went to York.

We drove. I drove. York is about a five/six hour drive north of Swansea and in England, not Wales. We rented a car and myself, my good friend Nate, and Jared, Kate, and Jeph all piled in. The most wonderful thing about this travel thing is all the people and friends you make along the way. Each weekend brings new people. I might hang out with completely different people from week to weekend and travel new places with new people. It's been fantastic forming all these great friendships. Okay, so I knew all the people in my car, but we were meeting with some other people. Friends of Nates. Fiona, Audrey, and Ethan. The eight of us navigated all the way north with no problems driving or with directions. I personally enjoyed the challenge of driving. Think about it: other side of the road, other side of the car, stick shift all kinds of backwards, traffic signs that I have no clue what they mean, and a really lousy map (which we virtually did away with for the ride home). It was great! York was beautiful. I had previously loved Bath, but I enjoyed York much more. They are completely different styles. Bath has more Roman qualities, while York is very old English. We stayed in York at a Youth Hostel. It was very nice and clean. Much better than I had anticipated. The rooms only had two bunk beds each. I've heard that many hostels rooms have anywhere from 10 to 20 beds in a room. The first day we took a small tour of the York, we went to the museum, went on a ghost trail, and ended the night pub hoping to some old, haunted, and really cool pubs in York. We finished at a club which was an Asian restaurant that converts to a club in the evening. It was kinda weird and funny thing was we all got the feeling it may have been a gay club. No worries, I had a good time with my friends and we had an awesome first day in York. Second day: We walked around and did the tourist thing; took lots and lots of pictures of each other trying to look candid. Our group split off and my group went and visited the castle museum. It was okay. I took some funny pictures in there, but that was about it. I honestly wanted to get out of there fast, because there were so many other places I wanted to see. After the museum we met up with everyone else, ate lunch, and decided we'd split off and do our own thing. I went by myself and visited the market, various shops, people, places...i dunno? I saw what I wanted. It was good. I like York. period. We drove back and hit a tremendous snow storm in mid-trip. I could barely see the lines on the road. It was a tad bit nerve-racking but I managed. We stopped in Manchester (and saw Manchester United Stadium), and Leeds. I was pretty exhausted, and excited to get back to my room. I knew then how much things have changed. How comfortable and at home the village and my friends have become. It's a good feeling to feel completely settled in. I am staying very busy still. I have reading for classes to keep up on, Amsterdam this weekend, shopping for more travel gear for the BIG Easter Break that is a month long (I'll elaborate more on this as information presents itself), keeping up with friends and going out. I've had some fantastic fish and chips and some really lousy food too.

Food fight...

I'm not too big a fan of the food here. There are alternatives though; indian and chinese are fairly accessable. Everything, even the stuff that is very clearly American tastes different. They have different laws on food here. So there is no high fructose corn syrup. We put that in everything in the states! They use only sugar and believe me it makes a difference. The meat is very lean here. I guess I prefer a big fatty burger over a lean burger. Ketchup is off, Coke is off, Burgers are off, Fries are off, Cheesecake is off. I had the most amazing cheesecake last week. It was a vanilla bean cheescake, served at a pub called Comercials, which also served me the best fish and chips I've had. Yes, the cheesecake was off, but still really really good. They don't use as much sugar in the deserts here. But, in this case it worked very well. It was a mild, flaky, delicate cheescake that melted in your mouth.

Wow... that about sums it up for now. If I can just get down to making this happen once a week I won't have to be so long winded.