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Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years!

Hwyl and soon-to-be Happy New Year! Right now it's just New Years Eve, though, as y'all know.

Anyway, this update is just making me accountable for resolutions this year. I usually don't publicize what I'm doing and then completely forget about the goals I set for myself. Heeeere's resolutions!


-Get my personal training certification
-Don't drop any electronics in the toilet
-Be more social
-Read more
-Have more courage
-Study more
-Find the [Kenneth] Cook line origins
-Get my motorcycle license

It's so important, it gets it's own odd font. Way to go, resoultions!

Let's go out with a bang.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Nadolig Llawen!





I felt this video was strangely appropriate, and I just wanted to wish y'all a Merry Christmas!

Just kidding, I don't think Santa has been killed recently. Or gone insane. 
Here's a favorite song to, uh, redeem the Christmas spirit.



I absolutely love "O, Holy Night" and my Bangorites happen to love Josh Groban.

One last song before I part:


Merry Christmas, y'all! Or as the Welsh would say, Nadolig Llawen! I hope y'all have had a wonderful Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Howdy, Uncle Sam!

Back in the States!

Luckily for me, my family was able to just afford me being able to come back for Christmas... so here I am, back in the ever-ugly Utah. (I'd apologize for my opinion, but I'm back in a country where I have the right to freedom of speech!) Nevertheless, I am excited to be with ma famille!

Right, so first I just wanted to talk about some differences in the Christmas season that I noticed in Wales/the United Kingdom.
First of all?

Advent Calendars!!!

My family's always done an advent calendar, but I've never known any other American family to do one as well. In the United Kingdom? Everyone does an advent calendar! It is so cool! Here's a picture that I was lucky enough to find online:
I love Cadbury!

Another difference is the sweets that are present. Sure, we love our candy canes and mint M&Ms here in America, but in the UK it is completely different. They're all about Christmas pudding (DELICIOUS!), Christmas cake (it's actually just fruit cake), and mince pies (DELICIOUS!)
I'd just like to take a moment to thank a couple of people:
Carla, thank you for my Christmas pudding! I now know what the big deal is... and it's scrumdeliciumptious.
Antonia, thank you for a mince pie! I have no idea what America doesn't eat them.

Hmm... oh, and so in America we do tend to skip Thanksgiving in the stores and get straight to Christmas, much to the offense of many people. Well, since there isn't a Thanksgiving in the UK, they do that every year and no one says anything, although there still is the debate of when the best time to start playing Christmas music is. Since there's no Black Friday in the UK, I'm all for the last week of November.

A delightful difference that I've noticed is the fact that they're not obnoxiously careful about offending those who don't celebrate Christmas. America, MAN UP! I have every right to go around saying "Merry Christmas". If you can't handle it, you can just suck it.

Oh, right, so I should apologize in advance. On Friday night I only got about 4.5 hours of sleep (didn't get to bed until sometime after 1am and had to be up at 5.40 to get to the airport by 6.40). Then I was up for 21 hours as I traveled from London to JFK, and then from JFK to SLC. Last night I went to bed about 10pm, but then my body decided that I'm still in the UK, so I woke up at 3am (10am in the UK) and couldn't really get back to sleep. Quite simply, I'm sleep deprived. This will result in snippiness and/or goofiness. Enjoy!

K, fun fact: the tube is not open after midnight. Keep this in mind, folks. I was queen numpty this weekend.  Right, so, this was my original plan:
Friday day catch the train from Bangor into London Euston and then hop to tube to Aliza's (one of my amazing Arcadia friends) dorm, spend the night with her, and then catch the tube early the next morning into Heathrow. 
My friend, Dan, lives down south as does Carla. Dan and Carla were planning on heading south that same day, so Dan asked if I wanted to carpool with them. Sounded better than the train! I went with it. New plan:
Leave Friday late afternoon/early evening, catch the train from Salisbury to London Euston, hop the tube from  Euston to Aliza's stop, spend the night with Aliza, and then catch the tube early the next morning into Heathrow.
BUT THEN! There was a church dance in Reading, so we thought, "Why not stop at the dance on the way?" New plan:
Head down south with Dan and Carla late Friday afternoon/early evening, stop at the dance in Reading, catch a train from Reading at 23.46 into London Euston, catch the tube from Euston to Aliza's stop, spend the night with Aliza, head out early the next morning on the tube to Heathrow.
Sound perfect? Yeah, not so much.

I discovered on the way to Reading, after I'd bought my train ticket in advance, that the tube closed at midnight. I wasn't due to Euston until 1 in the morning. Crap. It was a little late to change any plans. So... what to do? I asked Aliza if there was any way to get from Euston to her stop after midnight, but it didn't seem like there was anything other than a taxi, and I couldn't afford a taxi. I decided to just spend the night at Euston station. Dan and Carla were not for that plan at all. Apparently it's dangerous! Haha...

Well, apparently Dan had told me ages ago that the tube closed at midnight. I honestly don't recall this, but I believe him that he said that. I guess.
Just kidding, I believe you, Dan!
Anyway, there was one of many numpty moments. I really had no idea what to do. We decided to ask around at the dance to see if anyone lived in London/near Heathrow. We weren't having much luck, but then Carla asked one of her friends, Oliver, if he knew anyone who lived near Heathrow. Oliver actually lives in Reading, and offered to let me stay in his family's spare room. There was also a train from Reading to Euston at 4.10 in the morning, so it worked perfectly. Crash at Oliver's and then just catch the train. Oliver was amazing, though. He actually offered to just drive me to Heathrow since it wouldn't have been a long drive that early in the morning (very little traffic). So that's what happened! I have never been so grateful for someone in my life. I was near freaking out, having no idea how to get to Heathrow.

Thank you, Oliver!

Lesson learned: The tube closes at midnight. I am queen numpty when it comes to travel. First Prague, now this. You'd think I'd know better by now!

Anyway, that was one stressful night I would like to not relive. 

So my flight back to the States was long and uneventful. It was about 8 hours to JFK and then another 4.5 to SLC. So... long... gahhh.... but I've made it! It felt really weird being back. Driving on the right side of the road, big roads, huge cars, American accents... I felt really out of place. 

I want to go back. Lucky me, I get to go back in 3 weeks! 

I really don't know what I'm going to do at the end of the school year. I've never loved a place so much in my life. I will cry the day I leave Bangor. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up there for good.

Right, now is the time to make my announcement that I've been holding off on for ages:

I'm trying to transfer to Bangor University. I've filled out the application and submitted it. I was supposed to hear back if I'd been accepted before leaving for Christmas break, but the guy over my application wasn't able to finish processing it before he left for vacation. Where does that leave us, readers? Having to wait for my answer until January! 

Anyway, that was my big news I'd mentioned in my last post. I'll keep y'all updated if I hear anything! I'm so excited, though. If all goes well, I'll be back in Bangor next year and in a house with some of my best friends in the world. Hopefully I'll also be able to continue being involved in the research! Speaking of which, I may get to continue in a side research experiment branching off of the one I helped with this past semester. I'm so excited! I'll probably know the details tomorrow or Tuesday. 

That's my update for now! I hope y'all are having a wonderful Christmas holiday!

Nadolig Llawen!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

But mine especially are worth a billion.

Just kidding, I'm so not a photographer. I figured that my photos were better eye candy than absolutely nothing, though, so here are Prague photos!




One of my favorite places to visit was Charles Bridge. It was a pedestrian bridge with a lot of little booths set up where folks would sell homemade crafts such as paintings, hair ornaments, ceramic flutes, etc. There were also musicians who would play on the bridge. The above picture features The Bridge Band, and they were there every time I went on Charles Bridge, and I went on it at least twice a day. The top two photos just picture Charles Bridge from different points on the bridge.







These pictures are all of Lennon Wall. Even though The Beatles never played in the Czech Republic, it was a wall where people would write Lennon-inspired thoughts, or that's how it started in the 1980s. Apparently, people came here to write grievances, much to the annoyance of the communist officials. The original start of the graffiti has been painted over ages ago, but it's still cool since it's a living mural. While I was taking pictures, a girl actually mentioned how it had been completely different the week before. (I think she said all the white graffiti hadn't been there). 


Here's my contribution to Lennon Wall! "Chandrie Cook 07/11/11, I'm low-fat and boylicious!"
5 pounds to the first person to accurately describe the meaning of that quote.


Speaking of graffiti, here is another, less pleasing example of graffiti! My goodness, the whole city was covered in graffiti. It's quite a shame, to be honest. Prague would be a gorgeous city if it weren't for the graffiti and pot-smokers. It's funny, for a city where I couldn't find many English-speakers, a lot of businesses and graffiti are in English.




The city is quite artful, though. You can find statues, memorials, and orchestral concert advertisements all over the place. The above is an example of the many memorials, and the one that stuck out the most in my mind. It's a memorial to the victims of communism and totalitarian despotism. The hill that this particular memorial descends down actually leads up to my next few pictures:






The first picture is a picture of Petrin Tower. Holy cow, that was one massive hill I had to climb to get up there. It was ridiculous! They actually had a cable car going up and down the hill. I was too cheap to take it, though. Plus it was a nice walk. Anyway, I got to the top of the hill, found my way to Petrin Tower, and then proceeded to the top where I took the other pictures. The first picture from Petrin Tower features Prague Castle and the others are just random shots. It was a beautiful view.

This map was the only map displayed in order for visitors and tourists to find their way to the top of Petrin Hill to get to Petrin Tower. It was all in Czech, absolutely no help to me at all.


So another place I went to visit was Prague Castle. It's not really a castle, but more of a small town. This picture is of the chapel within the gated castle.



This is just a picture of the gates to enter Prague Castle. 



This is a picture of a gargoyle hanging out on the chapel at Prague Castle. I just liked how it was sticking its tongue out. How cheeky!


This is Prague Castle at night. I was walking back to my hostel at the end of a long day, and was struck by the beauty of the castle at night, so I had to take a picture. It looks much better in person. Haha.


Right, so, to get to Prague Castle, you have to climb a massive hill. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Everything in Prague is on top of some hill or another. Anyway, there were a lot of stairs.


I absolutely love this restaurant at Prague Castle. No, I didn't eat there, but I really loved how they have "Since 1360" over the door. Where in America would you come across that with a chance of it being true?



Ok, these pictures are just shots of the buildings. My first impression of Prague was that it was the ugliest city I had ever seen. Graffiti, pot, and now multi-colored pastel buildings? Gross. The more I saw it, though, the more I appreciated it. It really adds to the eclectic atmosphere of the city, and they are really old buildings. By the end I found the buildings to be quite beautiful.





For such a sinful city (just kidding), it has a really strong religious background. Everywhere you go you're bombarded with churches, synagogues (as seen above, with the blue gates), statues of religious figures, etc. I'm really not used to this at all. In America, everyone's suddenly taking offense to anything Christian, and in the U.K. there's not a very strong religious presence. Yes, there is one, but not nearly as prevalent as in Prague. I found the contrast to be really amazing. In America, most people have some sort of religious belief, especially in the Bible Belt (south), but there isn't a strong obvious presence if you were just walking down the street other than the church buildings. In Prague, it didn't seem to be a city where most people affiliated with a church and attended regularly, yet there's a religious presence everywhere you go. The second to last picture above, with the cross, is actually right in front of a hotel.


Speaking of America, Ron Paul anyone? American politics are discussed everywhere.



One of the things I did in Prague was a ghost tour in Old Town. It was alright (I went on a much better on with my family in San Francisco), but one thing the guy did that was pretty cool was had us take pictures in order to find orbs. According to him, all the spots are orbs. I find this conclusion to be dubious.


I also went to the Museum of Medieval Torture. It was awesome. Totally grotesque, but very interesting! Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside the museum. In Prague, you either couldn't take a picture inside of these tourist places or you had to pay for a photography license/photography fee. Ridiculous, right?



I am obsessed with World War II, so of course I had to go to the Jewish Quarters. It was dead depressing, needless to say. One of the synagogues I went into had a memorial sort of thing set up for the children who died in concentration camps. You never think about what the children when through when you learn about the war, just the hard facts, but it shouldn't be forgotten or overlooked. That was probably the saddest place I went, learning about the child victims. The Jewish Cemetery (seen above) was the most interesting cemetery I've seen so far (confession, I love cemeteries). Living in the ghetto, space was limited, so once the cemetery was full, graves were placed on top of each other with only a few centimetres of dirt in between. This led to the placing of gravestones so crammed together. Technically pictures weren't allowed in the cemetery, but I was already paying so much money to get to Prague and explore that I didn't care.




Here are the last three photos to share for this blog entry. The top one is of the Church of Our Lady Victory, the second one is Old Town Hall, and this last one is just a street view. I did take more photos, but these were the best, in my opinion. If y'all want more pictures, just let me know. I don't mind posting more!

Right, well, that's my update on Prague! My conclusion? Great to visit, wouldn't want to live there, and I don't really want to go back either. I did love seeing a new place, and traveling on my own was a class experience, but there's more to see in the world! I would never trade this experience for anything in the world, though. Traveling on your own really helps you build character and courage. It's a scary thing at first, but then once you get the hang of it the whole experience is the best. It also helps you build problem solving skills... like trying to figure out how to get your train when you don't speak a word of Czech. Haha. 

Back in Wales, nothing too exciting is happening. Just loving life! I'm heading into week 10 of classes, which means only 3 weeks left until Christmas Break. Not going to lie, I'm really excited to go home for Christmas. I love it here, but I'm ready for a break from studies and to see my family. I also have some pretty big news if all goes according to plan... so stay tuned! I should know in the next week if my big plans are going to fail or succeed. Pray that they succeed! Haha.

Well, I'm exhausted. Friday night I had a mock Thanksgiving dinner with my English friends over in Prestatyn. It was a lot of fun! One thing that sucked was I couldn't find any pumpkin anywhere, so no pumpkin pie. That was a bit depressing. I did get to make sweet potatoes, though! We had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, veggies, rolls, bannoffee pie, umm... gravy, and potatoes. I think that's it. Either way, it was the best. I love my English friends! They're amazing. Saturday I hung out with them all day as well, and we went to the Fun Centre in Caernarfon. Oh man, that was insane. I'm all bruised and battered! It really hurts to sit down. Haha. Great fun, though. They had these massive slides, a ball pit, and just this huge jungle gym, I guess is the best way to describe it. It was class.

Alright, I'm going to head out now. Hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving! Nos da!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Aha? Praha!

Bore da, ladies and gents! I am currently sitting in the Brno Airport... in front of security... waiting for the staff to get here so I can drop off my bag and sit in the terminal. That's right, I'm pretty much the only one here. And it's 13:39. To be fair, my flight doesn't take off until 19:05. I can't help it, when so many things can go wrong, I worry about missing a train, bus, etc. and give myself way too much time.

Way too much time.

But hey, the benefits? I'm warm, I can update my blog (not going to lie, I've got so much to say that I've been procrastinating it!), and I can defeat Spider Solitaire. With two different suits. Hey hey!

Alrighty, so my last week has been amazing!

Last Friday (04/11/11) I went to Alton Towers with a group of friends from church. It was loads of fun hanging out with mah peers, but readers beware, I have a pansy for a stomach. Now, the amusement parks I'm accustomed to are as follows: Six Flags Over Texas (Arlington!), Sea World (San Antonio), Disney Land, and then the Lagoon in Utah. I'm not the type of girl who does the crap spinning you around; my stomach's too weak for that, I guess. I do, however, thrive off of the roller coasters. The Titan at 6 Flags is pretty much the most amazing thing in the world. I would ride that sucker all day if given the chance. Alton Towers is nothing like Six Flags, though. I swear, all the rides were designed to make you vomit. Twisting, turning, they're not that steep or that fast... the biggest drop I encountered was on The Oblivion, and it pales in comparison to The Titan. Well, ignoring my weak stomach and desperate for some adrenaline, I went on a few rides even though they are all about twisting you about. They're the type of rides where you're strapped into a car seat and your feet dangle. Then they take you out, spin you upside down, do some cork screws, ughhh. I felt like I was going to throw up after two goes, but pushed my luck and went on a third ride. That did me in; I seriously thought I was going to vomit all over the place, and I'm not one who ever gets to the point where the vomit actually comes out. So... for the rest of the day, I hung out with one of my friends, Sarah, who wasn't too keen on the rides, either. I did go on Oblivion later on in the day, but that's it. It was great getting to hang out with Sarah and the others, though, so not regrets! Oh, I was stupid and I did do the log flume and the river rapids. Holy fetch, I was so bloody cold after the log flume. I thought I was going to die. Unfortunately for me, the main purpose in us going was the view the fireworks show (awesome!) at 19:30, and we had gone on the log flume around 15:00. I was constantly hiding in the shops, absorbing the heat. Yeah, I'm a wiener.

Alton Towers = fantastic. I think I got back to my dorm around 1am, and then I had to be up at 7:30 for...
FLOGGING MOLLY!!!


That was pretty much the highlight of my weekend. I had get up so I could do laundry and get everything in order before meeting Susie at 11:30 to catch a train to Manchester. Right after the concert I was catching a bus to Stansted airport so I could head to Prague, so laundry was do or die.

Alright, so up, showered, laundry, packed, and met up with Susie. I had been a real idiot earlier that week and bought too many groceries... so I had granola bars and peanut butter sandwiches to get me through my travels. It worked! So Susie and I caught the train and got into Manchester about 15:00, I think. When we arrived Susie took me to this Sushi place that she liked. I was a bit hesitant, because the last time I'd had sushi was in Fort Worth when I was about 17 (I'm 20 now), and I had thought it was absolutely appalling. I was keen for an adventure, though, so I gave it a shot!

Thank goodness I did.

I officially love sushi. I don't know what happened during the last three years, but sushi is amazing. Thank you, Susie!

After sushi, Susie and I headed to Academy 2, the venue where Flogging Molly was going to be performed. We were about 3 hours early... the concert doors didn't open until 19:30, and we'd gotten there about 16:00. Yeah, I'm an early bird.

What to do? Susie and I hung around the main floor a bit (turns out the venue was inside a sort of student's union for the university), and made friends with the roadie. He was a great guy, and absolutely hilarious! We had a bit of a conversation about California vs Texas (he was from LA, gross) and just chilled with him. He called me Texas the whole time, it really cracked me up. While chilling with the roadie we met the band manager and another roadie who happened to be from (drum roll, please) TEXAS! Heck yes! At about 18:30 security started pushing people who came inside back outside to stand in a queue, but since Susie and I had been there so long, and I had a suitcase, they never told us to leave. California didn't rat us out either. Needless to say, I was first in line to get our band merchandise, and Susie was first inside the concert hall. We got front row! Right in front of the stage! AMAZING.

Once the doors opened, the two opening bands performed (TMS and The Minutes; I really liked The Minutes). It got really crowded once Flogging Molly was on, and the crowd was pretty aggressive. I got a bruise on my arm, but hey, front row! The concert was incredible. Flogging Molly was so energetic and hilarious. After the concert, Susie and I were persistent and


WE MET 4/7 OF FLOGGING MOLLY. AND GOT INVITED TO GO OUT WITH THEM AFTER THE CONCERT.


Curse you bus to Stansted Airport. Anyway at the end of the concert, George (drummer) had thrown one of his drumsticks into the audience. Susie and I fought with a few others and won the drumstick. After it broke. But we got the better half.

Susie, I freaking love you!

So, I took that sad drumstick and got the four autographs of George, Bob, Nathen, and Dennis. Dave and Bridget didn't come out after the concert, but to be fair, Matthew did come out and visit the audience at the end. I just wasn't able to get to him before he left. George was amazing. I really really really wanted to meet him the most, but he'd gone backstage before Susie and I got the chance. Guess who was on stage? Texas! So we talked to Texas and Texas went backstage and got George for us. Security was ushering us out, but we were like, "No! George is coming for us!" We don't think security believed us.

But alas, George came running out and stopped security from kicking us out. Ahh, I love George! We got to talk to him a bit and he signed my drumstick.
My life = complete.

So, after the concert we caught a taxi (that Susie's parents were so kind to pay for, thank you!). I was dropped off at the bus station to catch my 12:20 bus and Susie was dropped off at the hotel we'd originally booked for two... until I realized that my bus was at 12:20.

So I'm at the bus station around midnight, wait a bit, and then I boarded when the bus came. That leg of the journey was about 2 hours to another bus station where I had to transfer for the bus that would take me to Stansted Airport. Holy cow, I was exhausted! I nodded off a bit, but was terrified of missing my stop, so I didn't sleep much. I actually dropped my glasses during one of my nods and accidentally stomped on them when I awoke. Thank goodness they didn't break! After that, I didn't hold my glasses; I stuck them in my bag. Good grief, sometimes I just don't have any common sense. Ok, a lot of the time I don't have any common sense.

I finally get to the airport around 8:30am, but my flight doesn't take off until about 13:00. To be fair, that was the only bus that would get me there in time for my flight! This time it was not my fault I was so early! Unfortunately, I couldn't check in until 11:30, so I spent my time playing Spider Solitaire. I'm a master at single suit.

Eventually I check in, board my plane, and head to Brno in the Czech Republic! Let me tell you, I was so shattered at this point. I could barely keep my eyes open, yet I just could not sleep on the plane. Talk about ridiculous.

When I landed I proceeded through customs and went to catch the bus that heads to the main train station. At this point, I was just like, "Oh my gosh, I am so screwed. Why did I do this to myself?!" No one spoke any English. When I originally chose Prague (or Praha), I thought, "English is supposed to be universal, surely someone will be able to speak it. I won't have any problems!" Landing in Brno and finding out where the bus stop was, I could only find one person who spoke English, and it was very fragmented. Luckily I was able to make it to the train station. Once I got there, though, it was a nightmare. I got my ticket, but of course I couldn't read anything that my ticket said, and I'm frantically trying to find my platform so I don't miss my train to Prague. I asked this girl at a little market, and she had no idea what I was saying so she asked someone else to help. This other girl didn't know what I was saying either! I finally found a police officer and asked him... but he didn't speak any English. He got his buddy cop to come over and help out, and I was able to make my train with a couple of minutes to spare. Phew!

This train from Brno to Prague was interesting. It was just like I'd imagined trains in England to be: just like Harry Potter. You know, with the compartments and the trolley lady (witch). At this point, I had to pee so bad, I swear I thought my bladder was going to just explode. There were 3 other people in my compartment, but I was pretty sure none of them could speak English since they were reading books in Czech. I eventually got desperate and asked the guy sitting across from me, "Toilets?" Thank the holy heavens above, he understood what I asked and pointed me in the right direction.
Random Czech guy, I am forever yours. I have never been so grateful to see a toilet.

So the rest of the train ride was silent and uneventful (about 3 hours long). I get to the main station in Prague and had to catch the metro to my hostel. I had exchanged for some money back in London, so I had money with me, but you had to have exact change for a metro ticket, and I only had bills. I was at a complete loss. I went to this one stand that said "Change" in big letters, but then there was a sign next to it that said "No change for the metro". Well, fine then!
So I went into a shop where no one spoke English and bought a drink.

Finally I get on the metro, get off at my stop, and don't really have any idea which way to go for my hostel. I asked a lady at the ticket booth, assuming she'd speak English since it's freaking Prague, and she doesn't really understand what I'm asking. I wrote down the name of the street and she pointed me in the right direction. I finally got to my hostel exhausted, stinking (hadn't showered or slept in over 24 hours), and freezing. What do I do? I immediately throw everything down and run to the shower. I didn't even text anyone to tell them I was alive. Showers are obviously more important.

Feeling refreshed, I turned on my laptop and told the world I was alive and well. I talked to my mom a bit, but was so shattered that it didn't really last long. I slept very well that night.

Now a word about my hostel. I stayed in Arpacay, which I'd found in hostelbookers.com. I'm not trying to advertise, but it was excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a clean, friendly, and cheap hostel. Granted, it was a couple of miles from any of the big tourist sights, but it was impeccably clean, had free breakfast, and it had the best rates of all the hostels I'd researched. I actually had the room to myself for the first 2 or 3 nights (I'd signed up for the 5 bed room, but business was so slow since it's the off season that they upped me to a 3 bed room, and then no one showed up the first couple of nights). After that this PhD student from Germany showed up, and she was pretty nice. Then last night, this girl from Asia came after I'd fallen asleep... and turned on the lights... and made a lot of noise. I hope I woke her up this morning.

Conclusion: My first hostel experience was a good one!

While in Prague, I had a lot of fun. I'd never want to live there; it's too dirty, big city, and crowded. It wasn't nearly as bad as London, though, so I didn't mind it. There was graffiti everywhere, though! And sex shops too! I was completely thrown off. I thought, surely an art city like this had to be top notch. It wasn't. It was fascinating seeing such stark differences in the architecture and the city life. You had these old, magnificent buildings that were centuries old, but they were being used for things like pubs, Starbucks, McDonalds, and sex shops. Then the graffiti on top of it? It was really interesting. I'll post pictures once I get back to my dorm and can upload them.

So, I'd have to say, the most interesting thing I saw was a guy taking a dump in a bush. Yes, that really happened. No, he wasn't a hobo. Yes, it was in the morning, so I don't think he was drunk. Then I smelled marijuana all over the place. I think Thursday was the only day I didn't catch a whiff of marijuana somewhere. Music is huge in Prague, though; I think it may even be bigger in Prague than it is in Austin, and that's saying something! Everywhere I went there were advertisements for concerts, orchestras, and tons of people carrying instruments, usually a violin or guitar. Prague is also very hilly, more so than Bangor. There were also statues of saints, crosses, and Christ all over the city. It really shocked me how such a strong religious background yielded a city abundant in pot, graffiti, and sex. That's something I'd really like to investigate, actually.

What else to say? Oh, gosh, ok, so this is where the title of my blog came into play. I got lost at least once a day. The first day I tried finding my way via the sun... I knew I had to cross a river and go northeast to get to Old Town from my hostel, and my google directions said to go southwest before turning on this one street, so I looked at the sun, and I went southwest, the whole time thinking, "Where the heck is the river?" I ended up in the middle of some neighborhood on top of a hill overlooking Prague. I have no idea how I got there. But hey, I eventually made it down and into Old Town! I loved Old Town, by the way. Old Town and Charles Bridge were by far my favorite spots. Charles Bridge was like an extended version of the Hippy Mart on the drag in ATX, except they weren't hippies... and there weren't any hobos... on the bridge, anyway. There were definitely hobos in Prague. In Old Town, they would dig through the rubbish bins beside the food vendors constantly.
Anyway, I'd have to say that the worst case of "Where the heck am I" happened on Thursday. I had climbed up to Petrin Hill and gone up to the observation tower. That part of the day was a success. Afterwards, however, was not a success. I was trying to get from Petrin Hill to Strahov Monastery. I ended up in Prague Castle. From Prague Castle, I tried getting to the monastery, and I don't have any idea where I ended up. Next thing I knew, I was on top of a hill next to a circus tent. About an hour later I was able to find the stupid monastery and Loreta.

Oh heck, if you ever want to go to Prague, expect to pay for everything.
Admission to the Jewish Cemetery? You pay.
Admission to this lovely Bethlehem Chapel? You pay.
Admission to this monastery? You pay.
Admission to this castle? You pay.
Gotta pee? You pay.
Want a map? You pay.

Bloody flip, it was ridiculous! I'd just like to say, though, that I am a master at finding free toilets, no matter how scarce. Just walk into the nearest shopping centre and you (might) find a free toilet. I did have to pay 15 czk to get into the toilet at the shopping centre near Bethlehem Chapel.
Speaking of which, I was trying to find Bethlehem Chapel on Wednesday, and I managed to walk right by it without realizing it. It took me about half an hour to figure out where the heck I was... and get back to where I'd been. The Bethlehem Chapel.

The people also seemed to be lacking in friendliness. To be fair, if I were dealing with a tourist who knew nothing about anything (I don't even know how to say "thank you" or "hello" in Czech), I'd probably be grouchy, too. Still, if you are going to work in the tourist industry, you best be prepared! For me!

Well, I do believe that's all I really had to say. I can't wait to post pictures a bit later; the buildings really are magnificent! Oh, and tonight I get to spend the night in Stansted Airport because the next bus to Bangor after I land isn't until 6am tomorrow. Lucky me! I'm excited, to be honest. Now I'll be a real student traveler!

Well, more people are here now. I'm going to try to drop off my suitcase and head to my terminal... wish me luck!

P'nawn da!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

If I had a pet rock, I'd name him after you.

Alright, one week to go until I'm exploring Prague! Not going to lie, I'm quite nervous. I have a horrible sense of direction, and I will be going solo. Without a GPS. However, Columbus made it to the Americas alright, so I think I'll be fine. Granted, he didn't reach what he was aiming for... alright, you know what, I just popped a hole in my theory. Oh dear. Well, as long as I keep my wits I'll be fine!
If all else fails I'll just call someone.

So I've spent a few hours taking a look online at what there is to explore in Prague, and I've found quite a bit. I'm not going to post exactly what yet, just because knowing me plans may change, but never fear, I'll have an excellent post to make when I return! Until then, anyone have any tips or suggestions as to surviving Prague and/or what to do and see?

Now, I've got some exciting news. I'm the newest member of the Extremes Research group!! I'm majoring in Kinesiology-Exercise Science, and I've been dying to get into research ever since I've started working on my degree. I'm generally very very shy, though, and have always chickened out asking around back in Austin, so I've not yet wormed my way into it. Two weeks ago, though, I had the sudden inspiration to ask about it after one of my lectures. A PhD student lectures for my Physical Activity for Health module, so after lecture I went up and asked her how to get involved in research. She told me her boss/supervisor was actually over research, and that she'd see if there was a way for me to get involved. Unfortunately, I never heard back from Becki, but I still didn't give up. I really wanted this, so I asked the lecturer over my Sport & Exercise Physiology module this past week about getting involved. He told me to check out the School of Sport, Health, and Exercise Science website, click on the research tab, and email the supervisor over whichever research group held my interests. For those of you who don't know me well, I thrive on extreme. My highlights of this past summer were crashing my bike, grave hunting in New York, and exploding the bbq grill. Looking like Quasimoto was pretty sweet too, to be honest. At the Grand Canyon, I went as far out on cliffs (with complete drops on the sides and a 1 1/2 foot wide walkway) as I could. Mind you, the wind blows extremely strong out there as well. Anyway, so naturally, the extremes group grasped my attention unlike any other group. Dr. Neil Walsh is over the program, so I emailed him asking about it, and he told me to come chat with him on Wednesday morning. Wednesday morning I head to his office, we talk about the research going on, and he told me that he'd speak with the teams and see where my timetable would best fit.

I am now officially the newest member of the thermal extremes research! Granted, I just monitor the ergometer and gases, but I don't care. It's research! I've finally overcome my shyness (for that moment anyway) and got my way into research! Officially, the research experiment is titled "The influence of exercise induced muscle damage upon subsequent thermoregulation during exercise in the heat".
We sweat 'em out.

I really am so excited. 

This whole experience has got me thinking, though. I've really come a long way. In high school, the thought of going up to complete strangers and asking for a position in something like this would have terrified me. If you'd threatened my grades with it, I would have done it, but that is the only way you would have gotten me to approach someone asking for this. I mean, just the idea of calling tech support or whatever and having to speak to someone I didn't know killed me. I did whatever I could to never call those types of numbers. To be honest, I've only just gotten over that within the last few months. 
I know, it's ridiculous. I've improved, though!

I still have my moments of shyness, all the time, but studying abroad has helped me improve. For example, my first day in the U.K. with getting from London to Liverpool and then Ormskirk. All the strangers I had to approach to ask for help! It was intense. I probably sounded like a little girl when I was talking to them! Haha. This whole experience has been such a personality and courage builder. I'm still learning how to be myself around people, but I'm getting there. I still struggle in larger groups, and even in small social settings, but I'm getting there. I know my family's probably thinking this is all made up, but I swear it's true! Mom, how long did it take me to call financial aid and sort out my loans summer 2010? Exactly, it took weeks. I kept convincing myself that all was peachy and it was taking forever for the loans to be processed because of all the students applying for loans (nope, there was a missing document). Ugh, I hated calling up the Office of Student Financial Aid Services.

Anyway, a million thanks goes out to study abroad. If you're struggling with shyness, you should study abroad. It won't cure it, but it'll help fight it.

Hmm... so let's see... what else did I want to mention today? To be honest, I haven't gotten up to much this past week. It's all been focused on school work and research. However, I would like to comment on Halloween.
The first thing I noticed about Halloween here? How small the pumpkins are! A lot of folks do decorate and carve pumpkins here, but the pumpkins are miniscule compared to Jack O'Lanterns you see back in the states. Not going to lie, it's a bit disappointing. I was hoping that Halloween was big here, but it really isn't. People dress up, have parties, but it's just not as festive as it is in the United States (or at least from what I've seen). It's alright, though. At least there is some celebrating!

I swear I had more to mention, but I can't think of it. I guess that's all I have for today! 

Nos da, and Happy Halloween!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Adventure!

Alrighty, time for an update methinks!

Life in the ever-gorgeous Bangor, Wales is, as usual, magnificent. I love it here. Seriously, if you ever get the chance you've got to come here. Just a day will do the trick.

Pfftt... let's see. Oh, right, trip to Cardiff! It was pretty cool. Cardiff reminded me of a smaller version of Liverpool, to be honest, and I think we all know how I feel about Liverpool. Right? Haha, well, in case not, I freaking love Liverpool.
Anyway, the train ride was scenic, but it was really long. I think I spent a total of 8 hours traveling that day. It gave me plenty of time to study, though! That was a bonus. In Cardiff I saw the castle, the Natural History Museum, the pier-type area (the correct phrase I'm fishing [haha] for is currently escaping me), the main shopping area, and this area with a bowling area/arcade-type area. Unfortunately, I'm failing at recalling the name of this place, just like I failed to recall the fact that I had a camera. You guessed it, I completely forgot to take pictures. It had to happen at some point! I apologize, my beloved readers. I promise extra eye candy for my next post.
Oh, right! I saw Millennium Stadium as well! It was really cool. To be honest, it's not nearly as big as some stadiums in the United States, but it compared well to the Texas Memorial Stadium.
Yep! This is Millennium Stadium! I stood beside it to the right. Exciting, I know.

This is inside of Millennium Stadium. No, these pictures are not mine. To avoid random lawsuits, the Millennium Stadium photos belong to http://www.stadiumguide.com/millenium.htm

This would be the inside view of Texas Memorial Stadium. I couldn't find an outside picture... but to be honest, it's not that impressive from the outside.

Now for some random facts since the pictures don't provide a good basis for comparing. Millennium Stadium holds 74,500 seats and it took about $207,468,879.67. I'd just like to note that the exchange rate between pounds and U.S. dollars has gotten better since the conversion I've given, so it'd actually cost a bit less than that. Alright, now Texas Memorial Stadium holds 100,119 seats, but it actually held 101,624 spectators on September 3, 2011, breaking the record (fun fact!). It costs $3.53 million according to the 2011 dollar value, and that is more than Millennium Stadium. Poor Welsh, their pride and joy doesn't even beat Texas Memorial Stadium... just imagine it compared to the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium (or as I like to call it, Jerry World)!

However, I must give the Welsh credit. Rugby is the best sport ever. Oh crap, it's intense! I started watching it a couple of weeks ago, and I am hooked. It's a lot like American football, but it's 80 minutes for a match, and the only stopping the athletes do is at half-time. Half-time, ladies and gents! And this sport isn't some pansy curling sport! Noooo, it's intense running, tackling, and battling. Holy heck it's insane. Here's a clip!

This isn't from the match I watched the first bit of last week, but it's just as good. Unfortunately, Wales lost to France, so they are no longer in the running for the World Cup. That made me a sad panda...
Along with the fact that Texas has started a losing streak. What. The. Fetch.

So yes, Cardiff = great. Rugby = best sport ever. Glad that has been established? I thought so.

Alright, what else to add... ah, so I'm going to Prague during my reading week! I'm so excited! Unfortunately, I'm going solo, but hey, it should be fun. November 4th I'm going to Alton Towers (supposed to be an amazing theme park) with a group of great folks from church, November 5th I'm going to a Flogging Molly concert (flip yeah!), and November 6th I fly out for Prague! Then I'll be in Prague until November 12th. I'd just like to say thank goodness for RyanAir (super cheap flights) and thank goodness for youth hostels. Hotels are too expensive! Unfortunately, I did accidentally book my flight for November 4th originally (don't book things at midnight; your brain won't be functioning, I assure you), so I had to change my departing flight. That added a 59.99 pound charge. Ouch! Be aware when you book flights. That was my lesson learned. Everything else is just peachy, though. Oh, and I will remember my camera this time. Rest assured, my lovely dears!

I think the only thing I have left to add is....
I BOUGHT A BARITONE UKULELE!!!

Say hello to Charles! I call him Charlie. He's my pride and joy! I absolutely love playing him. So far I've learned "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol, and I'm working on "Here Comes the Sun" by The Beatles (of course).

Well, that's my life so far! It's been great. I honestly couldn't ask for more in my life, I've been so blessed.

I hope y'all are doing great, wherever in the world you may be!

Nos da!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

...Random Thinking...

So, I've been thinking quite a bit today about the whole study abroad mentality cycle. Apparently when students go abroad, they tend to have this period a bit after they've arrived in their country of choice when they hate everything related to that country. They hit a period where they want to turn around and head back home because nothing is working out.

Luckily, I have yet to hit that mark in my time here in Wales *knock on wood*. To be honest, I absolutely love it here. I don't want to go back to the States. Don't get me wrong; I love the United States and I will always be a Texan at heart, but I have never felt so at home or so alive as I do here. Yes, there have been a few snags (it's taking me about 3 weeks to get a bank account set up with money in it... I've had to bum so much quid off of folks so I can survive... it's been a royal nightmare!), but I love it here. I feel as though I've always been here, and I feel as though I should always be here. I get so depressed when I think about next year!

What does that lead me to? I believe that once I get my undergrad degree I will move back out here for my masters. I seriously never want to go back.

Well, that's just been a short entry on my thinkings! I'll update more when it's not 2:13 AM... I am quite tired!

Noswaith dda!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere.

Too true it is.

Anyway, this week has been interesting in the world of traveling. To be honest, I haven't gone far this week, other than the weekly trip to Chester on Tuesday nights, but I've done a lot of planning!
So, I randomly got it in my head that, hey, I'm going to Denmark this semester, dang it. I've got the perfect schedule for traveling. Thanks to my lovely cousin, Greg, I found tickets to Aarhus (I'm pretty sure there's a special character in the name, but I'm too lazy to figure that out at the moment) for like, 40 quid tops. Pretty darn cheap, I do declare! So I plan on just roaming around for a day or two in November. It's gonna be class!

Then I've got a friend who lives in Germany, and has kindly allowed me a place to stay if I were to visit (thanks, Evelyn! You're amazing!). Umm... that would be in December sometime.

Incidentally, Evelyn got me in touch with a guy in south Wales named Alex who is actually moving to Germany in the near future, so we determined if I was going to Cardiff I needed to go this week. Alas, I'm going to Cardiff on Thursday! 4 hours there and then 4 hours back to Bangor, but I'm sure it will be well worth it. I mean, hey, it's exploring! I can't wait.

Let's see... oh, and I've got quite a few friends in Northern Ireland, so I'm thinking of catching a ferry to Belfast for Portfolio Week in November, but we shall see. My mom's coming out during my Easter holidays and we will be doing quite a bit of traveling then. We are going to Ballymoney and Belgium for sure. From there we hope to also see Switzerland and France (I think...). Heck, as long as we're going places, I'm happy!

Then my friend, Susie, and I will be going on our own adventure trip to Scotland. We haven't decided the date yet, but it will most likely be in November. Holy crap, my November is going to be exciting!

Hmm... that's all the travel plans I have thus far. My bishop in my ward (church) told me about amazing discounts you can get through Ryan Air, so I've signed up for their notifications. While I'm here in Bangor, I'm doing everything I can to see this part of the world. I've been looking forward to this year of my life since I was in 8th grade (about 13 years old); I'm making the most of it.

On a completely different note, I've started going through that phase where I miss the most obscure things from home. Randomly enough, the thing I've missed most is normal sized staircases. It's so weird being surrounded by small and narrow staircases. Everything really is bigger in Texas! Especially with roads and cars. The roads are super narrow here. Oh! I forgot to mention in my last blog, most cars here are stick-shift. No one drives automatics! I would be dead driving here. Fortunately, my flatmate, James, said that he'll bring his car down one weekend and teach me to drive. I'm so excited!

Ugh, I also am suffering from American football withdrawals; unfortunately, Texas lost to Oklahoma yesterday. It was a crushing defeat, even across the pond.

To be honest, I haven't got much else to say! I'll go ahead and end it here.

I hope y'all have a fantastic day today!
Bore da!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Key Differences

Life is going good! Classes started on Monday (26 September), and so far I love half of them. Introducing Sport Science to Coaches and Physical Activity for Health are quite boring, but I'm hoping they'll prove to be better. I got to talk to my amazing Beth yesterday, and it felt really good catching up a bit! I'm hesitant to do too much catching up just because then it'll be like I'd never left (half the fun of leaving for a year is the insane amount of talking to follow!), but it was fantastic!

Anyway, onto the main topic for the day. It's funny. Taking modules here is so different than in the United States, but at the same time it's hard to spot those differences. They're quite subtle, but they make an incredible difference.
I'm going to try and just note differences that have stuck out.

First of all, lecture time. At UT, if I were to take a 3 hour course, I would see the professor 3 hours during the week. On top of that, there is usually some sort of discussion (or lab), reading, and then studying. It's really quite different here. I suppose it stems down to how credits are actually accounted for. Instead of claiming hours, you claim Bangor credits (ECTS credits are also used, but I don't know how they work). A 3-hour course at UT would stand for about 10 Bangor credits. 50-60 Bangor credits = a full-time student. I think 25 ECTS = full-time student. Well, 3 of my classes are 10 Bangor credits each, and then my fourth class is 20 Bangor credits. To show the immense difference in lecture-time, let me post my Spring 2011 UT schedule and then my Fall 2011 Bangor Schedule:
Spring 2011
University of Texas-Austin
Monday
  • 9:00am-10:00am Anat & Phys
  • 12:00pm-1:00pm History of Rock and Roll
Tuesday
  • 11:00am-12:30pm Nutrition
  • 2:00pm-3:30pm Tennis
  • 6:00pm-7:00pm History of Rock and Roll
Wednesday
  • 9:00am-10:00am Anat & Phys
  • 10:00am-12:00pm Sport Management
  • 12:00pm-1:00pm History of Rock and Roll
Thursday
  • 11:00am-12:30pm Nutrition
  • 2:00pm-3:30pm Tennis
  • 6:30pm-9:30pm Anat & Phys
Friday
  • 9:00am-10:00am Anat & Phys (review, optional)
  • 12:00pm-1:00pm History of Rock and Roll
  • 1:00pm-2:00pm Sport Management
On top of this schedule I took two Institute classes (a Book of Mormon class for 1 hour on Monday and 1 hour on Wednesday and a Family History class for 1.5 hours on Thursday afternoons) as well as having a 6am internship on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.


Fall 2011
Bangor University
Monday
  • 9:00-11:00 Introducing Sport Science to Coaches
  • 11:00-13:00 Physical Activity for Health
  • 15:00-17:00 Exercise and Sport Physiology
Tuesday
  • 9:00-11:00 Sport Psychology
  • 13:00-15:00 Exercise and Sport Physiology (only in weeks 3, 4, 5, 9, and 10)
Wednesday
  • 9:00-10:00 Exercise and Sport Physiology (shadow lecture, optional)
Believe it or not, that's it. Now, Institute is about an hour away from Bangor (in Chester), so there are only classes on Tuesday nights for a couple of hours. Other than that, I've just got reading and studying to do.

Another big difference is the amount of independence in the classes. At UT, reading was often optional. I've gotten A's in plenty of courses without cracking open a book. Apparently it's the complete opposite here. Reading is a must, and often we are required to read journal articles (certainly haven't been required to do that back at UT). It is entirely up to the student to get the learning and reading done as opposed to having it spoon-fed via lecture. 

This independence, in a way, leads to the next point. University is treated like a 9am-5pm job here. After 5pm you will not see a single student studying or reading class-related material (for the most part). The library closes at 9pm or 10pm and it does not open until 9am the following morning. At UT the library was pretty much accessible almost all hours of the day. Serious students take it upon their selves to actually take the free time not spent in lectures to do studying and reading, rather than leaving it until that evening or until the weekend. 

One difference that irks me is that the gym is only open 9am-10pm. Gahh! I like getting up super early to go to the gym, but that is not possible here. On a similar note, most businesses are closed by 10pm, often 9pm or earlier. Morrison's, the main grocery store near campus, closes at 9pm. I actually quite like this mentality, as it asserts the belief in working to live, not living to work. However, it's quite a bummer when you're dying for a drink or snack!

Oh my, that reminds me of yet another difference. Meal plans do not exist here. Each dorm is equipped with a community kitchen on each floor. Students here actually cook real food. I feel like such a fool because I'm doing the American thing by living off of cereal, oatmeal, apples, and sandwiches whereas my delightful flatmates cook fish and chips, roasts, pasta, etc. I need to start doing more cooking!

Pfftt... ah, oh yes. One of the most important differences! American sweets are complete rubbish. Even the most basic/common sweet here is 10x more delicious than American sweets. 

Ugh, one difference I could live without: drinking and the social life. The drinking age here is age 16 as opposed to the American drinking age of 21 years. It wouldn't be so bad, but everyone drinks. I've joined BUMS (Bangor University Mountaineering Society) and BUSSC (Bangor University Snow Sports Club), but I have yet been to a social because they've all been pub crawls. Next week is the first ski/boarding trip for BUSSC, so I do get to attend that, thankfully!

A small difference that most people probably wouldn't notice is that there is a serious lack of rubbish bins along the streets here. You must do serious hunting to come across a public bin as opposed to them lining the streets everywhere in Austin. 

Diet drinks are not nearly as popular here. For example, I can find Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and some English brand cokes pretty much anywhere. I have yet to find a Diet Dr. Pepper or Diet Mountain Dew. I can find Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi, and Pepsi Max usually without any problem, though they still aren't as common as the regular cokes. Calorie-free Powerades are also quite difficult to find, though they can be found! I'd also like to note that cokes here taste a bit different than they do in America. I also cannot find Root Beer anywhere, including diet.

A favorite drink that I've found here, but have never seen before in my life, is Black Currant Juice. It's delicious! I've also found watermelon juice, and let me assure you, it is the best juice I have ever had in my life. It is even better than cranberry, orange, apple, or grape juice. I didn't think anything could ever defeat grape juice.

Now that I've started actually jotting down all of these differences, they come much more easily and readily. Haha, I guess they aren't so subtle after all!

Since you've survived the text-intense part of my blog, here are some pictures to tickle the senses:

Last Saturday (24 September) I went mountain climbing/walking with my awesome Mormons. It drizzled pretty much the whole time, so we went home soaked, but it was well worth it!
There were sheep all over the mountain side. Dan kept trying to catch one. For privacy reasons, I will not point out who is who.

This was a lake we stumbled across when ascending the mountain. 

Here's a rainbow we saw! It was much more vivid in person... I apologize for my lack of photography skills.

Here's a waterfall we came across.

This picture was actually taken in London. Apparently this is a Greek Salad. No lettuce!

Ok, here's our hidden lack from the highest point we reached. Although the picture doesn't do it justice (again, I apologize) it was gorgeous... and very high up!

Again, a picture from London. Millennium Bridge! From Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!

This is my much-adored watermelon juice. Brilliant.

Ok, my heart is won. Apparently there's a musical going on in London titled "We Will Rock You", based on, you guessed it, Queen! That's Freddie Mercury up on top. I want to see this so bad!

Platform 9 3/4! Just like in Harry Potter! 

Well, I suppose that is all I have for today. Oh! Before I forget, there's no such thing as 3-hole punch binders. They're all 2-hole! It took me forever to find a binder, thinking that I was just in the wrong section of the store. Blimey.
I'd also like to thank Dan for introducing me to The Prodigy and Biffy Clyro. Especially Biffy Clyro.

Nos da!