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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Magic of Chocolate and Flames

My dad would totally misconstrue the title of this entry.

Anyway, folks, the time has come.

Yes, the time has come...

For me to not study!!

I am officially done with the 2011-2012 school year as of 10am on Tuesday May 22, 2012. Ah, let me tell you, it was filled with so much sweet, sweet relief. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love school, but it feels good to not worry about upcoming exams or projects. It also feels good to be able to play Angry Birds with no guilt.

At the end of every school year, I'm generally pretty battered and abused and just feeling grateful to have survived; however, this year I am feeling most robust and lively. This is the first time I've ended the school year in a different country. What better way to spend my free time than do a bit of exploring? Well, ok, I've not been too terribly adventurous (it's a curse called 'penny-pinching'), but I did take advantage of my last Britrail pass left over from my mom visiting during the Easter holidays. By the way, I highly recommend Britrail passes to anyone visiting the UK. You get to use the train as much as you want for a full 24 hours, and that goes on for however many days you purchase. I would say the only disadvantage is not having a completely guaranteed seat like if all the seats have been reserved. If you're a bit nervous, for example when training it to Scotland and all the seats are reserved, you can go into the train station before your trip and reserve a seat. Just an FYI.

Anyway, back to my final Britrail pass. I'd heard about a magical land not too long ago with the moniker 'Cadbury World'.

Let me repeat for emphasis, and to let the weight of this holy name sink in:

Yes, ladies and gentleman, such a place exists. And it is the most magical place in this country. Nay! The continent. Nay! The planet. NAY!

The universe.

Ok, so I may possibly be exaggerating... or am I..?

It's like someone pooped out magic.

I agree, I've gone point the pass of ridiculousness. Back to business. So Cadbury World is located in Birmingham. Actually, it's in the small community/village of Bournville, but it's basically Birmingham. I caught the train from Bangor to Bournville via Birmingham on the 24th at 6am to experience Cadbury World. Boy howdy, that early morning was definitely worth it! First off, Bournville is gorgeous. Honestly, I did not expect to see such a beautiful place when I stepped off that train. Everywhere you look is lush, green, and surrounded by large, graceful trees (I absolutely love trees). My ticket to get into Cadbury World (you book a specific time of entry) wasn't until 10.10am, and I had gotten there about 9.15am, so I wandered around Bournville a little bit. Bournville was actually a community named after the Bourn Brook that runs by the Cadbury factory, and it was built up by the Cadbury brothers in the late 1800s/early 1900s. It is such a cute little village, and it has this really nice park pretty close to Cadbury World that I walked through while killing time.

So around 9.50 I made my way up to the entrance. Oh goodness. Right when you start walking up the road you can smell the chocolate in the air. I felt like I was walking towards Willy Wonka's factory. It was a beautiful day as well: I was able to walk around without a jacket, the sun was shining (gasp!), and it was just a beautiful day. Nothing, I repeat, nothing could go wrong. And nothing did. Anyway, I got up to Cadbury World, doors opened at 10am, so until then I read my book 'The Darkest Evening of the Year' by Dean Koontz. A pretty good read, if I do say so myself, but I felt the ending was really anti-climatic.

The whole journey through Cadbury World takes anywhere from 2 to 3 hours with the first bit being a sort of museum that gives the initial history of chocolate and then the history of Cadbury. First thing they do when you hand them your ticket for admission to the museum/factory is they hand you one full-size Curly Wurly and one full-size Crunchie. Holy heavens of mercy, I nearly died on the spot! 2 free candy bars?! Seriously?! I've been to the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA, and even there the free stuff they give you is just a small packet of jelly beans! I was in shock. Already, only at the entrance of this happy place, and I was already beyond satisfied.

I proceeded, a bit dumbfounded, into the museum-ish area of the factory. I already knew quite a bit of the stuff they talked about, with the Mayans and Aztecs, because I've been to a chocolate museum in both Belgium and Prague, so that was a bit redundant. Thankfully, it didn't take up a lot of time. It was just a real quick briefing on the history of chocolate. They then go into the beginnings of Cadbury, and it was really cool how they presented the information. They had little exhibits set up, but they also had this cool projections on top of the exhibits, kind of like in Star Wars when R2D2 relays the message from Princess Leia. There was also a small ride-type part where they take you through the factory and show you how chocolate is processed. Then, wait for it, you enter the factory to see some of the production area and they give you another free chocolate bar. Another one! 3 chocolate bars in one day! This time it was the Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar. Throughout Cadbury World they also have games for kids to play and interactive screens where you can learn about Cadbury Creme Eggs, Mini Eggs, and a few other products. In the factory area, they also give you a free sample of the liquid chocolate and show you how a few of their unique products are made, like these giant chocolate footballs (English footballs, not American) and shoes.

After the factory area you enter their advertisement history and it shows you different commercials they had as well as different posters. It was really really cool. They've also got, after the main attraction, the Bournville Experience where you can learn about the history of Bournville and Essence, which is another amazing chocolate experience. In Essence they take you through the development of Cadbury Dairy Milk through an entertaining show, and at the end you get to pick a candy of your choice (either Jelly Babies, Wine Gums, shortbread biscuits, or white chocolate discs) and it gets mixed with liquid chocolate in a small cup. Yes. More free chocolate. Dude, I only paid 11.10 pounds for my ticket as well! (That's student prices, by the way). All in all, Cadbury World was the most amazing experience I could have hoped for.

Ha, funny thing happened while I was there, though! So, there was this Indian family who happened to be going along at about the same pace as me. At the section where you had interactive screens to learn about the Cadbury Creme Eggs, etc. the dad kind of pushed me and this couple aside saying, "Excuse me, excuse me!" and plopped his 3-4 year old son in front of the screen to let him play with the buttons. That was a little rude. THEN I was in the factory part, and there's this little section where they have about 24 chairs set up in front of a TV screen to talk about the factories that the chocolate goes to, from start to finish. I was the only person sat there watching the screen, and that same Indian family came up and sat on either side of me. There were 23 other chairs in that room. I wasn't even sat in a middle seat! I was in a side seat. I did not understand that family, so I put as much distance between us as possible! Oh yeah, I did this at a mini-ride they have inside the factory. It was the like Cadbury version of 'It's a Small World' in Disneyland. I felt really ridiculous going on that ride, by myself needless to say.

Just a disclaimer: I do have friends! I just love to travel by myself. Here's a picture of me with some friends, just to show I'm not in denial:

I went to a church dance on the 25th of May and we had a picture taken. BOO YAH!

Anyway, Cadbury World. So worth it.

After Cadbury World I meant to go visit Moseley Bog where J.R.R. Tolkien played as a child and gained inspiration for some of Lord of the Rings, but I could not find my way there for the life of me. I meant to take the train, but I couldn't find on any map which train I needed to take. Instead I wandered around the Bull Ring Market in city centre. It just felt good to be in a large city! I love Bangor, but it can feel really small. Well, it doesn't just feel small... it is small.

What else have I done... oh yeah! You know that sporting even that happens every 2 years? You know, the one that people sometimes make a big deal out of? I think it's called the Olympics?

Yeahhhhh boi! The Olympic torch came through Bangor yesterday!! And I saw it!! Here is proof:

Suck it.

The in white in the middle is the torch bearer. I have a somewhat better picture here:

And the world thought I couldn't take a picture.

Needless to say, this was one of the most exciting moments of my life. I love the Olympics, and I got to see the torch!! I'm pretty sure this was the only reason God allowed me to study abroad here in the UK. So I could see the torch. Just kidding.

It was so cool. The whole town was going crazy and celebrating all day. In town centre they put up decorations in the Welsh colors as well.

I know, I'm no photographer. You can see, though, up at the top, the little flags in white, green, and red. There were also some street performers. There was a musical quartet playing in front of the cathedral and then this Capoeira group performing near the clock. Definitely a really good day.

I also bought 3 books. Oh! And it's felt like springtime in Texas for the past week or so. I can wear shorts and not freeze my butt off! I definitely wouldn't mind it warmer, though.

Hmm... I think that's all the exploring I've done thus far since finals have finished. Tomorrow I'm thinking of finally taking my trip to Holyhead that I've been contemplating since September, and then on Friday I'm heading to Northern Ireland for about a week. I leave to go back to the States on June 17th. It feels so weird, thinking I've been here for a complete school year. I honestly feel like I've been here for so much longer, but in a good way. 

Well, folks, I think that's it for today! I shall leave you to ponder the magic that is Cadbury and the wonder that is Olympic.

Nos da!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Soppy Mismatch

It's funny; when I first got out here, I couldn't help but hear the differences in lingo, accents, units (e.g. meters versus feet), and I was acutely aware of anything I said in comparison to what the British would say. I would intently listen to how I spoke, how others spoke, and was constantly on the look out for changes in my personal dialect that may reflect the time I've spent out here in Wales.
Within the first semester I noticed a few changes, such as the use of 'numpty' and the fact that 'ass' is not a bad word out here, so 'dumbass' became a favorite term of mine (mostly in my internal dialogue). I think my every day accent became a bit more posh, but overall there weren't that many changes. Especially since sometimes whenever I entered Texas mode, my redneck would come out. Not too often, though.

I think this semester has been different. I've been so distracted by classes, projects, indexing (you familysearch users know what I'm talking about!), planning travels, actually traveling, friends, and own personal battles, that I've stopped paying much attention to my diction. I still pay attention to other accents (there are a billion different British accents; it's impossible pinpointing origins!), but I've lost track of my own. It's recently been brought to my attention (both by my amazing Texas homie, Chelcie, and my super cool future housemate, Meg)that I'm turning, not Japanese, but BRITISH. Oh my days (there's one!), what has become of me?! Here are a few examples:
-pronunciation of 'garage'
-the use of ' instead of "
-oh my days
-trousers (this one you really do want to use, though)
-coach (instead of bus)
-jokes (one of my favorites)
-the use of 'maths' instead of 'math'
-the strong desire to spell things with a 'u' (e.g. favourite, behaviour, neighbour)

The list goes on. I don't know whether to be gutted (there's another!) or not. Think of it this way: I'll be super cool in the States, a completely foreign concept to me, but I'm losing touch with my roots. Jokes, it's not that bad. I'll be back in the States in no time for summer! I'll be properly Americanized once again. Nothing against being British, of course. Just the fact that my ancestors were so desperate to escape the United Kingdom, and here I am returning!

Nah, honestly, it's just something that has popped into my head recently. I'm not particularly bothered one way or another.

For you future study abroaders, if you're going to be abroad for just one semester, don't expect any drastic changes in your mannerisms, especially if you're concentrating on it. From my experience, I've found that studying abroad for just one semester really doesn't give you much opportunity to integrate

Mathematically? No.

fully into the culture. (Apologies for the really lame math nerdiness there). You definitely get some great experiences, but I think the full year gives you more opportunity. You'd think that the United Kingdom and the United States would be really similar, and they are, but there are definitely differences. I still find differences to this day! I'm sure I'll continue to find differences as I finish my degree here in Bangor. Oh, another hint. Do not spend a lot of time with Americans or with people from your home nationality if you are not an American reading this. If you do this, you lose the opportunity to experience different cultures. There are some students here who came with a bunch of friends from the States, and they usually stick with their American friends. Make yourself uncomfortable and hang out with the citizens of that country you are living in. If you just stick with those you're comfortable with, what's the point of studying abroad?! You're not experiencing much newness! Heck, you might as well have just studied abroad in a different city than you grew up in.

Yeah, not the most exciting post I've ever created, but I felt the need to share. Hope y'all are doing great wherever in the world you may be! I'm off to get a bit of work done before heading to bed. I've got my Motor Control & Learning exam tomorrow morning. I think it's safe to say I'm extremely nervous about this exam. I haven't been able to concentrate on studying since my Biomechanics exam. Ugh. Ah well, c'est la vie!

Nos da, y'all.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The C.J. Barker Mushy Pea

Oh my days, how time flies! I honestly can't believe that it is May 11th, and that it is currently the same type of weather I would be experiencing in November in Texas. Cold, wet, cloudy... one would think it is nowhere close to summer. Alas, but it is.

Life in little ol' Wales has been pretty good. Just getting ready for exams, first one today! Biomechanics, not too worried about it. The fact that I love studying for it has me feeling assured that I just may very well get a decent grade. As a study abroad student, I only have to pass, so no pressure... jokes. There's still pressure.

Yeah, I'm in a funky mood. Apologies!

So, what have I been up to? Unfortunately, not too much other than studying. I did get the opportunity to go to the Chester Zoo on Monday. It's supposed to be the best zoo in the U.K., and it was pretty cool. I do prefer the Fort Worth Zoo, but hey, what else can you expect from me? Gotta represent my hometown! To be fair, the Chester Zoo was way better than the Washington, D.C. zoo. The Chester Zoo had a wide variety of animals with bats, flamingoes, komodo dragons, elephants, giraffes, orangutans, you know, just a lot of the animals you'd expect to see. Tickets for the Fort Worth zoo are definitely cheaper ($12 tops versus 9.80 pounds for a student in a group, but 14 pounds for an adult not in a group), but from what I remember, I felt like the Fort Worth zoo had more to offer. It had it's Texas Wild! exhibit, a petting zoo, that awesome sea exhibit where I got to touch a pencil sea urchin, Boo at the Zoo, ahhhh the list goes on. (Here's the part where I admit I am desperately missing my lovely Texas, so I may not be the most unbiased judge). Anyway, Chester Zoo, they had a batcave where you walked into a cave that just had bats flying around (pretty awesome!), and then they had a similar thing for butterflies, but they just didn't have anything else that really stood out to me like the Fort Worth Zoo. Apparently, according to the Fort Worth Zoo website, the Fort Worth Zoo has been ranked in the top 5 zoos in the nation. Congrats to you, m'dears!

Ok, so down to the purpose of a zoo: the animals.

The Fort Worth Zoo houses nearly 7,000 native and exotic animals. The Chester Zoo claims to house 8,000 animals from 400 different species. Here's the thing: after exploring both zoos, I feel that the Fort Worth Zoo holds more variety in the animal species housed, and the Chester Zoo holds more of the smaller animals. For example, at the Fort Worth Zoo, I can see white tigers, lions, komodo dragons, crocodiles, buffalo, gorillas, different species of bears, the list goes on. They've also got a massive aquarium, penguin exhibit (the penguin exhibit in Chester was rather disappointing), insect exhibit, etc. In Chester, the animals didn't have as big of a pen to roam around in as in Fort Worth, and the exhibits overall felt smaller. The old saying is so true:

Everything is bigger in Texas!

No joke, everything is seriously bigger in Texas. Check out our jelly beans for starters:

I love these things so much.

Just to put it into perspective.

Just an example. Haha. 


Welcome to Wales!

Anyway, back to zoos. I think where Chester reaches its 8,000 animals is in the bird department (and probably through bats and butterflies as well). Fort Worth Zoo does have a massive bird cage, but I don't know if altogether it's as expansive as Chester. You know what? That's perfectly fine with me. I hate birds. They are evil. To back up my outrageous claims, here are two articles from the most trusted source in the world:

My hate of birds may or may not also stem from being chased by a parrot when I was 12 years old.

So, the Chandrie Elaine Cook verdict? Chester Zoo is pretty awesome, but I gotta give props to my Fort Worth. I do think the Fort Worth Zoo is better. I know I probably didn't do a good job of comparing the two or describing either, but if you were to visit the two, I think you would come to the same conclusion. It's just something you've got to experience.
After the zoo I went with my incredibly awesome friends to Cheshire Oaks and we had dinner together. One delicacy of the U.K. that I absolutely love: mushy peas. However, I prefer them to not be made by James. Just saying. A little inside joke for Jordan, Jade, James, and Chris if they are reading! 

Right, so one thing that's been riding on my mind lately: driving distances.

Yeah, Texas is huge. You can drive for 8 hours in one direction and still be in Texas, but at least you'll pass through a billion little towns along the way! Everything is so spread out here in the U.K. When going down the freeway in Texas, if you miss your exit it's no big deal because you can just hop off the next exit and turn around. Chances are you'll come across an exit within a 1/4 of a mile. Here, if you miss your exit, there's a good chance you'll be stuck driving for another 5-10 minutes to the next exit... not to mention the added time of turning around. It's ridiculous, and it makes me mad. Not that I'm driving, but still, I'm impatient, dang it! Ugh, and don't even get me started on petrol prices. I thought petrol (gas) was expensive in the States; it's actually more expensive out here in the U.K. When I left the States, can't remember exactly, but I think we were paying something like $3.20 per gallon of gas. Here they pay approximately 1.40 pounds per litre (I think). Ok, so, the American gallon is equivalent to approximately 3.79 British litres. 

Basically, you pay $3.20 per gallon of gas in Texas. The equivalent of that, here in the U.K., would be $8.57 per gallon. It makes me want to punch someone in the face. By the way, if I've gotten this calculation wrong, please correct me! I do not want to be spreading false doctrine.

Life is definitely more expensive in the U.K. It's crap.

Well, I've procrastinated life enough. I need to get some studying done before my impending doom of finals. 

Bore da!