S: The Joy Report and Reid This
FC: The Joy Report and Reid This | The Worldwide Travels of Two Kids Who Love Home
1: Dedication | This book is dedicated to our mother, Deana Mason, who taught us to be brave, just like she is, and who loves us unconditionally, no matter where we are and what we're doing. We love you, Mommy!
3: The Joy Report | September 14, 2008 to August 23, 2009
4: Sunday, September 14, 2008: Congratulations! | Today is your day! You're off to Great Places! You're off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own and you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go. Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you. And when things happen, don't worry. Don't stew. Just go right along. You'll start happening too. Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done! You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So...get on your way!
5: Monday, September 22, 2008: Contact Information | While I'm in England, I would love to hear from you! I won't have a cell phone, but I will have e-mail (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook, and Skype. Also, my address will be: Joy Mason Regent's Park College Pusey Street Oxford, England OX1 2LB. Let me know how everything's going for you!
6: Saturday, September 24, 2008: Packing | Packing is such a big deal. I had a great plan originally: I was going to pack two weeks ahead of time, let it sit for a week, and then get everything out again and get rid of some stuff, then pack again. I figured that way, I could pack everything I think I need initially, and then take out a lot of non-essentials the second time. Yes, packing twice sounded like a good plan. Two Wednesdays ago, I contemplated packing. And I realized: I need nearly everything I'm going to pack! So, to claim that I had started packing, I dumped some stuff that had been sitting in my basement all summer (read: stuff that is non-essential) in a suitcase and called it good. This Wednesday, I decided to pack all my clothes. I left the clothes I want to take in a suitcase so that I wouldn't get confused and wear them. I discovered that I have quite a surplus of shirts, but I have been wearing the same shorts for three days now. And I haven't even started on shoes. You think you can make do with just a few pairs of shoes, but really, you can't. I need at least two pairs of tennis shoes, five pairs of dress shoes, and seven pairs of casual shoes. At least! And don't even get me started on purses and bags.
7: Packing | Oh, and what about books? I generally bring a small library of books to school with me, but I'm not sure how that's going to be possible this time. I'll have to leave my cookie cookbook (the British are going to miss out), my Jane Austen collection (which makes no sense to leave behind, I'm going to England!), my Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes... I can take two 50-pound, 62-inch suitcases, one carry-on suitcase, and one backpack. Please, someone, tell me how I'm supposed to fit my life in those.
8: Thursday, October 2, 2008: I am in a backwards country... | ...that apparently does not believe in the Internet.
9: Saturday, October 4, 2008: In England | I made it! Unfortunately, my access to Internet is currently very limited, so I'll be unable to post often until Regent's Park College (that's where I'm going to school, by the way) figures something out for us. On the bright side, longer posts I get to write! On the downside...longer posts for you to read! We left Kansas City on Wednesday, stopped in Chicago, and then flew a very long way into Heathrow, London. I couldn't sleep on the plane, so I watched a few movies and allowed my thoughts to drift to such important considerations as, "Greenland is really big, and it has a lot of ice," "I like alliteration!" and "On Ugly Betty, how do they do America Ferrera's braces?" It was a very long flight. Of course, I had the lovely Robyn (from Jewell) to keep me company (although she slept, jammy her (jammy is a Britishism I learned. It means "lucky," but only in the sense that "I wanted that but she got it.")).
10: In England | Upon our arrival in Heathrow, we collected our 111ish pounds worth of luggage, and tried to walk with it. Then, an airport worker came up and was like, “You should put those on a trolley.” Except his accent was so thick, Robyn and I heard “You mpadgshpasdngipontolley.” Or something like that. He had to say it three times before we understood him. Once we figured it out, we got trolleys for our luggage. Have you ever pushed an airport trolley? It's kind of like trying to drive a Greyhound bus using only your nose. Or like playing MarioKart. Robyn and I nearly ran down at least eight people, and I definitely ran over my foot. Then this Scottish man showed us that the trolleys had brakes! And then, yada yada yada, we ended up at Regent's in Oxford (by yada yada yada, I mean long queues, bus drive, taxi ride, crazy attack pigeons...). There, we joined Erin (also from Jewell), and we met David Harper, the bursar at Regent's. He is very nice and smiles a lot, especially for a British person.
11: In England | More yada yada yada of food and driving and talking, and there we were at our house! We are on the first floor. Our second floor housemates are Hannah and Andy (married, Andy's a M.Th/pastoral student at Regent's), and we got to have tea with them on Thursday night. Turns out I like tea, who knew? Our third floor housemates are Martin and Bobbie (married with two girls, Martin's in the same program as Andy), and they have invited us for lunch tomorrow. They all seem quite nice. In two days, I have learned that the British say literally a lot. Except it's "litrelly" and they never mean it. As in, "Joy and Robyn and Erin litrelly got here just this minute," when, in fact, we arrived six hours ago. Americans do this, too (Biden, anyone?), just not as often as the British. The British also don't smile much, with the exception of David Harper and some other Regent's people. Since I am a nice Mid-Westerner, I smile at everyone I meet on the street. The few Bristish people that accidentally smile back at me immediately get this look on their face that says, "Disregard that!! I didn't mean to be friendly!!" Which makes me want to smile at them even more.
12: In England | So far culture shock hasn't set in, except for the fact that there are no clothing hangers to be found in the UK. Also, I've walked more in two days than I have in the past two years. I thought Jewell was good exercise, but that's nothing compared to here. I get to talk to my family in ten minutes (yay!), so I'll end this post here. Tune in next time to hear stories of shopping, church, pubs, the Song Game, libraries, and more!
13: Tuesday, October 7, 2008: The Wizard of Oz | This post's theme is "The Wizard of Oz," and everything I write about will somehow connect to that wonderful book/movie. (Imagine it as a sort of compare-contrast essay and it will all make sense.) The Wizard of Oz was first, as you all know, a book by L. Frank Baum. This particular book is often found in libraries, including libraries here in the United Kingdom. (This topic sentence is my weakest connection to my thesis, which is why it comes first. My high-school English teachers should be proud.) I thought that many of you, especially my friends at the NKCPL, would be interested in hearing about the libraries in Oxford. There is a public library here, which I have already enjoyed, although you must rent rather than borrow DVDs, a practice that should never, ever be adopted in the U.S. There are also libraries connected with Oxford University. Prepare to be awed. The Oxford University Library System employs over 660 staff members in over 100 locations which contain over 160 miles of shelving that house over 9 million items. The Bodleian, the crown jewel of Oxford's libraries, has been collecting materials since the 16th century. Since 1911, it has been entitled to one of every book that is published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That's roughly 5000 books a week. My reaction to this news was, to quote the Cowardly Lion, "Shucks, folks, I'm speechless!"
14: The Wizard of Oz | I saw someone this afternoon who reminded me of Mrs. Gulch. She had a basket on her bike, and she rode while sitting straight up, rather than bending over her handlebars. Many people in Oxford ride bikes or walk, which is one of my favorite things about Oxford so far. Unlike in Kansas City, in Oxford nearly everything you need is within walking or biking distance. As a result, the air here is much cleaner, the streets are much prettier, and the people are much thinner. Walking has also been a great way for me to learn my way around the city. The Wizard of Oz is significant for me as a Mid-Westerner in England. Why, you ask? Well, when people ask where I'm from, I say "Missouri," and I get polite but uninterested nods. But if I say "Kansas City," they go, "Oh! Kansas! The Wizard of Oz!!" Then they proceed to tell me how it makes no sense that Kansas City is in Missouri instead of Kansas, an argument with which I fully agree. You know how in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, there are parallels between the people in the Kansas scenes and the people in the Oz scenes? For instance, the actors who play Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke also play the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Basically, Dorothy is seeing familiar faces in her adventures. Well, that seems to be happening to me, as well. I keep “recognizing” people. As the best example, have you ever seen the Pixar short with the old man who plays chess against himself? The senior tutor at Regent's Park looks exactly like Geri.
15: The Wizard of Oz | If your last name is Mason (or Barczewski), then you may remember a particular infamous game of charades. For those of you who are not Masons, we were given the clues “wrist,” “hard,” “of,” and “ah.” As in “Wrist-hard of ah,” which was supposed to be “Wizard of Oz.” This is sort of what listening to British accents is like. You hear some sounds and have to put them together into real English words. It leads to some embarrassing moments, some awkward moments, and some funny moments. We were talking about TV the other night, and a Brit named Ed (which, by the way, is pronounced “Idt”) was talking about the American show Tune Have ‘Em. At least, that’s what it sounded like. I figured I just hadn’t heard of it, until he mentioned Charlie Sheen. Tune Have ‘Em=Two and a Half Men. To quote Henry Hudgins in My Fair Lady, “Why can’t the English learn to speak?” I am now at the end of my England-Wizard of Oz post, and, Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas any more! (Unfortunately, while I am able to connect everything to The Wizard of Oz, I clearly could not sufficiently transition between thoughts. If this were an essay, I would get full marks for "topics of paragraphs connect to thesis" but fail on "transitional sentences." From the bottom of my English-major heart, I apologize.)
16: Monday, October 13, 2008 Where I Live | I thought I would only post pictures of the place where I live (hence the title), but I've decided to post several other pictures as well (and keep the title). | This is the pile of clothes I brought. It doesn't look like much until you try to fit it into two suitcases. Then it's a lot. And then when you unpack, it doesn't look like much again. Go figure. | This is what my living room looked like while I was packing.
17: Where I Live | This is part of my room. It's the second incarnation of my room, as I rearranged today in order to get my computer closer to the six-inch-thick wireless stream that runs down the middle of the house. | This is another part of my room.
18: Where I Live | And this is how I dry my clothes. The English do not believe in convenience (among other things, like the French President, France, and normal-sized drinking glasses)(although they do believe in potatoes at every meal, which I support). We have no dryers, I have seen exactly...zero! water fountains in all of Oxford, and there are brand new water faucets in our house that separate the hot and cold water. I think this is why the English do not smile. (Actually, side story: a Brit told me that when you smile at people on the street, it is a sign of aggression. As in gorilla and chimpanzee culture. As in, "Grr, I'm going to attack you." No wonder they looked scared when I walked down the street.) (Side story number 2: Even though I make fun of them, I really do like the English and Scottish and Irish and Welsh and the random Canadians and Americans here. With this disclaimer, I release myself from all the negative effects of political incorrectness.)
19: Where I Live | This is our house. We live on the ground floor, which is nice, because we have zero flights of stairs to climb after walking all the way from college. It is true, we are lazy. | I live with these lovely people. The tall one is Erin, the blond one is Sabrina, and the one who is left who is not me is Robyn, and I am the one looks like me. This was taken after Formal Hall (formal dinner), which happens every Friday night. I hope this short look into Where I Live has been instructive and interesting. More to come, including the stories I promised a few posts ago (shopping, church, pubs, the Song Game, and more!).
20: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 Where I Live, part 2 | Part of the cool thing about Where I Live is the people. They are, generally, British (surprise!). I have learned that "British" could mean English, Scottish, Irish, or Welsh. In addition to the British, there are actually a lot of Americans here. It's pretty easy to tell the difference between the British and the Americans, though. Here's why. Speaking. Obviously, we have different accents, which I have noted at least twice. But we also use different words. They say "pudding," we say "dessert." This discovery was a relief to me, because I was envisioning nine months of eating different flavors of Snack Packs. They say "one week Saturday" instead of "one week from Saturday." Clearly, this is more efficient. Also, they call restrooms "toilets." I asked a porter at Magdalen College (which, by the way, is pronounced "Maudlin" for reasons unknown by anyone in the world) where to find the restrooms, and he said, "We say toilets here, love, you don't do any resting in them." They also call this # a hash mark rather than a pound mark. However, another American, a British girl, and I took a vote to decide what to call #, and pound won. Go democracy!
21: Where I Live, part 2 | Appearance. While not all the British look the same (and vice versa with the Americans), there might be a few clues. For instance, the British girls seem to favor a hair dye that leaves their hair purply-red. This is something I do not understand. Also, if a person is wearing sunglasses, then they are generally American. I think the British don't wear sunglasses because they think, "Why bother? It's going to rain in ten minutes anyway." Awareness. Whenever the British talk about the state of their country, they nearly always say, "here and in the U.S." They are ardently following our Presidential election (most support Obama), and they know who Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Tina Fey are. In contrast, most Americans can't remember the new Prime Minister (Gordon Brown), we don't know how the Queen fits into politics (she doesn't), and we can't name one British comedian other than Eddie Izzard (and most of us can't even name Eddie Izzard). Americans are very American-centric, while most Brits are world-aware. Or at least America-aware.
22: Where I Live, part 2 | Names. Most of the guys my age are named Matthew, Mark, John (nearly all the gospels!), James (never Jim), or Ed. There are no Steves, Tylers, or Brians. The girls have more variety of names, but none of them are named Erin, Robyn, Sabrina, or Joy. Whenever they hear Sabrina's name, they think "Oh! Sabrina the Teenage Witch!" (this is no joke. Three British people have told me this). Whenever they hear my name, they think they heard wrong. After I repeat my name, then they think it's pretty cool. Although the chaplain thinks my name is Jo. Since she's kind of nutty, I let her think that. Americans and Brits are also the same sometimes. We all like cookies and good food, and we like doing things that aren't homework. We think Monty Python is funny, and we're not sure if Heath Ledger should get an Oscar. We argue over whether or not Andrew Lloyd Webber is overrated. We wonder what we're going to do for the rest of our lives. And we all speak English. Kind of.
23: Monday, October 20, 2008: Break time | I’d like to take this opportunity to answer some of the questions that have been posed to me and to reply to some of the comments and to tell the stories I’ve promised. Okay, let’s be honest. I’d really like to take this opportunity to not do homework. Important things first: I mailed in my absentee ballot today, and Trent Skaggs, I voted for you. Several people have asked me about the weather here, and have expressed wishes that I won’t get too depressed by all the rain. Well, lucky me, there hasn’t been much rain! So far, the weather here has been beautiful. It’s in the 50s or 60s or sometimes even 70s during the day. The nights are pretty dang chilly, but I just turn up my radiator and pile on socks. It is raining today, though. So far, the rain here hasn’t been like the big, cleansing thunderstorming Missouri rains. Here, it rains just heavily enough to wrap you in condensation until beads of water drip off your nose and chin and umbrella.
24: Break time | I’ve also been warned about the food, and, again, I can report glad tidings of peace and good food for all Oxfordians. The ketchup does taste a little weird, but not really like vinegar. However, there are very few times we have ketchup. Regent’s apparently just hired a new caterer named Mark, and he is quite excellent. We have potatoes a lot, which make me happy and carbohydrated, and Mark firmly believes in delicious desserts, often accompanied by custard. If I didn’t walk a billion miles a day, I would be ballooning like Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka (although I would not be turning blue). Let’s return to different words that British people say. Specifically, let’s talk about about “bloody.” Oddly enough, I haven’t heard one person say “bloody.” I am surprised, because they say “bloody” all the time in Harry Potter movies! Clearly, the Harry Potter movies are not to be trusted as indicative of modern British life (this is also because the Harry Potter movies are about magic. I have yet to see an elf or a flying broom, and no matter how many times I say “Reducto!” while pointing my pencil-wand at my stack of books, the amount of work I have to do stays the same). Anyway, rather than saying “bloody,” the British use all sorts of other four-letter words that may sound familiar to you. Not that I’m going to repeat them here.
25: Break time | My former roommate and future Oxford-mate Madison asked me if she should pack hangers. This made me laugh, because it took me five days—five days!—to find hangers in Oxford. Since we didn’t know what any of the stores were (is WDSmith a clothing shop? A hardware store?), we continually passed the one shop in the city that carries hangers. It got to the point where we thought the Oxfordians were fashioning their own primitive hangers out of tree branches and twist-ties. Dear Madison: don’t pack hangers, but do pack Newsies please. I miss Christian Bale. Which is ironic, since he’s British. I have now been to three churches: a non-denominational one; a Methodist one; and an Anglican one. Someone spoke in tongues at the non-denominational one, the body of Christ tasted like Styrofoam at the Anglican one, and I liked the Methodist one best because they gave me a free lunch. It’s been great to hear stories from people who have been to Oxford or England or Europe. I like knowing that others I know have been here before me—it makes a sort of connection from home to here. E-mails and comments and even postcards are also great connections from home to here
26: Sunday, October 26, 2008: Contact information again | Reid said I should post my address so that people could send me stuff. Since, hey, I am definitely up for people sending me stuff: Joy Mason Flat 1 110c Banbury Road Oxford, UK OX2 6JU OR Joy Mason Regent's Park College Pusey Street Oxford, UK OX1 2LB You can also e-mail me at email@example.com, Skype me at joymarie6, or Facebook me at "Joy Mason." If you do want to send me something, I would really appreciate pictures! (Well, there are actually a lot of things I would appreciate, but I doubt anyone's going to send me a clothes dryer, a bike, or Madison McGraw.) I don't have a photo printer here, and my walls are bare, so I would love to be able to put up pictures of YOU! You can turn a picture into a postcard really easily if you put a stamp on the back, by the way.
27: Monday, October 27, 2008: Photos of my life | I decided to post some more photos, since I know people enjoy them. | This is an example of our at-home dinners. We have taken all of the rooms for bedrooms, and so we have no common area other than the kitchen and bathroom. Since it's generally considered bad practice to dine near a toilet, and since our kitchen is full of a mammoth clothes-drying rack, we usually eat in Robyn's room! | his meal was cooked by Sabrina, and it was quite yummy. Sabrina's the one with the fork in her mouth, Robyn's holding a duck, Erin has a purple shirt, and Bill is the boy. Bill does not live with us.
28: Photos of my life | This picture is an example of how we like to play games. This game is called "The Face Game." Here's how you play: one person has a camera. They say something, like, "Your television has exploded" or "You just found out you're an alien," and you have to react. The camera person takes a picture of your reactions, and afterward, you look at the pictures and laugh. This picture was a reaction to the statement, "Oxford's on fire!" I would particularly like to point out Robyn's reaction, which seems to be something along the lines of, "Eh, it's good, I can handle it." This also reminds me of "The Song Game." This game can (and should) be played anywhere. If, in normal conversation, a word or phrase makes you think of a song, then you sing that song. I bet sometime in the post, you will play this game.
29: Photos of my life | This is Robyn and me in The Eagle and Child. The Eagle and Child is the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien met quite often and eventually came up with the ideas for The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. Robyn and I did not come up with any ideas for novels, but since it's a small world after all, maybe we will sometime (yes, I realize that made no sense. But hey, now you're playing The Song Game!). | These are all the Oxbridgers who live in Oxford: Robyn, Erin, me, Lydia, Sabrina, and Bill. This is outside The Eagle and Child.
30: Photos of my life | And this is just a funny story. These are my inadvertantly-created wine-glass sculptures. I broke all three of them within 48 hours. I knocked one over with my robe, I dropped one from above my head, and I broke another drying it. The ironic thing is, I don't drink. The funny thing is that I'm no longer allowed to touch the wineglasses. Coming soon: pictures of where I take tutorials and the song that never ends and pictures from other places around Oxford. Oh, see, now you're playing The Song Game again...
31: Sunday, November 2, 2008: A British boy asked me to marry him, but I said no. | Okay, that's not true. But I got your attention! I figured that heading would be a lot more eye-catching than "My daily schedule" or something. Because now, I'm pulling a bait-and-switch: instead of talking about a fictional proposal, I'm going to talk about my daily life. Here's how my life goes: --wake up either to the sun (silent and nice) or to my alarm clock (annoying and tiny). Nearly crush clock in attempt to turn it off without falling out of bed --turn computer on, check Facebook --eat breakfast/check e-mail/check news/check Facebook/listen to Celtic Thunder (Dyanne: Celtic Thunder came out with a second CD!) --take shower, wish that British shower-tubs made sense --get dressed, wish I brought more clothes, and miss wearing flip-flops --check Facebook
32: A British boy asked me to marry him, but I said no. | --most mornings, leave house to go to a lecture in one of the ugliest buildings in Oxford (the good citizens of Oxford went through this phase in the 60s and 70s when they thought, "Hey! This beautiful old architecture is cool and all, but why don't we build all our new buildings out of concrete Kleenex boxes, broken glass, and discarded airport control towers! That'll be so aesthetically pleasing and matching and stuff!"). --after lecture, walk to Regent's (rocking out to Celtic Thunder on the iPod I borrowed from Abbie). And, behold! Regent's! | Okay, this actually isn't Regent's yet. The building on the left is St. Cross College. The building on the right is the Oxfam bookstore (where they sell Geobars, the best granola bar anywhere, ever), a newsstand, and The Eagle and Child. Regent's is behind Oxfam...
33: A British boy asked me to marry him, but I said no. | ...right here! The wall on the right is the outside wall of Regent's. And here... | ...is the inside courtyard of Regent's! I wish I had taken this picture before the leaves fell off the tree. Oh, well. Anyway, Regent's is a very tiny college. The courtyard is maybe as big as a football field, if not smaller. There are many more impressive colleges in Oxford (as you will see later), but I think Regent's is very pretty. And now, to return you to our regularly-scheduled walk through my day:
34: A British boy asked me to marry him, but I said no. | --lunch at 1:00. Eat too much (again) and wish the Brits knew how to properly spice food. Wonder at how the food can be so good and so bland at the same time. --on Tuesdays at 3: go to Victorian Literature tutorial at Regent's. Listen to professor act out all the parts from the novels I just read, get hungry, wonder where the padding in my armchair disappeared to. --on Fridays at 4: go to Oscar Wilde tutorial at Magdalen (reminder: pronounced Maudlin) College. Marvel at Magdalen College, because it looks like this: | And this: | Also, Magdalen College has a deer park. ALSO, C.S. Lewis taught there, and Oscar Wilde and a king of England (Edward VIII) went there.
35: A British boy asked me to marry him, but I said no. | --eat dinner at Regent's at 7:00. Revel in dessert. --go home, eat Digestives, wish that six-hour time difference between here and Kansas City did not exist, listen to Celtic Thunder. --go to sleep at midnightish. In between all this, I've joined several activities and groups here in Oxford, which I will be sure to tell you about soon. And in between all the activities and groups and tutorials and lectures and eating, I do homework. In my Victorian Literature tutorial, I am studying five authors and three poets in eight weeks. I am assigned novels or poems on Tuesdays, which I read from Tuesday to Saturday. This means that from Tuesday to Saturday, I read, on average, 250 pages a day. This is a lot of work for me (although, as I type this, I'm thinking of Laura in medical school laughing at me, saying, "You think that's work? I'll show you work!"). Sundays and Mondays, I write my paper over the novels/poems. I've gotten my essay-writing down to an art. It's just the kind of art where you throw some paint on the canvas, lay in the paint, wriggle around a bit, and call it good. My Oscar Wilde tutorial only happens every other week. I read about 40 pages a day for that one, because I have two weeks in which to do my work.
36: A British boy asked me to marry him, but I said no. | Finally, in between my homework and meals and later-to-be-explained activities, I do have fun. For instance, last week there was a costume party for Halloween. Erin wasn't able to make it, but Sabrina, Robyn and I dressed as three Greek goddesses: | I was Hera, Sabrina was Aphrodite, and Robyn was Athena. We even had a "Golden Apple" (i.e. an orange with a stem drawn on it). Here are some of our friends. Most of these people are American, except the cowboy (ironically), the ghost, and the two cat-girls on the left. | So, in my life, I eat a lot of Digestives (you're right, Aunt Debbie, they are some of the best cookies ever made), I read a lot of books, and I make a lot of friends. None of them have proposed to me, though.
37: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 Barack Obama and Buddy Holly | Trivia question: What do Barack Obama and Buddy Holly have in common? Trivia answer: I'm going to talk about both of them in this post. Last Tuesday was Election Day, which was exciting for everyone in America, Kenya, and England (and probably some other places, too). Since England is five hours ahead of the East Coast and eight hours ahead of the West Coast, results didn't start rolling in to this country until about 1 in the morning on Wednesday. Because this was a historic election, and because I am in another country, and because I did not want to do work, I stayed up all night watching the BBC's (not-so-stellar) coverage of the results. Our flat was very excited about the election. Our patriotism was so much that we sang American songs on the half-hour walk from our flat to Regent's (where we watched (and ridiculed) the BBC). We sang "America the Beautiful," "Yankee Doodle," and many other songs; we did not sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," because that's hard enough when you're not walking, and we can't sing that high.
38: Barack Obama and Buddy Holly | When we got to Regent's, we found a party! Regent's has about 200 students; 40-50 of them crowded into our tiny TV room for the beginning of the coverage. That's a large percentage of people who care: | There were about 10 American students there, and the rest were British. Many of you have asked me about how the British view the election, what it was like to be here, etc. 95% of British people fall into one of two categories: either we-love-Obama; or we-hate-anyone-who-doesn't-love-Obama. It's sort of along the same lines as British politics. You know how America has the left and the right? Well, Britain has the left and the farther left.
39: Barack Obama and Buddy Holly | It's amazing how much the British people care about who became our President. At the party, every time Obama won a state, they would cheer. Every time McCain won a state, their faces would become longer than John Kerry's. Though they had no say in the election, and though the results didn't technically directly affect them, they were so invested in the outcome. Their viewpoint is that America is the most powerful country on earth (true), that whatever America does, England will follow (also probably true), and that a Republican president would cause the downfall of Western civilization (debatable). When you look at it like that, it's no wonder they cared so much. In light of all that, you would think the BBC would have put a lot of effort into making the election coverage good. While it's possible that they BBC did put a lot of effort into their coverage, their efforts did not work. We spent the night watching David Dimbleby say, "And now we take you to Florida...I think...where Ann Smith is waiting. Ann? Ann? ...Ann? ....can you hear us? ....Ann?" And Ann Smith (who is probably not in Florida, but instead in Colorado or Kenya) is fifteen feet away from the camera, nearly out of the frame, chewing her gum. The alternatives were a crazy American who was formerly the ambassador to the UK who didn't understand that "live television" means you shouldn't make a fool of yourself, or interviews with slightly or not-so-slightly drunken and jubilant Obama supporters.
40: Barack Obama and Buddy Holly | And then Obama won, I watched the very excellent speeches (seriously, both candidate's speechwriters deserve a raise or at least some complimentary chocolates), and went to bed at 6 a.m., celebrating the fact that we can no longer speculate who will win and that British people will have to figure out other conversations to have with Americans. Later that week, I went to London! I was quite thrilled to get out of Oxford and see some more of England. My housemate Erin came with me:
41: Barack Obama and Buddy Holly | We would have been literally and figuratively lost without the maps I got from a pretty cool travel agent in Kansas City (thanks, Aunt Debbie!). And we met some of my friends who are attending Cambridge, including my very good friend Jacque who I missed a lot: We ate lunch at a tavern that gave us American-size portions (read: a piece of chicken bigger than my head and enough fries to put Steak-and-Shake out of business). It was delicious. | Then, Erin and I went to see a show. Now, we did not think things through very carefully, and we tried to buy tickets for a 3 p.m. show at 2 p.m. The tickets agents thought we were insane, which is possible. Our only options were "Buddy" for 23 pounds or "Hairspray" for 62 pounds. Since we are poorish, we decided to take a gamble on "Buddy." We had no idea what to expect: either it would be awesome, and we would feel good about spending our money; or it would be awful, and we would have a good story to tell.
42: Barack Obama and Buddy Holly | It was awesome. While the plot line of Buddy's Holly's career was thinner than Cindy McCain's eyebrows, the music was amazing and the musicians were incredible. The double-bass player played his bass while holding it above his head; while lying on top of it; one-handed; upside-down; and backwards. The actor playing Buddy Holly played an amazing guitar solo while holding the guitar behind his head, and he sang a 30- second long part of "Johnny B. Goode" in one breath (that may not sound like much, but you try singing "His mother told him 'Someday you will be a man, and you will be the leader of a big old band. Many people coming from miles around to hear you play your music when the sun go down. Maybe someday your name will be in lights saying Johnny B. Goode tonight'" in one breath). It was totally worth the 23 pounds we paid, especially because we were the youngest people there by a good 15 years, and a bunch of middle-aged British women and one very uncomfortable British man got up and danced in the aisles at the end. So what do Buddy Holly and Barak Obama have in common? Buddy Holly rocked the music world, and Obama ba-rocked the vote.
43: Thursday, November 20. 2008: More about England | Just so you know, I tried to think of a catchy title and witty beginning for this post. I read quotes on imdb.com (mostly from Muppet Treasure Island, my movie-of-the-week), I scoured my iTunes for good song titles (I seriously considered "Mmmbop" and "You Can't Stop the Beat", mostly to get you playing the Song Game again), and I even Googled "quotes about England" (I discovered that no one ever said anything interesting about England). So, there is my title, and here is my beginning: Let's talk about differences again. I have now been to three cities in England, so I feel like an expert...sort of. By the way, the British are very particular about what kind of municipality can be called a city. Unlike the US, where any group of people can call themselves a city if they want (this is why New York is a city and so is Branson), the British only call a place a city if it has a cathedral. London is a city not because it has something like seven million people; it is a city because it has a cathedral. A place with seven people could be a city if it had a cathedral. (This may not be entirely true, but it's what British people tell me.)
44: And speaking of cities, here is another difference: English cities have buildings that look like this: | More about England | (The Bridge of Sighs in Oxford) | And this: | (St. John's College chapel in Cambridge, which I visited this week! Jacque was there. I was happy).
45: More about England | Now, I love America, but we just don't have a lot of stuff like this that compares. The reason? America is new. In England, people talk about buildings and laws and roads and traditions that are "just" 200 years old. In America, 200 years is most of the country's existence. Because England is so old, the British think they invented everything. This is not true. The world must thank America for: the cotton gin; toilet paper (bet you didn't know that one); vacuum cleaners (which the British call Hoovers, presumably because Herbert Hoover cleaned up a lot (this is a joke)); the airplane; crayons; the chocolate chip cookie (they do acknowledge this one, as they call chocolate chip cookies "American cookies"); e-mail; the space shuttle; and peanut butter. What have the British contributed? Apple pie (I know! "American as apple pie" is not a legitimate saying! My world was rocked too!); table-tennis; and Stephen Hawking. The age of the country means that everything here is taller, because, you know, older things just keep growing up. Like trees and people and buildings, apparently. Doorknobs, key entries, locks: all are at the level of my shoulders. I'm short, but I'm not that short (jokes from little brothers need not be told here).
46: More about England | One of my favorite differences in language is how the Brits greet you. In America, we say "How are you?" and respond with something like "Fine, thanks!" Here, they say "You alright?" and respond with "Yeah." This presents several cultural divide differences. For the first three weeks I was here, I thought I looked upset all the time because people kept asking me if I was alright. Also, sometimes when you ask a British person, "How are you?", they say, "Yeah." This does not make sense unless you know that they think you asked them a yes-no question. Also, here in England, and especially in Oxford, the British have one hobby: being safe. Their favorite things to do are to pet (declawed) kittens, look both ways before crossing the street, and eat all their vegetables. They love to be safe! (This paragraph brought to you for the benefit of any parents who may be sending their children to England in the near future.) | Another difference between England and America is that America is home and England is not. I'll be honest, I've been homesick. But, I've gotten postcards from friends and a pretty awesome collage from the Ohio Masons, AND my parents sent me flowers! Aren't they beautiful?
47: More about England | So I do miss home, and I miss you, but I love being here. I'm doing so much more than finding out differences: I'm learning to navigate a city on a bike; I'm figuring out how to do a lot of homework in not very much time; I'm making new friends; I'm learning how to boil water to make pasta; I'm memorizing songs by Chicago and Frank Sinatra; I'm even doing my own laundry! And those are all good reasons to be here, I think.
48: Tuesday, November 25, 2008: My Favorite Things; or, Another Themed Post | In this post, I will talk about My Favorite Things, basing my comments off the lyrics of "My Favorite Things." Be excited. | Raindrops on roses: It rains a lot here, as you might imagine. Sometimes the rain is very annoying. My jeans get wet, my hair tangles, and my glasses need windshield wipers. However, I do love using my umbrella, and sometimes the rain means it's nice to stay inside by my warm radiator. Here is what it looks like right before it's going to rain: | This is at St. John's College in Cambridge.
49: My Favorite Things | And whiskers on kittens: When I am bored, I go to http://www.icanhascheezburger.com/. It's a website of pictures of cats with funny captions. Bright copper kettles: Tea, of course! Everyone drinks tea like water here. I have learned that English teas are good, and Chinese teas | are not. I have also grown to very much appreciate "Brew time" at Regent's. This is because "Brew time" has "biscuits," which means cookies. And man, do I love cookies: And warm woolen mittens: Because seriously, who doesn't love 1) being warm, | 2) wool, and 3) mittens? In addition to warm woolen mittens, I also love warm woolen scarves, such as the one I'm wearing in this picture:
50: My Favorite Things | Please note that my warm woolen scarf is a Harry Potter Gryffindor scarf, which some of you may recognize... The people I'm with are Erin, Sabrina, and Marisol (who is on the far right. She goes to Cambridge, and came to visit this weekend!). Brown paper packages tied up with strings: I got a package from my parents today! It had a Calvin and Hobbes book, and a Get Fuzzy book, and the comics! The British don't have funny pages (maybe because the British aren't funny...?), and even their political cartoons aren't that hilarious. So I was psyched to get funny things. | Cream colored ponies: Okay, this one is a stretch: people ride cream-colored ponies, right? Well, I don't ride any ponies, but I do ride a bike! It has been amazing. Instead of walking 25 minutes to college, I get there in 7 (I timed it). I now have more time for reading, writing, and (most importantly) napping. Here is my bike. It is named "The Pink Ugly."
51: My Favorite Things | And crisp apple strudel: This leads me back to dessert. Oh, man, do I love dessert. I've mentioned Digestives before, and several of you wondered if I was eating laxative cookies. I am not. Digestives are regular cookies. There are four kinds: regular (which are delicious with peanut butter); milk chocolate (my favorite); dark chocolate; and Cadbury chocolate. They are delicious. I don't know why they have such an unappealing name as "Digestives." They should be called "Deliciouses" or something. | Door bells and sleigh bells: This one is super weak, I'm sorry. Bells make music. So do organs (told you it was weak). On Sunday, I travelled to London with my church group, and we went into a big Methodist hall. Here is the organ: The people are in the picture to show you how big it is. The largest pipes are 32 feet tall, and there are 4,371 pipes. It was very impressive (side note: I saw this organ on November 23, and I wished Mimi could have been there to play it).
52: My Favorite Things | And schnitzel with noodles: Food! I also love food. My eating schedule goes something like this: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack, snack. And I get two Thanksgiving dinners, which I'll tell you about in the next post. I've been to several good restaurants here. In Cambridge, Jacque and I went to a really good pub called The Flying Pig: | Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings: The geese here are different! This may sound obvious, but they don't have Canadian geese. They have Mother Goose geese! See: I was so excited when I saw these. It was like all my childhood stories had been personified into a bird.
53: My Favorite Things | Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes: We get to dress up for Formal Hall every week, which is a lot of fun: Sabrina, Joy, Robyn, Marisol, Erin. Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes: I find it hilarious that here, when it frosts, they get excited about the snow. They hardly even know what snow is! Silly Brits. | Silver white winters that melt into springs: Yeah, I've got nothing. I haven't been here for a winter or spring yet. I'll let you know what I think, though, no worries! These are a few of my favorite things: Here are some more things that I like: The Bodleian Library.
54: My Favorite Things | Insides of chapels, churches, and cathedrals. This is St. John's chapel (Daddy, I knew you'd like seeing the inside of a church!). | Hanging out in our flat in my pajamas. Erin likes doing that, too. | I also like comments on my blog posts. I hear from my parents that a how-to on posting comments may be useful. At the bottom of this post, there is a link that says "0 comments" or "1 comment" or something like that. Click on the link. Then click "Publish Your Comment," and the world will know that you are here (who can name the movie that quote comes from?). So, when the dog bites (I miss my dog and cat), when the bee stings (...I miss bee-ing home?), when I'm feeling sad, I simply remember my favorites things (including you!), and then I don't feel so bad.
55: Thursday, December 4, 2008 Michaelmas and holidays | As I typed that title, I realized that I may not have mentioned Michaelmas before. Oxford has three terms instead of two semesters, and the terms have names. First term is Michaelmas, second term is Hilary, and third term is Trinity. Michaelmas and Hilary are named because of saint feast days, and Trinity is named because...well, just because. If you go to the Other Place (that's what we call Cambridge), they call them Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter, named after holy holidays (is that redundant?). Michaelmas is very nearly over! As far as I'm concerned, Michaelmas is over. My last paper was due Tuesday night, and my last tutorial was yesterday. I have totally checked out of academic life. Actually, I sort of checked out of academic life over a week ago, which made writing those last two papers a little difficult. (Let's take a moment to talk about those last two papers. At Oxford, they technically give grades on a scale to 100. However, if you get an 85, that's publishable. Students realistically get grades on a scale to 70. 70 is a I, 65-69 is an Upper 2.1, 60-64 is a Lower 2.1, etc, etc, etc. My first two papers for my two tutorials were a 64 and a 63, which was acceptable. My last two papers were a 69 and a 70, which was exciting. Clearly, I should check out of academic life more often.) Why did I check out so early? The holidays came!
56: Michaelmas and holidays | Last Wednesday was the JWS's (a church group I've joined) Advent Dinner. It was very good food (although I did not like Christmas pudding; Kermit clearly has no idea what he's talking about in Muppet Christmas Carol when he says Christmas pudding is magnificent), and there was a pantomime! Pantomimes are a very big deal here. They are not silent with gestures, like you might think. Instead, they're long skits (or short plays?), usually about a well-known story. There's always a man dressed as a woman, usually a woman dressed as a man, and frequently bad jokes. The JWS did "Alice in Wonderland": | What you're seeing here is the Rev. Martin as the Rabbit, Jonathan as the Mad Hatter (which was so typecasting), Mark as Tweedledum (or maybe Tweedledee), James as Alice, and Gemma as Tweedledee (or maybe Tweedledum). Also a bunch of bottles of fizzy water, which is gross.
57: Michaelmas and holidays | The next day was Thanksgiving! My first Thanksgiving dinner was at Spencer House, where a bunch of our American friends live. Brandon was our amazing cook: This was the "family" of Thanksgiving dinner #1: Mrs. Ross, Ryan, Erin, Brandon, Stacy, Kristin, Phil, Sabrina, Dr. Ross, me, Erin, Dr. Robson.
58: Michaelmas and holidays | When we get bored, we take pictures of ourselves (I think this is some kind of commentary on my generation and its narcissism/obsession with photos, but whatever). I'm posting these because I think Reid would be proud of me and my sneakiness: | After Thanksgiving dinner #1, we went to the Regent's Park pantomime! It was "Cinderella": Salmonella the Ugly Stepsister, the Ugly Stepmother, and Rubella the Ugly Stepsister.
59: Michaelmas and holidays | Saturday we had another Thanksgiving dinner at Stanley Road, where more Americans live! It was also delicious, but I did not take a picture of the food. But here I am with Erin! And finally, last night was the Christmas Carol Sing-Along at the Sheldonian Theatre. The Sheldonian Theatre is huge, and it was packed with students, and we all sang along to a brass band. It was amazing! I am so ready for Christmas carols now that it's past Thanksgiving. | So, Michaelmas term is essentially over. I have: --read a lot --written a lot --not 'rithmaticked a lot --walked a lot --watched House a lot --blogged a lot --eaten cookies a lot | --been wet a lot --been confused a lot (seriously, sometimes it's like another country over here or something) --taken pictures a lot --taken naps a lot --learned a lot | I don't think I'm going to post over Christmas break. Reid and I are flying back with several of my Jewell friends on Dec. 29, so stayed tuned then for our adventures! Merry Christmas!
60: Sunday, December 28, 2008: Today's post brought to you by the letter S | Season's Greetings to everyone who's reading this! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and that your New Year's is wonderful as well. Since December 7, I have been at home, enjoying the company of my family, my dog, and my cat, making numerous trips up to Jewell, doing a little bit of homework, taking naps, and reading and watching a lot of Harry Potter. Satisfactory as my homebound break has been (I've loved it!), it's time for me to take off and... See the world! For the rest of my Christmas break, I'll be traveling in Scotland and Spain. (I thought I might travel Europe based on letters. I was hoping to get through all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I don't think "Xciting Italy" will count for the letter X. Which is a shame, really, as the letter X is quite a neglected and lonely letter.) I thought you might be interested in hearing my travel itinerary. Stop #1 is Scotland. I'm going to Edinburgh with my brother, Reid, and my friends Bill, Brett, Madison, and Robyn. Robyn, you may recall, lives with me; Brett and Madison go to Jewell, and are spending second semester in Oxford. We'll spend New Year's Eve and New Year's there, and on January 2, Reid and I will sally forth to spectacular Spain!
61: Today's post brought to you by the letter S | Stop #2 is Granada, Spain, where Reid and I will spend January 2-3. We'll then take a train to Seville, Spain, and stay January 3-5. On January 5, we'll fly to Barcelona, and on January 6, we'll return to London. Sadly, Reid leaves for the US on January 7. Happily, I return to Edinburgh to rejoin Brett, Madison, and Robyn. On January 9, we'll come back to Oxford. Soon after my return, I will post many pictures and stories of our travels! So many of you have expressed good wishes and prayers for Reid and I as we start our travels. I'd like to thank you for those, and to ask for continued prayer as we journey, quite literally, into a great unknown. This is the first real trip that either Reid or I have taken without our parents, and that's a big responsibility. If you could pray for safety and health for Reid, Bill, Brett, Madison, Robyn, and I; for comfort for my parents and Abbie at home; for fun; and most of all, for God's guidance and revelation on this trip, that would be wonderful. See you soon!
62: Tuesday, January 13, 2009: "Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up." | This quote is a perfect introduction to my first blog about my break for several reasons. First, I took ten days in two countries, seven cities, four hostels, and two apartments with four other people resulting in five hundred and fifty-three photos, five videos, and several games of Texas Hold 'Em. While I would love to explain all of that to you, there is too much, so I shall sum up. Second, this quote is from the 1987 movie The Princess Bride, and is said by Inigo Montoya, a Spaniard. Since we went to Spain, this is perfect. Finally, you can never go wrong with The Princess Bride. I've decided to blog about my adventures in three posts, a sort of adventure trilogy. This trilogy might become like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, which is a trilogy in five parts. We'll just have to see what happens. Anyway, this post will sum up Oxford and New Year's, as well as contain some useful how-to-read a blog tips. So. Let me sum up.
63: "Let me sum up." | We--my brother Reid, my friends Brett, Madison, and Robyn, and I--left Kansas City on December 29, laden with luggage: We arrived in Oxford on December 30, although it still felt like December 29 since we had never gone to sleep. The jet lag didn't affect me or Robyn very much this time (we probably had never truly gotten on Kansas City time), but it knocked out Reid and Brett and Madison. Madison made it to a bed before she fell asleep (she's in the top right corner of the photo below), but Reid collapsed on the floor: We wore all of our clothes to bed because my flat's heat had gone off over Christmas and would not turn back on. However, after a very deep night's sleep, we headed to Edinburgh on December 31.
64: "Let me sum up." | The train ride was about eight hours long, and we all passed the time variously. We slept, we read, we took pictures, and Reid and I played poker. The stakes were high: we played with raisins (which, when you think about it, is funny. It means you say "I see your raisin and raise you one raisin." There's some sort of pun there). Reid won: | Once we got to Edinburgh, we traipsed to our apartment. I think traipsed is the right word to use here, especially if it evokes for you images of slightly giddy people lugging huge backpacks up and down hills and around dales like it does for me (by the way, Skaggs family: thank you so much for those backpacks! They were great). Anyway, December 31 is New Year's Eve, so we went to Edinburgh's party.
65: "Let me sum up." | Edinburgh's New Year's party is called Hogmanay. There were 100,000 people crammed onto something like ten blocks' worth of street (that's 10,000 people a block!). People weren't very drunk, which was a pleasant surprise (although we did see one guy trying to figure out how to unbuckle his jeans because he'd belted them over his thighs and couldn't walk. If you've ever been in a middle school, you know what this looks like), and there was some good food. The five of us enjoyed ourselves:
66: "Let me sum up." | Then, it was the countdown! After the countdown were the most amazing fireworks Reid and I had ever seen. They shot them off over Edinburgh Castle for fifteen or twenty minutes, and it was great. Here is a picture of the fireworks: | And here is the very first picture of Reid taken in 2009: | Then the crowd sang "I Would Walk (500 Miles)." I cannot explain this. It must be a Scottish thing.
67: "Let me sum up." | The next morning, the five of us went to Edinburgh Castle. It was very cool. Here is the castle from the cemetery we walked through:
68: "Let me sum up." | Here is a view of Edinburgh from the castle: | And here is me viewing the inside of Mons Meg, a giant cannon in the castle:
69: "Let me sum up." | Here I am (is this more correct than "here is me?" I feel like it is) with cannonballs that Mons Meg could have shot. They are quite large, and I think they might kill you if you got hit with one: | And this picture is a classic Joy-and-Reid picture, I think: | See, we wanted a photo of the two of us, but we were standing on an incline. I knew that if I were below Reid on the incline, then I would look like | Thumbelina next to the Jolly Green Giant, but I was having a hard time making him understand that. We had about three minutes of wrestling before this picture, during which Brett thought we had already taken the picture, which is why he is also in the picture.
70: "Let me sum up." | This next photo is one of my all-time favorites. What a great-looking bunch of kids:
71: "Let me sum up." | Then we left Edinburgh Castle at night: | and went pubbing. The second pub we went to had a very familiar name... | Like Harry Potter! I totally had my Gryffindor scarf on in this pub. And then the next day, Reid and I left for Spain! This is already a long post, but I would like to leave some handy how-to tips before I end this.
72: "Let me sum up." | First, if you want to go to an earlier post, that is on the top right-hand side of the page. Click on the arrow next to the month you want, and click on the title of the post you want to read. Second, on the right-hand side of the page, there is a list of Labels. If you want to read all the posts where I have labeled that I mention Harry Potter, for instance, click on "Harry Potter," and all the posts will show up. Third, to comment on these blogs: At the bottom of this post, there is a link that says "0 comments" or "1 comment" or something like that. Click on the link. Under the box that says "Leave Your Comment," type whatever you want. Below that, choose either "Name/URL," or "Anonymous." If you choose "Name/URL," then type your name in the box that comes up when you click it. Then click "Publish Your Comment." Finally, if you want to contact me any way other than commenting, click on the Label "Contact information," and you'll find posts with my addresses and e-mails. More to come soon!
73: Wednesday, January 14, 2009: "You English. Me no English. Me Spanish. You no Spanish. You see?" | This was one of first encounters in Spain. On January 2, we flew from Edinburgh to Madrid and then took the train from Madrid to Granada. Since Edinburgh is in the United Kingdom, and since Madrid is the capital of Spain, most people in both places spoke English. However, this was not the case in Granada. When Reid and I got off the train in Granada, we decided to go ahead and buy our Granada-Sevilla tickets for the next day. We asked the ticket agent for help, and he sent us to the information desk (apparently. What actually happened is he spoke in Spanish and pointed away from him, so we went to the information desk). So we went to the information desk, and, lo and behold (really, what does that phrase mean?), the information desk guy didn't speak English either! He got a panicky look on his face when I spoke to him in English, and said the above quote. Reid saved the day by speaking Spanish--yay Reid!--and we found out that we had to buy our tickets the next day.
74: "You no Spanish. You see?" | After a long walk to our hostel during which we asked a guy on the street where we should go and he told us he was from Barcelona (which is not helpful if you're in Granada), we settled into our room for the night. The night in Granada was the only night we shared a room. It looked like this: | A guy snored so loudly Reid threatened to kick him. | Our plan for Granada was to go to the Alhambra Fortress. To get to the Alhambra Fortress, we had to hike up a mountain. Seriously. A mountain. Or at least a large hill. I nearly died. Here is a picture from the fortress from the bottom of the mountain:
75: "You no Spanish. You see?" | And here is a picture of the steep deathwalk up the mountain (we were, by the way, lugging our backpacks again. That's one reason I nearly died): | And here is a picture from the top, sort of: | Granted, the view was nearly worth the hike. Unfortunately, the fortress had run out of admission tickets by the time we crawled to the ticket booth (okay, I crawled. Reid looked like he'd just woken up from a nice, refreshing nap. It was like a movie), so we didn't get to go into the fortress.
76: "You no Spanish. You see?" | Instead, we walked back down the mountain through some very pretty, misty woods. In the woods, we found...something. A door? A gate? You tell us: | Once we got back to town, we decided to go into Granada's cathedral. This decision was partly made because we'd heard it was cool, and partly made because we thought we could sit down in the cathedral. | Both of these were true.
77: "You no Spanish. You see?" | Then we ate lunch. Our lunch in Granada was apparently a defining moment for Reid's trip. You see, my mood is tied to my stomach. When my stomach is full, I am happy. When my stomach is empty, I am grumpy. I become irrational. I bite people's heads off (figuratively, although if it were literally then my stomach would be full again!). In Granada, we ate breakfast at 8:30ish, conquered a mountain, walked the length of Granada twice, AND it rained and got all of our stuff wet, all before we had lunch at 3ish! Pizza Hut has never tasted so good. At the Pizza Hut, they had some sort of Spanish MTV on, and we saw an amazing video. I tried to find it on YouTube, but couldn't. It's called "La Autorradio Canta" by Miguel Bose, if you want to try and find it yourself. Then we took the train to Sevilla. Here is the landscape we saw: Most of the landscape of southern Spain was covered in those lines of trees. I'm pretty sure they're olive trees.
78: "You no Spanish. You see?" | During the train ride, we had our first encounter with people thinking Reid and I were Spanish. The Spanish conductor-guy came into our train, and spoke for a little while in...Spanish. He looked at the Spanish family in the car, who nodded like they understood (which they probably did), then he looked at Reid and me and nodded like he thought we understood (which...we didn't). Then he looked at another group of Americans, leaned down and spoke to them in Spanishy-English, and left. One of the other Americans leaned over to Reid and me and said, "Do you speak English?" We said yes. He said, "Oh good. What did the conductor say?" We told him we don't speak Spanish, and he was surprised. That story is one of those that was funny at the time, but not so funny in the telling. But that's okay, the point of it was to say that a lot of people thought Reid and I were Spanish. We're not. Reid and I both enjoyed Granada, even if I was grumpy for a little bit of it. It was the most Spanishy-Spanish city we visited; all the streets were tiny and twisty, and every other door was a shop trying to sell you souvenirs. It was a calm city, and their mid-day siesta lasts for hours. Coming next: a trip in Kansas City's sister city, Sevilla! (Say that sentence three times fast.)
79: Saturday, January 17, 2009: Kansas City's sister city | We arrived in Sevilla on January 3, ate a very late dinner in a restaurant where the lights kept turning off, and went to sleep. We spent all day January 4 in Sevilla, which was our longest stay and our busiest. That means this post will be the longest and have the most pictures. The first thing we did in Sevilla was walk to the cathedral in the center of the city. The area looked a lot like the Plaza in Kansas City (it's the whole sister-city thing; if you're related you look alike):
80: Kansas City's sister city | We sort of accidentally went to a High Mass in the Spanish cathedral, which was cool for the first fifteen minutes and then cold for the next half hour until we could leave (ha, a pun, get it? There's no heating in old cathedrals...). Then we went into the Alcazar Castle, which was built by Peter II in some century, was added onto by some other kings in other centuries, and is generally very big, expensive, impressive, and architecturally Islamic-influenced. The big plaza in the middle was one of my favorite parts: | And here is a bit of trivia I bet you didn't know. According to my friend Chris, "This image is from a video game called Hitman 2, a lot of people died here in that game." Reid's response? "If you look closely, you can see only two other people are in the picture. That's because the rest are dead. I'm actually holding a gun in my left hand, you just can't see it." As a non-video-gamer, I can't decide whether this is disturbing or amusing. But anyway.
81: Kansas City's sister city | Peter II and the other Spanish kings really liked gardens, and Alcazar Castle had the most impressive garden I'd ever seen. It even had a maze! I am short enough that I got suitably lost in the maze, but Reid was able to find his way out using his periscope-like height: | Here is a picture of the gardens from the second story of the castle: | And that's just a small portion. There were also eight million orange trees, a small herd of ducks (gaggle of ducks? Pride of ducks? Oh, wait, flock of ducks), the biggest non-predatory fish I have ever seen in my life, several gazebo shrine things, and enough bushes to encircle the Kansas City metro area.
82: Kansas City's sister city | We ate lunch at a tapas restaurant, where we had some "hamburgers" (that is, pieces of beef and slices of onion on top of fried bread) and something called "croquetas de pucheros," which kind of tasted as if they had breaded a pureed mix of mushrooms, cream cheese, cow spit, and leftover grease. Next was the Plaza de Espana. It is gigantic. Here is a picture of a third of it: | See the ants in the picture? Those are actually people. This place was huge. Another illustration of its grandosity (warning: that is not a real word):
83: Kansas City's sister city | Then, Reid and I went to a bullfighting arena! I am quite glad that the bullfighting season doesn't start until March, because I don't like blood. Or angry animals. Here is the arena. It's special because it is not perfectly round like most bullfighting arenas. Instead, it is an oval. | The last thing we did that day was visit the cathedral again, this time for less religious reasons. I think the cathedral kind of looks like a cruise ship. But maybe that's just me: | This cathedral has a huge tower (originally a minaret, which is the tower from which Muslims are called to prayer; the cathedral used to be a mosque, until Christians took over everything). We climbed the 24 flights to the top (there were literally 24 landings, I am not exaggerating), and looked out over the city.
84: Kansas City's sister city | Our hostel is somewhere in there. The inside of the cathedral was gorgeous, definitely worth seeing if you ever make it to Sevilla: | We ate dinner at a restaurant two blocks away from a Spanish version of Chuck E. Cheese. There were eight children in our immediate vicinity, all of them with balloons, two of which popped during our meal. The restaurant was full inside and outside (we were outside) with at least 75 patrons, and there was one waiter and one chain-smoking drink-server. However, it was one of the best meals we had.
85: Kansas City's sister city | That night, we went to flamenco dancing. I had never seen true flamenco dancing before, and it was ridiculously amazing. I've heard the phrase "sang from his heart" before, but had never seen it truly in action until we watched the flamenco singer. The guitarist (who, incidentally, kind of looks like Adam from the library) played so fast that it sounded like three people were playing. The flamenco dancer made funny faces and could have lifted a large elephant with just her calves. Flamenco dancing is kind of like tap dancing, if tap dancing could have a two-hour-long sugar high caused by a million Pixi Stix and twelve gallons of high-fructose lemonade. Here is a picture: | Here is the amazing flamenco dancer. It was seriously, genuinely, literally one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. Those three people worked so hard that Reid and I were tired just watching by the time we left. So we went to bed.
86: Kansas City's sister city | The next morning, we woke up very early and caught two buses to the airport. Before we left, though, we took one last picture: | We love Kansas City. And we loved Sevilla. It was like home, in Spain, with more orange trees and no English. Also a terrible mass transit system, but you'll hear more about that in my next post. Coming next: "Barcelona: is it a lisp or an accent?"
87: Tuesday, January 20, 2009: Espana no es buena en transporte publico | Loosely translated, this means "the dereliction of the conveyance of aggregated peoples in Spain." Okay, that's true. But what that means exactly and literally translated is "Spain is not good at public transportation." Our first experience of Spain's inadequate public transport came when we took the train from Grenada to Sevilla. Remember when I told you about the Spanish conductor coming in to the car and assuming we knew what he was saying? Well, what he was saying was, "The train tracks ahead are flooded. You need to take a bus to avoid the flooded train tracks, because trains do not float very well." Now, I understand flooding. But I sort of feel like rain is a common occurrence (after all, the rain in Spain does fall mainly on the plain, Eliza Doolittle), and maybe the Spanish should find a better way to deal with it (rain) than bussing 500 passengers between 2 and 8000 miles out of their ways.
88: Espana no es buena en transporte publico | Our second experience of Spain's rather questionable understanding of mass transit was when we flew from Sevilla to Barcelona. After Reid and I got to the airport, we sat for a while in the waiting seats, and then we heard the announcement that our flight was boarding. It was even on time. Hooray! So all 250 passengers got in the line that led to the boarding gate, and then we...stood there. For half an hour. I generally understand the "ing" part of "boarding" to mean "in the process of getting on board" as in "moving," but this is apparently not the case. We eventually got on our plane after a nice long walk on the tarmac (not to the tarmac, on the tarmac. I felt like a Michelle Obama, climbing up the stairs to my very own private-plus-249-other-people plane), and sat down. Unfortunately, I was seated next to a Spanish lady who looked liked Jabba the Hut and didn't seem to understand that "no hablo espanol" means that I don't speak Spanish. The fact that I was sitting next to George Lucas's inspiration for a worm-fiend did not detract from the fact that the landscape over which we flew was gorgeous. Barcelona is surrounded by some of the most beautiful and picturesque mountains I have ever seen. They certainly don't have the grandeur of the Rockies or the wooded splendor of the Appalachians or the snow of the Alps (okay, I've never seen the Alps), but their combination of jutting rocks and rolling hills spread in greens and golds and browns was amazing. Plus they had those cool white windmills that actually turn air into energy.
89: Espana no es buena en transporte publico | The oddest part of the trip was the end, actually. After we touched down at the Barcelona airport, the entire plane burst into applause. It was as if the Spanish were saying, "Hooray! We made it without dying! Thank you, Mr. (or Ms.) Pilot for only jarring our bones just a little on this touchdown and for making it the whole way through this hour-long flight without running into the side of a mountain!" Now, I have since learned that applauding at the end of flights used to be common. And, as we all learned after the US Airways incident on the Hudson, pilots certainly should be commended for doing a good job. But I'm more inclined to think that the Spanish were applauding because they are so used to bad mass transit that they are overjoyed when they make it somewhere without trouble. So anyway, we walked for about half an hour from the plane (on the tarmac again, I did my Jackie O wave walking down the steps) to the building. This I learned: never ever fly into Barcelona Reus airport. It looks like they began to build it in 1983 and then just forgot to finish. Then we got on a bus and rode two hours, and then we were finally in Barcelona. Yay (or yea!)!
90: Espana no es buena en transporte publico | In Barcelona, we mostly walked around. I'm pretty sure we explored most of the city because we got lost several times, but we also were not on a schedule and that was great. We bought some delicious apples at a two-story grocery store: | Seriously, how cool is that? That is, by the way, Reid, not some random stranger. And then we went to the Sagrada Familia temple, designed by Gaudi. This temple/cathedral/whatever (I'm honestly not sure what exactly it is) is amazing. Antoni Gaudi began to design and build it in 1882, and it's still a work in progress. According to Barcelona's tourist guide, it's not expected to be finished until sometime between | 2033 and 2083. Yeah, wow. Gaudi was clearly ahead of his time in his designs:
91: Espana no es buena en transporte publico | And the inside is just beautiful. Just look at those colors! Humans (Reid and I are in the middle, wearing black and brown and looking related) were again dwarfed by the size of the building: | Reid and I paid the 12 euro to get into the cathedral, which was probably worth it. It's worth going just to see the outside, though.
92: Espana no es buena en transporte publico | Then we wandered around the city some more, found a Burger King for dinner, and returned to our hostel by 7 p.m. We were very tired, so we hung out in our room until we finally went to sleep. The next morning, we went to the good Barcelona airport (called the Barcelona airport instead of the Barcelona Reus airport. That should've been a hint to me), and again discovered that Spain does not know how to move people. We had to take a bus from the boarding gate to the plane. Does that make sense? Anyway, we ended up in London, which is a day for another post. Or a post for another day. I feel like both phrases actually apply there. I'd very quickly like to give some impressions of Spain that I have thus far saved: --In Barcelona, people lisp--that is, their accent means their "s" is pronounced "th." Thus, Barcelona sounds like "Barthelona." Also thus, it is common for people to spray it and say it (or thpray it and thay it?). --Also, in the north of Spain, there are two different types of Spanish: Castilian and Catalan. Therefore, in Barcelona, all the signs were in three different languages (those two and English). I found this fascinating. Apparently Castilian is the traditional Spanish, while Catalan is a mixture of Spanish and French (thank you, Yahoo! Answers). --Everyone smokes in Spain, including young children and pets (okay, that part's not true). I think this is gross.
93: Espana no es buena en transporte publico | --The Spanish like piercings, especially lip piercings. You know the ones that kind of look like moles or zits right above or below peoples' lips? A ton of people had them, and very few people pulled off the look. There were also multiple ear piercings, eyebrow piercings, and nose piercings. --Another aspect of Spanish fashion is this: they are trying to re-vamp the mullet. It is not working. We saw all sorts of mullet-ish hairdoos. The best one was the dreadlock mullet. Please imagine: business up front, hippy party in the back. It was awful. --While the Spanish have not mastered mass transit, they are good at individual transit. There are many people who walk, lots of small cars, and a ton of motorcycles. Reid considered stealing a few of the motorcycles, but we decided that they would be hard to get through customs (almost as difficult as the fighting bull we were going to bring Dad--we settled on a t-shirt instead). Spain, overall, was a wonderful place to visit. Reid and I began in a very traditional Spanish town (Granada), and ended in a very modern city (Barcelona), with Sevilla falling somewhere in between traditional and modern. While our trip was non-stop travelling, I think we took enough time in each place to enjoy what it had to offer. I enjoyed it very much, and I think Reid did, too.
94: Monday, January 26, 2009: Bookends Theme | Reid and I went from Barcelona to London on January 6. We visited the London Gatwick Airport for the first time, which was pretty exciting, and then we found our hostel. Finding the hostel was kind of interesting. You know how I got really grumpy in Grenada because I was hungry? Well, it was Reid's turn to get grumpy in London because...we got lost. Not totally lost, mind you. We just walked up and down a few wrong streets before we found the right street sort of on accident. But hey, we made it to our hostel! We were ready for lunch, and so we decided to go to this pub I remembered, The Dickens Pub. It's the Longest Pub in London, and it had good food. The problem was, I forgot where it was. I was convinced it was just outside of the Victoria tube station, and so Reid and walked all the way around the Victoria tube station before deciding to go to another pub called The Victoria. It turns out that Dickens is outside of the Piccadilly tube station. But hey, we made it to a pub! We had a delicious lunch in The Victoria, where we met a nice couple who brought their rat-like dog into the pub. Apparently the rat-dog's name was Joy, too, which is some kind of funny. Another kind of funny: the lady let the dog drink her beer. Now, I don't know much about alcohol and its effects on the canine body, but this dog was maybe four pounds, and I think a few sips might have seriously impaired this dog's judgment.
95: Bookends Theme | After lunch, we went to the London Eye: We ended up going at night because it was 4:30 pm and England gets dark roughly three minutes after the sun rises, but that made London look even cooler from the Eye. We took a lot of pictures in the Eye. In this one, I think we look related: Which we are.
96: Bookends Theme | I am not the biggest fan of heights (I once sat cross-legged on the top of a mountain for ten minutes, terrified that I might fall over the three-foot-high safety fence and roll picturesquely to my death), and the Eye is 450 feet in diameter. This means that it is 450 high at the top, which is very high. And scary, if you are me: And here, ladies and gentlemen and children, is London at night. You might notice Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey right there in the middle. That's what they look like at night from 450 feet in the air.
97: Bookends Theme | Pretty impressive, yeah? Then we got off the Eye, and our mom called me with some good news. Reid got the IB Diploma! Yay, Reid! | We left the Eye and went to King's Cross Station. Hm, you say, King's Cross Station sounds familiar. Why is that? Well, I will answer your question with two pictures (both of which have the sign for Platform 9 and 3/4 in them):
98: Bookends Theme | I think now is an appropriate time to inform you that I am not actually at Oxford University. I am at Hogwarts. After being magically whisked back and forth through a brick wall, Reid and I went to go see a show in London's West End. We chose Zorro! Zorro! was a perfect choice because it had little bits and pieces of Spain and Spanish culture in it. There was even some flamenco dancing. While Zorro! was not the most impressive show we'd ever seen, we enjoyed it a lot. The actor who played Zorro was hilarious, and the actress who played Luisa sang beautifully. Plus they lit a 'Z' on fire at the beginning, and hey, who doesn't love (safely and professionally controlled) fire? Reid and I both felt like seeing Zorro! was a great way to end our Spain trip outside of Spain. On January 7, Reid left, and I was very sad. It was quite a task getting Reid home, as his plane in Heathrow was delayed for two and a half hours. We were all kind of worried for a little bit because all Reid had with him, besides clothes, was his MU ID, 5 English pounds, and 12 American dollars. (On an unrelated note, Reid, you owe me 5 English pounds and 12 American dollars.) He eventually got home to Kansas City, and I went on my way back to Edinburgh to meet Robyn, Brett, and Madison again. On sort of a side note, between December 29 and January 9, Reid took seven airplanes, five buses, and six trains, and I took five planes, five buses, and seven trains. That is a lot of sitting in small seats.
99: Bookends Theme | Robyn, Brett, Madison and I were in Edinburgh January 7 and 8. We visited the Royal Mile, the outside of Holyrood Castle, and Brett and I bought plaid things. I also discovered the two coolest streets in Edinburgh. Here is one: And here is the other: | Forsyth's Close, incidentally, might have been named after my ancestors on my mom's side. The plaid I bought was the Forsyth tartan, the official plaid of the Forsyth clan. Yeah, we have a clan. And it's Scottish, and maybe has a street named after it. The night before we left Scotland, we watched the movie Highlander. Robyn had been telling us about this movie for days, because it was set in Scotland and apparently a movie you just have to see. Well, I am here to tell you: you have to see this movie. It takes "bad movie" to a whole new level.
100: Bookends Theme | It was made in 1986 by the same director who later brought us such classics as Tale of the Mummy, Duran Duran music videos, and, yes, Highlander II. Sean Connery is an immortal Spaniard from Egypt with a Scottish accent (and we all say together, What?), the villain sounds like his throat is full of gravel, and the only other English-speaking role the main actor had before this movie was Greystroke: the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, where he only had a few lines. Oh, and Queen did all-new original music for the score. Please, just humor me and watch the trailer. Seriously, it's the worst movie you will ever see in your life. On January 9, Robyn and Brett and Madison and I had the longest. bus ride. ever. from Edinburgh to London. It was nine hours, and there wasn't enough leg room for the rat-dog named Joy, let alone any of us. We then had to take another bus from London to Oxford. Our bus driver was Lucifer. As in, the Devil. If ever anyone was a walking anti-smoking ad, this guy was. His voice was so ruined that when he spoke over the intercom to announce the next stop, it sounded as if we were slowly descending through the circles of Hell.
101: Bookends Theme | We got back to Oxford quite late on January 9, slept very well, and then woke up the next morning ready to begin the term! My break was great. I loved spending time with my little brother (even if he does put his thumb over the street names on maps), and it was great to visit two new countries! Thanks for persevering with me through this five-part trilogy (Don't Panic.) about my break of travels. From now until March 14, it's back to normal: I won't want to do homework, so I'll update this blog instead.
102: Wednesday, February 4, 2009: Procrastinators: leaders of tomorrow | Right now, I'm supposed to be writing a paper. But, see, I just don't care about Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft and how they undermined each other during the pamphlet wars of the 1790s. Seriously, who does care about that? I mean, Paine wrote Common Sense and sort of started the Revolutionary War, and Wollstonecraft had some pretty radical (read: absolutely insane) ideas in A Vindication of the Rights of Women, but I don't get to write about either of those. And who, outside of Britain, has ever heard of Edmund Burke? Actually, maybe if I rant a while longer, I'll just end up writing my paper right here on this blog. However, I will not subject you to a long-winded and short-interest essay. Instead, I figured I'd update you on what's been going on since I got back from break.
103: The weekend after I got back, my friend Jacque came to visit for three days. We visited several places, including Christ Church. Here I am, with my Harry Potter scarf on, in the Great Hall. Sadly, it does not have an enchanted ceiling like in the movie: | Procrastinators: leaders of tomorrow | And here is Jacque on steps which you may recognize from The Sorcerer's Stone (Draco Malfoy: "Think my name's funny, do you?") or The Chamber of Secrets (Dumbledore: "Is there something you'd like to tell me, Tom?").
104: Procrastinators: leaders of tomorrow | While Jacque was here, my flat decided to do pedicures. I only mention this so I can post this picture, which makes me happy. Those are, from left to right: Robyn's legs, Sabrina's legs, Jacque's legs, my legs, and Erin's legs. | As I reminded everyone, my birthday was a week after I got back, January 16. I decided to give myself a birthday present, which was a trip to London on January 15 with my housemates Sabrina and Erin to see the musical Billy Elliot.
105: Procrastinators: leaders of tomorrow | Anyway, we saw the matinee of Billy Elliot, and when we walked out, we saw the sign for Wicked across the street. We decided, on a whim, to see if there were tickets left for that night...and there were! Wicked is also amazing. So, happy birthday to me, I got to see two great shows in one day! The next day, my birthday, I got woken up by my family via Skype, and then I opened the gifts they had sent me. I was pretty psyched to get a bunch of CDs, all of them movie soundtracks, and three out of five of them Disney soundtracks! I also got flowers sent to me again! I really love flowers. (Also, thanks to all of you who sent me birthday cards via e-mail or snail mail! I really appreciate it!) That night I went to an Indian restaurant with my friends Erin, Brett (beard), Bill, Lena (next to me), Madison (white hat), Robyn, Lydia (green scarf), Ashton (big earrings), and Sabrina:
106: Procrastinators: leaders of tomorrow | Then, a week after my birthday, Jacque visited again, this time accompanied (side note: I cannot pronounce that word, and I am always impressed by people who can) by our friend Nicole: | Nicole has this problem with opening her eyes in pictures. This is a chair made out of the ship in which Sir Francis Drake sailed. The wood of this chair is something like 500 years old. That photo was taken in Oxford's Divinity School, where I learned something very important that I would like to pass on to you: British tour guides are so much better than American tour guides. | An American tour guide will take an awesome building, and proceed to tell you about the kind of rock it's made out of, where the rock was quarried, how many men carried the rock from the quarry, how much money it took to build the building, who gave the money, why they gave the money, the number of children they had, where they lived, how far that is in miles and kilometers from the building in which you're standing...basically, American tour guides, with few exceptions, talk until you feel as bored as the square stones you've been staring at for the past ten minutes. American tour guides have a script that they had to memorize, darn it, and they're sticking to it until they or (more likely) everyone on the tour dies. Don't deny it, you know it's true.
107: Procrastinators: leaders of tomorrow | Conversely, a British tour guide tells you that the building is "typical British architecture, that is," that it's better than French architecture because French architecture is "more flamboyant," that one of the symbols in the stone is a pagan symbol, points out the Virgin Mary on the ceiling, then leaves you to contemplate the splendor of the building and ask whatever questions you have. The next day, January 25, was the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns's (Burns'?) birth. Robert Burns was a pretty cool guy. o celebrate, we had dinner with our neighbors, the Mills family. We had traditional Scottish food--including haggis--read a Burns poem, and listened to Martin Mills address the haggis (as in, "hello, haggis," except poetically). And then it felt like term officially began, because my tutors gave me homework. I have two tutorials this term: English Literature 1740-1832, which I have once a week; and Andrew Marvell (a seventeenth-century poet), which I have once every other week. I'm enjoying both so far, although I've discovered that seventeenth-century poetry is a bit over my head (which isn't hard to do, right, Reid?). Coming up next: the rowing team, and an in-depth comparison of dinner in Jewell's cafeteria versus in Regent's Park's dining hall.
108: Thursday, February 12, 2009: Weather forecast for tonight: dark. | Thanks to the late (great?) George Carlin for that one. So, let's talk about the weather here where I live. According to Wikipedia, "England has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round, although the seasons are quite variable in temperature. The prevailing wind is from the south-west, bringing mild and wet weather to England regularly from the Atlantic Ocean. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring, although it is not that common away from high ground." Just so you know, Oxford is away from high ground. So is London. Nevertheless, last week, Oxford, London, and the rest of Britain experienced THE HEAVIEST SNOWFALL IN 18 YEARS. I'm sure you've heard about it. This was quite a big deal. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1132144/Its-going-week-Worst-snow-18-years-brings-Britain-slithering-halt--costs-economy-3bn.html (please note that they say Britain comes to a "slithering" halt. What great word choice. Just think of the images that evokes: cars sliding off the road, people slipping on icy sidewalks, snakes on a plane.)
109: Weather forecast for tonight: dark. | According to The Daily Mail at , this snowstorm cost Britain 3 billion pounds. 6.4 million workers stayed home on February 2, and "London's buses were halted for the first time in living memory - they even continued to run during the Blitz - and the rail network ground to a predictable halt." Heathrow closed both of its runways (snakes on planes, you know), and a shortage of snowplows (which they spell snowploughs) meant that roads were dangerous and sidewalks were sheets of ice. Now, I saw this snowstorm in Oxford. On February 2, when London was shutting down its buses and the Tube and millions of Britons were enjoying their days at home in front of radiators with cups of Earl Grey and biscuits with blackcurrant jam filling, I was crunching through the inch of snow wondering what the big deal was. Here's what that "big" storm l ooked like in Oxford:
110: Weather forecast for tonight: dark. | And here, to my everlasting joy, is what my neighbor girls did with the snow. That's right. They made a pirate snowman. I think it's the cutest thing I've ever seen. | The big snowstorm didn't hit Oxford until February 5, a Thursday. You could tell it was coming on Wednesday. My rowing team went out to practice on the water, and our boat and paddles iced over as we rowed. It was quite cold. Thursday brought several inches of snow, which made everything look like this: (PS, this is not my house. I forgot to take a picture of my house.)
111: Weather forecast for tonight: dark. | And this, my backyard: And this: | Making us want to stay in all day like this: That's Sabrina and Erin.
112: Weather forecast for tonight: dark. | To the girls in my flat (three of us from Missouri and one of us from Colorado), the four inches of snow in Oxford wasn't a big deal in terms of stopping the world. In Kansas City, every street except N. Tracy would have been cleared and the sidewalks would have been iced or shovelled by 9 am (I say that with much optimism. This is always not true in Kansas City. But hey, when you're away from something, you only remember the good things, right?). In Oxford, they had no snowploughs. My friend who lives south of Oxford saw some city workers clearing her street by hand: each of them shovelled his own little three-foot-wide strip of road. Where I live, they let the buses pack down tracks for tires. The sidewalks were deathwalks, except where they threw sand (as in, from a beach); then, they were muddy deathwalks. I complain, but, truly, the snow was beautiful. The Thursday morning after the big snowstorm, my housemate Erin and I woke up at 6:15 and went down to the river (not voluntarily, it's a long story), and we saw the sun rise over brand-new, pristine snow. The sky was still filled with clouds, and so the sunrise reflected these gorgeous pinks and oranges onto the sky over the river. Honestly, beautiful.
113: Weather forecast for tonight: dark. | Some snow is still here, over a week later. It's been going through a cycle that goes like this: melt, evaporate 5% of condensation, re-freeze; melt, evaporate 5% of condensation, re-freeze; melt... And that's the weather report from Oxford. Just so you know, this was sort of a quintessentially British post. One of the first things I was told when I arrived here was to converse about weather in order to make friends here. You've heard that the British like to talk about the weather? It's so true. Coming up next: a post about my housemates.
114: Wednesday, February 18, 2009: Housemates | This blog is about my life in England. Since I spend roughly 97.36% of my time with my three housemates, I thought a blog post about them would be nice: The housemate that lives closest to me is Robyn. When I say she lives close to me, I mean that my room has a removable wall, and her room is on the other side of it. We often open up the divider and chat as we "do homework." Here is Robyn: Robyn is originally from California, but she's lived in Peculiar, MO, since before high school. (I was going to continue this paragraph with something along the lines of "She likes history and Reese's Pieces, loves to laugh, and knows more about composers than most music majors," but I decided that sounded like a bad personal ad.
115: Housemates | Robyn takes a very long time to get ready in the morning. No one really knows why. She "gets ready" for two hours, actually puts on her shoes, clothes, and make-up in the ten minutes before we leave, and still looks like a movie star. It's one of those mysteries of life. (Side story: when I was younger, my brother Reid would always take forever to get ready to go, and we didn't know why. My mom finally checked on him one day, and discovered that it took Reid 36 minutes to tie his shoes, because his shoe-tying process went something like: tie, un-tie, re-tie, un-tie, re-tie, un-tie, re-tie, un-tie, re-tie, un-tie, re-tie, un-tie, re-tie.) My second roomate is Sabrina: Sabrina lives in Branson, and before that, she lived in Nashville. Her parents have no connection to the country music business, though. Sabrina and I share an affinity for show and Disney tunes. She knows the words to nearly every musical ever made, including the new Legally Blonde musical (seriously. They made it a musical). Sabrina is the over-achiever of the house. If A++s existed in Britain, she would get them. I suspect her tendency to listen to show and Disney tunes while working contributes to her success.
116: Housemates | My third roommate is Erin. Erin, to use a favorite British phrase, is epic. She's a very modern-day renaissance woman. She's from a small town in Colorado, which means she could probably climb Mount Everest while carrying her sherpa. Also, she's a philosophy major, so she talks about things that are so over my head it's like her brain climbed Mount Everest. | She also takes award-winning photographs (the awards are yet to come, but I know they will), and someday I'm going to write for National Geographic and she's going to be my photographer (maybe we'll go to Mount Everest, where she will carry the sherpa and me and a huge camera up the mountain). Most importantly to my life, Erin and I have a regular backrub-exchange. So those are my three housemates. I really enjoy living with them. Quite often, I'll walk into one of their rooms to tell them a quick something, and I'll end up standing there, leaning against their door, talking for an hour about grad school or religion or politics or philosophy (those are short conversations) or food (this conversation happens a lot) or just about homework and how our day is going. We like to dress up, we mostly eat pasta or curry, and we tend to sing songs about America whenever we feel especially patriotic. We sometimes find ourselves all sitting or lying in the hallway, we're pretty good at procrastination, and we have all developed an attachment to "House."
117: Housemates | As four girls who live in a (slightly drama-filled) house together, we decided that we were like a very small version of a sorority. So we formed our own: Beta Rho (as in Banbury Road, get it?). | The four of us knew each other at Jewell, but I didn't know any of them very well before I moved in with them. I feel very blessed about how well our living arrangement has worked out. We spend most of our time together, and we get along really well and complement (and compliment, for that matter) each other. We're all kind of mothering each other (since our moms are, sadly, not in the same country as we are). It's been great. | So there's a really important part of my life: the wonderful girls with whom I live. Also, on a totally unrelated note: I saw an billboard in the London Tube that made me very happy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do: Coming up next: a post about rowing (I know I've promised this post at least twice. I promise it's going to happen next).
118: Monday, March 2, 2009: Row hard, row strong | I have been promising a post about rowing for a very long time now, and here it is! Last term, I joined the rowing team. We didn't do much last term (which I why I rarely wrote about it) because of the weather. When it rains, the river rises, and it becomes too dangerous to row. Since it rained most of the autumn, the river was generally too high for us to row. This term, though, we did a lot more! The weather was better, except for the whole snow thing, so we actually got to practice. Rowing is pretty physically demanding. After our first practice this term, I woke up so sore that I didn't get out of bed, I fell out. To draw the blade (that's what the oar is called) through the water, you have to push with your legs, then lean with your back, then pull with your arms. Then, to get the blade ready to draw again, you have to straighten your arms, lean forward, and bend your legs.
119: Row hard, row strong | The eight rowers are facing backwards. The ninth person in the boat is the cox (short for coxswain, pronounced 'coxen'). The cox has several important jobs. First, he or she is facing forward and can actually see where the boat is going, and steers accordingly. Second, he or she directs/encourages/yells at the crew. For example, our cox, Ray, would yell things like, "LENgthen those strides, LOOKing ahead, BACKS are straight, PUSH with the legs, enGAGE with the water, HEADS in the boat." Whenever he would emphasize something (as indicated by the caps), that would be when we were drawing through the water. During races, coxes yell when you're getting close to another boat and tell you when to push harder. Getting the boat in and out of the water is pretty fun. We lift it onto our shoulders and walk it out of the boathouse, and then carry it onto the raft:
120: Row hard, row strong | Then we lift it above our heads. I don't have a picture of my team doing this, but here's a picture of the boys' team. Then we sort of roll the boat from above our heads into the water: | Here's what the inside of the boat looks like.
121: Row hard, row strong | We sit on those seats, which roll back and forth, and put our feet into the velcro-strapped shoes. What are these pictures of, you may ask? (Or, if you are being grammatically correct, "Of what are all these pictures?") They are from Torpids! Torpids is the Hilary Term race. Now, at Oxford, races are not like normal races where everyone lines up at the start and then tries to get to the finish first. What you just saw is the beginning of the Women's Division I race (Regent's Park was in Division V, which is why you can hear Erin and me in the background--we weren't racing). There are 13 boats in each division, and they line up along the bank of the river to begin. A gun goes off (which you may have heard at the beginning), and off they go!
122: Row hard, row strong | The goal in these races is not to reach the finish line first, but to bump another team. Bumping can be accomplished one of three ways: you can actually physically bump the other team's boat with yours; you can get close enough to the other team's boat that the other team's cox can see you and then the other team's cox concedes; or you can totally pass the other boat. The whistles that you may have heard in the video are coaches warning their teams that they are either about to get bumped or are about to bump. This may make no sense, so let's use a picture (from Men's Division I):
123: Row hard, row strong | In this photo, the white boat is trying to bump the yellow boat, and they are getting very close. You chase the boat directly in front of you. If you bump another boat (for instance, if the white boat runs into/overtakes/forces to concede the yellow boat), you are finished with the race and you get out of the way. If you are bumped (if the yellow boat is run into/overtaken/forced to concede), then you have to finish the race or bump another boat. Please don't worry if all of that makes no sense. I didn't understand it until I actually raced. Torpids was four days long, and started last Wednesday. Regent's Park women did alright overall, but not great. We didn't bump or get bumped Wednesday and we got bumped twice Thursday (which was absolutely depressing). On Friday, though, we finally bumped! This was a literal bump: we didn't run into the other boat, but we did accidentally hit their cox and three rowers with two of our blades. The cox had to go to first aid. Oops. Then, on Friday, we were bumped again. Though we didn't do just amazingly, I absolutely loved it. I can't wait for next term's race, Summer VIIIs.
124: Row hard, row strong | Here is the amazing Regent's Park Women's Boat Team: Ailsa (co-captain), Holly, Erin, Joy, Becky, Ula, Lottie, and Kathryn (co-captain) And here is the equally amazing Regent's Park Boat Club:
125: Wednesday, March 11, 2009: Spring break! | Prepare to be jealous: My spring break is six weeks long. And what will I do with those six weeks, I hear you ask? Travel. Lots and lots of travel. Saturday, March 14 is a red-letter day: my Mom and Dad and Abbie fly into London! I am beyond excited to see them. I'm sad Reid won't be with them, but I know he's excited about being at MU while they're here and going to Colorado the week after. While my parents and Abigail are here, we are taking a tour of England and Ireland! We're hanging out in Oxford until March 16 (shout-out to my parents' anniversary on that day: 24 years! Way to go, Mom and Dad!), and then we leave to visit Salisbury, Stonehenge, Bath, and Bristol. March 17 (St. Patrick's Day) is Cardiff and Waterford, Ireland. March 18 is Blarney, Ireland, and Dublin, Ireland. March 19 is Dublin and Chester, England. March 20 is Stratford-upon-Avon and London. My family flies out of London on March 22, and I cry. It sounds whirlwind-ish, and is, but it's going to be a ton of fun. Even though I've lived in England for five months now, I haven't made any trips to any of these great places, so I'm excited about that. Most importantly, I get to see my family! Happiness is sure to abound.
126: Spring break | The rest of break is spend travelling with friends. Jacque and I fly from London to Rome on March 22, and we're in Rome rocking the ruins until March 26. Then we go to Florence until March 28 and Venice until March 30. Thus ends the Italian portion of our trip. Jacque and I will be in Athens (rocking some more ruins) from March 30 to April 2, and then we go our separate ways. I am meeting Erin...somewhere. April 2-5 is a little up in the air right now. The original plan was Prague, but it takes a long time to get there. We may go to Germany, maybe Switzerland, maybe somewhere else! On April 5, I meet Ashton and Madison in Berlin. We're there until April 8, when we leave for Nice. I leave Nice on April 10, and meet Bill in Paris. We'll be in Paris over the Easter weekend, which means I get to go to Easter services in Notre Dame! Bill and I meet Sabrina, Nicole, Erin, and Jacque in Majorca (one of the Spanish Canary Islands) on April 14, and all six of us hang out on the beach until April 18. April 18, Erin and I go to Brussels, and then we get into Amsterdam on April 20. We return to Oxford on April 23. That's 39 days of travel in a row, and I'm pretty excited. I'm also slightly intimidated. Please pray for safety and health every one who's travelling. Also, please pray for no stress and lots of fun enjoying this great world that God has given us! I'd really appreciate it.
127: Tuesday, April 28, 2009: Expedition to Europe: exposition | When considering where on earth to begin in this most epic series of posts (which I have alliteratively and attractively entitled "Expedition to Europe"), I wondered to myself, "Where do I begin?" The answer to my question is found, of course, in that movie which has a wealth of ethical, moral, and philosophical answers: The Sound of Music. As Julie Andrews so aptly sings, "Let's start at the very beginning: a very good place to start." In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And then, I got to see the earth that God created. Let's start with the cities I visited: Salisbury, Stonehenge (okay, not really a city, but I'm counting it anyway), Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Waterford, Blarney, Dublin, Chester, Stratford-upon-Avon, London, Rome, Florence, Venice, Athens, Prague, Berlin, Monte Carlo (not just a casino!), Nice, Paris, Palma Mallorca, Brussels, and Amsterdam. If you're counting, that's 23 cities in 11 countries: England, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Germany, Monaco, France, Spain, Belgium, and The Netherlands. It was amazing. I want to tell you everything about it, but the logistics are difficult. Thirty-nine days, 23 cities, 11 countries, ten travel companions, 1032 photos, five buses, eleven trains, seven planes... My goal is one post per week of travel, but we'll see what happens.
128: Tuesday, April 28, 2009: Expedition to Europe: England and Ireland | My parents and my sister, Abbie, came for the first week of my break. Let me just tell you how excited I was to see them: whilst waiting for them in the airport, I was bouncing up and down, talking to myself, and gulping back tears of excitement, and I scared quite a few people away. They got here on Saturday, and I was happy. We ate lunch: (Mom was still jet-lagged), and then we took a grand tour of Oxford, which included a tour of Regent's Park:
129: England and Ireland | It was wonderful to take them to church on Sunday, and they also got to see me row, which was a surprise! This is from my church: | On Monday, we went to Salisbury Cathedral: I know, isn't it gorgeous?
130: England and Ireland | The cathedral is in a great setting: there's grass everywhere, and therefore picnics and dogs and flowers and frisbees and happiness. We were lucky to be there on a sunny day, so we ate lunch sitting on the wall surrounding the cathedral: | We drove on to Stonehenge. We'd rented a car, which was quite the experience. Dad, Mom, and I all got to drive on the wrong side of the road, which is bizarre. On the way to Stonehenge, we saw a Texaco, which was...apparently wonderful, because there is now a picture of it on my computer. Don't worry, I'm not posting it; I figure you know what those look like.
131: England and Ireland | Driving to Stonehenge is neat because you crest a hill and see it spread out before you:
132: England and Ireland | It's smaller than you think at first glance, but when you get close, you realize that people who did not have hydraulic lifts or tractor-trailers created it, and then you are amazed. Inspired, even. In fact, Mom and Abbie and I were so inspired that we tried to recreate Stonehenge using our bodies: | A resounding success, I think. Actually, we initially tried to make the part of Stonehenge that looks like a door frame, but Mom and Abbie dropped me. | The Monday that we were at Stonehenge was my parents' 24th anniversary (my parents rock (hey, a pun!)):
133: England and Ireland | On Monday, we continued on to Bath, where we visited the Roman Baths. If you ever go to the Roman Baths, do the audio tour as it is fantastic. I do give this warning, though: Bill Bryson contributes to the audio tour, and as much as I love Bryson's books, his audio tours are sentimental and pretty pointless. I don't know how many times I heard him say, "It's so moving to think..." and then explain how he is moved by an interesting but not tear-jerking part of daily life, like throwing coins in the water or walking down steps. Anyway, the baths were very cool:
134: England and Ireland | We all tried the water at Bath, which is supposed to be healing but was mostly gross. | Yep, Abbie and I felt the same way about it. We ended the day in Bristol, at this B&B. It is called the Coachhouse because, well, it used to be a coachhouse: | The next day was St. Patrick's Day, so we headed to Ireland! But first, we stopped at Cardiff Castle in Wales, which was really neat. It still had the ancient keep.
135: England and Ireland | Plus a bunch of newer buildings that made it this a hodge-podge of different castle styles: | That's Mom and Abbie and me. After the castle, we took a ferry, because there is a large body of water between England and Ireland.
136: England and Ireland | Once in Ireland, we stayed in Waterford, which can proudly claim to have the creepiest and most out-of-place billboard I have ever seen: | Seriously, why? There are no words, no explanations, just a 100-foot-tall elf-child looking depressed. In addition to this billboard, Waterford also has a fast-food restaurant called Supermac's, outside of which they had a stabbing! What a day. | The day after St. Patrick's Day, we kissed the Blarney Stone. You were wondering why this post is so eloquent, weren't you? It's because I kissed the Blarney Stone. Kissing the Blarney Stone was, by the way, terrifying: no one ever tells you that you have to lean out upside-down over a hole in a wall five stories high! Mom will demonstrate:
137: England and Ireland | After Blarney, we went to Dublin, where there is an amazing pizza place and weird television shows about men who wear pink, sing, and drive Barbie cars on their way to build sets for a ballet. Very odd. We spent a while in a bank that used to be the House of Lords, saw Trinity College, and bought souvenirs. | The next day (which was Thursday, March 19, in case you've lost track), we took another ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, and then went to Chester. That pretty much took the whole day. On Friday, we visited Chester's cathedral and wall. Chester's wall was pretty neat, mostly because it was big and old (not that England has a shortage of big, old things).
138: England and Ireland | We went to London via Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford. In Stratford-upon-Avon, we were forced into a tour (okay, okay: I forced everyone else into a tour) of Shakespeare's birth home given by a man with a head the size of a watermelon and no sense of humour, unless it came to the "to be or not to be" joke ("So the question for dinner always was: 'to eat, or not to eat?'"), which he told three times. We also found this cool statue: | Our Saturday in London consisted of the London Eye:
139: England and Ireland | We saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was great, although Joseph was roughly the color of the orange spray-on tan. We also rode double-decker buses: | Pretty much, my trip with my family was amazing, mostly because it was a trip with my family! We missed Reid a lot, but he was acing tests and winning basketball games (or something like that) instead of traipsing around England with us. We all got to see things we'd never seen, we stayed in great B&Bs (never underestimate the power of a good full-English breakfast), and we got to see each other! Coming up next: Italy!
140: Wednesday, May 13, 2009: Expedition to Europe: Italy | Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. Couldn't resist, sorry. Anyway, when we last left my adventures, I was on my way to meet Jacque in Rome. I did, in fact, meet up with Jacque (who you will meet in the photo nine photos down). Monday was our first day in Rome. We decided to take the subway to the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's; the tube was absolutely insane. When the train finally pulled up, 15 people squeezed into a space large enough for three people. I kid you not. There was no way I could have been pick-pocketed, because no one could move enough. We finally got off the subway (launched out of the car by people desperate to get some breathing room), and made our way to the Vatican Museum. On the way, we saw six gelato places and decided that gelato was going to be a necessary part of lunch.
141: Italy | I'd never been inside the Vatican Museum before, and I really enjoyed it. Here is one of my favorite things: That is not a carving: that is a painting painted to look like a carving. How cool is that? | The Vatican has roughly 45 rooms (when I say "roughly," I mean I'm totally making that number up. But there were a lot of rooms), including the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited in the Sistine Chapel, but if you Google Image "Sistine Chapel" you can pretty much see what I saw. The amount of art in the Vatican Museum borders on overwhelming:
142: Italy | That's just one room, with ceilings, walls, and floors covered in art. There was so much to look at. Most of it, unsurprisingly, was of a religious nature. I enjoyed seeing the different representations of Christ and the Bible and other religious subjects: | After the Vatican Museum, we sunbathed in the Piazza San Pietro for a while, and then we went into St. Peter's Basilica. St. Peter's pretty much lives up to its hype. It's huge and beautiful and awe-inspiring and solemn and worshipful, all at once. It's historical and religious and political and current, and I just really like it.
143: Italy | Across the road from St. Peter's is the Castle St. Angelo. Romans sort of apologize when they talk about the Castle St. Angelo: "We're sorry, but it's the only castle we have," they seem to be saying, as if they don't have enough other ancient stuff to keep you occupied. My family visited the Castle when we were in Rome in 2004, and I got my picture taken with a performance artist all dressed in white. I decided to do that again. We then made our way to the Spanish Steps: | The Spanish Steps are a seething mass of humanity. We even saw a wedding party taking pictures. To round off our Monday, we visited the Piazza del Popolo, the Villa de Medici, the Fountian of Triton, and the Piazza de Republico. I'm not going to lie to you, while those places were neat, I did not take any photos that you can't see via Google Image.
144: Italy | The next day was Tuesday. Tuesday was Colosseum Day: | The Colosseum is such a cool place. We went on a tour with this Italian tour guide who spoke like an ideal Italian tour guide: "This-a statue was-a ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY METERS TALL." This lady tour guide would deepen her voice and attempt an American accent to emphasize words, which was pretty funny. Fun fact: the word "Colosseum" does not actually refer to the amphitheater. Instead, it refers to the ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY METER TALL bronze-a statue of Nero that used to stand in front of the amphitheater. People called the statue the Colossus, and...well, the rest is history.
145: Italy | That is the inside of the Colosseum. Did I mention it was huge? Well, it is huge, seating about 50,000 people. Before you say, "Well, Joy, Arrowhead Stadium seats 77,038 people [I did not make that number up], and Arrowhead isn't even that big," let me remind you that the Colosseum sat 50,000 people in an age before cranes, hydraulic lifts, steel, or plastic. Also let me remind you that the Colosseum housed a game even more dangerous than football: the Chiefs have neither swords nor lions, which makes the Colosseum slightly more hardcore. | And that's Jacque and I. We do not play football or have swords, but we are still pretty hardcore.
146: Italy | On Colosseum Day, we also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, housed in a building with the Romans call the Wedding Cake. See why? | This is a view of Rome from the Wedding Cake: This is what Rome is about: tiny streets, hills, and basilicas.
147: Italy | We also visited the Forum, where we got a tour from a Scottish guy. As part of that tour, I learned the story of the founding of Rome. If you want to know the full version, ask me, but the summary goes like this: Wolf-raised child chooses hill on April 21, 753 B.C. and puts a city on it because of vultures, then conquers most of the known world (which mainly consisted of...six other hills). Anyway, the Forum: | We finished our day off with some more churches (Rome is just crawling with churches) and a delicious Italian dinner. Have I mentioned the food yet? It was great. Great. I could eat in Italy every day. | On Wednesday, Jacque and I visited the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is my favorite place in Rome. There's a legend about the Trevi Fountain that says if you throw a coin in, you are destined to return to Rome, so...
148: Italy | We also visited the Pantheon, which I personally think is over-hyped, and we did laundry (not at the Pantheon). | Then we had a picnic and ate gelato. It was a good day. That night, we re-visited the Colosseum. Lovely. So that was Rome. We trained to Florence, and got in around sundown:
149: Italy | The next day (we are on Friday, March 27 now), we crossed Florence's river and climbed this large, steep, intimidating hill. This view was worth the climb, though: | On the left, you can see the Duomo (which translates as "dome," which tells you what to look at), and on the right you can see the mountain range that surrounds Florence.
150: Italy | Florence had a lot of street artists, and this one was my favorite: They drew that with chalk. I was so impressed, I gave them money, which is probably what they were going for. | We saw Michaelangelo's David (no pictures allowed again...), and one of my favorite statues. It's called the Rape of the Sabines. While it's a violent and tragic story, the statue is just amazing. It was innovative in its design, which is on a helix: when you look at it, you just keep walking in a circle around it.
151: Italy | On Saturday, we trained to Venice. Venice has a lot of water. On the Sunday we were in Venice, there was even more water, because it poured all day. It was a little miserable: | Those are people standing on tables in San Marco Square. Apparently Venice floods on a regular basis, so they just keep tables ready for people to walk on. We didn't do much in Venice because of the rain, which was a shame, but we still enjoyed ourselves. We met some Americans from Vanderbilt in our hostel, ate dinner and gelato with them, so that was fun.
152: Italy | Thus ended our week in Italy. I learned that Italians really do the pursed-hand stereotype (picture a chef saying "Is-a good!" and that's the hand gesture I'm talking about); also, Italians sometimes make a large hand gesture and then forget about their hand, leaving it hanging in front of all the Smart Cars zooming down the street. I also learned that Italians vendors are very friendly, and that they like to flirt with blondes, like Jacque. One vendor told Jacque, "Senorina! I look at you so long, I hurt myself! See, look at my knee..." Another told Jacque she dropped something, and when she looked back to see what it was, he placed his hand on his chest and sighed, "My heart." Italy was a pretty amazing place to visit. Coming up next: Athens and Prague!
153: Sunday, May 31, 2009: Expedition to Europe: Athens and Prague | Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to my much-neglected account of my spring break. Basically what happened is that I'm on the rowing team (which you knew) and our big race was this past week (which you didn't know). Now that rowing is over for the term, I should be back on top of life in general and my blog especially. We last left our intrepid adventurers, Jacque and Joy, in Venice being very, very wet. Our next stop, on Monday, March 30, is the lovely, the thankfully sunny, Greece! At first, I was pretty uncomfortable with Greece. Jacque and I arrived in the evening, and when we went to get dinner, we saw no women on the streets and large groups of men who made suggestive comments to us (at least, I assume they were: it was all Greek to me. Ha.). I went to bed pretty unhappy on our first night, but the next morning dawned bright and warm and with exciting things in store.
154: Athens and Prague | We started our day at the Acropolis. The Acropolis is quite large and includes many, many more things than just the Parthenon. First, we saw the Theater of Dionysus. Which is pretty amazing. Just think: the god Dionysus acted here! Okay, that's a lie, Dionysus doesn't actually | exist. But equally as cool: ancient Greeks acted here! Here is the Theater from above. And if you think the Theater of Dionysus is impressive, wait until you see the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
155: Athens and Prague | That little red dot in the bottom right-hand corner? That's a person. This theater was HUGE. (On a side note, I had no idea what this theater was called until I looked it up on Wikipedia. On another side note, there's a chain of movie theaters here in England called the Odeon Theaters, which makes so much more sense now.)
156: Athens and Prague | And of course, the crowning glory of the Acropolis: | Me! Just kidding. The crowning glory is actually the Parthenon, which is behind me. | Here is a view of the southern part of the Acropolis, including the Theater of Dionysus and...some other stuff. It's not that I'm too lazy to write about it, it's just that I don't really know what it is.
157: Athens and Prague | The Parthenon is a temple to Athena, who was the patron goddess of Athens (hence the city's name, which is Athina in Greek. Actually, it's , but whatever). Next to the Parthenon is the Old Tempe of Athena, which has some very famous columns: | These are the caryatids, and they are columns shaped like women. There are six of them here, and none of them are original. Five of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum, and the sixth original is in the British Museum. I saw the sixth original two weekends ago, actually. The Acropolis was pretty amazing: it's very, very big, and there were many, many tourists. There were also, surprisingly, many, many dogs. Actually, there were dogs everywhere in Athens:
158: Athens and Prague | Jacque and I began to suspect that dogs actually run Athens because they are everywhere and no one seems to care. They sleep, they eat, they go in and out of churches, they herd people, and one even led us from the place in the photo below (more on that soon) to the Ancient Agora. Where would Athens be without dogs? It would, if you'll pardon the pun, go to the dogs...(please don't pardon that pun. It was awful). | Okay, so this photo is of Jacque sitting on the Areopagus. According to legend, the apostle Paul preached from this hill and converted a bunch of Athenians. It's kind of neat to think about Paul spreading the truth of Christ in the shadow of a huge complex built to honor non-existent gods. Light shining in the darkness, and all that.
159: Athens and Prague | Jacque and I ate lunch at a McDonald's. This photo is a pretty good representation of Athens: old, lovely religion and society surrounded by slightly ugly modernity, with a little bit of American capitalism thrown in. | And now we come to one of my favorite parts of Athens: the Changing of the Guard. Whoever designed this ceremony based it primarily on horses. The guards kick their legs like horses, paw the ground with their foot like a horse with its hoof, and prance: | They even have nails in their shoes, so they clip-clop like horses.
160: Athens and Prague | They also wear the greatest costumes ever: Please note: the pleated skirt (400 pleats, one for every year Greece was occupied by the Ottomans); the long tassel (which the head of the guard uses to brush the face of the new guards); and the gigantic pom- poms on their shoes. Jacque and I watched the changing of the guard twice because we liked it so much. Also in Athens is a large park, sort of like Hyde Park in London or Central Park in NYC. Among other exciting things, this park had a small...well, let's call it a zoo. I think they called it a "Bird and Animal Sanctuary" or something, but it was too bizarre to be a sanctuary. In one cage, they had pigeons. Pigeons! As if there are not enough pigeons in every city in Europe, the Athenians felt a need to display the flying rats. The "sanctuary" also had cages with the oddest assortment of animals. In the cage pictured below, there were: rabbits, chickens, roosters, cats (cats?), peacocks, and peahens. The rabbits were caged in the little house, and the cat was just sitting there not realizing that it had a wonderful feast of small animals in front of it.
161: Athens and Prague | Other than the pigeons and the oddly assorted cage, there was a cage with geese and ducks (again, as if you can't see enough of those in the wild...) and a cage with goats with the creepiest eyes I have ever seen. Imagine Lord Voldemort's eyes staring at you from under a pair of large horns. Quite scary. | Across from the park was the 1896 Summer Olympics. I am a huge fan of the Olympics, so this was pretty exciting for me. | The very first modern Olympics were held in this stadium! This was the Opening Stadium, and the event stadium, and the spectator's stadium...everything, all in one! I was pretty psyched.
162: Athens and Prague | The next day (by now, we are at Wednesday, April 1), Jacque and I "hiked" (when I say "hiked," I mean we walked the paved pathway) up Lycabettus Hill, one of the large hills in Athens. I won't lie to you, it wasn't the most exciting thing I've ever done, but we did see a nice view! Here, in the distance, is the Acropolis: | impressive name, and probably must be said impressively in your best James-Earl-Jones-as-Mufasa imitation, like this: THE TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS. And then you get to THE TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS and you realize: it deserves James Earl Jones' voice. | After we "hiked" down, we went to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Now, when you hear that name, you think, "Man, the Greeks were so hyperbolish" (and then you think, "Hey, is hyperbolish a word? Probably not"). I mean, "The Temple of Olympian Zeus" is an
163: Athens and Prague | There are only 13 pillars left of a THE TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS, and they are 55.5 feet tall. There were meant to be 104 of these columns! Wow. Just wow. My second WOW of the day came when we went to the 2004 Olympic Stadium. Did I mention that I am a huge fan of the Olympics? | Here is the pool--THE VERY POOL--where Michael Phelps became truly famous! Let me reiterate: Michael Phelps, the frog-man himself, swam in this pool! | And here--right behind me!--is the Opening Stadium!! !! !! Also, I'm dressed like a stoplight in this photo.
164: Athens and Prague | So that was Athens, Greece. I enjoyed Athens a lot (Olympics! Ancient buildings! Gyros! Which, apparently, are pronounced not "jyros" nor "heros," but something like "jyieros." Yeah, good luck), and I especially enjoyed my time with Jacque. Also, a quick shout-out for children's literature, I enjoyed Athens so much more having read the Percy Jackson series. Check them out, they're amazing! | Sadly, my time with Jacque was at an end. I spent April 2 travelling alone (nothing interesting happened: I sat on a bus, then sat in an airport, then sat in a plane...you get it), and then I met Erin on April 3 in Prague! Erin's description of Prague I feel is apt: she calls it "Soviet chic." Prague is on the border between Eastern Europe and Western Europe, and it is so cool because it doesn't really fit into either category. It's got the Soviet influence, definitely, but the chic influence (I hope that doesn't offend any former Soviets...) of Western Europe:
165: Athens and Prague | Prague was just lovely. It was getting near Easter, and Prague was appropriately decorated: | Seriously, aren't these buildings cool?
166: Athens and Prague | One of Prague's main attractions is the Astronomical Clock, aka the Orloj. According to Wikipedia, "the Orloj is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; 'The Walk of the Apostles,' a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles, and other moving sculptures; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months." It is super-cool looking: In this photo, the Astronomical Clock is on the left, and the church where Erin and I spent Palm Sunday is on the right:
167: Athens and Prague | Prague has a river. Across the river from the Astronomical Clock, there is the Royal Palace (where, incidentally, Obama was the day after I took this photo): | Prague has lots of great architecture. Prague also has lots of odd architecture (read: Gehry's Dancing House): | While exploring Prague, Erin and I chanced upon (are you ready for this) a Swedish high school marching band! Not even kidding. To make it even better...they were playing ABBA! And the world seemed right again.
168: Athens and Prague | That night, Erin and I went an orchestra concert, and we learned two things: first, that the inside of buildings are as gorgeous as the outside (see below); and second, that orchestra rocks. The concert was phenomenal. There were ten musicians, all playing string instruments, and they were playing "The Best of the Classics," which meant we recognized most of the music. The next day was Palm Sunday, and Erin and I went to that church from the picture above. At first, we were two of ten people in the church, and Erin commented on how it was sad that churches just didn't fill up any more. Five minutes later, there was a PARADE down the church aisle of about 200 people carrying branches and singing and chanting. It was, if you'll pardon the pun, enchanting. Also ensinging...oh wait, that pun doesn't work. Anyway, the parade was joyful and solemn at once, which is pretty appropriate to Palm Sunday, and it just went on for about ten minutes. I loved it.
169: Athens and Prague | Before we left Prague, we stopped by the Easter Market in the square outside the church. There were all sorts of crafts and jewelry, the best pastry-thing I have ever eaten (a cross between a pretzel and a cinnamon roll...mmmmm), and this guy: Yeah, he's a real-live blacksmith blacksmithing right in front of everyone. That is real fire. So cool. Prague, for me, is really more about pictures than stories. Erin and I spent ourday-and-a-half there just wandering around and looking, because there is so much to look at. Prague is gorgeous all over, and the people are so nice, and the food is great, and the exchange rate means that you feel like you're spending fake money ("Go straight to the yummy pastry things that cost 250 cronar-thingys, do not pass Go"). Well, kids, we have now gotten through half of my spring break! I promise to be more on top of updating this with photos and stories, and then we'll move right on to...France! I've recently been accepted to a study-abroad program in France, which starts the day after my Oxford term ends. That means I'll be in Antibes (in the south of France), soaking up sun and hopefully the French language, until July 11, and I'll get back the States July 14! But before France part 2 comes Berlin and France part 1. Coming soon!
170: Saturday, June 6, 2009: Expedition to Europe: Berlin and Nice | I rode the train all by myself from Prague to Berlin (which, for the record, is one of the most beautiful train rides you will ever hope to have), and met my friends Ashton and Madison. | Oops, just kidding, those aren't my friends Ashton and Madison. Those are goats. This picture was taken on our first night in Berlin. I have very few photos from our first day in Berlin, because I spent most of it in bed with a very sore neck watching MTV and the World Curling Federation. Long story. The first night, though, we went to a market where I haggled to buy some earrings (which are super-cute, by the way) and found a small zoo with the cutest baby goats (see above).
171: Berlin and Nice | We also found Kinder eggs, which excited me to no end. Shout out to Mimi and Poppa, who brought Reid and Abbie and me Kinder eggs when we were little. Kinder eggs are hollow eggs made out of milk and white chocolate, and they have toys inside of them: | It was like a little bit of my childhood--and a little bit of Mimi--found in Germany! PS, Ashton's in the middle and Madison is on the right. For dinner, we went to the oldest beer garden in Berlin, the Pater Garten: | As I am not a drinker, I decided to try some non-alcoholic beer. Although I have never tried beer, I would bet that non-alcoholic beer is to alcoholic beer what fat-free Oreos are to real Oreos: you've taken out the one thing that made it worthwhile! The non-beer was...disgusting. Just totally gross.
172: Berlin and Nice | The next day, we went to the Brandenberg Gate. Funny story: Napoleon once stole the chariot statue from the top of the Brandenberg Gate because he was...well, Napoleon. When he was defeated, Germany took back the statue and, to add insult to injury, turned the head of the charioteer to stare at the French embassy (which is to the right of the Gate). Way to go, Berliners! We also went to thhe Reichstag, and then...we went to the Holocaust Memorial. Which is, to put it simply, stunning:
173: Berlin and Nice | There are 2711 slabs (the number is insignificant) of differing heights. You can walk through the slabs on an uneven path. It's meant to be unsettling, and it is. When you walk through, there is a lot of darkness and a sense of being lost that makes the memorial totally effective. At least, that was my impression; you're supposed to make your own meaning of the memorial.
174: Berlin and Nice | After lunch was Checkpoint Charlie! I was pretty excited about it, because I think Berlin's history is pretty darn fascinating. Berlin was a pawn in so many conflicts, but it was also an instigator of a lot of conflicts. Berliners (or whatever they are called) exude this mixture of apologies--we are so sorry for trying to take over the world and for killing lots of people----and strength--our history may affect us, but it will not make us. It's great. Back to Checkpoint Charlie: | And then on to the Jewish Museum. At the Jewish Museum, we got to hang wishes on a Wish Tree.
175: Berlin and Nice | And we saw some funny yarmulkes: The Holocaust Tower in the Jewish Museum is also pretty impressive. The only light comes from a tiny window in the corner, and it's cold and huge: | Next stop, the Berlin Wall! If you ever get a chance, look up the history of the Berlin Wall. It's too long to put here, but it's absolutely fascinating:
176: Berlin and Nice | Finally, we went to Museum Island. It has lots of museums and a very large church. The next day and night, we took a train from Berlin to Paris and then an overnight train from Paris to Nice. I quite like overnight trains. Once we got to Nice, we met Jacque and immediately headed off to Monaco! | We went to Monaco for one reason: to add another country to our list. It was pretty cool, though. It was Madison's 21st birthday, so we had a picnic on the beach and did some wading: Clearly Jacque was the only one of us prepared for that photo.
177: Berlin and Nice | We also visited the Japanese Garden in Monaco: We headed back to Nice for dinner and the best sorbet I have ever tasted (seriously. It was like they picked raspberries in heaven and then made them into delicious). We ate our sorbet on the beach at twilight: | Walking back into town, we saw these: | I have no idea. Let's call it art. They are naked men who light up as colors, and the colors change...
178: Berlin and Nice | The next day, we hung out around Nice. We visited the beach again, this time in the daylight: And we climbed the big hill in Nice, which led to this view: | Afterwards, we relaxed in a park and ate dinner at Subway, and that was pretty much Nice. Coming up next: Paris and Palma Mallorca!
179: Sunday, July 26, 2009: Expedition to Europe: Paris and Palma | Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the adventures of our intrepid adventurer: me. Sorry for the delay in between episodes. There was a writer's strike. Anyway, we last left me in Nice with Madison and Ashton. I enjoyed my time with them immensely (this is an incredibly popular word in Britain, by the way, and incredibly misused), but alas, I had to leave them on the south coast and train all the way to Paris alone. I also spent my first night in Paris alone because my next travel partner, Bill, missed his plane. That is typical of Bill. Bill arrived in Paris on Sunday, April 12, which was Easter Sunday! Bill and I spent Easter morning here:
180: Paris and Palma | That's Notre Dame. I love Notre Dame. And that's Bill. He's a goofball that has a penchant for Dungeons and Dragons, philosophy, and being late. We spent the Easter service inside Notre Dame, which looks like this: The service was in French, so I understood a bit of it (words like "Jesus," "Christ," "God," and "Amen"), and it | was mostly beautiful, beautiful music. There were also a bunch of guys in white doing mysterious sacred- mediating-between-the-people-and-God-type things.
181: Paris and Palma | So here's a little-known fact about Notre Dame: the back of the church is way cooler and prettier than the front: | I know, right? Why do they keep showing pictures of those two really-kind-of-boring towers (seriously, most of their interest value comes from imagining Quasimodo saving Esmerelda from the flames of death and shouting "SANCTUARY" as he hoisted her above his head whilst standing between the towers. Anyway.) when the back of the church looks like this? After church, we went to the Eiffel Tower:
182: Paris and Palma | There is not much to say about the Eiffel Tower that you don't already know or can't look up on wikiedia. I mean, it's huge, and there are some really impressive views, like this view of the French Parliament. Sorry the photo is crooked, I took it myself. | That night, we went back to the Eiffel Tower: Those white lights flickered on and off, which may sound seizure-inducing but was, in actuality, magical. Like Harry Potter was having Christmas in Paris or something.
183: Paris and Palma | Bill and I spent the next day at The Louvre: | The Louvre is a gigantic, gigantic museum that is vaguely overwhelming. And by vaguely I mean completely. There are four wings with about eight billion rooms each (for those of you who like math, that's 32 billion rooms). | I visited some rooms that were new to me, and some old favorites, like my second-favorite statue ever: The Winged Victory. So cool.
184: Paris and Palma | Bill and I also stopped by the Sacre Coeur, the Church of the Sacred Heart. After visiting this church, I have absolutely no insight into what it is or why it was built. I'm not sure if it's Christian, or inter-religious, or what, but one thing it was: busy. | After this, Bill and I left Paris and headed to a small island off the coast of Spain to join up with our friends. Our journey there was...awful. The night of Monday, July 13, and the whole day of Tuesday, July 14, were the worst 36 hours of my whole trip. It's way too complicated and awful to talk about the gritty, tear-inducing details, but let's just say that what we thought was going to be a train ride from Paris to Barcelona and then a plane | from Barcelona to Mallorca (all in one day) turned into an overnight train from Paris to Irun, a train to San Sebastian, a bus to Madrid, a frantic call to my dad who bought us new plane tickets, a surprise overnight stay in Madrid, and finally, a day late, a plane from Madrid to Mallorca. However, I have to remember to praise God for all the incredibly nice and helpful people we met on our no-good, truly awful day.
185: Paris and Palma | But once we finally got to Mallorca, it was great! We met up with Jacque (you may remember her from Italy and Greece), Erin (from Prague), Sabrina (an Oxford housemate), and Nicole. The first order of business was to bury Erin and me in the sand and then draw a yin-yang around us: There are pretty much only two things to say about Mallorca: it was beautiful, and we did nothing but relax.
186: Paris and Palma | This was a sunrise: : | And this was the last sunrise. And thus concludes April 12-April 18. Coming up next: the final stages of my trip. Join us next post as we gape at more big buildings, admire more statues, and visit more museums. | This was our daily view from the beach:
187: Sunday, July 26, 2009: Expedition to Europe: Brussels and Amsterdam | Belgium: home of waffles, chocolate, and Hercule Poirot. Erin and I flew from Palma Mallorca to Brussels on Saturday, April 18. The next day, we went to church: I almost didn't want to go to church, but Erin thought it'd be a good idea (which is ironic, as I am a Christian and Erin is an atheist). She was right. The church was beautiful, but more importantly, God was | more present to me in that Belgian cathedral than He had been in a long time. The cathedral also had a great view of Brussels:
188: Brussels and Amsterdam | Brussels is a pretty business-oriented city, so it was pretty unbusy (what is the word for the opposite of busy?) on a Sunday. That was great, though; it was nice to get away from crowds and to not have to wait in line for our waffles-with-chocolate-and-strawberry lunch. (Yum, I know.) Erin and I stopped in the Grande Place, which is big and grand and impressive: | We also visited that famous statue, the Mannekin. It was not big or grand or impressive, but there you go:
189: Brussels and Amsterdam | The highlight of our day in Brussels was the Atomium. This is the Atomium: Seriously cool, right? It was built for the 1958 World Expo, and it has been in Brussels ever since. Here's what was even cooler, though: there were two random days when people could zipline from the top of the Atomium (335 feet tall), and Erin and I just happened to visit on one of those two days! I did not zipline (not because I was afraid, but because I was broke), but she did! Seriously cooler, right? And here is the Belgian Arc de Triomphe: It has a really nice park, where Erin and I ended our day in Brussels.
190: Brussels and Amsterdam | The next day, we went to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Amsterdam is now one of my favorite cities. The 'coffeeshops' (where you get pot, versus cafes where you actually get coffee) are sort of whatever, and the sex trade is pretty gross (the Red Light District is honestly one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen), but minus that five-block area of whateverness and grossness, Amsterdam rocks. The buildings are awesome, there are canals running through the whole city, and there are bikes everywhere: And Anne Frank used to live there. Erin and I visited the Anne Frank Museum, which is just amazing. | Here's another book shout-out: The Diary of Anne Frank. I feel like everyone has to read this in eighth grade, but if you, like Erin, somehow | missed out on that part of education, go read this book. And then maybe visit Amsterdam to drive the whole thing home. Here's where Otto Frank's business and the Frank family's hiding place were:
191: Brussels and Amsterdam | Okay, like I said earlier, there were bikes everywhere in Amsterdam. There are also lots of pretty colors (of which I am a huge fan) and people who like happy things. This is how bikes like this come into existence: Please look closely at the kickstand: it has wooden clogs on. Amazing. | Our second day in Amsterdam, Erin and I went on a windmill hunt. We rented bikes, which was so fantastic, and we rode all around and outside the city. We found things other than windmills, too: | The first windmill we found was the most impressive. It was also someone's house:
192: Brussels and Amsterdam | The second windmill was actually impossible to get to and kind of run-down, but...hey, it was a windmill: And the last windmill had a restaurant in the bottom of it, which, in this picture, is covered up by Erin and me. | The bike rental place was by Amsterdam's library (the largest library in Europe and one of the newest-built), so Erin and I stopped in to use the Internet after our bike-riding adventure. And, lucky day, we saw royalty! The Swedish king and queen were in The Netherlands to promote peace and goodwill throughout the earth (or something like
193: Brussels and Amsterdam | that), and the Queen was in the library to help open a show of children's books illustrated by Swedish artists. So, of course, Erin and I stayed in the library until the Queen left, because, seriously, royalty from a socialist country (how does that work, exactly?) is still royalty! The Queen is in pink. I never got a picture of her face, but if you want to see it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Silvia_of_Sweden | Like a lot of European cities, Amsterdam is beautiful. I think it seemed more beautiful to me, though, because these buildings aren't as iconic (read: I've seen pictures of them so much that they're almost common) as the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben or something: | I don't even know what this is, but it's just there, functioning in Amsterdam as if it's not totally big and awesome.
194: Brussels and Amsterdam | Our final day travelling, Erin and I visited the Van Gogh museum. It was fine, if you like Van Gogh. On the way, we completed our Dutch trip by finding a giant wooden clog: | We took a free and fantastic tour later that day, where we found another icon of the Dutch: The next day, we went back to Oxford.
195: Dear Readers, we've finished with my spring break travels!! (Hey, it only took three months...) I loved nearly every minute of my trip, and don't regret a bit of it. I saw God in so many places and so many people, and I learned so much about His amazing world and my role in it. I discovered that tours are nearly always good ideas, most museums are not really my thing, ice cream always makes the end of a long day perfect, Italian men are the funniest flirters, it does no good to worry about money unless you're actually going to make a budget, you should always carry chocolate and apples, hikes to views are always rewarding, the beach at night is so lovely, overnight trains make you feel like a little kid because they're so cool, books are necessary to a good travel experience, there is rarely a need to wash clothes (unless it's underwear) between wears, you should always give a city at least a day before judging it, and it's better to travel with people, especially those people you love. Though my continental adventures have come to a close, my European adventures aren't over yet! Check back soon for an update on my last term in Oxford and my time in Antibes! | Brussels and Amsterdam
196: Saturday, August 15, 2009: Trinity term | I wrote something like 12 posts for my first term. My last term will be summed up in one. It's not because it was the least important: it's because a) it was the busiest and b) it's August now. My last term started off with a totally exciting visit from my Aunt Debbie and cousin Sarah! They visited my aunt's niece in New York, and afterwards flew to London and spent a few days there. Lucky for me, they decided to spend one of their London days with me in Oxford! I, sadly, have no pictures from that great day because Sarah manned (womanned?) her camera quite well, but this is what we did: saw Regent's; ate at The Eagle and Child (Sarah tried the green beer, which was deemed not-good); visited my house; visited Blenheim Palace (where we saw them preparing to shoot the 2010 movie Gulliver's Travels with Jack Black! and also a real-live Duke getting angry!!); and shopped at Primark (which was really created with Sarah in mind). It was so great to see them, especially because Aunt Debbie use her travel agent skills to help me plan my year abroad.
197: Trinity term | The next big event of Trinity Term was May Day. On April 30, most people (not me or my friends) pull all-nighters with lots of drinks, and then they all cram into a half-mile stretch of High Street at 6 am to hear the Magdalen College choir sing from the top of the bell tower. Here's what High Street looked like just before the choir sang: And here are the Jewell people that woke up early to enjoy the beautiful music and beautiful morning: Brett, Robyn, me, Sabrina, Bill, and Erin:
198: Trinity term | May Day was the official beginning of spring, and let me tell you, spring in Oxford is gorgeous. One of my favorite parts of spring was the geese. I think I've mentioned the Christ Church geese before. Well, they had babies! We got to watch the baby geese grow up, and I think we all felt sort of parentally protective of the "geese puppies" (as Robyn called them). At least, we felt protective until the mommy geese attacked us after getting too close. Cute though, right? | Spring is a time of many Oxonian traditions, including the Tortoise Race. Now, many of you may not know that Regent's Park has its very own tortoise, Emmanuelle. She is about 80, and legendary in the number of wins she has had in the Corpus Christi Tortoise Race. Many Regent's students went to the races to support Emmanuelle, who, despite being the oldest tortoise there, pulled out yet another win:
199: Trinity term | The weekly formal halls continued during Trinity Term, and we were lucky to host some of our Cambridge friends at one of them! Amy, Nicole, and Carly visited one weekend, and they clearly enjoyed themselves: So far it looks like I did nothing during the spring except have fun, right? Well, that's sort of true: even in my two tutorials, I enjoyed myself! I had an absolutely phenomenal (pulling out the big words here) tutor for both the tutorials: Lynn Robson. She didn't let me get away with half-baked work, she challenged my ideas and appreciated it when I was original, and she just generally made me work harder than I have ever worked for any other professor. I studied Shakespeare, which was...amazing. Truly, the Bard was a genius. If you want, I can wax rhapsodic about The Great Man for hours and hours. (What kind of phrase is "wax rhapsodic" anyway? It brings to mind candles melting on a piano or something.) I also took a tutorial in Early Modern Drama, which means all of Shakespeare's contemporaries. Let me tell you, as amazing as Marlowe and Jonson and Middleton are, they can't hold a candle (melting all over a piano) to Shakespeare.
200: Trinity term | In addition to falling in love with Shakespeare's words (but not with Shakespeare--have you seen the painting of him? He has a fro-mullet), I hung out with my church group, the JWS. One of my favorite outings was when we went punting: | That's me rocking the punting pole and Rob rocking the relaxation. Punting is pretty fun. It's like rowboating, except there's the constant threat of falling in because you're a) standing up and b) sticking a pole that weighs more than I do into deep mud and thus risking forgetting to let go of the pole and letting the boat go on without you. Also, ducks get closer to punts than rowboats because there's less chance that they'll get smacked in the head with a paddle. I did that once, by the way: smacked a duck in the head with a paddle. Except the paddle was a rowing blade, and we were going 26 mph rather than 2.6, and I didn't know I smacked the duck because it was behind me. I hear the duck lived, though. Good news.
201: Trinity term | Speaking of rowing, the day that the above punting picture was taken was also the last day of the Trinty Term rowing races: Summer VIIIs. I rowed again during Trinity, which was intense but so much fun: I am far right, in the shirt that could say "BOY" but actually says "BOW. My housemate Erin is number 5, and my housemate Sabrina isn't in the picture, but she was the cox. Regent's Park Women rowed so well, but we unfortunately didn't result well. Regardless, I had a blast! Here is the legendary 2009 Summer VIIIs Regent's Park College Women's Boat Club: Lottie, Clare, Ailsa, Kathryn, Joy, Becky, Charlotte, Erin, and Sabrina is kneeling.
202: Trinity term | After Summer VIIIs, I met Jacque and Madison in London to celebrate our birthdays. I saw The Lion King (best. musical. ever.), and then the three of us spent Saturday exploring and take great pictures like this one in Trafalgar Square: Jacque's on the left, Madison is in the middle, and I am on the right. Our birthday dinner was at Pizza Express, a fantastic restaurant that should start franchises in Kansas City: I went to London several times during Trinity Term. I just really like London. Already, I miss it. On one of my trips, I made my mecca trip: I went to The Globe Theatre.
203: Trinity term | For those of you out of touch with English-major-meccas, The Globe is the primary theatre for which Shakespeare wrote. It is round (like...a globe), open-air, and simple. The first time I went, I saw my all-time favorite Shakespearean play, As You Like It. I stood on the ground in front of the stage, got up-close-and-personal with a few actors, and generally experienced one of the top-five highlights of my trip to England: Not long after my trip to The Globe, it was time to begin the endings. At our last formal hall at Regent's, we all dressed up and put on facepaint (it was a "rave"). We were all sad to leave, as evidenced by these posed sad faces:
204: Trinity term | As another ending and good-bye, our house got together for a barbeque in our backyard. Here are our wonderful neighbors: | Front row: Sabrina, Jennie Mills, Maggie Mills; Middle row: Bobbie Mills, Robyn, me, Hannah Goodliff; Back row: Martin Mills, Erin, Andy Goodliff. And from top to bottom: Maggie, Jennie, Robyn, Erin, Andy, Hannah, Bobbie, Sabrina, Martin, and me. We were so blessed to live with such amazing people!
205: Trinity term | During my last week at Regent's, my friend Brett and I went to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company do The Winter's Tale. It was amazing. Also, we found this place: Get it? Three days later was Regent's Park's valediction ceremony. Everyone who was leaving Regent's that year never to return got to sign their name in this huge book. The book has names in it dating from 1816. | In British years, that is brand-new, but in Joy/American years, that is really, really old. After the valediction ceremony there was a reception. Here I am with the legendarily amazing Lynn Robson:
206: Trinity term | And here is the last group picture Beta Rho took together: | Sadly, my time at Oxford was at an end. I dreaded leaving my JWS and Regent's friends, I had already begun to miss living with Robyn, Sabrina, and Erin, and I cried on the bus to the airport on Sunday. However, my adventures weren't over yet. Coming up next: France!
207: Sunday, August 23, 2009: The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos. | On June 21, I had lunch with the JWS, hugged all my friends, got on a bus, and left Oxford. I passed Magdalen College, and I remembered my first view of it on October 2. Though the bus had been within Oxford city limits for quite a while, my view of Magdalen was my first real clue that I was really, truly going to one of the oldest universities in the world. On that fall day (seriously, how cliché is this memory going to get?), I was so impressed by the grandeur of the city and by my total displacement from home. In June, my last view of Magdalen brought instead a sense that this grand place had become a sort of home. At this thought, I promptly burst into tears which did not subside until we neared London. It was only my “Get Fuzzy” comic book that finally cheered me up. Darby Conley, you are my hero. Anyway, off the nostalgia and onto the next story: I wasn’t going into London to fly to Kansas City. I was going into London to fly to Antibes, a city in the south of France.
208: The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos. | Let me take this opportunity to plug the Hall Family Foundation. The lovely and kind and undoubtedly beautiful members of the giving-money committee (dear giving-money committee: I am sorry that I don’t know your real name) were lovely and kind (and beautiful?) enough to give me a grant that enabled me to attend a French-language school in Antibes. To the Hall Family Foundation: you rock. I flew to France and was met by my French host father, Pierre Pravettoni. He drove me to his home (we listened to Jason Mraz, Elvis, and some random French person in the car), where I met his wife, Isabelle, and his twin sons, Alexandre and Anthony (affectionately called Alex and Antho). This is the Pravettoni family: They were pretty much amazing. Isabelle is a fantastic cook, even when she’s cooking boudin noir (blood sausage, which consists of, you guessed it, congealed blood in a sausage skin. I hope you weren’t eating when you read this). Pierre loves music of all kinds. He kept showing me YouTube videos of American artists that I had to had heard of (I hadn’t), or of awesome songs.
209: The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos. | Alexandre and Anthony look enough alike that I initially was afraid I was never going to be able to tell them apart. We became good friends though, and I figured out which one was which. In this picture, Anthony is on the left and Alexandre is on the right: Alex and Antho and I watched a lot of television, especially this terrible | French Real-World-Big-Brother-type show called “Secret Story.” I am ashamed to admit I got pretty into it. I also watched Jaws, which is called Les Dents de la Mer (The Teeth of the Sea) in French, which is hilarious, and Castaway, which is Seule dans le Monde (Alone in the World). Also a lot of “CSI: New York” which they call “The Experts: Manhattan.” The twins and I also played a lot of Wii golf. I can now beat any of you, and probably Tiger Woods, hands down. The last two of my three weeks, a 16-year-old Spanish girl named Edurne came to live with us. She is super sweet and has spent every summer since she was 11 in either England or France:
210: The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos. | I didn’t spend my days just watching TV and playing Wii with French people, though. I also went to school in the mornings. There’s not much to say about school: my teachers were nice, my French really improved, and I advanced a class a week. My classmates came from a bunch of different countries: Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, England, Brazil, Italy, Greece, Turkey. It was awesome because we got to tell each other, in French, about our countries and cultures and traditions. I didn’t just learn about France and the French, I learned about all sorts of peoples and nations! It was phenomenal. I loved it. In the afternoons, I hung out with my friends. We spent a lot of time on the beach: Enjoying the view:
211: The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos. | Antibes is a very, very beautiful city. It was founded by Romans and perfected by the French, and it’s one of the richest and largest ports on the Mediterranean. The water is this gorgeous blue, the old city are these gorgeous sun tones, and the land is this gorgeous green. Want more proof? | This is in the old city. This is me with the port and the old city behind me, taken from the top of Fort Carras.
212: The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos. | This is Antibes and Juan les Pins, from the top of the hill on the peninsula. This is one of my favorite pictures.
213: The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos. | My friends and I also visited neighboring cities. We visited Cannes, where there were no movie stars but there were yachts that probably cost more than my entire college education, including the Oxford part: We visited Grasse, which was hilly and wonderful and had a great perfume factory: | And we visited Nice, which was just as great as it was in April. Plus, I got a supercute new dress there, bonus.
214: The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos. | On Sundays, I went to the Evangelical Church of Antibes, which played Michael W. Smith and Matt and Beth Redman songs in French. One Sunday, after church, I visited Marineland, where I got to see these guys: | I love aquariums, I love animal shows, I loved Marineland. I was in Antibes from June 21 to July 11. The goodbyes in Antibes were sweet:
215: The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos. | On July 11, I flew back to London. I went to The Globe again (it’s such a magical place), and then I visited Oxford to see some JWS friends for the last time and to pick up some luggage that I hadn’t dragged to France. Finally, on July 14, I got on the United Airlines flight that would return me to my country. When I landed in Washington, DC, I didn’t start crying from happiness because my mouth hurt too much from smiling. I kept jumping every time I heard an American accent, wanting to run up to them and cry, “We speak the same language!!” I ate a Wendy’s hamburger for the first time in nine months, and I called my mommy. Coming back in the country was a very good experience. And finally, finally, I got back to KCI. This time, I did cry on the plane as we landed. It was so overwhelmingly wonderful to recognize an airport! I haven’t tried to count how many airports, train stations, and bus stations I’d been in since October, but it was a lot.
216: Most importantly, my family was waiting for me in the airport. I’m tearing up right now, over a month later, thinking about how much I wanted to run from the airplane to the gate, how I couldn’t hold in my tears of joy even before I saw them, how good it was to be hugged and held by my parents and brother, how glad I was to not have to miss them again for a long time. You don’t learn how true the clichés are until you leave home for a long time: home is where the heart is, there’s no place like home, I wish I was homeward bound (okay, that’s a song lyric). Oxford had become a kind of home for me, and I’ll miss it. But my real home, the one I’ll always want to come back to, is 5421 N. Tracy. And now, friends, you have travelled with me from October to July, from England to France, through fun, boredom, travels, hominess, loves, hates, homesickness and joy. I feel like I should say something pithy or clever to end this blog, but I’m not going to because I’m not done with this blog. I’ve found that I like telling stories, I like sharing YouTube links, and I like filling the blogosphere with parentheses. So, please check back here every so often, and you may find something I thought was funny, a story I thought was interesting, links to YouTube videos or news stories, or just pictures of my senior year. Thanks for keeping up with me this past year! | The French eat French bread, but they also eat burritos.
217: The End
219: Reid This | January 1, 2011 to December 4, 2011
220: Saturday, January 1, 2011: Mic Check, Mic Check. La la la la la. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 | Test post. Badda Bing Badda Boom.
221: Friday, January 7, 2011: Bucket of Fun List | Things I want to do in Australia: 1. See a wild Kangaroo 2. Hear someone say "put a shrimp on the barbie" 3. Flirt with an Australian 3a. To clarify, that would be with a girl. 4. Snuggle with a Koala 5. Hike in New Zealand 6. Tell someone "I have no idea what you just said." 7. Have someone tell me "I have no idea what you just said." 8. Pretend I personally know President Obama 9. Pretend to be Scottish 10. See the Sydney Harbor and Sydney Opera House 11. Find someone who has actually heard of Missouri
222: Bucket of Fun List | 12. Walk through a wildlife reservation 13. Fight a tasmanian devil in said wildlife reservation 14. Learn 25 new slang words 15. Go to an Australian church 16. Get Australians to talk to my friends back home 16a. Get Australian girls to talk to my guy friends back home 17. Spend a week with my family 19. Take a gazillion thousand million pictures, and keep all of them 20. Remember to maintain this blog. 21. I skipped #18. 22. Buy some lame postcards, and then immediately lose them 23. Survive being halfway around the world in a foreign country for 13 weeks by myself
223: Friday, January 14, 2011: Location, Location, Location | Location #1: I'm living in an apartment complex at 238 Flinders St, Melbourne 3000. I'll most likely have a couple of roommates, but I'll have my own room, which will be nice. My roommates should be other students that are traveling, like myself, or someone who is part of another study abroad program. Location #2: I'm working at Bovis Lend Lease, which is at 825 Bourke Street, Melbourne 3000. This is what they call the "head office", but I will most likely be spending the majority of my time at the construction site. Location #3: The construction site is at 100 Queen Street, Melbourne 3000. I'll be working on a $60 million refurbishment of a bank. Now for the great news....I can walk to both the head office and the construction site! It'll take me 30 minutes to walk to the head office, but only 10 minutes to walk to the construction site. How about that for location, location, location.
224: Saturday, January 15, 2011: Your background confuses me... | During my stay in Australia, I plan on updating the background of my blog with pictures that I've taken while in Australia. However, since I don't have any pictures of Australia right now, I decided to use a picture taken from another travel adventure of mine.
225: Your background confuses me... | This is a picture taken by my sister, Joy, when we were in Granada, Spain. Fifteen minutes before this picture was taken, we had just hiked up one of the largest hills I had ever seen in order to get inside this castle. However, when we got to the top, all of the tickets to the castle were sold out. So, we walked back down the hill, but instead through a nice sloping pedestrian walkway, in the middle of some trees. We were walking, and BAM! I looked to my left and there was this huge door, just sitting in the middle of the trees. So, we decided to take a picture, and that's the story behind this picture.
226: Sunday, January 23, 2011: Our God Is An Awesome God | "Where you go, I'll go. Where you stay, I'll stay. When you move, I'll move. I will follow..." The lyrics to Chris Tomlin's song "I Will Follow" take on a whole new meaning on the eve of my departure. But God is good, all of the time, and all of the time, God is good, so there are no worries or anxieties about this trip. Oh who am I kidding, my mother is worried sick, but at least she can take those worries to God, and give them up to Him. He's pretty good at taking our worries. As for me right now, I'm all packed and ready to go. I fly out of KC at 2:15 p.m. Monday afternoon. I fly into Dallas, then from Dallas to Los Angeles, then from LA to Australia. The next time I post I will most likely be in Australia! "For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen." - Romans 11:36
227: Tuesday, February 1, 2011: I was going, going, going, gone. | Baseball is like free stuff in Australia. It just doesn't exist here. But I exit in Australia, and that's all that matters! I left Kansas City at 2:15 p.m. on the 24th of January, and arrived in Brisbane, Australia at 12:15 p.m. on the 26th of January. January 25th didn't exist for me, it just went poof somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. I flew via KC to Dallas to Los Angeles to Brisbane. Just some funny anecdotes from my trip to the great Down Under.. From Dallas to Los Angeles, I sat next to a girl who was a tv personality, model, host and actress trying to make it big in Hollywood...her future doesn't seem to bright though, because when she asked me where I was going and I said "Australia", she responded with "Wait, is Australia or Austria next to New Zealand? Cause those are both countries, right?" It was just one of those flights. Also, American Airline napkins smell funny, and the stewardess dropped ice on me twice. In the Los Angeles airport, I had to use the restroom, and so I went to the stall. While in the stall, a guy entered the stall next to me and began to absolutely blast some spanish rap. I mean, this rap was so loud you could hear it in San Diego. So I guess that's how they roll in Cali; they drop a beat while they drop a deuce.
228: I was going, going, gone. | On the flight from LA to Brisbane, we Americans were outnumbered 10-1, easily. Two of the Australians near me looked about my age, and they were doing some serious debating about the NBA. They made some American NBA fans look like ignorant 4 yr olds with the depth of their discussions. They talked about the dunk contest, who would win the championship, the greatness of Rajon Rondo and how Gary Payton is on the Celtics. For you non-NBA fans out there, Gary Payton is not on the Celtics. But still, for not being from America, three out of four ain't too shabby. In my group, we had around 15 kids from all over the USA, and even one from Canada. We were going to be working throughout Australia (which, by the way, is pronounced by Aussies as Uhstralia. The 'A' sounds like the a in again.), with some in Brisbane, Cairns (Canes), Canberra (Canbra), Melbourne (Melboune), Tasmania and Sydney, among others. The group was really awesome, for many reasons. First, everyone was fun and open and willing to have a good time. Second, out of the 15 people, there was only one other dude, so that's a pretty good ratio. We had a two-day orientation in Cairns , a northern Australian city. It is fairly tropical there, and it sports the best access to the Great Barrier Reef.
229: I was going, going, gone. | Below is a picture of my hotel. (P.S. I want to put more pictures, but that picture took 4 minutes to upload, and I'm paying for my internet by the minute. We'll try for more pics later.) | This is part of my walk to my room. Just slightly different from your local Motel 8. | The pool at my hotel. Pretty. Dang. Awesome. | While in Cairns, during our first day (Thursday January 27th), we went to a rainforest zoo and I petted a kangaroo and held a koala and saw a 17 foot crocodile! Again, I have pictures, but they take foooooooooooorever to upload.
230: I was going, going, gone. | Also at this zoo, we were taught how to throw a boomerang, play a didgeridoo and throw a spear by Aboriginees! I'm pretty much a lethal weapon now, to be honest. Just give me a stick and I can either fashion it into a boomerang and knock you out with it, or sharpen it into a spear and stab you with it. Your choice! | Me and a Kangaroo! There was about 12 of them in the zoo. | Kangaroo.
231: I was going, going, gone. | You see those three poles in the background? He doubled that distance with his throw. | For our second day in Cairns (Friday January 28th), we went to the Great Barrier Reef! You absolutely have to go do this, it is remarkably remarkable. I snorkeled twice and even scuba dove for 30 minutes! On the trip out to the Reef, it's pretty fair to say that I wasn't in the best of health. I didn't throw up, but I had to concentrate like a Jedi to keep my stomach from flying out of my mouth. But once we got to the Reef, I felt like a million Australian dollars, which is like 1.003 million | American dollars. Seeing the Reef for the first time was a feeling I'll never forget. We snorkeled for 45 minutes, and then it was my turn to scuba dive! It was just me, another girl and our instructor. We put on the gear, did some tests, jumped in the water, did some more tests, and then off we went! I'm fairy certain I would still be down there if my instructor hadn't grabbed me and made me come back to the boat. It was absolutely unbelievable; the colors, the fish, the experience of being 15 ft underwater and seeing such vibrant life.
232: I was going, going, gone. | Needless to say, I'd definitely go back, if I could. After scuba diving, we had lunch, then boated over to another snorkeling site. There, the reef was a little closer to the surface, and I was able to snorkel with 5 or 6 of my friends. During this snorkel trip, the coolest thing ever happened...I touched a real | Me with five of the girls in my group. Check out those blue suits! | It's the kind of blue that you dream about. | life sea turtle. Now, the magnitude of this may not hit you. I touched a genuine, wild, real sea turtle, in the Great Barrier Reef, which is the ocean, which is in the wild. It was a one-on-one encounter with nature and it was mind-blowing. I could have followed that sea turtle for hours, but it swam so deep that I couldn't see it anymore. Coolest. Thing. Ever.
233: I was going, going, gone. | Oh, I almost forgot. The best part of the day was scuba diving, and the second best part was touching a wild sea turtle, but a close third were the workers of the boat. It's so true, Australian girls are attractive. Enough said. The next day, (Saturday January 29th), my group flew out of Cairns and to our respective assignments. Just a quick note, but Australia has domestic flight nearly perfected. And by nearly perfected, I mean quick, easy and kind of unsecure. So it's pretty much the opposite of American domestic travel. So to sum up: Sea turtles rock, Australian female scuba divers are attractive, Cairns is fun and California guys listen to music while the poo. It was a great start to a great trip! Editorial Note: I'm like almost a week behind in blogging. My internet situation here is a little messy, so I'm way behind. But I'll try and catch up as soon as I can!
234: Wednesday, February 2, 2011: We both speak English, but they don't speak American. | The other day, I was asked what kind of accent I had, and it felt awesome! I thought about telling the gentleman "What accent?", but I knew that I had to make a good first impression, so I told him "The accent from the best and most powerful country in the world, ya bloke." Just kidding, I told him I was American, and he kindly wished me luck in my endeavors. So far, my endeavors have ranged from the totally wickedly awesome to the fairly typical. Although since I'm in Australia, even the fairly typical is decently wickedly awesome. To prove my point: on Friday the 28th, I went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef and touched a sea turtle. Three days later, on Monday the 1st, I went grocery shopping. Boom. | Australian supermarket, inside a mall. Pretty much like an American supermarket, just double the price on everything.
235: We both speak English, but they don't speak American. | Grocery shopping was pretty normal, aside from the fact that my checkout girl spoke Australian, and I had to carry my groceries half a mile to my house. For those of you that haven't been shopping with me, I a bit of a thrifty fellow (read, cheapskate.), so spending money on groceries was a little hard for me, considering absolutely everything in the store is more expensive than it is in the states. So, I bought the least amount of groceries possible for me to survive. Shockingly, the next day, I realized that I was dying and needed more food. So, I'm going to go out tonight and buy some more food for my tired, weak, starving stomach. (Just a tid bit of info, you know how KMarts don't exist anymore in the States? Yeah, that's cause they all are on holiday in Australia. KMart is the second biggest department store Down Under. Blew my mind.) My house, at 81 Union Street, Brunswick, Victoria 3056, is about half a mile from the nearest major road, which is Sydney Road. Sydney Road is a decent sized road, lined with shops and restaurants and homes and my grocery store. Also on Sydney Road are trams! | Tram. My personal mode of transportation. And by personal, I mean me and 2 million other people.
236: We both speak English, but they don't speak American. | Trams are my livelihood. I take them to work, to all attractions, to downtown and everywhere in between. Melbourne sports the worlds largest tram network (source, Wikipedia.). Even though Wikipedia isn't a Noble Prize winning source, I believe it. The tram network stretches far into the nearby suburbs, and covers an extensive part of downtown (what they call the CBD, Central Business District.) It is fairly reliable and relaxing. Although, during my 25 minute commute to work this morning, a car ran into my tram! You see, trams have special traffic laws. They always have the right of way, and some stoplights don't apply to them, while others always do. It sounds complicated, but the Melburnians seem to have it down pretty well. That is, everyone except for this one lady. We went through an intersection, and all of the other 20 cars stopped for the tram, but she kept going and clipped the side of the tram! It made for quite an exciting start to my day. Also, if you look at the above picture, you may notice the placement of the tram stops. That's right, you have to jaywalk just to get to the tram! Cars are very reasonable, and will generally let you cross to get to a stop, or you can wait for the traffic light to switch and walk with traffic, but still, it makes waiting for your tram fairly adrenaline filled. Cars rush by two feet behind you, and multi-ton trams blur by two feet in front of you.
237: We both speak English, but they don't speak American. | Above is a very typical picture of the CBD's traffic. Biking is very, very popular in Melbourne, not only as a tool to commute but as a sport, too. Motorcycles and scooters are popular, since they often have special parking spots. And just like in Europe, it's hard to find a car that's bigger than a twin-sized bed. In the States, we have trucks the size of the trams! Rock on, USA. While I love the USA (I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free!), I must admit that Australia may have | Walking, bikes, motorcycles, small cars and trams = confusing rush hour traffic. | us beat in the department of city parks. Melbourne has so many extravagant and lush parks, it makes for a cross country runner's dream. I went to the Royal Botanical Gardens, which were pretty cool. I don't know how many acres it is, but you could easily get very lost in the gardens.
238: We both speak English, but they don't speak American. | The Gardens had plants from all around the world, and everything was in prestine condition. It was one of the most peaceful, calming places I've seen. There was an asphalt track for running or walking, but there were also many dirt paths that took you deeper into the gardens and into the thick of the plants. If you've been looking for a place to have a picnic, look no further. Go ahead and buy the $2,000 plane ticket, take the 3 flights, fly across the Pacific Ocean for 13 hours, and then tram it to the Royal Botanical Gardens, cause it'll be the best picnic of your life. | Totally worth it. | There were a lot of cool plants, with even cooler names. I found a tree called a "Queensland Jack-In-A-Box". I also found a real strange animal, and I was wondering if anyone who reads this could help me out with identifying it. It wasn't in the provided literature, and there were no signs talking about. I took a picture of it, so please look below.
239: We both speak English, but they don't speak American. | Now that's one handsome creature. Although not everything in Australia is handsome. See below, which is a picture of my office. | Just kidding. It's me. | To be fair, I work at a construction site, so you can't expect much. And while this may look a bit junky, it as actually quite homy (Homey, homie? I don't mean homie like my gangsta brotha, I mean homie like it's comfortable. Whatever.) I work with two other guys, both in their late 20s. My desk is immediately in the foreground, and then next desk, with the laptop, is the desk of the foreman Paul Jacobs, and the last desk with the monitor on top is of the project engineer and my boss Gabriel Faris. | Luxury.
240: We both speak English, but they don't speak American. | Both guys are great and very helpful and totally committed to helping me learn about Australia and learn about engineering/construction. My project is the refurbishment of a 26 story office building. And while my office may not be too glamorous, it only takes me a short walk from my job site to have some pretty dang nice views. | Pretty nice, yea? And that's only half of the CBD!
241: We both speak English, but they don't speak American. | I took that picture from the bank of the Yarra River, which runs right down the middle of Melbourne. The river walk is a lot fun, with restuarants and shops lining the river, and further down the river, there was about 12 rowing teams! this made me excited, since Joy was on a rowing team when she was in Oxford. I walked along the river for over an hour, and then decided to sit down and enjoy the sunshine for a bit. | Chilling. | I've been in Melbourne for five days now, and it's been going great. I love the sun, and the walks, and all of the sights. God has been good to me and I'm enjoying every minute of His goodness.
242: Wednesday, February 9, 2011: This is your birthday song, it isn't very long. Hey. | Today is my birthday, February 10th, 2011, and I turn 21 years old. One of my housemates asked me last night, "So have you got anything special planned for the big day?", and I told her, "I'm in Australia, how much more special can it be?" On the 'How cool is the birthday gift?' scale, being in Australia ranks just below going to the moon, but just above hitting a home run in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 7 of the World Series for the Kansas City Royals and beating the New York Yankees. This is my second week in Melbourne, and it's going just as well if not better than the first. I've had a definite attitude change, though, which has been relieving and very helpful. Last week, I was focused on the fact that I had no friends here, no community and nothing to do, and that was hard to face. But this week, I had the realization that I had nothing to do! That may seem like the same thing that I just said brought me down, but I looked at it in a different light. I had no commitments, no schedule and nowhere to be. I am a free man, with an unusual amount of free time. While that may be a bit lonely at times, and while all that free time may be a bit daunting, it's a pretty good problem to have.
243: This is your birthday song, it isn't very long. | "So Reid, what do you do with all of that free time?" you ask? I walk. "Really? You just walk?" Yep. I walk, and I sleep. But in all seriousness, I do walk a lot. If you plan on travelling abroad, unless you're going to rent a car (and absolutely no student should have that sort of spare cash lying around), then you best get yourself in walking shape before you leave home. The other day, I walked for two straight hours and covered seven miles. All that walking makes you tired, which is why I sleep a lot. Just this week, I have taken a nap in two parks and one on the beach. The picture below was taken about an hour and a half into my two hour walk. You know the song "500 Miles" by The Proclaimers where they sing "And I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more...". Yeah, I'm calling your bluff on that one. | Source: The little squirrel that snuggled up next to me.
244: This is your birthday song, it isn't very long.! | However, by walking around so much, you do get to see a lot of the city. In my previous blog, I mentioned that the Royal Botanical Garden is one of my favorite places to go. And how did I find the Botanical Garden? By walking there. Boom. | I proclaim that 7 miles is enough for me, thank you very much. | This kind of view is worth the walk. Except for the guy in the middle there. Get out of my shot, mate! | The Botanical Garden is not only one of the most peaceful places I have ever been, but it is one of the coolest places, as well. Now, some of you might say "Bro, it's a garden. Just go to your backyard and you'll see the same thing."
245: This is your birthday song, it isn't very long. | Ladies and Gentleman, I present you with the coolest tree ever, and the coolest gate ever. Or maybe, technically, it's the coolest group of trees ever. Maybe it's a Transformer. I don't know, but it was worth the picture, and once again, worth the walk. | Oh yeah? Really? You have this in your backyard? | What about this? You got this one, too?
246: This is your birthday song, it isn't very long.! | Also worth the walk, but for different reasons. | While seeing this plaque was a bit of a somber moment, it is always good to remember the events of September 11th, 2001 and give a prayer to those affected by it. Unfortunately, I am can't come up with a suitable segway from the topic of 9/11, so we're just going to blaze on through. Australia and the U.S.A. are fairly similar in many ways. For instance, the man-to-man head nod still applies here (sup dude?), everyone complains about their jobs, and sports are a vital part of society. However, unsurprisingly, there are many things that are different.
247: While seeing this plaque was a bit of a somber moment, it is always good to remember the events of September 11th, 2001 and give a prayer to those affected by it. | This is your birthday song, it isn't very long. | Cars: Australians are very similar to the Europeans in their views on cars, and the type of cars that they drive. Consider the picture above. If one of my friends bought this car, I would tell him "Dude, you'd better take that back to the dealership right away. They only gave you half the car!", while an Australian would say to his mate, "Sweet as, you bought the full-size sedan!". Another point of difference is in their trucks. The majority of the time, you will see what they call a "Ute". A Ute is considered a mid-size truck. In America, a Ute could most likely park in the spots reserved for compact cars and coupes. I'm not hating on small trucks, since I myself drive one. I'm merely pointing out the differences in our cultures, and emphasising that America got it right. U S A! U S A! | This either an Australian's car, or the hubcap of a Hummer. Not sure which. | A Ute. Small name for a small thing.
248: This is your birthday song, it isn't very long.! | Shipped straight from Woodstock. This look familiar, all of you 40+ readers? | While we're on the subject of cars, I thought I'd give you a picture of this little gem that is parked down the street from me. | My neighborhood rocks. And rolls. You know what else rocks? My job. I am pleased to say that I really do enjoy my job and the two blokes on my job. I am learning a lot about how to run a project, and about how much work it takes to keep the job organized and on time. I have also learned that the coffee shop upstairs makes the best hot chocolate ever. Yum! I am really getting involved with my project; I have been put in charge of creating, organizing and delivering all of the contracts for the subcontractors for my project, as well as track the changes in work, prices and personal that may occur during the project. I have a lot to learn, but my manager and the foreman have been very helpful and have no problem with explaining things to me. We are really starting to get along, which makes work all that much better!
249: This is your birthday song, it isn't very long. | Overall, I am doing very well here in Melbourne. I'm beginning to make plans for my travels while I'm here in Melbourne, and for my travels for after I'm done working. Also, my family comes to visit in a month, so I'm super excited about that! There's a lot to see, but remember, I have absolutely nothing to do! I hope everything is going well with you back in the States. Feel free to comment on my blog or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to hear from you. God bless, and safe travels! | I mean, who wouldn't want to get along with a guy like this? | Looking good, champ!
250: This is your birthday song, it isn't very long.! | It's a gateway crime. Pretty soon, you'll be holding up the Garden Center at Lowe's trying to score a maple tree. | P.S. On a side note, this is a sign that I saw in the Royal Botanical Garden. Just a little something to leave you with.
251: Tuesday, February 15, 2011: I come from a land down under! | I'm currently in my third week of being in Australia, and second week of being in Melbourne. At this point, I'm starting to get the hang of things and I generally know what to expect from everything. For instance, I know that when people ask where in America I'm from, and I tell them Missouri, nine out of ten people will give me a "...oh..uh yeah...alright", trying to pretend they've heard of The Show Me state. Normally, I'll then ask "Have you ever heard of Missouri?" and again, nine out of ten people will say "Nope. But I have heard of LA and New York and Chicago." I tell them that Missouri is in the very middle of the country, and Mizzou is in the very middle of Missouri and KU is the entrance to hell. However, as you may guess, there is no way for me to be prepared for everything, or know what to expect from everything. My next story is a perfect description of the lifestyle here in Australia, and how it was completely unexpected.
252: I come from a land down under! | No, your eyes aren't failing you. That's a 6-pack of beer. | My 21st birthday was on the Thursday of last week, February 10th. My manager and foreman wished me a happy birthday, asked me what I was going to do for it, and then we talked about the differences between birthdays in AU and in America. It was all pretty average stuff. The next morning, I was sitting at my desk when my manager got up and left the office. I thought nothing of it, since we're at a construction site and he has to go check on a lot of things. Fifteen minutes later, we walks back into the office and (see picture below) drops this on my desk. | My boss gave me a 6-pack of James Squire Golden Ale for my birthday. While we were at work. In the middle of the day. He acted like he was dropping off a box of pens or something, while I acted like he set down a cage of rabid monkeys. Cultural differences, anyone? I laughed and thanked him for it, and we when on with our day. (P.S. I don't drink alcohol! It's like giving a prime steak to a vegetarian, or an F-350 truck to a tree hugger, or a good outfielder with a strong arm to the Kansas City Royals. They just don't belong together!)
253: I come from a land down under! | Regardless of the irony of the gift, it was still a pretty good birthday. I walked around downtown, watched a local cricket match, and then went home. That night, I Skyped with my family to celebrate my birthday! It was early in the morning their time, and so they weren't exactly the most lively folk, but it was great seeing/hearing them on my birthday. They had sent me a package, but I wasn't able to pick it up until the next day. So, the next day, we skyped again, and I opened up my birthday package and guess what I found...Tabasco sauce, Purell hand sanitizer and Welch's grape jelly! While those may not seem like great birthday presents, let me explain why there are perfect birthday presents. Tabasco Sauce: I have an addiction to tabasco sauce. Unfortunately, there's no 7-step recovery plan, so I think I'm headed for rock bottom as fast as that tasty topping can take me. Purell: I'm going to be travelling a lot, and there are no guarantees that I'll be able to shower or maintain basic hygiene. Purell fixes that problem. | Be jealous.
254: I come from a land down under! | So what, it's not an angel. It's white, majestic and heavenly. Big deal. | Grape jelly: This is a two parter. First, Australia has jam, not jelly, so thanks to my family, I'm now the only person in Australia with jelly. (ha ha ha). Second, Australia doesn't have grape jam, either. So, not only is there no jelly, but there's no grape substitute for grape jelly. But now I have it. Beer:....I got nothing. I guess it looks kind of cool? Speaking of things that look cool...(and no, there won't be another picture of me flexing, although I was tempted.)...I was out walking around downtown and I wandered into a music shop, turned the corner down an aisle and found myself staring straight at an angel. | That's a picture of a Gretsch White Falcon, which is one of the most iconic guitars ever. Trent Raines, a fraternity brother of mine, almost had a heart attack when he saw this picture. I can't confirm what he said when he saw this picture, but I'm pretty sure it was something like "ooooooohhhh mmmmyyyyy....no way! what?!". In person, it is so much prettier than in the picture. It was almost glowing, it looked alive. Oh, and it costs $6,000. That's a pretty Australian penny.
255: I come from a land down under! | (Wait, they don't have pennies. So it's a pretty Australian $1 coin. That doesn't sound nearly as nice.) Speaking of money... If you have read my previous blogs, you know that I have complained about the prices in Australia. Food, clothes, drinks, almost everything is more expensive than in the USA. However, there is one place where the prices are a little bit more friendly for a penny (or Australian $1 coin) pincher like myself. The Queen Victoria Market! | Think of an outdoor Wal-Mart Supercenter. Then double it. | The Queen Victoria Market has everything you could ever want, and then a bunch of stuff that no one would ever want. There are restaurants, botiques, stores, cafes, variety shops. And then, when you step out into the outdoor part of the Market, you can shop for groceries, fresh produce, clothes, accessories, shoes, towels, belts, jackets, luggage.
256: I come from a land down under! | This picture is pretty self-explanatory. National Sports Musuem. | And the best of it all is that it's all fairly reasonably priced. It's just a short tram ride from my house, open weekdays and Saturdays and Sundays. Definitely the place to be if you're looking for deals. Last saturday was a great day for me. I spend the morning at the Queen Victoria Market, and wandered the aisles until I felt like I had walked all the way to Sydney, then I hopped on a tram and travelled to the National Sports Museum. | The National Sports Museum is housed inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground, or MCG, or just G (if you're a hip Australian). The MCG is a gigantic stadium with a capacity of 100,00 people. It was the center piece for the Olympics when Melbourne hosted the Olympics in 1956. It was built in 1854, although not on this grand of scale. It also holds the record for tallest light towers in the world, which is oddly random, but still kind of neat.
257: I come from a land down under! | The National Sports Museum (NSM) is a museum to everything sport in Australia. There are sections for the Olympics, cricket, motorsport, Australian Rules Football, soccer, basketball and many other sports. The museum is dominated by the big three: the Olympics, cricket and Aussie Football. Since I'm an ignorant American, I'm still learning all of the details of both sports and the history behind both games. It was cool to be able to look at the significance of their sports, and begin to learn each sport's history and rules and effect on daily life. | Look at the size of those towers! | The mini version. They occassionally have ants play full length cricket matches here.
258: I come from a land down under! | Talking smack is nothing new, although this smack is exceptionally grammatically correct. | The museum was very well done, and gave me a lot of insight to the culture of Australian sport. For instance, I learned a lot about the Australia vs. England rivalry. | One of the biggest rivalry matches between Australia and England is a cricket match called The Ashes. It's a series of 7 One Day Test Cricket matches between Australia and England, and the winner takes home an urn of "ashes". As far as I could tell, the name of the match was taken from the above obituary, which was placed in an English newspaper. That may or may not be true, but it's a pretty sweet story. Australia and England really don't like each other (maybe it's the whole 'colony vs kingdom' thing?), and that is evidenced throughout Australian culture and society. | It's all pretty simple. We don't like you and you don't like us.
259: I come from a land down under! | Overall, my third week of being an Aussie is going great. I finally found a church that I like, and I can really see myself calling it my church home. I have a friend coming to visit in two weeks and am eagerly looking forward to that. But as of now, I'm enjoying getting to know the city and everyone I meet. I'm enjoying walking around downtown, hanging with my Australian housemates, and taking long naps on the beach. (That last one may sound like I'm joking, but I'm not. Hour long naps on the beach are the best. thing. ever.) Australian is treating me well! I hope everything is good with you back home, and I'd love to hear from you. Cheers!
260: Thursday, February 24, 2011: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | Australians don't say "bless you" after you sneeze, there is no left turn on red (our version of right on red) and you are required by law to wear a helmet when riding a bike, no matter what. Also, there is no right to bear arms (you must have an extremely exclusive permit to buy a gun), taxes are rolled up into the store prices (so if the sign says $9.90, you pay $9.90), and there's no tipping. I couldn't think of a good way to start this post, so I'd figure I would lead with that. Of the things mentioned above, I agree with exactly....one of them. Saying "bless you" is courteous and shows caring, what's wrong with that? Not being able to turn on a red light stalls traffic and makes driving a pain. A bike is a toy...what type of toy comes with safety equipment required by law? ("Here you gonna Johnny, here's your G.I. Joe action figure and Xbox. And here's accessory that will keep you from swallowing the Joe, and special darkened glasses to keep the xbox from burning your eyes out.") Outlawing firearms is boring; what would Southerns do on the weekends if we didn't have firearms? And no tipping is just lazy. Do the mental math and be a giver, it's not hard. The only thing I like from that list is the fact that taxes are rolled up into the prices. It's unimaginably convenient, one of the best things about Australia by far.
261: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | Another 'best thing about Australia by far' is the Melbourne Zoo! Last Saturday, I took a spontaneous trip to the Melbourne Zoo. (It wasn't too spontaneous or even that difficult. It's 5 minutes from my house.) I flashed my Student ID, paid the reduced fee and began my tour of Melbourne's finest zoo. Let's begin with my overall impression of the zoo. Very. Cool. As zoos goes, the Melbourne Zoo was definitely enjoyable. I had never been to a zoo by myself before, so it was nice being able to go at my own pace and do my own thing. It was also nice because most of the zoo looked like this: | There could easily be a Puma that escaped from its cage and is waiting to ambush you, and you'd never know it.
262: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | He sunbathes better than you, and if you think otherwise, I wouldn't tell him to his face. | The entire zoo was as tropical as it could be; it made for a nice escape from the concrete jungle of the CBD. It took me over three hours to get through the zoo, but it was a great way to spend three hours. It was a gorgeous day, highs in the mid-70s with a light breeze. Everybody at the zoo was enjoying the perfect weather, including this guy. | The lion exhibit was one of my top five favorite exhibits in the zoo. The zoo has four male lions, all brothers. I went by the exhibit twice, once in the late morning and once in the early afternoon. In the morning, the lions were resting (they sleep 20 hours a day) and I took the above picture. In the afternoon, after my camera battery had run out (stupid stupid stupid), I went back to the exhibit to find that it was feeding time.
263: Feeding time makes the lions excited. And excited lions roar. All four of them. Imagine the deepest bass you've heard on a song or in concert. You know, that full, deep, rich sound. Think of that, make it surround sound, crank it up to 100 and multiply by 3. That's the sound coming from one lion when it roars. It's the type of sound that makes your brain go "Well that just can't possibly be coming from that lion, there's just no way." The roar has so much depth and power to it, it makes you wonder how the gazelle don't keel over just from the fear of the roar itself. Lions = impressive. A lot of the animals at the zoo were impressive, just in a different way than the lion. For example, the Great Tortoise was one of my favorite animals at the zoo. You were able to get pretty close to the Tortoise, and the keeper was there answering questions and keeping the Tortoises lively and active. The Great Tortoise can live to be over 250 years old, and an average sized male weighs about 550 lbs. For all of you thinking what I'm thinking, yes, that is larger than most Australian cars. | You think I'm joking. You have to get a special driver's license to keep one as a pet. | The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U
264: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | Just kidding. He may be a looker, but he was definitely not graceful. | The keeper (seen above, as for a size comparison to the Tortoise) was very helpful with questions, and enticed the Tortoise into actually moving (!) with some carrots. Thanks to her, we were able to see the Tortoise gracefully, skillfully and harmoniously navigate its exhibit. There is absolutely no way that a Hare lost to a Tortoise. We need to launch an investigation into the outcome of this event. There had to be insider gambling or steroid usage or something. I'll contact the FBI and get back to you guys on this one. | Moving on, I went by the giraffe exhibit. Little did I know, it was actually a three-for-one special! They kept emus, zebras and giraffes all in the same enclosure. Now, I have known about giraffes since preschool, and I've seen giraffes on multiple occasions at other zoos, but no matter how many times I see them, they are still shockingly tall.
265: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | And for the first time, I noticed that they are shockingly stout, too. Yes, they have legs that are most likely made out of balsa wood and all you would have to do to escape a giraffe is climb under a desk, but they are surprisingly think through the chest and neck. Oh, and they're tall, too. | It's a "which neck is longer" contest. | Being tall can be very advantageous at times. It helps them reach the tops of trees to feed, and they don't have to worry about not being able to see the screen at the movies. Also, it helps them really connect with their neighbors. | Sup man?
266: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | How many animals are in this picture? | Giraffes are kind of goofy animals, but that's what makes them fun. I also couldn't help but think of Melman from Madagascar, so that made them a lot more interesting, too. I left the giraffes and went to the bird section of the zoo. The zoo had all shapes and sizes of birds, most of which I couldn't care less about, but some were pretty interesting. And before you ask the question, yes I did see a Kookaburra, just not in a gumtree. The zoo had what they called the aviary cage, which at first seemed only halfway cool, but then I realized that I had been walking for about 10 minutes and still was not at the end of the cage. | The aviary cage single-handedly made birds cool.
267: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | I finally made it out of the aviary cage, ditched the blue-headed finches that were trying to build a nest in my hair, and went on to the jungle section of the zoo. I tried to take pictures of the walkways, but the walkway was so dark from the extensive tree cover, the pictures kept coming out blurry from lack of light. The jungle walkways really made it feel like you had stepped into the Brazilian rain forest. I kept walking along the dark, cool paths, and then I turned the corner and saw the best animal ever. You see how the light shines down on the Tiger, the only light in the entire exhibit? That's because the tiger is God's chosen animal, his supreme animal for all his colleges, er creation. | Can I get a M - I - Z!! Z - O - U!! You can't look at that face and say you wouldn't want to take him home.
268: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | Human. Just kidding, it's the elephant. | After taking these pictures, the tigers woke up, noticed me, came over and wished me good luck in my travels. They told me to wish the football team good luck as well, gave me a quick chest bump, and then went back to sleep. Remember when I said that the lions were one of my top five favorite exhibits, and so were the tortoises? Well the tigers are on that list, also. Another animal on that list is the.... | The zoo had an extremely well done elephant exhibit. They have one male elephant and four female elephants, and even two baby elephants! I think the term 'baby elephant' is a bit of a misnomer, because that's kind of like saying 'a small aircraft carrier'. A baby elephant is still a huge animal! The male elephant, above, was in the barn getting his daily bath.
269: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | The keeper uses those two orange poles to direct the elephant into standing in certain positions, and doing certain actions, such as lifting his trunk, raising a foot, or lying down. It may sound mediocre, but seeing an animal of this size is awe-inspiring, and then seeing an animal of this size lay down, stay on its hind legs, and do other maneuvers is a whole other matter. The elephant exhibit was my favorite exhibit at the zoo. The elephant was definitely my favorite exhibit, and I stayed there for the longest, but it wasn't the only cool animal in the zoo. There were a lot of cool animals, but not many can chill in style as well as...the monkey. | I dare you to play Sharks and Minnows with him. The zenith of chilling. It's an art form for him.
270: The Melbourne (M-I-Z) Z-O-U | The zoo had a series of exhibits for all of the marsupials, and each exhibit was just as awesome as the next. There's something about monkeys that just make you happy. They just look like they're constantly having fun! I mean seriously, if you could be any animal, the majority of us would choose the monkey. I can almost personally guarantee 75% of males under the age of 12 would choose monkey, and I speak from experience. Overall, the zoo was an awesome experience. So awesome in fact, that I'm going to do it again! I have friends coming in town this weekend who are working as zoo keepers in Tasmania and they want to go to the zoo, so I'm going back again. As for the rest of Melbourne, my stay here is going great. Work is really starting to pick up, and the construction is starting to get under way. I'm really enjoying working with my manager and foreman, and I'm learning a lot about project management and how much paperwork depresses people. Thanks for reading my blog, and I'd love to hear from you! Let me know if you have any questions or anything else. Cheers, mate!
271: Monday, March 7, 2011: Muffins, Monkeys and Missed Flights | I tried to order muffins for my job site to help us celebrate International Women's Day, and when I entered my information into the online order form and clicked 'submit', it came back with an error message that read: "We're sorry, but 'Reid' is not a valid first name. Please enter another name, and try again." Mom, Dad...how dare you. This pretty much sums up my experience in Australia. I never know what is going to happen next. One minute, I'm calmly working on my cost control paperwork, and the next minute, I'm ordering dainty muffins for 20 burly construction workers, and I learn that Australia does not recognize 'Reid' as a first name. You gotta love this country. While I apparently need to change my name, or maybe just make it official and go solely by "The Man", everything else about Australia is going great! I'm making more and more friends (you can only go up from zero!) and getting more involved in the community. Last week, I went to a jazz cafe Tuesday night, bible study Wednesday night, and then played basketball with guys from my church Thursday night! It was a pretty good week.
272: Muffins, Monkeys and Missed Flights | This is about 1/8th of the people at the concert. | The week before that, I went to a concert by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Melbourne has a series of free concerts during the summer, and the last one was centered around Australian made, directed and produced music. When I was invited to the concert, I expected a few older people in lawn chairs, a few families on picnics, and some artistic-loving musicians. I was wrong. | There were so many people there, it could have been registered as the second largest town in Wyoming. (Which isn't saying much. The local Wal-Mart is the fifth largest city in Wyoming.) It was a gorgeous day for a concert, which started around 7 o'clock, and went until around 10 o'clock. | 7 o'clock. | 10 o'clock.
273: Muffins, Monkeys and Missed Flights | The concert was surprisingly entertaining. The second half of the concert was a little slow and boring, but the first half was very exciting, up-tempo and erratic music. I felt very cultured, since I was taking in a cultural event in an entirely different culture. It was a double-shot of culture like none other. That same week, I made a big move into settling down in my home, and I bought a bike! It may be a tad rough on the eyes, but the little devil is a lot of fun. Well, it was a lot of fun...it has a flat rear tire now. But hey, it still looks goo...well it doesn't look good either. So, basically, I own an ugly bike that doesn't work. I'm living the dream! But before my bike got the flat tire, I had a lot of fun riding around town, checking out the sights and pretending I was Tony Hawk or Shaun White. During one of my rides around town, I rode down to the Queen Victoria Market and unexpectedly found the Wednesday Night Market. | It's the same model that Lance used to win his 4th Tour de France.
274: Muffins, Monkeys and Missed Flights | Pictured: 4th largest city in Wyoming. | For those of you who don't remember, the Queen Vic Market is a big indoor-outdoor market/farmers market. The Wednesday Night Market is almost exclusively a foreign foods festival, with live music and hundreds of food booths set up around the marketplace. Oh, and it's absolutely packed. I had a nice Seafood Paella from the Spanish booth, and then fought my way through the masses so I could watch the Victorian Police Band. They captivate you with their sound, and then arrest you with their cuffs. (That | was stupid, I'm sorry I said that.) I was having a pretty good time at the market, and then it got better, when around 50 bikers riding Harley Davidsons rolled in. I felt like pumping my fist and yelling "U-S-A! U-S-A!", because what's more American than a good ol' Harley. The Harleys were like 50 little bits of America rolling down the road.
275: Muffins, Monkeys and Missed Flights | Get ready for this sweet segway. Harley Davidsons are from Milwaukee, I have a friend from Milwaukee, and she and another friend came to visit me. Boom, segwayed. Justine (from Milwaukee) and Caitlin (from Provo) came up from Tasmania to visit Melbourne over the weekend a few weekends ago. I wanted to show them a good Melburnian time, and so we decided to go to the beach. We got our swim suits, sandwiches and towels and headed to the beautiful St. Kilda beach. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was in the low-70s and very cloudy. Not exactly perfect beach going weather. | Only real beach lovers go to the beach when everyone else is wearing jeans and hoodies.
276: Muffins, Monkeys and Missed Flights | Reason #1 why I didn't mind going back. Big kitty. | The next day, we unthawed our toes, shook the frozen sand from our towels, and headed to the Melbourne Zoo. This may sound like deja vu, and you may be thinking, "Wait, wasn't your last post all about going to the zoo?" Yes, you are correct, but my friends are both zoo keepers, and they really wanted to go to the zoo, and I enjoyed it so much that I didn't mind going back! | We had a gorgeous day for the zoo, and it was a lot of fun. You know how when you see a movie for the second time, you notice things that you hadn't seen the first go around? That's exactly what it was like the second time I went to the zoo. It was also nice going to a zoo with two zookeepers, because they got excited about almost every animal. Of course, it's hard not to get excited when you get to see these guys: | The animal version of your typical college male. Sup bro? Just chillin'.
277: Muffins, Monkeys and Missed Flights | Monkeys. Are. Awesome. One minute, they look like they haven't a care in the world, then the next minute they're playing the most intense game of tag you've ever seen. And it's all so easy for them, too. If I could have a prehensile tail, I would do it in a heart-beat. I also learned that a monkey's wrists are a ball-and-socket joint, so their hands can actually twist around with no problems. Cool, huh! You know else is cool? Staring contests. This guy could not get enough of looking at the visitors. He and his friend would swing around the enclosure, then come right back to the glass and give us a good looking at. It made for some very entertaining video and some really funny pictures. | Don't blink! | Left: Caitlin. Middle: Justine. Right: What every young boy wants to be.
278: Muffins, Monkeys and Missed Flights | Can we keep him, Mom? Please? | The zoo was a lot of fun, but it was a long day, so we afterwards we went back to my house and watched 'Scrubs' on TV. And that's where it all went wrong. By coming to Australia, I have been able to check a lot of things off of my bucket list. I've touched a sea turtle, lived in another country and gone scuba diving. And now, I can also scratch off "make someone miss their flight." | Now, it wasn't entirely my fault. A lot of the blame can be placed on the fact that we watched 'Scrubs' for too long. Here's how it went down. Their flight was to leave at 7:20 p.m. We watched 'Scrubs' until about 6 (oops), walked to a tram spot, waited for the tram, took two trams to the bus station, waited for a bus, took a bus to the airport, and then walked to the terminal. Now that I type it all out, I realize that we had almost no shot at making it on time. Nevertheless, we did our best! Unfortunately, our best was five minutes too late. So, $60 later, the girls had changed their flights to the next morning.
279: Muffins, Monkeys and Missed Flights | I tried to win them over by buying them coffee and ice cream, and I think it helped, but they're still not talking to me, so I'm not sure. (Just kidding, they actually handled it really well.) Apart from the initial phsical abuse (girls punch funny), they took it in stride and chalked it up to "a life experience". We managed to get them on their flight the next morning (at 7:50 a.m.) and they got home safely. This last weekend, I went on a little bit of a trip myself. I went to Wilsons Promontory, which is a huge national park 2.5 hrs east of Melbourne. I'm going to dedicate my next blog entirely to this trip, but for now, I'll leave you with a picture, as sort of a sneak peek. | It was an awesome trip. | I hope everything is going great for you back home. I'd love to hear from you! Cheers!
280: Sunday, March 20, 2011: The Great Getaway | What exactly is a promontory? It is a good question, and before I visited Wilson Promontory, I had absolutely no idea. It turns out a promontory is a mass of land that overlooks lower land or a body of water. That definition seems oddly general to me, as there are many places that overlook lower land or a body of water, but we'll work with what we got. And what we got is Wilsons Promontory (a.k.a. The Prom) (So yeah, I went to The Prom last weekend, which makes it sound like I was a huge creep and went to a high school dance. I didn't, I went hiking.). Whenever I would talk to the locals about my travel plans and sightseeing adventures, they frequently brought up The Prom. "It's Victoria's landmark national park." "Oh mate, it's awesome, you'd love it there." "I have no idea what a promontory is, but it's unbelievable." So, I decided to do a little research and see what the fuss was all about. I began researching the possibility of a trip on Wednesday, and that following Friday, I was sitting on a bus headed for The Prom. In between that I bought a tent, hiking boots, food and packed my bag for the weekend. | My bag for the weekend.
281: The Great Getaway | It was a 2.5 hr bus ride to Fish Creek, a tiny rural town, then an hour bus ride into the park. I'd love to tell you that the Australian countryside is incredibly scenic and all, but I was asleep for about 2 hrs of the 2.5 hr bus ride, so I didn't get to see much. Once I got into the park, around 5:30 p.m., I found my campsite and set up my tent. | Home sweet home. | As you may notice, my tent isn't exactly spacious. I bought a small, two-person tent, which turned out to be a very small, two-middle school persons tent. I had to lay corner-to-corner in order to be able to fully stretch out. But since I was the only person in the tent, it actually worked perfectly. After setting up my tent, I grabbed some dinner (a candy bar and Vitamin water), and then headed out to check out the campsite. I knew there were some scenic locations closeby, so I decided to venture out and see what I could find. On my way, I found a wombat!
282: The Great Getaway | The Prom is known for having a large wombat population, and the wombats are very used to humans, and so they freuently come into the campsite to look for food. It is very common to wake up in the morning and find that a wombat has ripped a hole in your tent or kncoked over tables looking for food. Luckily, that didn't happen to me. My only experience with the wombat was touching him and taking this picture. Still, it | The head is on the left, the tail is on the right. Just in case you're confused. | This is high on the list. No explanation needed. | was pretty cool to be able to see Australian wildlife. Seeing a wombat was pretty cool, but it ranks pretty low on the list of things I saw over the weekend.
283: The Great Getaway | I probably stood at this point for ten minutes, just taking it all in. The beach in the background is Squeaky Beach, which is named after the fact that the sand squeakes when you walk on the beach. This is caused by the characteristics of the white quartz sand, which is so fine that there is an incredible amount of friction between the sand particles, causing it to emit a squeak whenever you step into the sand. All in all, it makes for an interesting experience walking across the beach. A quick side note: I took over one hundred pictures over the weekend, so I want you to know how much of a struggle it was for me to select only a few for this blog. | I was going to Refuge Cove, via Sealers Cove. | The next morning, Saturday morning, I packed up my gear, caught a shuttle to the base camp, and headed off for my two-day hike.
284: The Great Getaway | The weather was perfect for hiking. It ranged from high 50s at night to high 70s during the day, with little rain and partly cloudy. You worked up a sweat when you were hiking, but then were able to cool off whenever you were taking a rest. It was perfect 'jeans and a t-shirt' type of weather. | Pictured: Jeans, accompanied by a t-shirt. | Smile! You're on Candid Camera. | The hike was gorgeous. Lush, rich forests with thick underbrush. As you would expect, it was an amazingly calming and peaceful place. I was truly able to get away from it all and get into nature. 'Nature' includes the trees, rocks, ferns and....wallabies!
285: The Great Getaway | The wallaby and I did the whole "stop and stare at each other" thing, then he decided I wasn't a threat and went back to eating. Of course, that all changed when I decided to try and get closer, and he bounded off into the woods. This was about an hour into my trip, and it was a fantastic way to start the hike. Initially, the trail was very open and very well marked. But as I got further and further into my hike, I started to hit the less traveled parts of the trail. The trail would change from rocks, to mud and then it would disappear into the ferns, leaving you guessing where it went. Walking to a remote campsite on a remote trail was one of the most fun things I've done. It feels great to be able to stop, pause and listen for sounds, and all you hear are the birds and the wind. No planes or car horns or people talking. Listening to nothing was an awesome experience. But the listening had nothing on the looking, and I was able to look at some pretty awesome views. | It's there, you just can't see your feet when you're walking through it.
286: The Great Getaway | You know in the movies when someone washes up on a deserted island and you think "I wonder if those places really exist?" Well, they do. Now, I wasn't on a deserted island, but it was pretty awesome being able to stand on a beach and know that the nearest restaurant or traffic light or even electricity source was three hours away. This was nature in all of its original glory. | Sealers Cove, in all of its majesty,
287: The Great Getaway | It took a little over three hours to get to Sealers Cove. I stopped there, had lunch, took a nap and then went on my way. Refuge Cove, my ultimate destination, was another 6.2 km away, or about 2 hours. | 10.2 down, 6.2 to go. | The hike from Tidal River (the base camp) to Sealers Cove was entirely in the forests. However, the hike from Sealers Cove to Refuge Cove followed the shoreline of the park, which made for some stunning views. About an hour into the hike, I reached the summit of one of the bluffs on the shoreline, and was in awe of the beauty. | Not bad. Not bad at all.
288: The Great Getaway | I stood here and admired the beauty and took pictures for probably ten minutes. Most of the pictures turned out great, although not all of them were winners. I'm cool. Despite the injury to my pride, I was able to shrug off the photography mishap and keep on hiking. An hour later, I finally made it into Refuge Cove, my home for the night. I arrived at Refuge Cove around 5:30 p.m., unpacked my gear, pitched my tent and then took a nap. Naps in the wilderness are awesome. During the three days I was gone, I took around 7 naps. | Best picture of the weekend. You could do worse than having a home here.
289: The Great Getaway | After I awoke from my glorious rest, I decided to hike up to Kersop's Peak. It was an hour one-way hike and during the hike, I saw another wallaby! This guy wasn't messing around though; the second he saw me, he gave me a quick glare and then bounded away. No photos for this guy. Still, the mini-hike was a lot of fun, mostly because I didn't have my pack on, but also because of the scenery. | You don't get this in Missouri. | I made it to the top of Kersop's Peak at about 7:30, when the sun was getting lower and lower in the sky. It made for some awesome pictures.
290: The Great Getaway | I stayed at the peak for about half an hour, then hiked back down to the camp, and went to sleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the beach. | The next day, I did the exact same hike as the day before, just backwards. I didn't take many pictures on the return journey, mostly because I had already taken pictures of everything on the way there, but also because I was dead set on getting home and I didn't want to stop and waste time. I made surprisingly good time on the way back,
291: The Great Getaway | and was on track to make it back to the base camp three hours before I was supposed to catch the bus to head back to Melbourne. So, since I had all of that extra time, I took another nap. | It was high 70s, sunny and breezy. Pristine napping conditions. | I took a nap at the Windy Saddle, pictured above. An hour later, I woke up, thought about going back to sleep, decided against it, and headed back onto the trail. Another hour later, I was back at the base camp, tired and sore, but feeling great. | Check, check, and check. Did all three. Booyah. | It was a great weekend at a great national park, and I would definitely go back. The weather was perfect and the views were stunning. If you're ever in the area of Fish Creek or Foster and you feel like getting out and working up a good sweat, I totally recommend Wilsons Promontory, even if I have no idea what it means.
292: Saturday, April 30, 2011: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | Remember me? Maybe you don't, so I'll introduce myself again. My name is Reid The Man Mason, previously known as the kid who was interning in Australia, now known as the kid who's sitting at home watching TV and playing with his dog. Kind of like the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, except I'm a college bum and not very royal. However, I am officially back home! I flew into Kansas City over a week ago, last Wednesday night, April 20th. It was a long trip but good trip home. This week I've been catching up on sleep, getting over jet lag and generally being lazy. But that's not important. What is important is the question "Reid, what did you do for the past month? You fell off the face of the planet, what happened?" First off, thank you for being so concerned with my well-being; that's very sweet. Second, I was actually really busy! I'm family came and visited me for a week, then I went on a few travels, then before I knew it, it was my last week in Melbourne. Time flew by for the last month or so, as I was really busy at work, thankfully, and doing a lot of things outside of work. But now that I'm home, there's never been a better time to tell you what I did for the past month.
293: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | One of the biggest things that happened was my family coming to visit me! They were in Australia for ten days and we made those ten days count. We saw Melbourne, drove the Great Ocean Road, drove back to Melbourne, drove to Phillip Island and saw the penguins, drove to Canberra and then finally made it all the way to Sydney. It was a lot of driving, but we saw a lot and had a lot of fun. | Hey family! | In our first go around in Melbourne, we checked out my house, the Royal Botanic Gardens (see above picture) and a lot of the other sights that Melbourne has to offer. It was great being able to show my family where I had lived for the last 3 months. I felt like such a tour guide, it was great. After our a few days in Melbourne, we drove the Great Ocean Road, which is renowned as one of the greatest stretches of road in the world.
294: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | It was a very pretty drive, even though about half of it was through a national forest. Great Ocean Road going through forests? Yeah, it confused us, too, but the road was a lot of fun regardless of the tree filled middle. A huge highlight on the drive was seeing wild koalas! | Oooooh. That makes sense. | Where was this taken? Kansas City or Australia?
295: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | We took about 45 pictures of this koala, then we figured out that there were four more koalas in the area. We had run into a koala posse! Which, honestly, is probably the least frightening posse in existence. | It didn't move a lot, so it could have been a prank by some bored teens...who knows. | We kept on driving until we came to the Twelve Apostles, which are 12 towers that have become separated from the coast. There are only eight still intact, but those eight are still impressive. We checked out the Apostles, then drove to a nearby beach and had ourselves a little frolic. | Beaches make everything fun.
296: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | After some good times playing in the waves and getting everything went, including a close miss of the camera, we kept on driving until we reached Port Campbell, our home for the night. We stayed in a sweet log cabin, and Joy and I were actually able to drive our van around town! Driving on the left feels wrong, because the right is right. We woke up the next morning and drove back to Melbourne, where we stayed for a day and checked out my work. On the way, we saw wild kangaroos! It was awesome seeing the animal in the wild. Once in Melbourne, my family met my manager and foreman and Joy said "They're pretty much exactly what American girls picture when they think of hot Australians." Yep, that pretty much sums it up, I guess. After we tore Joy away from my co-workers, we kept on driving on, headed towards Phillip Island and the famous Penguin Crossing. | He wasn't thrilled that I was taking a picture of him. | We made it to Phillips Island, which is about a two hour drive from Melbourne. The island itself is fairly large with a lot of things to do. We went to the Nobbies, which is a series of rocks and small islands on the edge of the island. It's a breeding ground for many types of birds and sea lions and penguins.
297: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | That evening, we went to the Phillips Island Penguin Crossing, which unfortunately, has a strict policy on prohibiting cameras. But envision in your mind if you can: a 100 foot long beach, with two concrete bleachers built into the hill side, so the water is 20 feet from the front row. The penguins cross on either side of the two bleachers, heading from the surf into their burros in the hills on shore. We saw probably 40 Little Blue Penguins cross that evening; the Rangers said that they could see an upwards of 300 penguins cross on some nights. It was cool seeing them come in from the ocean, and as we walked back to our car, you could see and hear them call to their partners, locating their burrows and generally making quite the racket. | The Nobbies. Rough name, but pretty view.
298: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | The next morning, we stopped at a Koala reserve before leaving Phillip Island and headed on our way to Sydney. We stopped about halfway between Melbourne and Sydney in a town called Bairnsdale, and we actually stayed at a hotel called.... | You couldn't make this stuff up. | At one time, the motel was owned by the Kansas family, who thought it would be fun to have a city named after them, apparently. Pretty fun coincidence, and it was a pretty good hotel, too. We walked around Bairnsdale in the evening, and checked out the local river walk.
299: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | We left Bairnsdale the next morning, after a good breakfast at McDonald's, and kept on headed towards Sydney. A few hours into the drive, we saw more wild kangaroos! | Hey look, it's a river. Let's walk! | Proof that they really do exist. | We saw about 20 kangaroos in total throughout our drive, most of the time in groups of four or five.
300: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | We stopped in Canberra, Australia's national capital, and checked out the parliament. We did a little learning too, as we learned about the Prime Minister and the Governor-General, whom I had never heard of. The Parliament was pretty neat, but we were on a schedule, so we high-tailed it to Sydney. Sydney is a seriously big city. I don't know what you picture when you think of Sydney, but whatever it is, triple it. Sydney feels a lot like Chicago, except filled with Australians. We spent two days in Sydney, and had a | The Mason family about ready to undertake an unsuccessful coup d'etat | very full two days. We went to the zoo, Bondi Beach, the CBD, Olympic Park and the Sydney Opera House. Sydney was a lot fun, but a very busy city, and it took awhile to get around. On the first day, we went to the zoo, which was also pretty busy, but even in spite of the crowds, the zoo was a lot of fun, and we saw a lot of cool animals.
301: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | The zoo is set up really well for viewing the animals, with medium sized enclosures with good viewing areas. It ended up being a perfect day for the zoo and the animals were all active. The chimps were one of the highlights; there were two 1 yr old chimp brothers that were swinging around the enclosure and causing general | Seriously impressive. He's the size of a Toyota Prius. | And by 'we', I mean everyone but my mom. She has a serious hatred of cold water. | mischief. They kept playing with each other and having a great time. The zoo was a pretty full day, but we wanted to go to Bondi Beach, so we powered through and drove to the beach. It wasn't exactly a perfect day for beach-going; it was about 65 degrees and windy. But we were only at Bondi Beach once, so we went for it.
302: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | We played in the surf and body surfed for a while, easily over an hour. The water was pretty warm once you got used to it, and there were still about 30 people surfing, even despite the poor conditions. Bondi Beach was a lot fun, but definitely tired us out, so we drove back to our hotel and crashed for the night. The next day, we woke up, had a nice breakfast, then headed to the Olympic Park. The Olympic Park was gigantic, with a ton of stadiums and grounds and parks. They now hold concerts and a variety of athletic events on the complex. It was cool being able to see where all that history had been made. We left the park around lunch time, then headed into the city and the Opera House, as we were scheduled to watch the YouTube Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House that evening. | Home of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
303: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | As pretty as you imagine it, and even more impressive. | Left: Personal performances, Middle: Concert Hall, Right: Opera Hall | We got to the city a little early, so we walked around the Opera House, and the Botanic Gardens. The Opera House is actually three separate buildings, so it's more like a complex than one singular house. There are two gigantic halls for the opera and other concerts, and then a smaller room for more personal performances. | The YouTube Symphony Orchestra was a lot of fun. Artists from around the world recorded themselves playing their respective instruments, and then submitted them to YouTube to grade and make their selections. The Orchestra contained artists from something like 33 different countries, which was really cool.
304: Admittedly, I may have slacked off a bit... | The show lasted about three hours and was generally really entertaining. Also, the inside of the hall takes your breath away. | Taking a picture with a flash wasn't permitted, so sorry about that. | The next morning, we woke up, packed up our things and then headed to the Sydney Airport. My family was headed back home and I was headed back to Melbourne. It was pretty strange flying to a different place than them, but I knew I'd be home in a month or so, so it wouldn't be too long until we saw each other again. It was a great 10 days in Australia and I was really happy that they were able to come down and see the great Down Under! | It's pretty much the biggest room ever. After the orchestra, we headed out and had dinner at this really good pizzeria. Unfortunately, we picked possibly the worst time ever to go, because we sat in the same room as the world's biggest bachelorette party. With no exaggeration, there were 30 women at one party, all in white dresses and all rather tipsy. The food was good, and the party provided some entertainment.After dinner, we walked around Sydney and did some shopping, then headed home for our last night in Sydney.
305: Tuesday, November 22, 2011: Of travel, I've had my share, man. I've been everywhere. (Part 1) | You know when you say to yourself, "Oh I'll just do that tomorrow." Well, for me, I said that for 217 days. But today's the day that I finally get this blog done! Or at least, today's the day that I finally start getting this blog done. It's a big day, and I don't think you're nearly excited enough about how awesome today is. To review, my last post was about my family coming down to visit me in Melbourne. We traveled around for about two weeks and then they went back home and I went back to being cool. After they left, I had about three weeks before it was my last day as a Melburnian. During those three weeks, I... 1.) Went to Tasmania to visit my friends. 2.) Fed a Tasmanian devil. 3.) Hiked around Launceston, Tasmania. 4.) Drove a stick shift at 3 a.m., which means I was driving stick on the wrong side of the road on the wrong side of the car in the wee hours of the morning. 5.) Hung out.
306: I've been everywhere. (Part 1) | 6.) Went to see a few acts at the Melbourne Comedy Festival with some mates. 7.) Went to a really fun footy match with Gab, and saw the Western Bulldogs demolish the Brisbane Lions. 8.) Went to Gab's 30th birthday party at his house. 9.) Kept it real. Kept it fresh. And I kept it real fresh. So that's three weeks boiled down into 9 bullet points, PowerPoint presentation-style. The next two weeks, however, stand no choice at being boiled down. So, we're going to split the next two weeks into two blogs, which is super convenient, because I spent the first week traveling around Australia, and the second week traveling around New Zealand. So without further ado.... My travel plans for Australia included going to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta and various other Outback attractions. I flew out of Melbourne on April 8th, via Tiger Airways, which is kind of like shaving your face with a chainsaw. You have to do it, and it gets the job done, but you know you might die at any time. I flew into Alice Springs, which is the central-most town in Australia, and is about 27,000 strong. It is home to many people of Aboriginal decent, and has a lot of museums, tour groups, and historical sites. After landing, I checked into my hostel and then checked out the city.
307: I've been everywhere. (Part I) | Check. It. Out. | There were 20 other people on my tour, not including the two tour guides, Mark and Charlie. We would spend the next three days with each other, and we would spend about half of that time on the road. Needless to say, getting a good seat on the bus was the most important decision I made during my entire stay in Australia. | I did some window shopping, learning and checked in to my tour shop for my tour the following day. I did my tour with The Rock Tour and they did a great job. I grabbed some dinner, walked around some more, then headed back to the hostel to arrange my things for my tour. I met two American girls who were in my tour, so that was pretty cool. One of them even went to kU, which was slightly less cool, but it wasn't too bad. I went to bed fairly early, as we were being picked up at 6 a.m. the next morning to start our tour.
308: I've been everywhere. (Part 1) | It was a 4 hour drive to get to Uluru, and on the way we stopped at a few smaller rock sites and landmarks. Once we got to Uluru, it was time for my mind to be blown. It’s one of those things where, from driving up from a distance, you go ‘There is no way it’s really that big’, but as you get closer, it keeps getting big and bigger and... | I spent more time in this van than I did in class all this semester. Biggest. | It's seriously large. It is 1,142 ft tall and has a 6-mile circumference. Pretty much the biggest pet rock you could ever find.
309: I've been everywhere. (Part I) | All of those specks on their shirts are flies. Literally, there were thousands of them. | My tour drove a lap around Uluru, and then we got out of the van and walked around Uluru while our tour guides explained some historical and cultural aspects of Uluru and the surrounding area, and other customs of the local Aboriginal tribes. After our walk, we got back into the vans and drove to a spot to watch the sunset. Uluru 'glows' red at sunset, due to the reflection of the sun's rays. It was a very pretty night, with millions of stars in the sky and a glowing red Uluru. After the sunset, we drove to a local campsite, unrolled our sleeping bags and tents and got to making a campfire. The guys of the group made the fire and drank beer while the girls of the group went to the restrooms and showered. It was a nice night for a campfire, and a nice night for sleeping outdoors. I forgot to mention one thing, though. The travel brochures are pretty straight forward with Uluru (it's a big rock, you can't really mess that up), but one thing they don't tell you about is the flies. I could walk from the parking lot to Uluru without ever touching the ground because I was walking on the flies. If you were short on some protein that day, all you had to do was open your mouth, run forward and boom! you had your daily nutritional content of protein.
310: I've been everywhere. (Part 1) | The next morning, we woke up and drove back to Uluru to catch the sunrise (prettier than the sunset, in my opinion) and then we drove the 30 minutes to Kata Tjuta. Kata Tjuta, which means "many heads", is 36 rock domes spread out across 10 square miles. They can range anywhere from being 800 feet tall to being 50 feet tall. We hiked around KT for the whole morning, with Mark and Charlie stopping and talking to us about certain Anangu (the local Aboriginal tribe) things. Kata Tjuta was very green, so there was great contrast between the massive red domes and the greenery underneath. | Contrasted. Boom. | Kata Tjuta was prettier than Uluru, but Uluru was much more physically impressive. We hiked around Kata Tjuta for almost four hours, taking in the sights and sounds and the magnitude of the formations. My group was a lot of fun. We had about 3 Americans, a French couple, a British girl, a very pretty Dutch girl, a Brazilian girl and then the rest were either German or German speakers. So, the group was pretty much split into either being German or not German. It was a cool group, and we all got along really well.
311: I've been everywhere. (Part I) | It's hard not to get along when you're looking at this view. | After hiking around Kata Tjuta, we drove to a campsite by King's Canyon to stay the night. On the way to the campsite, we stopped on the side of the road to dig for grubs, just like the Aboriginal women used to do. The key was to look for roots of special trees that had huge bumps in them, and that showed that a grub had been present. | After you found that root, you dug up the rest of the tree's roots to find other roots which had grubs living in them. It took us about 30 minutes, but we ended up finding four or five grubs, and we put them to good use. | Grubs. Real good use.
312: I've been everywhere. (Part 1) | We built a fire (guys with the fire, girls with the showers), cooked dinner and headed to bed. The night was so much clearer than before, so I could see the Milky Way, Southern Cross and millions of other stars. It was great falling asleep under those Australian stars. The next day, we woke up early, as usual, and drove to King's Canyon for our last day on tour. The sun came up while we were climbing ‘Heart Attack Hill’, a very steep start to the hike. It was a beautiful sunrise over the Canyon, and a great start to the hike. We hiked for about 4 hours, and we got to see a lot of awesome rock formations, canyons, valleys and ponds. The gorge is a low point for the surrounding area, so regardless of the type of weather, there is always a cornucopia of trees, plants and wildlife in the bottom of the gorge. | The wood bridge grew here naturally, as well. Overlooking the gorge.
313: I've been everywhere. (Part I) | It was times like this were I was glad that I did a tour and didn't try to see everything by myself. This canyon would have been cool to experience by myself, but I wouldn't have gotten all of the background knowledge and little stories that Mark and Charlie knew. After hiking through the canyon, we made lunch (with a heavy side of flies), then hopped into the vans and started the long eight hour drive back to Alice Springs. On the way back, we played games to keep us occupied and I took a nap. Driving through the Outback is probably one of the more boring things you could do while in Australia. Think Kansas, but with stubby bushes instead of corn. Not the most exciting drive ever. After we arrived back at Alice Springs, I made my way back to my hostel where I unpacked my things, started my laundry and then took a good long nap. The past three days had been very early mornings, hikes, heat and late nights. It was still a great experience. That night, my tour met up at a local bar and we all celebrated a successful tour. It was pretty fun partying with people from all over the world; dancing is a universal language, so it all worked out well! I went to bed pretty late that night, but was able to sleep in the next morning, so it wasn't too bad.
314: I've been everywhere. (Part 1) | The next morning, I woke up, packed my things, hopped onto the bus for the airport and caught my flight back to Melbourne. It was great being back in Melbourne. I stopped by work to say hi to my friends. They gave me a few mementos, including a really cool 'Lend Lease' winter vest that will come in handy. I said goodbye to them, then checked into my hostel, grabbed some dinner and called it a night. Overall, it was a great trip out to the Outback. The Outback is definitely something that you can't get anywhere else in the world, and it was one of the best parts of my trip. Uluru, Kata Tjuta and King's Canyon were a lot of fun and definitely unforgettable, especially Uluru and Kata Tjuta. I had a great time out in the middle of nowhere of Australia, but now I was getting excited about heading out to New Zealand to see how the Kiwis lived. The next day, I would fly out to Queenstown, New Zealand, and embark on the next half of my trip. | This is what a hostel looks like, in case you didn't know.
315: Friday, November 25, 2011: Of travel, I've had my share, man. I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | I'm not gonna lie, before I went to Australia, I was pretty ignorant. I had no idea the size of Australia, I didn't know about its proximity to the Philippines and I had no idea of New Zealand's location compared to Australia. Turns out, its to the southeast of Australia, right smack dab in the middle of "coolest-place-ever-ville". New Zealand is prettier than the movies show and definitely more fun. I didn't see any hobbits, dwarves or Legolas, which was pretty disappointing, but my trip definitely made up for it. So, to continue from my last post... On Wednesday, April 13th, I woke up in my hostel, packed my things, and then caught my flight to Queenstown, NZ via Christchurch, NZ. I flew Air New Zealand for the first time, and it was actually pretty nice. I got bumped up to business class, so I had a larger seat, movies, and a meal for a four hour flight. It was a pretty sweet set-up. After my VIP flight, I landed in Queenstown, and I was already super excited/super nervous. There's just something about being in a different country that changes the way you look at things. I got into a cab, which was driven by a really nice guy named Spud (not making that up), and then I had a really nice drive into Queenstown.
316: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | Views like this tend to make drives pretty fun. | Queenstown is a small resort town on the edge of a huge lake, surrounded by mountains. It is one of the most picturesque places you could ever see and it made my mouth drop every time I walked outside. As far as the town goes, Queenstown was a typical resort town, with a lot of shops and retailers selling outdoor gear, trips/packages and cheap nick-nacks. The town itself wasn't anything special, but the views were extraordinary, and you | could do any extreme sport or outdoor activity imaginable out of Queenstown. You could jetboat, skydive, cave dive, tight-rope, ride ATVs, ride horses, canyon swing, hang-glide, para-glide, fish, hike, bla blah blah. It was crazy. I would eventually stay in Queenstown for longer, but I was only there for one night my first time being there.
317: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | Bleh...makes you want to kick something. | The next morning, I hopped on a bus with 14 other people and took a curvy, mountain road up to Fox Glacier. My driver was apparently training for NASCAR, because we didn't go slower than 30 mph the entire time and I'm pretty sure he pulled the E-brake and smoked the tires a few times. On top of the fact that I was in the back of a van that was being driven by a man who must have shotgunned five Mountain Dews before we left, it was super cloudy and raining with an intense fog, which is pretty depressing weather. It was even more depressing because I was headed to Fox Glacier, where the only things they have to do are all outside. So I was carsick, wet, alone and headed to a place where I thought I was going to have the rare luxury of sitting in my room for three days. I wasn't a happy kid.
318: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | But it all turned out better than I thought! Even though it was still raining when I made it my hostel, I had booked a single room for two out of the three nights I was there, so I didn't have to worry about sleeping in the same room as anyone else. Also, the hostel had a hot tub! Hot tubs make all of your problems go away. Fact. I spent a lot of time in that hot tub the next few days; is was actually outside, with a tent over the top, so you had great views of the mountains and plains while you were chilling in the hot tub. | Would you believe me if I said I took this picture from the hot tub? | I walked around town and took a lot of pictures. The fog was actually really pretty, flowing through the mountains and making the landscape seem very eerie. Fox Glacier wasn't so bad after all. While I was in Fox Glacier, I had made plans to skydive (you can't imagine how excited I was for skydiving) and trekking on the glacier know as the, wait for it, Fox Glacier. Spoiler alert, my plans didn't turn out this way, but I still had a great time!
319: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | Oooh. | The first day, I was supposed to go on the glacier trek, but when I woke up, it was an absolutely gorgeous day! The clouds had completely burned off, so it was a perfect day for skydiving. Knowing that days like this don't come very often, I jumped on the chance, switched my glacier trek to the next day and went out to go find the skydiving guys so I could jump out of a perfectly good airplane 12,000 feet in the air. That was a poor choice, as it turns out the skydive blokes had the day off. So, to sum up, I had postponed my trek in favor of something that I couldn't do. I now had a free day with nothing planned. So what do I do when I have nothing else going on? I take a walk.
320: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | Those are pictures of Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook. Mt. Cook is pretty much covered by the clouds, but they are two of the tallest mountains in New Zealand, and the Fox Glacier is formed in their crevices and valleys. | Aaah.
321: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | Their claim seems to make sense. | It was a perfect day for a walk, mid-60s, sunny, with a gentle breeze. I was walking towards Lake Matheson, one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand and, so they claim, the world.
322: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | If you Google 'Lake Matheson', you'll find gazillions of pictures that are better than mine, but most of them will be of the same general thing; the Lake is very famous for being able to perfectly reflect the mountains behind it. Go check out the other pictures, some of them are incredible. | This picture is also incredible, but mainly because I'm in it. | Lake Matheson was a very quiet, peaceful and (obviously) very still place. After my walk around the lake, I chilled at the tourism center and then walked the four miles back to the town. On the walk back, I was facing the mountains the entire time, which made for an amazing four miles. My first day in Fox Glacier, which I thought would either by rainy or foggy and dismal, turned into a beautiful day with a great walk around a beautiful lake.
323: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | Looks cold, don't it? | My next day was the day of the glacier trek. Not surprisingly, I woke up to absolutely pouring rain, and, not surprisingly, I woke up to not being very happy. Luckily, the tour guides outfitted us with a lot of rainproof gear, and the rain turned to a mere drizzle a few minutes after we left the guide shack. We drove the ten minutes to the foot of the glacier, put on all of our gear, and then headed up the glacier. | Part of our gear was crampons. It is a strange feeling, walking with crampons, but it soon became very natural. They have 1-inch long spikes, so you have to raise your feet higher when you walk and place your feet flat on the ground when you step. But they are amazingly sturdy, it’s like you’re Spiderman; you put your foot wherever you want and you stick to it like glue. The hike was pretty cool. We were able to climb through some tunnels, over the ridges and even down into some pretty deep crevices.
324: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | I never actually got out of here. I'm writing this blog from the bottom of this hole. | Being on something that old and that massive is an incredible feeling. It was a long day of hiking and definitely an experience I won't forget. That evening, I packed my things and got ready for the next day's travel back to Queenstown, which would be pretty unforgettable, as well. It was unforgettable, no only because I had the same NASCAR driver as before, but because I got to see Lake Hawea! I didn't get my camera | out in time, but if you are ever just happen to be in the area of middle of nowhere southern island New Zealand, be sure to have your camera ready, cause it is going to be worth it. This is the second time I've told you to Google something, but it is definitely worth. Lake Hawea is un.be.lievable.
325: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | We finally made it back to Queenstown, where I grabbed some dinner, then crashed at my hostel for the night. The next day, I was scheduled to go skydiving and hang-gliding, so it was going to be a big day. Unfortunately, just like the rest of my trip, the next day didn't exactly go as planned. I woke up the next morning to beautiful weather, and I was pumped when I was walking to the skydiving office, but when I got there, they said that there were too many clouds in the upper atmosphere for us to be able to skydive safely. So, we had to postpone my flight for later in the morning. To make a long story short, I ended up postponing my flight four more times before the weather was deemed safe enough to dive. It was a very, very long morning and I was pretty anxious the entire time. Skydiving was the one thing that I had really wanted to do, and it kept looking like I wasn't going to be able to do it. But, finally, the weather cleared, and I found myself signing forms and waivers and driving to the landing site.
326: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | Look at the size of those peaks, er, perks. | Skydiving is a very cool thing, regardless of where you do it. But skydiving in New Zealand definitely has its perks. Falling from 15,000 feet with that view was absolutely amazing. I can't describe a bigger rush or thrill or more beautiful experience. Your brain has absolutely no chance at comprehending what is happening to you, so you just let it all happen and then figure out what the | heck just happened once you have landed. Definitely one of the best things about my trip. If you have the chance to skydive, totally do it. Do it, do it, do it! Also, do it in a place that takes your breath away. Flying to New Zealand to skydive may seem a bit superfluous and rash, but you'll be okay with it once your falling at 125 mph at those mountains.
327: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | It was a day of ups-and-downs (that's a pun for skydiving, ha!). Skydiving was most definitely an up, but then it was time to hang-glide, and suddenly the day started to turn down. The guy that owned the hang-gliding company literally ran the business out of the back of his van. No joke, he had no office or storefront, he ran everything out of his old, beat-up van. | Bad first impression, mate. Oh yeah, the day's getting better. | So I wasn't overly impressed to start out with. Things started looking up though, because after we drove up the mountain to get to the launch point, I was rewarded with this view.
328: I've been everywhere. (Part 2) | However, the good feelings died down, after we ended up waiting, strapped into the hang-gliders, for two hours for the wind to pick up. You see, without wind, "hang-gliding" turns into "fall-dying" pretty quickly. So, without wind, we weren't going anymore. Again, a long story short, two hours of standing later, we unbuckled from the gliders and drove back down the mountain. Not exactly the most exhilarating time ever, but the view was good, so there's a silver lining for ya. It was my last day in New Zealand, and it was a great one, even despite the lack of hang-gliding. Skydiving tends to make your days good no matter what else you do. Overall, New Zealand was unforgettable. By far, it was the prettiest place I have ever been. I have been to individual locations that are as pretty or maybe even prettier, but in New Zealand, everywhere you go will take your breath away. I firmly believe that there is not an ugly part of New Zealand, which, unfortunately, can't be said for the USA (looking at you, Iowa.) Going to New Zealand was definitely one of the best decisions I made while I was on my trip, and if you ever get the chance to travel to New Zealand, jump on it as soon as you can. Unfortunately, I had to leave the great country of New Zealand and fly back to Melbourne, Australia, and then fly back home. It was a great two weeks of traveling around Australia and New Zealand, and it was sad to leave both countries, but I was very excited to get back home. I was already missing living as an Aussie, and I was already planning when I would go back, but there's just no place like home.
329: Sunday, December 4, 2011: I'm really not that good at goodbyes, so.... | Living in Australia was the best experience of my life, and that may be something cliche to say, but it is so very true. I have never felt so independent, so free, so adventurous, and I have never learned so much about myself and grown as person as I did during the three months that I was Down Under. Thanks to the support and hard work of my family, and blessings of my Heavenly Father, I was able to embark on an adventure that I never thought would be possible. I feel blessed to have been able to have gone on this trip. I was blessed with a safe home, great job, good friends, wonderful sights and beautiful scenery. I was able to experience another culture in a way that will leave an impression of my for the rest of my life. Sometimes, when I think back, or look at a map, it's still hard to believe that I actually lived thousands of miles away, on a different continent, for three months by myself. It's hard to believe that I was given such a wonderful opportunity, one that I will cherish forever.
330: The End
331: About the Authors | Joy traveled in Europe while studying abroad for a year at Regent's Park College, Oxford University, England. Joy likes British food (really, most food) and is dangerous when she goes unfed for too long. She still thinks America is the best country in the world, but the others are pretty darn cool, too. Joy's life goals include visiting all 50 states and all six of the inhabitable continents. Three down, three to go! | Reid 'The Man' Mason interned in Melbourne, Australia for three months. He worked at Lend Lease Australia doing construction management work. He learned to use words and phrases like "heap", "good on ya" and "bloke", as well as some others that shouldn't be repeated outside of a group of sailors. Reid spent a lot of time napping in a park. He learned a lot about himself, Australia and how Australians have a better accent than the British. Good day, mate!