Monday, April 13, 2009

Cabin Fever

I literally haven't left my flat in three days. For the most part I haven't done anything productive, either. Not in terms of schoolwork, in any case.

I've been watching a lot of Doctor Who online. It's my newest obession. I suppose I can blame my flatmate James and my friend Alan for that. They've both been encouraging me to watch it for a while. Not every episode is great, but a lot of them are really inventive. And David Tennant is fantastic. Really. He's amazing. I'm a big fan. I can't imagine anyone else as Doctor Who, so it will be hard for me when the new Doctor Who takes over, even though I've only been watching for a few weeks.

I did a tiny bit of work on Saturday, but not as much as I should have been doing. Chad got back from Bremen late that night and came over to chat.
On Easter Sunday Chad came over for brunch. I made omelettes, toast, and veggie sausages. Chad had gone to Tesco and bought a big bar of Dairy Milk and grapes! Grapes are usually very expensive so I NEVER buy them, but these were on sale, so we had two things of grapes. We ate both of them. We spent the rest of the day in my kitchen talking. He left around 6pm. Then I talked to my parents on Skype and made myself dinner around 11. I watched TV and went to bed. Eventful day.

Again, I didn't leave my flat or do much today. I really should have been doing reserach for my Medieval paper or my end of the year project on Polish immigration. However, instead of this, Chad and I planned and booked our trip to Romania.
I can't believe I'm actually going. This morning I was doubting if I was actually going to be able to manage it, but now I'm all booked for seven days in Romania.
April 22: I leave from London Luton at 8am and get into Bucharest at 1pm. Chad's flying in from Berlin and will meet me there.
April 23: Hopefully we'll take a day tour of Lake Snagov, the monastery where Dracula is burried.
April 24: Take the train to Brasov.
April 25: Spend the day in Brasov. Maybe see Bran Castle, called "Castle Dracula" even though Vlad Tepes never lived there. It's what's used in most films, though, and it was the model for Bram Stoker's vision of Dracula's castle.
April 26: Take the train to Sighisoara, Dracula's birthplace and a fantastic example of a medieval town.
April 27: Take the train to Cluj-Napoca, capital of Transylvania.
April 28: Spend the day in Cluj, but pull an all-nighter and spend the night at the airport.
April 29: Leave Cluj at 6:20am, arriving at London Luton at 7:25 GMT. Then I suppose we'll take a train back to Norwich and collapse.

I also booked all the hostels. All except the one in Cluj offers breakfast. They all look good, though, and are pretty cheap. Should be amazing. I'm excited.

I'm also planning on staying with Samantha and Abi in Brighton for a few days and just going from Brighton to Luton airport. I have yet to figure that out.

Tomorrow I will leave the flat. I promise. I need to go to the Travel Shop to buy tickets to and from Luton, and then my Eurail Pass so I can get the train in Romania. Then I want to go into town to the public library to get some books for my Polish project.

I really need to get my work done, but I'm more excited about Romania now than my silly papers. It will all come together, somehow.

Mel's Visit

Mel came to visit last Saturday. I went to bed on Friday, April 3, after hanging out at Chad's flat for a bit. I had called for a taxi to pick me up at 5:30 and take me to the rail station to catch my 6am train to London. At 2:45am I got a call from Dad telling me that Mel had missed her flight. Check-in should have taken two hours or less, as normal, but since the desks at United didn't have enough people, Mel was in line for over three hours and by the time she got to the desk to check in, it was too late. Stupid United.
I called the taxi to cancel my ride and went back to bed. The next morning I got a message on Facebook that Mel would be coming on a different flight that would land at 10pm. I booked a hotel room at the Holiday Inn near Heathrow, since I figured it would be easier to stay the night there than try and get a bus or train back to Norwich at that time of night. Chad's friend Chris was visiting, so the three of us went down to the rail station so I could buy new tickets. It was a beautiful day, so after I was finished at the rail station we went to the market, bought pasties, and sat on the steps of the Forum to eat. I left Norwich later that afternoon. Since it was a weekend, my travels were a little bit more complicated than normal, but I managed to get to Heathrow about ten minutes before Mel's walked through the Arrivals gate. It was really great to see her. I had been feeling pretty homesick for a few days, probably in anticipation of seeing my sister, and it felt good to look forward to a week together. We bought sandwiches at the airport, got the bus to our hotel, and settled in for the night.

April 5: The next morning we got up early, took a bus back to Heathrow, and got to Tube all the way back to Liverpool Street Station. We took a local train from Liverpool St. to Billericay, a town about an hour outside of London, then a bus from Billericay to Ipswich. We had about 45minutes to wait in Ipswich for our train to Norwich, so we walked partway into town, then doubled back and got a quick drink at the pub next to the rail station. It would have been perfect, execpt my watch was about five minutes slow, so we got onto the platform literally a minute after our train left. It was another hour until the next train to Norwich, but we didn't want to risk missing it again, so we just sat by the river for about 40 minutes and talked before heading back to the rail station. The rest of the journey went smoothly. We got the bus back to campus around 4pm. Mel settled into my room and we talked for a while. Sophie was online and she invited us to dinner at her boyfriend Max's house later that night. A couple other Circus people were down in the Square having a juggle, so we decided to meet there at 5:30pm, play around for a bit, and go eat dinner. I did some poi and juggling, saw Matt (who has bleached his hair), Jak, and Robin. Sophie and Max showed up eventually, and then I called Alex, who I hadn't seen in weeks, to come join us. I think Mel was bored. She didn't say much while we were down in the Square. Around 7:30 Max, Sophie, Alex, Mel, and I headed over to Max's house, about a 20min. walk from campus. We were starving, but for some reason it took Sophie and Max three hours to cook curry for the five of us. Oh well. It was good in the end, and we had a good conversation in the meantime. Around 11:30 Mel, Alex, and I walked back toward the Village, leaving Alex to walk back to campus.

April 6: Back when I thought Mel would be coming in early on the 4th, I had planned to take her to Cambridge to go punting. Sophie had called a big group of people to come with us (since punting is easier and cheaper with more people), and had even gotten some friends to arrange a picnic. Unfortunately, since we lost a day, I decided not to take Mel to Cambridge. It's a lot prettier than Norwich, but it's not where I've spent the last eight months. I wanted Mel to see where I had lived. So we hooked up with my friend Chris from the Dickinson Program, whose friend Joey was visiting. The four of us went down to Norwich and walked around, getting pasties in the market, looking in TopShop, and sitting over by St. Peter Mancroft. It was another lovely day. We had cream tea at the Briton Arms teahouse on Elm Hill, walked around Norwich Cathedral, and then went back my flat. I made a quick dinner as we got ready to go to the theatre that night.
That night we saw Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart at Norwich's Theatre Royal. I think Mel was a bit bored and tired, but it loved it. It was a fantastic show! By far the best show I've seen since I've been here. Afterwards, I dragged Mel out to the stage door with Emma, Zach, Meghan, Lauren, and Chris to wait for autographs, but someone came to the door and said that the actors wouldn't be coming out that door, so we'd better just move along. So sad. But at least I got to see them act. They were fantastic.
After the show Mel wanted to go to a pub. I was going to call up my friend Stephen, who I haven't seen in months, but my phone was out of money, so I couldn't. Mel and I went to the Bell Hotel and got a pint. She drinks pretty fast, but handles it well and kept track of her blood sugar throughout. As the pub was closing up Mel asked if there was anywhere to get french fries. I chuckled and led her down Prince of Wales Road. Prince of Wales has most of the clubs and bars on it, and a number of greasy kebab and pizza shops that only open late at night to serve the drunk people who are out in numbers. We got some chips and took the bus back to campus.

April 7: Our train to London left at 1pm, so I called up my friend Pawel to come meet us in town for a short while before we left. As we were on the bus into town, he texted me back and said he was in a really bad mood and didn't want to see anyone, so Mel never got to meet him. I'm sure I'll find out what was wrong eventually. In any case, Mel and I sat at the rail station for a bit, got some tea, and then boarded our train. We got to the Arran House Hotel about 3, set our stuff down in the hostel room, and then Mel wanted to go somewhere. I called up Alan, who lives about 45 minutes away and said he would meet us in London to go to dinner, and he said he'd meet us in Trafalgar Square at 5:15. Mel and I walked over to the British Museum for a bit, saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, but Mel wanted to see more of the city, so we went got on the Tube and headed down to Trafalgar Square. We watched the chalk artists and Mel took pictures of all the people. Alan showed up about 20 minutes later, and we walked down to Parliament. There was a protest going on outside of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, so Mel ran off to take pictures. It took about fifteen minutes until Alan and I were able to find Mel again, but as soon as we all together again we decided to get some dinner. I wanted to take them to my favorite pub, The Marlborough Head on Oxford Street. It's the one Bonnie showed me when I came to visit in 2006, and I loved it because it's sort of gothic-themed and its signature drinks are named after the Seven Deadly Sins. Well, it took us forever to walk there because I wasn't exactly sure where it was, but when we did finally find it I was hugely disappointed. Sometime in the past four months they've redecorated and now it looks like the most normal pub in the world. In any case, we got dinner and listened in as some other people participated in a pub quiz. After dinner we stopped by McDonald's (somewhere I would normally never stop) to get a Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry. Good, but not as good as I expected it to be. Then we took the Tube down to the the Thames, walked along the Southbank, and played on my playground. Around 10 Alan had to leave to go home, so we got on the Tube and said goodbye to him at his stop. Then Mel and I went back to the Arran.
I had never stayed in the hostel room at the Arran before. It's not bad, just a bit of a different experience. It was slightly annoying, though, because the majority of people in the room was this group of young Danish people who looked like they had been there for a while. They weren't mean, just inconsiderate, talking loudly and keeping the light on late into the night. Oh well. No harm done. It just gave Mel and I something to laugh about.

April 8: We woke up, ate breakfast, and hung around the hotel until 10am or so. Then Mel and I took the Tube up to Camden Market, London's hip, alternative district. I expected stores to be open, but most things weren't open until around noon, so we walked around, checked in at the places that were open, and stopped at coffee shop for a bit. Then we walked around again, and I made sure to take her to CyberDog, a raver's paradise. The clothes all look like they were made for the Jetsons and everything glows in the dark. It's fantastic, but expensive. Mel and I each got a really basic t-shirt just as a souvenir. My friend Alex met up with us around 1pm. We got lunch and sat in a square in the middle of the market, then walked up to Regent's Park. There was an odd playground thing made out of smoothed logs and a very large net. We sat on the net and climbed on it, with Mel and Alex complaining about the stupid design of the playground and the inadequacy of the net, yelling at small children that they were foolish and going to fall through the net to their doom.
We took the Tube down to the Southbank again, walked the Southbank and went into the Tate Modern just before it closed. I still don't get modern art, but I'll go with Alex's interpretation that "such and such represents society, while such and such represents the individual..." It seems to work for almost anything.
Alex had to meet some friends later that night, so we bid him adieu somewhere over by Borough Market. Mel and I walked across the Millenium Bridge to Saint Paul's. I took her to see the Lloyd's building. She wanted to see Fleet Street, so we went over that way. We were going to get Indian food closer to the hotel, but the nearest Tube stop was still a ways off, and we had been walking all day, so we settled for a Pizza Express, which, despite the name, is a very nice chain restaurant with good food. After dinner we went back to the hotel, sat around for a short while, and then went to the pub around the corner for a drink.

April 9: We slept through breakfast at the Arran but ate at the Patisserie Valierie that was around the corner. I've gotten sandwiches and things there before but never a full meal. It was good. After breakfast Mel and I went to Harrod's for a bit, then went across town to the Tower of London. Tickets to the Tower are relatively expensive, so we just sat around and looked at it from the outside. We've both been there before. At one point we were in the gift shop and Mel literally ran into her friend Barrett from back home. It was funny. But they didn't get to talk for long because he had to run to make his tour at Parliament, so she said a quick goodbye to him. After that, Mel and I went to a pub near the Tower. It was offering a special Curry Club deal, so we ordered pub curry, which is good, but not as good as the more authentic stuff you can find at the multitude of Indian restaurants in England. At 6:30 we got tickets to a Jack the Ripper tour of Whitechapel that left from the Tower. The tourguide was young, enthusiastic, and dramatic. And he speaks French and we even talked about Doctor Who as we were walking from one site to another. I sort of wish I had asked for his email or something...
In any case, there was this young American boy and his family along on the tour. The boy kept asking the tourguide a lot of questions. At one point as we were walking, the tourguide asked the boy where he was from and the kid answered "Loudoun County, Virginia." I burst out, "Wait, you're from Loudoun County, Virginia? I live in Leesburg!" Talking to his mother, I learned that she is a police officer in Loudoun who had lived in England for a while as a child. She was visiting London with her family for the week. It was the weirdest coincidence.
Mel and I bid farewell to our tourguide at Liverpool St. Station and walked off to Brick Lane for some real Indian food. The minute we found the street a guy came up to us and directed us to his restaurant, which was offering 20% off and a free bottle of wine. I figured why not? and we went there for dinner. The food was amazing and it was only ₤12 for the both of us. After dinner we walked through a deserted Spitafields Market and went back to the hotel.

April 10: We woke up early, packed, ate breakfast, and headed out to Heathrow. Mel checked in, we hugged, and I watched her walk through security to go home.
I got back on the Tube to go back to Liverpool St. Station, at the opposite end of London, to catch my train to Norwich. It was a long ride, but at least this time I had a book. Mel had lent me the book she brought on the trip with her and let me keep it after she bought a book Alex had recommended to her. The book is Escape, the memoir of a woman who escaped from the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, the Warren Jeffs cult. The book was really interesting and entirely terrfying. It's hard to believe the kind of brainwashing that people undergo.
The Tube was under construction, so the trip was longer than I had anticipated. I had planned to meet Emma (one of my roommates from last year, currently studying in Toulouse, France) and her boyfriend Jed at the Tower of London. They were visiting London but leaving for Bath later that day. My phone was almost out of battery, but I called Emma and left a message saying I was at the Traitor's Gate entrance to the Tower and I'd wait there for the next half hour. I must have looked like a homeless person, just sitting under the tunnel at the entrance with a suitcase, reading and occasionally looking around for signs of Emma. Eventually she turned up. We walked closer to the Tower, talked for a bit, but then she and Jed had tickets for a tour of the Tower and I needed to catch my train, so we said goodbye and I headed out for the rail station. A short visit, but it was nice to see her, even for half an hour.
I managed to get my train an hour earlier than I had booked my ticket for, so I got into Norwich around 5:30pm. Before I even went home, though, I walked from the station to Morissons to go grocery shopping because I knew I had NO food in my flat. Then, with my duffle bag and two bags of groceries, I got on the bus to campus, then walked ten minutes to my flat. It was nice to be back.

I haven't left since.

End of Term Update

It's been about a month since I last updated this blog, so I figured it was high time I write something. I've also been sitting in my flat by myself for the past three days and need something productive to do.

So, after I got back from Morocco, I suppose the next big event was the LitSoc Masquerade Ball. I went out a few days beforehand and bought a lovely blue dress, a mask, and the most painful high heels I've ever worn, but it all came together and I think I looked pretty good.
The ball was held at the Norwich Assembly House next to the Theatre Royal. The venue was beautiful and there was a live swing band. I went over with Meghan, Leah, and Lauren. We took our free champagne and snacked on hors-d'oeuvres until the band started up. Chad came a bit later. We all went out on the dance floor, dragging Alan and Siobhan along with us. Unfortunately, since it was over a month ago, I don't remember all the details. I was the only person who actually knew how to swing dance, so I invited my friend Phil (a Dickinson student on the Science Program who went swing dancing with us in London) to come and be my dance partner. Phil is a far better swing dancer than I am, but it was nice to actually have someone who knew how to swing dance there. Around midnight the party broke up, but Max had reserved the VIP room at Po Na Na Night Club for anyone who had gone to the LitSoc Ball. I had a 9AM class the next morning that I couldn't miss, but I stayed at Po's for about an hour, sitting at a table and talking to Alan and Chad. I probably got to bed around 2am and woke up very tired at 8:30 the next morning.

Academically, I suppose the end of my semester was pretty uneventful. I performed my final scene for French class, an exerpt of the first scene from Jean-Paul Sartre's Les Mains Sales. It was really frustrating because my partner had no confidence, no drive, and no desire to practice. It took him a full four weeks to memorize his lines, but he managed to pull it together for the performance. He missed a few lines, switched some bits around, but it wasn't too bad and I was able to compensate. Overall, I think we did all right. I had to keep a work journal of our rehearsals, and, after the performance, I had to write a 2000 word essay about the play, acting theory, and how I applied that theory to my own role. I think it says something about British foreign language education that the work journal and my essay were not required to be written in French. I knew that the Dickinson French department would never accept the transfer credit if I didn't do my written work in French, so I had to ask my instructor if I could write the journal and essay in French. She didn't have a problem with it, which is encouraging. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who wrote in French, though. Honestly, it's no harder than writing in English; it just takes longer because I end up having to look up a bunch of words and technical terms that I'm not entirely sure of.
I also had to turn in my final piece for Creative Writing before the end of the semester. I remember that I was visiting Erica in Durham and I was suddenly struck with the amusing image of an elevator operator in Hell. It seemed an interesting idea with a lot of creative potential. I've always been roughly familiar with the basic themes and concepts of Dante’s Inferno, but, despite my penchant for Milton and other stories of that kind, I had never read the Inferno. So I got it out of the library. Ideas came as soon I started reading. I was drawn to the various monsters rather than Virgil and Dante or the sinners, and they started to form into a type of bureaucracy, each with the demeanour of a stereotypical office worker. Basically I've planned to turn Dante’s Inferno into an episode of The Office. My assignment was only for 2000 words of story and another 500 of "critical self-commentary." I've actually managed to outline a good bit of the story so far, and it will be far more than 2000 words when (and if) it's finished. We were allowed to submit exerpts of a piece as long as we provided some indication of a context, so I wrote the first scene, which was almost at the word limit. It took a while, but I think I've finally settled on a title: "Queer Company." It comes from the Inferno itself, when Dante describes the devils who work in Circle VIII as "queer company." I also like the double-entendre on "company."

For Medieval Arthurian Traditions, I still have a 2500 word essay due after Spring Break. I was going to start work on it and attempt to finish it before break, but that fell through. I've decided to come up with my own essay question rather than go with one that was given to me, but our instructor, Karen, asked that we submit our ideas to her before we began writing. I emailed her a while ago, but it took a long time for her to get back to me. The poor woman. She cancelled class twice in the final three weeks. First because she had to make an emergency trip to the hospital to visit an ailing relative (I believe it was her mother), and then two weeks later when her mother passed away. And, on top of it all, Karen was sick herself. On the last day of class she kept ducking out of the room to run to the bathroom, and she told us after one hour of our three hour seminar that she felt too ill to continue and would be going to the doctor's. One of the women in my class bought Karen a big bouquet of flowers and a "Thank you" card that she had us all sign. I'm sure it wasn't the way Karen expected to end the semester, but she did eventually write me back about my essay proposal, so I can only assume that she's found a bit more time and is hopefully feeling better. I mentioned in my email that I'm planning on taking another medieval literature class at Dickinson next year because I've enjoyed it so much here, and she told me that if I wanted to do a Masters in medieval literature, she'd be happy to recommend me to the department of Medieval and Early Modern literature for a Masters. Maybe not immediately, but I think I'd like to take her up on that offer some day.

Speaking of classes for next year, I've signed up for them and expect to be accepted into them all. First I had to choose my Senior Seminar, which will prepare me for my thesis the following semester. Also, my seminar professor will be my thesis advisor in the spring. So I'm taking Professor Moffat's Sexuality and Modernism seminar. It's not a subject I'm terribly interested in, but I know that it will be a fabulous class anyway, and that Prof. Moffat will be a great resource as a thesis advisor. It'll be nice to have a class with her. I haven't had one since Eng. 220 my Freshman Fall.
I'm also taking a class on Marie de France, a writer of medieval romances. The class is with Prof. Reed, whose daughter Abby is on the Norwich Program with me and was in my Medieval Arthurian Traditions class. Her dad is one of the few professors in the English Dept. that I don't really know because he was on sabbatical last year when I was invading the department. It should be good.
I've also signed up for an anthropology class called Biosocial Aspects of Female Sexuality. I wanted to take something different for me, and this seemed like it would be particularly interesting. We'll see.
I also need to take two more French classes to complete my minor, so I'm taking one each semester. I had a choice between two classes: French Idenity and one Contemporary Issues in French Society. I'm more interested in French Identity, but I've heard awful things about the professor, so I was going to take the other class. Then I got an email from Professor Johnston, a fantastic professor in the English Dept., asking me to be her TA for her Freshman Seminar. There was no way I was going to refuse that offer, but her Seminar meets at the same time as Contemp. Issues. So, despite the poor teacher, I'm going to be taking French Idenity. Oh well. At least the topic will be interesting and the class will be easy. I'd much rather sacrifice a good French class if it means I'll be working with Prof. Johnston.
I wrote to Prof. Johnston to ask if she knew anything about Thomas Chatterton, the 18th century British child prodigy poet who forged medieval romances, because I was thinking of researching him for my thesis. She wrote back "Aren't you going to do your thesis on Milton?" So I guess that clears up that question. I'm doing my thesis on Milton. But with Profs. Johnston and Moffat to guide me, I think it will go relatively smoothly. Or as smooth as a thesis can go.

I spent a lot of time socializing in those last few weeks of the semester. Chad's sister Chelsea came to visit, so we took her out a few times. Then there was Alan's birthday and the final LitSoc pub crawl, both of which were fun.
I've also been spending more time with my friend Sophie from Circus. This included taking her to the hospital. Not exactly the best way to socialize, but, in a weird way, it was nice to be asked. She has a lot of health problems and ends up going to the emergency room fairly often. She also needs people to sleep over with her if she's not feeling particularly well, and she usually calls on any of a group of really good friends. The other day she called me up at 9am saying that she had a kidney infection and would I mind walking with her to the hospital? So I ran over to her dorm and we went over to the hospital, which is only a 20min walk or so from campus. She has a nifty electric wheelchair. Anyway, we got to the emergency room. I stayed for about five hours, but I had to go to a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail for my Medieval Arthurian class, so I left before she was even formally admitted. She stayed for a few days, but was better by the time Mel came to visit.

Oh, and Dickinson also took a trip out to Blickling Hall, a 17th century manor house, the property of which used to belong to the Boleyn family. It's a gorgeous house with lovely gardens. Chad and I walked around it for a couple of hours before we all headed back to UEA. A nice day out.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Off on the road to Morocco, part 2

Our wake-up call came at the ungodly hour of 6:45 on Sunday morning. We checked out, ate breakfast, and were on the bus by 8. Our morning was spent driving up the Rif Mountains to the town of Chefchaouene (or Chef Chaouen or just Chaouen). The drive was beautiful with moutains rising up surrounded by mist. I even saw a rainbow at one point.
I couldn't help but notice, though, the layer of plastic grocery bags, paper, and general trash that was over every lovely green field. The horses, donkeys, goats, cattle, and stray dogs had to nose through it to find food. The people had to trudge through it to get to their houses. It really is an absolutely beautiful part of the country. It's just a shame about the trash. It's definitely different than anywhere I've ever been before.
After twisting and turning our enormous tour bus up unstable mountain roads (part of one of the roads up to Cape Spartel had been washed away the previous day, so that was fun), we finally came to Chef Chouen, a beautiful city in the mountains known for it's blue-washed medina walls. Also, according to Vito, it's the drug capital of northern Africa. We were warned that, if we were going to buy anything we shouldn't be buying, we had to use it before we crossed the border into Spain.
We met with our local guide for the day. He spoke mostly Spanish, so I didn't get quite as much out of his talks as I did the day before. I didn't really mind. I was too busy looking at the fantastic view we had of the valley and the surrounding mountains. We stopped briefly to use the toilets at the hotel were we later had lunch. Then we walked through the medina and up to Talassementane National Park, a joint EU-Moroccan effort. The scenery was incredible, and, even though it was raining, Chad and I couldn't help but gush about how amazing it all was and how wonderfully our trip was turning out.
We went down from the park and back into the twisting, turning mountain streets of the medina. By this point it was raining pretty hard, so we all stopped under an archway for about 10 minutes, waiting for the worst of it to pass. In the afternoon we were given freetime to shop and explore.
Chad and I had been waiting for Chef Chauoen to do our shopping: first, because we wanted to save our dirham until the last day, to make sure we had enough and, second, because Chauoen is a tax-free city and the prices would be lower. The first thing on our list was a fez for our friend Siobhan from LitSoc. We gave it to her on her birthday this past Thursday, and she seemed to get a kick out of it. It was only 30 dirham (or 3 euro), so we didn't even bother trying to talk the price down. Then we moved on for our own souvenirs. Chad and I had decided that, if we could afford them, we'd both like to buy a jilaba, traditional Moroccan dress. One of the undercover cops who was following us that day directed us to a male jilaba shop (probably because he knew the owner) and I helped Chad talk a nice gray summer jilaba down from 175 to 130 dirham. He probably could have done better, but, still 13 euro is not bad at all.
From there our friend the undercover cop directed me somewhere where I could buy a woman's jilaba. At this shop I looked around for a while but eventually settled on a caftan, a shorter shirt that I figured I could actually wear around England and back home. I got it for 100 dirham. I was pleased.
I had some money left over and I still wanted to buy a real jilaba. I had seen them in every medina we'd been to so far and they had always been really beautiful. I eventually found one I liked hanging high up in a shop, and talked it down from 300 to 200 dirham. I didn't actually see it in full until I took it out of the bag back in Norwich. It's incredibly detailed, with lots of embroidery and sequins. I'm not a sequin person, but I still think it's tasteful. In any case, I think I definitely got my money's worth. I just wish I knew where to wear it.
(When we got back to Norwich, Chad and I had a jilaba party, so we could take pictures of us in our jilabas to send back to parents, etc., at home. Hence why the pictures of us in our jilabas all look like they were taken in my room. They were.)
We ate lunch at a hotel in Chef Chaouen, then drove back down the mountain, stopped briefly at our hotel in Tetouan to use the toilets, and then drove back to Ceuta to catch our ferry. The trip across the Mediterranean was a lot shorter and a lot less choppy on the way back. We got on a bus in Algeciras, drove back to Malaga, and bid farewell to our tourmates. Chad and I got a bus back to the Residencia Backpackers. We checked in again, said hello to Daniel and everyone else we had met from our previous stay, talked a little bit to a German girl in our dorm who had come while we were gone, and went to bed. In the morning we ate breakfast around 11, and, even though our flight wasn't until 4:15 Spanish time, we went straight to the airport and sat around until our flight left. The flight was uneventful, but the sky was pretty clear and we could see the coast of France as we crossed it. I could even spot Le Mont-Saint-Michel!
The trip had been fantastic, but it was exactly the right length. Chad and I were both ready to go home by the end of it. We landed at Heathrow around 6pm GMT, then the long haul on the Tube from Heathrow to Liverpool St. Station. We waited around for a bit at the station, then borded our train back to Norwich. We got back to the Village around 11.
I had a fabulous time. Every piece of this vacation was perfect. The most incredible part is that we planned it ourselves. We found the flights, the hostel, and the tour. We got around a city where we didn't speak the language. I realized that I can actually understand a good bit of Spanish. I got to use my French and even my very limited Arabic (thanks Fadi!) while in Morocco. By the end of our tour I had so many languages running through my head, I didn't know what to say. The worst was "Thank you," because I could go with "Thank you," "Gracias," "Merci," or "Shokran." Ever since I went to Munich I've had "Danke" swimming through my head, and since I was around a couple German speakers it almost came out a couple of times. And then occasionally I'd find myself wanting to say "Multumesc," which is Romanian.
But it was wonderful, both Malaga and my tour of Morocco. I think Chad and I are the first people from the Norwich Program to go to Malaga, and certainly the first to get to Morocco. I encourage everyone to check it out, because both of them are beautiful places. And I'd love to go back and see more of Morocco, possibly more of Africa in general. I hear Egypt is amazing. And now I have a serious case of wander lust. I can't wait to plan my trip to Romania, and I really want to go somewhere in Scandinavia...
Maybe I should take a break and actually do some work, first. Only four more weeks until Spring Break.

Off on the road to Morocco, part 1

We didn't see the Morocco that everyone usually thinks of. We were miles away from the desert. We didn't see Casablanca or Fez or Marrakesh. It rained most of the time, and the landscape was very green. We stayed up north, in the cities of Tetouan, Tangier, and Chef Chauoen near the Rif mountains, right against the northern coast. It's not what you would expect to see on a tour of Morocco, but it was amazing.
We took our tour with a company called StudyTravel, and, from what I could gather, the tour was mainly designed for English-speaking international students studying in Spain. Chad and I were the only people on the tour who were not living in Spain at the time. We were also the only ones who did not speak at least a little Spanish. This wasn't too much of a problem, since most everything was said in English. Our guides did switch to Spanish occasionally, but my French kicked in and I was actually able to understand about half of what was being said. And since French is one of the more common languages in Morocco, I was able to serve as Chad's translator all weekend.
We had some interesting people on our tour. There was an elderly British couple who had relocated to Malaga and were taking Spanish classes at one of the many language schools. There were two older German men, one with a really nice camera who kept taking pictures of everyone. There were two younger German students who mainly kept to themselves or talked to the older German men. There was a Japanese girl and an American guy from South Carolina who was teaching English in Malaga. Both of them kept to themselves and were pretty quiet. Then there were Chad's and my hotel suitemates: Angelika, an Austrian, and Jessika, a German. They mostly stayed together, but would eat meals with us and talk. They were both very nice. Our guide, Vito, was a fun Malaga native who had lived in Indiana for several years before returning to Spain. He was funny, sarcastic, and liked to pick on some of the more annoying Americans on the trip. And there were PLENTY of annoying Americans. I had never realized just how bad the stereotype of the "ugly American abroad" can be until I went on this trip. They were loud, inconsiderate, crude, and mostly concerned with shopping. Well, obviously not all of them, and I'm sure if I had gotten to know them, they would all have been lovely people.
There were three main groups of them who were studying at different schools around Spain. There were about ten people in each group, and they remained pretty insular throughout the trip. I can't think of many specific examples of what they did, but many of them continued to rub me the wrong way. When Vito suggested that we not drink the tap water, one girl asked in a stereotypically air-headed accent, "Oh my God. Can we eat the food? Will it, like, kill us?" And when we were leaving dinner at the hotel on the first night, one girl stopped Vito and said, "I don't have a face towel in my bathroom. Ya know...Like a small one for my face." The bathrooms came with two towels for each person, one body towel and one slightly smaller one. It was perfectly sufficient. Vito sort of laughed and said, "No, man. This is Morocco. You've got enough." She walked away looking disappointed and confused.
I guess these little things weren't all so bad on their own, and I'm not going to pretend that I've never had an "ugly American" moment. I know I have. The worst part was the way some of the Europeans regarded Chad and I, as if they expected us to be just as loud and obnoxious. Particularly the elderly British couple, who were very snobby. On the second day, Chad and I sat with them at lunch. I tried to make polite conversation, and the old man just kept trying to expose how stupid I was. I mentioned I was studying at UEA, and he asked me if how I found it compared to Dickinson. I think he expected me to say that it was much harder than an American university, and seemed genuinely shocked when I said that the expectations and UEA were much lower. Then he asked me what I "read," which I assumed to mean what books I was reading...I am an English major, after all. So I started listing some of the things I'd been reading in class, and he laughed and said in his pretentious posh accent, "No. In England, when someone askes what you 'read,' they mean, 'what are you studying?'" Actually, dude, "reading" only applies to Oxford or Cambridge. Maybe some of the other Red Bricks (British equivalent of the Ivy League). You would never "read" at UEA.
They seemed to like us by the end of the trip, though, once they realized that Chad and I weren't as obnoxious as the other Americans.
So we left Malaga around 3:30 on Friday and drove two hours to Algeciras, a port town even further south, right near Gibraltar. The drive was beautiful. We waited at the port in Algeciras for about half an hour, and then borded the ferry to Ceuta, a Spanish town in Africa on the border of Morocco. It was a little unsettling, because Vito had to collect everyone's passport in order to speed up the border control process. I've always been told never to relinquish my passport...and it was especially unnerving when Vito kept joking that he was going to sell our passports at the border. But I figured if the company was still in business, then they probably weren't criminals. It all turned out fine, and now I have cool Moroccan stamps in my passport.
I stood on the back deck of the ferry to take pictures of Gibraltar as we left, but the sea was very choppy, so mostly I attempted to sleep. It took an hour and a half to cross the Mediterranean, and the sky was dark by the time we landed in Ceuta. At Ceuta we got on another bus and drove to the border. We waited in line at the border for over half an hour, waiting for Vito to get all our passports stamped. It was a little sketchy, probably because it was dark. Leaving Ceuta (and, hence, Spain) we had to change our watches. For some reason Morocco is an hour behind Spain, back on GMT. I have no idea why. Then we drove for another hour down to Tetouan, although I couldn't see too much on the ride. We checked into our hotel, the 4-star Dream's Hotel, which was wonderful. Chad and I were given a suite with Angelika and Jessika. Two bedrooms, to bathrooms, a living room and a dining area. The view of the mountains was wondeful in the morning. Certainly more than I had expected for the price we paid. It was around 10pm when the four of us met up with everyone else in the hotel restaurant for dinner. The food was good, but nothing special. By this point I think we were all just starving. The bread, however, was consistantly good in Morocco. Vito sat with us and entertained us with stories from previous tours he'd taken. After dinner we went back to our room, showered, and went to bed. If I have one complaint about the hotel, it's that the walls are a bit thin, so we could hear all the road noise outside and, in particular, the loud Americans from our group who were upstairs having an impromptu party.
Our wake-up call came at 8 the next morning. We dressed and went to breakfast with Angelika and Jessika. It was buffet-style, and pretty good. I even managed to snag some Moroccan mint tea, which I don't think was officially part of the buffet but the teapot had been left on the table for just a second. How was I supposed to know? At 9 we borded the bus and met our local tourguide, a Moroccan man named Abdul who said his friends told him he looked like Michael Douglas, and that we could call him Michael if we couldn't say Abdul. The bus took us to the main square of the formerly Spanish portion of Tetouan. We exchanged euros for dirham (1 euro = 10 dirham) and then walked up to the medina, or "old city," of Tetouan, followed by several undercover cops. Abdul took us on a wonderful tour of the medina. It reminded me at first of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. It's a maze of alleyways lined with shops. But this medina was much narrower, uncovered, and pretty dirty. We entered through the gate nearest to the fish and poultry section. There were women sitting on the ground selling vegetables, men with cartons full of fish, and plenty of shops with dead and soon-to-be-dead chickens. Lots of stray cats. The smell was just lovely. And it was drizzling, so the mud just added to the whole atmosphere. Actually, I really enjoyed it. Like I said, at first it reminded me of the Grand Bazaar, but I soon realized that it is distinctly different. The Grand Bazaar is a tourist attraction, but the Tetouan medina is a living marketplace that has remained virtually unchanged for several hundred years. We spent several hours touring that maze and learning about medina life. Each section of a medina must have five things: a public bathhouse, a public oven, a fountain, a mosque, and a Koranic school. We saw all five at least once. We stopped in the large public square outside the Royal Palace, then walked through the garment district, the flea market, and the residential portion. Around noon we came to a Berber co-op, where we were given a carpet "show" to show us the main types of carpets produced in Morocco: Persian, Berber, and...one other one. Camel-hair, cactus silk, woven, embroidered, etc. They were all beautiful. But, mostly, the guys at the co-op were trying to sell things. And they did. At least one girl bought this beautiful but rather small embroidered piece for 300 euro! She obviously hadn't gotten the hang of haggling. Chad and I walked around the carpets, then downstairs where all the crafts were. We weren't in the mood to buy anything just yet, and had to fend off a couple eager salesmen before we left for lunch.
We ate lunch in the medina, at the Palace Bouhlal restaurant. The food was very good, though possibly a bit bland. Carrot soup, kebabs (which I, obviously, didn't eat), and cous-cous, with fresh clementines and mint tea for dessert. God, do I love Moroccan mint tea. Our company at the table might not have been too great, but we were still entertained by a contortionist who could lie on the floor and crawl underneath his own arm, and then would spin around with a tray of lit candles tilted at an almost vertical angle. Quite impressive.
After lunch we left Tetouan and drove to Tangier, about two hours away. At first we drove through Tangier, driving up a mountain for a lovely panoramic view of the city. We passed palaces belonging to the King of Morocco, the King of Saudia Arabia, and several other important people. The socioeconomic gap in Morocco is ridiculously obvious. We were driving up to Cape Spartel, where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet.
On the way up we stopped to ride a camel at this side-of-the-road pony-ride type place. The camels didn't look very happy being up in the mountains, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to ride one.
We were only at the camel place for about 20 minutes. From there we continued up to Cape Spartel. I can't say we stayed there long, either, but it was a beautiful view over the water. There wasn't much there other than the view: a picturesque old lighthouse, a cafe/bar, and a few vendors there to take advantage of the tourists.
From Cape Spartel we went back down the mountain to Tangier. Tangier is a more modern and cosmopolitan city than Tetouan, at one time an international city divided between several European nations (and the US). Here we were given time to explore the medina, which was actually more like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Although uncovered, it had wider streets and was much cleaner than the one in Tetouan. Mostly clothing and souvenir shops. Chad and I wandered around, but were a bit afraid of getting lost before we were supposed to go back to our meeting point. I took a couple pictures of some cute Moroccan kids, and then we went back to a cafe in one of the squares. Chad and I sat down and ordered mint tea, then Angelika and eventually Jessika came to join us. We sat and talked for a while until everyone had reassembled to go back down to the bus. As we left a couple vendors kept harassing us, trying to sell some cheesy bracelets for any amount they could get. We eventually got away, with the undercover cops there to fend of the harassers. We took the bus back to our hotel in Tetouan, ate dinner, showered, and went to bed.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Malaga

I just got back from my trip with Chad to Malaga, Spain, and northern Morocco. It was amazing, and I enthusiastically suggest that everyone consider both places as travel destinations.
I have never been terribly interested in Spain. It was never on my list of places I wanted to visit. But Chad's friend Chris is studying in Malaga, and many airlines run cheap flights there from London, so we figured it would work as a destination for our Reading Week. Mostly, though, we wanted to use it as a jumping-off point for a tour of Morocco.
I was, then, pleasantly surprised to find that I really liked Malaga. Although I don't know any Spanish, my French worked pretty well to help me translate street signs and the more basic spoken Spanish.
I woke up at 4am on Wednesday, February 25. Chad and I left the University Village at 4:30 to catch our 5:10 train to London. We pulled into London Stratford at a quarter past 7 and took the Tube down to London Bridge, where we boarded a train down to Gatwick Airport. Check-in was easy, since we didn't have to check any bags. Then we went through security, which was surprisingly quick, and waited for our 10:50 flight. I was tired and a bit cranky.
Our flight landed sometime after 2pm Spanish time (GMT+1). After getting off the plane, bothering with customs and passport control, etc., we finally got on a bus and headed into the city to find our hostel. Which was fun, since we didn't speak Spanish or know where we were going. But the directions said "Take bus 19," so we did. And we actually got off at the right stop.
The hostel was pretty cool. A big open living room with couches and a flatscreen TV. Two computers for guests to use. A dining area and a kitchen. Free breakfast in the mornings and free pasta for you to make in the kitchen. Clean sheets and down comforters. Ten euros a night. We slept in an 8-person mixed dorm with four sets of bunk beds and lockers to store our valuables in. I can't say we got to know our dormmates terribly well, but we did talk a bit to a guy named Daniel, an Aussie who had come to Malaga to find a job, even though he only knew limited (South American) Spanish. There were a couple other people in the dorm, but we didn't really get to know them.
I was starving, so I availed myself of the free pasta. Then Chad and I caught a bus into the city centre. The sun was out and shining, which was a major departure from the gloomy, misty weather we had been enjoying in Norwich. It was still a tad chilly, especially due to the wind blowing off the Mediterranean Sea, but overall the weather in Malaga was pleasant. Our bus took us to the Avenida Principal, the main route in the city centre, right on the water. We got off and looked around, took lots of pictures. First we had to find the Catedral de Malaga, since we would be leaving from it for our tour of Morocco later in the weekend, and we wanted to be familiar with it. It wasn't hard to find.
It's a beautiful cathedral, but strangely constructed and entirely unfinished. Only one tower was ever completed, and the cathedral is oddly round. My guess is to utilize the foundations of the mosque it's build on top of.
Since it was Ash Wednesday, the cathedral wasn't open to tourists, so we just hung around in the gardens outside, sitting by the fountains underneath orange trees. Life is just so hard.
We continued to explore the city, coming across various city landmarks like the Plaza de la Constitucion, the Plaza de la Merced, the Alcazaba and the Teatro Romano, various smaller churches, etc. We walked down one main street that followed the dried-up river. I stopped to admire some adorable bunnies in a pet shop window before we realized we were probably going to get lost if we went any further, so we headed back toward the cathedral. We doubled back through some of our earlier stops, resting int Plaza de la Merced to take pictures with the statue of Pablo Picasso (born in Malaga). I must have been a pretty miserable travel companion at this point, because I was hungry and exhausted, having been up since 4am. But I really shouldn't complain, because Chad hadn't gone to bed at all, and he hadn't eaten since 2am that morning. I don't know how he does it.
We were supposed to meet Chad's friend Chris at the cathedral at 8pm. Chad had left him a message on Facebook, but that was our only means of communication. We later learned that Chris's Spanish phone doesn't accept international calls, which is why he never responded to our attempts to contact him while we were walking around. Oops. We waited until about 10 past 8, and then left to find dinner. It turns out that Chris showed up five minutes later and waited around for almost two hours.
Chad and I walked around until we finally settled on a cafe/pub that served fantastic pizza. And I think it was legitimately good and not just something that my food-starved brain was telling me. We stayed for a while watching our waitress take shots of tequilla with two guys at the bar, but I started spacing out pretty badly and was very quiet. So we got on a bus that went back to the Avenida de la Paloma, near our hotel. Except that we had previously come to it from the other direction and weren't sure what to look for. Thankfully I spotted the landmark Supercor grocery store and we made it back alive. It wasn't late-- maybe only 10:30 or so--but we were certainly asleep before midnight, along with the rest of the people in our room, which I found strange.
I woke up blissfully rested about 11 hours later. We ate breakfast and then headed out to explore the Ciudad Historica once more. We went back to the Catedral, walked around. We met Chris, finally, and walked down the Calle Larios, one of the main streets though the old town where all the street performers hang out. There we ran into Mark Aldrich, the director of the Malaga Program, who suggested an excellent cafe in the Plaza de la Merced for lunch. After lunch, Chris left for class.
Chad and I went over to the old Roman ampitheatre, the Teatro Romano, which is being excivated right beneath the Alcazaba fortress. We sat in the Teatro for over an hour, just talking and taking pictures, enjoying the lovely weather. Then we got tickets to the Alcazaba (60 cents with a student discount!) and spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the walls and gardens of the beautiful 11th century Moorish fortress.
We left the Alcazaba when it closed around 5. We still had a couple of hours to kill before we met Chris for dinner, so we went the Parque by the coast, sat by a fountain, talked, walked around some more, looked at statues. Nothing terribly exciting. Then I wanted to go back to Plaza de la Constitucion to take a picture of the giant Spanish flag that flew in the center. Around a quarter to 7 we returned to our meeting place, the Catedral, to wait for Chris. And we waited. Maybe he was on the other side of the cathedral, we thought, so we walked around it. Then we waited. Maybe we missed him on the other side. So we walked back. We must have circumnavigated the Catedral three times before we finally ran into Chris about 45 minutes later. He had missed us on one of our tours around the Catedral, and had gone back to the Teatro Romano, which had earlier been discussed as a possible meeting place. But we did eventually meet up and we went to this cafe in a part of town that Chad and I had somehow missed on our wanders. Once again, the food was excellent. We ate very well in Malaga. At this point, however, it was getting cold (for me, anyway) and so when we sat down at a bar by the Teatro Romano 2o minutes later I was warming my hands over the tea candle in the middle of the table. I ordered a Baileys and hot chocolate (It's delicious. You should try it), and we sat talking for a while.
Chad and I needed to go to an ATM before we headed out for Morocco the next day, since we had to pay on the bus and neither of us had enough cash on us. I had tried to use an ATM earlier in the day, but, after entering my PIN and choosing my withdrawl amount, it said there was some fault and I should contact my bank. This sort of freaked me out, because I'm neurotic when it comes to money, and I had not anticipated not being able to use an ATM in Spain. So we walked down to an ATM that Chris swore had worked for him in the past. It wouldn't work for Chad or me. At first even Chris had trouble withdrawing money, but after several attempts he took out enough for the both of us and said we could pay him back whenever. Thank you, Chris. You're a life-saver. Eventually Chad's card worked, so he took out a bit extra. In the end, it all worked out.
Then we returned to the bar near the Teatro Romano to meet Chris's friends Kennon and Xochitl, two fellow Dickinsonians in Malaga. Thanks to the Baileys and the adrenaline, I wasn't cold anymore, so I sat outside and ate gummy bears and peanuts while everyone else had a drink.
I'm not sure how, but by this time it was past midnight. We got the night bus back to our hostel, with me paranoidly checking for landmarks, since the bus took a route we'd never seen before. Chad spotted the Supercor, though, so we got off at the next stop and walked three blocks back to the hostel. Our Aussie friend Daniel tried to convince us to go out to a bar with him and some other people from the hostel, but we were tired and wanted to save money, so we declined the invitation and went to bed.
We woke up around 11 on Friday morning. We ate breakfast, checked out, and went back into the city centre to hang out until 3:30, when we had to meet our bus to Morocco at the Catedral. By this point we had seen a good portion of what there is to see in the city centre. We walked up the Calle Larios again, stopping to watch a juggler and some other street performers. We sat in the Plaza de la Constitucion for a long time, just talking and watching small Spanish children kick around a football. Oh, and everyone in Malaga has a tiny dog, so we would watch them, too. Then we decided to see the inside of the Catedral, which is supposedly very beautiful, but it had been closed the last few times we had wanted to see. We got to the visitors entrance, only to discover that it cost 4 euro to get in, so we sat in the gardens again until 3, when we went to where tour buses meet. We had heard that some Dickinson students in Malaga who had wanted to take same tour the previous weekend had received an email that the tour was cancelled due to lack of interest, so we were terrified that the bus wouldn't come. But, after a couple of minutes, we heard the familiar sound of American college students coming around the corner. I asked them if they were waiting for the StudyTravel tour, and they said yes. So we waited. The bus came at 3:30, we borded and set off on the road to Morocco!

Chocfest

Ok, finally updating this.
Around 4pm on Friday, February 13, I squeezed into the back of a rented car and drove with Matthieu, Samantha, Robin, and Jak up to York for Chocfest 2009, an annual chocolate and juggling convention. The should have taken about four hours from Norwich, but with a couple of stops and a lot of traffic, I don't think we got to York until about 10. Even with Robin driving as fast as 120 mph when conditions allowed.
Along the ride Jak suggested that we play "the lorry game." It reminded me of a game I invented when I was 3: spot the banana truck. In the lorry game, you get a certain amount of points for each supermarket lorry (British for "truck") you see, but you have to be the first to shout it out, and it must be on a dual-carriageway (two-lane highway). Five points for a standard ASDA or Tesco or Sainsbury's lorry. I think it was ten for a Marks & Spencers lorry because they tend to be harder to spot. Some amount of points for a brewery lorry, and then some ridiculous amount of points for a certain supermarket that only has one lorry in all of England. We didn't see it. Eventually it got to the point that we would shout out any lorry we saw, including Royal Mail.
Eventually we arrived in York. We parked outside a pub and went to meet Jak's girlfriend Anna, our host for the weekend. Then we piled back into the car, this time with an extra two people, and drove to Anna's house. Matt, Samantha, and I settled in Anna's room while Jak, Robin, and Anna's friend James went outside to smoke and Anna was downstairs with her housemates cooking us dinner. Robin made us tea. We ate dinner up in Anna's room, then attempted to sit all of us in a circle on her double bed to play Jungle Speed. Eventually we moved downstairs to the living room where there was more space. It was the most intense game of Jungle Speed I've ever played, and although we were exausted and had to wake up early the next morning, the game went on until 2am or so. Anna's housemate was kind enough to give up her double bed so that Samantha and I could share. Matt slept on the floor. I think Robin set up his sleeping bag in the living room.
We woke up at 7:30 the next morning, dressed, and had some tea and toast. Since Anna and the York University Juggling Society organized the event, they had to be there particularly early. Robin and Jak drove Anna out to Selby, a town about 20 minutes outside of York where the convention was being held, then came back to pick up Matt, Samantha, and I.

The convention was held in Selby Abbey, an odd site for a juggling convention, but it provided a lovely backdrop for the day. Anna said Chocfest is usually held in a secondary school auditorium or something of that nature, but I think they should continue to hold it at the abbey.
We parked by a supermarket about 10 minutes away from the abbey, so we grabbed our juggling balls, clubs, poi, and Diablos and walked (Robin unicycled) over. After paying our entrance fee and dropping off our stuff, Matt, Robin, Jak, Samantha, and I decided to walk into town to find breakfast. We stopped at this little cafe. I ordered scrambled eggs on toast. It seems to be the only way the British will eat scrambled eggs. Fried eggs are more popular.
Anyway, after breakfast we returned to the abbey where people were starting to arrive. Samantha and I spent the majority of the morning practicing poi in a corner. There was a group of people from another univeristy practicing sock poi in the middle of the nave, and they were quite good. Eventually, we timidly went over to one girl and asked her to teach us a few tricks. Samantha and I ate lunch in the abbey's adjacent social hall, where members of the church community were selling sandwiches, soup, and muffins, etc. Then we returned to watch the boys in a Diablo workshop given by, as Jak described him, the god of Diablo, the guy who, literally, wrote the book on Diablo.
Samantha and I bought juggling balls. We practiced some more. Mostly we did a lot of watching, because eveyone else was so incredible. In the afternoon we went to the side chapel where they had been holding workshops all day. We attended a poi workshop on the 5-Beat Weave, a more complicated move that I had been trying to learn for ages but hadn't been able to master. I can do it know. I'm very proud.
After the workshop the chapel wasn't in use, so we got a game of Jungle Speed going with Matt, Robin, Samantha, me, and several random people who wanted to learn. It was the biggest room we had ever played in, which made it far easier for people to run after and wrestle for the totem. Hugely entertaining.
In the evening we were kicked out of the abbey so they could set up for that evening's juggling show. Samantha and I went to the social hall to sample the cakes that had been submitted for the chocolate cake competition, then we returned to the abbey to help set up seats and place chocolate bars on each chair.
The show was great, with some pretty impressive acts. They varied from hula hoops to juggling balls, rings, and clubs. The god of Diablo performed some ridiculous feats of Diablo. My favorite, though, was the "Catrobats," a pair of acrobats who dressed like and performed to the musical Cats.
People hung around for a while after the show. It was dark out now, so we watched some people who had taken out fiberoptic poi and glowing juggling balls. Then we helped put chairs away, watched Robin and Jak attempt to ride an enormous unicycle, and stood by the door eating the remnants of the winners of the chocolate cake competition.
We stopped to drop our stuff off at Anna's house, and then went to a pub to have a drink with some of the convention organizers and acts from the evening's show. The pub kicked us out around midnight. Several people came back to Anna's, so I hung around in the living room for a while until I was too tired. I excused myself and went to bed.
We woke up a bit later the next morning, ate breakfast, and drove home. The lorry game didn't last long, since Jak, Matt, and I slept through a good portion of the drive. Occasionally Samantha and I would glace warily over at the speedometer, which would often be pushing 100 mph. But we made it back alive.
I can't say Chocfest was exactly what I expected. I thought there would be more chocolate, first of all. I certainly didn't expect it to take place in an abbey. But I had a good time. After Chocfest, I got really excited for the British Juggling Convention, the second biggest juggling convention in Europe, which Jak and (officially) the UEA Circus Soc is organizing, to be held over Spring Break. However, Jak found out a couple weeks ago that UEA has renigged on its agreement to let the BJC be held on campus, and therefore Jak is having to postpone it until August, when hopefully he will be able to find another venue. It's sad, because I was looking forward to it.
Maybe I'll just have to start a Circus Society at Dickinson.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Meanwhile, in Norwich...

All right, so not that I've finished up recounting my Winter Break adventures, it's time to get back to more day to day business.

So, on Sunday, Jan. 11, I returned to Norwich. It was almost as if I had never left, which I find both comforting and disturbing. Walking back up to the Village, I sort of felt like my travels hadn't really happened. I was worried that the memories would start to fade as I got back into the swing of school life. Thank God for Photobucket and this blog. I go back and look at pictures every so often. It helps.

This semester I'm taking three classes at UEA.
I have Mondays free, which is wonderful. On Tuesdays, I have Performance: French Language and Theatre. I wasn't sure what to expect when I signed up for it, but I needed to take a French class over here in order to have enough classes for my minor. What I've found so far is that it's basically a drama class taught in French and using French texts. I'm glad that I did drama in high school, because I'm not finding it completely foreign. We've only had three classes thus far, but I'm really enjoying it. Our instructor, Dani, this 50-some, feisty, chain-smoking, semi-stereotypical French woman who is thoroughly entertaining. I'm the only non-British student in the class, but everyone is very nice. There's a lot of...hands on activity, so we're learning to get comfortable with each other.
What I really hope this class will help me with is French speaking. I find that I can read and write well enough. For the most part, I can understand about 80% of what is said to me. But I just can't think fast enough in French to get a sentence out. I can't speak terribly well. I find this particularly frustrating because I've been taking French since I was 5 years old! I was just never forced to practice much until I got to college. This class will hopefully help me with my pronunciation and confidence. And I'm going to make Matt speak to me in French when we're together from now on. If he gets to force me to speak English to him, than I can do the same with French.

I have Wednesdays free. Thursdays I have Medieval Arthurian Traditions. I've only had one class so far (I skipped the first week. I'll explain later.) but it seems like it will be a good class. I'm not entirely sure what to expect from it, but the work load seems manageable and the texts look interesting. It's strange, because the seminar is in the same room as we used for Shakespeare's Moment last semester, with five of the same people. When I went last week, I sort of found that I didn't want to talk about King Arthur. I wanted to talk about Shakespeare.
Our instructor is a very nice, enthusiastic Irish woman named Karen Smyth. She was one of the lecturers for my Medieval Writing lecture last semester. She gave the lectures on Hoccleve, which were deathly boring. She seems much better in a seminar setting. I'm really hoping that all the medieval literature I'm studying this year will come in handy, since I'm leaning more and more heavily on the idea of researching Thomas Chatterton for my senior thesis. I haven't actually read any of his poetry yet. I really should, since Chad was wonderful and found me a book of his Selected Poems for Christmas. Chatterton just has such an interesting story. I think I'd like to spend a semester researching him.
On Friday mornings I have Creative Writing: Prose Fiction. Again, I've only been to one class. When I went last week, I felt really awkward because it seemed like I missed a lot the first week. Hopefully I'll feel better this Friday, now that I've caught up. But, honestly, I've realized something. I don't really like creative writing classes. I know they're helpful. I know I need to practice in order to improve. I know it's good to have a class full of people to workshop a draft. But I hate doing exercises that don't lead me anywhere. Then again, I know that the idea is to spark creativity. It's just a complicated sort of feeling. Whatever.

So, the reason I didn't go to my first Medieval Arthurian Legends or Creative Writing classes is that, on the first Thursday and Friday we were back, Prof. Rudy scheduled an overnight trip to London for a series of meetings. We left Thursday at noon. First stop was the US Embassy for a meeting with some PR representatives to talk about how the US Embassy works to promote and explain American culture to the UK, and then British culture back to America. Then we went to Chatham House to sit in on a press conference with the US Ambassador. He's a bit of an idiot, although I'm sure in his position it's best to just avoid answering every question.
From there we went to the Arran House. Even though I had just left the Arran that Sunday, it still felt good to be back. I was even in the same room I had shared with Alex and Erica! In the evening, Chris and I went to Planet Organic to grab some dinner to bring back to the hotel. Cold vegetable curry is actually very good. Then Chris, Katie, Lauren Martin, Jen, Alana, and I met Katie's friend at Goodge St. Station and walked over toward Leicester Square to find a pub and get a drink.
I had a bit of trouble concentrating on this excursion. I had found out Wednesday night that my grandfather had passed away. Jewish custom says that the body must be buried as soon as possible, so the funeral was going on right while I was in the middle of all the meetings. I had cried when I first got my mom's email, and had felt a bit...heavy since then, but the meetings had kept me so busy that I really didn't have much time to dwell on it. I still haven't dwelt on it much. I suppose it's for the best. I fought back tears while we were at the pub, because I knew that the funeral would have just finished. Chris was very helpful and comforting. At one point I stepped out to call my parents. They were driving back to my grandmother's house in New Jersey from Long Island, where the funeral had taken place. I spoke with my cousin for a second, and said a quick hello to my parents. I didn't have much credit on my phone, so I couldn't talk for long. I just wanted to check in.
I Skyped with my parents later that week. I asked them about the funeral. I wanted to to hear that it had been a lovely service, with lots of fond memories shared. Apparently the entire thing had been arranged by my grandfather's children (My grandmother was his second wife. They married when I was 3). They hadn't consulted my grandmother on anything, didn't mention her during the service, and didn't give anyone from my side of the family a chance to say anything. The entire service had taken place at the gravesite. It was freezing cold. Grandpa's children filled in the grave by hand. Personally, I think this was a nice gesture, but apparently not in 7 degree weather. When everyone got back to my grandmother's house, my grandfather's children wanted to start rifling through his papers, attempted to steal family photos from my grandmother, and tried to stick her with the bill for the entire funeral. My grandfather was always the sweetest man. He died a week before his 94th birthday and had been in and out of hospitals for a while, but he was still walking until this most recent visit. Up until the last couple of years he had been going on walks for daily exercise. He used to go to current events discussion groups in his retirement community. He always read the newspaper and was up to date on what was going on in the world. He would tell the same stories over and over, but I loved hearing them. I can't even imagine how it must have felt, seeing all he had seen in his lifetime. He was born before the average household had a radio. He lived in New York City through the Great Depression, was drafted into WWII, saw man walk on the moon, lived through the computer and internet age. He and my grandmother traveled a lot during his retirement. He never had an unkind word to say about anyone. And to know how unkindly he was treated in his death made me so angry.

Moving on.
We slept over at the Arran House on Thursday night. On Friday we got up, ate breakfast and had a meeting with a manager from the UK Foreign Office. They served us tea and cakes in the Locarno Room, the beautifully decorated room where the Treaty of Locarno was signed (the treaty that basically allowed Germany to invade Poland). We talked about UK foreign policy. It was a really interesting meeting.
From there we went to Canary Wharf, one of the major financial districts of London, for a lunch meeting with the CEO of Barclays Wealth at the Barclays Bank headquarters. I'll admit that the economic discussion was a bit over my head, but the lunch was a fantastic gourmet buffet. And they gave us little toys, like a nifty USB picture-storer device and a really great pen.

Then we went back to Norwich.
Since then, what noteworthy things have I done? Chad and I joined LitSoc for its Fairy Tale Pub Crawl. He went as a hobbit and I went as Belle from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Oh! And I finally got my LitSoc sweatshirt. It's quite comfortable.
I've been to Circus at least twice so far. I was supposed to go last Wednesday, but I spent the entire day working on a paper for Prof. Rudalevige. I think all the Dickinson students did. It was easily the worst paper I've ever written. I was ashamed to send it in, but I figured a bad paper is better than no paper at all. I've never been so unhappy and so stressed about a paper. I was on the verge of tears. Though, most of my peers also admitted to writing substandard essays. I suppose none of us were in the mood so soon after winter break. The essay had to be emailed to Rudy by midnight, and I was working on it until 10pm. Circus normally starts around 8. I could have gone late, or just met my friends at the pub, but I wasn't in the mood to go out. My flatmates convinced me to come into the kitchen for a drink, and the six of us actually had a great time drinking and talking, playing games. It was the first time we had all hung out as a flat since we had gotten back, and one of the few times this entire year. We should do it more often. It's fun. They made me take my first shots (mixed shots, though, so they weren't as strong) and tried to get me drunk, since I never have been. I don't know. I'm just not interested. But I had a good time, regardless. It was a good way to break the horrible mood I had been in.

This past Monday night, Pawel and I went to see Underworld: Revenge of the Lycans. He invited me because he knows I like vampires, but I had never actually seen Underworld or Underworld: Evolution. So I prepped by watching them back to back on my computer the previous Friday afternoon. They're not very good. This newest one was passable. Mostly I like seeing the same guy who plays Tony Blair in The Queen play Lucien, the badass werewolf leader.
After the movie, Pawel and I went to the Forum for a cup of coffee (well, I had chai) and we talked for a while.

I suppose the most exciting thing to happen occured yesterday. Chad and I finished booking a trip to Spain and Morocco for the end of February. On Feb. 25 we're flying into Malaga, where his friend Chris is studying on the Dickinson abroad program. We're staying at this fantastic-looking hostel, and Chris has offered to show us around. We're there for two nights. Then, on Feb. 27, Chad, Chris, and I have booked spots on a 3 day/2 night tour around northern Morocco. We're staying up near the northern coast, so no Marrakesh or anything quite so well-known, but, still, I'm ridiculously excited. The tour seems like a good deal, too. 180 euros for the tourguide, two nights hotel, and meals. On Mar. 1 we head back to Malaga. Chad and I stay one more night at our hostel, and then we fly back to London on Mar. 2.

There are still a million places I want to go before I leave. I need to travel around England more. I particularly want to see the Lake District, Bristol, and Cornwall. I want to go back to Ireland. I want to see more of Wales. I still have to get to Scotland. I want to just take a weekend trip to Sweden. Matthieu has invited me to go home to Paris with him for a weekend. And I spent four hours online last night researching tours of Romania.

We have four weeks off for Spring Break, and then immediately after we go into a five week Exam Period. I'm taking all my classes "Coursework Only," which means that my grade is dependent on the essays I write during the semester, not on an exam. So I have an extra 5 weeks to travel. I'd love to take at least a week in Romania. Yes, this is my weird vampire fixation coming through. Unfortunately, all the tours that hit the spots I want to see are a bit cheesy, "Dracula Tours!" Normal Romania or Transylvania tours go to "Castle Dracula," which is actually Bran Castle, where Vlad the Impaler never lived. His actual castle is called Poenari, and only the cheesy tours go there. The cheesy ones also go to the monastery at Lake Snagov, where Vlad the Impaler is buried. Those are the two sights I most want to see. I found two tours that look amazing, but one list a bit...dubious (The website wasn't that impressive. Poor English grammar, although, that might just be because the guy who runs the tour is Italian and working in Romania...) That tour is only 375 Euro, though. A more credible-looking one was over 800. So...we'll see. I really, really want to go, though. I got a bit giddy last night looking them up.

Other than that, I can't think of anything else to relate. Tonight I have Circus again. Tomorrow is the LitSoc Games Night. There's a Burn on Saturday that I might go to. Sunday is Rudy's Superbowl party. Then, come Feb. 25, it's off to Malaga and Morocco!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Anarchy in the UK: Holyhead and London

Monday, Jan. 5 - In the wee hours of the morning, a very nice cab driver delivered a very tired Erica, Alex, and myself to The Boathouse Hotel. We arrive sometime around 1AM, and a very nice lady was at the door, holding it open and ushering us into her little establishment right near the water, although we were a bit too tired and it was a bit too dark to fully take in the landscape. The woman, who I later learned was named Sasha Howard, owner of the hotel, was possibly the nicest person on Earth. She asked quickly that I sign us in, but told us that we could take care of paying in the morning. She offered us tea and coffee, saying that there were kettles up in our rooms, but that she could make us a fresh pot down in the kitchen. Remember, we had just come from the Travelodge Castleknock, the most unhelpful hotel in the world, and so, tired and stunned by this unprecedented kindness, we sort of mumbled, "No thank you. I think we'll just head to bed." The woman helped me with my bag up a flight of stairs and, just as we were about to head into our rooms, she asked, "Oh, and what time would you like breakfast? It's served from 7 to 9:45. Is that too early? Too late?" Again, we sort of mumbled that 9:45 would be wonderful, thanked her profusely, and collapsed into our respective rooms. My room was amazingly cozy, the way you'd imagine rooms at a lake house or mountain cabin that you rent for a week in the summer. Despite how tired I was, it took me a while to fall asleep, but I've never been happier going to bed.

Tuesday, Jan. 6 - I woke up and remembered that I had died and gone to Heaven. It was a beautiful day, and the view out my window looked over the coastline and a rocky Irish Sea. Erica knocked on my door sometime after I had showered and dressed, and we both just sort of stared at each other, affirming the thought that, yes, this was Heaven. I met them downstairs in the breakfast room. Mrs. Howard came out and asked me what I wanted for breakfast, directed me towards the juices and milk on the bar counter, and then brought me out a breakfast that she had cooked herself. Alex and I played with the Howards' cat for a while. Alex was thrilled to see a cat. Eventually Mrs. Howard came out to make herself a cup of coffee and we talked about her work as an art teacher on a cruise ship, the hotel business, and Holyhead. We had to catch a train to London at 2, but she recommended that we take a walk around the neighborhood before we left, and offered that either she or her husband would drive us to the train station. Heaven.

After breakfast we went for a walk around the coast, came across some cats in an abandoned playground, mused that it was a playground for cats only, and went up on a hill by someone's horse paddocks. We pet the horses, traded "hello's" with some passers-by, watched an old woman stop to give carrots to the horses on her walk back from the supermarket, and took pictures of the gorgeous scenery, all the while repeating various incarnations of the phrase "We're in Heaven."

Holyhead seems to be a small, peaceful sort of coastal town. When I mention it to people back at UEA, they sort of scoff and say it's not all that interesting. Not a prime tourist destination in Wales. I can see how there isn't a lot to do, but it was lovely for a morning stroll. Around noon we headed back to the hotel. Mrs. Howard gave us all one last cup of tea as we waited for her husband to get ready to leave. Then Mr. Howard and his little grandson took us down to the train station, asking all the sorts of stereotypical questions that foreigners ask about Americans. In turn, though, he seemed like a stereotypical grumpy old Welshman, except that, according to him, he wasn't Welsh. He was originally Italian. I didn't see it, but I suppose he'd know best. We thanked him for the lift, told him to say goodbye to his wife for us, at which he commented, "I wish I could say goodbye to her!" and left.
Our train ride was mostly uneventful. It wasn't all that long, considering how we were going cross country. Our train was supposed to go straight into London Euston, but there had been some sort of accident along the way, so instead we had to get off and change trains at one point. The only thing that occured on this trip was that there were these two gossiping women and this one guy they had met on the platform who kept having the same conversation over and over again. It was really annoying. And then, on the second train into London, I sat right across from the two women, who continued to have the same conversation.
Around 7 we got into Euston Station and walked over the the Arran House. It felt so good to be back in London. I felt like I was home, back on my territory, doing a walk I had done a dozen times or more back during my first month in England. After checking in, we went up to our room, which was up four flights of stairs. I hadn't known that the Arran had that many floors, since my room had been in the basement. Anyway, we made a bag of pasta that we had bought in Belfast, ran into Katie and Sarah (and her boyfriend) from the Norwich program, and hung out in the room until we fell asleep.
Wednesday, Jan. 7 - We woke up and had breakfast. It was so nice to have an Arran House breakfast again! Then we walked over to the British Museum. We got fish and chips at the Museum Tavern, because they had a sale on certain menu items, stopped at a comic book store around the corner, and went to Sainsbury's to get ingredients for the night's dinner. I introduced Alex and Erica to elderflower water, which I hadn't had since London, and we bought more Jaffa Cakes. Erica also spend a good ten minutes debating whether or not to buy a bottle of wine. We did eventually get a very cheap bottle of rose.
When we got back to the Arran, we put the wine in the gutter outside our window to chill. It then became known as "gutter wine." We spent some time reading in our room. Eventually I got a call from Katie saying she had found cheap tickets to a show at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, and did we want to go? So around 6 we went to my beloved Goodge Street Station, fumbled with putting money on Oyster cards, and took the Tube down to Embankment to meet Katie at the theatre. We saw The Lost and Found Orchestra, from the creators of Stomp, which was really entertaining. Good choice, Katie. Eight pounds well spent.
After the show, we walked over toward the London Eye, and I found my playground! The same playground I had played on with Bonnie and her friends the summer I went to stay with her in London. The gate was closed but not locked, so we went in and I giddily started climbing the big rope castle while Alex, Erica, and Katie watched, amused and probably annoyed. We took pictures, played around, Katie and I had a swing contest, and eventually went back to the Arran.
Thursday, Jan. 8 - We woke up, ate breakfast spent the day out. I'm not entirely sure what we did this day. They all sort of started to run together. I think we spend the time after breakfast reading and just sort of staying in. Eventually I think I convinced people to get up. I'm pretty sure we went to the Sir John Soane Museum, which I thought Erica would like because it's just a random collection of artifacts that this one guy amassed in his house. I think she liked it, but we left the museum engaged in a heated debate about museum politics. I'm not sure what else we did that day. It might have been the day that we went to Trafalgar Square to see the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. We got lunch (falafel!) at a pub. At night we made dinner, ate it, and then remembered that we had a bottle of wine in the gutter. So I had a glass, Erica had one or two, and surprisingly Alex had most of it. Katie eventually came up, had a glass of gutter wine, and then convinced Erica and I to go out to the Marlborough Arms, the local pub, for a drink, but Alex staunchly refused. I was still on antibiotics, so I didn't want to drink too much, but after standing around watching Erica and Katie with their pints, I finally bought a Baileys. I don't think I had ever had straight Baileys before, but I find that I really enjoy it. Yay, something else I can drink.
Friday, Jan 9. - I'm pretty sure we spent the day at the Tate Britain, then decided to dash over to St. Paul's for Evensong, but got there right after it had finished. So, instead, we walked around the City. I basically dragged Alex and Erica all over, but I showed them the ruins of the Temple of Mithras, and I tried to show them the last remaining piece of the Roman London Bridge, but it was gone! Fiends! I finally found Bread Street, where Milton was born. Then I took them over towards Leadenhall Market to see the Lloyds HQ. We did a futuristic dystopia photoshoot, then went back to the Arran. At some point in the day I finally finished Shelley's The Last Man, which just might be one of my least favorite books ever, but I started the book Alex had bought me for Christmas, To Reign in Hell, a sci-fi interpretation of Satan's fall from Heaven. I finished it before we left London. It was interesting, different, but really good.
Saturday, Jan. 10 - We went back to the British Museum in the morning so that Erica could see the Sutton Hoo helmet, which she had missed our first time around. Alex stopped back in at the comic book store, we dropped stuff off at the Arran, got paninis at the patisserie, and went on to Goodge. At the Tube station, we watched a bunch of guys in Guy Fawkes masks protesting the Scientology Centre that was next to the station. Honestly, there are better things to protest. Then we went to the British Library to see the Gutenburg Bible and other wonders. It was fabulous, as always. One of Erica's friends from Bryn Athyn was in town, so we met up with her, got lunch at the Library's cafe, stopped in quickly at King's Cross to see Platform 9 3/4, and took the Tube out to Camden Market. Erica's friend led us specifically to a store called Cyberdog, which sells clothes that the Jetsons would be proud of. It was really, really cool, though, and I sort of regret not buying anything. We stopped at little hole in the wall place called Falafel King right across from the Tube stop because Alex and I wanted fresh falafel. We ate and went back to the Arran.
Sunday, Jan. 11 - I bid Alex and Erica an early morning adieu as they headed off for Sheffield. I had breakfast and found that Abby was staying there with her family and needed a travel buddy back to Norwich. So we took a series of Tubes, buses, trains, and cabs until we were finally back safe and sound at the Village.

Anarchy in the UK: Dublin

Ok, so Dublin's not actually the UK. Whatever.

Saturday, Jan. 3 - We got a bus down to Larne. We expected it to go straight to Belfast, since we hadn't had to switch buses on the way from Belfast, but we had to wait about half an hour at the Larne bus station. Oh well. There was an oddly nice young man, probably our age or younger, who told us we had to wait, where to get the next bus, and then when the bus actually got there, he helped us load our luggage. Then he was our only company on the back half of the bendy bus that took us back to Belfast. It was nice, but slightly odd. Other occurances on the ride? At some point we stopped for about ten minutes in some town to switch drivers. As we were waiting on the bus, this older gentleman came by, leading his pet goat by a chain. It was a tad unexpected, and kept us amused until the bus departed.

Once we got to Belfast, Erica and Alex ran to get in line for the bus to Dublin while I ran to the ticket counter to buy our tickets. I got the tickets right before Alex and Erica got to the bus door. Good timing. Then we embarked on the three hour bus ride down to Dublin. Basically I tried to read and sleep, but at some point my hypochondria kicked in and I was convinced that I couldn't talk. Honestly, though, I felt something wrong with my throat and had trouble talking for the next few hours. Not sure what it was, but it eventually went away. I had been ill since before I left for Istanbul, and I finally broke down and started taking my antibiotics while in Belfast.

Anyway, we got to the main bus station in Dublin. Alex found out where the bus to our hotel, the Travelodge Castleknock, was, but we ended up walking in circles around the bus station until he went back in, asked again, and realized that our bus left from O'Connell Street, about three blocks away. So we dragged our luggage up to O'Connell Street, and a very nice police officer helped us find our bus, count out exact change for the bus fare, and told the bus driver where we had to get off, since we didn't know where the stop for the Travelodge was.

Alex had said that the hotel advertised being only a couple of kilometers outside the city centre. And by a couple, they meant seven. So we were on the bus for about half an hour, and the bus driver didn't tell us where to get off, so based on our limited knowledge of the Dublin suburbs, we guessed. We saw the Travelodge sign on our right and got off at the next stop after that. It wasn't exactly close, and we had to cross a highway in order to get over towards the hotel. Then we checked in, got into our rooms, which were comfortable enough, but nothing special, and ate dinner at the Denny's-type restaurant next to the hotel. It was the only non-residential establishment nearby, and everyone who worked there looked like they hated their lives. Another early night. I think I watched National Treasure and read before going to bed.


Sunday, Jan. 4 - We woke up and ate handfuls of Frosties for breakfast (the same Frosties we had bought in Belfast). Then we set out to look for a closer bus stop than the one we had seen the previous night. But to use the Dublin buses, you need exact change, which we didn't have. Between the three of us, we had enough change for one one-way fare into the city centre. We asked at the hotel desk if they could give us change for a 5Euro bill, but the girl at the counter was thoroughly unhelpful. Then we went back to the Denny's-type place next door and asked if they could give us change, but, of course, they, too, were unhelpful. I asked some other travelers in the lobby of the hotel if they could break a 5, but none of them spoke English. Finally, desparing, we decided that I would take a bus into town, get change, and then come back for them. We headed off across the highway, back to the bus stop we had gotten off at the previous night, hoping maybe there would be a change machine. There wasn't. We despaired and cursed the unwholesome Dublin suburbs, and then decided to simply walk down the side of the highway toward Dublin until we came across something that looked like it could break a 5. The Dublin suburbs are not an attractive place. It was literally crappy, because at least once we had to step over dog droppings. Finally we saw a petrol station across the highway, darted across four lanes of traffic once again, and bought a couple things at the convenience store in order to have change. Then we went back across the highway, and waited at the nearest bus stop. Finally a bus came and we were on our way into Dublin.

We saw most of the main sights. Alex was a wonderful tour guide, remembering all the places he had been the last time he was in Dublin. We walked through Trinity College, but the Old Library wasn't open until noon, and the Book of Kells wasn't on display at all. So we walked over to the History and Archeology Museum, which wasn't open until 2. I'm not sure what we did in the meantime. At some point we walked through St. Stephen's Green, went to the Dublin Tourist Office, and walked to Grafton Street, Dublin's trendy shopping street. Then we went back to see Trinity's Old Library, which was amazing, as old libraries tend to be. From there we went to the Archeology Museum, which was a very good museum. I liked the exhibit on ritual sacrafice and bog bodies. We randomly ran into Erica's friend Tony from Durham. It was odd.

At some point we got bagels for lunch, which were delicious. Alex even admitted that they were a good choice. For some reason, there were a lot of bagel places in Dublin. This surprised me, since I was hard pressed to find a decent bagel anywhere in London or Norwich. We walked around some more.

All I really wanted to do in Dublin was go to a pub with live music. So we went over to Temple Bar, looked around, and found The Temple Bar, which boasted having live folk music later that night. But rather than be overcharged for pub food, we went to a fast food, takeout type place and ordered a pizza and curry fries. In a desperate move not to be British, the Irish say "fries" instead of "chips." I was skeptical at first, but curry sauce and cheese on fries is actually very good. Then we went to the pub, which was very crowded. Erica forced Alex to get something. So he and I each got a pint of Bulmers cider, and Erica got a Guinness. I'm not a fan of beer. Not even in Ireland. It was expensive, though. Six Euros for one pint! A good excuse not to drink in Ireland. I was on antibiotics, too, so I really shouldn't have been drinking anything, but I felt like I should have at least one pint in an Irish pub. We sat by the window and listened to the music, which was good. At one point Erica got a phone call from her mom, so she stepped outside. I caught Alex staring out the window at someone, and he told me he was watching this particular, somewhat dubious-looking guy who had been standing on the same street corner for the past fifteen minutes. I recognized him as the same guy I had seen pass by the window three times already. We spent the next half an hour coming up with stories about why he was waiting there. Eventually a woman came up to him, gestured like she had been held up in traffic or something, and then they left. He must have been waiting for over an hour.

After we had finished our drinks, we went back to O'Connell Street, making sure we had enough money for both the bus back that night and one back into town the next morning, and went back to Castleknock.

Monday, Jan. 4 - We woke up early, checked out, and waited at our new-found bus stop. We saw a bus approach, hailed it down, turned to pick up our bags, and by the time we had turned around the bus had left. Bastard. Eventually another one came by, but this time we were ready.

We got into town, rented lockers at the bus station, stored our bags, and went to walk around Christchurch and St. Patrick's Cathedrals. We were going to catch a ferry to Holyhead, Wales, later that night. Christchurch was interesting, but I didn't get the same sort of serene feeling that I usually get in cathedrals. Oh well. At St. Patrick's I randomly ran into Liza from the Norwich program. We hugged, I called Erica over, since they knew each other from DTG, and we took a couple of pictures before she left to go look around. We stayed there for a while, just sitting and looking. I think Erica fell asleep in one of the pews. When we got out of the cathedral the clouds in the sky had turned this incredible mixture of purple and pink, so we spent a good twenty minutes taking artistic pictures.


Then we went off to Grafton Street to find something to eat. Eventually we ended up at a mall on the end of Grafton Street, but not a normal mall. This one was very pretty and Victorian. Far nicer than an American mall. I called up Liza and she met us for dinner at the mall. We walked around a bit, and then she headed off back to her hostel, since it was getting dark and she was there alone. Erica, Alex, and I went back to the bus depot, got our bags, and got on the bus to the port. We were expecting a small car ferry, the kind of thing I once took across the Delaware. Instead, we were greeted with this enormous cruise ship! It was absolutely fantastic. We sat in one of several lounges, got a snack from the bar, and talked and took pictures for three hours while we sailed across the Irish Sea. We arrived in Holyhead around half past midnight, took a shuttle from the port to the station to collect our luggage, and then Alex, Erica, and I hailed a cab to take us to the most wonderful place on earth: The Boathouse Hotel.