Saturday, 25 December 2010

Travel Woes? Try Travel Nightmares.

Again, sorry it has been so long since I last posted something, but in my defense, I've spent my fair share of time stranded in various European airports.

I spent 3 days in Lausanne, Switzerland visting a fellow Hendrix student who is studying abroad there. It was really interesting to see how other study abroad students live. I had a wonderful time thanks to Heather's wonderful hopsitaility. She seems to really be enjoying her experience in Lausanne and I could see why. It's a pretty area with lots of really nice people.

We went to a Christmas Market in Montreux. Heather got to see her Freddie Mercury statue. I think that made her day. I got to drink warm apple cider. That made my day. It's my favorite holiday drink and I couldn't seem to find any in England. There were lots of booths with handmade crafts. It was a really cool experience.

Also while in Lausanne, I went to the Olympic Museum. Lausanne is the Olympic captial of the world and they have a fantastic museum that tells of the history of the Olympic Games. Seriously, I felt like a kid in a candy store. They had exhibits of each sport, plus a timeline of the games. There was also an interactive exhibit where you could test your fitness and see what sport you'd be best at. I didn't actually do the test. I wasn't dressed for it; plus there were a bunch of school students doing it, but based on the brochure and the info within the exhibit, I think it would have told be I would make a good hammer or shot put thrower, or a good weight lifter. Big surprise there. The museum was really cool, so if you're ever in Lausanne, I'd recommend going, even if you're not a sports nut like me.

I took a bus tour of Geneva and got to see the United Nations as well as several of other international buildings. Geneva was nice and there is plenty to see, but I have to say, I think I like Lausanne better.

So before I get to the travel nightmares I experienced as indicated in the subject line of this post. I have some catching up to do from my last entry. I admit I rushed a bit and left some things out.

First of all, I believe I mentioned in my last post that I won the SESSA meet, which seals what I like to call the Beth/Katherine connection. (The following explanation is true, but is not meant to be taken too seriously. I'm not that supersticious.) So, in my first meet I won 2 golds and a silver (in theory, we didn't actually get medals until SESSA.) If I'm not mistaken, Katherine Reutter, a short track speed skater and one of my favortie athletes (I met her back in 2008 and she was super nice) also won 2 golds and a silver at world cup 1. At my next meet, I had 2 second place finishes and a third place finish, so did Katherine. She won a gold at world cup 3, and I won gold at SESSA. Pretty cool, huh? Okay, I'll be the first one to admit that it is probably one big coincidence, but she just one her 4th national championships, so I hope the pattern continues.

Other cool facts...

According to the little TV screen on my IcelandAir flight, over half the population of Iceland believes in elves. My tour guide on my glacier tour read us an Icelandic fable explaining the origin of elves. According to Icelandic tradition, Eve had more children than Cain and Abel. God wanted to see them one day, but only Cain and Abel were clean. The other children were muddy, so Eve hid them because she was ashamed. God knew that she hid them, so He made them invisible. Those children are elves. They cannot be seen by people unless they want to be. I thought it was an interesting fable.

The other cool fact I learned is that the Prime Minister of Iceland is listed in the phonebook.

Iceland is incredibly beautiful in both the winter and the summer. If you ever have the chance to go, take it. While I was there, there was only six hours of daylight and in the summer, the sun shines all day, even at midnight, hence the term midnight sun. It rained both nights while I was there, so I didn't have a chance to see the Northen Lights. You need a clear night for that, but I can't say it enough. Iceland is a great place to visit.

Now back to the travel nightmares...

My flight out of Geneva was canceled. I so could have made an earlier flight to Stockholm, but the guy at the ticket counter told me I wouldn't make it through security in time. For whatever reason, the depatrue of that plane was delayed, so I wish he would have let me try to make it. Instead I had to wait in line for two hours to rebook my flight. During that time, most of my viable options to get to Stockholm had already departed, so I was re-booked on standby for a flight Copenhagen that night and then another stand by flight to Stockholm at midnight. The first flight was delayed and since I was on standby anyway, I opted to be put on a flight the next day. SAS, the airline I was flying with, put me up in a hotel and bumped me up to business class on my flight out the next afternoon. I landed at about 3:30. It was already dark, so my 2 days in Stockholm turned into one night. Oh well, I bought plenty of souvenirs though and I'm sure I'll make it back someday. I was just thankful to be reunited with my luggage. Even though I was assured my luggage would be waiting for me downstairs when I booked my hotel, it wasn't. I went back to the airport early the next morning and it wasn't there. That was scary. Turns out it had been over-nighted to Stockholm. So many flights were canceled that day it was crazy and bags were everywhere. Stacked up on trolleys in both Geneva and Stockholm waiting to be claimed.

My flight the next day back to England was cancelled. Heathrow was completely shut down due to the snow. I was supposed to fly to Heathrow, then fly out of Gatwick the next day so I could go home. That was not going to happen. The problem was England wasn't the only place affected by the snow. Paris CDG had many cancellations, so did Amsterdam, and Frankfort. Translation, if I couldn't leave Europe, I couldn't get home. The line to rebook would take about 4 hours. Any possible flights going straight to the US were full and chances were that all other options would either leave before I got to the front of the line or would be full by the time I could be rebooked. What's a girl stranded in the Stockholm airport to do? Call like 2 a.m. US central time. At that pont, I was tired. I could have stayed an extra day in Stockholm and actually get to see it, but let's face it, when you've spent as much time in airports as I did during those last few days, all you want is to get home.

I swear, for the first couple nights after I got home, I woke up and it took me a minute to figure where I was. I guess that happens when you spend one night in Geneva, the next in Stockholm, and the third in Lisbon, yes Lisbon, we'll get to that in a second. Anyway, it took me a minute to realize I was in Arkansas those first couple mornings.

So Lisbon, Portugal. I hear it's nice, but I really can't say. The five minute ride from the airport to the hotel at 11 p.m. was nice, as was the five minute ride from the hotel to the airport at 8 a.m. the next morning. That was the extent of my stay in Lisbon.

Getting to Lisbon proved a bit more difficult than I had imagined. I thought I was in the clear once I found a flight that would eventually get me to Little Rock, but I was wrong. The travel nightmare still had one last trick up its sleeve. The flight was delayed out of Stockholm. It was supposed to depart at 3:15. We didn't begin boarding until 3:30. Not so bad, right? Yeah, that what I thought and then we were told the plane had a mechanical problem and it would take 20 minutes to fix. Twenty minutes later, the problem would take another 45 minutes to fix and once those 45 minutes were up, well it would be another 45 more. Sometime during the wait, they served us dinner. We didn't depart until after 7. Yeah, the 4 hour flight from Stockholm to Lisbon, plus the 3 hour wait ON THE PLANE... the flight to America takes about 8 hours, which is what I've have to do the next day.

Anyway, I'm home now. I got in around 11 p.m. on the 20th. Just in time for the holidays.

Speaking of the holidays, Merry Chirstmas everyone. Enjoy it!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Long time no blog...

So I haven't posted in awhile, but I have been crazy busy.

Karina and I flew to Venice. It was absolutely beautiful, especially the architecture. We took a gondola ride and of course, partook in the local delicacies pizza, calzone, canollis... They were all delicious.

After a full but leisurely long weekend, we returned to Oxford. I had a track meet the next day, the Southern England Student Sports Association Championships. I won a gold medal, an actual medal. (In high school, we got medals at nearly every meet, but in college, they only give out medals at championships, so this was special.) My distances are still in pre-season mode, but I'm very excited to get back home and back in the weight room. It was really nice to spend one last day with some of my OUAC teammates. Six of us went to the meet and four of us won gold medals.

After the meet, I spent the night trying to get my room and the rest of the house cleaned. Karina and I left the house early that morning to go to Heathrow. From there, I fly to Iceland. It was absolutely beautiful, glaciers, volcanos, beaches, waterfalls. I didn't get to see a volcano, but I did see a lot of ash. Some of the glaciers were covered with it. The sand on the beach was also black. It was raining both nights I was there, so I couldn't see the Northern Lights. Bummer.

Right now, I'm in Copenhagen. So far, I've seen Scandinavia's longest designer shopping street. Everything here is a bit expensive. I saw the coast today and the the Little Mermaid statue, which commemorates Hans Christian Andersen's story. The statue has only recently returned to Denmark. It was only display in China at the World Expo this year. Tomorrow I'm going to try to catch the changing of the guard ceremony. The guard marches from one palace to the other at noon everyday.

I leave Tuesday for Switzerland. I'll be staying with a friend for a few days and then I'm off to Sweden.

I promise to check in soon.

- Beth 

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Beginning of the End

Thanksgiving sort of marked the beginning of the end of Michaelmas term here in Oxford, but before I get to that I need to rewind a little bit.

First of all, my parents flew in on Monday morning. I met up with them after my final creative writing tutorial. It was great to spend time with them and show them where I've been living these past couple months.

On Tuesday, we flew to Dublin and spent 2 nights there. There was lots to see, including a writers muesum. I bought a book of children's stories by Oscar Wilde. I had to read "The Importance of Being Earnest" for my Introductory Course and I really enjoyed it. We also saw the Trinity College, which was set up a lot like the colleges in Oxford, basically courtyard style with several old and very beautiful buildings. They don't really have campuses like we do in America. As a side note, Oxford University itself is actually made up of several smaller colleges which are spread out throughout the town. There's a student union a few blocks away from my house. It's sort of like the SLTC at Hendrix.

On Wednesday night, we went on the Dublin Ghostbus. It was definitely something interesting to do at night since the city tours stop around six, but it was a bit overdone. We were given a little bit of history about Bram Stoker, the guy who wrote Dracula. We were also told about how grave robbers used to bring freshly buried corpses to a doctor/anatomy professor who used to use them to teach his students about the human body.

We spend much of Thursday, Thanksgiving, in the Dublin airport. I'd like to go back to Dublin someday. It was absolutely freezing while we were there, but based on the postcards, the Irish coast looks absolutely beautiful in the summer.

I spent Thursday night with the OOSC gang. I missed most of Thanksgiving dinner, but I heard everyone had a good time. Lucky for me it was held at my house so even though I missed the food, I arrived just in time for the clean up.

Obviously the British don't celebrate American Thanksgiving, so after Halloween, it sort of went into Christmas mode here. Last night, Friday night, there was a "light up the town" parade. We saw part of it, mostly a couple marching bands, but it looked pretty fun. Lots of the local businesses had street vendors out giving away free samples or in some cases, reindeer antlers. I got a pair. They fit sort of like a Burger King crown, basically a band of thin cardboard that wraps around your head.

Today, we went to London. I took a lot of photos, all of which are now on facebook, in case anyone is interested. For those of you who are friends of my mom, I'm sure she'll be posting hers soon. Her internet access has been limited while she was here.

We saw all the usual places. I climbed up on the lions at Trafalgar Square. We also saw Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, and several other monuments. We breifly went through the Tower of London. They had an outdoor ice skating rink set up outside the tour, so you can guess what I did. Forget the history, bring on the sports. Just kidding. We did the educational bit first, then I got to play.

My parents have an early flight out tomorrow morning. Right now I'm playing catch up on my homework and tv watching that I missed this week. I'm mostly done with the latter since all my Thursday shows weren't aired becasue of Thanksgiving. I'll be glad when I can sit in front of a real TV again, though I'm sure the thrill of it won't last long.

As I said at the start of this blog, this week marks the beginning of the end. We have one more week of term, which means one more week until Karina and I leave for Venice. All I can say is GONDOLAS.

Tomorrow will be my last "Failed Novelist" meeting. That's the creative writing group I've been participating in while here. Last week's meeting was really fun because we had a guest speaker, Juliet E. McKenna. I was able to talk to her about the "agenting" process a bit after the meeting. I told her about the emails I'd received and she said it was all very encouraging. I'm hoping to write back to the agents soon. All the editting is done. I just need to add an epilogue.

On Tuesday, we have a farewell lunch at St. Peter's College, where we had our Introductory Course lectures. It will basically be the last time all of us will be together this term.

I also have my last track practices this week. I'll be competing in a meet after I get back from Venice. Fingers crossed I'll do well. Then I'm off to Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, and finally Sweden.

I'll be sure to update about my travels, so expect an update post Venice, so around December 7th.



Saturday, 13 November 2010

"Mom, I'm traveling to five countries." "Okay. Have Fun" "Oh yeah, and I'm dying my hair." "WHAT?"

It's been a pretty busy week here in Oxford.

On Monday, we went to see "Design for Living in London." It was pretty good, very funny, hysterical at times, but the plot was a little contrived. If you like comedy or have an interest in plays about threesomes I'd recommend it. If not, I'd find something else to Harry Potter which will be coming out next week. Can't wait.

Karina and I went to Cardiff on Tuesday. We did a bit of sight seeing. Unfortunately, some of the sights were closed off due to a car show. (My Uncle John would have been in Heaven, but I was unimpressed.) We saw Cardiff Castle, well the outside of it, because tours were a bit pricey, then we went down to the Bay Area, which was pretty, but quite cold. I think my favorite part was see all the signs in both English and Welsh. I guess I really am an English nerd if that is what impressed me the most, but no joke, Welsh is a cool language with, shall we say, some interesting vowel combinations. Welsh words also have a tendency to have repeated consonants. I took a picture of one of the signs and posted it one facebook. Even simple words are more complicated in Welsh. The only one I really remember though was "Ffordd." I saw that on a sign by the train station.

Anyway, enough about the Welsh language. After visiting the Bay Area, Karina and I found an arcade. In Scotland it was a playground and it Wales it was an arcade. The two of us are planning a trip to Venice once term ends, so I can only imagine what we'll stumble upon there. We've promised ourselves a gondala ride though.

Right now my end of term plans are looking very adventurous. I'll be going to Italy, back to England for a track meet (hopefully, I'm still waiting on the okay from my coach) then off to Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, and fianlly Sweden. I should have half a day in London and then I return to the States on the 20th just in time for the holidays.

In other news...

I dyed my hair today. Nothing too exciting. It looks the same, but my roots are gone. Hooray!

Other exciting news..

My parents are coming to see me in about a week. We're going to Dublin for a couple days and then I'll show them around Oxford.

On the home front, our water boiler has been serviced, the shower drain now functions properly and our recycling was collected yesterday for the first time since we've been here. THANK GOD. We filled the bin about two weeks ago and so a collection of cans and boxes formed on our counter. Not fun when your trying to cook. Bascially what happened was no one ever put the recycling bin out on the correct week, so it never got collected. At first we didn't even have a bin at all. We finally got a bin a month ago and somehow around Halloween it ended up in our neighbor's driveway. I remembered to put it out 2 weeks ago and that very week the city decided to change our recycling day to Friday. No one told us, so now finally two weeks later, our recycles have been collected for the first time since the middle of September. If my brother were here, this would never have been an issue. If Danny is good at anything, it is handling the trash and recycle. I guess I took that for granted and assumed that all men had this inherent inclination to take out the trash. Nope. Clearly my male housemate can learn a thing our two from my brother. (Random thought alert...I was just reminded that both of them use Spongebob toothpaste. That's at least one thing they have in common.)

On the academic front...

I had another creative writing tutorial this week. It went well. I've got one more left before the end of term. I'm still editing PUTP in the meantime, so once I finish that and ship it off to the two agents who asked for revisions, hopefully I will have enough time over winter break to finish the piece I started for my tutorial.

I also had another French tutorial. I had to read Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan. I think it is my favorite book I've read for the tutorial thus far. Sagan was about 18 or 19 years old when it was first published and it became an instant hit. She's written several other books, which I intend to look into in the future.

My track session with Coach Barry went well yesterday. I have gained some of my shot put distance back. I feel like I've made a lot of progress on my technique while here, so hopefully it will all come together soon. Barry seems to think it will. There are a lot of differences in the training style here as opposed to the States. In the States, I have access to a wonderful weight room at the WAC and I have a coach watching me throw at least five days a week. Here...not so much, but overall, the experience itself has been worth it. It is interesting to see the differences in the sport, but of course, the basics are all the same. My teammates are pretty awesome too. I'm going to miss being surrounded by British accents and being told nice "putt" instead of nice throw. (In England, it's shot putt, not shot put.)

And, to end the usual way, I'll include my latest British slang. My new favorite British word is twat. I've heard a couple other good ones lately, but I'll save those for next time.


Sunday, 7 November 2010

2 Silvers and a Bronze

If only we actually got medals, I'd have won six total over the course of the past two meets.

As the title of this post suggests, I had 2 second place finishes this weekend and a third place finish. I'll start with the third place finish, because that is the one that requires the most explaining. I placed third in shot, but despite the numerous technical improvements I have made during my Friday sessions with Coach Barry, these improvements have not yet translated to distance, so my shot put distances are significantly shorter than what they were last season. Let's just say, had I thrown today what I was throwing in May, I would have blown the competition away. Unfortunately that didn't happen, but I am optimistic about the improvements I've made and hopefully they will prove useful this spring. Also, I tweaked my back while throwing discus, which was an hour before shot, so that probably didn't help the situation.

Dur to the back problem, I opted to throw standing throws for my last two throws instead of trying to spin, which seemed to be what caused the tweak in the first place. It's not the same type of injury I had last season. It's an annoying thing to have happen the day of competition, but it's nothing to worry about. Anyway, I came in second thanks to one of my standing throws.

The girl who won discus also beat me in hammer. She's currently 7th in the nation for U20s though so I don't feel as bad. She through the hammer well over 40 meters today. I only got one legal throw in and it was a safe one at that, but it was enough for second. This was the first week I've actually been able to practice throwing hammer, but my turns are a lot faster and more powerful than they were last season. If what I was doing at practice was any indication, hammer this season should be pretty fun.

Overall, the O.U.A.C lost to the C.U.A.C. by 8 points, a very narrow margin. We had 13 girls total with all but one doing multiple events. Each team could only enter two athletes per event, but with only 13 girls, we some people doing at least 4 events. Cambridge appear to have more girls to pick from for their entries. Had we had a bigger team, we might have won. The O.U.A.C has a strong tradition of winning the Varsity Match which will be held in May though, so while a win today would have been nice, May is when it really matters.

Enough about throwing...This week was pretty hectic. I had another positive French tutorial, which was followed by some late night grocery shopping. I found Mountain Dew Energy drinks on sale so I bought some. It tastes almost the same as regular Mountain Dew in the States, definitely better than Diet Mountain Dew. It's funny because the bottles they sell it in are florescent. I haven't checked, but it is quite possible they glow in the dark. They are just that bright. I also bought a chocolate covered apple. It was good, the closest thing I could find to a caramel apple, which I rarely buy in the States, but have sort of been craving lately. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away...and they never said it couldn't be covered in chocolate :)

Tomorrow we are going to see the play Design for Living and Tuesday I have tentative plans to go to Wales with a couple friends. I'm letting Karina take care of making the itinerary, so I have no idea what we are doing, but hey, it's a day trip and once we get back I can check Wales off the list of places I need to visit while in Europe.

I can't remember if I've mentioned this yet, but I plan to go to Belgium, Switzerland, and the various Scandinavian countries after term ends. That was the original plan, then it occurred to me that a writing vacation in Fiji would be fun, lol. I'm going to stick to the original plan, but warm places are tempting right about now.

Speaking of writing, I'm starting to make some of the revisions, so I can re-submit to that agent. I also heard back from another agent, who wants to read the full manuscript once I've made these particular revisions. Both have shown equal interest, so we'll see what happens, but in the mean time, I have a lot more revising to do.

I can't believe it's November already. Four more weeks of tutorials and then term is over. I can't say it's flown by, but it has been fun so far.

Check back in next weekend to hear about my adventures in Wales.


Saturday, 30 October 2010

2 Golds and a Silver

I won!!!!

We had Cuppers last weekend, which is the selection meet for those who will represent Oxford in next weekend's Fresher's Varsity match verus Cambridge. I won shot put and discus and came in second place for javelin. My disctances were far from what I wanted them to be, but I've done a great deal of technical training in the last week, so I'm hoping to get back to my old self again sometime soon.

We saw Hamlet this week at the National Theater in London. It was beautifully done. The staging was incredibly modern sort, of like CIA meets Shakespeare. The modern staging definitely made it fun for a younger audience. Maybe the director read my Shakespeare post. Just kidding.

Big news on the writing front...

I had my creative writing tutorial this week, during which I presented a chapter of a book I am currently working on. My tutor loved it. I'll spare the recantation of his praises in fear that it will be misconstrued as bragging; however, I will say that I'm grateful to be working with someone who acknowledges my potential and feels that YA writing is the right path for me.

I received some other big news on the writing front this week. One of the agents who was very eager to read my manuscript wrote me an email saying that she gave the manuscript to her daughter and her daughter couldn't put it down. Regrettably, she was unable to offer me representation at this time, but she gave me some wonderful suggestions and agreed to give it another look after I make the changes. No pressure or anything. I fully intend to start working on the revisions as soon as possible. The manuscript itself has already made some significant changes for the better since I self-published it in 2008, so I'm really excited to be one baby step closer to my goal of getting an agent.

It was such a crazy week that I'm sure I've probably left out something, so if I think of anything more, I'll post it early next week along with a recap of my Halloween adventures. I'll be dressing up as a nerd tomorrow night, suspenders, thick black framed glasses with tape across the bridge and all. I'll have to send Danny pictures. I'm sure he'll think I look like Steve Urkel and will probably laugh about it for a good five minutes or more. My brother had 2 main heroes during his teenage years: Urkel and Richard Simmons. Seeing me look like Urkel will probably be the highlight of his day.

Well, that's all for now, but I promise to blog again soon. Sorry about the long wait. This week was crazy busy.

Happy Halloween everybody! (And happy daylight savings time. We get to turn the clocks back tonight.)

Sunday, 17 October 2010

If only the British Isles were tropical...

I can only think of a few things that would make Oxford better and right now tropical weather has moved up to number one on the list. It's been about 50 degrees all week, which the Connecticut native in me says is really not that cold, but when you've lived in a place that gets to be 100 plus degrees in the summer, anything less than 60 seems like you're in the Arctic. Worse yet is the realization that it will only get colder. Nevertheless, I still plan to travel to the various Scandinavian capital cities after terms ends. Under Armour should do the trick.

The other thing that would make Oxford better would be if they actually sold long sleeve t-shirts that said Oxford on them. You can buy Oxford tees or sweatshirts, but no long sleeve shirts. I've only seen one so far and it was ugly. I really want a long sleeve t-shirt though because, as anyone who has seen the inside of my closet can attest to, I have plenty of t-shirts and hoodies, but very few long sleeve shirts. I asked one of my teammates here about it and her response was that people don't wear them here, which is why she stocked up on them the last time she visited the States. If I can't find one soon, I guess I'll go back and buy the ugly one. Maybe it will keep me warm when I go to Sweden.

It's been a pretty full week this week. I had my first French tutorial on Friday night. Basically every Friday night for the rest of term while most people my age are getting ready to go to the pub or go clubbing, I'll be walking to French class. It went well. My essay was well recieved, so on the way home I treated myself to a "Texican Sweet Chili Wrap" from Burger King. Yes, you read that correctly "Texican." I'm not sure whether or not that is the British term for Tex-Mex, but it sounds kind of catchy and it tasted really good.

I went to Robert Muchamore's presentation at the Cheltenham Literary Fesitval on Saturday. I've never actually been to a literary festival before, but it was a really fun atmosphere and I'd love to be invited to speak at one someday. For those who don't know, Robert Muchamore is a famous British YA author. His Cherub series is incredibly popular with teen boys. I think the part of his speech I enjoyed the most was that he saw a need--books that would appeal to teen boys--and he tried to fill it. Though I have not yet reached his level of fame, I understand the senitment. He explained that he once offered to buy his nephew a book and his nephew informed him that there were no good books out there. In an attempt to prove his nephew wrong, they went to the bookstore, but as it turned out, all the books were either for a younger audience, for girls, or fantasy based. This inspired the creation of the Cherub series, which to put it very simply is about orphan spies. I can kind of relate to this because growing up I always wrote books that I thought kids like me would want to read. I was bored with what was out there, so I wrote my own stories. I think that's why Picking up the Pieces is so special to me. I was a sporty girl growing up and there really weren't any books about sporty girls. It seemed like all YA sports fiction was for boys, so I'm my own way, I saw a need and tried to fill it.

No other major plans for the week ahead. The Cuppers track meet is next Sunday. Hopefully everything will go smoothly with that. I also really want to go to the movie theater this week to see Life As We Now It. It's funny because some of the movies come out here the same week they do in America, like Life As We Know It, but others are a couple months behind. I'm pretty sure Dispicable Me premiered here sometime within the past couple weeks here and I'm pretty sure it came out a couple months ago in the States.

Also, if anyone wants a glimpse of British television, I'd recommend 8 out of 10 Cats. Karina and I first watched it at the B&B last weekend in Scotland and it was really funny. We looked it up on Youtube tonight and watched some more episodes. It's hard to explain the premise because I can't think of any American shows like it other than the The Soup or Chelsea Lately, but even those don't fit it exactly. It's a late night program with two teams, the captains are the same each episode, but the other panel members are guests and change each time. They basically guess the most talked about topics in the UK for that week, but the commentary is usually pretty funny. I think Jay Leno would make a good guest.

I think that's about it for now. I'll check back in later in the week. Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

I went to Hogwarts today!

Tonight our group went to see a production of T.S. Eliot's play "Murder in the Cathedral". It was quite good. Not to give anything away, but the play itself is about the murder of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury and is meant to be authentic to the time. However, there's a twist at the end. The knights who killed the Archbishop come out in modern-day suits and plead their case to the audience that it was not murder, but rather suicide, because Beckett let them in--a comedic twist to an otherwise very serious play. As I'm sure you can imagine, watching "Murder in the Cathedral" in an actual cathedral was very impressive. The architecture of Christ Church is simply astounding, and for all you Harry Potter fans, Christ Church was the original filming location for the Hogwarts scenes, but they later moved it, as it was imposing on the learning process for the Christ Church University students. Long story short, I went to Hogwarts tonight and the creepy part about it was that as we were walking to the play there was an ambulance pulled up by the curb and quite an extensive blood trail on the sidewalk. We're still not sure what happened. No one appeared to be badly hurt, but it certainly set the tone for the play.

I had my meeting with my creative writing tutor and we agreed that I should continue work on my ghost story piece. I've had the idea for a long time and had some inspiration about make a unique narrative style while here. I'm not sure when I will finish it, but I'm glad to start putting pen to paper, well, okay, fingers to keys. Same difference. The idea I mentioned having in my last post was to write a nonfiction piece centered around my brother Danny, who is autistic. I still intend to write this piece, but in order to give it its due diligence, I need to finish two YA fiction pieces I've started, one of them being the ghost story piece. (It's not a scary story, but there is a ghost, and a murder, oh yeah and cheerleading.)

Other exciting news on the writing front is that my short story "Far From Home" is now available on Amazon Kindle UK. In order to have it sold in the UK Kindle store, I had to raise the price a tad, but it is still reasonable. If you have a kindle or kindle for PC, check it out. I wrote orginally wrote it junior year of high school and it probably remains one of my best works.

I had two track practices this week. I had to miss tonight's because of the play. I've been able to keep up well, but as far as I can tell I'm the only female "fresher" thrower. We haven't really started specific throwing drills yet. I've mostly been with the runners and jumpers, but I'm looking forward to getting back in the circle. My first meet will be Sunday October 24th. This meet is Oxford only and is open to all Oxford students, I believe. The meet on November 7th is Oxford freshers versus Cambridge freshers. In order to compete in that one you must be selected by the captain.

Well that's all for now. I intend to post again on Sunday after I have time to recover from the literary festival I'm going to on Saturday. There's also plans in the works for me to try Indian food for the first time. I had my first Thai food experience a couple weeks ago and loved it.

No cool new British phrases to report other than while walking to the track a man rode past me on a bicycle (with a beer can in his hand) and as he passed he yelled "You're all spies." On the same day, also on the way to track practice, I saw a very small dog carrying a very large tree branch in its mouth. The branch took up nearly the whole sidewalk. So as there are really no new phrases to report, I'll stick to my usual...


Sunday, 10 October 2010

There's a shot put thrower on this box of "Porage" and he's wearing a kilt!

I'll start by explaining the title of this post. For those who don't know, I have thrown shot put competitively since freshman year of high school. It's not exactly a common sport. They make keychains and stickers for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, even bowling, but never shot put, not even track and field really, so needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find a box of "Scotts Porage Oats" with a picture of a guy throwing a shot put and oh yeah, by the way, since it was it Scotland, he was wearing a kilt. (At least his kilt covered more than my Hendrix throwing shorts do, but that's another story, let's just say under armour leggings are a throwers best friend.)

Sorry, it's been awhile since I posted last. There are two reasons for this, the first being that my computer inexplicably lost internet connection for over 24 hours (painful experience, but I survived thanks to my iphone. Oh technology.) The second reason I couldn't update was because I was busy spending two days circling the Edinburgh Castle.

Karina and I took a train to Edinburgh on Friday morning. It was about six hours total, so we got there by mid-afternoon, and after a rather scenic tour of the heart of Edinburgh, we found our bed and breakfast. (For those of you who know me and see the word scenic, I know what you're thinking, but I swear I was not the one leading the way.) We were there only a short time, but had loads of fun before returning to Oxford on Saturday night.

We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast called the Armadillo House. I actually had a traditional Scottish breakfast on Saturday, not haggus; it was baked beans on toast. Definitely an interesting start to my day. Don't get me wrong, it tasted fine. It was just a little unique being that it was a slice of toast with beans poured on top. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw it because I'm pretty sure they were the same type of  beans we serve at the daycare where I work. They're kind of orange looking, not the kind you bring to a BBQ :)

As for the Travel Woes and Travel Pros, well I'll start with the Pros, because I can't think of any major woes at the moment. That's how good Scotland was, I guess.

Travel Pros:

1. Edinburgh Castle: the funny thing about having a giant castle on top of a very large hill is that you can see it from all over town. If you're a poor college student, this is great because you don't have to pay for a tour. You also don't have to walk up the giant hill to get to the castle. Regular Edinburgh was hilly enough. I'm pretty sure Karina and I walked around town enough that we saw every angle of the castle at least twice. Not only that, but we saw it at day and night. See Edinburgh Castle? Mission accomplished.

2. Cemeteries that lead to playgrounds that lead to long conversations with Scottish middle schoolers: now that's something you can't get on a paid tour. I should probably explain. In hopes to see the castle, we started walking around town. We came across this 1800s cemetery and being Beth and Karina, we decided to poke around inside with little to no hesitation. I'm pretty sure the conversation went something like this. "Oh look, a cemetery. Let's go in." "Okay." Anyway, they graves were obviously very old, most were covered in moss. There was a church in the middle, St. Cuthbert's, I believe. Yeah, we got a kick out of the name. As it turns out, if you walk around the church, you will find a small, but very fun playground and if you look up, you'll see the castle. Yes, you read that correctly, the two college-aged American tourists found Edinburgh Castle by deciding to explore the native playground equipment. It was about six at night, so the playground was relatively empty. Karina and I started playing on this spinning jungle gym thing and ended up meeting 3 thirteen-year-old boys, who had lots of questions about America, like do you really call it a trash can, do you really call them diapers, and have you ever said, dude, put that diaper in the trash can? They loved hearing about life in the States and all the different words we have for things.

3. Scottish Clotted Cream Fudge: DELICIOUS!

4. Kilts, bagpipes,  and mountainous green pastures with more cows and sheep than I'd ever care to keep track of.

5. Irn Bru: It's this brand of soda made only in Scotland and the recipe has apparently been a secret for the past 100 years. It's orange in color and tastes a bit like orange soda with a hint of bubble gum. It's really good, so if you're ever in Scotland buy a bottle. Better yet buy Irn Bru and clotted cream fudge.

While in Edinburgh, we saw The Elephant House, which is where J.K. Rowling wrote part of Harry Potter. We also saw lots of guys in kilts and a little girl playing the bagpipes. If you want to hear some cool bagpipe music, look up the Red Hot Chilli Pipers on itunes. They cover songs like Eye of the Tiger, only with bagpipes. All the souvenir shops had RHCP music playing and it was really sort of catchy.

The train ride itself was pretty cool. I'd never been on a real train before. It's actually quite an effective mode of travel. We spent the first part of our journey in the Quiet Zone car, not by choice, we were just really eager to get on the train and we just so happened to end up in the car where you can't talk at all. I got a good deal of reading done, but it's funny how not being able to talk, even if you have nothing important to say, is an oppressive experience.

In other news...

I think I have an idea for what I want to write for my project for the Creative Writing tutorial. I have my second meeting tomorrow, so once I get the okay for the idea, I'll post more. Let's just say it is something I've wanted to do for a long time and it's nonfiction, not my usual genre.

I turned in my Shakespeare and Sport essay. (I was actually the first one out of the 18 students to turn it in.)

I met my French tutor, the one who speaks 27 languages. For my first essay, I have to read Trois Contes by Flaubert and write an essay about how the author incorpoates religion, exoticism, and morality. The stories are very interesting so far. The main difference I have noticed though is that the textbooks we use back home have footnotes that translate some of the rarer words and this text is in the original French without footnotes, which makes reading it a bit more of a challenge. I am scheduled to present my first essay to her on Friday, so I will keep everyone posted on how it goes.

I joined a creative writing society called The Failed Novelists. We had the first meeting today and I really enjoyed listening to some of the pieces that were presented. I think I will read something of mine next week. The meeting was done in workshop style, namely one person reads something and the other people in the room offer feedback. We do this at Hendrix, so it's nothing new to me, however, I think I fit in better with this crowd than I do with the creative writing community at Hendrix. Some of the writers who presented today were very talented, but the refreshing thing about it was they didn't really realize how good they were. I'm a big fan of humility and so often these types of writers' workshops are filled with college co-eds trying to be edgy. That's not really my style, so I was pleased to find that this group was so welcoming and relaxed. There was no pressure to read anything, or even talk, if you didn't want to, and yet it was one of the most productive writers' workshops I've been to. I'm not sure how I feel about the title Failed Novelists though, but I suppose that really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

I start track practices this week (I think...still a little vague on the details.) I'll keep everyone posted on that as well. Right now it looks like my first meet will be October 24th. It's a freshers meet against Cambridge, so basically freshmen and people like me who are new to the club, get to compete. I'm personally really excited to be part of an Oxford versus Cambridge endeavor. Now if I could only win an event...don't want to jinx myself, but if I did, even if there are only two or three other people in the event, dare I say I'll make a t-shirt to commenorate my achievement.

Next Saturday, I'm planning on taking the train to the Cheltenham Literary Festival. There's a British YA author named Robert Muchamore who will be giving a reading and it's his last one this fall, so I figured I might as well go. The only down side is that it will mean taking a very early morning train. I read the first book in his Cherub series a few years ago, so I'm really looking forward to hearing what he has to say. Who knows maybe I'll even get an autograph.

Well, that's all for now. I anticipate posting again next Sunday, so please check back in. By then I should have had track practice, my first French tutorial, and hopefully will have met one of my favorite authors, so there should be plenty to blog about. As always, if you a not an official follower yet please click the little box on the upper right side of the screen that says "follow." I'd really love some more followers and I promise you won't be bombarded with emails or anything annoying like that.

Friday, 1 October 2010

How many Americans does it take to work a British heater?

Answer: 3 and it's the blond who figures it out, but we'll get to that a little bit later.

We had our last lectures of the introductory course today. I get to meet my tutors for my regular classes next week. Apparently I will be meeting them at their respective houses each week, or every other week in the case of my minor tutorial, to present and discuss my essay. (I'll have one due each meeting.) Our introductory essays are due next week, so in other words, that's almost one down and twelve more to go. I'm looking forward to it though. I expect my French and creative writing tutorials will be very interesting.

Fun fact: The woman who will be my French tutor speaks 27 languages. Apparently she wants to learn Mandarin next.

My introductory course essay is coming along well. It's just over 3,000 words and it needs to be between 4,000-5,000. Some kids haven't even started theirs yet. I was hoping to get enough of a head start to be able to go to Scotland this weekend, but I have my first meeting Monday morning, so I opted to wait until a weekend when I have more time. I'd probably have the whole essay done by now if I hadn't tweaked my topic at least twice. Both times I ended up deleting whole paragraphs. Hopefully by the time I'm done it will all have been for the better.

Travel Pros...

Going to the Theater: This week we went to see the play Birdsong at the London Comedy Theater. It is based on a novel by Sebastian Faulks, which I believe was published in 1994. It was quite good, but I think the book is probably better. Birdsong is part love story, part war drama, and I think the war parts were much better and more convincing than the love plot. The love story was a bit rushed at times, drawn out at others, and all together something that could have been referenced through dialogue at the beginning of the play. That would have cut it from 3 hours down to 2 and let me tell you, with the balcony seats we had, sitting there for 2 hours is plenty. Most people didn't like the height. To be truthful, the angle to the stage wasn't a very good one, but my main problem was the seats. They were really low and there was absolutely no leg room, which meant my knees were practically at chest level the whole time. Not comfortable! Overall, the play was worth seeing and I am certainly curious to read the book, especially because in the book, there is a subplot that takes place in the 1970s involving the main character's granddaughter and her search for information about the war. The play itself was set in the years of 1910 to about 1917, deleting the granddaughter entirely. One of the most powerful parts of the play didn't come from any actors at all, but rather during one of the brief intermissions. During the five minute long break between Act Two and Act Three, they showed a list of all the names of those who died during the Battle of the Somme. They only got halfway through the alphabet by the time the curtain rose again. You see statistics all the time of how many soldiers died in various battles, but it really hits home when you see all the names listed in alphabetical order.

Travel woes...

British appliances: On the home front, our oven is now fixed, which means all our appliances are in working order. Actually, apparently the oven was never really broken, we just didn't know that to work it you have to hold two buttons down at the same time to take it off automatic and switch it on to the manual setting. Once you've done that it works just fine. We also figured out how to work the heater. After a couple rather amusing episodes of trial and error, we have it to where it is a pretty comfortable temperature all the time. You wouldn't think learning how to operate British appliances would be that hard, but after a bunch of turning knobs and flipping switches, we now have heat. The showers at the gym are also a little strange. The one in our house works just like the ones do back home, but at the gym, you hit a button, the water turns on, it stays on for about 20 seconds and then it shuts off and you have to hit the button again. Let me tell you, when you're sweaty and all you want to do is shower, the inconsistent water gets old really fast. At first I just kept hitting the button harder as if force would somehow make it stay on longer. It didn't work, but hey, I might have burned a couple extra calories while doing it. I then discovered that the only way to keep the water on is to lean against the button, not very comfortable, but it is the best solution I have found thus far. Again, you'd think that after 20 years of dealing with American appliances, I'd know how to operate an oven, a heating system, and a shower, but apparently not. 

Other than that nothing new and exciting has really happened. I've fallen into a routine of studying, socializing with the other American students, and working out. I'm still the only female who lifts weights with the guys by the way. My housemate and I are thinking of attending a "buns, tums, and thighs" class sometime just to see what it's like. (Working out is more fun when everybody else in the room has a British accent.) Also, my track practices with the OUAC should be starting up next week. I've already met a few of my teammates, but I'm looking forward to really getting down to business and meeting everyone.

Check back in sometime next week for another update. I promise to be back to my usual witty blogging self by then. If you're not already a follower, please do sign up. I promise you won't be bombarded with emails or anything, but it would be nice to know who is reading.

Oh and my new favorite British phrase..."Well done." People use it in odd situations here. For example, I was buying groceries and after I signed the receipt, the cashier said "Well done." Apparently, the usuage is for the phrase is slightly different here, especially because I'm pretty sure the last time I was told "well done" for writing my name was when I was about four.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Beth Versus Shakespeare

Hi and welcome to my blog. Whether you're reading this for the first time, or checking back in as a repeat visitor, do me a favor and click the "follow" box on the right of the screen. Please and thank you. I could really use some more followers.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, there will be several references to Shakespeare. Apparently he's famous here in England. Sarcasm intended. Don't worry. I won't attempt to write this post in Iambic pentameter.

Channeling my Inner Shakespeare...

I'll start with a thought presented to us during one of our first lectures. Shakespeare penned his now famous works alone in a room. He'd sit there and put his thoughts to paper. We were told that while writing our essays here, we'd be doing the same, and thus we are all very much like Shakespeare. So technically, while blogging, I'm channeling my inner Shakespeare. That's an amusing thought, considering I'm sitting here in sweatpants, with my snuggie on, sipping hot chocolate. I bet Shakespeare was more of a coffee and Chia pet kind of guy...

Stumbling on Shakespeare...

On a more serious note, as it turns out, the pub my friends and I went to last week, The Crown, actually has a connection to Shakespeare. You see, Oxford is located in the middle of Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born, and London, where Shakespeare put on a great deal of his plays, so when traveling between the two places, he'd rest in Oxford and would stay at a hotel called The Crown. He was very good friends with the owner. As it turns out, the site where the hotel used to be is actually an office building now, but a little known fact, even for Oxford residents, is that if you peel back the curtains that line the walls of the office building, you will see hand-painted walls. The best room of a hotel in Shakespeare's time would have had painted walls and he would have stayed in the best room. Therefore, we can conclude with a high degree of certainty that the office building used to be the room where Shakespeare stayed. I actually got to see the inside of the room. It was pretty cool, especially because most people don't even know about it. Anyway, across from the hotel was a pub, also called The Crown, which is where Shakespeare would have eaten and had a couple drinks while staying in Oxford. Well, maybe more than a couple... There is currently a pub called The Crown on that same site, which happens to be the one we ate at last week before we knew it's historical significance. Most people don't know about the historical significance of the pub or the room. It is certainly not well-documented, nor is it posted outside of the buildings. However, one of our tutors, is very knowledgeable about Shakespeare and clued us in on this well kept secret.

Visiting Shakespeare...

On Tuesday, we are scheduled to travel to Stratford-Upon-Avon. This past week we went to London to see Henry IV Part I at the Globe. The current setup of The Globe is the same as it was in Shakespeare's day. Some people stand around the stage and at various parts of the play, the actors actually push their way through the crowd to get to the stage. There is also a balcony. Our seats were on the lower level, so probably the best ones in the house. Though the best seats in the house, in true Elizabethan style, the seats are actually wooden stadium-style benches, so if you're smart, you'll pay the one pound to rent a seat cushion before the play starts, or else you'll be very uncomfortable by the time it's through. Another fun fact is that since the seats are in the original arrangement, you'll most likely have the person behind you's knees in your back the whole time because in Shakespeare's time 5 foot 5 inches was considered tall, so the benches were placed much closer together. Not so fun for the 21st century guy who is at least 6 feet tall. I lucked out and sat in the back row, so I had a wall behind me, not someone's knees. The seating wasn't so bad. If you can survive sitting on the steps of the brick pit at Hendrix during shirttails, sitting through a play at The Globe is a walk in the park.

I really enjoyed seeing the play. It's no secret that Shakespeare is an aquired taste, one that I have yet to acquire a taste for..., but seeing the play definitely sparked my interest. It's not that I don't like Shakespeare. The themes in his work are timeless and I greatly appreciate them, but I am a product of my generation and my generation largely prefers No Fear Shakespeare over the original text. I believe the reason for this is that most students are not familiar with Old English slang and if you can't understand the jokes when reading his plays, then Shakespeare's comedies aren't so funny. The other thing is "reading." So often high school English teachers have their students "read" Shakespeare's plays. I agree that students should be exposed to Shakespeare (and many other authors,) but I think a better approach than assigning roles for each member of the class to read, would be to experience the work in its intended medium: the play. Take the kids to see it on stage! Shakespeare already has a reputation among high school students as being boring and if kids can't understand it, they will lose interest even faster. Furthermore, the average high school student won't necessarily read the lines with their intended inflection, thus another opportunity for meaning to be lost. The point is, let the writers write, leave the acting to the actors and let the students be students. Let them learn and please know that not all learning needs to come from a classroom or a textbook. Take it from someone who is studying abroad. There's a whole world out there. Let the kids see it. It certainly worked for me. Seeing the play, especially in the atmosphere of The Globe, gave me a new perspective. What I'd missed out on by reading the play, I gained by seeing it. Seeing the actors in costume, watching their body language, seeing their gestures, and hearing their tone added so much to the experience. That could not be achieved by simply reading the text, which is why I believe Shakespeare's intended medium was the play. As a prose writer myself, my job is essentially the opposite. When writing a story, my job is to describe the costumes, the body language and the character's tone. A lot of that is lost on the average person who tries to read a play. And I will say this, a play is multi-dimensional. Reading is one dimensional. So the problem I have with becoming frustrated with Elizabethan slang and Old English was not a problem when listening to the dialogue of the play because I was not only listening, I was watching and the combination of the two made it all make sense. However, most kids don't get to actually see the plays they are required to read in English class, which is why I believe No Fear Shakespeare is so popular. On the one hand, it's great. It helps students get the gist of what it going on and it makes the text available to a wider, more modern audience. However, I think more effort should be placed on helping students understand the historical context of the play. Rather than modernizing Shakespeare to fit our needs, let's expand our horizons and learn about his world. Otherwise, if this trend continues, by the time I have kids, the line "Romeo, Romeo, where fore art thou, Romeo?" will be changed to "Romeo, Romeo, where you at, my homie, yo?" which simply cannot happen. I'll save my rant about my generation's use of grammar for a later post, but know that when I hear "where you at?" among other phrases, I cringe, literally.

Researching Shakespeare...

I mentioned in my last post that I will have to write a 4,000-5,000 word paper as part of my Introductory Course. Originally, I had planned to write about the impact of sport on Elizabethan society and I actually did some really interesting research on it. However, the "open-ended, write whatever moves you so long as it pertains to Elizabethan or Victorian England" paper topic was not as open-ended as I'd hoped and now I'm writing about how Shakespeare used images of sport within his works. At first, I wanted to go throw myself into the Thames, but after some careful thought, I think I managed to find a way to merge the research I had already done with the research I have left to do. As I hinted at in the previous section, I believe one should have a relatively good historical understanding before approaching Shakespeare's texts in order to fully appreciate them. How can you appreciate the way in which Shakespeare uses sport? Well, you need to know what sports were around in Elizabethan society and how they were perceived. Translation: I can use some of my research at the beginning of my essay to establish context.

(I was told once by one of my college English professors that out of all his students I have the uncanny ability to pull something out of nothing and somehow make it work. Dare I say I've done it again? I'd rather be able to pull something out of nothing than nothing out of something, but really what all this means is something I've known for a long time. I'm not a cookie-cutter English major. I have unique interests in comparison to my peers, sports being one of them, wearing sweatpants to class instead of skinny jeans being another.)

**Fun yet pointless aside: While trekking through the rather large library today looking for a book I needed about Shakespeare, I saw an college anatomy and physiology textbook with Apolo Anton Ohno on the cover. I took that class freshman year. Why couldn't we have used that version?

Here's some fun facts about sports in Elizabethan England.

1. Soccer, or football as it is called by the rest of the world, including the Brits, was considered "barbaric" and "classless," which is kind of funny since it is now one of the beloved sports of England. Basically, no nobles or royalty during this era would have played soccer. They did "noble" and "honorable" sports like hunting and tennis.
2. Henry VIII played real tennis which is different than tennis. One of the main differences is you can hit the ball off walls and such. I actually got to see the oldest real tennis court when I visited Hampton Court Palace. That court is booked every day of the year except Christmas.
3. The games played after Christmas and before Lent were significantly more aggressive. (Games were seasonal back then, not year round like most sports are today.) The aggressive sports were saved for the spring as a way to release all the energy men had from being cooped up in the winter and a way to let it all out before Lent started and they had to be on their best behavior. (I say men becuase women didn't play sports...don't even get me started on the reasons why.)

The women not being able to play sports because their place was in the home and they were physically weaker than men (which most at the time connected to a dimished mental capacity a.k.a. the men thought they were smarter than the women, a thought which has not completely gone away even centuries later, case and point the attitude of the majority of the guys in my high school graduating class...) brings me to my Travel Woes and Travel Pros section.


I found a gym! It's not as nice as the WAC, so I've had to be a little creative when following my training program.

The Woes?

The heavy weights section is rather small to begin with and even though I tried to go when the gym was not so busy, there was always inevitably some guy using the bench I needed. The funny thing was instead of being self-conscious about being the only female among a bunch of guys, the whole time I kept thinking "man, I'm the only American among a group of Brits and all these weights are in kilograms." (There's a reason my coach last season tried to eliminate all math from my weight lifting... and that was without having to convert pounds to kilograms. It's 1 pound equals 2.2 kilograms, by the way. I do know it. Actually making use of it is another story.) I'm used to lifting with guys. I don't think these guys are used to lifting with a girl :)

The Pros (continued)


Which brings us to the corresponding Woe...

AT&T: We bought the most comprehensive package possible before I left. I'm talking as much internet as I could get, "unlimited" texts between my mom and me, and free calls between the two of our phones since we both upgraded to the international plan, so calling each other was supposed to be free. NOPE. (Is AT&T related to RadioShack or has honest marketing just gone out the window entirely?) P.S. still no refund from RadioShack...never taking my business there again. Basically, we found out last week that we only get 50 free texts between the two of us a month, which is NOT what the salespeople said. Notice I said people, as we went into the store twice and spoke to two different customer service reps. The calling is also more expensive than what we were told it would be.

Why is it that when you try to be prepared before going abroad, you inevitably aren't? We did our research. We asked the experts. Now that I'm here, they're singing a different tune and I don't particularly care for it.

Marketing 101: keep the customer happy. That's what Shakespeare did. He had to keep the monarchs happy and pass their censors. Customer service certainly worked for him.

And on that note, I'll remind you once again to please follow my blog and I'll conclude with my favorite British expression. Cheers. (You'd be surprised at how many uses it has here.)

Sunday, 19 September 2010

And so it begins...

Just to give you a general sense of my first week here, I'd like to start off by adding to my list of Travel Woes and Travel Pros.

First the woes...

1. Cobblestone = slippery when wet. On Tuesday, my housemates and I made the 40 plus minute round trip to Iffley Road Track to check out the facilities. Right as we got there, it began to rain and on the way back home, I totally slipped on the wet cobblestone. Well, actually it was a very slick metal square in the middle of the cobblestone, but I choose to blame it on the cobblestone. No harm done. My 8 years of being a soccer goalie kicked in (no pun intended) and I stood right back up all in one motion, so other than the rather loud and embarassing thud, it was like it never even happened. The plus side? A very nice, and rather cute young British guy who seemed rather impressed with my ability to recover so quickly asked me if I was okay and attempted to help me up even though I was already standing at the time.

2. Cobblestone Woes Part Two: before coming, we were told that we'd have to walk from the bus station to our program directors' house and then get to our own houses. I bought two new bright purple suitcases with the ability to roll in any direction, not just behind you, for this little adventure, as I thought it would make my life easier. Well, the 360 feature certainly helped in the airport. It was easier to roll my bags beside me instead of behind me, but let me tell you, cobblestone is not so forgiving and in Oxford, there's cobblestone everywhere. People tend to give you odd looks when you wheeling your luggage commandeers the whole width of the sidewalk. Anyway, I eventually checked in and made it to my house.

3. Our house was under constuction this past week which wasn't so bad other than the fact that the washer was not working properly and I really wanted to wash the clothes I wore in Spain. It has since been fixed and I have a closet full of clean clothes. Misson accomplished.

4. No dryer: so we have a washer, but no dryer and a clothesline, but no clothespins. (There's also no Walmart here to get the afore mentioned clothespins. There's pretty much a separate store here for everything.) Long story short, I draped my wet jeans over my new suitcases and they seem to be slowly drying. I'm also not opposed to whipping out the hairdryer in the future and using it to dry my clothes, since God knows I never blowdry my hair.


1. Old school city planning: Oxford reminds me of Conway, Arkansas in the sense that everything somehow eventually connects to one other, which means I haven't gotten "lost" yet, just temporarily redirected. Ever want a scenic route? Just ask me to be your tour guide. We'll get there...eventually.

2. Christmas in September: since our program has been around for so long and we've had the same houses for a number of years, lots of little goodies get left behind, including a flat iron, adapters, and a kg/stone scale with questionable calibration. There's also lots of random school supplies throughout the house. I was particularly happy to find the adapters because before I left I went to purchase some at Radioshack and was sold the wrong ones. Mine worked for US to Europe, not US to UK. Furthermore, I bought 2, totaling $62, and the smaller one was not designed properly and will not work in any European outlet. The outlets in Spain, for example, are inset in the wall, so the prongs of the adapter need to be raised on a platform in order to reach. The ones on my weren't, so I couldn't use it. I used the larger one for a couple days for 30 minutes the most at a time and then it crapped out. I'm still waiting to get my money back from Radioshack, but I will be hesitant to listen to their "experts" in the future, as I was promised by the salesman, who led me to the product in the first place, that it would work. (Sorry that this pro turned into a woe, but I'm very grateful to my OOSC predecessors who left their adapters behind.)

Other news...

We started our lectures this week and went to Hampton Court Palace, which was originally built by Thomas Wosley and then later taken over by King Henry VIII when Wosley could not secure him the divorce he so desparately wanted.

Of all the reading we had to do, I have decided my favorite was a play called "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde. I'm not normally a poetry fan, but I have liked parts of some of Tennyson's poems as well.

I have had a cough these past two weeks, so I caved and bought cough medicine. Here they refer to what I've got as a "chesty cough," which let me tell you has been the source of many jokes among the members of our house. It tastes bad, but seems to be working though.

On Tuesday, I will have to submit my essay topic. I am leaning towards "the influence of sport during the Elizabethan age," (shocking that when given the opportunity to write about anything I want, I'd choose sports, just kidding) but I'll have to narrow it down once I can do research. We don't have access to the library until tomorrow, but we have the afternoon off, so I think I'll spend it being studious. I have already checked the online catalog and the results seem promising.

British life has been fun so far. I had a crepe the other day. Not very British, I know, but it was good. I also had a cheese and onion pasty (not pronounced the way it looks) and it was also good. Think crispier version of a hot pocket. (Once again, I don't think I'll be earning an appearance on Rachel Ray with these descriptions.) I went to two pubs with a group of friends (on two separate nights.) We were all pretty hungry after spending 5 hours walking around Hampton Court Palace, so we stopped in to get a bite to eat. I had a burger and fries, which was great and my friends had fish and chips. The second night was with a larger group and was also very fun.

I think it's safe to say that I'm all settled in here. Having nothing to do this weekend was fun, but I am really looking forward to class tomorrow and being able to start my essay. Come back soon for more updates!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Adventures Abroad: Spanish Edition

Last year, during my sophomore year at Hendrix, I had the privledge of becoming friends with a foreign exchange student named Ana. We've only known each other a year, but sometimes it feels like a lifetime, as she has become one of my dearest friends. Ana is not only one of the most genuine people I know, but she is also a selfless friend, who is truly happy for me (sometimes even happier than I am) when I accomplish something. Unfortunately, that trait is a bit of a rarity these days, so I really cherish her friendship.

Anyway, Ana was gracious enough to invite me live with her for a week before I had to move into my apartment in Oxford. Spain. Sounds fun right? Oh it was. Let me tell you Galecia is beautiful. I'm talking beaches everywhere, exercise machines along the boardwalk, which for me was as much of a tourist attraction as anything else and amazing shellfish. Okay, so I didn't actually eat any of the fish while there, but I was repeatedly told how amazing it was. The only down side? I don't speak Spanish. Unless you count the numbers and colors I learned when I was six years old and the conversational phrases I learned in the seventh grade that is. On the plus side, Ana was an amazing translator, her dad was a wonderful tour guide, and my background in French allowed me to understand the gist of what was being said. The only problem was I couldn't say anything back and anything I did try to say sounded more like I was from Latin America rather than Spain.

I visited some truly beautiful places and one of the things that struck me the most was how much everybody walked over there. I know as a tourist walking is pretty common, but how many Americans do you know that walk to the grocery store? In her area, people rely less on cars and more on their own two feet. Even the elderly were out every morning getting their fresh bread and fruit. It was really nice to see.

**A Note to my Readers: for the past month or so, I've been on this "healthy living kick" if you will, so most of my observations of Spain were about activity level and nutrition. Sorry if that bores you, but it also brings me to my next point: Food.

As I already mentioned, that particular area is known for its fish. As my mother will tell you, I'm not a fish person. Actually, my mother will tell you that I'm a picky eater, but this is not true. I hardly discriminate when it comes to carbs and sweets. I love them all :) Anyway, I passed up the opportunity to eat octopus and other rare nautical treasures that most tourists probably flock to. Oh well, someone else can blog about that. I will say though the portion sizes and meals times are a little different in most of Europe. For example, lunch is the main meal of the day and is eaten around 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Dinner portions are much lighter than in America and dinner happens around 8 at night, sometimes later. Regardless of the meal, the portion sizes are smaller and generally speaking, much healthier. This is not exactly new news, but I'm pretty sure if Oreos in the US were packaged the way they are in Spain, there would be an uprising. Oreos don't come in a case with 3 giant rows here. Instead they come in a rather small box which contains maybe six packs of 4 cookies. This helps immensely with portion control. I'm remind of the night before I left for Spain. I visited a certian teammate of my who I swear ate an entire row of Oreos in one sitting. Don't worry. She ran 6 miles that morning so it all evened out, but still, the point is, in Europe eating a whole row of Oreos by yourself just doesn't happen.

In the past few years, there has been a trend of 100 Calorie packs in the U.S., and I must admit I jumped on that bandwagon a long time ago. For those of you who are also on said bandwagon, you can probably relate to my sentiments that a tiny bag of 100 calories worth of our favorite snacks somehow doesn't always satisfy. Well my friends, in Spain it does. Everything from the cookies to the ice cream bars have less calories than in America, but still taste great.

My favorite Spanish recipe was "tortilla y potatas." I'll have to double check with Ana on the exact name and spelling, but basically it is a combination of eggs and potatoes. Onions are optional, but in my case prefered. As I learned during one of Ana's and my many conversations about language, in her region tortilla generally refers to "eggs" as opposed to the thin, round, bread-like wraps we use to make tacos, quesadillas and such. The "sopa" or soup was also really good. It was kind of like chicken noodle soup only minus the chicken and the big noodles. Okay, so it was like chicken broth only a million times healthier. It is bascially prepared with water, carrots, this weird vegetable I had never seen that looked like celery, but tastes more like an onion, a little teeny bit of salt, and a bit of chicken and a bit of beef. The chicken and beef were more like "scraps." Not stuff people would actually eat. They are just meant to add flavor. The end result: a tasty broth. Just add itty bitty round noodles and you've got yourself an authentic Spanish dish. (Based on my explanation of these recipes, somehow I don't think Rachel Ray will be asking me to be a guest on her show, not for cooking anyway.)

In continuation with the food theme, I would like to officially note that Europe and the UK have not yet been introduced to the love of my life since the 2nd grade...MOUNTAIN DEW. (Don't worry I'm surviving on coca-cola.)

This brings me to my next bit which I have dubbed the "Pros and Woes of Traveling." I intend to update this as much as possible with each country I visit and each amusing, frustrating, or otherwise noteworthy experience I have while abroad.

Okay so here goes...

The Pros:

1. I owe a big "Muchos Gracias" to Ana's dad who not only cooked for me each day, but also treated me to serveral wonderful restuarants during my stay. He was truly hospitable, making sure I had a complete and wonderful experience. Thanks to his generosity, I didn't spend a single euro while in Spain.

2. The beaches: Need I say more? On our last night, Ana and I went for one final walk along one of the beaches by her houses. This "adventure" of ours ending up with me doing cartwheels along the beach and Ana channeling her inner paparrazzi.

3. Ana's house: Her house was amazing. When it's time for me to buy a place of my own, someone please remind me I want lots of ceiling to floor bookcases and an L-shaped desk.

4. I learned that I really need to learn Spanish. (Once I have completed my French studies of course.)

5. American style of teaching foreign languages: While in walking around in the town where Ana's dad teaches, we met one of his students. He must have been about 13 or 14 years old, which according to Ana means that he has been learning English in school for about 6 years. When told I was American, he could barely remember the word hello. My mom would say it was because he was captivated by my beauty and I will say that blonde hair and blue eyes are rare in Spain, but Ana had a different theory. In Spain, while they start learning English well before most American students begin learning a second language, usually Spanish, but in my case French, the emphasis is on grammar not vocabulary. Most Spanish kids find conguagating English verbs very boring and never really grasp the conversation skills. In America, or at least in my experience, the emphasis is on vocabulary and key phrases. I only took a month worth of Spanish in the seventh grade, but I knew more conversational phrases in Spanish than this kid did in English and he has much more experience with English than I do with Spanish. So props to my foreign language teachers, because even though there has been much debate about the American education system, especially in comparison to other countries, at least we seem to have the right approach to teaching foreign languages. Ana and her Dad agreed the American appraoch seemed to be much more effective and I will say this, even though all the people I came across were very friendly, I only met 2 people other than Ana who could speak English. One was her sister and the other was an English teacher at the high school. While this reaffirmed to me that I need to learn Spanish someday, it also proved Ana's point, that the "vocabulary emphasis" is a better approach. All in all, let's just say that the blonde haired, blued-eyed, English speaking girl got a lot of stares and curious looks.

6. Customs: I have always dreaded customs. Do you declare it? Do you not? Will the person be friendly? Even coming back to the US, you know the country of which I am a CITIZEN, is not a breeze. (The customs officers in JFK are not very friendly...) You want to know what is a breeze? European customs. In both England and Portugal, I just had to hand them my passport, tell them wear I was going and how long I'd be there and I was sent along my merry way. I didn't have to fill out a million and a half forms, or try to fit my giant suitcases on conveyor belt so they could be scanned so the airport staff to get a good look at my undergarments and prove that I was not in fact carrying a bomb. Nope. It was a breeze.

The Woes:

1. Airport security: As anyone who has flown within the past couple years knows, liquids are limited to 3 oz. Well I wear contacts, and my brand of contact solution is sold in 2 travel sizes: 2 oz. and 4 oz. Both bottles say TSA approved Carry-on Size on the packaging. Naturally, I purchased the larger one. Better value (or so I thought.) Here's the thing. Even though I had not opened the box let alone the bottle itself, and even though it said Carry-on Size, I was informed that my bottle had 118 mL and the limit was 100 mL. And so it was taken away at Gatwick. (Got through Little Rock without a problem.) I told Ana about this and she joked that I should have just left it in my bag and they might not have even noticed it.

2. You don't always benefit from showing up early. My flight from LR to Gatwick got in at 7 a.m. and no, I did not sleep on the plane. (I did however watch The Karate Kid and Letters to Juliet, both of which were good.) My flight to Portugal didn't leave until nearly 5 p.m. I had two large suitcases, a backpack and a purse. As you can imagine it was a lot to drag around, especially when I found out that the airline I was flying with's counter did not open until 10 a.m. So I could not check my bags for 3 hours. Not fun. Life got a little easier once I got myself a "trolley" or cart for my suitcases, but let's just say, I had never been so happy to check my bags in my life. Once I got through security and had my contact solution taken away, I had to wait in the departure area until my plane left. The only problem was that they don't post gates until about an hour before depature, or in the case of my flight, half an hour before take off. So basically I had to hang out in the departure area for what felt like an eternity. It's a lot like a mall so it wasn't all bad, but still, lesson learned being too early, isn't always what it is cracked up to be, especially since I experienced the same thing on my way from Portugal back to England. We got there in plenty of time. I went through security and passport control only to find that the doors to gate 12 were not open and would not open until 45 minutes later.

Well, that's all for Adventures Abroad: Spanish Edition. I am still new to blogging so bear with me. I will try to figure out if I can add pictures of the places I visited and will update about my Oxford experiences shortly.

As they say here in England...Cheers!