Friday, March 31, 2006

1 Apr. - And we're off!

It's Easter Break!

HUGE Easter egg at the Cadbury Factory

Today Lydia and I take off to Ireland for 4 days, where we will see Galway and Dublin. When we return, we'll stay with my cousin Miriam who lives closer to London, and we'll probably make a few trips into that glorious city :) I love it! (Click here to see my post about my Feb. visit to London)

After that, I'm heading back to Cheltenham for a little while before I set off for the continent! Flying into Pisa, and exploring Florence and Pisa; then down to Rome for 2 nights; followed by Naples for the day. The plan is to take the overnight train from Naples to Munich, spend the day in Munich and rail it over to Salzburg (the hills are alive...), stay a night there, go to Vienna the next day and another night train up to Prague. I'm flying out of Prague on the 21st and the next day I plan to visit Stratford-upon-Avon where it's Shakespeare's birthday festival (if I'm not completely exhausted by then).

I'm soooooo excited (and a little nervous) to visit all these places, I just hope it all goes well. Please pray for safe and successful travels. Whatever happens it will sure be an adventure! :)

p.s. next week will mark the half-way point in my semester. Wow! So many things I want to do, and so little time! The world is too big.

Friday, March 17, 2006

17 March - St. Patty's Day, Cheltenham style

here's just a snapshot of my 2006 St. Patrick's Day experience. craziness.

a 3-legged dog named Jack, wearing a green sweater
a guy peeing on the streetcorner
2 bagpipers piping outside the entrance of a night club
a man (wearing a suitcoat), hitchhiking
a mob of people waiting for taxis
a girl dressed up in a black garbage bag
2 white limousines
an old man dancing an irish jig
a pregnant woman playing the fiddle
a drunk Irishman named Colin who wanted to hold my hand
a dozen or more pubs packed with people
pint after pint after pint of Guinness!

Steph and I went to the Irish Oak here in Cheltenham; they had live music and it was a lot of fun! though people kept asking us why we didn't look happy. probably because we were the only 2 people there not getting drunk...
It's funny because a lot of Irishmen are here for the week for the races. Makes for a more authentic St. Patrick's Day, I guess. After all, Ireland is only 200 miles away! that's about as far as the drive from Sparta to Chicago. craziness.

here's the Irish Oak on the inside:

and the band, about as authentic as they come (as close as we got to experiencing Ireland). They said they would be playing till 5 or 6 in the morning!

me & Steph. I know I don't look very happy in this picture but we had a great night! the music was fabulous, everyone was joinging in, singing, dancing, clapping, toe was a fun atmosphere. :)
Click here to hear the music from a video clip I took from my camera! (unfortunately you have to sign up for a snapfish account to see it)

My only regret is that I have no picture of Jack. He will forever hold a special place in our hearts. here's to you, Jack.
Happy St. Patrick's day.

Royalty in Cheltenham

Well... here's the dashing couple, in the flesh. Camilla looks quite festive. See that booklet she's holding?
I have one of those! :)
(photo courtesy of getty images &

Thursday, March 16, 2006

16 March - A day at the races

What a day!

I just got back from the horse races here in Cheltenham. The town has been buzzing all week since it's "race week"-- the week of the Cheltenham Gold Cup Festival. The electric atmosphere is contagious, even walking through town to go to lecture, and at night all the pubs and clubs are packed full (mostly of rich middle-aged men). A big group of students went "pub-crawling" (aka bar-hopping) last night, and a lot of the girls were saying how they spent hardly anything all night because creepy old Irishmen bought all their drinks.

So, I've been looking forward to going all week, not only because that's where the excitement is (the festival draws national & international attention), but also because I've never been to a horse race before!

Some of the British students work at the races. It's good money, and I'm sure it's exciting. But we lowly Americans aren't allowed to work here; you have to get a special visa before entering the country in order to do that.

Tomorrow (Friday) is the big day, where the Gold Cup will actually be awarded, by none other than Camilla Parker Bowles. Prince Charles and Camilla will be in Cheltenham tomorrow! The future king of England, in lil' ole Cheltenham. who knew?
I would love to go back tomorrow, but as you can imagine, tickets are quite expensive. We weren't even sure if we would get in today, but we -- Leslie, Jamie, Christen, Stephanie, Jake and I (all BCA students) -- managed to find some (scalped) tickets on our way in for £10 each.

Leslie & Jamie, happy to have tickets.
It turns out that we missed the first race,
but we were just glad to be there!

Before we even got close to the race track, we saw the horses being walked out from the stable.

All I can say is, sooo much beer. I can't imagine how much money they make off beer alone.

We went into the betting office first, since we had time before the next race started. We managed to cram our way in, trying not to get beer spilled on us. Everyone in the betting office was either looking at their little guidebooks or newspapers or filling out their little cards.
(There were greyhound races too, but we only saw the horses.)
The betting office was so crowded! And full of men. We girls were definitely outnumbered. Another thing I noticed was that a lot of the men at the races dress up. I was surprised by how many of them were wearing full suits, ties, etc. But then again I guess this isn't your average American racecourse. Not quite the Nascar crowd. Some of them drop a lot of money on these bets.

The Gold Cup (tomorrow) prize is £350,000. If that means nothing to you, double it and that is roughly the USD equivalent. All that money at stake for one race... that lasts only a few minutes. The horse does all the work, and who gets the money? The jockey. Today I saw on the big screen that they took the saddle off the horse and it was steaming, it was so cold outside. The first (actually the second) race we just watched, and decided to place bets on the next one. So, we made our way over to the betting office again. There were betting tills outside too, but we preferred to brave the crowd than stand outside in the cold! Most of us just placed £5 bets, on different horses. Except for Jake, who had multiple bets going. Jake had a sizeable amount of cash with him, and on the way to the racecourse he was talking about spending it all today (with hopes of winning, of course) but thankfully that didn't happen. He bet more than the rest of us but he did win £50 by the end of the day. Christen won some money, too.

Christen, Jamie & me with our betting tickets. My first "real" bet!

My horse, number 7, "Emotional Moment" didn't have the best odds... I think 23/1 or something like that. Not very good. But you never know, right? I had no idea what I was doing... or where to even start. I think he was Irish. Most of them were Irish, French, or British, and there were a few Americans. I don't even know where my horse placed, since everything is crazy at the end of the race. Everyone is cheering and they go so fast and the announcer is talking so fast (and in a British accent) and the crowds are mumbling and grunting either out of joy or disappointment. And everyone makes their way over to the betting tills to either collect their money or bet on the next race, or both. And 45 minutes later the next race starts, and the whole thing over again.

We stayed for the 4:00 race, so we saw 3 races. There was another after that but it was way too cold! snowy and windy and freezing.

Even though it was cold, it was a great day! We were all so excited to be a part of the local festivities. This will definitely be one of my favorite Cheltenham memories!

Click here to see more pictures from the races.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

the little things.

For those of you who were wondering, here's what British currency looks like. The notes are different sizes.

I bet it will be weird going back to work at the bank when I get home... I'm already getting used to handling these instead!

and here's a socket (not to be confused with an outlet). when the red is showing on the switch, that's when the power is on. so when you want to turn something off you just have to flip the little switch, instead of unplugging it (how clever!)

The other day when I went into town, I brought home a mini-rose plant. So now I live with my very own English rose! She sits on my window sill and keeps me company :)

25-26 Feb. - London-town

I can't believe I just spent the weekend in London, the home of the 2012 Olympics and one of the worlds biggest and "one of the world's four primary global cities" in company with New York, Tokyo and Paris. The home of Shakespeare, the Royal Family, the Beatles, and the birthplace of so much more... some of which I will mention later on.

Molly, Stephanie and I left bright and early on Saturday morning and walked to the Cheltenham bus station to board our National Express Coach. Three hours later we pulled into the coach station. We were a little disoriented when we walked out of the station and it took a while (and a few wrong turns) to get us going the right way... whichever way that was. We didn't have any specific plans for the day (other than wanting to see EVERYTHING), but we needed to find our hostel and check in.
But there were a few things that happened to impede our path, like a big building where the ruling monarch lives (or something like that), a mini-parade, a huge park, a white marble arch and a lot of big red buses. (not to mention confusing street signs)
First stop: Buckingham Palace.

Apparently the queen wasn't there that day. We later learned that if she's there, there will be another flag underneath the national flag atop the palace. Only one flag today. We didn't get the chance to see the changing of the guard, either... later we found out that we probably would have seen it if we stayed longer. But it was cold!

I have actually seen the palace before-- inside and out! On my first trip to England, almost 12 years ago, we went on a tour. Buckingham Palace is only open to the public during August and September. From there, we managed to find our way to Hyde Park; our hostel was just north of there.

on the
way, we passed this on the street. I don't know what it is, or who they are, but they're women and they stopped traffic and that was worth seeing in itself.

So, we stumbled through Hyde Park (which, might I add, is a little more than a walk in the park. It's beautiful, but it is huuuuggeee). While stopped on the edge of the park, all three of us examining our maps, a man with a boy stopped by us and said "Do you need directions?" It was an American voice! We said we were pretty sure where we were going since we just needed to get through the park (or, I said it, I guess I spoke for everyone...) but it was very nice of him to ask. Either he overheard us talking, or we really looked like Americans, which is more likely. We had a few other "American spottings" over the weekend, some welcome and others not so welcome. Sometimes you hate to claim the same home country as some people...
Eventually we found the road where our hostel was supposed to be.... and then stopped for lunch at a little pub called "The Swan." All three of us ordered hamburgers.
The Swan was probably the first place where I realized how international the city really is. Maybe that would seem obvious. But hearing all the different languages at that pub was just a taste of the culture I would savor throughout my time in London (as short as it may be).

A few more blocks down Bayswater Road and we finally reached our hostel. We checked in, received our linens and climbed the stairs to our room. It seemed pretty decent... even if it was my first stay in a hostel.
We were exhausted already! Between waking up early and walking around all day, and having full stomachs we were all ready for a nap!
So we made our beds and relaxed for a bit (or as much as you can relax in a hostel, anyway). We examined a couple tour bus flyers we picked up on the way. The night before we left for London, we asked British-American advisor & liazon Andy (see below) what our best strategy would be to get the most from our weekend, and he suggested the tour bus.
We opted for the bus that stopped nearest to our hostel. And oh boy were we full fledged tourists on that beast.

The top deck has a nice view, great for picture-taking and getting an overall feel for the city-- the wind blowing through your hair... I bet it's nice in the summer. But not in 30-degree weather! (that's Farenheit.) It was a very cold weekend. Cold and windy. Kind of felt like Chicago.

We were bundled up all weekend. But the sun was out here and there, and it didn't rain. Two days in London without rain; I guess I can't complain.

At the end of the weekend we decided that the tour bus was a good idea. Our ticket was good for 48 hours from the time we bought it, and we could hop on and off at any of the stops whenever we wanted. Pretty convenient. It hit most of the London hot-spots (except Shakespeare's Globe, much to my dismay) and even had a historical narrative via headphones. So we got to learn a lot about the history of places we might have otherwise overlooked. For instance, the church where poet Robert Browning was married; the church where Oscar Wilde was married; the famous Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes anyone?); Abbey Road (Beatles' recording studio); and one of our personal favorites, the church whose steeple inspired the tiered wedding cake!