Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And Now On To Spain

After one uneventful evening in Tangier, Alissa and I headed over to Spain.  We didn't have any accommodation booked for two nights in between Morocco and Spain because we wanted to be flexible.  We decided to go to Sevilla for two nights, which turned out to be a fantastic choice.  We caught the bus and arrived in the gorgeous city.  We found a place to stay pretty easily, which was nice.  After settling in, we went down the street for some dinner which was salad and tapas.  I tried a yummy dark Spanish beer, and we just sat at our table on the sidewalk and relaxed.  The next morning we found a place to do laundry so we had to wait around for that.  Then I wanted to find the palace, which turned out to be pretty close to where we were staying.  On our way, we walked through the university, which was very nice.  The palace was great, it had some Arabic influences because Sevilla is in the southern part of Spain.  We also went to the old cathedral that was next to the palace.  In the afternoon, we stopped at a sidewalk cafe for lunch and people watching, before doing some shopping.  Sevilla is really a beautiful city, quite clean and some beautiful buildings.  We had some ice cream in the afternoon as well which was delicious.  We headed to our hotel to freshen up before heading out to find dinner.  Again, we wandered around for a bit in the evening before settling on a place in front of the university.  We had a pretty early night and left in the morning for Granada.

Granada was on my top of list of things to see in Spain.  I was so excited to see the city that still had so much influence from Morocco and northern Africa.  We got to our hostel in the afternoon, and thankfully a girl who worked there saw us on the street and showed us the way, otherwise it would have been complicated to find (like EVERY other place on our trip!)  The hostel was an old Riad like we had stayed in Morocco, and it was very nice.  They were making a dinner that night for around 5 euros, so we headed out for a quick bite to eat in the afternoon because we decided to eat in our hostel for dinner.  We again found a sidewalk cafe to sit for a couple hours in the afternoon.  Our hostel had a bar in it as well, so before dinner we sat in there and talked and had a beer.  For dinner we had paella and an avocado/tomato salad, all of which was really good.  The following day we went to the bus station first thing because we decided to take the overnight bus to Valencia, that way we would save a night's worth of accommodation.  After we bought our tickets, we headed to the Alhambra.  It was quite a steep climb, and there were a ton of people there.  It was quite impressive however, the place was huge.  Again, there were Arabic influences in the buildings which were amazing, however we had just come from Morocco, so were kind of over that type of architecture.  I think I would have appreciated it much more if I had gone at the beginning of our trip, or at some other time.  That is not to say that I didn't enjoy it, but that I wasn't as over-awed as I might have been at a different time.  The Alhambra was started in the 9th century by the Moorish Nasrid Sultans, and was taken over in the 15th century by the Christians and slightly altered and added to.  After a quick dinner out, we headed back to our hostel to wait until our bus left at 11:30pm.

Taking an overnight bus sounded like an excellent idea.  We had to pay to take the bus anyway, so why not get our money back from our hostel in Granada for the second night?  It takes at least six hours to get from Granada to Valencia, so we thought we would get a decent amount of sleep.  Ha ha!  It was the worst bus ride ever!  We had to sit in assigned seats, and the guy behind me smelled like smoke which was awful.  Not to mention, we stopped every HOUR.  Some of the busses we had been on, didn't have many stops, so we thought since it was an overnight bus, there would be minimal stopping.  So wrong.  I think we stopped the most on that bus than any other form of transportation our entire trip.  The bus driver was pretty fast, which meant we were thrown all over the place also.  It really sucked.  We arrived in Valencia a little before 7 in the morning, and headed off to find our hostel.  The sun wasn't even up yet.  The guy at our hostel wasn't very friendly.  We knew we couldn't check in until the afternoon, but knew we could leave our backpacks there for the day.  He didn't even offer to let us rest for a bit or use the toilet.  So we walked down the street to sit in front of the Starbucks until it opened.  Finally, we went in and grabbed a drink and something to eat.  We decided to go to the cathedral because it was close and we new it would be open early.  Upon entering the cathedral, I basically lost it.  I was so exhausted that all I wanted to do was end my trip and go home.  I had no sleep, and I was tired of travelling every couple of days and staying in hostels.  I literally couldn't function I was so tired.  I was like a zombie for five minutes in the cathedral before I told Alissa that I was going to go back to the hostel and beg for them to let me rest in the common room.  I was miserable.  Poor Alissa, I wasn't the best travel companion at that point!  When we got to the hostel, two girls were there who were much nicer than the previous guy.  We went up to the common room, and I took a nap on the couch for a couple hours.  

In the afternoon when I felt like a normal human being, we decided to go back to the cathedral because it was really beautiful and worth really admiring.  A lot of it was re-done in the Baroque style, which is not something I have seen too much of, especially in England.  There were some really beautiful relics and pieces of church art.  There was a withered arm from a saint that was good times.  Also, the cathedral in Valencia has a holy grail.  In fact, it is the only holy grail that has been approved by the Vatican, so its kind of a big deal.  

After enjoying the cathedral, we grabbed some ice cream and went exploring.  We found a contemporary art museum, and spent the rest of the afternoon there.  There were lots of really cool exhibits, and it was free!  For dinner, we decided to get tapas, so we headed back to the hostel to shower and freshen up.  One of the girls in our room was travelling alone, and she was really nice so we invited her to dinner with us.  There was a restaurant near us that had really cheap tapas.  It is self-serve, so the tapas are set up at the bar, and you go grab the ones you want.  Each tapas has a toothpick holding it together, and you are charged by the number of toothpicks left on your plate!  The restaurant was in one of our guidebooks, and a lot of locals were there.  We ordered a bottle of wine and experimented with the cuisine.  They were really good, and for a euro fifty each, well worth it!  I also ordered a cheese platter because I had been craving some Spanish cheese.  After dinner, we went and had a beer at a bar nearby.  

The following day was reserved for the beach.  We invited our new friend Beth to come with us.  It was pretty nice out, a little bit chilly, but nothing was going to spoil our beach day.  We set up camp and hankered down to spend the day.  About mid-day, we went and had sandwiches for lunch before setting up our stuff at another part of the beach.  We saw a few topless women, which was interesting.  Like an idiot, I didn't put sunscreen on my legs, and since it wasn't very hot out I didn't think it was a big deal.  I meant to put some on at some point, but forgot.  So I ended up burning the crap out of my legs.  They were some serious lobster legs.  They were swollen and a bit painful.  After an interesting shower, Beth, Alissa and I went to go eat paella.  Valencia is the birthplace of paella, so we had to eat it there!  We found a restaurant with tables outside which was lovely.  I picked out a bottle of wine, which I thought was red, but turned out to be rose.  It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't really good either.  We ordered a couple of delicious appetizers and shared Valencian paella.  Valencian paella has rabbit and chicken in it.  The rabbit was not very good.  But at least we tried it, and now we can say that we had real Valencian paella in Valencia!  After dinner we headed back to the hostel to meet up with a couple other girls from our room, and we drank sangria.  Cat and Rachel found box sangria at the store for one euro fifty, so that's what we were drinking!  Again, it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't very good either.  Luckily, the girls had bought some sun cream that day, so I lathered up my legs which relived them a bit.  We turned in kind of early because we were all leaving the next day.  In the morning, the five of us went to grab a bite to eat before going in our respective directions.  It was nice to meet such friendly girls.  Alissa and I were off to Barcelona!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Part Three

After our lovely two days spent in Marrakech, we headed to Morocco's capital of Rabat.  We had to take the city bus to the train station in Marrakech, and it wasn't pleasant.  It was hot, and very overcrowded.  Alissa and I had to stand with our giant packs on, and the sweat was dripping.  Luckily, a nice woman and a nice man told us when we arrived at the train station, otherwise we would have had no idea!  We got to the train station and bought our tickets, and then decided to use the toilet before hitting up the train.  The toilet at the train station consisted of a hole in the ground, and you could 'flush' away your business with water that went everywhere.  Fun times.  To get to the train, we had to walk on the tracks.  The train had enclosed cars that sat eight people at most.  We had a mother and her cute toddler and a couple other ladies in our car.  The ride itself wasn't too bad, although there was very little airflow.  The little boy was super cute and well behaved, so he was good entertainment.  When we got to Rabat, we asked the direction we were supposed to go, and headed that way.  Yet again, we were lost and didn't know who to ask for help.  We wandered around for a bit, before finally seeking a taxi.  The first taxi driver we asked drove off because he had no idea where our hotel was.  The second driver called a colleague and asked, and managed to get us there.  Our hotel wasn't too bad.  At least we had our own room and bathroom, and even a balcony!

Rabat is like a modern European city.  Most of the city is relatively new, and that was where we were staying.  After checking in, we once again headed for some dinner, this time pizzas and salad.  We found a convenience store on the way back and grabbed some snacks to watch tv with.  They had a channel that showed American movies, so we watched that mostly, however the music video channel was awesome.  

The next day, we headed off in search of the Medina.  We ended up going the wrong way (of course) but got directions from a nice man.  Turns out, there are two train stations in Rabat, and the one we found the second day was MUCH closer to our hotel, the first one was on the edge of the city.  Good to know.  Anyway, we ended up picking up a new friend, Tarik.  He started talking to us on the street, and at first we tried to ignore him, but then we started talking to him and he was really nice.  He happens to be a tour guide in Marrakech, but was in Rabat visiting family for his birthday that day.  He offered to take us to the Medina and the beach.  The Medina in Rabat is smaller than in Marrakech, and less impressive.  The Medina is situated on the coast, and when we got there we waved to all our loved ones across the ocean!  

Tarik then took us to see the Hassaan Tower and the mausoleum of Muhammed V.  The Hassaan Tower was never completed for some reason.  It turns out, there are three minarets that were made at the same time, I think around the 12th or 13th century:  the Koutoubia Minaret in Marrakech, the Hassaan Tower in Rabat, and one in Sevilla, Spain.  Our plan was to see all three.  The mausoleum was built by the current king's grandfather, and was quite nice.  The grandfather, father and eventually the son will all be buried in that mausoleum.  Tarik was really nice and knowledgeable.  He had to leave to go to his birthday party, and we needed lunch, but we planned to meet up later.  

Alissa and I found a place for lunch that had paninis and fries, and coke in Arabic!  We then went in search for the archeaological museum.  We found it pretty easily.  It was pretty small, and very different from most western museums.  The curator was a nice man who tried to explain a lot of stuff to us in French, and I was so proud that I understood most of it!  Most of the artifacts are from Volubilus, an ancient Roman town, which is outside of the Moroccan city of Meknes.  We then stumbled upon an art museum, which made Alissa very happy.  It was a nice afternoon.

Then we relaxed at our hotel for a bit before meeting up with Tarik and his friend Youssef.  They took us to a cafe, and I tried what I call 'avocado milk.'  Its this popular think in Morocco made from avocados, and it looks kind of like milkshake, but it doesn't have ice cream and its not really cold.  It was good, it tasted just like avocado!  I also had chocolate cake.  We then went in search of traditional Moroccan soup, which the boys told us was really good, and different from soup we were used to.  The place they wanted to take us was closed, so we walked around for quite awhile, but finally found a place outside the Medina.  Tables were set up on the sidewalk, and we had soup!  It was good, kind of like a stew, although mine had some mystery meat in it that I gave to Youssef.  We then wandered back to the hotel and said goodbye to our new friends.  It was a nice evening.  

The following day, we headed to Fez.  

Train ride from HELL!  I am not joking, it was horrible.  They sell more tickets than seats, so we were fortunate enough to not get a seat at first.  We stood for about half an hour, then one seat opened up.  Alissa sat, and I stood next to her.  Oh, I don't want to forget to mention that it was sweltering in there, and we had the pleasantness of smelling the toilet pretty much the entire time.  So I'm standing, and all of a sudden, a giant bag falls onto my head, falls on Alissa's head, and the head of the guy behind her.  Not cool.  Eventually a seat opened up a couple aisles away from Alissa, and I took it.  I closed my eyes and plugged my ipod in because I was feeling slightly motion sick.  Poor Alissa spent the entire train trying not to be sick, and she did it!  It was the WORST ever!

Although, we did meet a very nice gentleman who is a professor at the university in Fez, and his wife works at the tourist office.  His family happened to own the Riad we were supposed to stay at, but he recommended we stay at another one that his family owned because it was nicer.  He called his wife and arranged for a tour guide to meet us at the train station to take us to our Riad then show us around the next day.  

We ended up staying at the Riad that the man recommended, and it was fabulous!  It was really pretty and very nice.  In fact, Bono had rented it out the entire place before on his vacation, there was a big picture of him with the owner hanging up.  Our room was quite nice, and we had satellite tv.  We had a large bathroom, and a glorious bathtub that I utilized both nights.  Robes were included!  

Our tour guide Abdul took us to find a restaurant after we settled in.  It was still pretty early, so he took us to a place that wasn't open yet, but they opened it for us.  We had a full three course meal.  The salad course consisted of around 12 different salads that were quite tasty.  I had another lemon-chicken tagine, while Alissa had couscous.  Our dessert was fresh fruit, mint tea and biscuits.  One of the guys who worked there took us up to the roof to have a view of the city.  He also had a fez and robe that we tried on and took pictures of.  Abdul then led us back to our Riad where we each had a bath and perused the tv channels.  I found one that had news in English, but there were a lot of Arabic porn channels which was a bit odd.  

The next day, Abdul picked us up after our delicious breakfast of baguettes, coffee cake, crepes, yogurt, eggs, orange juice, and coffee/tea.  We were a little spoiled ; )  After wandering the first day in Marrakech, we decided it would be a good idea to get a guide in Fez because it is more confusing than Marrakech, and it isn't very expensive.  Fez was declared a World Heritage Site because of the way of life in the souks that has continued pretty much the same for almost 1,000 years.  So a lot of the buildings are having work done to preserve them.  Abdul took us to the tanneries which were very impressive.  It was amazing watching them work.  The smell wasn't the most pleasant thing, but it wasn't too bad, and it was truly fascinating.  We went into a shop and went upstairs to a viewing area overlooking the tanneries, and had a man explain the process to us.  There are many different vats that have different purposes.  First, they place the leather in a mixture of lye and pigeon poop to remove the hair and most of the fat.  The leather stays in there a few days, then it is taken to a giant water wheel where it is rinsed.  Then the leather is placed in whichever vat the color will be, red, brown, yellow, blue and green.  The leather stays in these pools a couple days, and the excess fat is scraped off.  Then the leather is dried and turned into purses, belts, bags, etc.  Fascinating.  

I asked Abdul to take us to an apothecary because I was having an allergic reaction on my hand so I wanted to get some oil or something.  We had walked by one that had an old crazy looking man in it with dead birds hanging and jars full of weird stuff.  I was hoping he would take us somewhere like that, but he ended up taking us to a pretty non-descript one.  I did get some oil for my hand, which helped.  

After our adventurous day with Abdul, we went back and sat next to the pool which was outside our room.  We decided to have dinner in our Riad that night, so we just relaxed beforehand.  For dinner, we had another full three course meal.  Salads, once again around 12, the specialty of Fez called pastille which is pastry filled with almonds, cinnamon, pheasant and spices, a tagine of beef and eggplant, and for dessert fresh fruit, mint tea and biscuits.  I tried a beer from Tangier that was nice.  The pastille was different, a little dry, but good.  

The next day we took the train to Tangier before taking the ferry to Spain!  We stayed one night in Tangier in a pretty nice Riad.  The train ride there was better than the one to Fez, but longer.  Tangier was not the nicest place ever.  We were offered drugs around four times between the restaurant for dinner and hotel which was no more than a ten minute walk.  We decided to go ahead and leave for Spain the following morning, rather than staying an extra day in Tangier.  The ferry was about an hour to Tarifa, and we were back in western Europe!

Its About Time: Part Two

The girls (Leah, Amy and Amy) left the following morning from London.  It was sad to see our travel companions go, but Alissa and I still had two more full weeks of vacation ahead of us!  The night before we flew to Marrakech, we stayed with Alissa's friend who lives in Clapham Junction, a suburb of London.  We decided to take a taxi from the train station  because we didn't feel like walking a mile uphill with all of our stuff in the cold English weather.  Unfortunately for us, we gave the taxi driver the wrong address initially, so he started taking us back to London.  Once we realized something wasn't right, we told the guy, and he seemed a little annoyed that we gave him the wrong address because we had to totally turn around.  So we pull up to a street and asks us the number.  Come to find out, this time HE got it wrong, so we had to turn around again!  When we finally got to the house, a 5 minute, 5 pound cab ride turned into half an hour at least and over 30 pounds!!!  All I could do was laugh, or else I would cry.  We met Alissa's friend's roommate, Dave who invited us to go to the pub with him to watch the football game.  It was Easter Sunday, so everything was closed but the pubs, so we joined him.  He and his friends were quite nice, and we ended up drinking quite a bit.  We went to a few different pubs, and by 8 o'clock I was sooo drunk and hungry it was ridiculous.  Not one of my prouder moments.  So Alissa's boyfriend met up with us because he happened to be in London too, so the three of us went to dinner.  I inhaled my pasta, and went back to the house to give them some privacy and finish our laundry.  They had a washer but no drier, and we figured surely our clothes would be dry by morning.  I literally got home a little after nine, and was still quite tipsy.  I was drinking water like nobody's business.  I laid our clothes out to dry.  We had to get up at five in the morning, and when we did, I was not feeling so good, and ALL of my clothes were soaked.  I decided to wash everything because we didn't know when we would get the chance again.  Keep in mind, it had snowed the two days before in London, so it was chilly.  Well, since all my clothes were wet, including the two pairs of trousers I had packed, I had to borrow some shorts and a shirt from Alissa.  She is not a big girl by any means, but she is quite a bit taller than me, and I am pretty petite.  I looked like a crazy person in summer clothes too big for me walking to the train station.  Then, we got on the to the airport, and I thought I was going to puke.  It took everything I had to hold it together.  Again, not one of my prouder moments.  But we made it alright, and had enough time to grab a few snacks for the plane.  The flight to Marrakech was not long at all, and before we knew it, we were in Morocco!

First off, it was AMAZING, and I really encourage everyone to visit.  It was desert, which I have been missing terribly in cloudy ol' England.  We got on a shuttle bus which took us straight to the Medina.  We saw camels and many people riding scooters on the way there.  Our hostel had given us directions, so we assumed that it would be easy to find.  Well, the Medina was quite overwhelming, and Morocco is an Arabic Muslim society which is quite different from our usual lives.  Barely anyone spoke English, mostly Arabic, French and maybe a little German or Spanish.  We wandered around for at least an hour basically clueless and overwhelmed.  Finally, we decided to stop for lunch because we figured we would be in a better frame of mind with a full belly.  An English couple sat next to us, so we asked them for directions, and they pointed to where they thought we should go, which turned our right.  For lunch we shared a lemon-chicken tagine and mixed salads.  They were delicious.  After lunch and another half hour search through the souks, we found our hostel, which is actually a Riad.  (Riads are big houses that are owned by large, wealthy families.  The new trend is to turn these into guest houses).  It was seriously down some tiny, dark streets, with no markings or signs, it is amazing we found it!  It was the most awesome place I have ever stayed.  There was a center courtyard, a rooftop terrace to relax, a restaurant/eating area and the first night it was just us in our room.  The breakfast was included, and it was fresh orange juice, baguettes with fresh jam, crepes and coffee.  And it was cheap!  We were so blown away by our Riad.  

The Moroccan currency is the dirham and I think its around ten to one to the euro.  Anyway, things are really cheap, but they cost a lot of dirhams, if that makes sense.  So we didn't initially pull out enough money to pay for our Riad, but they let us check in anyway.  Once we put our stuff away and toured the Riad, we headed out to get some more money and tour the Medina.  It was still quite early.  In the big square, there were street vendors set up selling fresh orange juice (which is amazing, it is just squeezed oranges, but tastes like the best thing ever), dried fruit and nuts, and of course henna artists, snake charmers and other various entertainers and goods.  Alissa and I stopped and bought some cashews, burnt peanuts and dried apricots.  We then just walked around gazing at everything.  We stopped to watch some snake charmers.  And of course, suffered the ultimate tourist trap (which of course we were bound to do at least once).  A charmer came up behind Alissa and put a snake around her neck.  He said he was blessing her with his snake (seriously, no pun intended), and by doing so, she kissed the snake on the head, then he kissed it, then he touched it to her forehead.  He of course told me to take a picture of them, and of course I wasn't going to say no.  Then an older charmer came up, and put his snake on me.  He didn't speak any English.  The first guy put his snake on me too, and asked Alissa to take pictures.  Then they demanded money, and wanted 200 dirhams, which equals 20 euros, because I had been doubly blessed.  I only had 15 dirhams, since we were on our way to the bank, and he said he would take pounds or dollars, because he knew I was rich.  Alissa gave the old charmer an apricot because he put his hand out for money, and she didn't have any.  He took it.  The other guy however, was getting pretty irate, and it was making me very uncomfortable.  He said 15 dirham was nothing (its the equivalent of 1.50 euro).  But I wasn't going to give him anything more for just taking a picture.  Anyway, in the end he took it unhappily, and I felt very uncomfortable.  Lesson learned, but we got awesome pictures! : )

We finally got some cash, and continued to wander around.  We grabbed some ice cream, and had some small children come beg from us, one of which simply hid his ice cream behind his back to make it look like he had nothing.  

We had dinner at the same restaurant that we had lunch, on the rooftop terrace.  I had a lamb tagine and Alissa had couscous.  We also had dessert, homemade yogurt, which was again, the best thing I have ever put in my mouth, and traditional Moroccan pastries.  At night, the big square puts up food stalls for dinner, and we wandered through that.  We saw some goat heads and brains.  When we went back to the Riad, it was pitch black in the streets we had to take to get there.  It was scary, and probably not the safest thing ever.  However, the girl at the Riad had assured us beforehand that it was perfectly safe, and it turned out to be, if not a little scary.  We lounged in the couches in our Riad reading most of the night, and it was great.  I didn't want to leave those couches the entire time we were in Marrakech.  

The next day we went in search of some historical sites.  We first found the Saadian Tombs, which had been built in the sixteenth century, outside the Medina.  The royal family had been buried here.  They had been walled up by the king who followed the king who built them, and weren't discovered until the early twentieth century.  They were quite impressive.

We then stopped for lunch at a fancy rooftop terrace, I had chicken kebabs, and Alissa had a chicken curry.  They were quite good.  After lunch, we sought out the two palaces in Marrakech, the first was the El Badi Palace.  It was built by the same man who built the Saadian Tombs, and was subsequently destroyed by the same king who walled up the tombs.  Even though it is in ruins, it is magnificent.  You can tell that in the past it would have been truly impressive.  After that we went to the Bahia Palace nearby that was built by the chief Vizier in the nineteenth century.  It was covered in beautiful tile, it had lush gardens, and of course a harem.  It was quite impressive as well, and we were overawed by everything that day.  

That evening, we relaxed on the rooftop for awhile before having dinner in our Riad with traditional musicians.  The food was delicious yet again, I think I ate better in Morocco than any other time or place in my life!  When we arrived, they served us fresh grapefruit juice with a sugar rim.  For dinner, they made a chicken tagine, couscous, a salad, a vegetable tagine and bread.  After dinner they served the traditional mint tea that was sweet, but good.  The musicians were very good, and got us to dance.  We tried a Moroccan red wine that was tasty.  It was a really nice evening, and so nice that it was right in our Riad!  

The morning we left, we did some quick shopping, but I didn't get anything because I thought we had plenty of time to do so while we were in Morocco.  Alissa got a nice bag and earrings.  I wanted shoes and some sort of jewelry, which I never got because it turns out we didn't have another chance!  I really enjoyed Marrakech.  The people were super friendly once we got over being intimidated.  After the first day, we figured out how to get around and bargain for things, making us feel much better.  I want to go back!

Its About Time: Part One

So I figured since I have been home for a month and a half that it was about time for me to update my blog on my amazing Spring trip, and my life in general lately.  I have had enough time to get back into the routine and absorb what's been going on for the last couple months.  So here goes!

Alissa and I took the train down to London to spend the night there with her sister Leah, and her friends, both Amy's, before heading down to Portugal.  The girls flew from Baltimore, and were already at our hostel when we arrived.  It was a sweet reunion for Alissa and Leah, and made me miss my sister!  Poor Leah's luggage did not arrive with them, so we headed out to get her a few essentials and some lunch/beers since it was St. Patrick's day.  We had a lovely afternoon eating, drinking and seeing some sights.  We walked to the River Thames, contemplated going on the London Eye, but then decided not too, and headed over to the Tower of London.  We didn't go in there either, but it was okay.  I haven't mentioned that the weather was CRAP, cold, windy and rainy, not at all good times.  But we were all so happy to be on vacation and with each other, that it didn't matter.  We had dinner then hit a pub for a couple Guinness' before turning in.  The next day, we flew to Lisbon!

Our first night in Lisbon was pretty good.  We arrived at our hostel, only to find out that they didn't have a record of our reservation, so they had to find us somewhere else to stay.  We ended up at a hotel that was probably less nice than the hostel would have been, but we were only there for one night, so it wasn't a big deal.  Alissa and Leah headed out to get us sandwiches for dinner while the Amy's and I took showers.  We then headed out on the town to experience Lisbon's night life.  Our first stop, Amy M. and I shared a bottle of red Portuguese wine that was delicious.  After that we found a lively bar playing loud  Latin music which was pretty fun.  Of course, we all had some admirers, which was funny.  A Brazilian capoeira instructor who was living in Belgium told me that 'For me you are the best here because you are blonde.'  It was flattering, however one dance was enough for me!  

In the morning, we headed to the bus station to make a day trip to Evora before heading to the beach in the south of Portugal.  In Evora, there was a chapel of bones that I was REALLY excited about, which is why we took the little detour.  Come to find out, we get to Evora, trek all of our stuff around the cute little town, only to arrive at the chapel and it was closed for siesta!  So pissed because there was only one bus leaving to go to the south, which meant that we saw no bones.  : (  Very sad, but we did go see the temple to Diana there which is one of the oldest Roman ruins in the area, situated at the highest point of the town.  The town was really cute, as I said, with lots of yellow on the buildings.  Did I mention it was raining that day?  

We hopped the bus to our destination down south.  I had booked our hotel that was a resort on the beach.  When I did the hotel search, I was looking for hotels in Taviera.  So that is where I assumed the hotel was.  Upon further inspection of our accomodation print out, it turns out that our hotel was situated in Quartiera.   We had no idea if that was close to Taviera, because that is where we bought our bus was going.  A little tension was brewing, increased by our lack of understanding of the Portuguese language, but it turned out the bus stopped right at Quartiera, and our hotel was right across the street!  What luck.  So we lugged our stuff across the street, checked into our pretty decent rooms, and headed out for dinner.  We were recommended a restaurant nearby, and we all ordered steaks.  They were delicious, and at the end of our meal, they gave us a free glass of port!  I had never had port before, and it was quite tasty, if a bit sweet.  We then headed back to our hotel which had a rockin' gathering of retired folk playing a game similar to bingo.  They all seemed to be from England, as the south of Portugal is a popular destination for Europeans to go to the beach.  

The next day it was cloudy intermittently, which kind of sucked.  Regardless, we headed to the beach for some relaxation.  It was a bit chilly at times, and finally around lunch time we sought out some food.  We ate at a beach front restaurant that was quite good.  We consumed a few Belgian beers and relaxed for a few hours.  A few of us headed to the beach for an attempt at more sun, while a couple others took a nap.  

For dinner, we wanted seafood, so we found a restaurant owned by a couple, the wife was from I think the Netherlands and the husband was Portuguese.  We had some more yummy wine too.  Alissa and I decided to share our dishes, so we ordered cod and chicken.  The portions were HUGE, we should have shared one dish, accompanied by the fact that neither one of us liked the food.  The chicken had a really strong cheese sauce that really overwhelmed the dish.  It also looked like one of the breasts wasn't all the way cooked.  The cod was cooked in butter, which again totally overwhelmed the dish.  So we took little bites to be polite, but weren't really satisfied.  In fact, we both felt like scraping our tongues afterwards!  We did order dessert which we all shared that was delicious, and we inhaled it.  We then found a bar near our hotel that had 'karaoke' which we were really excited about.  We went in and ordered our drinks, and were surrounded by a handful of lurking men.  Turns out karaoke in Portugal means one guy brings his equipment, and plays some sort of weird instrument and sings.  No one else sings, and you can't request songs.  It was a little weird.  

The following morning was much nicer weather-wise, so we headed to the beach to get some sun before taking the bus back to Lisbon.  

Our second night in Lisbon was fantastic.  Our hostel was owned by the nicest family ever, and it was really nice!  We had dinner in town and then went for drinks.  We found one place that had some good sangria, but I could only have one glass because it was so sweet.  We met a few new friends here and there, mostly fellow travellers like ourselves.  

Lisbon was beautiful.  I preffered Lisbon to the Algarve (the south of Portugal) because it seemed to have a bit more culture.  The south was like any other beach town anywhere, it was nice, but you didn't really feel like you were necessarily in Portugal.  Lisbon had so many neat buildings, tile everywhere, and it was super hilly which made it interesting.  It is also on the coast, so it is a port town. Sidewalks and streets were tiled, it was beautiful.  The buildings were all different colors, pastels mostly.  The language was neat, it sounded like a mixture between German, Russian and Spanish.  Our word for the trip was 'obregada' which means 'thank you.'  

The day we left, we had the morning to site see in Lisbon.  We went to Geronimo's monastery, which was AMAZING.  It didn't look like any other old religious building in other parts of Europe, especially England.  We took a cheesy little train ride around some sites which was fun.  We tried some traditional Portuguese pastries which were tasty.  We had to leave that afternoon to catch our flight, so we went back to the hostel and picked up our stuff.  We took taxis to the airport, and once we got there realized that we weren't just two hours early for our flight, but FOUR hours!  Probably mostly my fault because I thought we were leaving at four instead of six.  To be fair, no one else bothered checking!  So we sat in the airport forever before heading back to London.  

It was a great time in Portugal, and I would love to go back sometime to spend more time in Lisbon, and maybe see the chapel of bones!  It was sooo nice to meet the girls, and now I have new friends for life!  

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Birthday Weekend and Big Trip!

Hello everyone.  Many thanks to those of you who sent me cards and birthday wishes!  It means a lot being so far away from you.  

On Thursday, Jaime made my birthday cake since we would be out on Friday.  She made a German chocolate cake, which is one of my favorites!  Rob and Jaime got me some nice hand made bath goodies, cause they know how much I love baths! 

On Friday, I had a paper due AND I had class.  Lame, I never have class on Fridays except for my birthday (of course).  The minor 1,000 word paper due was for my death class, and it was looking at wills from sixteenth century Earls Colne, a town outside London.  The assignment was a documentary commentary, so I talked about the ways in which the wills changed due to the Reformation.  I felt pretty good about it, and then after I turned it in, my friends and I headed to the pub to get a drink, and I realized that I didn't run the spell check.  Oops!  Fortunately, I am pretty sure there weren't many, if any, mistakes.  Lame nonetheless.  

The girls and Chris met us at our house before heading to the restaurant.  Alissa painted me  a painting for my birthday, which was awesome!  Aliss and Anik got me a few books, which I am so excited about.  I am going to take 'The Time Traveller's Wife' on my trip.  For dinner, my friends and I went to the tex-mex restaurant in town called the Blue Coyote.  It was ok, better than having no tex-mex.  I had a machaca chimichanga which was pretty good.  Alissa, Anik and I shared a pitcher of margaritas which were ok.  After dinner, we met up with some other friends and had a few drinks.  It was pretty low-key, but I had fun.  

Now I am getting ready for my trip.  I need to finish packing, which means take out some more crap from my bag.  I am spending the night at Alissa's because the train station is closer to her and we have to leave pretty early in the morning.  We will get to London around 12:30, and then we meet up with Alissa's sister and her two friends.  Since it is St. Patrick's Day tomorrow, we will probably hit a pub for dinner and drinks.  On Tuesday afternoon, we fly to Lisbon.  Then I won't be back until April 9th!  I don't think it has hit me that I am leaving, and for such a long time.  Nonetheless, I am excited!  Once I get back, I have to buckle down and get some work done.  Then Megan arrives here on April 18th!  Needless to say, I will have quite a busy couple of months!  

I will send out pictures when I get back into town.  I will be able to check my email periodically, and I will contact everyone when I get back!  

Sunday, March 9, 2008

80s 'Dance Magic Dance' Birthday Extravaganza!

For my birthday this year, Alissa organized an 80s themed birthday party.  I really miss dancing to 80s music, which I can do pretty regularly while in Tucson.  So she did a little research and found a bar in the area called 'Bigg Market' in the city centre.  The bar is called '80s Bar' and it said online that they play 80s music on Friday nights.  In the spirit of the event, Alissa and I bought some smashing outfits to represent the 80s.  We were a little shocked to find that most stores in the high street carried MANY 80s fashions, so there was a lot to choose from.  I found this spandexy number for 2 pounds!  With the hot pink tights and leg warmers, it was on.  Alissa found quite a nice out fit as well, complete with pink boots found for 5 pounds.  So we were clearly prepared for our exciting evening out.  We met a few friends at the local pub for a drink before heading to our destination.  When we arrived, we were pretty much the only patrons, and the DJ was playing modern dance music.  Hmmm, this would not do.  We grabbed a drink, and Alissa went to the DJ to ask about the music.  He said that they had to accommodate everyone, and that he would play 80s music a bit later.  Alissa also asked where one could go to hear 80s music, and he sadly replied, 'nowhere anymore.'  We didn't let this bring us down, and made our way to the dancefloor anyway.  After a few current hip-hop/pop songs, the DJ finally played some 80s music.  So my friends and I rocked it out, as only 80s music enthusiasts can do.  Unfortunately, he mostly played the poppy 80s music that is not my favorite.  But I wouldn't let it damper my spirits, and I continued to bust some moves.  It was really fun, and I have to say that once the bar filled up, most of the patrons enjoyed the 80s music as well.  I am happy to say that all my girlfriends were appropriately attired for the 80s appreciation, with only the gentleman lacking.  It was truly an awesome birthday party!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


So we have a poltergeist.  So far it seems to be a friendly enough poltergeist.  Shortly after I moved in, I noticed that some shoes had moved in my room.  Very odd.  Then some things went missing.  Jamie had noticed some things like that before I moved in as well.  I have a sort of large jewelry box thing on top of my dresser that I bought at Ikea.  I keep my makeup jewelry and hair stuff in it.  Anyway, I noticed the other day that I had left one of the drawers open.  Then not much later, I noticed it was closed and I hadn't left my bed.  And finally this evening.  I started to run a bath, and it takes awhile because not a lot of water comes out of the hot tap.  So you have to basically let the hot water run for awhile to fill up the tub, then add a little cold.  Anyhow I was standing the living room with Jamie and Rob talking, and all of a sudden the water turned off.  We all looked at each other, puzzled.  So I went in, and the nob was turned all the way off.  A little bit creepy.  I must admit, I was momentarily freaked out and hesitant to take a bath.  But I can't resist baths, as some may know, so I turned the hot water again, and took a bath!  I hope it continues to be a harmless poltergeist. 

Happy St. Adrian Day!

In honor or my namesake, St. Adrian, I would like to wish you all a happy St. Adrian Day.  Please keep in your heart and mind today those with plague, butchers, arms dealers and soldiers.  Feel free to say a special little prayer.  If cooking meat, it is only right that you say his prayer, 'Most holy St. Adrian, I ask that you guide my knife as I deftly cut the tender flesh of animals that have been sacrificed to provide sustenance for mankind.  I also ask that you bless all of my meat with superior flavor and texture and protect it from disease and contamination.  Amen.'  May St. Adrian be with you always.  

Monday, March 3, 2008

Roman Name

As I mentioned in a previous blog, for our trip along Hadrian's Wall we are all going to adopt Roman names.  This is a call to anyone with a good idea for mine.  Suggestions most welcome.  Feel free to add them here in a comment, or via some other form of communication.  Cheers!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Learning New Things

I have learned a few things this week.  On Wednesday, I asked Alissa to go to a lecture with me titled 'From a Culture of War to a Culture of Peace' given by Bruce Kent.  The lecture was at Newcastle's other University of Northumbria.  Bruce Kent has been involved for decades in trying to abolish war and promote a peaceful culture.  I was very interested in what he had to say, as I too think we need to move in that direction.  Kent and others are trying to work toward different solutions to conflicts, stating that war is not the only answer.  Another thing I learned that I had not connected before was the potential impending war over climate change.  Apparently forty-six countries have been identified as high risk of war linked to climate change.  Because of limited resources, and the physical consequences of climate change, it will make human habitats less habitable which could create tensions and sharpen existing social divisions.  Makes me think certainly.  So now I want to learn more and potentially do what I can to help.  

I received a package this morning, which was a very welcome way to start my day.  My lovely sister sent me a St. Adrian figurine.  I had no idea there was a St. Adrian, so this excited me.  Apparently (as stated on the box so it must be fact) he is the patron saint of butchers, arms dealer, prison guards and soldiers.  Hmmm, funny how I am against arms, not entirely sure how I feel about prison guards, and although I don't dislike soldiers, I dislike war.  The prayer on the box is to assist with meat preparation, it says, 'Most holy St. Adrian, I ask that you guide my knife as I deftly cut the tender flesh of animals that have been sacrificed to provide sustenance for mankind.  I also ask that you bless all of my meat with superior flavor and texture and protect it from disease and contamination.  Amen.'  I feel that it is pretty awesome.  St. Adrian is apparently a dark haired white man with a dark beard.  He also has a blue robe, an apron splattered with blood, and a butcher's knife.  Clearly a resemblance is there.  So anyhow, I got a little curious, so I googled St. Adrian.  He is real, he was not a baptized Christian, rather he suddenly liked what he heard, was consequently arrested and killed.  He was a Roman guard (cool) and was from/killed in Nicomedia.  He was killed on March 4, 306, so I expect you all to think about him (and me) in a few days time.  For more information on this awesome saint go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrian_of_Nicomedia  Wikepedia also adds that Adrian protects against plagues in addition to the things already listed.  I can live with that.  I don't care for plagues.

This weekend I am going to Anik's gallery opening.  All of the museum studies people had to do projects, so Anik (who wants to be a curator) and her group have arranged a showing for this evening.  Should be fun.  Tomorrow night, I am going to see The Eels in concert across the river.  A friend had a spare ticket, so why not?  On Sunday I am going to see 'There Will Be Blood' which I am pretty excited about.  In between, I will be writing about death, and of course reading about it.  It can get kind of depressing, especially at night, but I am enjoying the class overall.  I think I am going to write my final paper on dissection.  Cool.  Alissa organized a birthday party for me next Friday.  We are going to an 80s bar to dance and have general merriment.  I am pretty excited.  And then we leave in 16 days!  Wahoo!  

By the way, please check out my friend Jason's newest top ten list here: http://toptenlog.blogspot.com/  it is hilarious, and really makes you think about the people who get a lot of publicity and limelight.  Maybe we shouldn't be looking up to the people we do?  Just a thought...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Last night there was an earthquake in England.  It happened around 1 in the morning.  I was going to bed around that time and I heard it.  The metro runs under our house, so we can hear the trains when they go underground.  They stop around 11:30 each night.  Around 1 while I am lying in bed, I heard a train.  I thought it was funny because they usually stop before then, but I thought maybe they were just moving one train or something.  Come to find out this morning that it was an earthquake!  It was around a 5.2 on the Richter Scale.  Apparently it was felt up into Scotland, and all the way to the Netherlands!  Crazy!  So now I can say that I have been in an earthquake in England...for more info: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7266136.stm
I just learned that it was England's biggest earthquake in 25 years!  I am now part of history.  :)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Random Stuff

Hello.  Last weekend my pals and I went to South Shields to check out the re-created Roman fort of Arbeia.  South Shields is about a half hour metro ride.  The fort was pretty cool.  They re-created the gate, and there is a bit of excavation done that shows where some of the things may have been.  They also re-created the soldier's barracks.  There was also a little museum that held some artifacts that were found on the site.  Neat stuff.  We then walked into town and down to the beach.  It was the first time that I have actually walked on the sandy beach since I have been here.  It was awesome, I love the beach!  I found a couple of cool shells, cause you know how I love them!  We then walked the pier, almost to the end.  From the beach/pier we could see the Tynemouth Priory and castle, which so far is my favorite place around here.  We then walked back to the town and ate fish and chips, which were amazing.  

This past week was pretty uneventful.  We were supposed to go see 'There Will Be Blood' but it got postponed.  Over the weekend, I went to a classmates house for dinner, which was really nice.  The weather has been pretty good.  Sunny about every other day.  A bit windy, which sucks, but I guess it could be worse.  

Next weekend we are going to celebrate my birthday.  I decided I wanted to go 80s dancing, so Alissa is organizing the night out.  Jamie's birthday is on the 5th, so it is kind of a mutual celebration.  We are going dancing on the 7th, and hopefully we will also get to go see 'The Other Boleyn Girl' since it comes out that weekend.  I have so much work I need to get done in the next couple of weeks.  Alissa and I leave for our big trip on the 17th (only 19 days away!) and I have a small paper due on my birthday.  Lame.  I also want to try to get some other work done because I will be gone just shy of four weeks, and then I come back for a week, then Megan is here for ten days!  Needless to say, won't be getting much work done during that time!  So I am going to buckle down and get motivated!  

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Love Day

Hello all!  Although I don't prescribe to the commercialized holiday that is Valentines Day, I do think it is important to share love and happiness with loved ones.  So on this day (because it's convenient!)  I am sending everyone my love.  I hope that whatever you may be doing today, you get to experience love and happiness from someone close to you.  I love you all very much, and can't wait to see your faces in the future!  Oh, and I also just realized that my birthday is in exactly one month!  Woo hoo!  V.D. day is good for something...xoxo

PS, Jaime picked up these cookies at a bake sale.  'Slag' means 'slut' apparently, which is kind of odd.  I think the gingerbread men/women are cute in their undergarments.  :)

Pork Faggots

Thanks to my curious Aunt Beth, I have this link to share with you all: 
Not for the faint of heart, or the queasy, but if you were ever curious about what a pork faggot might be, it is all laid out for you on this site.  Fortunately, I have not had the good fortune of experiencing the pork faggot, but for those of you coming to visit, I am sure I can find some for you ;)  Also located on this particular site is a picture of Mr. Brains Pork Faggots.  Awesome.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I don't know if I have mentioned to anyone that some classmates of mine and I are planning a trip to walk Hadrian's Wall.  We had a preliminary meeting last night to try to figure out some of the logistics of the large group.  For those of you who don't know, the Roman emperor Hadrian built a wall in 122 AD in northern England to seperate Roman territory from that of the Picts in the north.  See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian's_Wall  for more information.  So this wall stretches basically from coast to coast in the north of England.  In June, a bunch of us are going to walk the length of the wall/England from coast to coast.  It will take around 6 days, walking 15 miles per day.  We plan to camp at night, and there are a few campsites that have barns that people can stay in.  Very cool.  We will take the train back from Carlisle after we have finished.  I am super excited about the trip.  We are going to have t-shirts made (I know you're jealous!) and potentially each have Roman names.  Gonna have to get some excercise in so that I don't suffer needlessly on the trip.  It should be a relatively easy walk in most places, but we will be carrying backpacks with all of our stuff in them, and we will be walking everyday for almost a week.  Doesn't matter, my enthusiasm will overshadow any doubts!  

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Running to my local grocery store last night for some last minute dinner ingredients, I saw something strange.  In the frozen aisle, I saw: Mr. Brains brand frozen dinner consisting of two Yorkshire puddings with pork faggots.  This raises a couple questions for me: who would title their company 'Mr. Brains', what the hell are pork faggots, and who eats this stuff?  Feel free to ponder this yourselves.  Have a great day!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year!

This weekend was the Chinese New Year, and Newcastle held a celebration in Chinatown.  Rob, Jaime and I headed over to check out the happenings.  It was GORGEOUS outside, sunny and relatively warm, considering its February in England.  Global warming? 
So we got to the festivities, and there was a parade going on down the main street in Chinatown.  I of course could see nothing due to my height, and the massive amount of people there.  But I do know there was fireworks and a dragon.  We then wandered around to the various booths, checking out the wares.  
Chinatown is situated near the football stadium, which also happens to be next to where I used to live, and Chinatown is also adjacent to some parts of the old medieval town wall.  Its a pretty cool area.  There was a jumping castle, tea cups, big slide, and a stage set up for various Chinese performers.  We made our way to a food tent and consumed some noodles.  Apparently it is good luck to eat noodles for Chinese New Years, so I better have some good luck! ;)  It was a lovely afternoon out on the town.  

Last night, Alissa and I headed over to Daniel, Chris and Olivier's for some drinks.  Their French friend was in town for the weekend, so we ended up hanging out with them both nights. Daniel taught us how to play dominoes last night, which was confusing at first, but more fun as we began to play.  Who knew there was so much strategy and thinking in dominoes?  

Now I must get some reading done for class this week, since I procrastinated a bit over the weekend.  Jaime and Rob are making chili tonight, which smells amazing.  Should be good times.  Well a happy Chinese New Year to everyone, and I love you all!  xoxo
Note the Tyneside Irish Centre basically in Chinatown on the right!
Gate leading into Chinatown.  You can see St. James' Park, which is the football stadium, home of Newcastle United football team.
To the right is the main street of Chinatown.  Towards the left leads to the city center.
I'm in the medieval town wall!
A yummy pile of noodles, fried rice and a spring roll.
Close-up of cool fish on gate.
Close-up of dragons on the gate to Chinatown.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Personal Space?

So I know it must be a cultural thing, but there is a serious lack of acknowledgment of personal space here in jolly ol' England.  Seriously, walking down the street, people literally run into you, and its no big deal.  No apologies, and if you don't move out of the way, you collide. While shopping in the grocery store, people block aisles, checkouts, anything, and get upset if you say 'excuse me.'  In fact, I am amazed daily at how close people stand next to me in line.  Little old ladies will stand literally two inches behind me. No big thang, you're just breathing down my neck!  

So anyhow, I attempt to accept this fact of daily life here, however, last night I was severely annoyed.  A few friends and I went to one of our regular places to hang out, Mr. Lynch's.  They usually have a band on the weekends and also a DJ in between sets.  So dancing of course is common.  However, people seriously have no concept that they are like right on top of you, flailing their arms, shaking their booties, swaying into you, etc.  Being a little person, I have come to accept the fact that I am not that noticeable in crowds, yada yada, but its not just me who gets rammed into on the dancefloor.  So I decided that I would return in kind.  I started flailing my arms, shaking my booty into people, etc.  It was quite satisfying, and one or two got the hint.  Although most people out on the town in Newcastle are so drunk they wouldn't even realize getting punched in the face.  I think I might start a revolution!  Quit ramming me on the dancefloor you drunkies!  

On a somewhat related note, I don't know if I have mentioned before how awesome dancing is here.  Basically, no one has rhythm, and they just do whatever the hell they want.  Which makes for some amazing people watching.  I love that no one cares what they look like, it is quite liberating really, except when they are getting up in my space!  I totally fit in with my flailing dance moves.  I showed them!

On a totally unrelated note, the weather here has been amazing!  At least a couple days out of the week, it is sunny and relatively warm.  Today it is in the high 50's!  Although on the days that it is not nice, it is REALLY not nice.  Wind totally sucks.  It sucks so much, I don't even know if I can relay how much it sucks.  One day in fact, there were gust winds up to 70mph.  I was supposed to go meet Alissa for lunch, and I walked less than two blocks and literally couldn't move any further.  It was raining, and my umbrella seriously broke, and the metal things were broken in all different directions.  I turned around and stayed inside the rest of the day.  February is supposed to be the worst month for weather, and I can understand when its windy out.  But when its sunny out its so lovely!  It doesn't help that there are fun spring things in all the stores.  I want to be able to wear sandals and dresses!  But I will be in sunny Morrocco/Spain soon enough where I can!

On an even more unrelated note, we went to lunch at a little cafe yesterday, and they had milkshakes on the menu.  We were all so excited, and of course ordered some.  But apparently milkshake translates to flavored milk here.  I got a chocolate banana 'milkshake' and it contained no ice cream.  It tasted good, but was not a real American milkshake.  Sigh, I suppose I will live...

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Not much to report here across the pond.  I started classes last week which so far has been good.  I have settled into my new place, which is also good.  I am trying to get a head start on work, which is somewhat good.  I am very glad to be living in a place where I can cook, and not be worried about the cleanliness of the kitchen, or the pans and utensils I use to cook with.  Last week I made homemade fettuccine alfredo, and it was a big hit.  Yesterday I made Thai red curry from Megan's recipe, and I will definately be making that again.  

Last night Anik coordinated a fundraiser/night out for an exhibition that she is putting on for part of her studies.  So the crew headed down to the quayside for a couple drinks in support of her.  It was fun, but we were all pretty tired so we didn't stay out late.  

This weekend, we might go to the old Roman fort of Arbeia.  If I end up going, I should have some fun pictures to share!  

My death class is going well.  Like I mentioned before, I enjoy the professor because he has a lot of knowledge, and class is strangely fun.  Next week, we are going to look at pictures of people with diseases.  Good times.  We are also going on at least one fieldtrip this semester.  I crack myself up because I write in my diary "11-1 Death" when I have class.  Alissa is also amused by it.  

The other classes are going well too.  Although we had a class scheduled on Tuesday, and the professor never showed up.  Each week a different professor teaches the class on a different topic, and supposedly this particular professor was confused about the time table.  However, he actually has a reputation for missing class, or being late.  My qualitative methods class is pretty interesting.  Right now we are learning about researching museums, galleries and heritage sites, which I never thought much about before.  It is also neat because that is what Alissa is studying, so I get a little taste of her program!  

Money matters are once again a shambles!  I was hoping that I wouldn't experience a repeat of last semester, but I am.  However this time around, I know what to expect, so it's not so shocking.  I signed my checks on Friday, and was told I would get the money next week sometime.  In reality, I probably won't see the money till the following week.  I was supposed to have the checks by Jan. 24, but of course they didn't get here till the 28th.  Such a pain.  Rob didn't get his checks till today, which is like two weeks late.  Basically, the situation is a disaster.  Fortunately, our program director has our back, and is helping us deal with the finance office.  Its probably too late to rectify things for us this year, but it would be nice for future students to not have to go through the same crap!

Alissa and I are going to take a pilates class in two weeks.  Alissa paid for my portion for my birthday, which is super nice.  I think it runs for at least 6 weeks, so I am excited!  We are going to miss three of the classes while we are on our trip, but oh well!  Speaking of my birthday, if anyone is interested in giving me a gift, I wouldn't mind a little money for my trip ;)  I was going to buy a travel backpack, but it looks like I can borrow one of Jaime and Rob's, so I can save some money that way.  I have to grab a few other things, but nothing too big, just a travel towel and maybe one or two other travel type items.  I am so excited for our trip, only a little over a month to go!  Africa and Spain, here I come!

I also got an email from Megan that she found a cheap ticket.  So she should be here in late April.  I am soooo excited for her to come see where I live!  I can't wait to see her and travel around a bit.  And now that I have a pretty sweet abode, it will be a nice visit.  

Hope everyone is doing well back home.  I miss and love you all!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Movin' on up, to the East side...!

Good news, I have officially moved out of my building! I am now living with Rob and Jamie in their flat, which has a larger bed, a bathtub, a couch and tv, and I only have to share a kitchen with the two of them! My friend Candice helped me move my things today in her car, which happens to be a red VW Golf. It is amazing how much stuff I have accumulated in only a few months, but we got it all in one trip, so that was good. I have to go back to my old building tomorrow to pack up my food, and give my room a quick clean. No more clicking heater. No more loud guy above me! Not to mention the money I will be saving...

Also, I turned in my last paper today! I had an essay due last Friday that was on microhistory, that had to be 5,000 words long. I had a smaller essay due on Monday, and today I turned in a paper on the historiography of witchcraft. The relief hasn't quite sunk in yet, I have a feeling I forgot to include something, or there is a noticeable mistake. However, I do feel pretty confident that all my papers were at least decent. I organized an evening out tonight for all the postgraduate history students, in celebration of the end of semester one. Should be pretty fun!

I start classes on Monday. Everyone has to take the research training module for historians, which I hope will be useful, however I am slightly doubtful about it. We also either have to take a qualitative or quantitative training course. I was originally going to do the quantitative course which teaches you how to create databases and compile statistics, yada, yada. However I had a bit of a panic attack last night, and realized that the qualitative course would help me more in the future, so I asked to switch to that. I think I will focus on museum training in that particular course, which goes over archives and dealing with museum collections among other things. Anyway, I think that will be more useful in a later career than compiling databases. I am also taking a course entitled 'Death and Burial Cultures in Early Modern England.' I am pretty excited about it, it is taught by my dissertation supervisor whom I really enjoy. Don't really have much of an idea of what the class will entail, but I am excited.

All in all, I am looking forward to starting classes again, living with friends, and traveling in the new year!

Monday, January 7, 2008

I'm Going to Spain! And Morocco!

I am so excited to report that Alissa and I have booked our plane tickets today for our Spring trip to Spain and Morocco! We are flying into Marakesh, and then hitting up Fez and Casablanca. We are then going to make our way to the Straights of Gibraltar to take a ferry over to Spain. In Spain we plan to go to Seville, Granada, Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona, flying from Barcelona to Newcastle. We plan to hit the beach probably around Valencia as well. I am so excited, I can't even contain myself! We will be gone for a little over two weeks, so it will be pretty sweet! Who ever thought I would be going to Africa? Well now I am!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Trip Home for Christmas

First night home. Gina, Cindy and I went out for some Greek food. Nothing is better than hanging out with the ladies...
Cindy, myself and Aunt Jessica after stuffing our faces with meat at El Corral.
Gina and I getting ready to do some 80's dancing. All I know is that it's not the same with a cover band, actually rather lame, so I was very sad...
My Dad and I at his wine party. All I know is that my Dad and I started an awesome dance party later. Clearly the Cowles' have moves. Due not to the wine and liquor we were drinking, but actually from the rhythm from within.
My Uncle Troy and I at my Dad's wine party.
Noah and I at my Dad's wine party.
Megan's niece Mya loves me.
Megan and her niece Mya.
The ladies.
Megan's nephew Tyler and friend Bethany jammin' to some karaoke!
My Grandma and Aunt Joie.
Adults table: Uncel Hank, Aunt Joie, Mom, Papa Jim, Grandma and Aunt Julie. My seat was next to Joie 'cause I'm an adult!
Kids table: Lindsey, Stephanie and Bob.
I made Treacle Pudding for dessert on Christmas Eve. It looks funky, but tasted yummy.
Christmas Eve with my sister and cousin, Stephanie. We had dinner at my Grandma's house. Notice the fancy new wallpaper in the background, and one of my Grandma's paintings.
Morgan and I jammin' to some Guitar Hero. My brother Ryley got it for Christmas.
This is Ryley gettin' down to some Guitar Hero. Good times.
Christmas morning. This is my Grandma Joan and Noah. We had Christmas brunch at my Dad's house.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Snowing in Newcastle!

I woke up this morning to a knocking on the door. At first, it was hard for me to realize that the knocking was on my door 1. because I was dreaming (a good one too) and 2. I had ear plugs in. Luckily, I did get up to answer it, and it was the maintenance man coming to check my shower. Let's back up a bit to explain why I was still asleep at 10:45am. Last night, after not leaving my building all day, and not getting much work done, I put in a movie. I was getting drowsy, but would not allow myself to fall asleep earlier than ten for fear of waking up in the middle of the night, wide awake. So I finished my movie, started reading, and took some sleep aid around 11. Tried to sleep. No good. Took some more sleep aid. Tried to sleep some more. No good again. I took a third dose of sleep aid, and nothing. So I finally got up, turned the light on, and started reading. I also phoned Noah, who didn't answer right away. Around 3:30am, my time, Noah called back, and we spoke for around an hour. I was still not tired. We hung up around 4:30am my time, at which time I turned out the light to attempt sleep once more. I set my alarm for 10 this morning, in hopes that by forcing myself into some sort of routine, I can have some normal sleep. Alarm goes off, can't get up. Enter maintenance man.

So I open my windows while the man is working, and there's snow on the ground! I am so excited! I check the weather, and the current forecast is snowing with thunder! So I whip out my camera to take a few pictures. Then, it actually starts snowing. Looking out one window, the snow is blowing in completely sideways. Through the other window, it is falling normally, in big, fat chunks. Too cool. After watching this for awhile, and taking a few pictures, it slowly stops snowing. By now, it is slowly melting, cause it is not cold enough to stick. The sun is also out now, which is nice. I also happened to see the guy who lives above me walking in the park with his friends, he was wearing sandals. And one of his friends was only wearing a t-shirt. I would think that especially since being from a warm climate, snow would make you want to bundle up? Just a thought.

So now I am off to hopefully run a few errands, and also to hopefully get some work done. I was told my shower is now draining fine, so we shall see...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Long Journey Back to Newcastle/New Year's Eve

After spending two weeks back home in Tucson for Christmas, I am back in dreary Newcastle. It was really weird the first few days in Tucson, and now it's kind of weird here in Newcastle. The weirdness surely has a lot to do with long spurts of traveling, lack of sleep, and a bit of culture shock both ways. I did have culture shock the first few days in Tucson, which was also strange, but it passed rather quickly.

I left Phoenix Saturday morning. My flight left at ten, so Noah kindly took me to the airport, and we left at six in the morning. My girlfriends came over the night before I left for one last round of quality time, so needless to say, I didn't sleep much. My flight itinerary said I flew from Phoenix to Las Vegas, landing in London Sunday morning at 9am. But when I got there, I learned that I had another flight in store. I flew Phoenix to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to London. Not terribly horrible, especially since the woman helping me put me in exit rows against the window for the two longer flights. My bag was also 20 pounds over the weight limit! Noah and the woman helping me, patiently watched me try to re-arrange some things to my smaller bag so that I would not have to pay $50. I left some things out for Noah to take back, and got the weight down ten pounds. I decided to suck it up and pay, since I didn't want to deal with it anymore. However, a different lady that helped me with my final details didn't charge me! She put in the computer that I had medical supplies in my bag that made it heavy! I was so thankful, and it was really nice. Noah walked me to security, where we had to say goodbye, and I started crying (of course). Walking through security I had a few women look upon me with pity because of my tears, which wouldn't stop, and I didn't want the ladies to look at me anymore either!

The flights were pretty straight forward. I picked up some lunch in Vegas since I wasn't going to be fed on the plane till Philadelphia. My layovers were quite brief in general, which was nice. Philadelphia to London is a little over six hours, and I did my best to sleep a bit since it was technically an overnight flight. I landed in London, went through customs, and the guy asked if I had a letter from the university stating that I was accepted into a program. Of course I didn't since I brought all that crap with me on the initial flight over. I then didn't know that my visa itself was supposed to be stamped when I first entered the country, and they didn't do it in Dublin. Oops. So the guy was nice and stamped my visa and put me on my way, but it could have been yucky! So I gathered my bags and try to find a way to King's Cross to get my train.

Well apparently, no trains go to King's Cross, so I had to take a train to London Bridge, and either take the tube, or take a taxi to the train station. I opted for taxi since I had a huge suitcase, and another smaller, heavy bag, and a backpack. Really didn't feel like fighting the crowds in the tube, if you know what I mean.

Once I got to King's Cross, I had over an hour to wait for my train. Since it was the weekend, and still holiday time, there were ridiculous amounts of people. Plus there is work being done on the rails on the weekends, so the trains are a bit disrupted. So I finally get my giant amount of luggage up on the train, only to find that the luggage racks are full. So my giant suitcase sat next to the door the entire way! I was so tired at this point that I kept falling asleep on the train.

Since work is being done on the rails, the train didn't go all the way to Newcastle. It stopped at Darlington, an hour outside of Newcastle, where we all had to shove ourselves into coaches/busses like sardines. It was a madhouse. Finally pull into Newcastle's train station, and get a taxi to my building. I felt so greasy from travelling around 28 hours, and I just wanted to brush my teeth. I got here around 4:30pm. I took a shower, only to discover that my drain isn't draining properly. The day I left, the porters came by all the en suite rooms to check the drainage, which was working fine in my room up to that point. Good thing the office was closed till today! I also didn't have any toilet paper, or food, since I was avoiding the grocery store before I left. So that meant I had to suck it up and go out again to get some necessities. Except I forgot that it was Sunday, since I left on Saturday, and basically lost a day. The grocery store was closed! Fortunately, they opened the British equivalent to a Circle K right near me, with more food items, so I was able to get some supplies.

I fell asleep around 8pm Sunday evening and didn't wake up till after noon on Monday. A whopping total of around 15 hours of sleep! I then started putting all my clothes away, that I had just dumped on the floor the previous evening. I had to run out again that afternoon since I forgot toilet paper the night before, and I needed a few more food items since nothing would be open on New Years Day.

My classmate James invited me to dinner with his girlfriend and friend for New Year's Eve. We went to the Blackfriars Restaurant near China Town. There was a set menu, and I had the smoked salmon with a lemon risotto as my appetizer. I had the filet mignon (they call it something else, but I forget what it is) with potatoes and green beans for my entree. They also brought vegetables for the table to share. We also received at least two bottles of wine that were included in the meal, between four of us. For dessert, I really wanted the trio of creme brulee, but of course so did everyone else, so I had to have the vanilla cheesecake with fig and honeycomb. Not bad, of course, but not the coveted creme brulee. We also had a cheese plate after dessert, and coffee for those who drink it. At midnight, there were fireworks in the medieval courtyard, which were to be followed by a pinata! Unfortunately it was raining, so no pinata. I had to explain what a pinata was to a few people. Then there was a disco in the restaurant, but we didn't stay long. James (my classmate) invited me over for a big breakfast the next day.

On Tuesday, I woke up to go to James' for breakfast. It was still raining, and everything was closed. Literally, it was like a ghost town. The metro wasn't running, so I had to take a taxi, which was like four times more than the metro. Oh well. James cooked a huge British breakfast of eggs, bacon, baked beans, three different kinds of sausages, mushrooms and stewed tomatoes. We watched a couple movies, then I headed home. I put in a movie here, and fell asleep around 7:30. I thought I would sleep till morning, but no, wide awake at 11pm. Couldn't fall asleep at all, so at 3am, I took some Valerian Poppy to sleep. Finally did at around 3:30-45. Didn't wake up till almost 1pm. So of course my day was basically gone! The sun goes down around 3:30 here. I also feel really scatterbrained, which is not conducive to productivity. I went to reception to report my drain, and as of yet, no one has come to check it out. I am not too worried, since my bathroom is a tiny, waterproofed area, so nothing will be damaged, it's just a total pain.

I hope to be more productive tomorrow. I plan to take some more Valerian Poppy tonight to ensure I fall asleep at a decent time. That way I can get up at a normal time, run and do a few errands, and hopefully get a good amount of work done. Looking forward to a great year...!

Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Less than a week till I go to Tucson!

So I have just shy of five days before my departure to sunny (hopefully) Tucson. I am becoming increasingly excited to see everyone, and now I am wondering if two weeks is enough time. I have started one of my papers, and I basically have the majority of it written, except that I have to dig a book out of my Dad's garage when I get there to read and include in my paper. So the next few days I will start the reading for another paper of mine, and hopefully I will do a little more reading while I sit by the pool, soaking up the sun, in Tucson. I am taking the train to London Thursday evening and sharing a hotel with my friend since we both leave Friday morning. We don't get to London till 10pm or so, but we might be tempted to find some food and perhaps a drink. I am excited to eat some delicious food, mostly Mexican as it's just not the same here. Dovie is picking me up from the airport on Friday, and then we will head to the Cheesecake Factory where my sister and Nick will meet us for some delicious, face-stuffing fun!

The last two days here have been nasty. It was sleeting yesterday, and someone said that it was snowing, but I think their definition was a little different from what I had in mind. So it has been wet and gloomy the last few days. Which makes it hard to get motivated to leave the building. However, I haven't stayed cozy in my room, but have ventured out for dinner with friends.

I need to get some major shopping done while I am in Tucson, since I need some essentials like boots and some more sweaters for the cold winter to come. I have been pretty good about not buying too much here since it is so expensive. Hopefully there will be some good sales so I can get some good stuff. I plan to bring no more than two outfits to Tucson, that way I can fill up my suitcase with stuff on the way back. Plus, I left most of my warm weather clothes at my Mom's house, so I should hopefully get by with only a few things. I am hoping that 60 degrees will feel very warm to me since I have been acclimating to 30 and 30 degree weather.

Looking forward to seeing everyone! See you all very soon... ;)

Monday, November 26, 2007

We love baguettes!
LB slaving away...
Anik and James.
James brought his dog Sam over for some Thanksgiving fun...