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The Tower of People in Barcelona

Time June 30th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

According to Catalan tradition, every year dating back to the 18th century, the people of Barcelona are to build a human tower, and every year they aim for new heights. The towers of people are split into three sections: Pinya (the large, bottom ring), Manilles (one or two additional/middle rings), Tronc (the trunk, several levels of people on the top). The Pinya stabilizes the full structure, and is also organized to soften the fall of the castellers on top. The very top is a small, forth section called the pom de dalt, the tower dome. The pom de dalt is reserved for children due to their low weight.

The name resembles French, as well as Spanish, being that Barcelona is in the Catalan region. Catalan is a mixture of French and Spanish, and so most of the street signs are in three different languages, and occasionally they will mix in English, which actually does help. My brother and I travelled to Barcelona together, and although we both took Spanish throughout lower and secondary school, his grasp on the language is much better than mine. However, I am somewhat well versed in French, and we both know English, so together it kind of worked.

Anyway, being a castell is an honor in the Catalan culture, and many train to do so. The tower is carefully organized and reviewed to attempt for few injuries and/or casualties. The pinya, however, according to our tour guide, often looks disheveled and random in order, unless you know the plan exactly. After setting up the base, the next tier climbs up in their order. To build a strong tower, the lighter people are reserved for climbing, and the stronger, broader bodies stabilize the base. The symbol of a finished tower is raised by the anxenta, a small child who climbs to the top and raises an arm with a flag to salute the crowds. Although the tower buildup is complete, the tower has to be taken down first without falling apart to be crowned a winner and absolutely done. Recently, children have been permitted to wear foam – padded helmets; otherwise there is no protective wear.

Traditionally, during the construction of the tower, a flutist and drummer accompany the process with the melody Toc de Castells. The tune follows the supposable process and phases of construction and helps with the communal emotions of visitors. The towers are built during large festivals, and the usual season is summer – autumn, or June to November. A few years ago, to commemorate the tallest tower built yet, a sculpture was placed in a local square near Las Ramblas showing the incredible height (see picture below).

The rest of our time in Barcelona was spectacular! We used the same tour group that I used when in Brussels, the new Europe Sandeman tours. Like in Belgium, the tour was fantastic, and actually probably a better tour guide here. We went to the beach and walked the coastline for two miles or so, and grabbed supper near our hostel. Then, we went out to a local restaurant to try a local drink – although we were looking for sangria, they didn’t have so we each tried something different.

On our second day, we headed up to Costa Brava for some scuba diving fun! Stupidly, I forgot my underwater camera in London, and although we looked once in Barcelona, we couldn’t find one. So, I took a few photos before and after, of us in our wetsuits and swim gear. The diving aspect took some adjustment, but I actually got the hang of it rather fast, and my brother certainly took some more time. Once under, about 33 feet down, we explored for a little while and saw some cool sea urchins, a few anemones and several schools of fish.

The following day, my brother and I were driving each other plenty nuts, and so we separated – it was also our last day in Barcelona. We both walked with all our things (just a backpack, really) across the city to Segrada Familia. I was happy to walk around the outside and not go in, as I had had my fill of churches on my big Europe trip, but my brother wanted to go in. We separated; he went in and I headed to Montjuîc to see the castle and Joan Miró Foundation/Museum. Both places were fantastic, and together with the price of the lift up the mountain, cheaper than the entrance fee to Segrada Familia (with student discount). My brother and I were then supposed to meet at 2:30 at L’Placa de Espana, but he wasn’t there. After twenty minutes, I gave him a call and apparently he sent me an email that somehow I was supposed to know to look at. Anyway, he was still at Segrada Familia, so he wanted to meet at the train station, where we would catch our bus at 6 or 7pm – those were the last two. During my leftover time, I considered heading to Park Guëll, but instead I went into the L’Placa de Espana colosseum, which is a shopping mall with a lookout onto the city, at the top, and had a really good smoothie place! Then, I walked up to the National Museum of Catalán, and had my wonderful taste of sangria before heading back down the 300 or so steps, which they provided escalators too, but I persevered and walked all the way up and down. Then, I took the metro to our train station for the 7pm bus, which apparently doesn’t run on Fridays – something I certainly did not know before. I was stuck in a 60 minute downpour rain from walking to the metro, to searching for the bus, finding there was no bus and getting back to the train station for a train to Reus Barcelona airport, in order to catch the flight – clueless to where my brother was and soaked head to toe. Whilst on line for train tickets, my brother snuck up behind me and we caught a last minute train to Reus, and from there a taxi to the airport, and arrived five minutes before our flight was called and security closed – it was tight, but it’s a small airport and there were no other flights there, so we made it. Barely.

We got back to London around midnight, and caught a bus back to central London, and then walked the rest of the way to Ramsay. Overall, we had a really lovely time in Barcelona, and I really appreciate that my brother came to visit – although we did kind of drive each other insane.


British Sweets

Time June 30th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Here are some of my favorites:

Fizz Wizz = Pop Rocks

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Coca Cola Bottles

Time June 12th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I just saw this promotional video about the Coca Cola Company producing a new way to open the bottles, which requires social interaction. The video that I watched showed first year students at uni getting a coke bottle from a fridge, and then needing to open it. The bottle is opened only by twisting it off another bottle. Then once you have twisted off someone else’s cap, it would only be rude to not introduce yourself. In Britain, now the second year in a row that I’ve seen bottles with names on the label.

Bottle named Joanna from Windsor Castle. Photo credit given to Candace Yap.

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I didn’t get the one named Joanna, but I should have gone back for it!  I hope this fad comes to the States soon.  Although I do think this new cap opening routine is interesting, it’s somewhat ridiculous that we need Coca Cola to do this for us to be inspired to interact socially.


How the Aussies Talk

Time June 5th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Whilst traveling through Europe, my tour group was almost entirely Aussies, and 2 New Zealanders, 1 Colombian, and me.  Over the 20 days spent together, I discovered some interesting Aussie slang.  So if you choose to do a tour, it will most likely be filled with Aussies, as almost all of these tour groups cater to Aussies, and now you will know how to speak – or at least understand how they speak.

Meaning: Converse shoes.

Meaning: Barbeque

Don’t get your knickers in a knot
Meaning: Don’t worry.

Meaning: Lots and lots!

Meaning: Looking good!

Meaning: flip flops
{So when they say, ‘Do you think it will matter if I wear thongs to Vatican City?’ you will know it is actually okay because they are not talking about underwear.}

Breky {Not sure about the spelling on this one}.

Meaning: McDonald’s

Meaning: Sunglasses

Good On you
Meaning: Good for You!

Go for Gold
Meaning: Go for it!

Meaning: Thanks.

Meaning: Trousers

Ear bashing
Meaning: Constant chatter



A Few Safety Precautions Before Travelling Abroad

Time June 3rd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I probably should have covered this earlier, but there are some important safety precautions to take before travelling abroad.  Always prepare for worst, and usually the result is the best.

1) Before going abroad, scan a copy of your passport and keep one on your computer, one with a friend, and one in a separate place from your original, with you while abroad.  This applies for other essential information too.

2) If you are travelling alone, always send your itinerary to someone else too.  Someone that will notice you are missing if something is to go awry.

3) Bring enough medicine, if you take anything, for the time you are abroad – sometimes meds that come frequent in your home country, may not be prescribed in your new country.  Also, if you have allergies make sure to have your epi-pen with you (if necessary) and back up Benadryl – just in case.

4) If you carry a purse, it should be small and something that goes across your body.  When walking, your purse should be able to stay in front of your body, or in a position where you can place a hand over the zipper to prevent thievery.

5) Copy down the emergency numbers for the places you are visiting and maybe write them down on an easy-access card that you can carry at all times.  You never know when something bad may happen.

6) If there is a language barrier, try to learn some of the basics.  For every country I visited, I learned how to say ‘hello, goodbye, please/you’re welcome, thank you, how much?, do you speak English?, toilets, numbers 1 – 10, how are you?, good, taxi, exit, entrance,” and a few others.  It’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the language, so I know that saying ‘hello’ in the Czech Republic is “Ahoj!”  “Ahoj matey” was the common temptation for me!

7) It’s good to dress to your style, but try not to look to tourist-y.  Leave Greek sorority and fraternity letters at home, as well as your ‘I love America/NYC/LA’ t-shirt.  Same with jewelry, if you can avoid making yourself an easy target, why wouldn’t you?

8) Get insurance.  Most insurance that may cover you in the United States, or wherever you are from, may not cover you whilst abroad.  IFSA Butler provides private insurance that also covers your time in Europe, but generally it is important to have insurance in case of natural disaster, or theft or an accident.

9) Be aware.  Follow your gut, and if you are unsure about an area you are walking in, find a lit up street, or a place with a lot of people.  Avoid walking alone in a city you are unfamiliar with at night.

10) Finally, if you are very worried, or if your parents are, and you would like the U.S. to always know where you are, try this website:  Only available for U.S. citizens, and can be helpful.  I know a few friends who used it, however, I do not need the U.S. knowing my every step, so I avoided this website.  Up to you!

Hope these tips help, and stay safe while travelling!  Bon Voyage!


15 Phone Apps That May Help Abroad

Time June 3rd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have an iPhone, but I have tried to pick apps that also work for android phones.  I have not used these apps, unless stated otherwise, but I have friends who recommend them strongly.  Therefore I must give my friends at UCL (to remain unnamed) credit for this post idea.  Hope this helps!

For packing, INTO app includes checklists, and advice so you don’t forget Mr. Bear at home!

Once in a new city, Citymapper and Trip It. Trip It stores all travel details, like flights and trains and helps to schedule the days.  Citymapper – may only work for London – but basically shows tube map, city map and accounts for the rentable Boris bikes around London.

Exploring the new city also requires a few apps, like Trip Advisor city guides, World Lens Rough Guides, Viator, and Field Trip.  The first two are on my phone.  Trip Advisor city guides provides guides to most big cities in the world (beyond just Europe), and then you can access the guides when offline after downloaded for good ideas on the road!  Cities that I have downloaded include Barcelona, Berlin and Brussels, and a few others.  However, the app has guides for 31 cities in Europe, 26 cities in North America, 15 cities in Asia and Australia, 6 cities in Central and South America, and 4 cities in the Middle East and Africa.  Rough Guides is exactly that, through photos and features highlights from all the continents but Antarctica.  One of the great things about Rough Guides is that many off their suggestions are not particularly tourist-y things to see, and the guides are not just what to do, but also include food delicacies in certain places, or special activities particular to a location.  Viator finds tours and day trips in different locations.  Field Trip will send you automatic notifications when you are near a landmark or attraction – could be helpful, drain your battery, annoying or create many new adventures!

Expecting a language barrier?  Try iTranslate, Trip Lingo or Duolingo and iPronunciation.  I currently am using Duolingo, but not just for when I’m abroad, but to help with learning new languages.  The app tests the owner in many different ways and makes the language learning fun, and more permanent than the quick lookups for iTranslate.  However, iTranslate can be helpful if you have wifi or cellular data whilst abroad and you are worried about emergency situations.  I downloaded iTranslate a while back, but it only lasted about 5 minutes on my phone – it wasn’t for me.  iPronunciation is Google Translate on steroids. It allows you to use both Google Translate and Bing Translate with 53 languages and 17 phonetic transliterations. Trip Lingo covers local phrases on a sliding scale from ‘formal’ to ‘crazy’.  For instance, you could ask “how are you”…or “how are you heater pipe?” And in French.

After a great day of exploring, it’s nice to brag to parents or friends about your adventures, use Skype.  Skype, as well as GroupMe, Viber, and Whatsapp are all helpful apps to stay in touch with friends and family at home, and all over the world for free.



Rolling the Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Time June 3rd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last week I was in Barcelona, Spain for 4 days with my brother.  Despite taking Spanish for 12 years in grammar school, I do not remember much.  However, in emergency situations, which there were few, I could belt out some Spanish, which sounded good to me…until the person I was chatting with responded in English.

By the end of the trip, I did actually have two scenarios where I asked for directions, and the person responded in Spanish and I understood where to go.  The problem with Spanish, for me, is that I cannot roll my ‘R’s.  A necessary skill in Spanish.  My brother took 9 years of Spanish, and can speak much better than me, as he did take an extra year of higher level Spanish, and he can roll his ‘R’s.  To make up for this, I excel in many other languages, like French which I recently picked up and can speak the basics quite well.  I am also fluent (self-taught) in American Sign Language, and teaching myself British Sign Language now.  The people of Barcelona do not speak Spanish, French, ASL, or BSL or English, rather than speak Catalun – a very confusing type of Spanish, that is mixed with French for the special people that live in Catalonia.  Most signs and menus were written in Catalun, Spanish, French and English, or at least Catalun and French.  Kenny, my brother, could sometimes figure out the Catalonian language based on his Spanish skills, as could I – less of the time.  I could also use the helpful hints of French, and I took Latin for two years in high school, for which I can read and write, and is helpful for any romance language like Spanish, French and Italian.  Anyway, turns out I took the wrong language for 12 years of school – I should have been taking French, or something that I had more of a chance to pronounce correctly.  I still plan to work on my Spanish, as it’s a good language to know as a teacher, but my achievements in other languages reassure me that I am actually quite decent in languages, with the exception of Spanish.  Phew.

Maybe next, I’ll try to learn something quite random…Swahili?


Belgian Street Art

Time June 2nd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Featured street art from my trip to Belgium in February.  Enjoy!


Street Art of London

Time June 2nd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


5 Helpful Hints for European Travel: How You Go, When You Need to Go

Time May 6th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

1. Most toilets will require payment for usage.
2. Some toilets will be squat toilets, which means you squat and hover the toilet and hole whilst doing your business.
3. Instead of a vacant vs. occupied sign, many toilet stalls show the colour red for occupied, and green or white for vacant.
4. In some toilet stalls, the flush device has two parts – the smaller one is for flushing a number one, and the larger one is for the number two.
5. There are many different names including: WC, toilet, loo, the crapper, latrine, lavatory, potty, the can, privvie, the john, the stool, pothole, Think n’ Stink, the crapper, the buttholder, and the porcelain throne.

Hope this helps you to know before you go! :)

And, Gutentag from Lauterbrunnen, Swiss Alps, Switzerland!


Paris: Etes Beau!

Time May 5th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Bonjour from the first stop on my 20 day European adventure! I’ve just completed my Paris 2 night stay, and today I will be going to the Swiss Alps, Lauterbrunnen specifically. My Europe trip is somewhat pre-organized by Topdeck tours, similar to Contiki tours, if you’ve heard of them. However Contiki tours have a big party reputation, and Topdeck tours seem to focus more on sightseeing and creating your own experience — which is why I say ‘somewhat pre-organized.’ Yesterday was a full day for independent exploring, with the exception of breakfast in the hostel, and the sunset picnic behind the Eiffel Tower. The tour also provides optional activities, mainly for those who do not necessarily know what to do, or just want something a little extra, or touristy. I did not participate in any of the extra activities, and the people who did – for all three – said they were not particularly worth it. The choices included a Siene river cruise, a bike tour and/or a Cabaret show. The bike tour was popular but said to be a repeat of our city sightseeing tour from the night before.

Instead, I started my day at the Louvre with 5 other girls from the trip. The Louvre, as well as many other museums in Paris, is free to 18-26 year olds with EU passports, visas or university IDs. Rather than queuing up outside, like many, there is a somewhat secret (to tourists) entrance on the outer part of the Louvre under the arches called the Carousel de Louvre. We found the Mona Lisa before too many people arrived, and took necessary photos and then explored the rest of the museum for another 2 hours separately. We all met back up and walked from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower through the Tuileries Gardens. We each grabbed a quick crepe before queuing up for the Eiffel Tower. We walked from the base to level 2 for €4, €5 if you are over 24. There we decided the view was spectacular and we wanted to go all the way up, which was another €6. The lift to the top went slightly fast and I did not particularly enjoy my spot next to the window, despite the amazing views, my ears were popping and my stomach was dropping (it was not a great feeling).

After the tower – photos to come – the other five girls went to the bike tours, while I explored independently. I took the metro towards the Opera house to find a money exchange place, and a baguette. After success in both tasks, I came outside with my baguette to find a place to sit, and rather saw quite a sight of a parade of roller bladers through the street. All the cars stopped and cleared the way, the rollerbladers came through, took a snack break at the Opera House steps and then continued on – video to come. Next I took the metro to the Notre Dame, but ended up distracted by L’Orangerie – the museum with Monet’s water lilies, but there are two museums called Orangerie, and I went to the wrong one. Instead, I visited the Luxembourg museum and the Gardens of Luxembourg. I also picked up a croissant – to fully cover the required carbs of France. The time was approaching 7pm, which is when the picnic began under the Eiffel Tower, so I headed back there without having seen the Notre Dame. The picnic was lovely and featured macaroons and frog meat. I tried the macaroons, but I decided that trying the snail the night before was enough adventure for me. However, after the picnic, those who were not attending the cabaret went to the Notre Dame. The church is admirable architecturally for me, but that is all. Next we headed back to the hostel, grabbed a drink and showered before a well-deserved sleep.

This morning my legs are so sore, but I will have time to relax during our 9 hour bus ride to the Swiss Alps! Until my next splurge of wifi, happy Monday!


Greetings from Galway

Time April 9th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today I sat in the airport for quite a long time catching up on episodes of Community and then caught a flight to Dublin, which left Stansted at 6:50am.  I arrived at the airport Tuesday evening at 11pm…it was a long waiting process.  From Dublin, I took a bus to Galway.  After arriving, I found some lunch and embarked on a free walking tour.  The walking tour was relatively good, but the tour guide mixed up some of his facts — like the dates of the French Revolution (1787 – 1799), and the year Oliver Cromwell came to Ireland (1649).  However the tour was very personalised, with only two other people there.  The tour started and ended in Eyre Square, which is about a three minute walk from the bus station, and a five minute walk from the hostel.  The hostel I am staying at is named SleepZone, and I would definitely recommend them to anyone else.  They’ve been really helpful in pointing out good and cheap places to eat, and shop for souvenirs.  I enjoyed a cheese toastie (grilled cheese) at the Skeff, also in Eyre Square, for supper and received 10% off from the tour earlier.  Now I’m back at the hostel and researching what to do when I get to Dublin.  There is a pub crawl tonight with the walking tour group, and this one costs money, but I will not be going.  Tomorrow I am waking up early to tour the Cliffs of Moher and Burren.  I still need to finalise the tour that I will be on, so that’s my next task.  I’ll post photos tomorrow.  Tomorrow evening I am taking the bus to Dublin and meeting one of my best friends from TCNJ, who is studying in Dublin.  She is kindly hosting me for three nights and we are going hiking and exploring and having so much fun!  I’m so excited!!!  Happy Hump Day!! The week is almost over, for those of you who have work, and for those on break, enjoy it!


A Picture Perfect Polluted (P)Saturday in Paris

Time April 1st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I wanted the whole title to be of Ps, and it is – because obviously in PSaturday, the P is silent, and often left out.  Anyway, two weekends ago, I went to Paris with my parents (another P!) and we had a great time! My parents left London Thursday morning, and I met them in Paris Friday afternoon, after my class.  I took eurostar for the first time!  It was a lovely train ride, and literally everyone slept, and snored, except me – I was writing an essay.  Upon arriving, the train conductor announced that Paris is too polluted at the moment, and so all public transportation is free for the weekend!!  That was a great surprise, except for my parents who had already bought public transport passes.  Despite the warning of pollution, the air seemed cleaner than London, and definitely better than New York.  The Friday evening, we spent some time with a family friend, and then hit the hay!  On Saturday, my Dad had to do some work in the morning, so my Mum and I set off to explore!  We walked past many interesting places, including: the Opera House, the Eiffel Tower (see photos), the Louvre, the gardens in front of the Louvre (Tuileries Garden), the Lock Love bridge, among others.  After a lovely morning, my Mum and I stopped at a small cafe for lunch, and then met my Dad at the Musee D’Orsay, the famous impressionism art museum.  I loved the museum; impressionism is my favourite in art history, and their collection is unbelievable.  Also, the museum is an old train station which looks amazing and has a fantastic view of the city! That evening, we celebrated a Jewish holiday, Purim and went to a French-English-Hebrew synagogue to celebrate.  Before the celebration, we made sure to stop at a local bakery and try a chocolate croissant.  The Purim celebration was a lot of fun, and it’s a holiday where people dress up and some people had some very funny costumes!  The next morning, we picked up some plain croissants for breakfast, and a baguette for my lunch and headed back to London.  Once back in London, I went home to write essays and eat my baguette, and my parents left for the States.  It was a very lovely weekend and time in Paris, even if it was so short.

In a comparison of cities, I think generally people make a bigger deal of Paris than it really is, but no doubt it’s beautiful and very appealing in many ways.  The food is superb, but at the moment – nothing beats Belgium!  That’s definitely the country to beat at the moment, in my rankings, but I may feel differently after Italy in a few weeks.  We’ll see.  Until next time, enjoy the photos and happy Monday!


Adventure Weekend in Wales

Time March 21st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

For Adventure Weekend, we journeyed five and a half hours by bus to Northern Wales.  We stayed in a small town named Llanberis and explored the local area, as well as a coastal town, Llandudno.  On the Friday, driving up was long, but flew by rather fast with one pit stop, and a couple of movies for entertainment.  My bus buddy’s name was Catherine, and I did not know her before, but we had a lot in common and therefore, a lot to talk about.  Once we left London, the ride was filled with beautiful countryside, and was quite enjoyable!  After we arrived at the hotel, we had about an hour until supper, and so I found my room and roommate.  We took a little time to catch up and reunite, and then we went out on the town for some good exploring time.  On our walk, we found the word Padarn in many places, and that seemed to be our good joke of the weekend —until someone looked it up and we were all wrong.  The word was used on the sign entering the dining hall at the hotel, and on a park sign, and hardware store sign, and a menu.  The word was much more fascinating while we were unaware of its meaning.  That night, at supper my roommate, Rebecca and I met this guy Matt, from Cardiff University.  After supper, we headed down to the pub quiz, and our team of Matt, Rebecca, some other UCL students (Thao and Mary), and a Bristol student, Jeanine enjoyed the candy provided, which also made our team name: the Quiz Wizz Flumps.  Fizz Wizz is a purely sugar type of candy – like American pop rocks, or fun dip (without the stick).  Flumps is somewhat like a stick of cotton candy – but I’m not positive, as I did not eat that.  Our original name was the Fizz Wizz Flumps, but when registering our name, Oran (one of the many amazing people on the IFSA-Butler staff), misunderstood, and so we became the Quiz Wizz Flumps.  There were six rounds in this quiz, and our team did rather well, ending with 37 points making 3rd place!  2nd place had 38 points, so we were very close to getting medals and Cadbury creme eggs, but we were all happy with just sweets.  The first place team won 57 points out of 60, and the got medals and candy – psh, know it alls!  Did you know the longest metro line in London is the District Line?  We didn’t – we did not excel with those London questions.  We did know that Vatican City is the smallest country, but that may be less impressive.

Saturday morning – I woke up excited for the day ahead!  My daytime activities were canoeing and hiking.   After breakfast, we took a big group photo where we spelt out IFSA on a big hill in front of the hotel.  Next, I collected my lunch and met the canoeing morning team outside.  Then, went back inside to grab an extra set of clothes and all things essential.  The bus ride to the lake and canoe/adventure centre was about twenty minutes.  The staff at the centre were all very nice and welcoming.  We were then suited up – waterproof gear, another jacket and then a life jacket.  Off to the lake we went!  The canoeing was in pairs, and I partnered with my bus buddy from the previous day.  First, we played a few games and practiced our canoeing skills.  At the end of our session, we each prepared for the FLUME OF DOOM.  In the guides discussion of the area, it sounded exciting and so we all wanted to do it.  I’ve been whitewater rafting before, so I could tell that the flume of doom was only a grade 2, maybe in terms of rapids.  I’m sure that guides know, but they certainly enjoyed exaggerating its greatness.  Of course they did not tell us before doing so, that at the end of all of this, we had to carry the canoes back – which was very painful for our arms.  The canoeing was a lot of fun overall, and it was really nice to be out on water.  After changing back to our regular clothes, we headed back to the bus and ate our lunches.  The second half of the day, I signed up for the half day hike.  We walked to Dolbardarn castle, behind the hotel and received a history lesson from our guides.  Then we headed up Slate Mountain and back down and around.  The hike was really lovely, and definitely makes me want to do some more trips outside of London in April.  After all activities ended and everyone had a chance to shower and clean up, we had supper, and then an awards ceremony – which was slightly strange, and then the dance.  The awards ceremony was peculiar, only four or five people got awards for certain activities, and not every activity was presented an award, and it just seemed somewhat out of place, but the idea was sweet.  The dance was interesting, and quite a lot of fun to watch people dance– particularly the IFSA Butler staff, and a few songs were good for dancing, and then the others were good for watching and drinking.  That day was a super wonderful day and I had a great time!!  The IFSA Butler staff did a spectacular job!

On Sunday, with an early rise and breakfast, we boarded the buses and headed to Llandudno, the coastal town.  On the beach, the water was so pure and clear blue, and you could see for miles and miles.  I really enjoyed the town exploration.  There were also some windmills in the water, a few meters away from the coast.  We explored the centre of town, the beach and the pier.  Of course, it is very different from London, but I really loved the beautiful scenery, and it was such a lovely day too!

If you are reading my blog and looking to go abroad with IFSA Butler – definitely go on their adventure weekend!!

Llanberis - Friday Night

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A Groovy Kind of Love Letter to Speculoos

Time March 7th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Dear Speculoos,

I wasn’t aware of your existence until my recent, eye – opening trip to Belgium.  When we first met at the chocolate shop near Grand Place, I was intrigued, and interested by your cookie form.  I was tempted to get a pack, but I decided to wait, as it was the only the 2nd day of a 6 day trip. I was pleased to have another tasting when we re-visited the chocolate shop the following day.  After you did not appear in Antwerp at all, I was a little disappointed, but hopeful for the other cities.  You were much better to me in Bruges, with cookie tastings at various chocolate shops, and the big debut of speculoos gelato.  Even though the homemade gelato place sometimes makes Viagra too, you were fantastic!  You only lasted about ten minutes due to your epic deliciousness.  I was really looking forward to the next encounter, which was at the end of our trip in Ghent.  I spotted you as a buttery spread in a glass jar in the Carrefour express.  After little contemplation and persuasion, you were able to convince me.  The bus ride home was a long one, and you certainly made it easier.  You are so flexible, and were tasty with the baguette and alone.  When I got home, I dipped in some apple, and that was good too.

I love the way you compliment everything.  I love your smell.  My friends love your smell too.  …You’re great. It’s difficult to put it into words.

While writing this letter, I am playing music from my phone, and on comes the song, Groovy Kind of Love by Phil Collins.  Phil Collins — he gets it.  “When I’m feeling blue, all I have to do, Is take a look at you, then I’m not so blue.”  Obviously his song, is an ode to you too…although for me, a look isn’t enough – a sniff, a taste…the whole jar.

You helped me stay awake and write two essays.  You were there for me for a solid week or so, until you were finished.  But this is not the end.  As my friend John Lennon liked to say, “Everything will be okay in the end.  If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”  I’ll keep searching for you in the London markets and stores, and when I’m in Paris next weekend, I’ll look for you in their Carrefour stores.  When I return to the USA, I’ll look for you there too…I’m told that you have been introduced at Trader Joe’s.  I hope to see you again soon!

Love,  ~ Joanna F.  :)  :)

P.S. – After Groovy Kind of Lovemy phone played Bad Case of Loving You by Robert Palmer, and then Lay All Your Love on Me by ABBA.  Obviously, my phone feels the same way.


Left or Right?

Time February 26th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As I walk the streets of London I continue to feel very confused and unsure about which side of the pavement to walk on…do you keep left because cars drive on the left?  Do you go right, like on an escalator?  Or do you just dodge in and out wherever you can and hope that you don’t get poked in the eye by an umbrella?  This is a serious issue.

Yesterday I was in the Main building on campus, walking to the library and at the stairs, I zig zagged from left to right walking up, as groups of people passed by taking up the whole width of the stairs.  Additionally, sometimes people are stopped on the side, and then I’m even more confused.  There should be rules posted in various places for this.  For instance, in London, there are maps everywhere showing the streets in a 2 mile radius or so.  Essentially, as one of my friends told me, London is saying – I know we are a confusing city, and it’s hard to follow all of this, so we are going to help you by placing maps everywhere.  They really need something like that for which side to stand on…when climbing the stairs, or walking on the pavement.  I do know though, that on an escalator, you stay on the right side unless you are in a rush, then you go to the left side.  When I go on the right side, I seem mistaken, and when I go on the left side I crash into people.  I’m thoroughly confused and I would really appreciate some education in pavement etiquette.



Do Not Procrastinate.

Time February 26th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last week was reading week, and I went to Belgium.  Belgium was wonderful; I loved the culture, and the history and overall it was a lot of fun.  There will be another post exclusively about Belgium though.  This post is about the week before reading week.  I had two essays due, one on Thursday, and one for Friday.  The one that was due Thursday was easy, and I knew exactly what I wanted to say, so it was all okay.  However, the one for Friday was a little more stressful.  For starters, I had done all the research before hand, and knew exactly what I wanted to say, I just need to construct the essay.  On Thursday night, after having no sleep Wednesday night, I planned on having a short nap, but I ended up sleeping until 6am Friday morning.  I was a little panic-y waking up with a full essay to write by 2pm that day, but I picked up some confidence and optimism and started writing.  I also had class at 11am, which is usually a travelling and walking around London class, but luckily that day was a seminar class in the lecture room.  By class time, I was almost done, about 300 words under.  In class, we were all on our computers and I was half paying attention to the video we were watching, and taking notes on that, and half concentrating on my essay.  Class finished at 1pm, and I headed over to the department of archaeology, as my essay was for my Ancient Egypt in London Collections class.  I logged on to a computer in the lab, and finished my essay.  I did two rounds of proofreading, and the bibliography in about forty minutes.  Then, I printed everything.  The printing at UCL is a little different than what I’m used to.  My ID is connected to a printing account just for me, and when I print papers from a UCL computer, it goes to my print account from my log-on.  Then, I can go to any printer on campus and swipe my ID, and it will show me the pages that I sent for printing and I can pick what I want to print.  The first printer I went to was broken.  The second one worked, and I printed out the eight page essay, and bibliography.  Then, I realised that I need a second copy for the second reader of the essay – again something they do differently here.  I made the second copy, and it was 1:52pm.  I ran downstairs one floor to get a cover sheet, then ran to the front desk to fill out the cover sheet and staple it all together.  I submitted my essay in the box at 1:58pm, gave a high five to the front desk secretary and waltzed on out!  Although I ended up being okay, do not procrastinate.  Procrastination is bad, and stressful.

Have a good day!  And look out for a few more posts this week – I’m playing catch up.


Warwick Castle and Stratford-Upon-Avon

Time February 11th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

On Saturday, I joined my IFSA- Butler peers on one of our three pre-paid day excursions to Warwick Castle and Stratford-Upon-Avon.  I have been to Stratford-Upon-Avon twice before.  The first time I went (in 2005), my mum, brother and I explored Shakespeare’s house and the garden and explored a wee bit of the town, and then saw a play.  The second time (last May), my parents explored the city while my brother and I went to the beautiful butterfly farm on the edge of the town, and then we had supper and saw As You Like It performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. In anticipation of the trip, I was quite excited to see Warwick Castle, and interested to explore more of the town of Stratford-Upon-Avon.

From Ramsay Hall, where I am living, my friends and I took the tube and then walked a little over to Notting Hill and the IFSA Butler office, where three beautiful coach buses were waiting.  One of the coach buses (and I should have taken a picture because it looked great) was a double decker, which for public transportation is normal, but I’ve never seen that for coach.  Unfortunately I got on line too early, and I was not assigned to the double decker bus, but I will keep my fingers crossed for the next trip.  Anyway, I found my friends on the bus, but I was buddy-less when it came to seating arrangements, so I decided to be a little social and meet someone new.  I sat next to Will, a student studying at University of York and was actually looking for a friend on the trip, as he did not know anyone.  The arrangement worked out very well, and he joined some of my friends for the rest of the day.  Will and I had an intriguing conversation for the almost – two hour ride to Warwick Castle and became rather familiar, while most people slept.  It’s good to be social.

The road trip was really lovely though, as we passed by many sheep, beautiful scenery, and had a glimpse of the terrible floods that have been destroying southern England.  For a change, the weather was superb, and we really could not have asked for a better day!

When we finally arrived at Warwick Castle, we were pushed into the entryway, and free to explore.  Although the playground was very tempting, my friends and I headed towards the main tower and entrance hall first.  The castle is beautiful, elegant, and a little extravagant – as castles should be.  The castle was originally owned by William the Conqueror, and now belongs to Madame Tussauds and the Tussauds group.  Just a little bit of history – William the Conqueror in 1068 had the castle built of wooden motte and bailey, and then throughout the Middle Ages the castle was rebuilt in stone.  If not for Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great in 914, the Danish may have owned this land.  Now, Warwick Castle has been restored, added to, given the ‘World’s Largest Trebuchet’ and hosted many royals and other visitors.

The trebuchet is a seasonal attraction, and so like the jousting arena was not open.  The great hall was magnificently decorated with elaborate armour, swords, bows and other weapons.  My favourite first floor room was Queen Anne’s bedroom.  Particularly, the tapestries were interesting, and apparently, urine was added to stop the natural colours from running. In fact, men were paid to drink large quantities of beer so that an adequate supply was available.  The second floor had a small chapel with a small, but beautiful organ and lovely stained glass windows.  I think my friends and I had the most fun taking photos with the wax makeups of people in the different rooms.  I’ve never been to Madam Tussauds, and I’m not sure this visit convinced me to go – the wax sculptures are creepy!  Overall, we had a great time exploring the state rooms and the great hall!

Next, we headed over to The Mound, where we could actually see Stratford-Upon-Avon.  The walk up was refreshing and made for some great photos.  The photos only got better as we reached the top with a spectacular view, and really a very clear day.  The wind did become very strong, and we were almost blown away.  We walked back down, and checked out the smaller towers, one of which used to hold the bears used for baiting.  With about fifteen minutes left until we needed to head back for the buses, we tried entering the Princess tower, but apparently we are too old to be princesses (ages 3 – 8).  Instead, we explored the Kingmaker, which follows Richard Neville’s preparations for battle.  The whole process was very interesting, and we also enjoyed dressing up as knights, taking more photos with wax figures and killing each other with wooden swords!

After the Kingmaker, we headed back to the bus for a thirty minute ride over to Stratford-Upon-Avon.  On the bus, I met another new friend, Krithika, also in need of a friend, and so she joined our group for the rest of the afternoon.  Once we arrived in the quaint town and birthplace of Shakespeare, we left the buses and searched for lunch.  After some exploration and comparison of prices, we settled on The Food of Love.  I enjoyed a plate of fish and chips and mushy peas, which I did not eat actually.  The best part was hot apple cider, which is definitely one of my favourite drinks!  After lunch, we explored a few shops – one with a Peter Rabbit theme, and one that was Harry Potter themed.   We also checked out the Shakespeare tourist centre, where my friends wanted to see his house.  It costs £15, and I did not feel the need to see it again, and my friends decided it was too expensive, so we kept walking and just explored the town!  We saw a street performer dressed up like Shakespeare (see photo below).  In the last twenty minutes of our trip, we got caught in some nasty rain and winds, but it was lovely to see the town and walk around otherwise.  Most people then slept on the ride home, and the scenery was once again very nice.

Overall, it was a great day with lots of adventures, exploring, meeting new people and seeing some quality sights!  I look forward to the next IFSA – Butler trip in two weeks to Stonehenge and Salisbury – and I promise, they did not pay me to say this – it really was fun!  :)


Living The Tourist Life

Time February 3rd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I cannot believe I have been in London for a month already – the days are flying by!  The first several days were filled with countless greetings and names being thrown in every direction, and a lot of information concerning orientation.  On the nights off and the weekend before classes began, I enjoyed some exploration time!  Some of my friends and I went to Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and the V&A – all of which I have seen before, but are still enjoyable. The Friday before classes, a few of us went to Mully’s Bar – one of three UCL bars – for an International Students British pub quiz.  Did you know that Knightsbridge is the only tube stop to have seven consecutive syllables?

The scheduling is a little funny here, and so the first two weeks are when students can test the waters, and see what classes are like before their schedules (a word that is pronounced funny here) are finalised.  With my class schedule, I am free on Wednesdays which is lovely for traveling.  My first Wednesday off, I visited the house from the Parent Trap and Platform 9 3/4 with a few friends.  After lunch time, we collected our cameras and rain gear and heading over to South Kensington via tube.  From the tube station, we walked a few blocks over to find the house.  Quickly our excitement dwindled down as we found the house to be under construction and barely recognisable (that ‘s’ was in fact intentional – the Brits tend to swap the letter ‘z‘ for ‘s‘).  After the Parent Trap fail, my friends and I decided crepes would make up for the disappointment and so we stopped by the Creperie Cremerie in South Kensington, which was delicious.  I had a summer fruits crepe, which featured an assortment of berries, currants, chocolate and whipped cream! Yummy!  After filling our tummies, we took the tube to King’s Cross Station and ran into Platform 9 3/4 (literally).  Each of us chose a house scarf and took a photo with the trolley.  There was also a photographer there for photos you can buy and a man whose job is to hold the end of the scarf to make it look like we are running into the wall…I want that job.  Then, we headed back to Ramsay Hall and enjoyed our dining hall food and called it a night!

A few days later, I took on another adventure: the London bus system.  The London buses are very nice on the inside, and double decker which makes them even better.  The map however is slightly confusing.  First, we planned on heading over to Borough Market near London Bridge (which is not as big of a deal as most people think it is).  We started at Warren Street and found that the Northern Line was only running for certain stops, so we took the Victoria Line to King’s Cross, and then wanted to change to the Northern Line.  Whilst on the second tube ride, the train suddenly stopped at Angel and said the train was terminating here.  From Angel, we were all clueless.  We followed the crowd outside and found a bus stop with a direct bus to the London Bridge stop.  Then everyone from our train pushed their way on the bus, and off we went.  The market was very nice, but expensive.  I had one chicken skewer with veggies from the soul food stand for lunch for £4.  I also indulged and had one scoop of salted caramel ice cream made from goat’s milk on a cone, which was delicious and a bargain!  After the market, we walked over the London Bridge, took some photos and saw the Great Fire of 1666 Monument.  Despite the bitter cold, we decided to head up the monument (£3 and 311 steps).  It was even chillier at the top, but it was beautiful and provided a great view.  My fear of heights made the experience slightly less enjoyable, but I was very thankful for the fence around the full top.  After the monument, we each received a certificate of completion and then headed home.

I have found that the easiest way to distinguish between a tourist and a local is that most tourists have google maps open on their phone while walking around.  I have a basic phone, so that does not work for me, but thus far I have enjoyed all my exploring adventures/getting lost.


What Are You Most Excited For?

Time December 20th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As school finished up, and I said my goodbyes, all my friends asked, “What are you most excited for?”  After much thought, I responded, “I’m most excited for the unexpected.  Although I am very excited to be living in London, traveling elsewhere on breaks and weekends, and meeting lots of people, the best thing always seems to be the unknown!”

Finals week just ended for me, and I drove through the lovely snowstorm on Tuesday night to finally get home and eat real food again!  Per usual, I’ve been spending quality time seeing a few high school friends, watching movies, reading for fun, volunteering and eating clementines.  I will never be apathetic towards traveling; despite the heavy expenses and exhaustive nature, it’s exhilarating, inspiring and fickle. Slowly, I have begun squishing my life into two suitcases and figuring out what I’m missing.  I am so excited to be a student in an amazing city at such a prestigious university, making new friends and getting soaked by London rain.  For the next week and a half, I’ll be busy with lots of packing and goodbyes, and then: LONDON.    Until then, hope everyone is having a great week and Happy Friday!
~ Joanna F.  :)  :)