Monday, 24 November 2014

My Meet-a-Family Experience

While it's been outrageously fun to travel Europe like a poor college kid for the past three months, one of my favorite experiences from Harlaxton has been the Meet-a-Family Experience. It was nice to still have a sense of home, even when separated from family by thousands of miles. To my Meet-a-Family—Maureen, Keith, and Callum—thank you all so much for graciously having us over and feeding us almost weekly. And thank you for not only hosting Katy and I, whom you had planned on, but also adopting Cody and Raquel.

Every family in the Meet-a-Family Experience program functions a bit differently. As far as my family, though, we gathered almost each Wednesday for dinner. It was so good to have a home cooked meal to look forward to each week after a ton of Refectory food. (No offense, Refectory food.) We really got to know the family as well and developed a better understanding of current British culture. For example, I first learned that the UK referred to bathrooms as toilets at my family's house. And if you ever want to visit one, knowing that they are called toilets in the UK is pretty important. Ever asked a British person for the nearest bathroom? You get a look of confusion and a "Sorry?" I also learned the term for zucchini at their house: courgette. Still waiting for that one to come in handy…

To current students, I'm sorry if you all did not get to participate in the Meet-a-Family Experience. To future students, I would definitely recommend it. It's a great way to get to know some local people and really develop an understanding and appreciation for Grantham, and England, and the United Kingdom as a whole.

Here is my Meet a Family group minus Raquel, who was taking the photo.

-Sydney Rae Davis

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


To be bluntly honest with everyone, I didn't have a strong reason for going to Denmark, or any reason for that matter. I just knew I wanted to visit another European country (besides the UK) where English was widely spoken and I could get a round trip ticket on the cheap. Denmark met all of the criteria. Feeling the heavy, anxiety inducing end-of-the-semester pressure to get out there and be some sort of champion adventurer of global citizenry, I had booked a hostel room, train ticket, and an easyJet flight before I actually grasped what I was doing. I'm not a spontaneous man, and for once I think I was too surprised with myself to second-guess my decision or feel anxious about this solo undertaking.

So in a couple weeks, I was off. Due to my overcautious planning and the superiority of  British public transportation I arrived at London Gatwick around 9PM…….for my 7AM flight. I don't think you need to be much of a traveller to appreciate how long of a layover ten hours is. I think I'm actually entitled to some sort of squatter's rights for the bench outside the Costa in the South Terminal, but I digress. By the time I boarded my flight I would have flown to Kabul if it meant seeing something other than the inside of Gatwick airport. 

My flight was comfortable and the time passed quickly, but that's probably because I fell asleep immediately after take off and woke up ten minutes before touch down. Right away, passport control made me realize just how different of a cultural and political setting I was in. I don't think the officer so much as gave me a second look before stamping my passport and sending me on my way. I was on the metro into the city when I met my first crisis.

I was still getting used to the way British public transport worked, and it was no easier in Denmark despite all the instructions being in English as well as Danish. I'm sure you've heard of someone riding a train in circles, but I may be the first person you've heard of getting stuck on a train going in a straight line. The frustrating, sinking feeling when the train started heading in reverse back towards the airport pushed me to do something I was hoping to avoid, asking a local for help, as a foreigner. Now I had done my research, I knew that a lot of Danes could speak English well, but I would be doing the same thing I found annoying about foreigners, just go somewhere and speak your native tongue and hope they understand you? It seemed so rude. But I had no other option and asked a metro attendant, and they responded, politely enough, in perfect English. It was a strange feeling and I know why, it was the first time in my life when I had truly been a foreigner. Can't say I cared for it very much.

There wasn't too much of the day left by the time I checked into my hostel, I walked around some downtown and wondered if I got lost how would I ask for directions. Attempting to either spell or pronounce Danish street names seemed equally impossible. So I limited myself to a set square area around my hostel where it would just be a matter of a right turn to get myself back. Not the most adventurous day, I'll admit.

By the time it was dark, or as it is known in Denmark during winter, "most of the time", I was inside the hostel lobby. As far as I could tell, staying outside after dark in November was not something the Danes enjoyed, and I can tell you it is certainly not something a Bahamian does. So there I was, inside and warm drinking coffee and a few pints of Carlsberg while reading a book I had bought at the airport. It was a good feeling; cozy, content, secure. The Danes have a word for this sort of thing, "hygge". While I'm sure there are more conservative elements who would argue that my simple reading and beer drinking was not real Danish hygge, I couldn't help but feel I was participating in my own way in something from an entirely different culture I had just been exposed to for the first time. Anyone can be cozy, but this was my hygge, it had to be.

My next day came and went very quickly, mostly because I accidentally slept in until 4 PM. I didn't have time to wallow in self-pity about wasted daylight, and threw myself back onto the streets to experience something. Honestly my only real plan had been a free walking tour that morning and it should go without saying that I wasn't able to participate. So I just sort of wandered. The bright neon of Friday night soon took over the grey November day and spilt bright blue and red artificial light onto Stroget, the main shopping street of Copenhagen. I think just about anything a man could want was on that street, but to a college student with less than 1000 kroner (about 100 pounds) in his pocket it was a brightly lit, dazzling tease beckoning you to leave just a bit of your money inside one of its stores. I tried not to spend too much time there. From there, I could see Tivoli, rides flying and zipping around the park like colorful airplanes way too low to the ground. I walked over and peered through the iron gates. A far cry from the grey, metal behemoths like Universal Studios or Disney World, Tivoli seemed to be made up of rides inside an actual park, the greenery of ideal picnic grass sitting at the feet of illuminated roller coasters. Walking more in my self-established "safe zone" I stood outside monuments and massive museums. A shame I hadn't been up in time to actually go inside them, but at least they were nice on the outside too.

Eventually I came upon Southern Cross Pub, an Australian style establishment. An Australian style pub in downtown Copenhagen? I could not resist the exquisite cultural clash, and my sore feet and need for warmth pushed me through the door. Everything felt very familiar, low ceiling, dim light, copies of The Sun and The Daily Mail at the bar, Liverpool Football Club paraphernalia, I guess it made sense considering I had been essentially living in England for over three months. As I sat down and ordered a pint of Carlsberg, I felt like I was being observed by a familiar face. Which made sense as I immediately afterward noticed the face side of a Bahamian one dollar bill smack right in front me. I needed a picture. The bartender noticed me taking pictures of his money wall and I explained I was Bahamian, and never expected to see a dollar here of all places. He was Australian, not much older than myself, and accompanied by a Danish man of similar age. I explained to the Dane about what and where the Bahamas was. It was so refreshing to explain my nationality to someone so far removed that they accepted everything at face value. Usually explaining my Bahamian citizenry to an American or a British person meant a song and dance about my ethnicity and how I was not actually a missionaries' child or some sort of criminal evading paying taxes to the IRS. I actually managed to strike up friendly conversations, something that I found hard to do in English pubs. I feel like I learned more about Danish culture in the two hours I was in that pub than I had in all previous thirty-six hours or so of my visit. I got ear fulls about how I should come back for pickled herring for Danish Christmas Lunch (I will happily pass on that one), about rivalries with Swedish brothers-in-law (a common rivalry, apparently), how everyone had to learn English in school (watching Friends was a homework assignment!), and most entertaining, learning to play a Scandinavian version of Liar's Dice with some of the bartenders (it so happens I’m not very good at it).

The first minutes of the next day arrived, and I politely said farewell to my new mates and headed back to grab a few hours rest before my flight in the morning. As I boarded the plane I couldn't help but think that explaining my time in Copenhagen may sound incredibly boring if I listed what I actually did. But even though I may have slept too much and not done what most would consider the must see's and must do's of Copenhagen, I couldn't help but feel some pride and fulfillment in what I had managed to do. One of the Danes I talked to said "it's brave what you're doing, anytime you go anywhere, you are an ambassador for your country whether you want to be or not". Something about that stuck with me, and I hope maybe in the back of a few Danes' minds whenever they hear Bahamas, they'll think of that Bahamian from nowhere at the end of the pub.

-James Albury

P.S. Ms. Olk asked me if I would include a few pictures and I apologize. My photography is as much representational art in the same way a five year old's fingerpaints are Van Gogh masterpieces. Google images will serve you far better if you want to find out what Copenhagen really looks like.  

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Lovely Lake District

Hey readers! My name is Jessie. I'm a nursing major at the University of Evansville and scheduled to graduate in May 2016. I've loved all of my time at UE so far, but nothing compares to this amazing semester abroad. Being at Harlaxton is like living in a fairy tale. Trips to foreign countries on the weekends and coming home to an amazing countryside manor make for a wonderful life. Recently, the school sponsored a trip to the Lake District, which is considered to be one of the UK's most beautiful areas – and for good reason. It's got hills, lakes, rivers, and plenty to do. Our hostel (pictured below) was on the shores of the lake in Ambleside, which meant stunning views every time I stepped outside. While there, I did both "excursions" sponsored by the school: canoeing and ghyll scrambling

Canoeing was interesting. In true UK fashion, it rained off and on throughout our time on the lake. But, a little rain never killed anybody, and the clouds just added to the beauty of the area. Our guides were funny locals that encouraged us to make the trip fun. We paddled across the lake and up a little stream where most of us got stuck before the group was forced to turn around. The water was down in the stream, so our canoes wound up tangled in branches of trees and weeds or dragging the bottom. At one point, we went under a bridge (below) not much taller than our boats.

Ghyll scrambling was one of the best experiences I've had in the UK. I don't know about you, but before this trip I had never heard the word ghyll, and I'd certainly never heard of people scrambling one. Ghyll scrambling is essentially climbing/wading up a waterfall/stream. The ghyll we "scrambled" was called Stickle Ghyll. Although I couldn't take pictures during the activity (I didn't fancy a soaking wet phone), I do have a picture of where we climbed. Sometimes we found ourselves wading against the current, occasionally as deep as my ribs. We climbed up rocks, which was fun but challenging. When someone was too short to reach where they needed to be, or just needed a hand, everyone was more than happy to help out. At one point, our guides challenged us to climb across a fallen tree and scale the rocks on the opposite side (all while crossing chest deep water). This was probably my favorite part of the trip. 

My friends and I started our weekend with a "Treetop Trek" adventure Friday morning. It was a high ropes course that took about an hour and a half to finish. It had swinging bridges, zip lines, and tight ropes, among other obstacles. Although there wasn't a view of the lake from the area, we did get to start our trip with great views of the trees and hills. The course started simple and close to the ground, but quickly advanced to higher and bigger obstacles (34 of them to be exact). We had lunch at the cafe at the top of the hill and walked back into town with just enough time for a rest before a hike. 

During free time, most of us went for a hike (or two, or three). It was a great time, and a great chance for some beautiful pictures. My friends and I went for a more mild option and hiked around a waterfall. Unlike the scrambling, I stayed nice and dry this time. The streams around the park were crystal clear and surrounded by beautiful woods. There wasn't much climbing to be done, but we did venture down some rocks to the side of a stream for pictures (and to test the water's temperature…which was freezing cold). 

We also used our free time to walk around in Ambleside, the adorable town we were staying in. It had plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance. It was hilly with beautiful stone buildings and winding streets. Walking around felt like being on a movie set. Although it was mostly cloudy, when the sun came out it was beautiful. 

The weekend was a huge hit. It gave me, and my classmates, a chance to get outside and be active for a couple of days: something I sorely miss from home. 

Thanks for reading!

Jessie Earle

Monday, 3 November 2014

Cardiff, Wales

For knowing nearly nothing about it until we got there, Cardiff was a great time. A couple of the cool things about it are that it's relatively cheap and almost everything is within walking distance. Now, I wouldn't recommend spending your long weekend there. But if you're looking to go to Wales on a weekend, Cardiff is perfect for a short break.

Where we stayed
The hostel we stayed at--Riverhouse Backpackers--is by far the best one I've stayed at in Europe so far. We stayed in a 6 person mixed dorm that was not only spacious but contained lockers in which every traveler could put his or her possessions. The hostel also offered free WiFi and breakfast, which was an array of toast and jams, cereals, yogurts, pastries, and more. Not to mention, the hosts were very sweet and accommodating. I give it a ten out of ten.

What we did
The Maze Runner
Another advantage of the hostel is that it is very centrally located. It actually turned to be about a two-minute walk from a movie theatre, which came in handy since it was raining pretty heavily when we arrived. We couldn't really do anything else in the rain and we weren't hungry yet, so we saw The Maze Runner (great movie, by the way). The theatre, Vue, was also pretty cheaply priced at £6.65 per student ticket.

After the movie we were pretty hungry, so we walked to this pub close to both the movie theatre and our hostel called O'Neill's. I got mac and cheese with grilled chicken in it that was absolutely delicious. Again, it was pretty cheap at just £6 for absolutely delicious food.

Arcades in Wales are not what the typical American pictures at the mention of the word. Rather than areas that house tons of games and sugar-crazed children, Arcades in Wales are beautiful indoor/outdoor shopping centers that are all somewhat close together. They house coffee shops and tearooms, your typical stores like H&M, high end stores, and some quirky ones as well. It's definitely worth at least a walk through a few of them. The ones we went to are the Morgan Arcade and the Queen's Arcade.

Bute Park
If you're looking for a nice place to relax after some shopping or just to have coffee and enjoy nature, Bute Park is a great place to do so. It's not as stunning as Amsterdam's Vondelpark or expansive as London's Hyde Park, but it's still a very relaxing and beautiful environment. We saw lots of families talking walks, people biking and running, having picnics, and just hanging out.

Cardiff Market
It's difficult to say how I feel about this market, since I'm kind of in love with London's sprawling and delicious Borough market. The Cardiff Market was still good, though, and again cheap. I got a full breakfast for just £3.50, and it was pretty good. Instead of food, though, the market primarily sells goods, which surprised me. Still, I would say it's worth a visit. Also, I'm still trying to figure out what a dish of faggots and peas is...

National Museum Cardiff
I'm not a big fan of museums, but this one was free and we were close to it, so we ended up checking it out. There are two sections to the museum: natural history and art. We spent the majority of our time there in the natural history section, which admittedly was pretty cool. The art section... Well, this was one of the exhibits:

If you're unsure of what you're looking at, that's ok. I was very unsure after watching it circle around the metal track for a full minute. Maybe I just don't get visual art…? But then again, maybe mechanical goats are the very highest form of art in Wales. Who knows?

The rest of our time in Cardiff we mainly spent walking around and stopping at little street markets. Again, I wouldn't recommend a long weekend there, but if you're looking to spend a little time in Wales, Cardiff is a good destination.

Sydney Rae Davis