Independence Day Shenanigans

I spent America’s Independence Day swimming, eating and enjoying fireworks with family as usual.

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Me playing with a sparkler

My aunt hosts 4th of July at her house each year, yet people still ask if/when she’s hosting it. It’s become a running joke with my family whenever people ask about it.

This 4th was hotter and less cloudy than the last ones, so it was a nice chance to swim for the majority of the day.

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But when the sun went down, we pulled up our chairs around the fire pit and celebrated freedom! We lit some sparklers and threw some snaps, then set off some bigger fireworks. My family joked around about who had the best fireworks in the neighborhood.

My cousin even claimed a spaceship sighting:

Up next: Exploring Sweden and Denmark as I take a summer comparative media class in Lund, Sweden

 

Spring Break and Camping

Over spring break last month, I volunteered at Bear Creek Lake State Park in Va. I worked with other ESU students to rake leaves and clean up campsites. We learned more about environmental conservation and formed new friendships with each other.

On the final day at the park, we split off into groups. Group one built picnic tables for the campsites and group two did trail maintenance. I was part of group two.

Doing trail maintenance was surprisingly the most fun I had at the park. We rerouted a trail so water would not erode the  walking path. To reroute, we had to clear a new path. We worked together to cut down and unroot trees that would be in hikers’ ways. It felt nice to do something I have never done before.

Me holding the tree stump I uprooted
The next day, we were supposed to go to Washington D.C., but drove thorough the city and stayed at a hotel in Md. instead because of the impending snow storm. What a tease.

I was looking forward to D.C. because I have been to so many other nations’ capitals, but not my own. Nevertheless, the state park volunteer work made this spring break fun, even though I spent the majority of the rest of break shovelling snow.

The trail maintenance was something new I did over break, but the weekend after I tried another new activity: rock climbing.

I spent my first weekend after break camping at Stony Acre’s with Rotaract club. We spent that Saturday transporting tree limbs for firewood and raking leaves at the campground. Then we did team building exercises and rock climbing. 

Most of us had never rock climbed before. Two girls made it to the top of the wall and I made it about halfway up. My hands slipped quite easily on the small rocks on the wall, which made climbing it difficult for me. But I am proud of myself for trying something new. I may not be good at it, but now I can say I rock climbed!

Any activities that make you proud you tried? Or anything you wish you would have tried when given the chance?

New Year’s in Brussels

Before my flight to Brussels, Belgium on New Year’s Eve, I was getting super excited because I would be celebrating with my friend/study abroad flatmate Dara. Our flights were scheduled to land 15 minutes away from each other, so we planned to meet in the airport. Well… Turns out Brussels has two airports and we each flew into a different one.

After the initial confusion of trying to find each other at arrivals in our opposite airports, we finally met midway at a train station. We talked over lunch about our travel adventures after we last saw each other in England. It was refreshing catching up and speaking freely in English after being surrounded by mostly Spanish speakers in Barcelona. 

Dara (left) and me celebrating NYE

I realize that through solo travel I meet so many new and interesting people. Although most Europeans speak English, it is not always their first language, so I find myself going mute sometimes as not to reveal that I am a foreigner. I wish I could speak every language, that is my top pick for a superpower.
On New Year’s Eve, we took part in the Brussels Pub Crawl. We lost the group early on, but so did everyone else on the crawl. Our big group ended much smaller by the end of the night, but I still had fun.

The countdown

Dara and I ran outside as the countdown came close to midnight. The festivities reminded me of New York’s celebration, but on a much smaller scale and without a ball drop or fireworks. Instead we had the countdown clock in the middle of the square, giant puppets made of lights and confetti raining down. I was so happy in that moment; celebrating in the middle of the Belgian festivities was a nice change from my usual sitting around my aunt’s house and watching festivities on TV. Being part of a public celebratory atmosphere is something I think everyone should experience at least once.

Huge glowing people

The next day I slept a lot. I slept so much I think I made myself even more sleepy. I finally got out of bed at around 4 p.m. Rodrigo, a local I met on the pub crawl, showed me and Dara around some local pubs. One was death themed, but it was cooler than you would think. There were coffins for tables, fake bats on the ceiling and skeletons on the walls. Another had beer brands from around the world all over the ceiling and a bottles covering an entire wall.

The wall
Rodrigo, me and Dara

At the death themed pub, Rodrigo, originally from Brazil, overheard the people next to us speaking Portuguese and struck up a conversation. Since he speaks mainly French and Portuguese, with a little English, our communication was a bit difficult but we managed well enough. Of course not including the time it took about half an hour to explain getting to a train station. The other Brazilains joined us, and it was nice having more cool people to hang out with and translate each other’s sentences.

Dara and I then took a train to Gent, Belgium for our final day in the country. Gent has colourful street art, sparkling canals and cozy shops. We tried Belgian waffles for the first time and they are so much more fluffier than any other waffles I have had before! We walked around the town and visited the holiday market, where we ate some more waffles. This time I had one with chocolate on top.

Gent street art
Canal
Belgian waffle with chocolate

At the end of the day, we returned to Brussels to pack for our next journeys and sleep. Dara was headed back to the States, and my next destination was France. I woke up for my early train the next day, gave Dara a “see you soon” hug and off I went. I did not say goodbye because we have become so close over the past few months that I know we will find a way to meet up again. 

And that is what I like to do with all the people I have met and places I have visited; leave not with a “goodbye,” but with a “see you soon.”

Up next: Paris, Athens and another trip to London before I travel back to Sunderland and the States.

Egypt + Rome

I have dreamt about visiting Egypt since I was about six years old. I used to read Ancient Egypt history textbooks for fun because I was that fascinated with it, especially the Sphinx. I’m not exactly sure how or why the fascination started, but somehow a part of it stuck with me. So I decided why not visit while in England when travel is cheaper than in America?

Day One: Horse riding through the desert to the pyramids and Sphinx.

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Yup! I never would have thought this would be something I can say I have done until this past week. But now my sore legs remind me that it was definitely real, and definitely worth it.

My horse’s name is Demaroda, which means “lady” in Arabic. Salem, a sweet, down to earth Egyptian, raised and trained all the horses we rode. The control he has and the love he shows for them is just unreal.

I admit I am not a natural horse rider, but I have been told it is something you need to practice more than two days. Despite my inexperience, I enjoyed riding through the Sahara desert with a view of the pyramids!

After our host Mohammed brought us to explore the pyramids and Pharaoh Khafre’s tomb, and take some fun photos, we visited the Sphinx. As I saw the top of this statue from afar, I told my flatmate/Egypt travel companion Brynn that my eyes were tearing up from happiness. Little did I know, once I climbed over the little wall and saw the Sphinx in its entirety, I would be bawling my eyes out from sheer disbelief over what I was only able to dream about beforehand. I think that moment is my happiest moment so far, considering I do not remember ever crying that much out of happiness.

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Brynn and I, having arrived in Cairo at 2 am, barely slept before this day’s outings. So we decided to move the rest of day one’s plans to day two and sleep early. But, this was not until after Brynn had her chance to drive Mohammed’s car on Egypt’s crazy no-rules road.

Day Two: Cairo Museum, Old Cairo, City of Three Religions, Nile cruise, Cairo Tower, Khan El Khalilly market and a party. In other words, this day was jam packed.

The Cairo Museum is filled with Ancient Egyptian artifacts, including a section with King Tut’s sarcophagus, mummy headdress and other objects from his tomb. The City of Three Religions combines places of worship from Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions in a single place. Our cruise on the River Nile was during sunset, so we had breathtaking views of the Nile in the sunlight, sunset and nighttime.

 

Cairo Tower is an observation tower overlooking Egypt. We went up top at night and the lights from the city really added to the view, which included a sports club near the tower. It was super cold up there, and Mohammed thinks this is why I got a horrible sore throat the next day.

We visited Khan El Khalilly market, where Egyptian souvenirs are sold. With the exchange rate, I probably spent about ten USD on a large bag filled with souvenirs and presents for friends and family. I bought a huge Egyptian cotton scarf, big enough to double as a blanket, for 35 EGP, which equals about two USD.

The second day ended with a party at the house including a big meal and a “dancing horse” who is trained to gallop fancily.

Day Three: Visit to Alexandria, including the library and the Citadel next to the Mediterranean Sea.

We walked around the library in Alexandria, which is based on the Library of Alexandria that was burned down throughout history. I saw some modern art and read a book about the Nile flooding. Brynn found an interactive digital sarcophagus, where you can look at all the different layers of a mummy. At the Citadel in Alexandria, we enjoyed air from the Mediterranean and beautiful views of the blue waters.

This day, I woke up with a terrible sore throat. Mohammed and Salem gave me some juice and honey at breakfast, which I think helped me clear some of the mucus out. On our way to Alexandria, we stopped at a pharmacy and picked up some medicine. After I took it, I spent the two hour drive to Alexandria sleeping in the backseat and woke up feeling a lot better. My throat still hurts a little today, but not as bad as when it first started.

Day Four: Horse ride through the Sahara Desert.

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This ride gave us one last look at the pyramids before our flight back to the UK. We enjoyed a mint tea break and took some more pictures. Then we went to a supermarket for some fresh fruit and bought some Egyptian Delights, too.

Before our visit to Egypt, Brynn and I had an eleven hour layover in Rome, Italy. We spent the day visiting most of the main sights, including the Colosseum, Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. We also ate some Italian food: spaghetti, pizza, cannoli and gelato.

Fun fact: since it was raining, there were men walking around selling overpriced umbrellas. Brynn and I settled on 39 as the amount of times we were approached by umbrella salespeople.

Today is Christmas and I am spending the day with my flatmate Jess. We are watching Christmas movies and having a cozy day in the flat.

Up next: Experiencing Egyptian culture as an outsider. Updates on my upcoming month long travel journey to Spain, Belgium, France, Greece, Germany and London.

Dublin, Ireland

I realized a few weeks ago that I had an extra weekend with nothing planned, so I searched some flights. I found a round-trip Ryan Air flight to Dublin for £20 and decided to book it. After that, I contacted my Irish high school teacher for some suggestions of what to do in Dublin. I can proudly say I checked off everything on her list during my stay in Dublin this past weekend.

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When I first arrived, I enjoyed a traditional Irish breakfast and learned the Irish word for bacon is “rashers.” That night, I attended my first panto show: Robin Hood. We do not have pantos in America, and I think America is missing out. A panto is a musical where the audience participates and the actors break the fourth wall. I had a fun experience at the hilarious show and the atmosphere was different, in a good way, than other forms of theatre.

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I visited the Guinness Storehouse the next day and found it more fascinating than I expected. I learned a lot about how beer is made, saw some cute advertisements from throughout the years and even poured my own glass of Guinness!

A local Irishman then invited me to a science gallery, where we saw an informative exhibition on violence’s role in culture. He then showed me around the local pubs and other spots not many tourists seem to visit.

I then took a day trip to Powerscourt Garden in Wicklow. There were not many blooming flowers or plants because of the wintertime, but there are plenty of nice statues, fountains and trees from around the world.

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My final day in Ireland, I took a trip to the Cliffs of Moher.

We stopped for breakfast beforehand at a place called the Barack Obama Plaza, named so because it is located in the town where Obama’s ancestors lived and where some of his family members currently reside. Who knew Obama is Irish!

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At the Cliffs, I enjoyed nice views from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, as opposed to the North American side I am used to seeing back in the States. I also saw the cave where Dumbledore and Harry Potter found the fake locket horcrux in the sixth film!

On the way back to Dublin, we stopped at the city of Galway. The city is cute and had a big Christmas Market while we were there.

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This time next week, I will be in Egypt! I still have not come to terms with the fact that I will soon visit the place I was obsessed with when I was younger, but I am super excited!

Friendsgiving and Uni Updates

Thanksgiving was a week ago today in America. But in England I celebrated my first “friendsgiving” with friends from Britain, America and Germany.

 

The feast was held in our flat, and my flatmates and I welcomed over 20 people we have befriended since our time in England. Everybody brought a dish to share, including one confused British girl who thought “dish” meant a lone bowl instead of food.

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Group selfie!
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My flatmates and Me with our turkey.

Nevertheless, the food was delicious and so filling that everyone left feeling extra sleepy. The turkey, which my flatmate Jess worked tirelessly on, was a big hit and not dry at all. Alex, one of my other flatmates, made an addicting broccoli casserole. I just wish Dara’s whole bag of potatoes made more mash servings. It took my flat until today to finish all the leftovers. Well, almost all. We still have a few rolls, chocolates and biscuits, aka cookies, leftover.

I contributed three casserole dishes full of mac and cheese, which lasted for almost all my meals the next few days. Considering most Americans I know love mac and cheese, not many English people appreciate it as much. I find this pretty upsetting, especially because it makes finding mac n cheese at the supermarket extremely difficult.

Before friendsgiving, I saw Fantastic Beasts at the local cinema. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and I teared up a few times. Once when they played Hedwig’s theme for a short time in the opening sequence and again near the end. There are a lot of moments I found funny throughout, although it seemed like only my flatmate Emma and I laughed at them. But at least I had someone to laugh with. Watching the film, I can tell how they can make multiple movies from it, but I am not so sure about as many as five.

As this term comes to an end, I have been trying to balance my assignments with dance. I wrote the majority of my first Victorian Literature essay and finally decided on an idea for my second playwriting assignment, but I am still well behind where I want to be assignment-wise. I hope I can catch up before I resume my travels over winter break. I am trying not to stress too much about it because, knowing me, I will be able to catch up.

Sunderland Uni Dance Squad’s first dance competition is this Saturday, so most of my focus has been on rehearsing the dances this past week. I am excited to perform with this great family of dancers and represent the squad and uni with my solo.

dance-squad

Stay tuned for more of my study abroad adventures and updates. Coming up: York Dance Competition and a trip to Dublin.

Gishwhes 2016 Recap

This past week I completed crazy challenging tasks and kind charitable acts in the name of Gishwhes.

The scavenger hunt ended early this morning, but all the fun moments I created during it live on. Some of the items I completed include:

Those are some of my favorite items of mine from this year’s hunt, but the rest of my team awed me with every submission they created, too. My favorite item completed by a fellow Team Pudding Pants member is this hilarious floppy guy cosplay video by Becky.

I am pretty sad that my fourth Gishwhes has come to an end, but on the other hand I am grateful for the memories I created and the friends I made.

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Team Pudding Pants 2016 group photo