Thursday, November 29, 2012

Paris for the weekend? I'd love to!

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. Our time in England is drawing to a close.

Raymond describes it as a certain smell in the air... winter. It means Christmas, his birthday, and this year that we're traveling home for the holidays. We plan to thoroughly enjoy our time at home over Christmas before I start a new marketing assistant job and we both go back to school in January.

This weekend we are catching a flight to Paris! I've been doing research all afternoon to plan our three days in the beautiful city. They have the most extensive metro system in the world, which is great but it makes the map a little more confusing!

Last night we had dinner with the Board of Governors, or Trustees, and it was really interesting to meet and greet the men and women who run the school. We answered a lot of questions about Newman University in Kansas, and indulged in some great food. Many were surprised at how truly similar the schools are, in students and identity.

This institution was actually officially named a University yesterday, and dropped the "College" from the school name (kind of like we used to be named Kansas Newman College). It's an exciting announcement for everyone around!

This week we finished one of several assessments (finals). I can't wait to be done with the others! I also tried my hand at online Christmas shopping for the first time, because I know I'm getting home only a couple days before I need them all wrapped!

Good luck with your holiday preparation! Always keep in mind the reason for the season. :)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

So thankful for my family!

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas! I'm sorry to all our avid readers who missed our blogging throughout the last week. I took the time to be with my family, who came to visit! Believe me, I had plenty to be thankful for!

Against all odds, I helped my mom plan a trip for my parents and little sister to come visit over Thanksgiving break. There were several times we were scared the trip would be called off, but the week finally came and all three boarded the 6am flight out of Wichita. I went to meet them in London and we had a fantastic week exploring the city and part of Ireland!

My parents had always wanted to visit Europe, but never had the chance. My choosing to study abroad gave them the excuse they needed to plan the trip and make it happen. It was great timing, as I was really starting to miss home!

We all loved London, especially my little sister who is a bit of a history buff. The British Museum is huge, and has artifacts literally from all over the world. We spent several hours there and did not see everything!

Because they only had a few days, we chose to do the "Hop-on, Hop-off" bus tour of London. It was worth the money because they were able to see a lot in a very short amount of time. We toured the Tower of London and took a boat ride down the river. We also visited the Churchill's War Rooms and they had the chance to see the National Gallery of London.

Mid-way through the week we went to Birmingham for a day and I showed them the university where I am studying. We also had a delicious outing to Cadbury World (so much chocolate!).

On a whirlwind tour, we spent Thanksgiving in Ireland. Dublin was fun, but we mainly went to hear the live music. Temple Bar did not disappoint, and we were able to enjoy two evenings full of traditional Irish tunes and ballads. The trip would not have been complete without a Guinness, Red Lemonade, and Irish coffee!

Another flight to London, and it was already time for them to leave. The week flew by, and I was sad to say goodbye in the airport this morning. I also felt bad because they were boarding for a ten hour flight to Dallas (yes, TEN). Thankfully I'll be home for Christmas in just a few short weeks. The time will fly by!

Next stop, Paris!

Friday, November 16, 2012

We ate ostrich. No joke.

Tonight we went to the German Christmas Market and absolutely loved it! The market was different than anything we had seen before, full of little specialty shops and delicious food and drink. There were several hundred vendors!

The market spanned over most the city center and we spent several hours wandering around, looking at small craft stalls. For dinner we ate some delicious Frankfurt sausages and had the best beer we've ever tasted: authentic German! Maybe Octoberfest in Germany should be moved to the top of our bucket list...

We also went way outside our food comfort zone and tried something completely different: Ostrich burgers! Seriously, we ate ostrich meat. I still feel like somehow it was a little wrong, but we were convinced that in some areas of the world ostrich is just as common as chicken. Apparently it is one of the healthiest meats available, but it tasted more like sausage than any kind of bird meat I've tasted before.

The lights, trees, REAL roasted chestnuts... yep, it's Christmas time!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The #1 thing I've learned abroad

Tonight, I have a lot to be thankful for. First, Blogger finally updated their app and made it iPad friendly. It's about time! The new update makes typing this MUCH easier, and hopefully makes it look better too.

Second, I get to see my family so soon! My parents and little sister are coming to visit, while the rest of my siblings at home watch over the house and the dog. Some days, it feels like the last three months have flown by; others, it feels like we've been here forever. I can't believe it is already Thanksgiving, but I'm looking forward to their visit!

Classes are close to finishing and we go home in a little over a month. In that amount of time we have a lot to do -- a trip to Paris, 4-5 finals, say our goodbyes to Birmingham, and visit Scotland -- before we back to the states.

Raymond and I have learned so much about the world, and our place in it. I've realized I have an interest in business (something I've denied for three years) and have been devouring books on marketing and finance. I've also come to feel that even though the planet is so big, I can be an ocean away and still feel close to home thanks to the brilliance of technology and conversation of family.

We both miss Mexican food more than we thought possible (it doesn't exist across the ocean), and I was courageous enough to try curry. Actually, we miss food in general, and the car that makes grocery shopping easy. Going for groceries is an event that takes up half our day here.

Still, the power of travel and experience takes hold of us. Rome was simply enchanting, and the history of the ground and stone awe-inspiring. Dublin was full of music and laughter, and my Irish blood quickly fell in love. London rivals New York, and we could live there for years and never see it all.

Although I'm anxious to visit Paris and Scotland, I think there comes a time when you're ready to go home. We're very close to that point. There are a few more things for us to check off our lists, and then we will be home for the holidays.

Perhaps the most important thing I've learned about myself, even more than my thoughts on a career choice, is that the midwest is truly my home. Anyone who knows me has heard me say for years that I was going to leave Kansas for New York City, if only I found the right time or job. Now, after living so far away, I don't think so anymore.

I love Kansas, but more importantly I love my family. Living abroad has been full of adventure and excitement, but it has also been expensive and far from the comfort of home. We've been across the ocean for three months, but we could have been in New York and still felt just as far away.

The fact is, right now I can't imagine permanently moving somewhere so far away from my family that it takes a plane ride (or two) just to go home for the weekend. Maybe some day, at the right time, with the right job, but not now.

Don't get me wrong, I could travel a million places, and it would never be enough. I want to see everything, I want to learn about every culture and soak it all in. But Kansas, full of wheat fields and blue skies, will always be my home at heart.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Carnival on the Sea Shore

Last night we had a great road trip. We went with some friends all the way to the sea, to a small coastal town called Burnham, south of Wales. It only took us a couple hours by car to see the ocean!

We went to see the Carnival of Lights, a fantastic parade for Guy Fawkes Day. It also serves to kickoff winter and Christmas time. In fact, I was told last night that the parade is the biggest winter festival in the world. THE WORLD!

Before the parade began we ate fish and chips on the shoreline. It was the best fish I have eaten in a long time, so fresh! Glad we were able to check that off the bucket list!

In anticipation, we picked some prime High Street spots and waited for the lights to start. Soon we were watching float after float go by, covered in lights and moving parts. There were dozens, and they were all so big! The artistic achievement was fantastic. Check out the videos Raymond has posted and it will give you a better idea. We still have my favorites to post, including one with giant polar bears!

The festival was unlike anything I've seen before. We could feel the heat of the lights as they passed by us in the street.

In total, we watched floats go by for about two hours. After they were done we packed up and drove home, glad to be warm in the car!

Here are a few photos, but the videos really give a better idea!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thoughts of the sleepless Raymond

Maybe this is becoming a problem, I haven't been able to sleep until 6 am for the past week and a half and there is no end in sight. But on the up side of this issue (being and Optimus and not a Negatron)  it gives me time to think and catch up on news that I've been missing. Though I give up on the news when at some point it all sort of blends into the same story, I love reading good news but I have a hard time finding it these days.

Anywhoo, today we went on our first English road trip and I have to say it was truly awesome! Granted it was only about 2 hours away but it was some of the most fun I've had since we've been here. We adventured to Burnham (Burnham lol) to see a Carnival of lights parade and I didn't really know what to expect based off the parades we've seen back in the states. My first order of business was to seek out fish and chips and devour them and devour them we did right outside in front of the ocean, I will never forget that. (Back to the floats and the parade and stuff.) Well let me tell you I was blown away at the amount of work that went into all of the floats and walkers (people with costumes) in this parade.
The video to the right just one of the amazing floats we saw and I will never forget them, since I took video and put it in the infinite memory banks of YouTube. 

Ah it looks like the claws of sleep have finally found their way into my eyes, better late than never I like to quote. So with this I bid you a Good morning..well good night, your pick. 

I love yo faces! :D

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Christmas is here!

Merry Christmas! Since we're in England, I can say it and no one gets mad at me. Why? They don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so Christmas starts early.

Tonight we went to the Christmas Parade in the city center. It was full of interesting characters, including Madagascar animals (I didn't get it either--pure marketing) and Christmas trees on stilts. What an experience!

The parade served as the official kick-off of the Christmas season in Birmingham. The lights are lit and soon the German Christmas market will be in full swing. I love Christmas!

We also learned about Remembrance Day, which is tomorrow. It serves to honor all the veterans who died serving, especially in WWI and WWII.

Have you ever heard/read about the poppies worn by most English people during the month of November? I had seen it before I came but never understood the meaning. The red flowers, literally everywhere you go in November, are part of the remembrance celebrations.

The flowers originate from WWI, because the blood of soldiers in the fields caused the flowers to turn red. According to one of our French international students, there are still fields covered in red poppies in his home country.

Something else we did today was go to the Apple store and play with the new iPad Mini. We were surprisingly impressed. It's still over priced, but it is incredibly light and feels great in your hand.

Here are some pics! Merry Christmas!
Also, check out our new vlog!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Back to Backs. I'm thankful for the dorm!

We've had a very informative week! First we learned about Bonfire Night, and then yesterday we visited the "Back to Backs," a historical site in Birmingham.

The Back to Backs were a popular cheap housing option, and were first built in the 1800s all over England. In 2001, a block of the old buildings were declared a historical landmark and are now preserved as a museum and open to the public for viewing.

Basically, the inexpensive buildings were one room deep apartments, that shared the back wall with another apartment facing the opposite direction. The brick wall dividing the two apartments was one layer thick, leading to terrible noise and over-population of certain areas. By building the apartments in this manner twice as many people could fit on the same plot of land.

Birmingham was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, so a great deal of inexpensive housing was necessary to accommodate all the workers filling factory jobs. It was common for a couple thousand people to live in a single complex, with many communities (built nearly identical) spread out across the city. The cheap housing was built up in other  cities as well to deal with the growing housing shortage. These buildings were used as living spaces well into the mid 1900s, with shops and stores occupying them far after the government condemned them as housing apartments.

The museum in Birmingham has preserved several different units and in each one a different time period is represented. It was really interesting to start in the early 1800s and continue through 2000!

They did not allow photography inside the buildings, but here are a couple from the courtyard. Each complex included outdoor toilets and a wash room, which was put on a rotating cycle for tenant use.

The scariest thing of the tour? The staircases! Each building includes several flights of tightly curled circular stairs, the entire staircase being no wider than a small coat closet. These were hard to climb just for our tour, I can't imagine living there and climbing them several times a day!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Bonfires and Guy Fawkes: 5th of November

The 5th of November has been a memorable day for me since 2006. On this day, six years ago, two friends were killed in a plane crash. It's been six years, but they are not forgotten. I think all of us shaken that day, and in the weeks following, will remember those boys forever.

Tonight I learned about the British 5th of November "Bonfire Night," also known as Guy Fawkes Day. There's a long history to the evolution of the holiday, but it originated with a man who attempted to bomb the king, and failed. Bonfires were lit that night to celebrate the fact that the king lived. Now, the 5th of November is basically a night to shoot off fireworks and light bonfires with friends.

We watched big fireworks in the distance and had some fun with sparklers in the back yard. We were going to make smores but didn't have anything to roast them on... next time maybe!

Tomorrow we are going to visit a historical sight in Birmingham called the "Back-to-Backs." It's sure to be an interesting experience, so look for a blog post about it in the midst of the presidential election news!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Our First Carvery. How English!

I. Am. So. Full.

It's the first time I have thought those words in a long time, and I'm so happy to do so tonight! Since we arrived here in Birmingham, we haven't been eating very much. With limited kitchen resources it's hard to find the things we need to cook fancy meals, and everything we buy we have to carry from the grocery store. Also, every time we go to buy food we look at how much it costs and usually only buy the basics (we're stretching every dollar).

The end result is that we eat a lot of fried egg sandwiches, cereal, and noodles. Tonight, however, we went and enjoyed our first English carvery. We feasted, and it was delicious.

Basically, a carvery is kind of like a Hometown Buffet in the states, except a much more limited menu. We paid for a plate and picked our meat and Yorkshire pudding, and then we could eat as many veggies and mash as we could fill our stomachs with. I think we definitely got our money's worth tonight. How could we resist real food?

After feasting at the carvery, we returned to a friends house and I made them American chocolate chip cookies. What a treat! We were missing brown sugar (it really makes a difference), but they were still very good and tasted like home.

Take a look at this stove/grill/oven they have in their house. I've never seen anything like it! The whole thing is about the size of a mini fridge, with a small oven on the bottom. We had to split the cookies up into batches, but it worked just fine!

Our lovely English friends thoroughly enjoyed them (at least they said they did), so I'll get getting some brown sugar and trying again. I've missed baking!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Culture shock. A church shopping mall?

Today we went on an adventure to Walsall. One of our friends was going to meet some people and plan a birthday surprise, and asked us if we would like to join her. It was a short trip by train, maybe half an hour, and we were able to explore a new place!

In Walsall we explored some shops and had a nice chat in a pub. I also saw one of the most absurd different things I have encountered in England so far -- a church converted into a shopping mall. I wish I had taken a picture so I could explain it better, but basically when we were walking towards the building I thought it was an old cathedral. Once we got closer and I could see in the doors, I almost fell over in shock. Literally, they kept the same walls and stone on the outside and for the ceiling, but took out all the parts inside that made it a church and added walls for shops.

My years of Catholic education quickly brought to mind a specific chapter from the New Testament, when Jesus comes into the Temple and shows the people who's God (I think smashing of tables and market stands was involved). We didn't see anything like that today, but it gave some very literal meaning to the passage for me. What a culture shock!

I just found some pictures on Google so that our much appreciated readers can get a better idea. First, look at the picture from the outside. That is exactly how the building looked this afternoon. Next, look at the picture from inside the door. Wouldn't you be shocked too (American friends)?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Let's be thankful :)

November? Where has the time flown? I can hardly believe we've been here 8+weeks already. We've had a busy couple of months!

In the past few days we've had some things fall into place at home, so while we're not wishing away a single day of this trip, we're excited for January!  It's amazing how we've really started to miss our routines in Kansas. We're also looking forward to graduation in May!

However, we still have six very exciting weeks ahead of us before we return for Christmas. In that amount of time my parents are visiting, we're taking a trip to Paris, finishing up classes here in Birmingham and online, and visiting Linzi in Scotland. That's a lot in six weeks!

Thanks to Pinterest, I've taken on a 30 Days of Gratitude photo challenge. I think it's a great way to spend five minutes a day remembering to be thankful! If you would like to follow me, or join in for yourself, I'm posting the photos on Instagram (look for stanleyrachelann) and Twitter (look for stanleyrachel). Although I'm still working to convince the British of the importance of our American Thanksgiving holiday, I think it is a fantastic time to prepare us for Christmas. So, let's be thankful together!

What are you doing in preparation of Thanksgiving? Also, who is going out to vote in the next few days? We've been actively watching the campaign trail from abroad, and the next week will certainly prove to be interesting.

Today, I'm thankful for the technology that keeps me close to home, so far away across the ocean. Oh, and also for the radiator in the background that keeps me from freezing to death at night! Just so you know, it gets cold in England.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What my suitcase SHOULD have looked like

Now that Raymond and I have been abroad for a couple of months, I know how I wish I had packed for this trip. Even though I lived abroad once before (Guatemala, summer 2010), I agonized for weeks over what to bring to the UK. In the 24 hours before our flight I went through multiple suitcases and repacking scenarios, trying to figure out how to take as much as possible while still keeping under the weight limit.

Remember this photo from the night before we left? I only ended up with a fraction of all that stuff, but  I wish I could go back and take out more!

This is how my suitcase should have looked. Some things I got right, others... let's just say I wish I could have a do-over. I'll tell you, hauling 70 pounds of luggage (a suitcase and heavy carry-on) up subway stairs in London is NO FUN!

My "Top 10" things I should and should not have packed:

10. In this digital age, I have plenty of pictures on my phone and iPad (not to mention an unlimited amount on Facebook), so I didn't take the time to pick out actual prints to bring with me. I wish I had! Since I'm basically living out of a suitcase for the semester, my dorm room is pretty bare in comparison to my room back home. A few pictures of my family would have made a big difference, especially in the first few weeks when everything was new and a little hard to adjust to.

9. I wouldn't consider us addicted to the television, but at home Raymond and I do occasionally like to sit at night and watch a program or a movie. I thought ahead to bring my favorite, The Proposal, on DVD but Raymond forgot IronMan in Kansas. We've wished for the movie many nights when we just wanted something "comfy" that reminded us of home. True, we could probably buy the movie and stream it online, but we're trying to save as much money as possible. The DVD that sits packed in a box in Kansas would have been a light addition to his suitcase that brought us the joy of home!

8. When we travel, we do it on the cheap. That means hostels! My flip flops have been one of the most important things I packed and brought with me, because I can shower without feeling gross about the floor. I'm glad I brought them because they're hard to find in winter in England (go figure). Also, a small hand towel has been great as hostels do not provide anything but sheets and a bed!

7. I admit it, I brought too many dresses. At home, I wear a dress almost 4-5 days every week. I love them, and I have to dress professionally for my job! Here, it's cold and I prefer my jeans. In hindsight, I wish I had only brought one dress and packed more shirts and sweaters.

6. The same goes for my shoes! Anyone who knows me knows how much I love shoes, especially heels. Unfortunately, I should have saved the space in my suitcase and only brought one pair. You see, I walk about 10 TIMES more here than I do at home, which makes the heels I wear daily in Wichita not very practical in England. I've worn them a couple nights down at campus events... and that's about it. Also on shoes, when we left it was summer so I brought what I thought was my most versatile and warmest pair of boots. What I didn't realize was that they were about ready to fall apart (and they did, in London). I had to buy a new pair when I could have just brought a different pair from home. Darn, I had to buy shoes! :D But seriously, we're trying to save as much money as possible, remember? Moral of this post: check your shoes and buy new ones at home if necessary (they'll be less expensive in the USA).

5. An absolute must for this part of the world: an umbrella. I'm also glad I brought my rain coat, even if most locals don't wear them. I probably stick out like a tourist badly, but guess what? I'm always dry!

4. More deodorant. I know, this sounds silly. I'm living in England, I should be able to hop in any drugstore and pick up more deodorant  right? WRONG! Yes, it is widely available, but only in the aerosol version. If you're American and you're used to stick deodorant (I've used both but much prefer solid), make sure you bring enough to last your entire trip. I've only found about one brand of stick deodorant and it was three times the price I would pay at home. Worth the weight in the suitcase, and it will leave some extra room for the trip home.

3. Power converters. This is quite possibly the most important item for your suitcase, since wherever you are going will not have them for you. Why would they have a converter, their electronics work in these sockets! If you want to charge your cell phone and computer ASAP, I suggest having a couple ready to plug into the wall right away.

2. A backpack. I LOVE purses, and brought two of my favorite saddle bags with me. While they look great and I love to use them during the day around campus, I ended up buying a cheap backpack for traveling after our weekend in London. Eventually, one-shoulder bags start to kill your back. Trust me, the backpack just works better for overnight stays. It only cost me 9 pounds, but again, this is something I easily could have brought with me and saved a little money on.

1. The number one thing I wish I could UNPACK: my Chi hairdryer! I picked up this fantastic dryer at TJMaxx about a year ago for less than half the retail price (great bargain). I had been warned not to take any appliances like that, but I carefully read the directions on my power converter and it said the voltages would be okay. WRONG. The very first night we were in Italy after a very long day of traveling, I blew my converter because I tried to dry my hair. It's yet to be known if the dryer will be okay... I can't test it out. I plan on taking it back with me and hopefully it works at Christmas, otherwise I hauled several pounds there and back for absolutely no reason (and killed a great hair dryer). Really sad.

Hope that helps anyone planning on studying abroad! Feel free to comment with any other questions or concerns. Happy November everyone, last night we reached 4,000+ hits on the blog! Thank you SO MUCH for all your love and support!