Saturday, August 4, 2012

Come to find out, Cardiff is in Wales, y'all: Olympics 2012

     Post from the good ole US of A! I'm not entirely sure what my emotions are right now. I'm so happy to be back and give you a list of things that I'm excited about having or doing. BUT I really didn't want to leave Oxford. Anywho, once I process my emotions I can write more about it. For now, I'll fill y'all in on our Olympic experience! 
     The title of this post comes from the fact that we were in Cardiff for over an hour before Kasey figured out that Cardiff was in Wales. Amanda and I were in shock that we made a journey to another country and Kasey wasn't aware. I mean, they speak another language. There are signs all over the place. It was a priceless moment, needless to say.
     We got tickets for the Women's Soccer Quarterfinals in Cardiff that took place yesterday. It seems like weeks ago now! The match was Japan vs Brazil and the tickets were only £20! We caught the 12:30 train to Cardiff after practically running to the train station. Our ducks were barely in a row that morning! We arrived in Cardiff around 2:30 and the game didn't start until 5. All three of us were pretty hungry, so we grabbed some food at the Prince of Wales, where Emma and I watched the Opening Ceremony. Millennium Stadium is almost literally across the street, and we weren't in a huge rush. After eating, we started to walk around to locate will call to pick up our tickets. Of course, we ended up on the wrong end of the stadium on the first attempt.
     Once we got to the other side, we stopped at the Olympic store set up outside of the stadium. I'm really glad we stopped when we did, because they were already running low or out of some sizes and shirts. One thing that I had to get was an Olympic pin. This came from our family visit to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I've never had a collection of anything, except for Olympic pins. I had an official hat and would put all of the pins that I collected throughout the time that I was there. I also loved to trade my pins with other Olympic fans. The memories from that are some of the most vivid I have from that experience. My hat is full, heavy and unwearable, but I love all the memories it holds! SO I got my official pin for Olympics 2012, and it will promptly go on my hat when I get home! I also got Dad and I a t-shirt. Everything was SO expensive, I gained a new appreciation for how much my parents spent to make Atlanta 1996 so special for me!
      After stocking up on pins and t-shirts, we found will call and got our tickets! By that time, it was time to go through security and get to our seats! Security for the Olympics has been pretty tight and this match was no exception. Kasey and Amanda had to have their bags searched and double bagged, and we all had to be patted down. Once inside, we found out that the game was no where sold out. That meant that all of the upper level, cheap seats were bumped down a tier! This meant that we had GREAT seats! We were on the second tier, almost dead center! I think we were all expecting to be at the very top of the nosebleed section. We could even hear the players talking to their teammates!
      The excitement for the game was unreal. The atmosphere was great and enthusiastic. There were lots of people from both Japan and Brazil as well Britain. Tickets are super cheap for British people, and that's how we got such a good deal! We were able to use our address at Worcester. Anyway, it was really fun to see everyone wearing team colors and excited on a national level. I really loved it! 
      The game was so much fun, even without knowing much about soccer! I understood what was going on for the most part. By the end, I was even able to spot bad plays worthy of a penalty! The elation when someone made a goal was awesome! The game lasted about an hour and 45 minutes. We left when regulation time was completed and additional time started because we were really worried about catching a train back. Japan won 2-0! A couple nights before, two guys from our group went to Cardiff for a men's match and were unable to catch a train back that night because there were so many people! They spent the night in a 24-hour casino and caught the first train out the next morning at 5:00am. They made it back to Oxford just as breakfast was being served. Luckily, women's soccer is not as popular so we didn't have to fight as big of a crowd. We were at the front of the line, but I'm sure if we had left much later we wouldn't have made the first few trains out! We were also worried because our bus left Oxford at 5:00am and we couldn't afford to miss that!
      We made it back to Oxford around 9:30 and I had to get to packing. It was definitely depressing but I was still on an Olympic high! I am so grateful for the opportunity to get to go. It was so much fun and was a great way to cap off the trip. Talk about ending on a high note! I really loved it!

In front of Millennium Stadium!

My ticket!

Presentation of the teams and their flags

We were so close!
Stolen from Amanda: All three of us inside the stadium!

Stolen from Amanda:The field!

Stolen from Amanda: All three of us outside of Millennium Stadium

Friday, August 3, 2012

Back to Cardiff, we go!

I'm giving a quick update from Didcot Parkway train platform. Amanda, Kasey and I are on our way to Cardiff for an Olympic Soccer match! It's a Quarterfinal round in women's. Brazil v Japan! It's our last day and last great adventure! I'll post a full run down when we return!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Full Circle

     It is with great sadness that I announce that the time has come for me to start packing to return home to Alabama. It seems like yesterday that I was freaking out about making sure I get everything in. Now I'm worried about what I can take out to fit all of my new goodies in. I am excited to come home, go to the beach, be in my own bed, see my dad, see Nader, and eat greasy food. What I will miss about Oxford and England cannot be summed up into words. It is the life lessons, train rides, long walks, and over all experiences. I can truly say that I have had the time of my life. That is why I am so sad to write this post. Sure, there will be more on my final thoughts, the Olympic match, and what I've learned. I just want to capture this moment of dread at packing but happiness at the memories I have made for myself.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Caernarfon, Wales: Saturday and Sunday

     Saturday morning we hopped on the train to Caernarfon (pronounced Car-Nar-Fon) which took about 4 1/2 hours. Cardiff is on the southern tip of Wales, while Caernarfon is on the northern tip. Not only are they in different parts of Wales, they are different types of cities! We had to leave Cardiff early Saturday morning because we wanted to be able to see lots of things in Caernarfon. We arrived in Bangor around 2:00, and we had to take a bus to Caernarfon. 2 minutes into the bus ride, the bus broke down! It only had one gear. We had to wait for a new bus, then it was off to Caernarfon!
      We checked into our hostel and left for Caernarfon Castle. The castle is pretty much the main attraction of the village, and it is so special! Construction on it started in the 13th century. The first Prince of Wales born there was Edward IV, the Black Prince. I got super excited that our tours have taken us full circle because we got to see Edward IV, the Black Prince's, tomb while we were in Canterbury! I felt like I was getting all of my history in! The castle was completed at the very beginning of the 14th century. Once again, I'm going to harp on the age of everything here. It is truly mind-blowing. The castle and the walls surround the city are still in great shape. It is so funny because you can see how the city was literally built into and around the walls! I loved it! We spent quite a bit of time at the castle, going through all of the towers and halls. It was a beautiful afternoon and perfect weather! Another special thing about Caernarfon Castle is that it was the location of Prince Charles' investiture, or when he was crowned the Prince of Wales! It was so neat to look at pictures and know that we were looking at recent history! Another thing that I forgot to mention was that Wales has two official languages: English and Welsh. It was very disorienting to have everything written in two languages-all of the signs, menus, everything. And English was not the first one listed! It was definitely a lesson learned!    
     As I mentioned earlier, the castle is the main thing in the village so once it closes for the day, it doesn't take long for everything else to close too! We were trying to get food from some of the place listed on the map but they were all closed. I really think that we ate in one of the only places that stays open after 6 in that town. I also think that everyone who lives in the town was there! One of the famous hotels and pubs in Caernarfon is the Black Boy Inn. Yes, you read that correctly. And if you thought you were mistaken, you only had to look at one of many signs outside to see that you weren't. They were complete with awkward paintings.  Apparently, there are conflicting reports about how the inn got its name. One story says that it is from the Black Prince. Another claims that the inn was once in the red light district and that a little black boy hung around the building? Either way, it was very bizarre to come across. Especially being from the south, where that is a very taboo image. Very bizarre, indeed. We watched some more of the Olympics then headed back to the hostel. Once there, I watched some more of the games and read. One thing that has been fun is seeing the games live and at the times that they occur. I am not excited to go back to the states and always be in "catch-up" mode. We even got to see Lochte v Phelps live on TV!
     The next morning we got up and walked around the perimeter of the city. We were looking for Roman ruins but couldn't see any. We walked back to the hostel along the bay and got our stuff. The buses back to Bangor are more sporadic on Sundays so we had to find one that would get us to the train station in time. We walked up as the bus was pulling up! How lucky! The train back took about 5 1/2 hours because our first train was late, causing us to miss our first connecting train. Ya know, the domino affect. We made it back to Oxford around 4:30 which was nice. I like getting back during the day so that I can unpack and unwind. This time it was a bit bittersweet because it was my last time.
     Overall, I really loved Wales. If I was ever to come back, I would want to travel to lots of small towns and villages and only spend a night or so in each place. Everything there is smaller and moves so much slower. I really loved and needed the change of pace, even from Oxford! However, I think that too much time in one of these places would be a bit boring. Really though, Wales was a great place and probably the most beautiful. It is uninterrupted and uncorrupted. I loved it!

The black circle in the center is the spot where Charles was named Prince of Wales!

I know my face is dark, but the castle is so pretty!

A view of the hillside from the highest tower!

Caernarfon Castle

The Black Boy Inn

A view of the castle from the bay!

Cardiff, Wales

    We didn't have class Friday, July 27, so everyone pretty much cleared out for the weekend on Thursday. Upper respiratory infection, or not, Emma and I cleared out as well. I got sick earlier in the week, but Wednesday morning was the worst. I was coughing, feverish, and achy so one of the professors took me to the nearby private doctor. They didn't have any immediate openings, so we made an appointment and I slept most of the day! After an antibiotic prescription and lots of sleep, my fever broke and I was ready to travel!
    Our first destination was Cardiff, the capitol of Wales. Wales is in the western part of the UK, and Cardiff is less than a 2 hour train ride away! We got to Cardiff a little before 5:00 in the afternoon. Along the train ride, we picked up people clearly on their way to a soccer game. I figured it was an exhibition match for the Olympics. When we arrived in Cardiff, we quickly realized a that the game was in Cardiff and that it was an official Olympic match! The game was Brazil v. Egypt. The level of excitement on the street was intoxicating. Everyone was cheering or using noisemakers, it was so much fun! However, when the game started, Cardiff was empty! Everyone was in Millennium Stadium!
    We stayed in a flatmate where we rented one room and shared a kitchen and bathroom with another couple. It was really nice to have more privacy while traveling compared to the hostel in Edinburgh. After we picked up the key to the flat from the hostel owners, we walked around Cardiff for a while. The city is not very big so it didn't take us long to orient ourselves and find somewhere to grab food! After eating, we walked to Cardiff Castle. We knew we were already going to see a castle later in the weekend, so we opted not to pay to go into Cardiff Castle. However, there are massive gardens behind it so we walked the perimeter of the castle inside the gardens. They were just beautiful. I'm really jealous of locals who get to go hang out there (Imagine a HUGE, sunny Quad)! The front side of the castle had a soccer goal set up in outside. It was really fun to see how their city is excited about the games!
The back entrance of Cardiff Castle

Me "defending" the goal outside of Cardiff Castle
    We called it an early night and hit the sack! When we woke up, we ate some breakfast then headed out to see Cardiff! The first thing on the agenda was the National Museum of Cardiff. They have several Impressionist paintings, including some by Van Gogh and Monet. They were really beautiful, and it was interesting to see them in Cardiff, of all places! Outside of the museum, they had Olympic rings! It only added to my Olympic fever!
Cardiff's Olympic Rings!
     Next, we caught a bus to Cardiff Bay so that I could go to the Dr. Who Experience (more on that in a different post)! We met back up around 3:00 to scout out somewhere to watch the Opening Ceremony later that night. After walking around Cardiff a little more, we went back to our flat to rest until it was time to get dinner and watch the Olympic festivities! We grabbed dinner at a place in a quieter part of the city and people watched. We had already picked out a different place to watch the ceremony that seemed a bit livelier! I loved the food and was so happy with our choice! 
     We watched the Opening Ceremony at a place called the Prince of Wales. It was a fun place that was full of people! It was so fun to watch the ceremony with British people. I absolutely loved it! I felt like we were a part of it all! There was something so magical about it. The Opening Ceremony itself was wonderful. I've talked to several people from the states that didn't love it quite as much as we did. I think that is because of the time that we've been here. My history class was extremely helpful in understanding the modern history elements as well as the musical influence within it. I think we had a deeper appreciation for how the British people are feeling and how they perceiving their history and their place in world history. It was stunning. I really don't think I could have been more impressed. It was so over the top and wonderful. My history professor, Dr. Beeler, and I had a great conversation and about it this morning. You gotta love the "A Ha!" moment of education! We stayed at the Prince of Wales until about halfway through the country procession and watched the rest from the flat!
     The next morning we returned the key to the hostel and hopped on the train to Caernarfon! I loved Cardiff. It was a "small" big city but really quaint. We did all of the sightseeing, but it would be a great place to hang out as a change of pace. I loved it!
The screen they had set up in the city center of Cardiff for the games!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

It's my LAST weekend

     I just needed to let everyone in on my sadness that it is my very LAST weekend to be here in the UK. Emma and I are headed to Wales in the next few minutes! I have been sick the past couple of days. I'm super excited that I'm feeling up to traveling. I'm still pretty tired, but nothing is going to stop me from enjoying my last weekend! We will be in Cardiff tonight and tomorrow night. Saturday we will head to Caernarfon. There will be a few other people from our group going that we might run into! 
    This weekend will be bittersweet, but I am so happy that I can look back and see that I truly did EVERYTHING while I was here!

Graveley: Going Back to My Roots

     Last Tuesday I went the small town of Graveley because it is the town village where my ancestors are from. From what I understand, they are on my mom's side of the family in Berry, the Gravley's. Get it, Graveley.....Gravley? It was quite the adventure. I had to catch a train to London at Paddington Station, use the Underground to go to King's Cross Station, then catch another train to Stevenage, the closet town to Graveley. This was quite the adventure. Along the way in the Underground, a Welsh girl around my age asked me for help. I was so proud that I, the American, was able to navigate the Underground well enough to get a British citizen through! 
     I had to take a taxi from Stevenage to Graveley, because there is no train station in Graveley. Luckily, it is only 3 miles away! My taxi driver was super nice and took me through the entire town. Ironically, this was a lot like Berry in that it doesn't take long to see the whole town. My Uncle Macon was the one who informed me of this town, and he also told me to go to the church. Apparently, the old family homestead and barn were once located there. There was a very old homestead and barn there but I don't want to jump to conclusions about whether it is ours or not. 
      There was something very powerful about visiting the place that I knew my family was from. I couldn't help but imagine what it was like for them to live there. The whole experience was overwhelming and amazing. I'm so glad that I got to the opportunity to visit. It is definitely a highlight of my trip!
The sign welcoming you to Graveley

One of two pubs

The second pub

The old stables and barn next to St. Mary's Church

One of the old homesteads

A home, I'm assuming the parsonage and the church

Full view of St. Mary's

St. Mary's and the graveyard

Another old homestead nearby. The cornerstone date was in the 18th century

Town Hall
     On my way back home, I had to go back through London so I contacted Toby and Aamayna to get dinner since I would already be there. Aamayna met me at the train station, and we walked along the river to meet Toby. It was such a pleasant evening!