Monday, October 26, 2009


Man, how good am I at updating? Four days? Sorry for the flood of information boys and girls, but this one must be blogged about quickly before I forget all the details.

So yes, this past weekend was my first UBES trip to Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. The weather was typically Welsh - rainy, windy, cold - save for our hike on the second day, so my pictures are sorely remiss. Or at least fewer in number than the trip deserved, because I had a fantastic time through all the rain, mud, wind, wet socks, cheese and relish sandwiches, and sleeping in my jeans.

On Friday night we met at the Student Union, and after waiting around for a spell (there were major transportation issues because one of the mini-bus drivers had fallen ill so about 10 people couldn't come), they put all our stuff in a van and organized us into car loads. I drove up with some lovely folks - it was a five hour drive so wouldn't have been good if they weren't lovely - through what I can only assume was lovely countryside. It wasn't until about 7:30 or 8:00 PM that we set out so the drive was dark, but I was still greatly pleased to be driving through the Midlands, Birmingham, Wolverhampton (spelled W'hampton on roadsigns making it sound like an 80's hip-hop group), and stopping in Telford at a Services. This is something we certainly don't have in Canada. Just behind the gas station (perfectly acceptable) is this pavilion sort of thing with about four restaurants (I say that, more like a burger king, convenience store, and cafe) surrounding a big seating area (kind of like a food court but a bit nicer). I was told too that this was not a particularly big Services either. I guess it's not really that exciting, but it's different and I love the little differences.

We drove on to our accommodation, a bunkhouse just outside of Beddgelert in the middle of Snowdonia National Park, unpacking and crossing windy streets in the dark. Inside was two levels of bunk with foam mattresses laid across. We all claimed our spots and then got to chatting. Some of the UBES exec weren't too pleased that we were up chatting till half-one (more differences!), but we were doing so with some of the other higher-ups in the club so it was all good. Then it was to a fitful night of coughing and snoring all around us and getting up at half-seven for plain porridge with raisins (sultanas!) and blearily kitting ourselves up for the first day.

I was beguiled into doing the "medium-level" trip by one of the people we had befriended earlier in the week and the night before. Well, not quite beguiled, but wanting to keep up with people we knew and thinking that "medium" meant medium I decided to go with some rather more experienced people up a hill called Tryfan. Well, I mean, rather. I was definitely the shmo of the group, and even though I felt terrible for holding everyone else up I had a good time, and was pretty proud of myself for making it up. They didn't end up going all the way to the top because it was far too windy to scramble up the last bit of sheer rock, but other people in my group of about ten got some pretty rad pictures near the top. The views were absolutely stunning. As far as the eye could see were peaks and valleys clad in the heartiest greens, browns, oranges, reds, and yellows, streaked with the greys and whites of paths and streams, and dotted with the blues, reds, and blacks of other hikers. The pictures I was able to take on the way down on the other side of a rock wall (who climbs up a rather steep hill and erects a stone wall? I ask you this) do not do it justice. It was a grey day but the colours were still brilliant, perhaps as an effect of being so happy to be up there. On the way down, after a very cold and blustery lunch of sandwiches, fruit, cakes, and what have you, all the paths had become streams (basically the whole thing was waterlogged) we climbed down beside a lake and withstood, with great fun, the windiest wind I have ever been in. The group all held hands and was able to lean into the wind at an angle no person could sustain without the help of a gale-force. When that calmed a little we started our steep but short and sweet descent back down to the parking lot (car park!). It was a little too sheer for my liking, or my ability, so I kept slipping into knee-deep mud and twisting my ankles all about, but I made it down in one piece in my own sweet time. We were done about an hour before our rides (people climbing another hill) could come shuttle us back to the bunkhouse so we sheltered in a cafe an even smaller town than the one we were staying in. It was then back to the bunkhouse for a change of clothes, a brief lie down and warm up in our sleeping bags, and dinner of vegetable stew and rice. After chatting and cajoling about, it was then to the pub in the town for more chatting and cajoling about, with people falling asleep in their chairs from about 7:30 onwards. That night I slept the most soundly I have in weeks, and the daylight savings fall back made for an extra wonderful hour of the dreamless.

Day two I made the very correct decision to go on what became known as the pub walk. It was the least intense of the three walks that day and was billed to be ending in the pub in Beddgelert. It started out as a charming walk along a bubbling river sort of affair, again with stunning views and colours. After about maybe half an hour of that, we got into a more forresty sort of area, and then up to the shrubbery and grasses that grace most of the hills. A slowish and not-so-steep ascent was much easier on the aching legs, arms, everything from the day before. After spotting some sheep (who had left evidence of their presence ALL OVER EVERYTHING) and taking some cheesy pictures we had another blustery lunch at what was to be our summit for the day. We started heading down the wrong side of the hill (our map-holder was reading the compass backwards), quickly righted ourselves, but were still unable to find our path on the other side. Instead of going back the way we came we decided to just head down the shrubbery in the direction of the town we wanted to be in, which we could see quite clearly. This didn't seem too foolhardy, I actually found the shrubs to have better traction than the muddy and slippery paths, until we came across some tree-ish bush sort of things that we had to jungle our way through. There was of course no path through the growth, so we scrambled and slid our way down a stream through the foliage, all aiming towards a path we thought we saw at the end of it. After emerging through the "forest" we saw a wall and a stile, and were on the path we had been looking for from the beginning, though it seemingly started halfway down the hill rather than at the top where it was supposed to. After another short but sweet and steep clamber down we walked into the town (about 2 minutes from the base of the hill), passing the most iconographic old Welsh man on the way. I wish could have taken a picture of him cause he just so incredibly so. You know, the tartan cap, wellies, windbreaker, I think he was holding a shovel of sorts. Just the perfect end to a fantastic day, of fantastic weather actually, in Wales. We then found ourselves a pub, and I had a very Bill Bryson experience: the cup of tea and the "oh lovely" that he raves about is so very true. It may not be coffee, but there is nothing sweeter or more restorative than a cup of tea after being outside and being cold.

That night Ariana, Adriana, Beatrice, and I headed back with Scot in his nicely iPod-ed car for another five hour drive. Not painful at all with the company of good people and good music. He showed us around some of the more scenic areas of the Bristol Downs and Wills Hall at Stoke Bishop (the far away halls of residence), then after picking up our stuff at the union, so incredibly kindly gave us a ride home. We were honestly thinking of taking a cab for what would normally be a 10-minute walk, so he saved us a lot of grief. It was then to a warm shower and falling asleep quickly and deeply to conclude the glorious weekend in Snowdonia.

Aching and Smiling,

Your friend Lina

Friday, October 23, 2009

As October Rolls On

What ho, what ho!

I know I've been terribly remiss in posting. . . I know this because some of my loyal readers have been kindly reminding me that I haven't posted in a month. But! This means that I'm having fun right? You wouldn't want me to be posting all the time about how I've been sitting in my room so these tomes few and far between are better for both of us. It doesn't mean I don't love you, just that. . . I'm new to this, I suppose. So let's play some catch-up.

(Fun fact: ketchup tastes different here. As does mayonnaise.)

So my month of October has been filled with lots of school, societies, sights, sounds, cider, and sickness.

My classes for this semester are Henry V, the Early Reformation, and Christianity and Islam: relations therein. They are very different from my interests at home, but I am warming to them over time. Save for Christianity and Islam because there is a mail strike and I have yet to receive my introductory text and I have NEVER done anything pre-four digit dates before. All the profs are wonderful though, and wonderfully accented, and since there is so little class time it doesn't really interfere too much with my schedule. We are expected to do most of the learning ourselves through copious amounts of reading, which I am working my way into slowly. It helps though that I live less than a block away from a charming cafe (local, organic, donates to charity and what not) where I've had one of my best study experiences of all time: reading about the financial finagling of Henry V (more interesting that in seems, at least for me), drinking drip coffee (OH MAN I miss coffee), listening to the Fleet Foxes playing in the background, all with big smooshy couches and polka-dot tablecloths. I think I should be fine.

The other lovely thing about British schools, aside from the small amount of time spent at them, is the proliferation of societies. People go in for clubs and such much more here than at home, so they are really where you meet people. At the "Freshers Fair" I joined pretty much any club that offered candy or food, but the ones I've stuck with are the Bristol University Sustainability Team (BUST), the University of Bristol Expedition Society (UBES), the Cheese Society, and the History Society. They host socials, showing us noobs the best pubs and clubs, and though some may seem like their only point is drinking they all seem to have a cause as well. This weekend I am going, with some friends as well as about 25 others, to Snowdonia in Wales with UBES. It was a bit expensive to kit myself out - sleeping bag, hiking shoes, waterproof trousers (not pants, cause those would be diapers. . . so I just embarrass myself all the time whilst shopping) - but the trips sound like such fun, and their socials have been the best so far, so I'm sure it will all be worth it. I'll be sure to post sooner to let you all know how it went. BUST is also filled with lovely people who are super-organized and are tackling tonnes of issues surrounding sustainability in Bristol. Luckily, Bristol is going for the title of being a "Green City" in Europe, and the University wants to up its reputation as well, so they have allies at all different levels. I'm missing the Cheese Soc social tonight to go to Snowdonia. . . but who doesn't like free fancy cheese. . . and the ensuing wine? We'll go in the future. I had to miss the last History Soc thing too, but I'll go to their next socials and find people to come to Bletchley with me and such.

You'll also be proud that I've started the grand "I've come to England to meet celebrities" plan as well. On the 7th, when one bought their album, one was able to see a free concert of Mumford and Sons. It was glorious. Up until that evening I had only been able to listen to them on MySpace, and though I begrudge the medium nothing, only four songs leaves a lot to be desired. They put on a wonderful show, though. They were actually playing in Bath that evening and had just run over from their sound-check to play a half-hour set, but they stuck around to sign autographs (though I was too far back in the queue and just missed Marcus Mumford), and since it was such a small place I was able to congratulate them in person. Their album? Amazing. If in the meanwhile you want to check them out, which I highly suggest you do, their MySpace is They are a folky band, lots of banjos and accordions and such, but Marcus Mumford has a really gravelly voice and writes a killer lyric.

Much of my time during the weeks and weekends revolves around pubs and hanging out with friends, so a tad hard, and boring, to chronicle, but I will say that cider is still treating me well. I've even started to become a bit of a snob about it too: no more of this fizzy Strongbow nonsense. I'll have to bring the proper stuff back at Christmas. It really is delish. We've also been finding lots of pubs to call our own which makes me feel like I am assimilating somewhat. One of the best is the Highbury Vaults where many of the society socials have been held. It looks like your classic British pub, as they all do I guess, but they also have a covered terrace which is lovely when you are there with 30 other members of your society, plus the regulars, cause it gets rather steamy. Just to make it even better, before it was a pub, it housed the vaults that criminals would be locked in before they were to be hanged on the top of Bristol Hill. Wonderful no? Another favourite is this place called The Woods, quite near where we live, which looks like Canada on the inside. It has two floors, a patio, and is decorated with antlers, bugs, Victorian wallpaper, wainscoting. What more could a girl ask for? Or, at least, could this girl ask for? The crowd there is a bit older, and the drinks there a bit pricier, but definitely a contender for a quieter night out. Finally, there is the Coronation Tap (CoriTap to locals), which is a Bristol favourite. Tucked away down a dead-end in Clifton is this lovely pub which made me feel like I was in an episode of Heartbeat. They are the sole providers of Exhibition Cider, a drink so strong they will only sell it in half-pints. We all got some, then listened to a charming folk band and people watched the absolutely CLASSIC old British men and women joke about. It was so much Britain concentrated I almost had an overdose. Although it's me we're talking about, aren't we, so there could be no such thing. Just sayin', if you come, we're going there.

Speaking of Canada, way back I grant, my friend Marika also hosted a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner for us Canadians, Canadian-Americans, and Americans on Thanksgiving Monday. We each contributed a dish, but they were all very Thanksgiving-y so it didn't feel like a pot-luck at all. Brendan made two chickens (there were no turkeys to be found for love nor money), Marika made peas and pumpkin pie, Ariana made mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, and Adrianna and Annika made salad and brought wine. I was sick at the time (ugh, still am), so I was on photograph and dish duty. It tasted just like home; we ate, drank, and were merry; and we even each said what we were thankful for. It was such a hit that our hope is to get together each week to have a proper dinner (Marika's place is HUGE and she has a lovely kitchen). It was unfortunately cancelled last week due to everyone being down with the plague, but I'll take more food pictures for when they happen in the future.

Chronologically before Thanksgiving Adrianna, Ariana, and I took a day trip to Cardiff as well. Trains here? Wonderful. You hop a train, a proper train, like VIA Rail, and within an hour you are in a different country. We were only there for about four hours, so we spent all of our time at the Cardiff Castle. Within the castle walls, upon a hill, is the Norman Keep, of course the oldest part of the whole do. Along one side is also a Victorian manner home. So really, I got to satiate all my history-based longings in one, let alone be totally charmed by the sheer silliness of the Welsh language (disclaimer: Welsh is not a silly language, but it does look so to us travellers from an arcane land). Really, the pictures speak for themselves. My reaction was very much like it is for everything I see here: 1) Gorgeous 2) Old! So delightfully old! I still need to see so many more whilst I am here, but the trip to Cardiff was a nice little getaway in the meanwhile.

So, I guess those were the highlights of my first month-ish here. I'm enjoying myself immensely and have been chronicling poorly, so do forgive me. I will try to be better. Expect one next week about Snowdonia aaaaand, drumroll for QI fans, Alan Davies! He's being interviewed at St. George's and I have snagged myself a ticket. I can't seem to book any tickets for the next season of QI yet, so this will have to satiate me until that time. I will take lots of silly school girl pictures and be a bumbling fool for all at home who feel this same way.

Toodle pip till then,

Your friend Lina

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The First Week

Hello again, hello again!

I can't believe I've already been here for a week. I've been super busy every day - which is good for staving off homesicknesss and learning to love the city - which is why there has been no update. I hope to post smaller chunks throughout the weeks, but if things stay at this pace it might end up being a weekly epic.

So it all began last Thursday. After getting my visa and packing and hanging out with my family and such - I had an excellent last night attending, with my family, a panel on Canadian Democracy with the Sunday Edition and Michael Enright, who sounds like Sunday Breakfast - I was more than ready to come. The fam all came to the airport with my mother and I shedding a tear (how could i not, she is so cute!), and with them waiting next to the line until I went through the final doors before security. All of that went off without a hitch, and then, whilst waiting for my flight, I ran into Jordyn who, with Emily, is going to be in France this year. Hopefully I will be going down to visit them (who doesn't like a free night in Dijon?) and we will also hopefully go down to visit Julian in Spain in second semester. The flight was uneventful, though I wasn't able to sleep, and getting from Heathrow to Bristol also was no pain at all, this time sleeping the whole way.

The coach took us straight to our accommodation. I am in Unite House, which though isn't the lovliest of student hovels, is at least filled with some wonderful people. I met Brendan just as I arrived which made the ordeal much less scary. He, also from Canada, saw my CBC pin and then my Canadian flag sewed onto my MEC backpack, and was equally excited to meet another Canadian. I'm sure that the only way I can keep my accent is to hang out with all the other Canadians that I have met, so we've got a mutual support thing going on. And we can also reminisce about open spaces, Sam Roberts, maple syrup, and poutine. But yes, quite. I was shown my room, met one of my roommates (or 'flatmates'), and then met some more people in the courtyard that the building has. That night I went out with Louise (who I met in the courtyard), Nikki (her flatmate), and our other friend Katie. I caught myself rounding out my a's and dropping my r's after hanging out for quite a while so I must be sure to stay vigiliant.

That same day, Brendan also showed me a bit of the surrounding areas, and can I tell you! Everywhere around here is gorgeous. Even their workingclass-cum-student living row houses are more than you could dream of at home. I live right across the street from the oldest pub in Bristol (The Hachet Inn,1606), up a set of stairs and across the street from the College Green (anyone who watches Skins will recognize it), and about a 15 minute walk from the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Avon Gorge, and the Downs (a huge park). I've done a few of the touristy things, and will do more today with Ariana and Marika, but even just walking to class one has to stop and take pictures and block up the sidewalk. I just have my mouth open all the time, it's abject tomfoolery I tell you, but this is what I came for so I'm ever so pleased.

Right! Chronology. K, so, first day there was frosh stuff ('fresher's' they call it here) and I think on the second day I did one more fresher's event: going to the Bristol Zoo. I haven't been to a zoo since I was a little kid, excluding the Biodome of course which isn't really a zoo, it's a Biodome, so this was great good fun. I don't know how much the animals enjoy the nippy English weather, but atleast they aren't in cement cages. I saw lots of lovely animals like lemurs, fruit bats, gorillas, flamingos, seals, and okapis, and the gals and I were definitely the last of the group to remain.

The rest of the week has been spent attending orientations, running errands (like getting a bank account and a phone), and trying to find a pub we can call our own. I've been mainly hanging out with a group of Study Abroad students (ie all from Canada, America, New Zealand, and Australia), milling about the place playing the tourist, shopping, and cider game. Can I tell you about cider? It's the best. I believe we only recently started getting cider in Canada, and of the stuff I've had there, yeuch, it does not even compare to the product here. The southwest of England is where cider originally came from ("Wisdom and Cheap Cider" - The Rural Buddha). It's not really like North American cider in that here it is clear, definiately apple-y but not too sweet, and you can't really taste the alcohol. They also have it in varying amounts, so depending on the brand or the strength you may only need half-a-pint to a pint to be nicely toasted. Even with the strong stuff you can't taste the alcohol - only the delicious, delicious history of it all. Two nights ago we found what is so far my favourite place: The Apple. The Apple is a pub on a boat down by the water (of course) that is known for its cider. It has tonnes of different varieties (pear, strawberry, etc), a charming atmosphere (seafoam walls and leather couches but with pin-up girls on their fliers), and plays a variety of music that could only come from my cottage (ie Queens of the Stone Age followed by doo-wop). The crowd was youngish and hipish, so I'm hoping that this can be a contender in the great finding-a-pub challenge.

The other highlight of this week was my super British tourist day yesterday. After running some errands with Brendan in the morning, including getting my first really British food in the form of a Cornish Pasty, we spent the afternoon walking over to the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the surrounding environs (although don't environs always surround?). It's no Golden Gate, but I don't go in for grandeur anyway. I think the whole local hero/landmark vibe of the area makes it all the better. Isambaugh Kingdom Brunel was a famous industrialist from my favourite time period, and he designed this bridge, spanning the Avon Gorge. There was barely any water in the gorge, but that didn't really matter cause the view one had was astouding. The rolling hills behind red-brick roofs made 'Jerusalem' spring into my mind, I do not deny. It really made me so happy; it was all I hoped for from an English vista, and I got it. I'm going back today with a different group of people, and hopefully on many more weekends as well. To add to the Britishness of it all the weather finally became what I was expecting (cold, rainy, windy), rather than what we've had all week (warm, sunny, calm). I know I shouldn't get too excited about it for I will rue it soon enough I'm sure, but it just made the red phone boxes, red post boxes, and old stone wells all the better.

So there's my first week. Conclusion: excellent. I'll tell you if that stays the same after I start classes this week, though I suppose it will (even though my classes will be very hard and I'll soon be a basket case I'm sure).

Pip pip!

Your friend Lina