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Thursday, April 12, 2012

I've Got a Bike!

You can ride it if you'd like!

Love that song. Anyway! Here am I, delivering the promised update of studies abroad. Eh, who am I kidding? I didn't do any studying during these travels! Unfortunately I've got two multiple choice exams to ace this weekend, so I'll be studying my heart out tomorrow and on Friday. Fun days...

Alrighty, so, my Easter Break abroad! Let me first start with describing the nature of Easter Break here in the U.K. It's pretty much 500x better than spring break, no joke. Spring break is great, don't get me wrong, but it only lasts one week! Yes, you get out for the summer holidays (or summer semester...) in May rather than June, but I think that just goes along with the American way of life where it's live to work. Easter break lasts 3 whole glorious weeks here in the U.K. Well, at least that's how long it lasted in Bangor; however, I'm pretty sure most universities have at least 2 weeks off. That's the biggest difference between the two methinks. There are a couple of others. The Easter holidays are specifically that: Easter holidays. They do revolve around the Easter weekend (in calendar-terms... plus the Easter candy here is abundant and marvelous). During this time the university is pretty much dead. Like, the trash guy didn't even come to empty my flat's trash. That wouldn't have been too bad since most of us were out, but that food bin was really starting to uh... harbor alien life forms...

Jokes, but it was getting really gross. The Ffriddoedd Site post room was pretty much all Easter weekend, so I wasn't able to get my mail, it looks like Bar Uno has been closed, the Ffriddoedd Site convenient store has been closed, and there's not been any sign of intelligent life until yesterday. Hey, I've only been here for a week and a half of the Easter holidays though! Got back from my marvelous misadventures last Wednesday. Let me proceed to fill you in!

So, my mom was planning on flying in on the 22nd and arriving in Bangor on the 23rd, but she was able to get an earlier flight out (she was on stand-by, so she took whatever chance she got) and ended up arriving on the 22nd instead. Being the proper uni student I am, I blew off my classes on Friday and showed my mom around (just then, I typed in 'me mum'... what is happening to me?!).
Thursday she got in between 2 and 3pm, so I just walked her to Tescos to pick up a few supplies like some extra blankets, a towel, a pillow case, and a new camera (I know, right?! And I haven't dropped it in the toilet yet!). Unfortunately, I took a few wrong turns finding our way to Tesco so it took ages. We also ran to Mike's Bites for dinner. I never eat out because I am extremely suspicious of what people put into my food (I hate fat and grease), so that was a new experience for both of us. For the record, their sandwiches are delicious. I hated the fact that they fried my vegetables though. Why must the world ruin vegetables?! WHY?!

Friday I showed my mom all that Bangor has to offer: the pier, Roman Camp, Normal Site, Ffriddoedd Site, town centre, and Bitch Hill. I also showed her the 'shortcut' between Ffriddoedd Site and Normal Site (normally it takes about 20 minutes to walk there, but the shortcut cuts it to 10 minutes, but the shortcut is at a pretty vertical angle). I think that's all Bangor had to offer. We then went to see Hunger Games with Carla and Matt that night at Llandudno Junction. Fantastic movie! It stuck pretty close to the book, and even the changes they made actually added to the story rather than ruining it. Um... let's see... I think that's all we did on the 23rd! The 24th we caught a train into London and spent the day there. We saw loads of stuff, including...

Here's another hint:

Read it and weep.


I am ridiculously happy about this. Just the fact that I, Chandrie Elaine Cook, walked the road that my beloved Beatles walked totally psyches me out. Then check this out:

Close up? Methinks yes:

Heck to the yes. Oh man, I nearly died from pure awesomeness. So, if this weren't awesome enough, there was also this little wall nearby that people could sign their names on. It reminded me of Prague, and I love writing on walls, so I added my name:

Ohhhhh yeah!

So yeah, even though I've been to London before, I got to see something new! That was great. Then my mom and I proceed to explore Leicester Square, M&M World, and I can't really remember where else. It was just great exploring with my mom.

On the 25th, my mom and I caught a train up north to Edinburgh. Flip me, that was a long train ride! Oh my days, I thought I was going to die. I think it was like, 5-6 hours on the train. I know, it could have been worse. 

Edinburgh was great; I absolutely loved it. We got into Edinburgh around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, so things were starting to slow down and close up. We did some wandering around and came across Calton Hill which houses a few monuments:

National Monument

The cannon on Calton Hill
Nelson Monument
A view of Edinburgh. Maybe from Calton Hill, but it could be from the castle.

Edinburgh was lovely. Definitely a city, but the people are lovely. It's also got some areas that have withstood modernization, so it's not like London where most of the old is gone or updated. On the 26th my mom and I spent the day at the castle. This was the view from the bottom of the massive hill leading to the castle:

It's awesome.

Oh! So, we explored the castle, did a ghost tour the previous night (forgot to mention it above), found myself a kilt (flip yeah!), explored Arthur's Seat, and just did a lot of walking. It was lovely. Biggest miracle of all? Not a drop of rain.

Arthur's Seat.

Arthur's Seat is supposedly where King Arthur could have lived. Everyone just uses it as a massive hiking spot. It's pretty awesome. There's also cliffs that a lot of people will climb.

So, the 27th we headed off to Belgium! We actually spent most of the day traveling on the 27th because we had to catch a train to Liverpool to fly into Belgium. When you use EasyJet, there are no convenient flights. On the 28th my mom and I went off to Amsterdam. Oh my days, I love Amsterdam! It is the oddest city I've been in. You can buy pot brownies everywhere, canals throughout the city, and the bicycles:

It's an army!

Seriously, this is my type of city. In Austin, the hierarchy goes like this:

Buses > People > Cars > Bicycles

In Bangor, the hierarchy is more like:

Cars > Buses > [People = Bicycles]

In Lehi, the hierarchy is more like this:

Cyclists don't stand a chance.

Amsterdam, however, showcases an hierarchy like this:

Bicycles > Cars > Pedestrians

The boats are in a world all their own. Anyway, that is the type of hierarchy I like to see! On a side note, I miss my bicycle more than anything else in the world. Here's to you, Greta!

So, Amsterdam, definitely worth a visit. I would never want to live there, but it's a fantastic experience. We basically did a lot of walking around in Amsterdam. We did visit the Anne Frank House. That was incredible. Walking through her life story and seeing her home is a very sobering act. I mean, we learn about the Holocaust in school when we're younger, but somehow it just doesn't mean as much as it did when I was walking through her home. The story of her family is a true tragedy, terrible. It nearly brought me to tears! And trust me, I'm not one good with emotions. I honestly don't know how to be emotional. When someone's crying, I don't have much of an idea what to do other than listen. I feel awkward just patting someone on the back when they're feeling down! Myself, I don't remember the last time I've cried in a movie... the only book I've cried while reading is the Harry Potter series (and proud of it!). The last time I recall crying in front of someone was at my grandma's funeral in March 2010. Yeah... 

Oh, so, in a lighter mood, we then went to the Van Gogh Museum. Up until this point, I really didn't think I was into art. I love sculptures just because of how awesome they are. In this case, I mean 'awesome' in its truest definition. Think about it; all the time that goes into those sculptures and all the detail that we see on them are insane. I admire sculpturists. Even Squidward Tentacles.

It took me forever to find this picture.

Anyway, art. Honestly, I just wanted to see Starry Night because of the song by Don McLean titled "Vincent". (It's on the American Pie album, and it's freaking awesome). After about 2 hours of looking at hundreds of paintings, I discovered that I love art! I also discovered that they did not have Starry Night. It was a great visit, though. I'll never be an art critic, but I do love looking at paintings. Van Gogh, you rock. I salute you.

Right, so Amsterdam was good. That's pretty much all we did there, I do believe. The following day we went to Bruges, Belgium. It's a cute little city. We were staying in Brussels with a family friend, and there was a massive traffic jam, so it took ages to get to Bruges. Once we got there, we checked out a couple of museums... but man, they were delicious! We went to the Fry Museum (honoring the life of frites/french fries/chips) and the Chocolate Museum. Even though I hate grease, those chips were pretty gooooood. I can honestly say that they are the best chips I have ever had. The Chocolate Museum was really good as well. Free samples! Belgian chocolate is the best chocolate in the world. Don't forget that. If you learn only one thing from my blog, dear reader, I hope it is that Belgium is the king of chocolate. We spent most of our day in those museums (there was tons to see and a lot of history to read through). I'm terrible at taking pictures, so I only have a couple to share of Bruges:

Bruges has canals throughout, just like Amsterdam. They did appear to be cleaner than Amsterdam, though.

Really cool band playing in what I'm assuming is town centre.

Just a shot of buildings!

So that was Bruges. The next day was meant to be spent in Brussels, but we ended up spending pretty much the whole day at Breendonk. Breendonk is the concentration camp just outside of Brussels. Oh my days, that was another sobering visit. Robyn, our friend from years ago, told us that when her son, Pearce, had gone to Breendonk for a school trip, the tour guide kept reminding them that this was considered the 5-star hotel of concentration camps. My dear readers, this is no comfort at all. After touring Breendonk, it's hard to believe it was considered the 5-star hotel of concentration camps. The fact that there were worse out there is inconceivable. Here are a few photos:

Breendonk from the front.

If you had any chance escaping over this barbed wire fence, you then had to swim across a moat...

Rooms were stuffed with bunks. You mattress on these bunks was basically an itchy sack of hay that was infested with bugs and lice. You were then beaten for having lice.

The torture room. Prisoners would be taken here to be tortured for information.

This is one of the hallways in the camp.

I didn't take too many pictures here. It was allowed, but at the same time it felt a bit disrespectful. To me, it felt like this should be a place of quiet, respect, and reverence to honor those who lost their lives. I felt awkward taking pictures. This was definitely a much more difficult visit than the Anne Frank House. Throughout Breendonk they had stories about individual prisoners and individual prison guards. I try to see things from an unbiased view, so if someone's mad at someone else, I often think of reasons how the offender could be innocent. Cut me off in traffic? Maybe they have to pee really bad. Anyway, as unbiased as I try to be, I couldn't see the prison guards in an innocent light. They were monsters. Only one of the prison guards sounded like he didn't want to be one, that he only joined the nazis out of survival. I can't judge him for that; how would I react in that situation? I have no idea. I'd like to assume I would stand up for what I believe in and die a martyr, but I honestly can't say for sure that I would until I'm put in that situation. I pray I never have to find out how I would act.
There was one story in particular that stands out in my mind. I don't remember his name, but he was a 17-year old Jewish boy taken as prisoner. In the camp there was a serious lack of food, heating, medical attention, and hygiene. We've all seen photos of the malnourished concentration camp prisoners. Well, this young boy was working outside and he lost strength, just couldn't work anymore. The guards threw him into the moat and refused to let him out. He cried out for his mother, struggled to escape the moat, and the guards would push him back down into the water. Even as he cried for his mom, they continued to thrust him into the moat. For 15 minutes. Until the boy drowned.
My eyes were teeming with tears at this point. I'm ashamed to say that I still didn't cry, and yet I cry every time I read Sirius Black falling behind that curtain in the Order of the Phoenix. Internal monologue: [Oh, Cook, what can I do with you?!]

That was seriously an intense tour. The camp was so dark, damp, and cold. I do believe it was colder inside the building than outside, and it was so cold. I swear it must have been in the 40s or 30s (fahrenheit, of course). I highly recommend visiting Breendonk if you're ever in Brussels. Not for pleasure, but for a chance to see the past and just understand it. I mean, I doubt we can ever fully understand what happened and what it was like, but it gives you much more of an idea than sitting in your usual high school classroom. Even Mr. Abbott's class could not give a smidgeon of an idea compared to visiting that 5-star hotel of a concentration camp.

Some things I'd like to say about Belgium:
-French is spoken here
-Dutch is spoken here
-English is sometimes spoken here
-Speculoos is amazing. It's a cookie, can be included in chocolate, and it has been turned into an incredible spread, kind of like Nutella but not chocolate.
-Lace is very popular in Bruges
-Pot is not as popular here as it is in Amsterdam

Ok! I think that's it for Belgium. Next stop: LIVERPOOL!

Y'all know I love Liverpool! Or, you do if you've read previous entries! Anyway, it was a nice day. I just took my mom around Beatles sites, but we did also visit the International Slave Museum and the Maritime Museum. They had an exhibit about the Titanic (it's the 100th anniversary of the sinking on the 15th of April), so we checked that out. It was really cool getting to see some of the artifacts and just learning a bit about it. Umm... ha, so, back to Beatles, nearly crapped my pants walking into A Hard Day's Night (a store on Mathew St.). Oh my days, I've never wanted to spend so much money in my life. Don't worry, I settled for slippers and Yellow Submarine Christmas ornaments (that I am kind of using as action figures on my desk...). I also bought birthday gifts for my brothers and my dad. 

Yeah, Liverpool was quite good! Ha, the following morning though? Draining. So, my mom and I were cornered into getting a flight at 7am from Liverpool to Belfast (next stop was Ballymoney, Northern Ireland). Unfortunately, that means getting at the airport at 5am. Double unfortunately... buses and undergrounds do not run that early. Fortunately, I have an amazing friend who, with a bit of American sweets bribery, was willing to give us a ride. Cheers, Chris! You're awesome!

So, 5am at John Lennon Liverpool Airport! Look what my mom and I found!

Two words: Suit up.

This was pretty exciting. So, anyway, onto Belfast! We have friends in Ballymoney from Benbrook Sister Cities back in 2006-2008, and we desperately wanted to see them. We spent April 1st and 2nd in Ballymoney then flew out the 3rd to Liverpool where we then caught a train to London. While in Ballymoney we pretty much just relaxed and spent time with our friends. It was great getting to see Debbie, Benny, Rebekah, Thomas, and Matthew again. Love them to bits! I'm eager to hop a ferry back over and hang out with them again. 
One really cool thing was the mayor invited us to see him, so we spent some time chatting up the mayor. We're pretty much celebrities in Ballymoney! Just kidding, but it was really cool. Benbrook city council killed Benbrook Sister Cities back in 2008, so I thought it was all finished from that, but nope! Ballymoney still loves the participants even if the city council members were total butt-holes. (Seriously! I even had a petition! Got signatures from walking around my neighborhood and going to classes in my high school, but nooooo, they just had to kill Benbrook Sister Cities! GOSH!)
I'm still touchy about that subject.

Right, so, after a nice visit in Ballymoney we were off to London! For our final day together, we actually just traveled. Oh my days, it was horrible. Took the train from Liverpool to London... then in London had to take the tube way out to terminal 5 at Heathrow to get to our hotel (my mom had to be at the airport at approximately 6.15am the following morning). That tube ride took like, an hour. Then after checking into the hotel we caught the tube back out to Leicester Square. We went back to M&M World to pick up some souvenirs for my family and then proceeded to make our way to Tottenham Court. What for, do you ask?

Oh yeah.

CHECK IT OUT, WORLD! We saw We Will Rock You the musical! Holy mercy, that was incredible. It was such a freaking awesome musical that my mind was blown away by sheer mind-numbing, amazing, exuberant, jaw-dropping, running out of adjectives, awesomeness. Loved it. Totally made up for the fact that we only had time for Burger King for dinner (vomit).

So our final night in London? Success. Although we did get a total rip off getting back to our hotel... we'd missed the last bus to our hotel by about 15 minutes (we got to Terminal 5 at about midnight), so we had only one option: a cab. The sucker punch? Terminal 5 is technically not in London... it's in Croydon. We were charge 35 pounds for a 5 minute cab ride. Ladies and gents, avoid taking a cab at all costs.

This has been an amazing Easter holiday, and I am so happy my mom got to come out and visit. It does feel good to be back in Bangor, though! All that traveling really is exhausting.

Well, no joke, I started this entry around 10pm and it is currently 1.30am. I'm heading to bed, y'all. Good night world!

Nos da!

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