United Springdom

“You alright, yeah?” is a typical greeting among British youth. I hope you are alright indeed, and I apologize for the posting silence. As finals are now done, I have been travelling around the UK, and seeing things that I have always dreamed of.

I returned from Switzerland and Germany (a ten-day trip) on the Queen’s birthday. It was really a fitting day to fly back. During my time in Europe, on the continent, I was homesick…or rather, home-base sick, for the UK. Upon landing, I vowed to myself that I would dedicate the rest of my time abroad this semester to seeing the UK and all that it has to offer!

To celebrate our return to England, my friends and I went to Cambridge. Like Oxford, Cambridge is a university town, but with much more open space. The highlight of our day was our punting boat ride down the river Cam, which weaves its way past the various college campuses!

Cambridge

Just two days later was one of Britain’s biggest holidays: May Day! The first of May is a Bank Holiday, but more importantly, the cermonial start of Spring! Kingston had its very own May Day festival called “May Merrie”. The local park green was completely transformed into a fairground, with rides, games, booths, puppet shows, and a jousting competition. I honestly forgot I was just right around the corner from my flat!

MayDay

My favorite part of the day was seeing a real “Punch and Judy” puppet show. “Punch and Judy” originated in the 17th century and is the oldest puppet show in Britain still performed today. The main character, Mr. Punch, is a naughty man who beats his family members and the local police officer with a giant stick. Despite the violent nature of the show, “Punch and Judy” has retained its popularity for over three centuries.

The following week, my friend Niki and I attended the “Punch and Judy Festival” in London’s Covent Garden, where over ten puppet booths were set up at a time, running numerous shows at once. Different models of Mr. Punch and the other characters graced the various stages, each putting their own spin on the classic storyline.

More UK Springtime adventures to come!

STUDY abroad?

Victoria University

Barely over 3 weeks left here in New Zealand, classes just finished yesterday, and
I’m finally blogging something about Victoria University! To confirm
the curiosity of those of you wondering whether or not I do actually
attend university here, I do! As a matter of fact, I am enrolled in
three courses here (called, “papers”). There are four victoria
University campuses throughout the city of Wellington, two of which I
attend. Though I live a 5 minute walk from Pipitea campus, which is
primarily Law and Commerce, I take classes up hill at Kelburn (the
main Uni campus) and at Te Aro, which I walk 25-30 minutes through
the city to get to.

Each course here is worth slightly more than classes at home as far
as points/credits go, and therefore a minimum of 3 classes will
enroll you as a full time student. However, the classes require a
bit more work, as there are three hours/week of class time per paper
and another extra hour of the week allotted to a mandatory tutorial.

Most classes require students to buy “Notes” which is basically all
of the readings photo copied and binded together in one big book,
cutting down the number of books necessary to be purchased.

One of the classes that I’m enrolled in, and my favorite, is Maori
123, Culture and Society. Funny enough, a vast majority of the class
consists of study abroad students, and a few kiwis (many of them
Maori). In the class, we’ve basically learned the background of the
indigenous culture of this small South Pacific country, and the
di/progression of it throughout the past centuries. It’s been an
incredible way to understand much of the atmosphere of this country,
and a great way to involve myself with some Maori traditions with at
least a little understanding of their background, passions and
beliefs. I would highly recommend a Maori class of some kind to
anybody studying abroad over here in New Zealand!

I’m officially done with Uni on June 16th- my last final exam, and then I have 10 days left to find some more adventures before I join the rest of you back home for summer… What’s everybody up to, anyway?

See you all soon :o)

Wellington…

…Is a beautiful city right on the harbour of Oriental Bay on the southern tip of the North Island of New Zealand. The city skyline can be seen while walking down along the harbour.

from the harbour

…Is Windy!
Wellington is...

and is full of all sort of plants, both indigenous and introduced.

…Is the capitol city of New Zealand. One can stroll right outside of Parliment as they please- night and day! (Amazing, huh?) There are also free tours of the buildings on the hour daily. The far building is known as “The Beehive” here in Wellington. Apparently that end was meant to have mimmicked the other half of Parliment, but they ran out of room! The older half is made up of solid marble blocks taken from various places throughout New Zealand.

They

…Has everything within walking distance. Weekly I walk across the front of Parliment, working my way to the local grocery store, New World.

Grocery Store

…Is the home of the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere, second in the world only to The Todaiji temple in Nara, Japan (Northern Hemisphere).

The law library...

This is the Victoria University Law School on Pipitea Campus (One of 4 Vic campuses throughout Wellington)

...is a giant maze!

…is easy to commute in and out of. There is also a free shuttle from the Railway Station to the Interislander Ferry Terminal for connection between the two islands!

Race transport...

…has artwork everywhere. This includes that all too famous bucket fountain designed in the 70s and still standing in the center of Cuba Mall. It’s uncertain whether the design of the fountain which splashes unaware people as they stroll by the lovely commons was intentional or not… Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan (Better known to many as the Hobbits, Frodo and Merry) Peed in this fountain, which has only increased the fame of this bizarre contraption.

Splash!

…Also has entertainment everywhere! (This includes various musicians, singers, fire eaters, unicyclists, beatboxers… performers of all ages, talents… you name it!) Live entertainment can be found at any time of day or night on Cuba Street.

crazy Cuba...

…has a national museum! Along with the permanent exhibits that take you through the history and progression of New Zealand, the is currently a temporary Lord of the Rings installation.

It's

Unfortuantely, photos are not allowed in this particular exhibition, but I can at least give you a taste of what was inside:

...

This is a 1:12 scale miniature model, and the only one needed for the entire film. “They filmed it dressed up in four different ways, then put the shots together digitally… Corsair Ship: Made by Weta Workshops. Made from timber, urethane, fabric, and paint.”

…The Exhibition is up through August, so, you know… if anybody happens to be in the area :o)
http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/Tepapa/

Wellington!…

…has Civic Square, a big, beautiful open commons right near the harbour.

Civic Square

It’s lined and decorated by various pieces of art as well as a gallery, the Visitor Information center (“i site”) and the city Library. If you get a membership at the city library, there are 3 dollar video rentals for a week!

cheap video rentals

… Is gorges?

Ithaca is...

???

Stafford House

I can remember sitting at my kitchen table back home in Groton, NY staring at what felt like an infinite number of options of where to live here in Wellington, New Zealand. I could flat with other uni students throughout the city, I could live with a family in the Wellington area, which would provide me with food and a place to sleep, but on the other hand I would have to find transportation daily into the city, and I’d be farther from other students. I could take advantage of the flatting provided through Victoria, which upon deciding to do, was presented with even more decisions! Did I want to live right in the city? What campus did I want to live near? What halls seemed to provide the most (electricity, furniture, internet, heat, etc…) and what combination of these was the most appealing? Did I want a meal plan? or to cook for myself? what were the best prices? Yikes! Decisions decisions (not exactly my favorite thing to make!)

I eventually came to the decision to live in the flats provided by Victoria, and Stafford House sounded pretty good to me, so I put it down as my first choice, and got in!

Stafford House......is tall!

Stafford house is on the beginning of The Terrace and not a 4 minute walk from the Parliment buildings. There is a delicious coffee shop right next door, as well as a dairy. The Terrace is parallel to Lambton Quay, one of the busiest streets in Wellington, and it provides about a 20 minute uphill walk to Uni… (You’re lucky if you’re not dripping in sweat by the time you get there- even on cooler days!)

40 The TerraceVic Uni flats

Stafford at eyelevel looks just like the base of any apartment building. There’s a glass awning over the entrance, so many people tend miss the overwhelming feeling of dizzy verticle stripes at the simple tilt of their head, but the modernized zebra-look is what helps Stafford to stand out in Wellington (though, there is one other building in the city painted up like a big zebra).

My view every morning...

This is my view as I leave stafford every day to wander the city of Wellington.

International students from all over!

In the lobby of Stafford House, there is a World Map with pins for everybody to share where they’re from. There are students from everywhere here- Aside from Americans and Kiwis, there are a number of Aussies, Europeans (from Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, France, Norway, Finland…) Asians, and Pacific Islanders, Indonesians- All in Stafford House! Everybody wants to come to New Zealand! (And I honestly can’t blame them ;o) )

Moving on to my flat!

...dining room?

our kitchenmeercat manor

Stafford house provides each fully furnished flat with a kitchen, a table and chairs, a bathroom, washer/dryer, and a couch. (And three bedrooms…) It is so nice to cook for myself, and be able to decide just what I want to eat. The pictures on the wall just so happen to be from the gorges town of Ithaca, and with one of our chairs that has fallen apart, my flatmates and I were able to rig up a decent television stand!

There are three bedrooms in each flat, all differently shaped and sized. I have only one window, but because our flat is quite high up, I get a decent amount of sunlight through my window.

The rooms each came with a desk, bed, drawers, lamp and a wardrobe. On the wall to the left of my desk I hung a huge poster up backwards so that friends (and I) can draw on my wall! It’s been one way to make my room a bit more cozy and feel lived in (seeing as I didn’t bring anything to hang up with me).
…You’ll notice the Ginger Beer bottles on my desk. Gingerbeer here is sooo good- sweetened with honey! (Genius!) It’s one thing I think I will genuinely miss when I leave in 4 weeks.

Stafford House takes a lot of pride, I think, in housing so many international students, and to express their appreciation for living with them, Marie and Stewart (The wonderful owners of Stafford), took everybody leaving the building out to dinner just last night. It was such a brilliant way for everybody to interact, and for us to hang out with Marie and Stewart beyond the walls of our building a little.

The food, too, was wonderful! And the proportions HUGE.

Emma, me, Erin

Stafford has been an excellent place to live. I feel so situated in this area of the city. The grocery store is close, the Botanical Gardens a 10 minute walk up behind my building, and I know my walk to Uni by heart: the businesses, coffee shops, crosswalks, the tall buildings that reflect the rest of the cityline, and the shortcut through the woods that I take every chance that I get. Marie and Stewart are great, I have had so much fun cooking for myself, and both my flatmates and building…mates have turned out to be wonderful! Stafford has become my home and my family for my stay here- so far away from my home and family in the States…

…And though I can’t wait to return to them, I’ve got to say- it’s going to be difficult to say goodbye here. :o)

A drizzly, reflective evening…

The past two weeks have been busy with sunny weather, rainy weather, finishing up big trimester projects and organizing what time I have left way down here. As I had mentioned in a previous blog, I spent my mid trimester break back packing and hiking around the South Island. Despite the rain, I experienced some magnificent views and met some pretty awesome people who I’m sure that I will never forget. While much happened on that trip however, I’d like to reflect a little bit more on my return to Wellington.

Before I hopped on the Ferry and headed to the South Island, I couldn’t wait to get out of Wellington- this city that I had spent the past couple of months living in- I couldn’t wait to check out the wonders of the South and jump into the adventures that it held in store (positive that they would be more brilliant than I could imagine). Ironically, my return to Wellington very well may havebeen the best part ofthe trip! As I was walking down Lambton Quay (pronouced “key”), the biggest shopping street in Wellington, on the way back to my flat, I suddenly realized that it felt different to be there. It was the first time that I no longer felt like I was visiting Wellington, but rather understood that I was returning to it. It was a home base. I entered my building only to be welcomed by hugs from friends I had never hugged before, and exchange some pretty amazing smiles. Throughout the next week or so jumbled full of catching up with friends over coffee, taking walks to my favorite parts of the city, getting to know people better, and decorating the walls of our flat (finally!), I gradually felt more and more like I belong here. That I live here. And so, as it goes, Wellington has become mine. Wellington is a home to me!

I’d like to share a little bit more of the life around Wellington, but due to the raininess that winter brings here on the bay, I’ll have to wait a little while to get some more decent pictures…

In the meantime, I hope that everything back home is going well and that finals are wrapping up brilliantly!

A Romp Through the Renaissance

Upon the start of Spring Break, I was in for my most intensive art history lesson yet. Rather than looking at slides of Florentine Art and Architecture, I was actually seeing the churches, palaces, paintings and sculptures with my own eyes! The “Art and Architecture of Renaissance Florence” Study Trip was an amazing opportunity.
Dome

My friend Reimi, who is from Japan, also signed on for the class and was a fun travel companion. We left our rooms at Middle Mill hall at an unearthly hour to make the trek to Gatwick Airport, during which we saw the sunrise. When we met up with our professor and fellow students, we recognized a rather unfortunate situation; my professor, Ros, had her arm in a sling. Just a day before, she had broken her arm while placing a book back on the shelf at home. Ros had such strong enthusiasm for guiding our trip that one would never guess she was wracked with pain.

On the plane, I enjoyed a window seat which awarded me amazing views of the snow-capped Alps

Alps
We arrived in Pisa and drove an hour south to Florence. One of the most interesting aspects of the Italian landscape was the form of the trees. I always though Renaissance artists were using creative license when painting such vertical and closely-clipped trees, but I saw that the forms were indeed real.

The Hotel Cordova was rather old fashioned and authentically Italian. We were staying on the same street as the Palazzo Medici, and just a short walk from the Duomo and the Bapistery of San Giovanni! Mopeds, Motor Bikes and cyles are the mode of transport in Florence. It was funny to see such modern technology zipping by the landmarks of the Renaissance.

DavidDuomo
David, the Duomo, and a portrait of the dome’s architect Brunelleschi

Upon seeing the Duomo for the first time, I uttered a word that I cannot repeat here. The sheer enormous size of the building, as well as its intricate inlaid marble facade kept my eyes busy for awhile and must have put me in a trance. Of course, I jumped at the sight of Brunelleschi’s famous dome, one of the most amazing feats of engineering in the world. At the Bapistery, just a stone’s throw away, I presented Ghiberti’s bronze door panels to my class, thereby freeing myself of academic stress for the rest of the trip!

Arno
The Beautiful Arno River

To be quite honest, the trip’s schedule was set at such a rigorous pace that it is impossible to do a day-by-day breakdown. We saw so much in such a short amount of time, that experienced numerous episodes of sensory overload. By the end of each day, I was so exhausted that I went to bed by 10:30 each night! The last time that happened was probably when I was in middle school!

In addition to seeing the major sites and works, the best part about my experience in Florence was the element of surprise. It was great to stumble upon my favorite pieces that I hadn’t expected to see in Florence, but elsewhere in Italy. I would also like to extend a huge “Thank You” to Ros Ormiston for being such an awesome professor and guide despite the pain of her broken arm.

The trip was so much fun that I had forgotten I was taking a class! However, I just remember that it was a class and I am off to write the paper now!

Next Entry: Switzerland and Germany!

Happy Mothers Week, Mum!

Hey everybody, I have a lot of catching up to do!

About a month ago, my mother came to visit me here in London, and it was her first time to Britain. I hoped she would be enchanted by this great land and she sure was indeed. How fitting that she arrived the weekend of Britain’s Mother’s Day!

Here we are in “Sticky Fingers”, the Rolling Stones themed restaurant owned by former band member Bill Wyman.

Mom and Me

On our first full day together, we went to Marylebone Station to take a Beatles Walk entitled “In My Life”. The walk, run by a Beatlemaniac named Richard, covered areas of Westminster featured in the film “Hard Day’s Night” as well as some of the Beatles’ living spaces. The highlight of the tour was indeed a pilgrimage to the legendary Abbey Road Studios! I daresay that the famous Abbey Road crosswalk is the most busy crosswalk in the world. Many frustrated motorists honked their horns as tourists walked proudly across the street multiple times.

Abbey Road

The following day, we went to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is one of the most unique museums I have ever visited. A museum of the Fine and Decorative arts, the V & A houses many objects of various materials from many cultures and time periods. For instance, there plaster casts of Renaissance sculptures, along with a 1970s model of a filing cabinet! Such diversity. My mom and I were especially interested in the intricately painted miniature portraits.

Victoria & Albert

A real highlight of our outings was seeing “Billy Elliot The Musical”. The film “Billy Elliot” immediately became a favorite of mine when I first saw it in the movie theater over five years ago. It tells the story of a young English boy from a working-class town who defies the expectations of those around him by pursuing his passion for dance. The musical, written by the creative team of the film, and Elton John, was amazing to see. It had such freshness and British authenticity unlike any other show I have seen. Below is a production photo of Matthew Koon as Billy, and Hadyn Gywnn has his dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson.

Billy Elliot MK
picture from http://www.billyelliotthemusical.me.uk

The greatest highlight of all was showing my mom around Kingston one afternoon. Luckily the weather was wonderful. We visited the street market, walked along the Thames, spent some time at my building, and went to eat at my favorite pub.

Marketplace

After a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, Mom and I parted ways in the tube station. She was sad to go, but had a great experience.

Next Post: My trip to Florence, Italy!

The Tongariro Crossing

10 Hours of astonishing sights, temperatures, and burning muscles…

The Tongariro Crossing is known as “New Zealand’s Finest One Day Tramp” (tramping = hiking here). As the summer winds down and weather becomes more unpredictable, they allow fewer and fewer trampers up the crossing, as conditions can go from sleet and hail one moment to sun, rain or snow the next… and the wind is always pretty intense, so some of my friends and I really lucked out in making just about the last beautiful weekend up to the National Park!

Though the track started up above the clouds, it was a flat start up to the volcanos. Our first real challenge was getting up Devil’s Stair Case. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but there are tons and tons of people tramping up the left side of the terrain in the foreground.

Once we made it to the top we took a nice break to recover our legs and keep them from collapsing from the constant uphill tramping… we hadn’t a clue of what was to come…

Mount Ngauruhoe, better known to many as Lord of the Ring’s Mount Doom, was a 1500k straight up climb along loose lava rock. But we did it! We climbed for a solid hour and a half straight up to the top, taking a lunch break at that greater jumble of big rocks just past half way.

The climb up was pretty tough, but it wasn’t hte steepness that was the most challenging, it was having to keep from sliding down with the rocks beneath your feet!

One thing that kept the climb exciting was the spontaneous shout of warning: “Rock!!” from above as a large rock might have escaped its stationary place on the ground, and tumbled down the mountain at high speeds. Yikes!

But all of the climbing made for some pretty fantastic views at every point we stopped at… This picture was where we ate lunch, about half way up Mount Ngauruhoe.

This was what our way up looked like…

…And this our way down. The way down was basically a balancing act going through roller blading type motions… constantly picking up each foot so as not to stop too quickly, and just basically sliding down, hoping that if you fall, you fall backwards rather than forwards! It took us maybe 30 minutes to make the trip down Mount Doom. Though Frodo’s trip might have been more exciting, I think that ours at least provided some pretty sweet as thrills!

From the top of Mount Ngauruhoe! (Shaun looks like he’s about to jump in…)

From the top, we could see people walking around the outside of the ridge on the other side. Because of the high winds and our lack of time, we decided to just watch in awe the size of the people scampering across the volcanic ridge across from us.

…and check out the preview of more tramping that lies ahead of us… we walked along the bluer lake in the back ground eventually.

…And the descent begins.

Although much of the Tramp lacked any kind of foliage- or even anything other than volcanic rock, there were some absolutely brilliant colors and rock formations along the way.

The Emerald lakes along the Crossing are another of nature’s wonders, sacred to the Maori. Despite their state of being Tapu (Sacred), one wouldn’t want to go swimming in them because of the level of acidity in the water (which makes them green…)

This was looking back at one point toward the end of the 10 hour tramp… (well, with maybe 3 hours to go…) You can see Mount Ngauruhoe in the background, and another up/down saddle that we made our way over.

We continued through some grassy trails and down to a hut, leaving us about two hours to finish and get back to our shuttle.

…More adventures soon to come :o)

Half way…

I apologize for the lack of pictures in this upcoming blog… I promise that when I get a chance I will upload some pictures of the most recent adventures I’ve taken part in (Including a 10 hour hike of the Tongariro Crossing [see previous blog..] plus a 1500 m straight up climb to the top of The Lord Of The Ring’s: Mount Doom).

Hmm… Who will read on now, knowing that this story is not yet being told?

While for many of you at home in the states the end of the semester is in view, we down here in New Zealand have just completed the first half of our trimester and are currently on a two week break from everything Uni. To start off my refreshing break from the dense wall of work that I just broke through, I entered a race in a suburb of Wellington called Upper Hutt. Having to rely on the train to get there, and knowing that I’d have no particular place to keep anything, I shoved some cash into my running shorts, tied my shoes, threw on an extra long sleeve shirt and made my way to the railway station. When I arrived in Upper Hutt 45 minutes later, I made my way to the race beneath the somewhat forboding looking sky.

There was a 21k (Half marathon) and 10k to choose from, and not having run much more than 6 or so miles in some time, I went with the 10k to be safe- boy what a good decision that was! The race started in a heavy drizzle, and only progressed from there. Not 5 minutes into the all-grass course, lightening struck and thunder followed… apparently that’s the signal for the rain to pick up! Carrying on the pattern, the next strike of lightening turned the huge rain drops into hail! I couldn’t help laughing at times- what an insane race! Luckily by about 5k in the worst of the weather was over, and it continued to digress to a heavy drizzle by the end. Phew!

Worried about being chilled in the very little clothes that I had with me, I changed into my dry top and considered skipping the awards ceremony and instead working my way back down to Wellington. But the sun came out! And it was warm and drying- and I ended up being quite comfortable, talked with some wonderful people in the Wellington area, and ended up staying through the awards. The awards were the basic First place runner for each race, youngest finisher, earliest entry, etc… what wasn’t expected is that there was an award from the male and female from the furthest away! (lucky me!) There were two international individuals in the race- me (from NY) and a man from Great Britain! So I won a nice thermal tshirt, and found myself quite proud to have been at the small road race from so far away :o).

I made my way back to my flat on The Terrace, and had a marvelous night’s sleep. That was 3 days ago. Now, I’ve just finished packing a big frame pack that I’m borrowing from a friend, and am heading to the south island bright and early tomorrow morning for a week and a half long back packing trip! I’ll spend the first couple of days on my own in Picton and Nelson, and then I’m meeting up with two other people who I’m going to be hiking and camping with for the rest of the time… So I’ll leave you in dire anticipation of what stories are next to come, and get a good night’s rest.

Goodnight, Friends!

Catching a Breath in Between Travels

Hey everyone, I apologize for the lack of updates. I have been so very busy!

Two weeks ago, my mom came to visit and we had a wonderful time. I was hoping that Britain would meet her expectations, but not suprisingly, it exceeded them! We did so many things that I had yet to do in London, like go on a Beatles walk, visit the Victoria & Albert Museum, and see “Billy Elliot The Musical”! (More about mom’s visit in a future entry)

Last Monday, I was in Florence, Italy for a week-long art history study trip! The schedule was so rigorous and exhausting but well worth it! We saw so much art and architecture that I’ve always dreamed of seeing in person rather then in the slideroom. (This will be in a future entry as well!)

Tomorrow morning, I am on my way to a nine-day sprint through Switzerland and Germany! By the time I return, I will be in blogging debt, but have so many stories to tell and pictures to show.

Thanks for your patience, and stay tuned in!