Sunday, June 5, 2011

Teary Eyed Goodbyes, The Last Blog

I’m sitting on the bus from O’hare airport to Rockford where my cousin Jaime is picking me up. Everything feels so surreal and almost completely foreign. That is very hard to believe considering I’m now home and no longer in the UK. My journey home started at 4:30 AM UK time or 10:30 PM Iowa time. The adventure started long before that though. Thursday night, we had a going away dinner and pub crawl for those of us from the program that were still in Bangor. Tecwyn treated us to a wonderful dinner and then of course we headed to Paddy’s for one last thirsty Thursday. We had the first of many teary eyed goodbyes that night starting with Sally who was one of the OP instructors.

The next morning (Friday) we had to have all of our boxes packed up and ready to be stored for the summer. This was also our last opportunity to say goodbye to Tecwyn and that was when it really hit me. Saying goodbye to Tecwyn meant that this all was really coming to an end. The rest of the day was filled with goodbyes to some of my flat mates that were moving out, packing up the remainder of my things and cleaning my room. Everyone decided that we should stay up all night that night because we would be heading to the Manchester airport at 4:30 in the morning. So, we all just spent our last few hours together. We played cards for hours on end and we also took one last trip to Roman Camp to do some star gazing. We had to wait until it was good and dark to star gaze, which believe it or not, was well after 11 before it was completely dark out! We continued to play cards and just enjoy our last little bit of time together until about 4 when we called it quits. We were shortly all in tears as we loaded our luggage into the back of the bus that was picking us up. This would be the last time we would all be together in Bangor. Lydia and Rachel were not going on the bus with us and it was very hard to say goodbye. Pretty much everyone was in tears by the time we loaded the bus.

Our drive to Manchester was very bittersweet. We got to watch a beautiful sunrise as we looked across the sea for the last time. I soaked in as much of the beautiful surroundings as I could; it was just so sad knowing the next time I woke up it wouldn’t be surrounded by the beautiful Snowdonia Mountains. When we arrived at the airport we had to do another round of goodbyes because Sheilagh, Jake and Melissa were flying out of a different terminal than we were, so once again I ended up in tears. I knew I would see Jake again but it was very hard saying goodbye to Melissa who is from Texas and Sheilagh who is from Minnesota. All these wonderful people were my family for the last 5 and ½ months and I just didn’t want it to be over and I sure didn’t want to say goodbye.

Once we were finally at our part of the airport we all unloaded our stuff and headed for the check in counter. We were plenty early because it wasn’t even 6:30 and out plane didn’t leave until 10:40. Better to be safe than sorry. I had a little trouble checking in because I think the lady that waited on me was in a bad mood. I had never had any troubles in the past and no one else had any problems either but the lady didn’t want to allow me to use my backpack at my personal item. She said it was too big for a personal item but I had always used it that way in the past and everyone else was doing the same thing as me. I had a smaller bag that was just small enough to be considered a carry on which she also had a problem with. She made me put it in the box to make sure it was the right size. I knew it was because before I left I purposely got a smaller one to make sure it was the acceptable size. She told me I needed to take stuff out of my backpack and put it in my checked bag but that bag was pretty much ready to burst and it was barely under the weight limit. I really didn’t see what the big problem was but I did what I was told and she eventually gave in. We were all also interrogated pretty heavily about what types of things we had in our bags (such as electronics) and where we bought everything, and who packed out bags, and where the bags had been. I felt like I had done something wrong but I guess I passed because I got through. Next, we went through security which was a little different from any other time I had gone through security. I was most surprised that I didn’t have t take my shoes off. By the time we all got through security we still had a 3 hour wait before we could even get to our gate. Once they finally called our gate we headed through one last security stop and of course, lucky me, I got picked to be randomly searched. This involved a lady frisking me and then searching every single little nook and cranny of my 2 bags, oh, and I had to take off my shoes. I felt bad when she was checking my back pack because it had like 500 zippers on it. It took about 10 minutes for her to get through everything so by the time she was done it was time to board the plane.

By this time I had been awake for 26 hours and counting so I was starting to feel a little out of it. I kept telling myself that I should have slept the night before because I’m no good at sleeping while sitting up and it was bound to be a miserable flight if I was awake the whole 8 and ½ hours. As the plane took off I couldn’t fight back the tears at all. It was really happening, we were really leaving. I was so happy to be going home but I was also so sad to be leaving such a wonderful place behind. I did manage to doze off a little bit, but of course and soon as I feel asleep they were serving our food. I was lucky enough to be able to sit next to Riley and she was out cold. I jabbed and poked and yelled her name but I got no response out of her, wish I could sleep like that. After the food I think I managed to fall asleep for about 20 minutes but other than that I was awake the whole time on the plane. I enjoyed the in flight movie and I did some reading so the time passed rather quickly. Before I knew it, the captain (who happened to be the first female captain I have ever had on a flight) was announcing we would be shortly arriving in Chicago where the temp would be 89o. Yeah I didn’t miss the heat and humidity associated with the Midwest summers.

Once we landed I expected it to take hours to get through boarder control and customs but it only took about 15 minutes! At boarder control I just handed the guy my passport and he stamped it and didn’t say anything to me at all. At customs, they didn’t even look in my bags or ask me any questions. They just took the claims sheet I filled out and I was on my way. So, by this point everyone else had to give their checked bags back to be loaded on their next plane while I headed off to find my shuttle. Yet another round of teary eyed goodbyes, at least these were the last goodbyes; the next tears would be teary eyed hellos. Everyone that I said goodbye to at this point was from Iowa so there is a good chance I will run into them all again someday.

As I sit on the shuttle to Rockford texting my friends, it’s really hitting me that I’m home. It sure didn’t feel like I was gone for 5 and ½ months; it feels more like a couple of weeks. It also feels really weird to be driving on the right side of the road. I think the culture shock of coming home is going to be worse than when I went over to the UK. I have already noticed how lazy and demanding the “Americans” can be. I got on the bus and the driver asked who hadn’t purchased their tickets yet and a few people said they had not. He told them where the ticket counter was and that they should go get the tickets. They were like “is this guy for real? Or is he kidding?” Needless to say they had to get off the bus to get their tickets. In the UK, from what I noticed, no one would have made a fuss about that, they would have done what they needed to do and just got on with it. Hopefully the shock won’t be too bad since I will be too busy to think about it.


So fast forward a few hours and I’m home in Balltown! After waiting for what felt like forever for Jaime to come get me in Rockford I finally made it. Because I was able to get on an earlier shuttle, I beat my ride to Rockford. I couldn’t believe how hot it was, but after all, it is June in the Midwest. I wasn’t conditioned to this humidity and it can go away anytime. But anyways, it was so amazing seeing Gram and Jaime and Briella for the first time. I’m so lucky to have such a great family. Miss Briella played hard to get and acted all shy at first. Eventually, she warmed up and decided to be silly the rest of the way home. When I got to Gram’s, my best friend Ashley was able to stop in and it was so great to see her too!

After being awake for an unmentionable amount of hours I still had more to do. I had a wedding in Bunie to go to so I cleaned myself up and headed out. I made dad come get me once I got to Balltown because I was so tired I didn’t want to drive anymore. I was so excited that driving all came back to me. It felt weird to be driving on the right side of the street and to have the steering wheel on the left side of the car. The few times that I was in a car in Wales, I sat in the front seat and it always felt so weird not having the steering wheel in front of me. Everything came back to me and it felt amazing to be behind the wheel but I was happy to give it up so I didn’t pass out behind the wheel. It was so surreal being at the wedding and seeing everyone. It was hard to believe that just a few short hours before that I was in a whole different country. I enjoyed a few beers with friends but I tell ya what, it felt so amazing to lay my head on my pillow in my own bed!

Sitting here at the dining room table just doesn’t feel real. I can’t believe such an amazing part of my life is over but that means it is time to start a new adventure. Thank you to all of you that followed my blog. I can’t wait to see you all and tell you all the adventures in person.

Lots of Love,


Friday, June 3, 2011

One Last Adventure

I keep saying how sad I am that I didn't travel all over Europe this semester but I really did enjoy my three visits to London. If I didn't have a great family at home and a bunch of wonderful friends I could totally leave my life behind and settle into the great city. I would more or less say I'm a country girl at heart but there is just something about London that makes me so happy. I love the buzz of the city and there is always something exciting going on. If you end up being bored in London, then you are not trying at all to have any fun. If I would have studied in London this semester I would have been out of money in a month, I guarantee it! I could easily spend the rest of my life's savings going to the shows in London alone! Overall, going to London three times was worth not traveling around the rest of Europe, guess I will just have to come back sometime in the future and see what I all missed!

Monday morning started out at 5 AM and not because I wanted to. I woke up and couldn't fall back asleep because I was so excited. Around 6 I finally rolled out of bed and decided to get ready for the day. By 7:30 I was showered and fed and all ready to walk out the door. We were almost to the train station when I realized I forgot my iPod so I ran all the way back to the room to get it. Traveling is never fun without music so I thought it was worth going back for. By the time I started walking back to the station, Riley was on her way back up because she forgot her concert tickets. Good thing we left early. I waited for Riley and once she caught up to me we decided to run just in case the train was early. Good thing we did because by the time we got to the platform the train was just about ready to pull away. I was exhausted by the time we got on the train because it is just so much fun running up and down hills at 7:30 in the morning with a huge back pack. Oh well, we made it. Funny part was, Riley and I are usually waiting for Sheilagh and she was the one that had it all together that morning. The remainder of the trip everything that would go wrong we referred to as riding the "struggle bus" haha!

The rest of the travels to London were pretty uneventful. It rained the whole way there so we decided instead of walking to our hostel we would jump on the underground. There is something beautifully awful that I love about the underground. The people are packed into these tiny little trains that go through little tubs at 90 miles an hour, just crazy, but I love it. We also had to rework our route because one of the lines was closed that we wanted to take. Everything in London is currently under construction because they are revamping everything for the Olympics in 2012. Once at our hostel we were told we were too early to check in so we ate our lunch, put our back packs in the luggage storage and headed out to explore. The day cleared up petty nice so the walk was enjoyable. We decided we wanted to go inside of Westminster Abbey so thats where we headed. Westminster is the most glamorous abbey I have been in this semester and it is very sad that there were no pictures allowed. There were hundreds of tombs of kings and queens and other famous people in the Abbey. I thought the coolest one was Charles Darwin. After the Abbey we still had plenty of time before Wicked started and the weather was kind of turning ugly so we headed for a pub. We had a round in the bar area and then eventually moved upstairs for some grub. I even managed to snatch my guiness glass before we left.Wicked was so amazing yet again! I love it more and more every time I see it. If I had the opportunity to I would see it everyday. I hope they make it into a movie some day!

The next day started with a trip to Wimbledon. Riley and Sheilagh are both big fans of tennis so they really enjoyed themselves. I also enjoyed myself but I'm not really into tennis. It was a nice long ride on the District line of the underground that we took all the way to the end. Then we enjoyed a nice long walk to the stadium. It was really a beautiful area and the stadium was cool to see from the outside. After our walk around the stadium we enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and then headed back into the heart of London. We were still plenty early for Phantom of the Opera that we would be seeing that afternoon so we decided to walk around the National Gallery in the meantime. Our friend Tiia who is from Finland and was also studying in the Bangor program this semester was also in London and met up with us at that point. The National Gallery was pretty cool and the best part was seeing one of Van Gogh's original paintings. Once it was 2:30 it was show time for Phantom! It was so amazing!!! The things they did with the stage just blew my mind and the acting and singing was perfect. I feel so lucky to have been able to see one of the greatest shows of all time. The show has been running at the Her Majesty the Queen Theatre for the past 25 years. I thought Wicked was amazing but Phantom left me speechless. I love both shows so much, I can't even decide which one I liked better. After the show we decided to do the south side of the river walk like we had done the first time we were in London. Sheilagh had not done the walk before and neither had Tiia. It was a beautiful night and we all really enjoyed ourselves. Sheilagh and I broke down and spent the 18 pounds to ride the London Eye which was spectacular. The Eye is basically this huge ferris wheel and you can see the entirety of the city. The best part of it was seeing Parliament from above.

The next day after checking out of the hostel we headed to Abbey Road to see the Beatles' studio and to walk across the street just like on their album cover. We ended up completely missing the studio the first time and by the time we walked the entire length of Abbey Road we broke down and called one of the girls back in Bangor to ask exactly where it was located. She said it was right at the beginning so we turned around and walked back. When we got to the start of the road we easily saw why we missed it the first time around. The studio was under construction and the outside was completely surrounded by blue scaffolding. Oh well! It was also easy to miss the cross walk because there were tons of them and they all looked exactly the same. After that wild goose chase we headed for another one. We went to King's Cross Station to try and find platform 9 and 3/4 from the Harry Potter books. King's Cross station was also under some major construction so we never actually found it. We were going to ask for directions to it but we were all getting tired of searching. We weren't far from Euston station so we walked there and waited for our train. The ride home was full of cards and we very uneventful. It is sad to think we won't be traveling by train anymore. I love the train system and it's too bad there isn't one in the states.

The next time I blog it will be the last time. Today is my last in Wales and in just a few short hours I will be heading to the airport. I will say it again but it is very hard to believe it's time to go home already. The last couple of days have been full of bittersweet memories and goodbyes. It is so hard to say goodbye to all the wonderful people I have met this semester but hopefully we can all cross paths again someday. I have had a wonderful family of friends here in Wales and i'm going to miss them all so much.

Until next time...