Saturday, June 25, 2011

35 hrs

“It is not down in any map; true places never are.” – Herman Melville

Chalk my lack of updates as me soaking up every last second I have here. Soaking it all up, and packing up my 5 months of living (my room is in such a state). Might not get back to you until I'm back in Canada. Sors.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Good things come to those who wait

So keep waiting and maybe you'll get a great update in the near future.

I've been hanging out with my cousin in England for the last few days but I'm back in the Netherlands for one final weekend before heading back to Canada. I should hopefully update you in the near future about what I was up to from Scotland to now.

Until then.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Bookshelf

A review on the back of this book states: "An insistently metaphysical mind-bender"

I find this to be exceptionally accurate. I just finished, and thoroughly enjoyed Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.

I heard about this book because it was one of the month's selections in a book club I was taking part in. Unfortunately, because I was too busy I didn't get to pick this one up and ended up skipping that month with book club altogether. This is too bad because finishing the book now I realize how amazing it would be to discuss.

The book follows two main characters, one a 15 year old boy running away from his father and a predestined fate he desperately wants to avoid. It also follows an elderly man who can talk to cats. Their lives intersect in a variety of ways. The book takes you outside the realms of reality, walking you through dream worlds and other craziness. It is a really interesting read and one that I would highly suggest you pick up. I would also suggest trying to get someone or a group of people to read it at the same times as you because it demands to be discussed.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Scotland: The 12 hour bus tour

I slept quite well last night, for the most part. I think that I can contribute that to being exhausted. I did wake up at 3am when the people who were on a pub crawl got in. I looked at my phone, saw it was 3am and thought to myself "why are they coming home so early?" Yup friends the Netherlands has me thinking that getting in at 3am is early. Other than that - and the about 20 minutes I was awake because the guy sleeping in the bunk below me was snoring SO loud - I slept really well.

I got up at 6:30 so I would have time to shower and get to the bus pickup spot with plenty of time.

The bus left just after 8am and I was exhausted. I was lucky and got a seat right at the front, this was ideal for optimal sightseeing. Most of the trip was just driving around 'seeing.' This was alright as the countryside is very beautiful, unfortunately it rained all day so the windows were often covered with rain.

Some of the highlights:
We drove by Stirling Castle, which I will be going to see tomorrow. It is the second most visited castle here, after Edinburgh Castle.
We drove by the castle that you see in The Holy Grail.
We drove by the field and hills where William Wallace fought. (FFRRREEEEEEDOM!)

We stopped at Glen Coe which is a beautiful valley surrounded by stunning huge rolling mountains. It was really gorgeous.

We drove through a lot of beautiful scenery, unfortunately taking pictures from a bus doesn't really work that well, especially when windows are covered in rain. As such I didn't actually take too many pictures.

We stopped along Loch Ness and we took a boat ride, unfortunately it was so rainy and cold that I just sat in the covered part and couldn't see much due to foggy windows and rain clouds on the top of the mountains. The boat drives down and takes you past some ruins of a castle which is a really lovely sight, especially with a lovely backdrop. Due to the peat in the soil the water is really dark, think Guinness coloured. Sadly there were no sightings of Nessie. Better luck next time.

Basically we drove back from there. This trip was divided with a couple other stops, most of them were for things like snacks, coffee, and bathroom breaks. It was a great day, albeit it really long. It got quite excessive sitting in a bus that long, but it was nice to be able to see so much in one day.

We arrived back just after 8pm. I walked back to the hostel, stopping at Subway along the way.

I realize that this is not likely an interesting post to read but I can't really list things that I saw or did because mostly I just sat in a bus and looked out the window at what you would imagine Scotland to look like. So imagine Scotland, do you have it? Yup, that's what I saw. Rolling green hills topped with rain clouds, scattered with fluffy sheep, cordoned off by short stone walls. Adorable!

Friday, June 17, 2011


The rest of my evening yesterday was rather uneventful. By the time I went to my room in the hostel a number of people were already asleep. I went to bed pretty quickly. I was woken up a few times, but I think that is mostly because I am a rather light sleeper in hostels. I was woken up a few times because the bar downstairs has live music but mostly I thought it was funny because it was a bunch of people belting out "Ghost Riders in the Sky." That was (momentarily) entertaining, and it stopped around 1am.

I woke up around 7 and couldn't get back to sleep so I just got up and showered, sat around eating breakfast and reading, taking my time. My plan for the day was to jump on one of the hop-on-hop-off tours and they started at 9:30. Because I was taking my time I didn't get to the busses until around 10 but this was ok. I don't often want to pay for a bus tour like that but Edinburgh is really, really hilly and I hadn't really done any reading about what you can see here so this really was my only option. This is also great because if you get tired of seeing things you can just sit on the bus for a while and still feel like you are doing stuff.

They had a deal where if you pay one price you can board any of the 4 different companies buses, this was really nice. I started with one bus and just rode the entire route, it took about an hour. I did this because I was tired, it started to rain (great day for an open top bus tour), and I didn't want to pay entrance into anything. I then boarded another bus, this time with a live tour guide, these are generally much more enjoyable than the ones with headphones. The guide was really great. Again I just sat and listened to the entire tour - it covered mostly different things. I stayed on that bus and rode it to one of the Starbucks (which are conveniently everywhere) and hopped off.

I was freezing cold and ready for a nap but determined not to waste my bus ticket by napping. Instead I had a panini and a venti latte. I sat in Sbucks for about an hour reading and trying to warm up. From where I was I walked up the hill towards Edinburgh castle stopping to buy a lambswool scarf along the way - I desperately wanted to buy a cashmere one but I was being realistic about money matters so opted out of it.

I then went to the castle. It was alright. I was pretty exhausted and most of it was set up like a museum, which was nice, but I wasn't really up for reading a bunch of stuff. Don't really know if I got my money's worth, but for 5 extra pounds I paid for entrance into ALL historical sites in Scotland, so once the weekend is over I will have made my moneys worth.

I wandered through a lot of the castle before eventually coming out and finding a tour to book for tomorrow. It is going to be an epic day of busses but I think it'll be good, and it will be substantially easier than if I tried to plan it all myself. Sounds like a lot - a lot - of people have done similar tours so that means it really is easier. It is an early start and we get back late. Sunday I've plans to get to a castle that I won't get to see in the tour but I'll tell you about that after I actually do it.

So I hopped back on another bus and rode it around until I could stop by the train station. I thought I wanted to come and have a nap or something but instead I went to look for a shirt to buy because I need to do laundry but I thought maybe it'd be easier to buy a cheap shirt, then changed my mind again and convinced myself to just wash my clothes - which I still need to do! I went to the tourist office to get some details about my Sunday trip then walked back to the hostel, hung out, ate some food, had some tea, and now I'm updating all you lovely people on my day.

I realize I wasn't very informative about what I saw, but I don't really know what to tell you. The city is really beautiful, some highlights were the Queen's Scotland palace, the castle, beautiful architecture, private parks (you have to pay a membership to use them!), beautiful bridges, ya, I guess mostly it was just nice to look at the city today. I just wish it wasn't so cool and rainy. It really tires a girl out.

I'm hoping I get a better nights rest tonight because I have to get up at something like 6:30 and the tour is almost 10hrs I think. Clearly I will be sleeping on the bus. And yes, I am charging my camera battery as I type :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rouen - Paris - Edinburgh

Long day to say the least. I've gone from an adorable quiet French hotel to bustling noisy youth hostel. Oh to have money for a hotel. That'll be the day.

My day started rather early, I woke up so that I would have time to eat the hotel breakfast I had agreed to purchase (mostly because I'd have a long day and I hate not knowing if I'll have time for food) and hopefully make the 8:57 train to Paris. This is quite a task if you consider the fact that I had to make enough time to re-pack my bag AND go downstairs and eat breakfast AND the French don't like to rush their eating so you can't be an in-and-out sorta person who grabs a few things and runs out the door.

I was a little surprised by the breakfast to be quite honest, although upon reflection, I realize that I should not have been. I guess I was expecting a typical buffet style thing with cereal, yogurt, some pastries, boiled eggs, and cheese. I love the boiled egg for breakfast, what a wonderful thing. Well, there was no boiled eggs and there was no buffet. This was all fine and dandy though because I was served a personal pot of coffee and given cheese (emmental, yum!) and baguettes as well as yogurt, orange juice (good stuff, which you don't come-by often), and a croissant. Have I mentioned that they serve delicious baguettes with everything? Literally, every meal, and if it isn't served with a baguette is probably is a sandwich inside a baguette - also delicious. They are like the Mexican's and their tortillas.

I drank a pot of coffee, which would prove to be troublesome later, grabbed my bag and headed for the train. Now that my Eurail pass has expired I have to buy a ticket each time I take the train. I know how the system works in the NL but ever since I got a ticket in Italy I told myself I would always go to the counter to get a ticket from a person so I don't mess up and get a huge fine again. I arrived with enough time but the line was long. Luckily for me I made it to the train with one minute to spare. Unfortunately, so did everyone else. The train was packed. I ended up standing the entire way to Paris, but it was only about an hour and a half so it wasn't the worst thing to happen. Mostly I read, although I was super nauseous for the first little while, too much coffee mixed with little food (let's just be honest France, a baguette and a croissant isn't enough to fill anyone up in the morning!) plus a hot packed train car had my stomach turning.

So otherwise everything went well, and it was nice because I arrived shortly after 10am. I made my way to another station that both be on the metro line that I would take to get to the airport and have somewhere for me to leave my luggage. Eventually, after a series of metro stations I stepped out onto the streets of Paris. J'adore!

I arrived at a train station very close to Notre Dame so I swung by there and then generally wandered from there to the Arc de Triomphe. It is basically a 5km a straight line, it takes you by the Louve, through some nice park areas, where you could if you wanted to get some delicious pastries, and then up the Champs-Elysees. While walking down Champs-Elysees there was some sort of commotion at the Adidas store, there were people with cameras, bodyguards, etc, but as far as I could tell, there weren't enough people eagerly mulling about for it to be anyone really that cool. Naturally I walked on.

Eventually I made it to my destination and at 1:30 I decided I needed to head back to the station, grab my bag, and catch the train to the airport. I didn't actually know how long this process would take and there was no way I was going to miss that flight!

Generally, I just wished I had time to really experience the city. Both times that I've been there now it has been rushed and doesn't really give a fair feeling for the city. Also this time there were so many more scammer kids around asking for money. Gah! Leave me alone!

Total it took about an hour, but with checking in, security and everything I wasn't too overly early. The flight was rather uneventful, mostly I kept on with Kafka on the Shore (man that book is crazy!) before arriving in a country where English is the native language! I didn't have to feel like a fool paying for a bottle of water and not knowing how much it was. I will admit, I just about forgot to get pounds out. Also, for interest sake, it has happened, I have been converting back to euros instead of dollars; it really became clear in Croatia. What'll I do when I go home?

So I caught a bus into the city centre of Edinburgh and tried to follow the directions written down on the website and what I could remember from when I looked at GoogleMaps. It didn't go so well. I got lost, well not really lost, I just didn't know what I was looking for. Then it started to rain. After I had tried three directions, naturally it had to be the fourth way, and it was. Upon checking in I realized why it had such amazing reviews on the hosteling website, it isn't so much that it is awesome because it is so nice, more it is one of those cheap hostels that everyone loves because it is a party house. *sigh* Not like this is a bad thing, it is easy to meet people and everyone is friendly, but I just love my quiet nights in my double bed in a hotel room. Maybe that makes me a recluse? I don't even mind hostels that are clean and neat, these ones look like transient hippies live in them. In fact I think that the people who love these hostels are hippies, or at least want-to-be-hippies. I clearly, am not.

Anyways, there is a cheap bed and I am only here for a few nights so I'll deal with it. It is ideally located. Tomorrow I'm thinking I'll stick to the city and see the sights, it is a really beautiful and I look forward to exploring it. I'm hoping to get out to see some Scottish countryside Saturday and then we'll see what I get up to Sunday.

It is so much more north here that it stays light out for a considerable amount of time. It is 10:30 and still quite dusky. All this traveling in one day, an early rise, sporadic eating schedule, an hour time difference, and the sun still up has my body all confused. I haven't had dinner but it is already 10:30 and I want to go to bed; thinking about being in Rouen seems like day ago. Here's hoping I don't need my earplugs in the middle of the night :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Not The Breast Summer Ever!

I heard about this radio contest (AMP Radio 90.3) the other day from a friend of mine. I have to say initially I had a jaw dropping reaction to it. Since then I've been mulling it over a lot. The premise is, you post a photo and write a blurb about why you deserve to win the augmentation, finalists are selected and voted on by the public, the individual with the most votes wins.

Here is what I've come up with:
  • First of all I think that plastic surgery, if done for the right reasons, can be a positive thing
  • If you think about it, I had braces, braces which straightened my teeth to make my smile substantially prettier, at least that is what we value right? A set of straight pearly whites? And I will 100% say that getting braces helped my self confidence and made me feel better about myself
  • We consider braces a normal thing, a procedure that changes what we were born with into something considered more socially acceptable and beautiful
  • So from that stand point I think that should someone get a little bit of plastic surgery to change something, say a giant nose, that they are constantly self-conscious of, and it would substantially increase their happiness and give them a positive self image, who am I to say no
  • In that same vein I feel that breast implants can be a positive thing, if you feel you would be happier with a little bit of a bigger cup than why not, right?
  • My problem with this contest lies in the fact that it isn't really supporting the idea of surgery after long personal reflection
  • My problem is, it seems to present the idea that the only way to have the 'best summer ever' is win bigger breasts, the focus is all wrong
  • Maybe that is just semantics
  • I don't feel like I can judge and tell everyone who gets plastic surgery that they are wrong, but I think it has to be done in an intelligent way and quite frankly, this doesn't seem very intelligent to me
  • To me, this just seems like an easy way to sell sex and place the wrong emphasis on what is important, because clearly the 'best thing ever' would be winning bigger breasts *rolleyes*
  • Then again, I wonder if anyone who wasn't already considering a breast augmentation would apply to this contest anyways
  • I guess overall I just feel like it sends the wrong message about where we place our values
  • Maybe they should do a contest whereby I could win $10,000 to put towards my education? Have I gone too far, did I cross the nerd line?
What do you think? I would appreciate your thoughts :)

J'adore Normandie!

Tuesday 14: Juno Beach

I lazed around the hotel in the morning. I didn't have specific plans except to get out to the Juno Beach Centre and, if time allowed, get to the Caen Memorial Museum. I didn't end up leaving the hotel until around 11am, and then I decided I would follow the signs to the Tourism office to make sure I got on the right bus, etc. This ended up being quite an endeavour that took me almost half an hour. When I did find the tourist office I realized how far my hotel was away from the main attractions of Caen. Sure, it was close to the train station, but in the opposite direction of everything else. No bother.

I got directions to where I could buy bus tickets, then went to buy those bus tickets. Turned out I'd just missed a bus and it would be about half an hour before the next one. I decided to skip that one and sit down for some lunch as I could find nowhere to to grab a quick sandwich. This turned out to be a great idea.

I've often lamented that I skipped having crepes the last time I was in France, so for lunch that day, I had two. First I had a savory one with cheese, followed by one filled with raspberry jam. Both were good.

Afterwards I boarded the 1:30pm bus to the town where Juno Beach is, it would take about an hour. I would like to mention here that when driving around the French countryside the other day on my organized tour I was so in awe of it. It looks like the movies with state houses, followed by little towns with steeples and old brick buildings and narrow lanes. Very enjoyable.

So I get dropped off in this little town then walk to the Juno Beach Centre. At this time I was feeling a little tired and the town seemed a little deserted, I will be honest and I say I was skeptical. I think that I've just recently decided that I don't really mind traveling around alone, of course it is more fun to travel with someone, but it is the times when I am finding a new place, on a bus to somewhere new, etc that I really miss having someone with me. (I'm getting off on a lot of tangents here)

So I show up at the Juno Beach Centre with just enough time to join a 3pm tour. I was absolutely in love with the centre. Upon walking in I was greeted by Canadian accents. All the staff that work there over the summer are Canadian students, which also means that when I say I'm from Calgary people know what I'm talking about.

The tour of the Juno Beach Park and the actual beach was about an hour long. I love tours for that sort of thing, you get so much out of it. We got to go inside the observation bunker, were told about a series of tunnels that exists, shown the hotel that the Nazi's used as a headquarters, etc. It was really enjoyable, and this time everyone else on my tour was Canadian, everyone else was also part of a couple and over the age of 35. Clearly most young backpackers aren't flocking to the hip and hopping Normandy. ha. Whatever, it was awesome.

On the beach

Made me realize how much I love Canada

Nazi headquarters for the area during WWII - Hotel de Paris

There was also an inukshuk put in place by First Nations and a great sculptor representing the five companies that fought that day. I also learned that the centre is private and entirely funded by sponsorship.

After the tour I went through the Centre. There is a few sections but mostly I just relished in the Candianess of it all. After watching a short film about our role in D-Day and the war in general you are taken through a very well set up museum showing Canadian history, how it fit in with the war effort, and what Canada is like today. Of course I loved it, it was a little piece of my home right there. At the end there was a gift shop with all the sorts of Canadiana you get in Banff and otherwise, a moose in a mountie suit, maple leaves on key chains, maple candies shaped like maple leaves, etc. I just wandered around, happy as could be. What a fun thing to do.

I needed to kill some time before the last bus back to Caen came to pick me up around 6pm so I walked around the town a little. I was pretty tired so I ended up sitting on the edge of the beach reading for some time before catching the bus back to town.

When I got back I basically went for dinner at the hotel and went to bed. I've been crazy tired lately.

Wednesday 15: Rouen

I was up and out of the hotel in time to catch the 10:20 train to Rouen. This was the first time in a long time that I had to actually go and buy a ticket to the train; oh eurail pass, how I miss you.

I mostly slept and read on the train ride. I think I've turned into one of those people who can't be in a moving vehicle (at least the train) without falling asleep. It's impossible!

I arrived in Rouen at 12:30 and easily found my hotel. It is crazy to me how 2 hours on a train seems like nothing, but if I had to drive 2 hours at home I would wish I didn't have to. I think it is because in a train you can move around and sleep, while in a car (especially when driving) your options are relatively limited.

I dropped off my stuff, made sure the internet was working, and headed into the main area of town here. Generally Rouen doesn't have too much to offer, except that it is adorable! Well I shouldn't speak too quickly, I haven't really looked into what it has to offer - museum wise, etc. - because generally while traveling I end up being too cheap to pay to go into things unless they seem really awesome. The guy at the hotel told me where to wander. It is really just a cute place with a memorable clock and a giant cathedral and other old churches scattered about.

The Clock

The cuteness, beside a church

I spent a few hours walking around before buying a sandwich for lunch, followed by a chocolate macaroon (they are everywhere here, and they are delicious!), and eventually I decided to sit in a cafe for a coffee. I love just ordering a coffee, it often means you can sit in a nice cafe for as long as you want and it doesn't cost you much.

By this time I was practically asleep. I don't know what is up but my body was crying out for a nap. I needed to be in my room at 5:30 to register for classes at the UofC so I headed back just after 3, took a 2 hour nap and got up just in time to hit the 'register' button on the classes I've selected. That's right family and friends, ladies and gentlemen, the time has come and I am officially three classes away from being finished, it's only been, what? 6 years so far, what is another 4 months :)

So here I am, sitting comfortably tucked into my bed at 7pm. Don't worry, I'm headed out again as soon as I finish this, but probably just long enough to meander a bit more and find something else to eat.

I'm headed to Paris tomorrow to catch my flight to Scotland in the evening. (This'll be the first place I've been in 4.5 months where English is the native language, although I kind of doubt it'll be any easier to understand, ha! At least I'll be able to read the menus!) I'm thinking I might go early and spend a few hours in Paris before I head to the airport. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I finally made it! I planned to come to Normandy at least two other times previous to this and both times they fell through. I am so happy I came!

Sunday June 12: Trains and Trains and Trains

As I told you I was up early on Sunday, around 5am, in order to get everything ready to leave and catch my 7am train.

I left Winscho around 6:30a, caught the 7:06 train and then my day went something like this:

Groningen to Deventer - switch trains somewhere in between because the train I was on was 'dirty' (this wasn't my doing, we were made to switch trains)

Deventer to Amsterdam Schiphol - kill one hour waiting for next train, stop by starbucks for a muffin and latte

Amsterdam to Paris - in under 3 hours on a high speed train - this is where I wrote my blog

Paris Nord to Paris St. Lazare (transfer via metro)

Paris St. Lazare to Caen

Rather uneventful. This series of trains had me arrive in Caen around 6pm. Due to a serious lack of sleep I slept on most of the trains and through most of the train trips. This was good for the obvious reasons but also meant I didn't really get to take in much of the scenery or read - my favorite train activity. That said I do like sleeping on trains but it is never a very good sleep, you wake up every time the train slows down and worry you've slept too long and missed your stop.

Basically I found my hotel, then went to find dinner. My hotel isn't really near anything so finding dinner on a Sunday evening was quite a task and due to my serious lack of French I ended up ordered a salad whose second ingredient was goats cheese, followed by goat cheese dressing, topped with melted goat cheese. Goat cheese makes me gag. How sad. I'm all up for trying new things but both my nose and my stomach hate that stuff, unless it is paired with other strong flavours that tame it. Anyways I finished my meal - except the melted cheese, that I just couldn't do.

I walked back in the rain and went to bed. I was a very tired girl.

Monday June 13: Bayeux and D-Day Beach Tour

I decided that seeing as I had to pay for a hotel room - I could find no cheap accommodation in the area - and because I was exhausted, I would take my sweet time getting up and ready. This is such a luxury because when you stay in a hostel your sleeping and waking schedule is largely determined the schedules of the people in your room. Don't get me wrong, they are great for many reasons I just find that I never get a solid nights rest and I always wake up really early in a hostel.

I also was in no rush because I had booked an afternoon D-Day beaches tour leaving from Bayeux at 1pm. Bayeux is about 15 minutes away from Caen by train and Monday morning had only two trains running, one at 7:20 or one at 11am. Naturally I took the 11am train. This was nice because it left me with ample time to get into Bayeux and walk around before I had to catch the tour.

Bayeux is very adorable, very old world France. Narrow streets, cute buildings, a huge cathedral. It was largely untouched by the war because it was mostly abandoned so that the population could help to defend Caen, it's larger neighbour.

The lovely, Bayeux

So I walked around a little before sitting down for a jambon fromage grilled bagette and coffee. France is good for a lot of things, but street food is not one of them. It isn't in the French's dna to eat standing up, while walking, or as served from a vendor. This is good because it usually means that you get better food, but it also means it is difficult to save money on the food front.

After my lunch I wondered for a little while then made my way back to the train station for my tour pickup. I had tried to schedule a full day tour but there wasn't enough interest so I had to opt for the half day, which as it turns out, meant that I got put on the US beaches tour as the general one wouldn't fill up either. No bother though because it touched on the biggest spots that you want to see on the water front anyways. You see, I'd read that you either need to rent a car or do a tour because trying to do it by bus is nearly impossible and would take you forever. This was very true.

My tour was full of Americans, as is to be expected. An added bonus was that they all knew where Calgary was and liked hockey, we were off to a good start. We started with a trip to Pointe du Hoc, in the American sector. It was, I would say, the coolest place we visited. You could see all the bomb craters, it was on top of a cliff - which the American's had to scale in order to attack - and there were bunkers you could go in, in addition to lots of other original German armament remnants, or whatever you would call it. It was just so crazy to see the effects of war so clearly still there.

The bomb craters were extensive

View from inside the observation bunker

Our second stop was to Omaha beach, more of the American sector, where they suffered huge casualties. This was the beach that the start of Saving Private Ryan is based on. It was huge and you could clearly see why it posed such a problem for the Americans. It is such a peaceful and beautiful place now that it is very difficult to imagine it during the war and especially on June 6, 1945.

Looking out to the sea over Omaha Beach

After that we left and went to the American War Cemetery that is along Omaha beach. It was beautiful and huge. It was also full, and I mean chalk full, of symbolism. The crosses for all the soldiers are made out of the finest Italian marble, and they all face to America, and everywhere you look they create lines. It was quite a beautiful place to walk around. They also had a wall with the names of all the missing soldiers which was extensive. Before we left we were given time to walk through the visitor centre/museum which showed a short movie about the war. It profiled the lives of a number of the fallen soldiers. It was very nicely done. When the film ended a young teen girl behind me looked at her friends and said "That was, like, sad." Ridiculous.

Omaha Beach in the distance

From there we were driven to a place, which I wish I remembered the name of, but it had four original german weapons inside bunkers. I realize now as I write this that I clearly have no idea what the weapons etc are called but what I do know is that they are the original weapons still intact.

We headed back to the station to end our tour. At this point it was just after 6pm and I was in no rush to get back to Caen so I headed back to the centre to meander a bit before I sat down for dinner. I eventually headed back to Caen after having a relaxing meal and watching people stream past. I wish I could say I was off to bed early, but I have never been good at that.

Lazy Days

Saturday was an exhausted day, going to bed so late and getting up around noon didn't really provide me with a great deal of energy. I made my way to the library to print off hotel and flight confirmations, as I would be leaving Sunday for my last trip of my time here. Otherwise I spent the day napping and avoiding packing.

Eventually I made it to the grocery store and had dinner with Tess. At around 11pm I decided it was actually time to pack my bags. I am getting really good at this last minute packing thing. Previously packing light took so much work and thought, now I know what I need, what I don’t, how it fits, and where things should go. That said, I am excited about coming home and not having to pack anything for a while – even though I’ll be packing for camping just days after I get home. But you know what I mean.

Saturday night there was a party in our common room and it was a lot of people from my hallway, which meant that the party was also down my hall and in the kitchen beside me. The fact that this doesn’t even faze me anymore has me very impressed with myself. I usually don’t even need earplugs anymore to sleep through the sound. That wasn’t the case, but it didn’t really bother me at all. What did bother me was that I had drank 2 cups of coffee at the grocery store around 8pm which left me rather awake at 1:30am. My alarm was set for 5am in order to finish my packing and get to the train in time – this ended up being excessively early, but I’d rather that than missing my train, which I have done in the past.

It was kind of surreal though because there are some people that will be gone when I get back from this trip so I had to say a few goodbyes. Some people will just be traveling over the weekend that I am back and they don’t return until after I leave. This whole time I’ve had this feeling that once I departed on this last trip my time here was essentially over, which really, it is. I can’t believe how quickly this came up.

I don’t return to Groningen until late on the 23rd, then I have three days and I am leaving for Canada on the morning of the 27th. It is strange because so many people are still there until mid to late July. I will admit that it might be better to leave when there is still a lot going on and people are still there instead of progressively having to say goodbye to people and have the house feel empty.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Groningen Lately

June 7 - 9

Most of my days for the last week were spent working on homework, planning my trip to France, and otherwise trying to soak up everything I can before I am forced to board a plane home. Don’t get me wrong, there are many reasons to be excited about going home but it is difficult to want to leave this life. Especially because the longer I am here the more normal it seems. It is almost like when you get past the ups and downs of getting used to this new place it just becomes normal and everyday life which means it is easier to get to know people.

Anyways, I’ll talk more about that later. I had two assignments due on Friday that I spent my time working on. This included a group meeting or two, editing, writing, etc. Nothing too thrilling, but it did mean that once I handed them in on Friday I was done yet another semester of university.

Wednesday night saw myself and the three girls I hang out with most have a taco night. It was so lovely. We haven’t cooked together for quite some time because it seemed more cost effective to just eat smaller, worse meals, than cook good meals together. Money really causes problems. Anyways we sat down around 8 for tacos and I think we didn’t leave the table until about midnight. Fun.

Thursday night Tess and I had plans to go to the pancake boat because she couldn’t come the last time I went. Our dinner for two turned into dinner for seven. It was really nice to have a big group sitting around stuffing our faces with pancakes. It was lots of fun. This time I split a savory one and a sweet one. The savory one wasn’t too much to write home about. In my opinion it had too much going on and the flavours were all over the place. The sweet one, however, was delicious! It was the Swedish one – they have named some of them after countries to theme them – it had apples and raisins baked into the cinnamon pancake and was topped with cinnamon ice cream and whipped cream. So good. We were all bursting when we left.

I finished up my edits on my final individual assignment and debated going out to Jazz night, but exhaustion won out and I went to bed instead.

Friday June 10

I headed down to a café to meet my Friday group for a coffee because it would be the last time we would see each other and we thought it would be nice to have a proper hang out before class. It was nice to be able to get to know a few Dutch people as most (all) of the people I regularly hang out with are fellow internationals. That is fun too, getting to know more about Sweden, being harassed about not knowing Spanish, etc, but it really leaves me knowing little about actual Dutch life.

After coffee we went to class and low and behold it was a waste of time. I left part way through to hand it my assignment and be done with it. Felt good.

I came home and had a nap, at least I think I had a nap, I’m sure that I just didn’t do much of anything for a lot of the afternoon.

That evening three of us made a chicken curry before deciding that it would be a good night to go out. Then we heard about a ‘room crawl’ in the C-corridor. Conveniently we know people in the c-corridor so we were allowed to join in. Basically each room provides a different drink and then you move from room to room. If you are assuming that hilarity ensued, you would be right. It was a really fun night; everyone had a really great time (read: everyone was very inebriated). We never left the house; I made it to bed at 8am. Clearly this would cause problems for my sleep schedule and motivation to do anything on Saturday but it was well worth it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Croatia According to Hipstamatic

Split - Plitvice - Zadar - Groningen, July 4 - 6

June 4, Split to Zadar

We got up in the morning with just enough time to shower, pack up our stuff, and check out. We stored our bags in the bag room and headed back into Diocletian Palace to have a look at Cathedral of St. Duje, which was founded and built around 305AD. Pretty much it is likely the oldest thing I’ve ever seen. Before we entered the Cathedral we decided to climb the bell tower right outside the Cathedral. The first little bit of the climb was like walking through a tiny little cave and was almost impossible to get up. Well not impossible, but it was only big enough for one person but you had people coming up and going down, and each step was almost 2 steps high. It was a narrow climb but that part didn’t last very long. The view from the top was really great and it was a perfect day for it, sunny and clear.

Being a Saturday we really noticed how many more people were in the city. It was packed with tour groups and people from a cruise ship that had not been there a day before. When we came down from the bell tower we went inside the Cathedral, but having little information about it made it difficult to appreciate its history.

We set off to the bus depot to figure out when we should be heading back to Zadar. We would be flying out of Zadar Monday morning and we booked a tour for Sunday. After the bus station we went to find an internet café to check up on a few things. Oddly we walked into a tourism office that advertised internet and when we asked the guy just gave us his desk computer then charged us about 2 euros for half an hour. We figured he just pocketed the money. Ha. So strange.

We wandered around the city some more, it was quite hot and sunny. Eventually we took refuge on the Riva boardwalk area on a shady bench under a palm tree. We proceeded to people watch until we were hungry enough to find food. Now our hunger was mostly motivated by the fact that we would be boarding a bus for about 4 hours and needed to eat before that. After much walking around – finding food there is much more difficult than you would think – we found a restaurant that served food – so many just serve drinks. At this point we didn’t have a lot of time before we would need to be heading for the bus. I devoured a place of spaghetti before rushing off to collect our bags and board the bus.

The bus was near full but the ride was nice. Eventually it thinned out and we were able to snag seats next to each other.

We arrived in Zadar and walked back to the same hostel we stayed at earlier in the week. It was really quite hot still.

We headed to the edge of the old town where there are these steps into the sea. As the tide comes in, in the evening there is a set of organs that play a low, somewhat eerie tune. It was really neat. As boats drove by the music becomes more varied and somewhat sporadic. This was a great way to spend the evening because it was accompanied by watching the sunset. We stuck around until just before the sun fully set and then headed back to find dinner.

After dinner we walked back to the same spot as the sea organ where they have this huge circle of solar powered changing lights. It is meant to represent the sun and then there are a series of other smaller lights to represent each planet. It was actually way cooler than it sounds. We spent a long time just sitting on the lights watching them dance and shift.

Eventually we walked back and headed to bed.

June 5, Plitvice Lakes

We were up rather early in order to catch our pick up for our tour to Plitvice Lakes. Initially we had intended to take a bus out to the lakes and wander around on our own. Sadly the trains only run in the afternoon and the lakes are about 2 hours away so our only other options were to rent a car or join a tour. The tour was, not surprisingly, cheaper, and they said they would include a free transfer to the airport whenever we needed which saved us some cash.

We were picked up in a minivan and bused out to the lakes. It was a lovely drive into the mountains of Croatia. The climb was quite substantial and at times reminded me of both going to the mountains at home and of Arizona. Sometimes I wonder if these things actually remind me of places or if I am searching for similarities. Either way, that’d be my best description. At times it is very desert like then more like rolling hills covered in trees.

Upon being dropped off we downed a coffee before following our tour guide down to the lakes. I would like to be able to describe the lakes and waterfalls and the colour of the water and how clear it was but I just couldn’t do it justice. What I can do is tell you that it has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Perhaps that is gushing but it was like no where I have ever been. It seemed so untouched and natural. There was no fishing, swimming, camping, etc.

When you first walk down to the water you are initially mystified at how blue it is then caught off guard when you look down into the water and realize you can see perfectly through to the bottom and see all sorts of details. The next most absurd thing is that there are schools and schools of fish swimming around, just near the docks, in the middle of the water; they are everywhere.

There are paths that run around the lakes that you are able to walk, they quite literally hover on top of the water as there is water flowing everywhere and none of it looks moldy or gross. You walk past waterfalls, beside trees fallen into the water, which are never removed. As far as the park, it is left exactly as it is found.

On our circle around the first lake it started to pour rain so we got drenched but it wasn’t even cold it was just hot humid rain.

We took a boat further down the lakes, ate lunch then carried on. The water in the lower lakes was an unreal shade of turquoise that was as clear as tap water. Basically we just went camera happy. Upon returning I found my pictures somewhat disappointing, but I think that is just because the real experience was so much better.

By the end of it all we felt we had been a little rushed by the tour group but there wasn’t really much we could have done about that. We were drenched in humid air and it was so very warm.

We boarded the bus and were told that we were headed for a surprise. The surprise was simply two bears in a fenced off grassy patch off the side of the road. There were also deer. I don’t really know how I felt about it.

The drive home was fine. When we arrived at the hostel we were pretty tired but didn’t want to just sit around inside so we headed down to the water to find a café to grab a beer. We spent the remainder of our last night out for dinner before grabbing an ice cream and heading back to the sea organ where we waded in the water at the steps until it started raining. At this time we went back to the hostel and attempted to pay for our last night’s stay but we only had euros left. We were sent back out into the streets to find a cash machine. By then it had stopped raining but the smooth stone streets were exceptionally slippery, naturally we figured our only option was to take our sandals off and walk barefoot. The looks we got were worth the laughs we got from the situation.

We made it back, packed up and went to bed.

June 6, Zadar to Groningen

We were picked up by the tour group to take us to the airport and caught our 9:30am flight back to Dusseldorf. From Dusseldorft Weeze we transferred to Nijmegen and caught the train home to Groningen. All went really smoothly, in fact our flight arrived early and we ended up getting back to Groningen a whole hour earlier than expected.

It was so surreal to be able to be in Croatia on a holiday. I think that if you ever go, or if I ever go back I would try to book a boat or do an island cruise tour – there were tons. Because the glory of Croatia is that every little island looks interesting, the water is amazing everywhere, and you could really just explore everywhere.

That evening two of the girls that I hang out with were hosting a Swedish party, as June 6 is a Swedish national day. Basically it included a great deal of yellow and blue, Abolut vodka, meatballs, and other Swedish things. I helped them decorate, cut up jell-o shots to make a Swedish flag, cooked Swedish pancakes, etc. It was lots of fun. The evening was really great and tons of people turned out. We had a bottle of blueberry pomegranate Absolut that we were made to do shots from; entertainment ensued. I made it to bed around 4am. To be honest I’m surprised I lasted so long because I was up so early that morning.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Split - Hvar - Trogir, June 1-3

Split, June 1

We very successfully had a lazy morning in our apartment. When we woke up thunder was rolling and the rain was pouring. It is always nice to drift in and out of sleep to the sound of rain and it offered an added bonus of feeling no guilt for not being more motivated to get out of the apartment.

We set into the rain shortly after getting up. The rain was reasonable because although it poured from time to time it was still warm enough that you didn't really need a jacket. We wandered around the Diocletain Palace - a UNESCO heritage site - which is a huge area that is the remains of the Roman palace. The really cool thing about it though is that it is so authentic. So many palaces like this are only filled with touristy shop after the same touristy shop. This one had so many great cafes, restaurants, shops, hotels, and even people living there. It was clear that there were actual people from Split there, maybe not a lot, but they were there. It kind of reminded me of the Gothic quarter of Barcelona with windy little streets. I love these old towns that have no cars, all made for walking. It is noted as likely being the best preserved Roman palace in the world.

So we wandered and then decided to walk up Marjan, which is a hill situated on the west of Split. It was still raining at this point but it was a quick walk with a good view. It is quite a large park for joggers and other such activities. It also has a zoo. I believe you can walk all the way to the top but my back was having none of it so we headed into the town again to find some coffee out of the rain.

We decided that due to the rain it would be a good day to wander in and out of all the little shops. It was a really nice way to spend our afternoon. After tiring of that we bought a huge bag of cherries headed back to our apartment. As much as we would have liked to sit at the beach, even though the rain had subsided, it wasn't really a nice sunny and warm day. Instead we hung out reading for a while. Both of us finished our books.

After spending some time relaxing we went looking for a book store. I can't very well be traveling without something to read. I found and purchased a book then we went to an internet cafe for about an hour. After we sat in a cafe for some time over a cup of tea. It was a nice cafe inside the palace, a great place to people watch.

We went looking for cheap food and ended up at the same restaurant we ate lunch at the previous day. Mostly I just wanted my veggie risotto again and because it was cheap. The food in Croatia is really great because it has strong Italian influences because they were under Italian rule quite some time. This is great for me because Italian food might just be the best in the world. I am absolutely in love with tomato mozzarella salads.

Hvar, June 2

We were up early to catch the 8:30 ferry from Split to Hvar island. The ferry took about 2 hours and takes you to Stari Grad then you catch a bus to Hvar town. This is supposedly one of the most visited islands/towns on the Adriatic and upon arriving there it was obvious why. It was beautiful.

You can rent boats, or catch a ride on a boat to a variety of different beaches/islands in the area. The great thing is that if you walk around or rented a scooter/bike you could really never see anyone all day. We weren't feeling quite so motivated so after walking through the town a little bit we grabbed a huge bottle of juice and some snacks at the grocery store and headed for the water.

We found a wonderful rock face area to sit on, rented a couple of beach chairs, and proceeded to bake in the sun. It was lovely because we were quite close to the town but with the way we were facing you'd never know it. It was quite wavy and although there was a ladder to get into the water we didn't end up swimming there. It wasn't well protected and there were a lot of boats, there were also a lot of sea urchins. And just the thought of stepping on one of those was enough for me to get out of the water.

Eventually, when I could feel myself sufficiently burning we decided to try a new location (I was wearing sunscreen all day, fyi!) We walked around the waters edge for quite a while until we found another quiet looking rock face that had a nice concrete dock with a solid ladder and we went swimming! It was amazing. The water was so clear. It would be so fun to so snorkeling there. To be in water that blue and clear was a treat. It was also so salty!

Eventually we got out and dried off in the sun while reading our books. A lovely day.

It must have been near 5 that we decided to walk back to the town cite. We made our way back, checked the bus times and sat in a cafe for coffee before wandering through a few of their market stands. We debated walking up to the castle but we just didn't have it in us.

We caught the bus back to Stari Grad in time to catch the last ferry back to Split. We arrived in Split around 10pm. Not surprisingly, I was quite burnt, mostly the front of my legs. Oh did it burn! I am blaming my sunscreen because I actually put it on quite a few times and I still sizzled and Tess made out fine.

Back at our apartment we watched a movie and went to bed.

Trogir, June 3

Friday morning saw us catching another boat. This time it was a boat bus to Trogir, about an hour by boat from Split. It was a really lovely ride. We were told you could take a bus or a boat but the boat boasted much nicer scenery. It was a relaxing start to our day.

Trogir has an entire area, situated on an island, that is protected as a UNESCO heritage site. It was founded in the 3rd century by Greek colonists and then developed into a major part in the Roman period. It was a really lovely place to walk around all day. The old area, where we stayed, has narrow little walk ways, high stone walls, and is filled with really nice shops and restaurants.

Naturally we started our day by finding a tourist map and a cafe for coffee. From then on we basically walked around, ducked into shops, stopped for lunch - more delicious risotto, this time chicken and mushroom, and tomato mozzarella salad - sat in the sun, sat in the shade, purchased lavender, which grows in the fields, and other nice touristy gifts. We had ice cream, walked around some more, etc. It was a really lovely day because Trogir was so small that it was easy to feel like I got to know it and I really enjoyed the shops.

We caught the boat back to Split, picked up some groceries for the next mornings breakfast and went back to the apartment with the intention to go out for a drink later that evening.

We ended up watching a third movie that night and around 10pm when we were thinking about going out again it started to pour rain. Instead we finished the movie and had an early night. Not really that bad.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Bookshelf

While in Croatia last week I finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I had seen this book many times before, knew that it had won many awards but prior to this trip I've been very hesitant to buy books unless I've been explicitly told by someone I know it is good, and even then I was skeptical. I think this was because I didn't read them very fast and I hated the idea of spending money on something I didn't enjoy. Now that I'm reading a ton it is easier to pick up books on more of a whim.

Anyways, in terms of popular books, this one has been popular for quite some time so I wouldn't be surprised if a number of you had read this. It is a really really great book. I loved it. It is a simple story of a boy with asperger syndrom attempting to solve the murder of his next door neighbour's dog. It is written from his perspective. It is a very easy, quick, and interesting read and one that left me smiling. Always great to have books leave you with warm and fuzzies at the end. If you haven't read it I highly recommend it.

Because I hadn't taken another book with me I popped into a bookstore in Split and picked up Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I'm only about a third of the way through but I'm really enjoying it. It is a lot different than the last few books I've read which have been written from the perspective of children. Although the main character in this is only 15 years old the writing is so much more poetic and elegantly descriptive. I fully expect to get through it on my trip to France coming up.

What are you reading lately? Have you read The Curious Incident? What did you think?

Dusseldorf to Zadar to Split; May 29 - 31

Apologies, sincere apologies for the very real delay. I know how frustrating that is when you keep checking and waiting for a blog to update and it hasn't been. The thing is I was gone for over a week and then when I got back on Monday I was really really busy. Sometimes when I get busy I find that blogging is a great treat in my day to break up the monotonous tasks of school work etc. However because I have so much to catch you up on it made me slightly overwhelmed so it was easier to just avoid it.

So as you are likely aware I was in Croatia last week. I took a train to Dusseldorf, Germany Sunday afternoon as we had found a cheap flight from there. I arrived around 7pm, checked into our hotel for the night and while waiting for Tess to arrive from Prague watched X-Men in German, really exciting stuff. Tess ended up arriving quite late so by the time I picked her up from the station and we made our way back to the hotel it was quite late. Unfortunately, the airport that Ryan Air flies out of is only near Dusseldorf and involved us catching a 3:30am bus for an hour in order to get to the airport early enough. Most everything went according to plan except that Tess forgot her Dutch residents card so we had a little trouble leaving as they said it was likely she would not get back into Europe because she'd been there too long. We explained things and the guy let us go. It was good that I had my card on me.

We arrived in Zadar around 9:30am Monday May 30, caught a cab to the old town, proceeded to get lost for a while before eventually finding our hostel. We dropped our stuff off and headed into the city. Mostly we were exhausted and walking zombies. We walked around most of the city, saw the Roman Forum, a number of very old very cool churches, checked out the beautiful water, planned the rest of our week, booked a tour to plitvice lake as it turned out the buses weren't running out there while we were there. Then we walked to the train station to see about getting a train to Split the next day, but all we found was a dilapidated, graffiti covered building with no one at the desk for the train station. We had read "no one takes the trains" but we didn't believe them. Instead we made plans to take the bus the next morning.

From there we walked to the water, to the beach. I'm hesitant to really call any of the beaches that we saw beaches because they were either pebbles, rocks, or stone faces, none really made me think beach. Either way, we walked to the water, dipped our feet in and sat enjoying the sun. After some time we walked back to the hostel and I had a nap while Tess showered. After we went out to dinner to this great Italian restaurant where we had awesome lasagna and half a bottle of wine and salad (for about $12). It was a really nice night. The kind where you don't need a sweater or anything. Being pretty tired from a long day traveling on little sleep and an early morning ahead we went back to the hostel for an early bedtime.

I think I should mention here that it was beautiful and hot. The old town area is very small, but it feels like it is actually inhabited by regular Croatians, which you don't always get in the tourist areas.

Tuesday May 31

We woke up rather early and headed to the bus station and boarded a coach bus to Split. We thought that the trip would take 2 hours, which is closer to what it would take if you drove straight there, but with the numerous stops and the coastal roads that it took it was closer to 4 hours. This was ok though because the scenery was great and so was the company.

When you step off the bus in Split with backpacks the locals swarm you offering you cheap accommodation. We had already booked a little apartment just behind the palace, meaning it was minutes away from everything. It was so nice to have our own place to stay in where we didn't have to worry about leaving our stuff out or being stolen and it cost no more than your average hostel. Perfecto.

We were still quite tired and although we attempted to walk around a little all we really accomplished was finding some very delicious risotto and then the information centre. At that point we figured our only real option was to spend the rest of the day at the beach, which was also only a short walk away from our apartment and the main palace. With books in hand and no towels we headed to lay in the sun. It was pretty late in the day by the time that we made it to the beach but that didn't make it any less hot. It was so nice to be able to lay in the sun. A lot of their beach was just cement boardwalk that had railings. We hopped in the water when the sun was a little lower in the sky and it seemed quite chilly at first but was actually quite lovely. It was so clear and blue and very very salty.

We hung about for a while before heading back to the apartment to shower. Being in the holiday mindset we took it easy and ended up watching a movie that was in the apartment before heading out for a late dinner. I think that we are so used to doing everything late because at our student house everything happens on a suspended time frame where afternoon is morning and 10pm is a regular dinner time - we blame for the huge numbers of Spanish people. Anyways, as such we had a little difficulty finding somewhere to eat but eventually had a nice dinner on the main riva boardwalk.

After dinner we split a nutella crepe and walked around the city before heading to bed. We resolved to set no alarms and have a relaxing morning. We would not regret this decision.