Jolly Old England

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Cymru (That's Welsh for "Wales")

This was written Saturday, October 1st. Due to delays in getting Internet access, it'll be a couple days before I get it posted.

Wales was interesting today. We got up, headed into Mumbles, and met up with the other students. The local family stay coordinator was late, apparently something happened with her plumbing or something like that. Anyway, we walked to what one girl called "Welsh Hallmark". It was a little gift shop. We're supposedly going by there tomorrow to an ice cream shop next door to taste their fresh ice cream.

The local coordinator has a son named Morgan, who is seven years old. He turned out to be pretty funny. (I took a picture of him.) At the gift shop, one of the students paid him 60p (approximately $1.20) to go bother another student. It totally backfired as Morgan started looking for things he could buy with his new found wealth.

After the gift shop, we hopped a bus to Swansea. The local coordinator showed us the mall, the "What! Pound Store" (where everything is just £1). We quickly started calling it the "Dollar-Ninety Store", given the exchange rate. But basically, it's the UK version of "The Dollar Store" or a "99 Center".

We walked around to a bank so some of the students could cash their traveler's cheques. In the US, you can use them at far more locations. In the UK, you can only cash them at banks or other money exchanging places, regardless of whether they're denominated in pounds sterling or dollars.

Next, we went to the Swansea Food Festival. (I think I got the name right.) There, we were given the option to taste Cockles (a type of shellfish), Laverbread (which is seaweed), and a couple types of cheese. I was going to try the Laverbread when I (like many of the students) thought it was bread. Our "host mum" told the four of us here that it was seaweed, but I thought that she meant it was a bread made from seaweed. So, I passed on that. I don't eat cheese (except as part of some other dish), so that was out. I would've tried the Cockles, but my stomach wasn't playing well with others, so I drank a 7up and it was all good.

After that, we headed to the Dylan Thomas Centre. Apparently, he is some sort of famous poet from Swansea. I'll admit it, I haven't heard of him before. I bought some candy there (two Kit-Kats, and two Twixes -- which I just realized are really weird looking when pluralized). I'm intending
to ration it over the next couple days. I ate half of a Kit-Kat while writing this e-mail. With everything being so expensive over here, I don't want to be wasting money on candy and pop like I can in the States. So, there's a chance that I'll actually start eating healthy because of this trip.

We walked down to the marina and then the beach. The beach was very large. It was low tide. I picked up a handful of seashells.

Earlier in the day, a girl in the group asked me to take her picture with a castle in the background. I said okay, and asked her to take mine as well. She did, but it didn't work. I didn't have her try again, since we were already holding up the group. At the beach, I asked her to take my picture. She "took" two. When I checked, they hadn't taken either. I figured she was probably only pushing the button down half-way, in which case it beeps. I had her take another one, so I finally have my first picture with me in it. I'm going to work to get more of those for you, Ana. :)

We left the beach and headed to the Quadant Shopping Centre again. I bought a golf-shirt-like shirt for the theme party during next week at Oxford. Since they were one for £15 or two for £20, I picked up another shirt. I can probably get away with wearing both (for everyday use) in
England, since it was a trendy store I was in, but I can wear the second one for sure. I also bought a hat, since I couldn't find mine when I was leaving the house, and I hadn't remembered it before.

After shopping, I met up with the other guys staying with this host family, and we took a bus back. We had homemade pizza for dinner. It was good. I actually ate a chicken pizza. It's still not as good as pepperoni, though. :)

I decided not to go out tonight. There is little point in sitting in a noisy, slightly smoky pub doing basically nothing and paying a couple pound for a juice when I can sit here and write (this blog entry, a letter, and e-mails) and drink free juice. My roommate also decided to
stay in and read.

WEATHER TODAY: Rainy, as always.

PICTURES: They're available here.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Bath and Wales

Today was the first day in Wales. On the way, we stopped at Bath, a city named and famous for its Roman Baths. Due to heavy traffic, the bus didn't get there as soon as we would have liked, and thus by the time we ate, we didn't have time to actually see the Roman Baths from the inside. I have a few pictures, which I will post. They are available here.

Wales is interesting. You can tell when you've reached Wales as all the street signs start having everything in both English and Welsh. Welsh looks odd, as it uses a lot of letters like y, w, d, etc.

I took a couple random pictures along the way. They're available here.

My host family consists of a woman named Gill, her husband Roy, and their daughter Camille (17, who hopes to study the classics at Oxford). The family has two older boys who are already moved out. One is a lawyer practicing business law and traveling all around the world. The other is a DJ near here.

They were nice. We got here, moved our stuff in, chatted for a while, and ate dinner. After dinner, we chatted some more while one of the students took a shower. Then, we went out to the local pub where all the American students were hanging out.

It sounds like the other students have nice host families as well. This one kid brought his bike, which I (like everyone) assumed was just a bike for him to ride in Oxford. As it turns out, it's his racing bike that he's going to use at Oxford to compete.

The bike caused some hassle as the local rep didn't communicate this information with his host family, and so it wouldn't fit in their car. He was irritated with someone (the local rep, I believe), who was hassling him about it. But, it got sorted out, and so everything should be fine.

It sounds like we have a full day tomorrow, so that should be


As I write this, I'm in Wales, and I know it won't get posted for a few days (when I get Internet in Oxford), but this is my summary of things on the 29th (Thursday) in London.

First things first. I'm dumb. Last night when I took the wrong turn out of the station I don't normally use... That was because they said, "Please note the train does not stop at the next station." Well, that's a stupid way to say it. The next station is under construction, so everybody knows it doesn't stop there... Therefore, I wasn't counting it.

So I left Buckingham Palace and walked around a bit. I ended up walking quite a ways to find a Tube station, but I eventually found one and went to the British Museum. It was good... I glanced at most everything.

They have the Rosetta stone there, which was pretty cool. I took a picture, but it didn't turn out the best, as the rock is reflective and there are lights from the rear, so you mostly see my outline on a rock.

There was a really unique exhibit there about medication. It was called "Cradle to Grave". They have a big (probably 40 feet long by 6 feet wide) cloth that has pills sewn into it. There are pills for two different people, a man and a woman. The number of pills for each is like 11,600 or so, which is apparently the average number of pills someone in the UK takes in their lifetime. Along the sides of the cloth are pictures and other small things from the life of each of the two
people. The pills on each side vary between the man and the woman. The woman had cancer (and survived with the treatment) as a young adult, so there were those pills for her. The man had heart disease later in life, so he has the corresponding pills for that. It really makes one think.

After I left there, I ate at a Subway. First American fast food since I left. I wanted to find somewhere else, but it was right there and I was really really hungry.

So, then I came back, went to the cell phone store again (having went first thing before I went exploring). They called the Mobile World people and they said they had problems the day before (when I got my phone), and it wasn't activated. So, the guy said he'd activate it

On my way back to the hotel, I ate at a pizza place. It was good, though I was disappointed that there was no red pepper stuff there to put on the pizza. It seems England might be really light on spicy food. (See comment in my posting about Bath.) I had another J2O Orange/Passion Fruit soft drink. I had one last night at the theater. (Some of us ate before the show. I had a sub then.)

I took a bunch of pictures. They're available here.

I had to change trains a number of times, so I have the Tube process figured out for sure.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

"The History Boys"

Today we went to the National Theater to see a performance entitled, "The History Boys". Apparently the IFSA guy that scheduled it didn't know what it was about, so it was a funny and ironic coincidence that it was about a group of boys in school that passed their A levels and were trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge.

It was a comedy. I won't elaborate on the plot, as that would take a long time to type, but here are a few highlights:

(paraphrased, but pretty close) "Some people get the idea that you have to love God because God loves you. [something about people not loving God] God is a giant case of unrequited love." I found that pretty funny.

There was an insightful comment about all literature being "consolation". One of the other characters disagreed and said what about literature that expresses "joy". The response was that the work is written after the "joy" is gone, so it is in fact still consolation for the joy which has ended. Granted, I don't think that's exactly true, but it makes you think a little bit.

There was a scene where this teacher was teaching French (so I missed most of the meaning of it until intermission when someone explained it to me). The students were acting out a scene (in French) and one guy removed his "trousers" (pants) just as the headmaster walked into the room to introduce the new teacher. The headmaster was obviously confused, but the teacher made him ask what was going on in French. It was pretty funny.

During scene changes, they projected black and white video footage (of the actors in the play) that was made to look grainy. It continued the action a bit or helped set up for the next scene. I found that to be interesting.

A major plot theme was this new teacher trying to teach the students to use anything they knew to connect subjects in their essays. He also urged them to avoid writing the dull, boring, *expected* response (where by "expected", I mean the response that everybody writes and everybody expects).

Overall, I enjoyed it.

Pictures of the Hotel Room

See them here. Yes, this includes pictures of the overengineered outlet (with the switches) and the deep toilet.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Thanks to my friend and co-worker Erick, I have some software to automatically display pictures in thumbnailed online albums.

You can see all of my pictures at

Today's pictures are available under Study Abroad, London, 9-27. Alternatively, you can use this direct link.

Keep in mind that there can be multiple pages of pictures (and there is for today's pictures), so click the next page arrow at the bottom of the page.

I also took a couple short videos: The River Thames and Skateboarders Neither is particularly good, but they exist.

Gas Prices

Tony didn't want to calculate the math...

Gas prices are equivalent to $6.39/gallon here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Touring London

Today I went touring around London. Here's is my description of it. This is edited from an MSN conversation I had with Ana.

I ended up going around with a group of students today. It was interesting. I took a number of pictures. We went down to the area by the parliament building. We were walking out of the Tube and this kid says, "Hey an old building. What is it? ... Wait, if this is something important that I should know, I'm going to feel stupid." I said, "I won't call you out on buildings as it shows which ones I know and don't know." Once we got out of the stairway a bit, we could see. It was the houses of parliament (and Big Ben). We looked around that section of london some and then we hopped the tube for this sports bar where a bunch of american students were meeting.

Somewhere just before getting on the Tube, we lost a guy in our group. It was the same guy that had lost his luggage lost by the airline and had the group flight people leave him at the airport while he was filling out paperwork. So we pondered what to do, realized there was nothing we could do. So we wandered around some more.

Somewhere before the tube ride, a couple people ate some crepes (I think that's how you spell it.). The rest of us weren't into that, so we waited. We were going to eat at the bar and then I was planning on heading back to the hotel, since I don't drink, etc. etc. We got there, and they're carding. I was surprised. The policeman that talked to us earlier (as a complete group... part of the orientation) said they have a problem with underage drinking because no pubs card and only some of the bars card. The guy asks me how old I am, and I was about to say, "I'm over 18.", but it came out as 18. I immediately corrected myself and said 19. That looked bad, he said no way. I had left my ID in the hotel. I didn't see any need for it. What good is a drivers' license, I figured. I didn't want to be carrying around my passport, as that's just too risky. My student ID was at the hotel for the same reason as my driver's license. I figured it wasn't useful. One of the other guys said he was going to do the same thing, but he hadn't done it yet, so he lucked out. Anyway, so it took us a long time to find a place that was acceptable to everyone. In the course of that, the two that had already eaten decided to go to the bar. The rest of us ended up eating at a "noodle bar". It was a chinese place. I ordered a stir fry. It was good. I learned to use chop sticks a little bit more.

Then, I decide to head back. I got a Tube map from one of the other guys and head for the station. Just as I am walking down the stairs, who do I see? The guy we had lost! He said he was following someone that he thought looked like the girl in our group. Then she turned around, and it wasn't her. So, he headed back to the hotel, then remembered we said something about Picadilly Circus, so he hopped on the Tube and went to that station and he had just gotten there. I took him to the bar (since he didn't know where it was) and then headed back.

I was one stop away from where I planned to get off, and the train announcement says, "Please note, the train will not stop at the next station." So I jump off right there. I guessed at which way to go out of the station and guessed wrong. I pulled out may map after a few blocks, thought I was going in the right direction. A few blocks later, I pull out the map again, realize my mistake and turn around. So, I made it back without wasting too much time.

British Words of the Day

"way out" - The exit. - Seen all over the place.

"beating about the bush" - "beating around the bush" - As used by one of the study abroad company people today during orientation.

"knock you up" - "wake you up" - Yeah, this means something totally different to a US person. This was an example of potentially embarrassing language differences today in orientation.

"mind the gap" - This announcement is used on the Tube (the subway system in London) to remind passengers of the gap between the train and the platform.

In other news, I was informed by a Brit that "call box" is European and most British people would say "telephone box".

Monday, September 26, 2005

Gas Prices

Dad, this one is for your math classes, if you like.

Standard gas is priced at 94.9 pence/liter here. A pence is 1/100th of a pound (like a cent is for a dollar). One pound is currently valued at 1.77859 dollars (source:

The question is:

If I wanted to compare gas prices to the U.S., what is the cost of gas in the UK in terms of $/gallon?

Random Observations

Every outlet I've seen has its own switch. The UK is insane about its electrical system.

All the switches I've seen in the hotel are toggle switches that rock back and forth, not the switch-thingy-sticks-out-and-you-flick-it-up-and-down type that we have in the U.S. I'll take a picture if this is something that occurs outside of the hotel.

The toilets in the UK are odd looking. They're very deep. I'll take a picture some time.

My hotel sink has a faucet for hot and a faucet for cold. That is stupid. How do you get water that isn't too hot to wash your hands with?

The toilet flush handle is on the opposite side on the toilet in my hotel than I'm used to. I need to keep my eye out to see if that's a general trend. You also have to hold it down rather than just push it once.

I bet the city of London goes through a lot of water in a day.

The fan in the bathroom comes on with the light, but it keeps running for a bit (a minute or two, I think... I haven't timed it.) after you turn the light off. That's kinda smart.

I missed "ill" on the last list of words. I'm not sure if they use "ill" exclusively in place of when I'd say "sick", but I have a sneaking suspicion that might be the case.

Everything is really expensive here. The prices are the same or higher BEFORE the exchange rate.

British Words of the Day

Just some words I noticed so far...

"bin" - The trash. - A mother said to her toddler in the Minneapolis airport, "Put that in the bin."

"queue" - A line. - I stood in a "taxi queue" at the train station.

"lorry" - A truck. - On my way from the IFSA-Butler (the study abroad company) office to the hotel, the taxi driver said, "I'll just park behind this lorry."

"call box" - Pay phone. - When I checked in, another student was there and they told her that her name was not on the list. She asked if they had a phone she could use to call the IFSA-Butler office and the guy said, "You can use the call box."

"lift" - An elevator. - The lift at my hotel is incredibly small and slow.