A Mad Tea Party

 

I have found that living in England has made me come to love different aspects of America all the more. Also, I think I am writing from a bit of an odd frame of mind since there is a giant burning light in the sky whose overwhelming effervescence blinds me and scorches my skin. I mean, it is a whole 5°C/40°F here! And, not a rain cloud in sight! The rarity of this phenomenon reminds me when the sun and I used to be frequent friends. Times when we would greet one another with a loving embrace, knowing that soon, we would bask in one another’s company, enjoying warm summer breezes and lazy afternoons. These afternoons bring me to corn fields, cicadas, fireflies, creeks, mud, and heat.

Apart from the glorious glories of the gleaming sun things in the UK have been quite dandy. I did in fact go on an adventure to Snowdonia National Park (finally made it!)! Since my study abroad is being coordinated through Butler University, every once in awhile Butler throws us little parties or get-togethers. My trip to Northern Wales was just such an event.

 

I, and one other of the four Bristol-Butler students, decided to go on this all-expenses paid trip (“all-expenses paid” mainly because the cost of it was included in our initial fees and we couldn’t get the money back even if we wanted to…). We began by catching an early bus to another bus that would ultimately take us to Bristol Parkway station. Honestly, as a side note, if you are ever travelling to Bristol via train and trying to compare Bristol Parkway versus Bristol Temple Meads, definitely go Temple Meads. Parkway is fine enough, but such a hassle to get to since it is on the outskirts of Bristol. Also, while you could take a bus to the city center and connect from there to wherever your heart desired, it is SO much easier and quicker to go to Temple Meads. So. much. easier.

Anyways, Paige and I boarded our train in Parkway and commenced our then 5-hr journey that would take us all the way to Bangor in Northern Wales (where we would then catch a coach to our hotel). It was a long, packed in, and rather slow excursion. For some reason the train decided that instead of hugging the coast of Wales, it would be more expedient to crisscross across Wales, go into England for a bit, and then hug the Northern coast heading West to get to our destination. This really confused me at one point when I noticed the coast was on my right while I was facing the forward motion of the train. For about a good 7min I was trying to conceptualize my position on the train trying to approximate where the coast should be if we were heading North. Becoming frustrated, I gave up my attempt to understand when the only conclusion I could draw was that we were already in the North and were heading West, which seemed absurd. No train in it’s right mind would take such a roundabout method to go to the North…but I forgot Occam’s Razor, which in the words of Sherlock Holmes, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”(gosh, can I just say, I feel so nerdy and awesome for just whipping that one out.) The impossible was that I was in an alternate world that embodied a mirrored reality of our own, placing the coast on my right. The improbable was that the train would take such an indirect route. The razor won. On a less nerdy note, the train was WAY overbooked, and my cramped legs felt the tension of all the disgruntled passengers having to stand in the aisle (as well as their baggage) while aboard.

 

But, we finally arrived in Bangor and were deposited into our hotel. Northern Wales seems to have a mystical sobriety to its rough landscape. Scattered along the heather strewn slate hills are goats and lambs clambering along looking for morsels of craggy grass to eat. And the ever present mist  seemed to not just be around the hills, but in my very eyes as everything I looked at was obscured by vapor. I tried to imagine the sun burning fiercely over the landscape, revealing its slated slopes and tripping waterfalls in harsh relief; but I found my imagination could only take me so far as the mist obfuscated my inner eye.

That night, Paige and I went down to the bar to join in on the pub quiz Butler had planned. We happened to join a random group of people who had open seats next to them. When the quiz began, I quickly realized that we had chosen well in our randomized seating. The quiz was set up in four stages, Liberal Arts, Science, Geography, and Miscellany. The team we had joined was intensely competitive, and very bright. I loved being able to contribute to a group that, well, was so smart! Ultimately, the entire thing took us maybe 2hrs, but in the end my group pulled in front and won the quiz (as well as massive quantities of Cadbury chocolate…mmm.) This accomplishment was only further highlighted by the fact that out of the some 200 students there, the ten of us came out on top! Sweet sweet victory.

 

The next day I went on a ½ day hike up to an old slate mine. As you can see from the photos, it was stunning. Also, fun little tid bit, the place where we were hiking was also the location of the battle scenes found in that 80’s classic film, Willow. I was extremely excited about this information since my brother Torrey and I both really enjoyed that movie growing up. Torrey, if you’re reading this, IT WAS AWESOME!

Later that day, I went kayaking. We bundled up, put on water proof shirts and pants, and put on helmets. As we paddled out into the middle of the small body of water a serenity enveloped me in the water surrounded by hills; the very environ compacted mist. Yet, while it was very pleasant to paddle out onto the water, I learned that the small lake we were on was all the water we would be on. No little tributaries to go up, no baby waterfalls to go over, in fact, the longest kayaking trip possible in the UK would last no longer than half a day. I just started laughing at this idea when I realized how massive the water system in America must seem to those Kayakers in the UK. Heck, I was able to do a two -week trip of mainly kayaking before college, and that didn’t even include rigorous maneuvering.

 

It is a funny thing looking at English countryside in comparison to American (this area of Snowdonia being excluded. The pictures show just how lovely it was and wild). Again, I know I live in Indiana, a very very flat state, but nonetheless, even Indiana seems to have a more wild landscape at times than a majority of England. I think it is because England has been settled for soooo long, whereas America has only been around for some 200yrs. Also, in America we place a high premium on preserving our landscape, keeping wild things wild (to a certain extent. I am mainly referencing Teddy Roosevelt’s work on the National Park System). It is apart of our national mythology, the American identity, that the wilderness around us challenge, inspire, and cultivate us (Thoreau, Emerson, Irving, etc). While there are definitely people in England that enjoy outdoor adventuring (mtn biking, hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, etc), I believe they tend to be among the minority since the opportunities aren’t nearly as vast here (granted, it is a small island, and therefore less land mass to work with) as they are in the U.S.

Anyways, beyond my pontifications, that night Butler threw us a party full of fun music and colored lights. It was quite enjoyable, though as the night went on and more drinks were consumed there were certainly some interesting dance moves that started to pop up on the floor, this only added to the overall entertainment.

 

The next morning (Sunday) the some 200 students packed themselves onto a number of coaches and we headed into the town of Llandudno.  Now, Llandudno is an interesting place because of its obsession with Alice in Wonderland. At many sights around the town you could stumble onto a wooden statue of the Mad-Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, the White Rabbit, or even a very scary looking Alice herself. Not only that, but they have an entire park trail dedicated to recreating aspects of wonderland. Paige and I just happened to stumble upon this happy little place when we climbed up a small foot-trail going up a steep hill. We were utterly delighted when we found all the creative statues around the park. Funnily enough though, Llandudno has only a very tenuous connection to Lewis Carroll. If you are interested, you can take a look here.

After we finished looking around the small town, we began our long 6hr(the train was even slower this time) trek back to Bristol.  All in all, it was a very pleasant weekend, but also very tiring. I was oh so happy to get back home.

 

So, what’s in store next? Well, this coming Wednesday I embark on my grand European adventure! I fly out to Lyon, France to stay with my former highschool teacher, Mrs. Klopp, for a few days. That coming Tuesday, my old friend from highschool, Kathryn, will join me in Lyon and we will initiate our 15day Eurail global pass which will take us around the coast of Italy, into Switzerland, onto the slopes of Austria, up the Romantic road in Germany, into Belgium, and deposit us in Amsterdam. It is going to be a whirlwind experience, and I am so excited! Right now, the thing that is weighing on my mind is how I am going to strategically pack my 44 liter backpack with all the essentials I will need for my two week trip… I am still trying to figure this one out. Right now I am thinking bare essentials in terms of toiletries, only about 3-4 shirts, shorts with active wear tights to compensate for warm and cold weather, and finally my sneakers, and maybe my gray converses…If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them! Well, I’ll take a photo of my bag when it’s all said and done. Worst comes to worst, I’ll come back smelling funny after deciding to ditch my toiletries, or come back with only a few pieces of clothing after donating the rest somewhere.

Also, since my bag is so small and my computer relatively large and heavy, I think I will be leaving it behind. I hope to still be able to update you all about my trip, but it’ll probably be in smaller segments (hopefully more frequently) and without as many photos. All that to say, I’ll be playing this by ear in terms of blogging while I’m backpacking.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed my ramblings, and even if you didn’t, good for you for finishing anyways! I hope you all are blessed and well! Have a lovely day!