Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Hey Everybody,

As promised, I am going to discuss my travels through Europe during my break from school. I have been fortunate to have my good friend from high school, Kyle Volpe, here in London for this semester. The two of us decided to embark of an eight day trip to Madrid, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Munich. It was quite the whirlwind adventure, which included very little sleep and a lot of wondering. I came the conclusion this is the best way to see a city.

The trip began with an early flight from London to Madrid. This meant that we got to Spain midday and gave a chance to look around before we checked into our hostel. Instead of taking the metro directly to our hostel we noticed that the Santiago Bernabo was only a few blocks from Madrid's central station and thus the wondering began. After seeing this great stadium we decided to head towards the hostel to drop our bags off, but with very limited directions and no map this was a tougher feat than we imagined. We knew it was near the Tribunal metro station but that was pretty much it. We therefore relied on the crudely drawn metro maps that were placed outside each station. The hostel was south but that's all we knew. Now, some people reading are probably wondering, "why didn't you plan this better?" and that's a good question, however our goal was not to see every world class museum or go on any lengthy tours. Our goal was to experience the city through discovery, and believe me, it didn't let us down. In fact one of our mottos through out the trip was, "all I've got is time."

In our semi-aimless wanderings (I say semi-aimless because we would choose a rough path for the day and see where that took us) one of my favorite finds was right near the La Latina metro station. Completely by accident, we stumbled into a popular spot for people our age to socialize, play with a football, and have a few drinks in the amazing spanish sun. The find was perfect, and we decided to hang around there for a little while to soak in the culture. Unfortunately neither of us are very strong spanish speakers and that made it a little tough to sustain any meaningful conversation. It didn't matter in the slightest, we just enjoyed the surprise that was La Latina.

After our time in Madrid ended, we said good bye the warmth of central spain and headed for Copenhagen. Neither of us knew much about the city, and we were planning on going Madrid to Amsterdam, but when looking at flights, it was significantly cheaper to spend 20 hour layover in Copenhagen. So, we got there around 4:00 PM and out flight was until 12:30 the next day and this only gave us one opportunity; wander. We had a free city map with multiple famous sights on it, and we began to walk. Our end goal was the mermaid statue in the north of the city, but that was so far into the future it didn't seem real. So we walked and took some pictures of famous buildings, until we reached Christiania. this interesting little community decided they wanted to secede from Denmark. Its a small little area that seems like a run down industrial park, but when the sun goes down it turns into a popular spot with shop and restaurants. Although getting hungry ourselves, and not wanted to pay for a full meal we said so long to Christiania and headed back to the EU. We picked up loaf of bread, meat, cheese and two pints of the local Carlsberg beer and found amazing spot across from the opera house to eat our feast. Our short stay in Copenhagen was coming to an end, but it was an extremely memorable experience that almost didn't even happen.

What can I say about Amsterdam? It almost looks like a fake a city at Epcot Center. It was absolutely beautiful. Every intersection was picturesque, and at one point we decided to see if we could find a bad part of the city; we failed. I can't say enough about the beauty of Amsterdam, but it was by far the most touristy. It was almost as though they didn't have any real stores besides gift shop. It is likely that this is just because we were in the tourist section, but if that is the case, then the tourist section encompasses an enormous part of the city.

Finally, we spent 2 days in Munich. At this time on the trip we were both pretty worn out, but it was still nice to walk around the city and relax in the nice weather Bavaria. I big part of their culture is the beer and they are very proud of their local brews. we joined in on a small tour that brought us to different bars with a different local brew at each of them. It was a great way to try the different types available while in the presence of a guide who knew what he was talking about.

With that our trip was over. 8 days, 4 cities, and a lot of great memories. It was a blast and was a great change of pace from the research papers due prior to the trip. The trip also got me in the right mindset for my final papers due after my return.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Hi Everyone!

I would first like to apologize for not posting in a long time. For the past few weeks I have been traveling around the UK and Europe, and I have not been around a computer or even strong WiFi. I will go into further detail below, but essentially I have been backpacking around, staying in hostels, and meeting people from around the world.

My plan is to split up the next two blog posts. This one will be about my travels in the UK, and the next one will about the rest of Europe. Again, I am sorry to everyone/anyone who has been reading this blog consistently and been looking for a new post. My hope is that you will at least understand that I had to take the opportunity to travel and in doing so I was unable to keep up with the blog.

As my last blog mentioned, on March 21st I had an essay due in each on of my classes. Once those were completed the travels began. The first stop was Durham England. In all my travels this was one of my favorites. It a small little town about an hour from the Scottish border. Atop the largest hill in Durham stood and amazing cathedral along with a castle. The cathedral is one of the oldest in England and apparently used to be painted red to stand out as a Christian beacon in barbarian land. The castle is now used as one of the colleges for the University of Durham. HOW COOL IS THAT! However, as impressive as both these buildings are, what I enjoyed so much about Durham was a slower paced and relaxed manner in which everything seemed to move.

Because my school is in central London, I have been used to the hustle and bustle lifestyle of living in a big city. Durham was a far from that as possible, and it was a great change. Again, I was fortunate enough to be traveling with Elaina Faust, and she has family living in Pity Me (a suburban village of Durham). We got to spend some time with her cousin family and his family. On top of that her cousin is currently working on a post doc focused on the Middle East so I was able to put my new knowledge of the region to the test ;).

Having to say goodbye to the enjoyably slow paced lifestyle of Durham, we hoped on a train to Manchester. The once great industrial city has definitely suffered from the de-industrialization of the country. Many areas of the city were not in great shape, but there is hope. The downtown area seemed to have a great deal of construction underway.

Personally, my favorite part of Manchester was the opportunity to tour the stadium of Manchester United. Manchester united is my favorite team in the Premier League, and it was great to the have the opportunity to see the historic pitch as well as learn more about the incredible history of the club.

Being in the neighborhood, we popped over to Liverpool. Many people I have spoken to have not enjoyed Liverpool, but I disagree. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a city on the ocean, or maybe it was the chance to spend some time at some of the old stomping grounds of the Beatles, but there was something about the city that made me happy the entire time I was there. It was definitely a more walkable city than manchester, and I as you will see from the next post, walking made up most of my travels.

Lastly, we headed to Salisbury; home place of Stonehenge. Whenever I see a giant cathedral, like the Duomo in Florence (1446) or the Cathedral in Durham (1018) I am amazed at what humans were able to accomplish without the technology we have today. However, I think Stonehenge blew all those away. Its mind blowing to think that 5000 years ago, a group of people could construct anything with stones that large. I'm sure the Pyramids at Giza might cause an even greater feeling of awe, but Stonehenge still did that job quite nicely.

And with that the Travels in the UK were done for now. However, the journey to the rest of Europe was just about the begin.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Hi Everyone!

We've reached crunch time at SOAS. On the 21st of March I have a 3000 word essay due in each one of my classes (four total). These essays are each 50% of my grade in the respective classes, and so that means there really isn't much room for slacking off. That also means that the majority of my time recently has been spent in the library doing research.

The Champions
Because all my classes are centered around the Middle East, there is a tremendous amount of overlap between each of the paper topics. My history paper is about the Reform movements of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Unless you are a history nut, that might seem like a boring topic. However, when my Islam essay is about the immigration of muslims to the UK and United States in the 20th century, one quickly sees the connection of the failed reform movements that lead to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the immigration of Muslims to western countries like the UK and the USA.
Like I have said in previous posts, the strong connections between all of my classes leads to a very well rounded view of the region.

In other non academic news, the Football (soccer) team that I joined through the school just won the league championship this weekend. It was a beautiful day and I have met some great kids on the team.

Finally, in another unrelated matter, London has been working on a new transportation project called Crossrail. it is meant to connect many of the towns south east of the city to central London. Apparently this is Europe's largest Underground project ever undertaken.

I have only seen parts when I pass certain station, but it looks very impressive

Take care. Next time I talk you I'll be on vacation and hopefully have a little more to say.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Hi Everyone,

I don't really have any new pictures to share today. I am about half way through my semester, and so I think it would be helpful to look back on the semester thus far. I have had so many great experiences, but that does not mean there haven't been struggles.

This Map might be a little dated and not entirely accurate
but it gets across how I feel in class sometimes
First, I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to focus on one region of the world. The Middle East region has so much history, and I have never really had the opportunity to study before. The combination of History, Religion, Economics, and Management provides a well-rounded view. However, the combination does an amazing job showing the complexity of current events in the region. Like I said, I could not be happier to have this opportunity to concentrate on the MENA region, but there have been some hardships.

It is a blessing and a curse that I get to study these topics with so many natives of the MENA region. The blessings are obvious. I love the the first hand knowledge that students can provide to a discussion. The struggle is feeling so far behind them. I now have a vague idea of how some CMC students must feel when they take GOV20 but are not from the United States.

The DR Special
Living in London has also provided some challenges. For one, I have had to cook on my own for the first time. I have enjoyed this for the most part. To me, cooking dinner is a relaxing, but still productive, way finish a long day of classes and studying. The challenge comes from having to plan out a week of food on a budget. This is clearly a very good skill to have especially having only one more year until graduation. My way of dealing with this challenge has worked out very so far. I make sure I get the nutrition I need, but also try to keep the meals simple. Especially being in London, I want to make sure I have money to go out and experience the city. By keeping my meals cheap and simple in my flat, I have the money to go out to eat or grab a few drinks with my friends, and not feel guilty for spending too much money.

Which brings me to my last topic I would like to discuss at this half way point in the semester. Again, I have been very fortunate to make several new friends while in London. Many of them also attend small liberal arts colleges in the States so I hope to keep in touch after the semester ends. Before I continue, I want point out that I have had this conversation with a number of study abroad students... The struggle is experiencing so many amazing places without the people closest to you.

Italy with Elaina
As amazing as the people I've met are, I have still only known them for under two months. It is a weird way to see a new part of the world. Not with your best friends or family, but with people you have just met. This became especially obvious when I travelled to Italy to see Elaina.

Although I label them as 'struggles' I really do appreciate the necessity to step outside my comfort zone. I can't wait to look back at the end of my semester and see if I still have the same struggles, how I continued to deal with them, and if any new one arise.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Hi Everyone!

This post is going to be a little different than the first post. The reason for this is that I am currently in Italy! I have a week off from classes at SOAS so I'm taking advantage of the fact that it is very easy to travel around Europe. I flew into Pisa where I met another CMC student currently studying abroad in Siena, Elaina Faust.

There is not much to do in the Pisa, besides the tower, so it was perfect for a half day before we took the train to Florence. Florence is an amazing city with so much to do. Elaina and I filled our weekend going to the Uffizi museum where we saw some of the most impressive renaissance art including Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" painting. After that, we scaled the countless stairs of the Duomo where we got a beautiful view of Florence and the surrounding countryside. No day is complete without Gelato and classic Italian meal of pasta.

Today we went to the Accademia and saw Michelangelo's David. The sculpture is honestly unbelievable. I have seen countless pictures of the sculpture in my life, but none are able to capture the size and detail of the piece. First off, it is 5.17 meters (16.96 feet) which is impressive in its own right. However, what makes the sculpture so amazing is the detail. When you look closely at his hands and neck you can see the veins exactly where you would expect, especially after just having slain Goliath. Unlike many sculptures, Michelangelo carved detailed eyes as well. It really puts every other sculpture I have ever seen to shame.

Following the Michelangelo theme, we then hopped on a bus to visit the Piazza di Michelangelo. This is probably the best view of Florence, and we were lucky to have such a beautiful day to enjoy it. Below you will see many pictures we took here.

Apologies for not writing about my experiences in London, but I had to take the opportunity to talk about such an amazing weekend in Italy.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Hi Everyone!

A lot has happened in the two weeks since my last post. The amount of different things to do in London continues to amaze me. I am beginning to settle in with my classes and starting to get to know my classmates. Outside of class, I have joined the Football club, the Squash club and the Hummus Society. These have been great ways to meet full time students. Many of the Londoners have only heard American accents in movies so they seem very excited to meet someone who actually speaks like that. I have gotten some weird questions about America like, What is KoolAid? Do you own a gun? and my personal favorite, "Can you say water?" (just so they can laugh at accent).

Other than the accent, there have also been some confusion with terminology. I was laughed at by a bartender when I asked where I could find the restroom. He replied with "Sorry mate, this is a pub not a hotel." I guess its true that you don't take a nap there. From that moment I have always asked where the toilets are, and if you want to avoid the embarrassment of some bartender laughing at you then ask for the toilets or gents/ladies. I'm sure this won't be only cultural mess-up while I'm here, but it is funny to look back on.

Lastly, I would just like to defend America's weight reputation. There are two McDonald's within eyesight of each other down near King's Cross. 'nough said. They do all seem newer than the ones I've been to America, but other than that they are very similar.

I'll talk to everyone soon!
Nick Pounding a 3000 year old Statue

Tower Bridge

Globe Theater 
Tower of London with Lindsey, Elena and Jen

Tower of London

Classic Beheading at the Tower of London


Tower Bridge from the Tower of London

Tower of London