Sunday, June 20, 2010

The last tale or: What remains to be said

The last two weeks were a seemingly endless series of good-byes (some being more emotional and tearful than others) and I am glad not all of them happened at once. Finally, my turn to take leave came.

Wednesday, June 16

I spent most of the morning packing my bags and with quite a bit of squeezing and tugging managed to zip and clip them shut: one more item and they would have burst. Everything done and the day being extraordinarily fine, I dug out my swimming stuff and suncreme again, took the last bits of food out of my fridge and waited for Liz' and Will's arrival. In Sam's car, Pendulum blasting from the speakers, we went to Newborough beach for some last swimming, sunbathing, seal and jellyfish spotting and random exploring of a nearby, little peninsula.
The day passed quickly and although we were tired from our activities and the sun we went to the pub for a last pint of cider.
I soon said good-bye to the group that I somehow had managed to become part of (and it makes me sad just to write these lines) and went to bed early.

Thursday, June 17
I couldn't sleep long and got up very early, cleaned up what was left, grabbed my camera and set out for a final walk through town and some random picture-taking of my last term's haunts:

Bangor High Street (or Stryd Fawr): where all the shops are (logically)

Yr Hen Glan aka The yellow pub aka Yellow:
nice food, good atmosphere, reasonable prices (Burger+Pint £3.95)

The Belle Vue: a pub divided into 2 rooms; always first choice with my flatmates
- a pool table, quiz machine, beer garden: what else can you want?

Amser / Time: one of 3 night clubs;
Yeah, it is old and decrepit, but it's also good fun on a night out
and it's going to be knocked down soon anyway

High and mighty Uni Bangor: I loved it - especially the old-style library
and the cosy little green room.

Bangor Station: starting point of many trips
and also scene of several good-byes towards the end.

After this nice morning's walk I returned to the house, transformed the rest of my food into some kind of packed lunch, hugged Sam good-bye and left the house before my feelings could overwhelm me. As the train bore me along the north coast of Wales I mentally bid good-bye to the mountains, the sea, the sheep/cows/horses, the languages (both) and my friends. When I read all the nice messages they had written into my little notebook tears welled up, but with a bit of effort I managed to retain composure.
To cut a potentially long story short:
I landed in Bratislava, exhausted, curious and somehow also glad to be back, especially when I saw my mum and my sister through the parting automatic doors:

They'd even brought a banner!
(croeso gartref = welcome home)

To finish off, let me summarise my wonderful term in Bangor (it's the last post on this topic anyway, so I am allowed to keep you a bit longer):
When I chose the little city in rural North Wales I had my own reasons and motivations and did not know what to expect, but with a good deal of research my knowledge and also my expectations increased and I set myself some goals. Here's how they turned out:
  • Goal #1: Find a room in a house with some native speakers. I managed or rather got lucky, as the room (i.e. its former occupant) found me through a website. But here my luck didn't end - I had actually cracked the jackpot: My flatmates turned out to be sociable (ok, that was in the ad), friendly, funny, charming, helpful, cleanly and considerate - just the most perfect and wonderful flatmates I could possible have found. Tom, Sam, Dave and Nas took more interest in me than I had ever hoped for and regularly invited me to join them when they went out, met friends, went to the beach, had BBQs, went to watch rugby, went for a bike ride, and even to play xbox (although I was rubbish!). My flatmates' friends, to my immense surprise, soon accepted me as part of a bigger group of friends and often invited me round for film nights or took me horse riding and to the beach. I appreciated this in the extreme and thanked them a hundred times, because they just made this semester brilliant and I will miss them sorely!

My room in all its glory

The fabulous four: Tom, Sam, Nas and Dave (before paintballing)

  • Goal #2: Get to see and taste as much of Wales as I can.
    With "The Rough Guide to Wales" (thanks, Zach!) in my bag and a small group of Erasmus students with similar interests by my side I covered most of North Wales' sites, went to Cardiff and Swansea (and even small towns like Abergavenny and Cwmbrân) - I got to see castles, museums, neolithic structures, slate quarries, picturesque landscape and traditional pubs and, although I haven't yet seen all I'd wanted to see, I am quite content. (Plus: I took several other trips to England and Ireland on the side.) Into this category I also put exciting experiences with Welsh culture of any other kind (culinary ventures like laverbread or Welsh rarebit, literature like Cwmardy or A Toy Epic, glimpses at rugby, social encounters,...). Only now do I realise how much I learned about this country and its people!
Y ddraig coch (the red dragon) on the Welsh flag
- blowing in the wind atop one of the towers of castle Conwy

  • Goal #3: Learn the basics of Welsh and understand its significance. I took pains to find a suitable course, encouraged my little erasmus group to join me and had a lot of fun going there twice a week to learn, repeat and practise useful little phrases. I even successfully tried a few in real life. Welsh is a beautiful, melodious language, despite some strange and tricky sounds. It adds an ancient mystic, celtic element to this wild and remote part of the UK. I definitely haven't had enough of if yet and should I ever go back I will resume the course from where I left it and try to become fluent!

A rather beautiful example of bilingual signs

  • Goal #4: Join a society. I had heard that it is easiest to meet native speakers by joining one of the numerous clubs and societies and when Fiepje mentioned Irish Step dancing I had no excuse to stay away anymore. We both joined and had fun skipping around until Easter. The social night out was one of the highlights of my stay - for various reasons. Like Welsh, Irish Step dance is something that will stay with me and I plan to register at a school in my area with the start of next term.

Fiepje and me dressed up for the Irish Step social night out

  • Goals #5 and #6: Spend as much time as possible outdoors and Buy a bike. Last year's laziness upped my motivation and the weather and beautiful area drew me outside. I found a runnig partner in Rebecca and soon also a suitable and beautiful path (past the harbour, along a river, through wood-land and over Bangor mountain). Furthermore, I got myself a map of Snowdonia (the mountaineous national park just a few miles away) and went on several hikes with erasmus people, visitors and flatmates. Moreover, I bought a bike cheaply and used it to explore Anglesey, get to hidden neolithic treasures or the Farm Shop, or for proper exhausting but fun rides with Tom. (As a consequence of the latter it died on me). And, finally, when the weather turned hot, we even managed to go to the beach and swim in the Atlantic. Twice! I never thought I would...
Carneddau hike in Feb

The Aber Falls tour
Beach time

All in all this whole term was just one AMAZING experience, the magnificence and emotional value of which cannot be expressed in words! I am grateful for the wonderful people I met, the friendships I formed, the activities I did, the places I visited. The memories of all these things I will always continue to cherish and honour with many little tales and anecdotes.
This half year will be remembered: It might have changed me - it might also not, who knows, but however that may be - I would never swap it for anything else!

For all I know I do appreciate studying and living in Austria, but I miss a lot of things. Amongst them: the mountains, the sea, my running path, sheep, nice and affordable ciders, bbc iPlayer, Hobnobs, Ben&Jerry's, Welsh goats cheese, HMV, New Look, and, above all, English as my everyday language.
On the plus side: things like cheap train tickets, fresh local fruit and veg, freshly made ice-cream and proper bread are back in my life!

One thing is for certain (and here I'll quote from one of these many films I haven't seen yet): I'll be back!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tale#27 (dau deg saith) - Tracing the Romans, Jane Austen and Skins

My last weekend in North Wales and I used it to run off to the enemies in the East: I went to England; Bristol, to be more precise. Why Bristol? Because Vicky lives there and it was time to repay her visit. Once more I got on a train (it was on time) and alighted a few hours later about 120 miles further South.

I had begged Vicky to go to nearby Bath for a day, because ever since I had attended this amazing lecture on Greek and Roman bathing culture a visit to Bath had been ranking very high on my list.
When the Romans invaded Britain and little forts started springing up throughout the country they found a (sacred) hot and bubbly spring there and immediately made use of it by crowning it with a big spa complex. (They also named the settlement after the baths: Aquae Sulis) Several pools of different temperatures, massage rooms sweating rooms and sports grounds offered diversion and relaxation. These baths are the best preserved in Europe and therefore definitely worth the £10 entry fee.
It was early in the morning and most tourists were either still asleep or having breakfast - the perfect time for a visit. Happily we accepted our audioguides and spent the next two hours or more walking around in amazement.

The main bath, still fed by the same old spring.
Water temperature: nice and warm

What the baths once might have looked like.

These baby stalagmites are younger than the heating system they are growing on

Before we left we went to "The Pumproom", an expensive-looking tearoom/restaurant in the same building, where we got a generous half pint of Bath water. Well... one tiny sip would have been enough: its temperature and metallic taste were reminiscent of blood and I doubted the benefits of the drink.

We stepped out onto the square and immediately got drawn in by a man on a 2.5m high unicycle juggling flaming torches: impressive. We watched him a few minutes before walking on to the Jane Austen centre for some cream teas (Cream teas are typical afternoon dishes and can have various forms and sizes. The most common one consists of scones with clotted cream, butter, strawberry jam and a pot of tea.).
Hunger quelled for a while, we explored the vastness of Victoria Park and especially its play zone. Vicky and me climbed climbing walls, spun round on strange merry-go-arounds, went down slides and mingled with the kids queuing for the chute. (Imagine the look of surprise on the kids' faces - and the parents' faces!) Going down slides was more fun than ever as I was wearing leggins which had the effect of speeding me up extremely - trying to brake was useless: I shot out of the chute, over the edge and bum-first into the earthy patch at the foot of the slide, about a meter from the metal ledge. Whoops!

One of 100 lions guarding public places and shops in Bath

Jane and I take an airing

We continued our tour through the park before returning to the Jane Austen Centre. Jane Austen, famous author of books like Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility lived in Bath for a few years in the early 19th century and two of her novels are set in the then extremely vibrant and fashionable city. The exhibition gave us interesting insights into her life and family situation, we learned the language of the fan and had fun reading old newspapers that were in no way different from glossy magazines nowadays: full of gossip, giving details of relationship break-ups (incl. direct quotations of accusations), murders, theft, miraculous cures etc...

Fan language: I wish to be acquainted.

We enjoyed the last rays of the sun relaxing in Victoria Park before we went back to Bristol and I got a tour of the city by night: narrow dark alleyways, the illuminated waterfront, football fans galore (England vs. USA - 1:1)!

By daylight everything was less scary and Vicky took me on an extended tour, starting with Clifton Suspension Bridge...

...which afforded us great views of the Avon gorge and the river Avon. Next stop was Brandon Hill with Calbot tower...

... where I believe I found the very bench that starred in several episodes of the TV series Skins.

In erroneous and arabesque patterns we wandered through the city and eventually landed in At Bristol, a bright and modern art and performance space with museums, a planetarium and many other diverting things. When we got there a festival of nature was on, so it was very lively and full of people. We spent some time strolling around and trying different kinds of cheese and then progressed to a Georgian Townhouse, which is (of course) now a museum and can be entered for free, and then to Bristol Cathedral, the most beautiful cathedral I have seen so far: light, vast, with some specks of colour and many little chapels that can be accessed from the main hall.

The few hours that were left we whiled away on the green in front of the cathedral, eating strawberries and making lots of new plans, until our talk was interupted by the ringing of hundreds of bicycle bells and a parade of naked cyclists invaded the square, some painted blue like Avatar people.

My head full with impressions, pictures and plans I finally boarded the train back and after a 6 hour long journey found myself at Cadnant - for the last time in the company of all my flatmates. The house is now filling up with new people which make me feel a stranger and fuel my desire to leave. It now remains to pack my laptop and get going.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Tale #26 (dau deg chwech) - Sun, sand, sea and ice cream

2 weeks to go and about 2 more blog entries to come - this is slightly unsettling but I'm trying to ignore the finality of this whole beautiful experience and let it hit me in two giant waves next weekend and the day I'll pack up, drag my trolley to the station and wave Bangor good-bye. Not yet, though.

I had planned on spending these last two weeks in solitary confinement in my room with only my Latin-stuff as sad and silent company. With my flatmates and most international students gone there was nothing to keep me from revision. Didn't quite work out that way, thanks to two powerful forces: My flatmates' (and now also my) friends and the sun. Both were persistent and after a day of disciplined studying and constant sighing at the sight of the sun I buckled and gave in.

So Friday I dressed in my best beach clothes (finally my bikini would get its turn!) and met the others at the station for a 20 minutes train ride to one of Anglesey's finest beaches: mile-long stretches of fine sand, hidden behind the beautiful barriers of grass-topped sand dunes. We waded through a little stream, strode along the beach and finally spread our towels at the foot of a dune..

...and into the Atlantic we went! Of course the water did not have bathing temperature but was rather - how do I best phrase that...? - refreshing, so we kept moving, trying to find some warm patches and I resolved not to be the first one to want to get out again. Eventually our bodies just accepted the circumstances and we had fun snorkling, swimming, diving or just playing with the waves. It did get cold, eventually and we returned to our base camp to dry off.

After a journey to the ice cream van (inkluding wading through that stream again, which got us all wet again) we were ready for another round of swimming. I found a long, smooth strip of seaweed and spontaneously decided to take it with me to weave it into a bracelet. I did not know then, that this would become my occupation for the next hour as suddenly everyone wanted seaweed bracelets or anklets.

The rest of the afternoon passed with some sun-bathing, dune-jumping, a simplified version of cricket and the burial of several people as a result:

Wig lying on the beach? Or might it be a real person with a body attached somewhere?*

Around six o'clock the sun was not able to offer enough warmth for us to lie around half-naked anymore and we dressed, packed and made our way back to the station where Wales' glorious railservice took the piss: Our train was first delayed by half an hour and then cancelled completely, so that we had to wait for full 60 minutes for the next one.

Will, our trainspotter, made sure we'd be the first to know when our train
would make it's appearance at the horizon.

Sitting around on a platform of a request stop (-> flag the train down, if you want to hop on - no joke!) in some little village on Anglesey is not too bad in good weather and good company (I mean, this is Wales: it could also be raining heavily or be windy enough to blow you off the platform) and so we were still in quite a good mood when the train FINALLY arrived and brought us back to Bangor.

I cooked myself some lovely, delicious pasta, washed sand and salt off my body and reminisced about the beautiful day... until the stench of wet seaweed from my ankle reached my nose and I had to take it off...

*don't worry - nobody died in the course of our burial rites, not even Liz, although it may look like it

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Tale #25 (dau deg pump) - of Polish Pain(t)ball, High Horses and BBQs at the beach

Langsam aber immer sicherer neigt mein Aufenthalt im Keltenland sich dem Ende zu: Das Haus ist mehr als halbleer und die Dichte meiner Erasmenfreunde nimmt auch beständig ab. Nächtens wälze ich mich schlaflos im Bett herum, und überlege mir, wie ich am Besten und Billigsten all meine Sachen heimtransportieren könnte und blicke voll freudiger Erwartung den nächsten 2 Lernwochen entgegen. Um auf diese öden Zeiten vorzubereiten wurde das letzte Wochenende mit Spaß und action randvoll gepackt, auf dass deren Nachwirkungen eine Weile anhalten.

Hier eine Zusammenfassung:

Seit ungefähr Februar bin ich den Burschen in den Ohren gelegen, dass ich unbedingt mal Paintball spielen will und ich es extrem lässig fände, wenn wir das quasi als mein Abschiedsevent machen würden. Ich hatte nicht angenommen, dass es tatsächlich so weit kommt, doch schließlich hatten wir tatsächlich ein Datum und mit Toms Hilfe kurz darauf auch einen nicht allzu teuren "Spielplatz" gefunden. Leider hatten viele der potentiellen Spieler just an jenem Tag keine Zeit und so begab es sich, dass nur die Fraktion des Hauses Cadnant sich letzten Samstag in Sams Auto zwängte und sich in die Pampa begab: Irgendwo im Wald gab es ein kleines Zelt, einen kleinen Blechcontainer und ein kleines Lieferauto - alles was man braucht.
Da man zu fünft nicht ordentlich spielen kann wurden wir mit einem Team aus 7 starken, polnischen Männern gemischt, deren abrasierte Köpfe, konsonanten- und fluchreiche Sprache und Übermotivation (Can we get sniper rifles? Can I have a Kalaschnikov?) uns ein kleinwenig verängstigte - also vor allem mich, wieder mal das einzige Mädel. Ein Trost, dass "meine" Burschen schon mal Paintball gespielt hatten, während das andere Team aus lauter Neulingen zu bestehen schien.

Mit Brustpanzern, Overalls, Helmen und Pistolen ausgestattet ging es ab in den Wald.

Dort bekamen wir eine Reihe von verschieden Aufgaben, die wir im Team zu erledigen hatten. Einmal mussten wir beispielsweise so viele Walesfahnen wie möglich einsammeln. Ein anderes Mal mussten wir ein Fort verteidigen. Wurde man zweimal/dreimal getroffen, war man draußen: Gewehr sichern, Stoppel rein, hochhalten und abmarschieren - bis zur nächsten Aufgabe. Trotz geringerer Zahl war unser Team das bessere, was vermutlich an der xbox-Erfahrung und guten Freundschaft der Burschen liegt. Ja, ich war mies, ich geb's zu. Meine Haupterrungenschaft war, mit nur 2 fetten blauen Flecken davon zu kommen. Ich hätte vermutlich auch mehr Spaß gehabt, wenn ich nicht das einzige Mädel gewesen wäre und wenn meine Erkältung mich nicht ziemlich geschwächt hätte.

Team Cadnant

Nach zwei oder drei Stunden Schießspielen im Wald und nachdem ich von den lustigen Polen des öfteren als Gruppenfotografin engagiert worden war (Kristi! Kristi, can you take another picture?) ging's in Sams furchtbar nach Vanille stinkendem Auto zum Burgerking und dann ab nach Hause.

Müde fiel ich in's Bett.
Es wurde Abend, es wurde Morgen: Sonntag.

Ich hatte 10 Stunden geschlafen, meine Verkühlung war um nichts besser - ganz im Gegenteil: mein Geruchsempfinden hatte sich mittlerweile verabschiedet, doch meine Motivation sollte dadurch nicht weiter getrübt werden: Daves Freundin hatte mir eine Woche zuvor versprochen, mich zum Ausreiten auf ihrem wunderhübschen Araber mitzunehmen. Dieses Angebot konnte ich natürlich keineswegs abschlagen - wollte ich doch seit Ewigkeiten wieder mal reiten gehen!
Also wurde ich zu Mittag abgeholt. Es war wieder einmal einer dieser nordwalisischen Sonntage, wie ich so viele erleben durfte, an denen die Wolken alle in den Bergen hängenbleiben und Bangor und Anglesey von strahlendem Sonnenschein überflutet werden. Einen besseren Tag zum Ausreiten hätten wir nicht erwischen können.
Viele Worte will ich darüber eigentlich gar nicht verlieren. Es war einfach wunderbar! Pferde sind so tolle Tiere. Es war schön einfach wieder mal ein bisschen zu reiten. Mich hat erstaunt, dass Rose mir dabei so vertraut hat und mich einfach selbstständig alles machen hat lassen. Ich weiß nicht, ob ich irgendwem mein Pferd einfach so anvertrauen würde...

Nachdem Roses mum uns britischen lunch aufgetischt hatte (Pizza und Pommes), haben wir noch einen Spaziergang an einem der schönsten Strände hier in der Gegend gemacht: Ich liebe dieses Land - es hat einfach alles, was man sich so wünschen kann.

Glücklich und genauso müde wie am Vortag bin ich ins Bett gefallen.
Es wurde Abend, es wurde Morgen: Montag

Immer noch erkältet habe ich mich aus dem Bett geschupft um zur Abwechslung wieder mal zu arbeiten, nur um mittendrin von Tom unterbrochen zu werden. Ob es mich freuen würd zum Grillen mit an den Strand zu kommen?

Was für eine Frage!

Drei Stunden später war die Arbeit praktisch erledigt und ich lag mit den anderen auf der Wiese beim Strand und wartete darauf, dass meine Kartoffel-Lauch-Würstel essfertig waren. Wieder einmal gab es Sonnenschein vom Feinsten, die Möwen haben den Soundtrack geliefert und in einer Runde von netten Menschen, die mir in den vergangenen Monaten ein kleines bisschen ans Herz gewachsen sind lässt es sich wunderbar einen Nachmittag faulenzen. Ein bisschen Volleyball zum Dessert und wieder war ein schöner Tag vorbei.

Aber so fröhlich wird es nicht weitergehen: 2 Wochen pure Lernerei in relativer Einsamkeit trüben auch die euphorischsten Geister und am Ende werde ich es kaum erwarten können, wieder heimischen Boden zu betreten!