Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ok, so let me give you a rundown of the first week. It was a bit crazy, so I hope I can remember it all. First off, the night before getting to Cambridge I stayed at the Stansted Hilton (awesome, by the way). I stuffed myself with the free breakfast and took a few extras to hold me over until dinner that night. I went to take the airport shuttle back to the main terminal but it was two pounds, and I only had one and a few euros. I went to get money out of an ATM in the hotel lobby but it didn't work. I went into panic mode worrying that my card had been shut down and I was stranded without money... bad news. Luckily I found a nice british lady that traded me a pound for a euro and some change (she said she was going to Italy later that month, but I suspect she just saw the distress on my face). Anyway, got the pound coin, got on the bus, and made it back to the terminal. The first order of business was to exchange some money, since I wasn't sure my card worked. I exchanged $100 US and got 58 pounds back after the service fee. "This is going to be an expensive summer," I thought to myself. I made my way to the train station at the airport and sat on a train headed straight for Cambridge.

I got to Cambridge, got off the train, then realized I was actually there! I have been to Cambridge before and had a great time (part of the motivation for going this summer-thanks Jen and Derek), but this time I was the local. Awesome. I got in a ridiculously long line to wait for a taxi, and after 30 minutes and an adventurous taxi ride, I was standing at the gates of the famous King's College. A couple of friendly Cambridge students in matching "PKP" shirts asked me if I was with PKP (Pembroke-King's Programme, named after the 2 colleges that host us for the summer). I said yes and they sent me on my way to pick up my welcome packet with keys and access cards and all kinds of maps and forms. I was then led to the back of the college to a quaint little court that would be my home for the next 2 months: Bodley's

Yup, that's my dorm for the summer. NBD. My room is sweet too, I have a "sitting room" with a couch, desk, large table, coffee table, and a few chairs as well as a bedroom with a sink, chest of drawers, wardrobe, side table, and fireplace. From my desk I look out over the courtyard and from my bedroom I look out over the Cam (the river you see on the picture). It's pretty sweet. I've already met a few students and they all seem pretty cool. I've met a girl from Macedonia who speaks Serbo-croatian, and a few Russians/Russian speakers. It's fun to chat with them and see the look on their faces when they realize I can understand what they're saying and carry on a conversation. Muahaha.

Dinner was bomb. Sumptuous I would even say. The desserts were amazing. Chicken, lamb, and veal were on the menu, as well as a ton of different salads and steamed veggies. Bread products exploded out of this huge basket, and there was enough salad dressing to feed a small african country. It was awesome. Looking around at the dining hall just added to the extravagance of the whole experience. Check it:

Yup. I eat there. Every day. Whatev, guys, it's totally not a big deal.

The first few days of classes were pretty intense. I am taking "Drugs and the Mind: Why do People Get Addicted," a pretty sweet neuroscience class looking at the neurochemistry of addiction. I have a minimal neuro background, so the first few lectures were followed by some extensive personal knowledge enriching (i.e. hours googling various brain areas and neurotransmitters until I had a general idea of what was going on). Then, after 3 days, they took us to Scotland.

Scotland is awesome. Beautiful. Green. Lots of plaid. Basically, just the The night before we left we had a late FHE involving huge quantities of extremely unhealthy food. I went home (after standing out in the cold for 40 minutes conversing with some friends) and got into bed, shivering. Turns out, I had a fever. I woke up every hour or so and was shaking uncontrollably, but sweating. It doesn't help that I have a huge comforter on my bed but no top sheet. Brits. I don't get them some times. Anyway, I woke up the next day, packed, had some breakfast, and headed to the bus. I had an I-haven't-slept-enough-and-am-sore-and-achy-from-shivering-all-night headache--something not conducive to a comfortable 10-hour bus ride (if there is such a thing). After bobbing in and out of something resembling sleep for a few hours, we got to Richmond, a quaint little English village with a cool castle and an even cooler bakery. Most amazing eclair I've ever had. After a few hours there, we continued on our way. When we finally made it to Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-bruh, I came to find) I was beyond exhausted. We got our room assignments and put our luggage away. Afterwards we all headed down to dinner at an all-you-can-eat dining hall that far surpasses the Cannon Center in quality (I may get lynched for that, but it's true). I, however, was experiencing another wave of the fever that had kept me up all night. It had mercifully subsided for the majority of the trip, but was reared it's ugly head as soon as I stepped onto the pavement at Polluck Halls.

The next part needs to be prefaced. There are two mature students on the program from BYU. They are both mothers. This was apparent when I came and sat at their table to tuck in to my dinner. They said I was terribly flushed and looked awful. I told them I would track down the program director and see if I could procure some medicine and sleep it off. Unfortunately, like so many other places in europe, everything in Edinburgh closes around 6, especially useful things like pharmacies. Greg (the director) took one look at me and sent me off to bed. I drank about 1/2 gallon of water over the course of the evening (and subsequently got up to use the facilities 5 times throughout the night) but slept relatively well. The next morning I woke up and felt 100x better. I had a bit of a tension headache from the fever soreness, but nothing terrible. I guess I should listen to my mother. Any time I was sick growing up the solution was "drink more water and take some tylenol." Thanks, mom.

Friday we started out the day going out to Rosslyn Chapel. You may be familiar with it if youve read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. Supposedly it is where the Knights Templar buried their treasure before they disappeared, including the Holy Grail. I had Monty Python quotes flitting through my head the whole time. Luckily, the chapel itself was intricate and beautiful enough to distract me from any other thoughts. It was built by Masons in the mid 15th century AD and has some very interesting details. One of them is the prevailing theme of nature, often represented by "green men," human faces with vines growing out of their mouths:

The wiki article has a ton more on the history, check it out if you're interested:

The bus then took us into the city center, where we dodged rain storms all day while wandering around soaking in the sights. The castle was cool, minus costing 15 pounds to get in. We took pictures out front and moved on. We saw most the requisite sights while there: Arthur's seat, the royal mile, tons of churches, and ate dinner at the Elephant House (where J.K. Rowling wrote out the Harry Potter story on napkins while on welfare blah blah).

I was surprized at how good it was, expecting it to be crowded and overly touristy. I was plesantly surprized at how quiet and classy it was. I had a caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza. It was amazing. I got to sit at the table where she sat, looking out over Edinburgh castle and realizing that it was not a far stretch of the imagination to see magic folk learning spells and charms in the towers of the castle. It was most definitely a major inspiration for Hogwarts. Anyway, we went back to Polluck Halls to get ready for the ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee), a traditional Scottish dance party. It was awesome. You know the period movies where they have feasts with fast music and people spinning each other around incessantly? That's what a Ceilidh is like. Dancing, swinging, sweating, laughing, and (for most) drinking lots and lots of alcohol. It was awesome. The most fun I've had in a long time. Good thing I have Scottish ancestors so I can justify having a Ceilidh band at my wedding (if that ever happens, that is). After hours of swinging, dancing, and sweating, we all headed off to bed in anticipation of the big hike the next day.

They took us up to the Trossachs, called by some "the Highlands in miniature." The hike was sunny and dry for us, a contrast from the day before where the PKPers told us it rained most of the time and they waded through water all the way up. After about 2 hours of hiking, we made it to the top of a rocky plateau, affording us breathtaking views of the lochs all around us and the unbelievably green mountains:

Yup. That green. Fun side story: in the first 20 minutes of the hike, after stretching a little too far to get over a rock in the path, my pants split down the crotch. We're not talking "just a little hole that unless you sit down you can't see it" kind of split. We're talking "zipper to butt-cheek pocket and a few little tears on the side so you can see my underwear every step I take" kind of split. It was bad. I eventually wrapped my jacket around my waist to cover my butt, but then the front kept ripping. I finally wrapped the zippered part around the front and zipped it, giving myself a sort of gore-tek skirt. It was pretty attractive. Sorry, no photographic evidence for that one (intentionally). We went back into the city, I made some new friends, and we decided to go to dinner together. I had an awesome burger at this place we went to in the center of town. It was bliss. Later, we wandered the city, went into a cool cemetery, eavesdropped on a ghost tour or two (they're everywhere, apparently Edinburgh is haunted or something), and then the crew wanted to meet up with some others at a pub. We never found the rest of the group, but the four of us sat down at a nice little place and had drinks. My mormon-ness had come up earlier in the night, so it wasn't a surprise to anyone when I ordered a Sprite. It did spark good conversation though, and I got the opportunity to explain my beliefs and hear the views of my fellow pub-goers. It was a good time.

A moment of musing. Living in Provo and teaching at the MTC, I don't have much opportunity to do missionary work of my own, despite training the next generation of elders and sisters. It has been a long time since I've had to explain what I believe so often, but it has been good for me. It has forced me to reexamine what I really do believe, and has given me the motivation to seek to strengthen my own testimony of the things I'm telling people who think I'm a little crazy on a daily basis. It's been fun. Ok, musing over.

Anyway, we got back a little after midnight and went to bed. The next day we took another 10 hours to get back down to Cambridge. We stopped at Fountains Abbey along the way, a sweet place with a lot of history. Basically, the trip was bomb. More on Cambridge itself when I've actually spent some time here, ha ha. Cheers!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Croatia... again

So, I felt a little bit spoiled going back to Croatia two years in a row, but it was awesome. It was a little bit different this time, we spent more time doing touristy stuff and we had a Croatia first-timer with us, Priest's friend Andrea. It was a blast. I'm pretty sure I could come back to Croatia every summer for the rest of my life and still not get bored. Awesome. Here's the play-by-play, if you care:

First off let's start with me getting to Croatia. I had 2 layovers and a day in London before I finally made it. Along the way I got to have breakfast with the wonderful Natalie Thorsen, which was grand. I was about 2 hours late for our appointment, and I had no means of contacting her, so I was a little worried. She was a lot worried. I finally made it to Liverpool Street Station and we ran around the city for a bit before sitting down for a nice (overpriced) breakfast. I didn't have too much time, but we got to see the tower of London from afar and have a good chat.

Then I got on a train out to Stansted airport, had a mad-dash taxi ride to drop my bags off at the Hitlon with only 40 minutes before my flight took off, and got on the plane to Slovenia.

Slovenia was beautiful. I never served there, so I feel very much like a tourist while I'm there. I have vague memories of certain parts of the city, and especially the mission home (RIP, since it's now in Zagreb). Anyway, we ran around and met people Priest new while he was there, had some good ice cream, and I was introduced to the mlekomat. Let me just tell you about this thing real fast. Apparently the dairy farmers in Slovenia were mad that they weren't getting enough for their milk from the buyer dudes. They decided to cut out the middle man to increase revenue, so they put up these mlekomats--milk dispensing machines--all over the city. The cool thing is, the milk is fresh every day, and since each machine is a different dairy, they all taste different. It was the best milk I think I've ever tasted. Amazing. Here's a pic of the amazingness:

Anyway, we stopped in and chatted with President Hill and his wife for a few hours and talked about how the mission is progressing. It's amazing how different the work is from when I was there! With Pres. Roe (the new mission pres that started in July) there will be a new era of the mission, hopefully marked with huge success! We eventually got on a train and headed down to Zagreb.

As soon as we got there, we went to Tony's Kebap, only the best food in town:

and I called Kristijan and Kiki to meet up with them. As it so happened, Kristijan was showing the BYU folk dance team around the city and they had in impromptu performance out on Cvjetni Trg. It was pretty strange, I even saw a friend from high school who was in the band... ha ha. Anyway, there were a bunch of missionaries there to work the crowd, so I got to see a lot of my children in action. Brought a tear to my eye to see them speaking Croatian and contacting like pros... *sniff*. Kiki found us, and we went to Nocturno for dinner #2 and wandered around the city, catching up and just hanging out. Kiki is one of my few true friends I made on my mission who was a native Croat. He's great. I'd go back just to see him. Srsly. Anyway, it got late and wee took the train to Karlovac (hereafter K-town) where Marinka was waiting for us at the train station.

K-town was relaxing. We chatted with Markina, went to Baka's house, got to see our old apartment (Priest and I both spent a substantial time in K-town), and saw some members out at the new church farm. It was altogether enjoyable. After a day in K-town, we took a bus down to Zadar for church and all-around Dalmatian revelry. I got to see Anka and Šime
After wandering around the old town and buying a sweet painting of Poluotok (the peninsula), we hopped on a bus to a random Dalmatian coastal village... Primošten.

I remembered seeing this town on billboards along the highway while I was on my mission. They were still there this time, so I figured it might be worth trying. After finally getting there, getting Gypped by the tourist office on the price of our room for the night (the owner said it was 40 Euros, the office charged us 50), we saw why the billboards suggested "Svi u Primošten!" (Everyone to Primošten!). It was awesome. Apparently it was an island with a small gap between it and the mainland spanned by a bridge back in the day. Eventually the fishermen in the town decided to fill it in, and now there's about a 20 meter wide connection to a sweet peninsula with a church on top of the hill, quiet alleyways, and a riva definitely worth strolling on. Also, we had the best crepes ever created in the old town there. We may have eaten 3. Anyway, we hung around for a jazz festival thing on the town square, ate our second crepe from the amazing crepe-mobile, and just had a good time relaxing. The next day we woke up and went to the beach. We lounged and swam for a few hours, soaking in the European beachiness and much needed vitamin D boost. We discovered the next day we got a little too much vitamin D.

Note to self: sunburns when you are carrying all your worldly posessions on your back are much less convenient than normal.

We finally made our way to Split that afternoon. We found our way to the hostel and chatted up the very friendly landlady (about 23 years old with a raspy smoker voice of an 85 year-old mob boss) who spoke very quickly with a heavy Dalmatian accent. It was a little difficult to understand her at times, but after a few hours surrounded by dalmatinski after so long, my ears started to adjust. We wandered, checked out the city beach, bought some crepes (none of which came even close to those from the magical crepe-mobile of awesomeness) and waited around for Andrea. She finally made it, we got her stuff back to the room, and went back out to check out the nightlife of Split. Not that we went to a club or anything, but just took in the Dalmatian "Đir" culture (sidenote: in Dalmatia they follow the typical Mediterranean schedule of long lunch, siesta, then stay up late. Part of the "stay up late" thing is going down to the center of town and walking along the riva--a promenade right along the water. They call this walk a "đir,"roughly translating to a "stroll." Anyway...). The next day we met Kristina, a member from Split, and she took us around and gave us an impromptu tour of the city. We went into some churches, climbed the bell tower in old town that afforded us some spectacular views, and all around had a good time. We then lunched and did some souvenir shopping. Basically just sight seeing, picture taking, and tourist-being. Awesome. We finally took off for Dubrovnik lat in the afternoon...

The bus took forever. Like over 4 hours I think. Boo. We did go through Bosnia and took a 20 minute rest stop in Neum, the only Bosnian city on the coast. It was pretty awesome. Mostly just because it was Bosnia. Then we continued on. When we finally made it to Dubrovnik and got to our room (which was at the top of a pretty epic set of stairs, by the way), we were pooped. But, being in Dubrovnik as we were, we sucked it up and went out on the town. We found ourselves a good restaurant and had dinner and then made our "đir." Dubrovnik is epic. I don't know how else to describe it. It was a powerful city-state in the Venetian empire if I'm not mistaken and was quite wealthy on its own regard. It is home to the second oldest pharmacy in Europe, is surrounded on all sides by an amazing set of walls, juts out into the clear blue Adriatic like a monument to Croatian willpower. It was bombed during the Croatian war of independence but was rebuilt and is now mostly back to its former glory. Anyway, we spent a day seeing the sights, walking the walls, eating seafood swimming in olive oil, and beaching. It was grand. That night we wandered into a folk dance concert that was quite entertaining, which happened to be free (though I suspect it wasn't supposed to be, we just accidentally snuck in). After a long day we found a car rental place and booked a car to go to Mostar, Bosnia the next day.

Mostar was awesome. Perhaps the most awesome part of it all was getting there. Being the smart people we are, Eli, Andrea and I decided to take a smaller road through Bosnia instead of taking the highway which crossed the Bosnia-Croatia border 3 times. Bad idea. You know how they will randomly make jokes in (most recently Social Network) about how they don't have roads in Bosnia? Well, they're only slightly exaggerating when they say that. The road was supposed to be two-lane, two-way. It was the equivalent of a small one-way street in the rest of Europe (yep, not American nice wide-sized roads, Europe's already-way-too-skinny-to-fit-a-real-car-so-they-all-drive-hotwheels-sized roads). We passed (or rather pulled over for) 2 semi trucks and several vans along the way, some which came at us from around blind corners on extremely windy mountain roads. Scary. This picture was taken right before we passed a cow and a herd of goats wandering on the road (not particularly exciting for us Lehi folk, but for most quite a funny experience):

Anyway, Mostar was awesome. It's this East-meets-west-meets-middle-east kind of place where in the same skyline you can see 3 minarets, a Catholic bell tower and the dome of an Orthodox church. It was cool. The bridge was the main attraction, a symbol of freedom and perseverance since it was destroyed in the war and then rebuilt by the citizens of Mostar. The old town was awesome and we had the best ćevapi I've ever had. Eli agrees:

On the way back we hit up an old Turkish fortress. NBD.

From July 22, 2011
The next day we went out to a national park--the island of Mljet--and kayaked, walked, munched, and sunned. It was grand.

From July 22, 2011

Finally, the day came for us to leave. We took an aweful overnight (10 hours. 9 PM to 7 AM) bus ride all the way back up to Zagreb and then a train up to Ljubljana. There, we met the Woodburys for lunch. Yay. Then we all eventually peeled off and made it back to the airport. I flew back to Stansted, headed to the airport Hilton, took the longest shower of my life, put on clean clothes for the first time in 4 days, and slept. Next stop: Cambridge!