The End of an Era

By the time I post this I’ll probably be at London Heathrow, preparing to leave England. I left Southampton on Saturday, made my way to the Holiday Inn at Heathrow and enjoyed not having to rush to the gate and board my plane. The staff here has been wonderful and even gave me a free drink voucher because my room needed 5 more minutes to be ready. Not going to complain about that!

But what’s really going through my head is this emotional tug of war battle. On the one hand, I am overly excited to head back to the US. I have never appreciated what we have more than after living here and learning about what my friends from other countries have. In the least cliche way possible, I am very proud to be an American. I’m also over the moon excited to see my family and friends…and dog. It’s been almost 9 months since I was last home, and a whole year since I started this journey, and I’m looking forward to reuniting with those who supported my decision to pursue a master’s degree.

On the other hand, my heart is breaking. This past year has been one of the most amazing years of my life. Full stop. Period. I have met some of the most interesting, courageous, caring people that will always hold a special place in my heart. They have taught me so many things, both in and out of the classroom and library settings! I can not imagine that this past year would have been as impactful as it was had those people not been a part of it.

While I try to figure out if I’m really happy or not about leaving, I’ve reflected a bit on myself. This year has brought many firsts into my life, including:
-Living in a foreign country for an entire year
-Traveling alone, to places where I don’t speak the language, eating alone, and making myself talk to others in the hostels
-Opening my mind to the world
-Giving football (soccer) a chance, and actually enjoying it
-Not being afraid to put myself out there and live a little

It has also taught me many things, such as:
-Understanding how hard English is for those who do not to speak it as their first language
-Stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. You have to give people a chance no matter who they are or where they come from

And these are just some of the initials things I thought of over my wine and pizza last night. As the days pass, I find a job and move on with my life, I know this past year will play a huge role into my personal and professional development.

So, to my new friends, I love you and miss you already. To my friends and family in the USA, see you all very, very soon!

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Time to start blogging again!

It has been far too long since my last post, and since then, so much has happened:

  1. I finished my second and final semester of my postgraduate programme:  After Easter break, I turned in a total of 10 different assignments, which was more intense that I had originally anticipated.  Some were individual, others group and all took an excessive amount of effort to finish.  I could calculate approximately how many words I wrote, but I might frighten you.  Second semester turned out to be a bit better than the first, but there were still roadblocks along the way.  If you’re reading this, and considering coming to England to study from another country, just know that the teaching style here will probably be different than what you’re used to.  I’ve spent more hours teaching myself this year than I could have imagined.  While this is not entirely a bad thing, I wasn’t prepared for this, making the entire years a complete learning curve.  But, I did learn a great deal over the past 8 months.  I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in any one subject, but I do have a better understanding about a wide variety of digital marketing areas.
  1. I started my dissertation: Just when I thought my days were going to be a little easier…bam!  My proposal was approved, I received a supervisor and was off and rolling.  I’m really enjoying my topic so far and have been told it could really add some new knowledge to the marketing industry.  Who knows, maybe it will! More on my dissertation later, but don’t want to get ahead of myself.  Here’s a little hint…it’s all about hashtags!
  1. I spent 17 days traveling around Ireland, England and Scotland:  After handing in my last assignment, I had a few days to relax before catching a 6:50am flight from Southampton to Dublin to meet my parents.  While they had some issues (cancelled flight out of Chicago and unfriendly employees of an airline that will not be named), I made it to one of my favourite cities without any issues.  This trip was a great experience for the three of us, though I think my parents were pretty tuckered out by the time they returned how.  Admittedly, I was too! More posts and pictures to come on this trip in the coming days.

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I have no excuses anymore to not blog regularly.  In fact, blogging will probably help me clear my brain of my dissertation research and everything else that is going on.  Be on the lookout for posts about  the rest of my trip to Germany, most recent travels and any other new and exciting adventures I have from now on.

There’s a First Time for Everything!

Well folks, today’s the day I step WAY out of my comfort and take my first solo trip. That’s right, solo, as in alone, by myself, no one accompanying me…you get the idea.

Now, if you know me or have read through my blog posts, you’re probably thinking: “Wait, didn’t you go to ASU for your undergrad not knowing anyone? Didn’t you move to Rome, Italy for 6 months? Don’t you currently live in England?” Yes, yes and yes. But, I wasn’t completely on my own in any of those places as they were all for academic purposes and I knew I’d meet people pretty quickly.

This is different. Today, I’m sitting in London Heathrow T1, enjoying a coffee and muffin from Pret and awaiting my flight to Berlin, Germany.

Germany has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Some of my ancestors are German or Prussian. Also, when it comes to history, one of my favourite time periods to study was, and is WWII, which includes the concentration camps and Holocaust.  There are so many memorials and museums dedicated to this time period that it only makes sense that I visit.  Aside from history, I do enjoy a glass, pint or litre of beer from time to time and what better place to experience a proper Beer Hall than in Munich?!

So, over the next 9 days, I’ll travel to Berlin and Munich to experience a brand new culture and way of life. I’m excited, a little nervous, but ready to see what this country throws my way. Stay tuned for updates from my German adventures!

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A Saturday in Salisbury

Another day, another adventure.  Last Saturday, I ventured a bit north to Salisbury.  Officially a city in 1220, Salisbury has so much history to offer visitors.

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Two of my course mates, Shaddy and Bianca, and I set off early Saturday morning for the train station.  After a quick stop in Eastleigh to change trains, we headed through the countryside towards Salisbury.  With the more-than-average rain we’ve been having, the fields and forests contained lush, green life.

Unfortunately, with rain in the forecast for later that day, we knew we’d be lucky to just stay dry under the cold, gray clouds.   As we left the Salisbury train station, we found a few different rivers running through the city.  There are actually 5 rivers come together, or, the confluence (word of the day!) of 5 rivers.

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Where there’s a river, there’s a path, which is usually prettier than the main streets.  So we followed and, just like Winchester, the high waters rushed by us.

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With a few twists and turns, we came across the Salisbury Cathedral, the main reason for our visit.  Completed in 1258, the Salisbury Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in the UK and also an impressive example of early English architecture.

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From a distance, the grandness of the cathedral was overwhelming.  Taking a closer look, the amount of detail on the exterior was extraordinary with statues lining the walls.

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Walking in, we were blown away by the openness of the cathedral.  We explored the tombs of past bishops and other dignitaries as well as ancient devices such as a working clock dating back to 1386.   Another impressive item was the organ, stretching around the cathedral.

IMG_1846 IMG_1849 IMG_1853The longer we were in the cathedral, the more the sun started to break through the clouds outside.  To our advantage, we were able to experience the beauty of the stained glass windows from within.

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We noticed a sign that said the Queen of England visited Salisbury Cathedral during her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.  This was picture worthy, of course, because I didn’t know the next time I’d be at a place where the Queen had recently been!

IMG_1867Walking out of the cathedral was joyous as we were welcomed by blue skies and sunshine.  Though there were absolutely zero warmth from that big ball of fire in the sky, I’ll take sunshine over clouds any day!   The sunshine gave us a whole different perspective of the cathedral’s exterior, making it even more magnificent than when we first arrived.

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From the cathedral, we took a walk around the city.  Since it was Saturday, there was a large open market in the main square, which included produce, meats and cheese, freshly made donuts, clothes and shoes and everything else in-between.

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After a bite at a delicious Italian restaurant, we noticed the weather was taking a turn for the worst – dark clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped.  So, we headed back to the train station to make our way back to Southampton.

In 2010, I visited Salisbury on a tour to Stonehenge.  The only site we saw during this tour was the cathedral so it was nice to see a little more of the city.  Though small, Salisbury still had a unique charm to it.

Off to the Isle of Wight

With a week of break ahead of us, a group of my classmates and I decided to take advantage of another sunny day and head to the Isle of Wight.

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The Isle of Wight is England’s largest island (which is funny since England is an island itself but, I digress). Queen Victoria chose the Isle of Wight as her summer retreat and would spend periods of time at the Osborne House.  The Beatles even included this island in their song, “When I’m Sixty-Four”.   Also, since it is an island, you can’t forget about its boat making history and dinosaur fossils.  For a small island, it has a lot to offer.

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Unfortunately, Mondays in January are not the time to visit the Isle of Wight since most of the museums and shops were closed.  Nevertheless, we took the quick 25-minute ferry ride from Southampton to the city of East Cowes.

IMG_1693Once off the ferry, we started exploring the town.  As most of the shops were closed, we stayed close to the shoreline.

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We ran into a few quick rain showers but it eventually cleared up and the rest of the day consisted of sunshine and steady temperatures.

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From East Cowes we grabbed the 1 bus and headed to the main city on the island – Newport.  Here, we found the action – people out and about working, shopping and going about their day-to-day business.  I must say I was quite surprised to see so many people.  On a map, the island looks pretty small.  But, in reality, looks can be deceiving!

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After wondering the streets and finding a beautiful church, we settled on some pizza and pasta before grabbing the 7 bus and heading to Alum Bay on the far west side of the island.

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From our estimation, it should have taken about an hour from Newport to Alum Bay.  Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.  At one point, the bus driver came over the intercom to say our bus wasn’t working properly and she’d have to shut it off.  A few minutes later she had it going again and we proceed…but only for a few more minutes.  Like any island, there are very few main roads and when one is under construction, all are affected.  We sat at a standstill for a good 20 minutes waiting for our turn to pass.  Thankfully, we found ways to entertain ourselves.

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After a few more detours, we finally reached Alum Bay but only to be told that the bus we were getting off of was the last bus on the night.  Not what you want to hear when it’s getting dark and the next town with bus services is at least a 20 minute walk up the road.  As a group, we decided to take our chances and raced to The Needles to catch a glimpse of the final moments of the sunset.

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After the sun set, we were trying to come up with a plan for getting back to the ferry.  Out of nowhere, we noticed a bus coming towards us.  Guess there was one more bus after all!  I raced towards it to make sure he saw us and didn’t leave without us.  Pause for a moment – I hate running, so for me to run for anything is a big deal!  Thankfully, we made the bus and were able to grab a ferry back to Southampton.

Another great day trip!  Though many of the attractions were closed, we still had a great day.  Can’t wait to go back in the spring or summer and experience more of the Isle of Wight!

Learning to Make Baklava

Now, let me start with…I don’t have a hint of Greek in me.  I’m born and raised American with Polish, Prussian, German, French-Canadian and Native American ancestors.  Quite a mix, but no Greek to be found.

Nevertheless, yesterday I learned to make a very traditional Greek treat, Baklava.

My mom’s friend Trudy comes from a Greek background and has been making Baklava for years.  As a child, she learned from her Yaya and has kept the tradition alive since.  She came to our house on Monday morning with a bag of materials and the recipe stored safely in her head.  This baffled me, as I almost never bake without a set recipe in front of me.  Trudy, on the other hand, goes off of what feels right and the motto, “this is how Yaya made it!”

To start, we needed: walnuts, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, butter (LOTS of butter!), lemon peel and honey.

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We started by grinding the walnuts with a nut grind.  I’d never seen one of these before but apparently you can buy them at any home goods store.  By using a hand-powered nut grinder, you get just the right ratio of walnut pieces to walnut powder as well as more consistently sized walnut chunks.

IMG_1398 Sugar, cinnamon and ground cloves were then added to the walnut mixture and set aside.

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Next, a pound, yes, a POUND of butter was melted in a microwave-safe bowl.

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From there, the layering began!  To save time, we used premade Phyllo, or Filo, dough that was cut and ready to go.  We buttered the pan and added 6-8 layers of Phyllo dough with, of course, butter between each layer.

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Then, sprinkled the nut mixture evenly and added two more layers of dough.  Nuts, Phyllo, butter, nuts Phyllo, butter…repeated until the nut mixture ran out.  Then it was on to alternating Phyllo and butter until the Phyllo was gone.

IMG_1413 IMG_1414 Baklava must be evenly cut before it’s baked.  We used a flexible ruler to cut diamond-shaped pieces.  Why diamonds?  As Trudy told us, “that’s just how you cut baklava.”

IMG_1417 IMG_1419 We baked the baklava, “until it looks right.”  This meant a golden brown top with the dough baking away from the sides of the pan.

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As the baklava baked we created the simple syrup for the top and between the layers.  While water, 4 cups of sugar and cinnamon sticks boiled on the stove, we took whole cloves and stuck them into lemon peels.  This eliminated the problem of fishing the cloves from the mixture later.

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After the syrup came to a boil, it had to reach 220°F before adding in the honey.

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Once the baklava came out of the oven, we poured the honey mixture on top to fill in all the crevices.  Unfortunately, this sweet treat has to sit overnight so the pastry could thoroughly absorb the honey mixture.

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So, we had baklava for breakfast today, which was totally worth the wait!  The sweetness of the honey mixture with the spiced nuts and flaky dough was the perfect way to start this cold, December day.

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Thank you Trudy, for sharing your family recipe with us during this holiday season!

Le Petit Parisien in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland.  The land St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness, green grass and….French pastries?  Yes, French pastries.  Le Petit Parisien is a quaint coffee shop/bakery/cafe located in the heart of Dublin.  My aunt, uncle and cousin stumbled upon it the day before I arrived and, not knowing we were in the same place the next day, we stumbled upon it again.  With the rain starting to come down harder, and a very enticing window display, it was the perfect excuse to take cover for some breakfast.

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But not just any breakfast.  Sitting in a cozy window seat surrounded by Christmas music and holiday spirit, we started out with one of the best cappuccinos I’ve had.  Now, I spent 6 months in Italy back in 2010, so I’ve had my fair share of cappuccinos, and this one is hard to beat!

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My cousin, who is not a fan of coffees or cappuccinos, opted for a hot chocolate instead.  They served it to him in a glass where the first 3/4 was milk and the bottom was filled with chocolate, allowing him to mix it himself.

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With hot drinks in our hands, we were served pastry after pastry after pastry.  While my uncle ordered porridge, my cousin and I ordered fruit scones with homemade strawberry jam.

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My aunt, having had a scone the day before, went big and ordered the  vanilla cream pastry that caught her eye from the window.

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Seeing as it’s the holiday season, and I’ve seen mince pies everywhere for weeks, we decided to try one.  A mince pie is a fruit-based mincemeat sweet pie served during the Christmas season.  Having no idea what it was going to taste like, I was pleasantly surprised with its sweet, spiced flavour and flaky crust.

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If you’re in Dublin, and looking for an amazing breakfast with a cozy atmosphere, I highly recommend you check out Le Petit Parisien.  For more information, check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LPPCafe.