Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Experiencing a European ‘football’ game, and more…

European ‘football’ teams are known to have some of the most loyal and rowdy fans in all of sports. I thought it would be amazing to experience this first hand, and was on my bucket list when I left home.  This weekend we decided to cross it off.

On our flight here Jen, Alexis and I all agreed we would go to a soccer game in Europe before we left. This weekend we went to Swansea, a city in the South of Wales, to accomplish just that. Their brother actually did a semester abroad in Swansea, 8ish(?) years ago and gave us all the hot tips to a weekend in Swansea. While he was here, Swansea was the best team in their league and had some great games. Now Swansea stands near the bottom of the standings, so we weren’t sure how the game would go, but thought it was a great excuse to go explore another city for a weekend.

On Saturday we took the Mega Bus to Swansea, the drive was 2.5 hrs. along the coast then through the mountains. Riding at the top of a double decker bus over and around mountains and valleys with a very jerky European driver, is a unique experience, but hey at least we got some good views! We finally made it to Swansea and the weather was nasty, cold and windy with the hardest rain we’ve had. We all had our rain jackets and were determined to not let it dampen our mood!
Most Seats had cover but there was no roof over the field, 
we were close enough to the field that we got wet

When we were buying our tickets we had a little bit of trouble, so Alexis was sitting by herself and Jen and I were sitting next to each other in the section just next to her, so we weren’t far from each other. We ended up getting really good seats, in the 4th row in line with the goalie box! The stadium was buzzing and we were ready for the game to start. It was cold and windy in the stadium and since were so close to the field we got rained on as well, good thing I bought a Swansea sweatshirt for the extra layer of protection. But would we have gotten the authentic European soccer experience without a little weather. The home crowd wasn’t quite as rowdy as we had expected, but the visiting crowd sang and chanted the whole game. That didn’t stop us from getting into the game and rooting for the home team. While the fan experience didn’t quite live up to our expectations we still had a great time and loved every minute. The next step in my European soccer experience is to watch a Real Madrid game in Spain!!

Saturday night we went to the White Rose pub at the recommendation of the Scheidt’s brother, and we loved the little pub. After dinner, a round of drinks and a game of pool we retired to our hotel. My advice to you is to find hotels on the edge of town, you get a lot more bang for your buck. For £25 a piece we got a 2 bedroom apt, I got a king bed and bathroom to myself, definitely the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in since I left home. (Now would be a good time to mention that I can feel every spring in my bed at Aber)

Sunday, we had no real plans, just to explore the town. We ended up having a pleasingly chill day. After a delicious breakfast of pancakes and bacon at the quaintest little café on the water we walked along the water towards the pier. We walked past the pier and went down into this little rocky bay area that is full during high tide. I was actually a really cool little beach and I’m glad we went out and found this area. Sometimes the best places are ones that you just stumble upon. There were tide pools everywhere with snails, crabs and we even saw a starfish!! Then we walked back and went to the castle, unfortunately it was closed for winter but it was a pretty little castle built in 1140.

Saturday at the pub, a local lady said we needed to go to Castle bay because it was so beautiful. So, after the castle we tried to find this bay, but we couldn’t find any mention of Castle bay anywhere and thought well maybe she was just talking about the castle. When we were googling for other things to do we stumbled upon a mention of Caswell Bay and realized that in her British accent, this is what she was talking about. We got a bus to take us there and it ended up being an amazing beach. It could possibly be the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to, the tide was out so the beach was so long and magnificent. People were riding ponies, playing with their dogs, surfing and going for a hike on the hills and cliffs above. This beach had one of the coolest atmospheres I have ever seen at a beach and had the prettiest views. Both sides of the beach were surrounded by mountainous cliffs, I found a house on the top of one of the cliffs that whenever I win the lottery I'm going to buy and get a couple ponies to ride on the beach. I’ve never been to Australia but I feel like this beach belonged there. Afterward we went back to Swansea and got dinner before catching the Mega Bus back to Aber.

I knew Aber had a storm while I was gone but I didn’t think it was worse than storm Ophelia, so I was in for a Surprise when I got home. When I turned on my street in Aber, I couldn’t believe the amount of rock and sand covering my street. There was a spot of the Promenade that had been washed out and there was sand 5 inches deep on the street in front of my house. They have since used an excavator and backhoe to work on clearing the sand off the street.
This is supposed to be a street, instead it's part of the beach

➹“Oh the things you can find if you don't stay behind.” – Dr. Suess➷

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I got to go to a cow show!!

Big news everyone, I went to a cow show!! You didn't expect me to stay away from cows for too long did you?

I had the opportunity this past weekend to attend the All Breeds All Britain Calf Show near Worcester, England.

The first week I was here I went to a talk on campus about the Holstein UK Young Breeders program. I talked to them about staying involved in the dairy industry while I was here, they had me sign up to be a member and said they would put me in contact with my area club's leader.

Honestly, I hadn't thought much about it since. While I was in Germany I got an email from the girl in charge of South Wales Holstein Young Breeders(HYB) asking me if I would like to tag along with them to the All Breeds All Britain Calf Show. When I returned on Tuesday, I emailed her back and said "of course, I would love to go, when is it?" She replied and said well it was that coming weekend and that I would leave early Friday morning.

Now, on most Fridays I don't have class and it wouldn't be a problem, but 4 times this semester I will have a Friday workshop from 4-6pm. It just so happens that this Friday was the first workshop, so I wasn't sure how I was going to manage this. When I left home, one of my major goals was to get involved in the UK dairy industry and attend a European cow show. I decided that going to a cow show in England is more important to me than going to class. (I can’t count how many times I have missed class at home to be with cows, so I figured why be any different here?) So, I emailed my professor and told him that I really wanted to go to this dairy ‘conference’ and that I would miss the workshop.

Now that I had decided I was going, I had to figure out how I was going to get there! I have no car, I can’t rent a car in Aber, and there is no easy train route to get there. I talked to Jess from the South Wales club and told her I wanted to come but didn’t know how I would get there, and she helped me get a plan together. I was going to take a bus south to Carmarthen early Friday morning and someone was going to pick me up there and take me the rest of the way.

When Friday morning rolled around I got up early to get on a bus at 7:40 to head to Carmarthen. Mind you when I got on this bus I knew barely anything about how this weekend would go, just that I knew I would get to see cows. I didn’t know who was picking me up in Carmarthen, where I would be sleeping, how I would get back to Aber or when I would be able to get home. But sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and trust that it will all work out. My flat mates told me that my plan sounded a little sketchy, but I was determined to go to this cow show! (Embrace the uncertainty, go with the flow.)

I text Jess and told her I would arrive in Carmarthen around 10 am, she sent me someone’s number and said that he would be passing by Carmarthen about that time. When I got to Carmarthen I text him and he picked me up and we were on our way, his name was Ifan and he was about my age and was very nice. We drove about 2.5 more hours before we reached the fairgrounds. When we got there, I helped them get the stalls ready, then unload, wash and feed the heifers.

The truck/trailer the calves were hauled on
South Wales Holstein string

Northern Ireland's Stalls

This show is a little different than most, there are 20 clubs of HYB including clubs from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. For the Holstein show each club qualifies 1 heifer per class plus colored breed heifers that qualify. South Wales brought a total of 16 heifers. The club then travels together and stalls as a group instead of by farms. So, club members take care of the calves together and pretty much come and go when they can and they know others will take care of their animals. For me this was really weird, we took care of people’s calves all weekend for them to show up Sunday to walk her in the ring. But it was also nice because I got to help out a lot and work with the heifers.

Ignore my shadow, but 5 of us slept in this tiny camper

On Friday night, it was getting late and I was tired but I still wasn’t sure where I was supposed to sleep. I finally figured out there was a spot for me in the caravan (small camper) but I still had no idea where the caravan was parked. Finally, one of the guys showed me where to go and there were 5 of us that stayed in this tiny camper.

My favorite thing is the hats they wear with their numbers
Saturday was showmanship classes. Each club qualified 1 person in each class, ages 12-26. They take showmanship a lot more seriously here than we do at home and their showmanship is perfect, they pretty much look for the same things we do. All day I helped watch the calves and get them ready. I also got to watch a lot of the show. Saturday night I was told there would be an exhibitor’s party, but I didn’t really know what to expect.

One thing Dairy farmers all over the world agree on is, it’s not a proper show without copious amounts of alcohol involved. I was surprised by the choice of beer though, I thought it would be some European beer, but no, they like American Budweiser. Saturday night they brought in a DJ and a booze truck (yes, a booze truck) in the last aisle of the barn and had a proper party. It was funny though because there were people aged 12-60 out on the dance floor.

Sunday was the actual show, at this show there are only heifers and they have them split into 6 classes, age breaks are way different than they are at home, and there were 20 heifers per class. The Holstein judge was from Switzerland and the Swiss judge was actually Ifan’s (the guy that gave me a ride) dad. All day I went back and forth from watching the show to helping get the calves ready in the barn. In the barn they had a whole aisle with lights and chutes that everyone used to fit the calves. Around 3:30 they picked all the breed champions, but they didn’t pick a supreme champion. We got all the cows back on the trailer and were ready to head out.

Ifan gave me a ride back to Carmarthen, luckily, we were early enough that I was able to catch the last bus back to Aber. I had to wait in Carmarthen for about 30 minutes before getting on the double decker megabus to arrive in Aber at about 9:30. It was a really great weekend and I am so glad that I took the chance and went on the adventure.

Side note: Over here 1st place gets a red ribbon and 2nd gets a blue ribbon. I know, weird right?

Hurricane Ophelia

On Monday, Wales got the hit by the outer edges of hurricane Ophelia. Ophelia hit Ireland, and Northern Ireland hard before going just North of us and hitting Scotland. We got some high winds and rough waters. We had wind gusts around 50 mph Monday afternoon, the university cancelled all Monday afternoon classes and activities. We also had some really huge waves. I live right on the coast so I was able to watch all the action from my kitchen. Sarah, Kamara and I probably sat on our kitchen table for 3 hrs. watching the waves and all the stupid people that got too close. Waves were crashing over the promenade wall and bringing sand, rocks and seaweed up on the sidewalk and street. We went downstairs and there was literally seaweed on our front steps. The coastguard finally came out and tried to get all the people off the street. As far as I know no one was really injured and everything is fine! Look at the video I shared on facebook to get a glimpse of what was happening!!

➹“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” – Margaret Shepard➷

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Our first Adventure: Stuttgart, Germany

Brace Yourself, this one's a long one!! 

This past weekend Jenifer and Alexis Scheidt and I took a trip to Stuttgart, Germany as our first official European adventure, and let me tell you it was quite the adventure!!

We didn’t start planning until about a week before the trip, and this should be obvious but my trip planning tip #1: start planning earlier. We waited this long because we had to wait until we got our class schedule to book our flight, luckily none of us have class on Friday so we could leave Thursday evening. Since we are in Aberystwyth and it takes a while to get anywhere we ended up leaving in the afternoon, and oops I had to skip a class, and for those of you who know me well know that I have no problem skipping class (now don’t take that the wrong way, I still have good grades and do my work, I just am able to get away with it. So, for all you youngsters out there, do as I say and not as I do, go to class). Although this time I was a little more worried because it was my first class in this subject and I’m not sure what all the rules are yet. But, I decided a weekend in Germany was more important than 1 class. So, I went with it and here is a recap of our German adventure!

Thursday, October 5:

We got on the train in Aber at 1:30 this afternoon to begin our weekend. A 3-hour scenic train ride, 2 flights, with a layover in Zürich (I got a Swiss stamp my passport😁😁) we landed in Stuttgart Germany at 11 pm. We had booked an apartment with Air BnB that was in a suburb of Stuttgart called Leonburg (travel tip #2 use air BnB to find cheap place to stay). Now, it was late and we didn’t want to figure out public transport this late so we got a taxi. The apartment was quite fancy and the view from the patio was beautiful. The trees are changing color and the hills reminded me of Nashville

**Now before I start on Friday I should tell you why we chose Stuttgart of all places for our first trip, I mean you probably have never hear of it. We heard about the Stuttgart Cannstatter (aka Volkfest, aka Oktoberfest). Cannstatter is a more local, more traditional version of Munich’s Oktoberfest. While Oktoberfest in Munich has be come very touristy, Cannstatter holds more of the true German tradition and has been happening since the 1800’s where it started as a harvest festival and has turned into a huge festival that attracts millions of people over 16 days. So, this was the main reason we traveled for hours to visits lesser known area of Germany.

Friday, October 6:

Today was our first full day in Germany and we were going to spend it at Cannstatter. We left our apartment to try our hand at public transportation (travel tip #3: figure out public transportation, its way cheaper than using a taxi every time). We got very lucky, because when we asked someone for directions, we found an extremely nice man that became our hero for the day. He was heading the same direction as us and helped us out and explained the trains and busses to us. We took 1 bus and 2 trains to get to the festival, once we got to the last train station the man told us to follow the people in the leather pants. At first that really confused us but when we got there we knew what he meant. At this festival most people dress up in traditional German Lederhosen, so we followed the crowd and found the festival. To say I was surprised is an understatement, the place was ginormous.(travel tip #4: enter every adventure with an open mind, it's fun to be surprised) 
The grounds from the top of a Ferris wheel

The grounds were at least twice the size of my county fairgrounds and was filled to the brim with rides, food stands, and ‘tents’. Now we were told to go to the tents to join the party and get food and drinks. The word tent greatly understates the size, they each hold a few thousand people (there were like 8 tents) and are decorated immaculately like huge wooden barns decked out for huge party (no joke one of the tents had a disco ball 6 feet in diameter)

We found a tent and went in to get something to eat, I got half a roast chicken and bread along with a liter of festival beer (yes you read that right they sell the beer by the liter). We sat down next to a couple German girls and befriended them, we then met a group of people from Switzerland and we all hung together for the night. It was like one big party and the tent was packed full, we stayed until about 10pm drinking, singing along and dancing on the tables alongside all the locals.(Travel Tip #5: interact with the locals, its the best way to get the real experience, blend in, don't be a tourist, be a traveler) We had so much fun and were extremely happy with our choice of Cannstatter instead of Oktoberfest. Just to get an idea of what its like, you tube it, and then add it to your bucket list.

The tent at Cannstatter, and our new friends

Saturday, October 7:

We decided to leave Cannstatter on a high note and see what else the city hard to offer. We got a late start this morning but made our way downtown and decided to try out the local Wilhelma Botanical Garden and Zoo. They gardens were beautiful and they had thousands of species of plants, they also had all the big animals like elephants and giraffes. After the zoo we went back to the city center and ate at a delicious German restaurant, and walked around the shopping center of town (guys, they had a TJ MAXX 3 stories big!!). I couldn’t leave Germany with out a new pair of Birkenstocks, I now have 2 pairs of sandals over here and the temperature won’t get above 55 again🤔, oh well. (Travel Tip #6: ALWAYS wear comfortable shoes)

I'll always find the seahorses

Sunday, October 8:

So today we were supposed to head back home (‘supposed’ being the key word but I’ll get to that later). We just explored the suburb of Leonburg today before heading to the airport.

 When I was checking in at the airport they couldn’t find my reservation so I showed them my confirmation, and the check-in lady looked at me like I’m stupid and said “you’re flight isn’t until tomorrow, Monday” I was like what, no way.  But it’s true guys, I’m the idiot that booked a flight on the wrong day… in my defense, their calendar is set up weird. So, after talking to like 10 people I realized unless I wanted to pay way too much I was stuck with my Monday evening flight. But hey, I get an extra day in Germany.( Travel Tip #7: Double Check, Triple Check and then check again)

I headed to the info for desk and they helped me book a hostel back downtown. I went back to Stuttgart, got dinner and a drink before calling it a night.

Monday, October 9:
The palace in the city center

My extra day in Stuttgart. I decided to go downtown and book a full city tour, I learned a couple interesting facts. Fact about Stuttgart: the very first automobile was invented right here in Stuttgart, and after that the whole town was built on Mercedes-Benz. Everywhere you look you can see the Mercedes-Benz star, they have a Mercedes-Benz museum as well as a Porsche museum. They really love their cars here. I then needed to head to the airport.

Looking over Stuttgart

So, 2 flights later I landed in Birmingham at 9:30 pm. Unfortunately, the last train to Aber left at 8, so I was stuck in Birmingham for the night.

Tuesday morning, I caught the train back to Aber. The train got in at 11:20, I ran to my flat, switched bags and ran back to the station to catch the 11:50 bus to class. I walked in with a minute to spare.

 (Travel tip #8: Don't let the little things set you back, go with the flow and take everything in stride, you can make a million plans and then plans always change)

I had quite the adventurous weekend but what’s an experience without a couple bumps in the road.

➹“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” – African Proverb➷