I just wrote about my favorite moment in Disney World. I got to watch my sweet little sister Caroline experience all sorts of magic, and I think that’s what’s so nifty about Disney.

I just wrote about my favorite moment in Disney World. I got to watch my sweet little sister Caroline experience all sorts of magic, and I think that’s what’s so nifty about Disney.

Bratislava, Slovakia
It’s a bit random out of all the places I could go to, but I found a really cheap flight to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, and I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. I arrived here yesterday morning and I’ll head back to Birmingham tomorrow morning to be home in time for my afternoon class. (Despite all of the travelling I’ve done, I haven’t missed any classes yet this year; my schedule is nice this semester because after my Monday classes finish at 5, I don’t have any classes until Thursday at 4.)
Bratislava is a strange mixture of real life and fairy tale. The princess in me focused mostly on the fairy tale aspect of the city. The first thing I did when I arrived here was wander through town until I found Bratislava Castle. Despite being extremely old, it looks new and pristine. (Construction began in the 9th century, and though it fell into disrepair throughout the years, it’s recently been renovated.) The clean white building was quite a contrast to the crumbling gray castles of the UK.
Slovakia has more castles than any other county in the world, and if I ever come back, I would love to see more of them. I’ve also heard that Slovakia’s countryside is absolutely gorgeous, so I would love to see that in the summer. From the castle, I had a great view of the New Bridge, which houses an observation deck and the UFO restaurant, going over the Danube. I could see the city sprawled out beneath me in a combination of red-roof houses and eclectic buildings. Because the city isn’t that big, I could also see the countryside beyond the city limits.
Now that I had an orientation of the city, I made my way to the historic city centre and explored the quaint, cobblestoned alleys that are flanked by shops, restaurants, and many, many cafes.
My favourite quirk is all of the statues you’ll find in Bratislava. And they’re not just boring statues of royalty; they’re the most interesting statues I’ve ever seen! There’s one of Napoleon leaning on a park bench, a photographer in the act of taking a photo, an eccentric man offering up his top hat (this one was based on a real guy who used to go around the streets singing and wearing his signature top hat), a man emerging from the sewers, a woman offering roses, a woman with scary red eyes surrounded by evil-looking birds, a random set of snakes perched on a rock, a man pointing in disbelief to something above (the building he is pointing to has a giant silver ear on the side—I’m not sure if this was coincidence or intended, but either way it made me smile), and I’m sure there are many others. It’s details like these that make Bratislava a fun city.
The official language here is Slovak, though there is a significant amount of people who speak English. The people here are very friendly, even with the language difference. When I was in the queue at the market, a woman in front of me with a very full cart said something in Slovak and then gestured that I should go in front of her since I only had a few things. Luckily, I know a few Slovak phrases, so I was able to thank her with a D’akujem. And when the cleaning lady came into my hostel room this morning, she was surprised that I said D’akujem to her as I was leaving, but she smiled and replied Prosím. A lot of the people at the hostel are from non-Slovak speaking countries, so they speak their own language as well as some English (that’s usually the language to know when you travel anywhere in the world), but the staff here probably aren’t used to seeing many people who speak any Slovak.
As is necessary in any new country, I paid a visit to the market for some pastries and chocolate; things are really cheap here, so I treated myself to a variety. In the bakery section, everything was labelled in Slovak, so I blindly chose what looked most interesting/delicious. I used the same method for the chocolate, though I knew roughly what I was getting based on the pictures on the wrappers. My instinct was good; everything turned out to be wonderful.
There is a huge coffee shop culture here, so I went out this morning to experience it for myself. All of the cafes have signs that advertise “coffee to go” for less than a euro, so even when the barista doesn’t speak English, they understand that simple request. I walked around in the chilly morning sun, sipping my coffee-to-go. I’m happy to announce that Slovak coffee is absolutely delicious.
It’s almost noon here, so I’m going to go find something interesting for lunch and then explore some more!
Love, Elizabeth
P.S. I’ll post more photos when I get back home!

Bratislava, Slovakia

It’s a bit random out of all the places I could go to, but I found a really cheap flight to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, and I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. I arrived here yesterday morning and I’ll head back to Birmingham tomorrow morning to be home in time for my afternoon class. (Despite all of the travelling I’ve done, I haven’t missed any classes yet this year; my schedule is nice this semester because after my Monday classes finish at 5, I don’t have any classes until Thursday at 4.)

Bratislava is a strange mixture of real life and fairy tale. The princess in me focused mostly on the fairy tale aspect of the city. The first thing I did when I arrived here was wander through town until I found Bratislava Castle. Despite being extremely old, it looks new and pristine. (Construction began in the 9th century, and though it fell into disrepair throughout the years, it’s recently been renovated.) The clean white building was quite a contrast to the crumbling gray castles of the UK.

Slovakia has more castles than any other county in the world, and if I ever come back, I would love to see more of them. I’ve also heard that Slovakia’s countryside is absolutely gorgeous, so I would love to see that in the summer. From the castle, I had a great view of the New Bridge, which houses an observation deck and the UFO restaurant, going over the Danube. I could see the city sprawled out beneath me in a combination of red-roof houses and eclectic buildings. Because the city isn’t that big, I could also see the countryside beyond the city limits.

Now that I had an orientation of the city, I made my way to the historic city centre and explored the quaint, cobblestoned alleys that are flanked by shops, restaurants, and many, many cafes.

My favourite quirk is all of the statues you’ll find in Bratislava. And they’re not just boring statues of royalty; they’re the most interesting statues I’ve ever seen! There’s one of Napoleon leaning on a park bench, a photographer in the act of taking a photo, an eccentric man offering up his top hat (this one was based on a real guy who used to go around the streets singing and wearing his signature top hat), a man emerging from the sewers, a woman offering roses, a woman with scary red eyes surrounded by evil-looking birds, a random set of snakes perched on a rock, a man pointing in disbelief to something above (the building he is pointing to has a giant silver ear on the side—I’m not sure if this was coincidence or intended, but either way it made me smile), and I’m sure there are many others. It’s details like these that make Bratislava a fun city.

The official language here is Slovak, though there is a significant amount of people who speak English. The people here are very friendly, even with the language difference. When I was in the queue at the market, a woman in front of me with a very full cart said something in Slovak and then gestured that I should go in front of her since I only had a few things. Luckily, I know a few Slovak phrases, so I was able to thank her with a D’akujem. And when the cleaning lady came into my hostel room this morning, she was surprised that I said D’akujem to her as I was leaving, but she smiled and replied Prosím. A lot of the people at the hostel are from non-Slovak speaking countries, so they speak their own language as well as some English (that’s usually the language to know when you travel anywhere in the world), but the staff here probably aren’t used to seeing many people who speak any Slovak.

As is necessary in any new country, I paid a visit to the market for some pastries and chocolate; things are really cheap here, so I treated myself to a variety. In the bakery section, everything was labelled in Slovak, so I blindly chose what looked most interesting/delicious. I used the same method for the chocolate, though I knew roughly what I was getting based on the pictures on the wrappers. My instinct was good; everything turned out to be wonderful.

There is a huge coffee shop culture here, so I went out this morning to experience it for myself. All of the cafes have signs that advertise “coffee to go” for less than a euro, so even when the barista doesn’t speak English, they understand that simple request. I walked around in the chilly morning sun, sipping my coffee-to-go. I’m happy to announce that Slovak coffee is absolutely delicious.

It’s almost noon here, so I’m going to go find something interesting for lunch and then explore some more!

Love, Elizabeth

P.S. I’ll post more photos when I get back home!

Loch Ness

Because we had already seen pretty much all of Inverness, Molly and I took a bus to Loch Ness on Thursday. The weather was incredibly warm, and we enjoyed walking around without our coats. We looked for the Loch Ness Monster, but unfortunately, Nessie didn’t make an appearance that day.

Loch Ness is definitely on my list of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The amazing weather made it even more gorgeous. Just look at the sky in the pictures! I think the clouds are the prettiest part of British weather.

I can’t decide which photos to choose of Loch Ness, so I’m just going to share all of them. Here’s the first batch!

Love, Elizabeth

Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle

On Tuesday morning, Bridget and I went to Stonehaven, which is a quiet sea town about twenty minutes from Aberdeen. We walked from the train station through the town centre. It was quaint with a lot of pink rose granite houses mixed in with the gray granite. The town is full of retirement homes and bed and breakfasts, so there was a relaxed, sleepy feel to it. We made our way to the beach, climbed up the cliff, and followed the coast a few miles until we got to Dunnottar Castle perched on a cliff over the sea. It’s now in ruins, but it’s still partially intact and open for those who want to tour it. 

The sea was absolutely beautiful. While the water at Aberdeen was indistinguishable from the gray sky, the ocean here had a slight bluish tint that made it stand out from the clouds at the horizon. The tall brown cliffs were covered in overgrown grass, and in some parts black rock formations at the bottom of the cliff turned into caves. It felt like something I’d seen in a British-themed film (First Knight, anyone?), and I was so glad to have had the opportunity to see it all!

Love, Elizabeth

First day in Edinburgh

Birmingham by night

Dan got back to Birmingham yesterday, which was really nice. I had worked on my essay all afternoon, and by the time he got here, I was feeling a little run down. He could tell I needed to get out, so he suggested that we go see a movie or have a coffee at Starbucks or whatever I wanted. It was already dark outside, and I decided that it would be nice to see the stars.

So we took the train to Longbridge, on the outskirts of Birmingham. From there we took a bus a little bit farther to Lickey Hills, which is eleven miles away from Birmingham’s city centre. Although it was dark, the clouds were reflecting enough of the city’s light that we could see well enough to find a path to climb up the hill. The path was very winding, so it took us about fifteen minutes to get to the top of the hill. When we finally did, we had a beautiful view of all of Birmingham. We also had a view of the hill just next to us, which was taller than the one we were on. We decided that we should definitely go climb the taller hill.

We found a path down the first hill and discovered that we needed to walk across a golf course in order to get to the other hill. As we walked through the golf course, we saw someone with a flashlight in the distance. For some reason, we thought that it was a police officer or something (it was only about 6pm, but I think we were paranoid because it was so dark out, and it felt like we were breaking all sorts of rules being there), so we ran and hid behind some trees until the person had passed, and then we sneakily made our way to the base of the hill. We got there, but then we couldn’t find a good path to climb it, because so many of the trees and plants were overgrown.

All of a sudden, we saw the person with the flashlight just behind us, so we charged through the bushes and sprinted up the hill. Afraid that the policeman was right behind us, we kept running until we were about halfway up the hill. We slowed down for the rest of the way, and when we found a bench near the top of the hill, we sat down for a few minutes to catch our breath. Then we moved on to a clearing, where we saw a small castle thing, which looks like this during the day (photo courtesy of Wikipedia):

Lickey Hills Toposcope

We climbed into it and looked across all of Birmingham. The expanse of glittering lights was beautiful, and we could just barely see the city centre in the distance. It was pretty warm out, and I had worked up a sweat running up the hill, so it almost felt like that nice temperature of existence, where you don’t notice that it’s hot or cold. The night was cloudy, so I didn’t get to see the stars, but every once in a while, the full moon would pop out from behind the clouds. It was so beautiful, and I think Dan and I each had a spiritual moment from the view. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night.

There were other people on the hill, and we realized that the person we had seen with the flashlight was probably not a policeman but just a park-goer who had been practical enough to bring a torch to see in the dark. But I think we’re still pretending it was a vicious police officer with a lust for blood; we just barely escaped his wrath.

This particular hill was called Beacon Hill, because at one point it was part of the countrywide network of beacons. There were men keeping watch day and night, and if they saw a threat of invasion (or if they saw a beacon from one of the surrounding hills), they would send out a beacon to warn others. I love that so much of England has some form of history attached to it. In the States, a hill is usually just a hill, but at the same time, I don’t think I paid as much attention; when I do get back home, I’d like to make it my goal to keep my eyes open for things like that.

Love, Elizabeth

P.S. I’m making pretty good progress on my essays, but I probably won’t make another post until after I turn in the essay that’s due on Wednesday. Until then, I love you all!

Historic York

York Minster: This really big cathedral is a good example of Gothic architecture. It’s the seat of the Archbishop of York, which is the second-highest office in the Church of England, just after the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first recorded church on this site was very quickly built in 627 so that Edwin, King of Northumbria would have a place to be baptized. This was replaced by other churches, and York Minster is the latest among these, with building of it starting in 1220. Remember how I said Whitby Abbey was destroyed by Henry VIII when he decided he didn’t like Catholicism? The reason he didn’t go after this cathedral is that this wasn’t part of a monastery, so he left it alone. I didn’t have a chance to go inside this cathedral, but you can see from the pictures that even just the outside is overwhelmingly impressive.

Jorvik: This is the Viking museum. Vikings are a really big part of York’s history, which is reflected in many of the things you can find in York today. For example, the street called Coppergate was called that because “gate” means “street” and it was a street where the Viking cup-makers (“copper”) lived and worked. I also learned quite a few more things from the museum. It was a very kid-friendly museum, so it was all pretty easy to understand, but it didn’t go into as much depth as I think it could have. I didn’t know much about England’s Viking history before, so this was a good starting point, but I’d love to read a book to learn more about it.

City Walls: York has been defended by walls since Roman times, as were many other English cities, but York has more miles of intact wall than any other city. Molly and I walked along a good portion of this, passing by many of the gates (which are actually called bars, because “gate” means “street”). It’s always so strange to think of the history behind things like that—at one point, the people walking along that wall were fully armed and alert to any danger that might be coming from the other side of the wall.

York Castle: The first castle on this site was a wooden castle built by William the Conqueror in 1068. The Vikings attacked a few years later and burned down a lot of York. By 1086, William had rebuilt the castle (again a wooden one) and fortified it with a moat. The castle was rebuilt, fell into ruins, was repaired, and underwent many other changes and saw a lot of history before becoming the structure that you can see today.

Love, Elizabeth

Cardiff, Wales Cardiff is the Welsh capital and also the largest city in Wales (10th largest city in the UK), but its population is only slightly larger than Cincinnati’s.

My hostel was right in the middle of the city centre and when I walked outside, I could see Cardiff Castle just at the end of the street. This castle started out as a Roman fort in 55 AD, and it was beautiful and impressive. I didn’t have a chance to go inside, but just seeing it from outside was incredible.

Right next to the castle was Bute Park. I went inside to have a wander. It was beautifully green. Even though most of the trees had lost their leaves, everything looked so alive. I walked quite a bit of the Taff Trail, which follows the River Taff for 55 miles, but not before stumbling upon a neat looking stone circle in the park.

It was no Stonehenge, but I still fancied that it might be ancient and cryptic. I was disappointed when I discovered that they were just constructed in 1978. However, when I did a little more research, I discovered that they have a very neat story. They’re called the Gorsedd stones, and they were built for the National Eisteddfod of Wales. This is described as the most important of several eisteddfodau that happen each year. These are simply festivals of literature, music and performance, dating back to at least the 12th century.

Still with me? Good, because it gets even more complicated. There is something called a gorsedd (Welsh for “throne”), which is a community or coming together of modern-day bards. Gorseddau were founded in 1792, and their rituals were based on the ancient Celtic Druids. This is where the stones come into play. They are important in completing the ritual; the Archdderwydd (Archdruid) stands on the flat one in the middle, called the Logan Stone. There are tons of rules about how the stones must be arranged and the direction the Archdruid must face when he is conducting the ceremony.

Okay. So because the purpose of the gorseddau is to promote literary scholarship and the creation of poetry and music, it eventually merged with the eisteddfodau so that the gorseddritual occurs at the eisteddfod festival. If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Gorsedd of Bards, you can make arrangements here to take the Welsh examination. You even get to wear crazy cool robes like these people:

Gorsedd Bards

Love, Elizabeth