north of the south

As a kind-of-joke (but possibly a legitimate suggestion), someone in the audience of the “Lessons of Brexit” event I attended at the end of March (I talk about it in my last post) asked during the Q&A whether moving Parliament out of London to Leeds, Manchester, or somewhere up north would address some of the demands of the “leave” voters. A lot of people who voted for leaving the EU were motivated by their day-to-day realities and a feeling that EU funds, just like national funds, continued to end up in or around London, which is where the seat of the British Parliament is located. This point about the distribution of wealth in the UK is clear, even to an outside observer: health services are less available, bus services much less frequent and more irregular, etc.

There also seems to be a general kind of snobbery in the south of England towards the north, especially by people in London and Cambridge. When I told people I would be visiting Newcastle upon Tyne and Blackpool for the weekend, I was asked why I would want to go up there…. several times. It was done in a joking manner of course (even by a girl who comes from Manchester), but the fact that the south is seen as the sophisticated, cultured region while the north was good for the Industrial Revolution, walking tours and farming, but very little otherwise, is a seemingly pervasive stereotype.

Not one to be dissuaded, not least because I was running a marathon in Blackpool and knew someone in Newcastle, I headed out on my three-day journey Saturday before last and had quite a good time, I must say. The people I met were friendly, the landscape beautiful, and there was more than enough to do.

It started with a ride through the heart of England with a stop in Peterbough, which I didn’t see much of, because, well, you know, I had another train to catch. I arrived in Newcastle mid-morning and found my friend J., a virtual running teammate, waiting for me. He has a car and was born and raised in Newcastle–aka a bona fide Geordie–, so I was lucky that he had time and wanted to show me all the sights– not to mention that I could get to know him a little better as this was our first time meeting in-person.

Newcastle Map

a map of Newcastle upon Tyne and its surrounding Buroughs. Wallsend refers to the Hadrian Wall whose ruins run through the north of England (originally a Roman defensive wall) and end here.


St. Mary’s Cathedral /first thing you see when you leave the station

These already began with St. Mary’s Cathedral immediately outside the central station. We then proceeded to drive through the boroughs of Newcastle, with J. pointing everything out along the way and happy to stop whenever I wanted to see something more closely. And I wanted to see a lot up closely, a lot because of what he had said about it. Take for example the relatively newly renovated Tynmouth Station. It’s glass roof and intricate rafters made for a beautiful space to host a weekly flea market that featured regular and nomadic sellers. It’s not far from  the ruins of the Priory and Tynmouth Castle, which were the most fortified area in England since they had to protect the headland at the North Sea Coast.

We then drove on bit further north to Whitley Bay where I could see the St. Mary’s Lighthouse and smell the North Sea coastline. I could swear it was the same as the German side. The day was a bit overcast and windy, but thankfully dry and I was enjoying what I saw so far- a lot of water and a lot of green, which is just how I like it.

After checking off the North Sea, it was time to get to know the River Tyne a little more. Newcastle benefitted throughout history as being one of the northernmost ports in England and the city developed from being important for wool trade in the 14th century, its port and shipyards in the 16th century, and of course its coal mining extending from the 15th to its important role in the Industrial Revolution to its height in the early 20th century.  In fact, the shipyards a little further down the river was amongst the largest shipbuilding and ship-repair centers in the world.

Being on a river, there are of course several bridges joining Newcastle and Gateshead on the other side, and these are world famous.

Especially the Millennium Bridge. It’s one of three tilt-bridges in the world and perhaps even more famous than its older partner, the Tyne Bridge, that you can see in the background in the photos above. The Millennium Bridge will be rotated several times a day for tourists and extended periods of time for special events. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in town long enough to see the bridge, but you can watch the bridge tilt here. 

J. showed me a few other things on the river- the Sage and the Baltic Mills cultural and arts museum, which also had a few great viewing platforms, before we sat down for lunch. Unfortunately it was not fish and chips, which would have been ideal here, since I was running a marathon the next day, but he did know a delicious Italian restaurant that was in one of the busiest restaurant and bar streets in the city- and also up a pretty steep hill, which I concluded would have been easier to walk up if not sober.

After that, we saw a little more of the city center. It was pretty busy, being a Saturday afternoon and a lot at once! I really should have paid more attention when J. was telling me everything!

Finally, after seeing so many amazing things (not included here: St. James’ Stadium) and having a lot of fun chatting with J.,  it was almost time to get back to the train station. However, he made sure I also got to see the one thing I had mentioned before coming to Newcastle that I’d be interested in seeing: Newcastle’s namesake. Of course it’s named after a castle and I’d read online that one could visit it. J. was surprised when I mentioned it, as apparently Newcastlians kind of ignore it, but this also meant he was just as curious as I was to see it.


very castle-y. The Castle Keep

He found the place where it must be, and we both got out and ooh’d and ah’d, and then he brought me to the station and I was on the next leg of my journey. It is only in writing this post that I realize that the Castle was built on the site of a fortress, and the fortress is the city’s namesake. Also, the only remaining structures of the Castle were the Castle Keep, a Tower and a Gateshouse (with the imposing name of Black Gate). Turns out, we were able to see the Castle Keep, which I still find impressive. You can still see what is old and new here.

However, onto Blackpool. I’m going to actually do this in a separate post, since WordPress is complaining about how much I’m trying to squeeze into this one. See you again soon!



Livestock and Airports

Before I start, no, I don’t think airports are great places for cows either.

It’s been three weeks since I flew out of cold Berlin to the Sunshine State, and now I’m back again. I actually meant to write a post about the trip home right away, for, you know, prosperity’s sake. Because my opinions are, like, really important. But now I have 2 more airports to talk about. I could just scrap the post, seeing how late it is, but some interesting and funny things happened and it’s almost the end of the week (or the weekend when you read this) and you could really use a fun read, right? I’ll at least try to keep it fun.

My trip on March 15th started with a 3:30 wake-up call, because the plane was leaving at 6 and I’ve heard stories of people who headed to one of Berlin’s two operational airports only to find out their plane was leaving from the other side of town. I obviously wanted to avoid missing the flight!

I would have missed this:


and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss celebrating birthdays and Easter with my family, either, of course.

Although I checked five times already, I still left early and it felt good to arrive at luggage check-in with more than an hour before human check-in. There, I was reminded that Tegel Airport is the small, old airport that it is.

And when I mention Tegel’s age, I actually need to acknowledge Berlin history. Berlin once had 8 airports, and, as one can imagine, these were heavily used during the World War II. Most of these airports were key for the war efforts and were meant to be closed after the war. In fact, Tegel (TXL) would have been shut down after WWII if it hadn’t been for the Soviet Blockade of West Berlin in 1948 and the ensuing Berlin Airlift. But since the airport was needed, it lived to serve Berlin through the Cold War. And since the major BER airport, under construction since 2006 and meant to be opened in 2011 STILL is not opened, TXL lives to fly good people like myself in and out of the city. And that’s a wonderful thing, since while Schönefeld and BER are 18 km out of the city center, TXL is a mere 5km and 20 minute bus ride away.

But woops, I got off track. So I was saying that I was reminded of TXL’s size and age, and this is because my walk from check-in to security check was 20 meters, and the security line itself was only 50 meters long. Can you imagine a time where security wasn’t necessary? You could after being in Tegel. But anyway, before I knew it, I was out of the waiting area of the terminal, and I barely had time to check out the same 5 kinds of candy and alcohol and perfume in any duty-free shop in any airport in. the. world.

First stop: Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I’m ignoring the namesake for brevity’s sake (look him up!), but I do want to talk about something that struck me about this large airport in Paris: its two priorities seemed to be the highest end shopping I’ve ever seen in an airport and the fancy patisseries and, well croissants. They were awesome. I felt so cool with my high school French ordering cappuccino and croissant until having to revert to English when they needed smaller change for my payment.

The stark contrast between Charles de Gaulle and the German and US airports I’ve been to made me more aware of the other airports I went to: Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale International. Travelling through several international airports, I learned that one can tell a nation’s priorities based on the venues offered. European airports seem to feature a mix of shopping and food. German airports especially have a lot of news/book/paper supplies stores.

But then Atlanta also surprised me with its very well done decorations between terminals. Besides having one food place next to the other, the airport still gave the impression of being interested in sharing its history, geological heritage, and culture. One of the busiest airports in the world, Atlanta (or Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International) airport features an indoor railway that brings people from terminal to terminal. One could opt to take the shuttle, but my layover was long enough to walk the not-so-long distance between terminal F and A and see the sights along the way.


And I’m not telling you where this was, because I want to encourage you to walk and discover for yourself. Or I forgot.

What really impressed me was a timeline of the history of Atlanta. Created by the artist Gary Moss, ‘A Walk Through Atlanta History’ is a permanent exhibit in the transportation mall between terminals B and C, it reminds people of the Cherokee and Creek tribes who inhabited Georgia before they were forced to leave their lands during Andrew Jackson’s presidency.  For a country that likes to wash over this difficult part of its past and present, acknowledging the indigenous people of Georgia is a bold move (and if you think “duh, of course it had to be acknowledged,” check out some history books from before the 1960s). The Indian Removal Act that led to the “Trail of Tears” was not mentioned, but I admit… that may have been too much to ask (or perhaps not? Comments below!).

But yes, I enjoyed my walk and after Atlanta, arriving in Fort Lauderdale was a bit of a letdown. It’s a bit too old and unimpressive with low ceilings and gray walls to really make a great airport to come home to. But I’m sure plans for renovations are in place.

Okay, enough with the history lessons and facts, already. You’re probably asking where the funny stories are, that I promised.

Let’s start with me informing you who/what the real MVP of my trip was: my bladder. Marathon training and international trips don’t mesh well. After the trip, I was glad for my excellent hydration habits. During? Not so much. My short trip from Atlanta to FLL was the only one where I had an aisle seat. From Paris to Atlanta, I spent 9 hours stuck between two guys and since I hate asking people (unless it’s my brother) to get up, I just kept it down to  three requests to get up. Window seat guy didn’t get up once. Seriously?!

See? I’m terrible at telling funny stories. I’ll try again. This time, it starts with a Ukrainian in seat C on the way from Paris to Atlanta. Not being one to start conversations with strangers, I kept my earbuds in and tried to be a responsible PhD student and work on my much-too-large for an airplane laptop, and then digressed to watching Despicable Me 3 (yes, I’m an adult child-though I laughed enough to make window seat guy start watching it too, not sure if he had much fun as I did). At some point, though, after the second time asking him to get up, aisle guy, in a thick accent proceeds to tell me that he’s Ukrainian and his English isn’t so great. Could I help him fill out the customs form? “Sure!” I say. And then we proceed down the sheet. I get through mostly okay. I don’t tell him that I took three years of Russian (which is related to Ukrainian) in college in order to avoid unnecessary attempts to hold a conversation after this good deed is done, but when we get to the question about handling livestock, I wish I had. I also wished my three years of study had taught me what livestock are in Russian. I tried as many examples of livestock that I knew. I wasn’t even sure if chickens counted as livestock. For some reason, I only mentioned hooved animals. Mostly, I was hoping he would understand with the word cow… He didn’t. And I couldn’t even tell him the Russian word, because I’ve forgotten all my Russian, it seems. So remember, kids. Take your language studies seriously. You never know when you might need them!

In an interesting series of coincidences, a conversation while home with my former Russian teacher (also Ukrainian!) happened to remind me of корова, which also happens to be the name of a Russian candy:

Image result for korovka candy


And then, the walls of the airport in Amsterdam were covered in cows. So maybe the universe was telling me it’s a good thing I never finished my post in Florida, because now I can say:

no, I don’t think airports are great places for cows either.

Unless it’s these cows:

Cows in Amsterdam

Let’s not forget the windmills.


check out the shadow effects!

Clearly, Amsterdam Airport’s priority was making sure you didn’t forget you were in the land of windmills and cows.

Cheers! Until my next attempt at entertaining posts,

One Month in Hamburg

And so it is.

Exactly one month ago at almost this time (8:43 AM) I was in flight over Hamburg, Germany, about to touch down.

My program lasts for 10 months, so this means I am into my first ten percent of the time I’m going to spend here. If this were a race, my GPS watch would read the same thing it does when it buzzes at the ninety percent mark.

I did a lot this month, and if I multiply that amount by ten, I will end up with a very full, full-filling time here!

However, this post is less about the cataloging of time and more about what one should and does accomplish in the first month of a study-abroad program (I could number this, but I don’t want to give the false impression that the things need to be in any particular order):

  • settle into the new living space. If it’s a dorm, like mine, this includes getting used to the morning cleaning routine so that one can take a shower without disturbing the house-keeper’s order and getting used to the kitchen etiquette and floor-mates so that one can enjoy meals outside of one’s room.
  • figure out the local transportation. The best thing to do is navigate one time from “home” to the station/stop and one time from the stop back “home.” It’s okay to get lost; don’t be afraid to ask for directions/help.
  • figure out other transportation. If a bike is available, figure out the routes to the Uni and make sure the bike is prepped for nighttime riding. Driving with lights is such a relief from the harrowing experience of the threat of not being seen by car drivers and other bicyclists (not to mention, driving without lights of a certain standard is illegal in Germany).
  • attend orientation events. For me, the VDAC organizes a seminar within the first weeks of arrival so that students have a chance to get to know other scholarship recipients and learn from each other and from program alumni some of the key methods of initial survival in German culture and bureaucracy. Orientation events are also held by the universities for international students and first-time students. There are usually elaborate programs that one should try to attend at least a few events of. One of my favorite events wasn’t even university related, but rather involved a pub night with the other German Lit. MA students.
  • do some initial traveling. While it would seem more advisable to settle into one’s new “home”-base first, the time before classes begin is the most free time one has (other than the semester break) and it helps to get a larger perspective of the country one is visiting, and the role one’s new city has within that space.
  • take care of university registration issues-pay tuition and fees, notification of local address, internet and online portal logins, library cards, and of course, class registration
  • figure out how to use university services like printers, the libraries, and the cafeterias
  • figure out where the local get their food. Start shopping there. Find out where the most inexpensive food can be found in the area, start finding out where the kind of food one likes most can be found
  • buy local cell phone service if this hasn’t already been taken care of this issue in home country
  • be officially registered as a legal habitat of the area. This includes the residence permit and the visa
  • create a budget. Figure out funds and how much to devote to groceries, toiletries, clothes, travel, and leisure. Don’t forget things like school tuition and fees as well as sport/gym memberships
  • visit at least one museum and at least one “high-brow” cultural thing such as a classical music concert, a play, or a public reading
  • (since I’m a runner) figure out at least two good routes for daily running. One can be an out and back course and the other a pleasant don’t-have-to-repeat-everything-on-the-way-back route.
  • go to class. Seriously, this may seem obvious, but there’s also the constant consideration, at least at the beginning, that it doesn’t matter if one attends class and no one will miss one. But if anything, having a reason to leave one’s room should be taken advantage of
  • make plans of what to do over the coming months so that when classes and studies are not pressing, there’s something to do.
  • try to hang out with people who speak the language of the area as much as possible. It’s okay to
    hang out with other foreigners, and it can be very helpful to have people going through the same situation to talk to, but try to get as much integrated into local life as possible. This is a cultural-exchange opportunity, not (just) an observational platform
  • recognize that there are good and bad days, psychologically, just like there are good and bad days with the weather. Try to see the positive in the bad days and soak in the good ones. For me, personally, I noticed that while the second half of this past month has been overall good, especially since classes started and I’ve been kept busy by schoolwork, I still wake up some mornings and wonder what I’m doing here, or whether I belong. I have learned to recognize that if I want to be here, I belong, and finding the feeling of belonging with other people comes with the time one leaves one’s room to interact with the other people in the living space, the other students in the classes, and the other people in the city. It’s only a matter of time before they become used to me just as I need to get used to them.
  • Take pictures! Write! Try to document time abroad for future self, family, friends and possibly others
This is an old post-office building near the university. With the ivy growing on it, it is thus far the most beautiful thing I have seen so far.

This is an old post-office building near the university. With the ivy growing on it, it is thus far the most beautiful thing I have seen so far.

… and as you can see, I’m trying to do this last thing regularly! Cheers.