Wednesday 24 April 2013

Cologne Chocoladen Museum

To say we were excited about visiting the chocolate museum in Cologne would be an understatment. After being put off of visiting the chocolate museum in Jeju I set my sights on Germany. Obviously not as well known for chocolate as our final destination Brussels,  that wasn't going to stop me indulging in the milky brown stuff in both Germany AND Belgium! Skipping over the boring first part of the musuem (about where chocolate we eat nowadays comes from) we headed straight for the 'chocolate fountain'. What. a. let. down. instead of flowing with the lucious molton chocolate we expected, a relatively small amount dribbled out of cocoa bean shapes on a tree-like 'fountain'. I've seen better chocolate fountains at weddings. Pfffff!

We stopped to watch a few different types of chocolates being made; custom made bars and rolled truffles. The second part of the museum was more interesting, looking at the different ways of advertising over the years, and the recreation of old style sweet shops. We read about the introduction of chocolate into Europe and how it was first consumed. Afterwards we sat in the cafe for a taste of the good stuff before making our way outside back in Cologne city centre.

It was a particularly nice day, and a celebration marking a milestone in the connection between Cologne and China (I can't remember how long now) was going on outside the cathedral.

I had promied myself a pretzel whilst in Germany, and managed to buy one to eat on the train as we left Cologne and made out way to Brussels. Just in time!

Rubbish fountain.

Putting together a custom made bar

What can I get you?

Nearly as busy as Beijing. Seriously.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Arthur's Seat Edinburgh

Without meaning to, we chose the worst of our 4 days in Edinburgh to trek up Arthur's seat. Although the weather wasn't glorious, it didn't rain (or snow) and as we were walking up a giant hill we kept warm through the exertion! It's a fairly easy climb up (especially compared to some of the mountains I'd climbed before in Korea). Once at the top, we had a great view over the city and out across the estuary.

On our way back down, we passed by a small church with an old step for mounting a horse, and chains for holding prisoners. Before getting the bus back around to the city we also saw the house where Bonny Prince Charlie held his final council before heading in to battle. Yet again, Edinburgh provided some beautiful landscape for photos.

Friday 12 April 2013

What happens if you oversleep on the train?

We made it from Beijing - St. Petersburg on the train. Across 6066km, 5 trains travelling for 3 weeks. But as we reached our final desitnation before the relatively easy transition into Europe (more English spoken and booking our own train tickets) we messed up. Big time. Let's first make this clear; on every train we took from Beijing - St Petersburg the train attendants had made sure passengers were awake and ready to disembark before their desintation. So we assumed our train from St. Petersburg back to Moscow would be the same. Oh how wrong we were. Don't get me wrong, we'd estimated when we'd be arriving, had set an alarm, but this was a back-up. The alarm went off, and we waited, dosing, for the attendants to knock on the door. The train seemed to slow, but we couldn't be in Moscow, no one had woken us. The train stopped for longer than normal, and people were moving around outside the carriage. I poked my head out of the compartment but still no one seemed too bothered that we weren't getting off. We decide to get dressed because it wouldn't be long until we were in Moscow properly. Then an attendant spots us, and comes in waving arms around and hurriedly trying to gee us up. We're confused, still a bit sleepy and not in the correct frame of mind for rushing. The train begins to move. We are done for! Panic starts to seep in. Where are we going now?! How are we going to get off? They (kind of) tell us/motion that we will have to walk back to the station when the train stops - it's a long way. Oh dear.
The lady in blue behind Mary is our train attendant.

This is what happens when you oversleep on the train:
The train goes off into the sidings and (thankfully) one of the attendants walks you from the train, that you've had to clamber down from (no platform to step onto - the drop was massive) past trains and across tracks to the platform. Miles away!! You're dodging rubbish, broken glass bottles and muddy puddles and in my case you're wearing sandles not suitable for rambling along beside train tracks. Mary had a wheely case. And you get the picture.

My advice; try to avoid oversleeping on the train. Particularly if you're in Russia.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Edinburgh Castle

The first place my Mum and I visited in Edinburgh was the castle. Our first day had glorious weather and we wasted no time dropping our bags off in our borrowed flat and heading up a long strech of steps to the castle. The flat we were staying in (belonging to a friend of my mum's) had a fabulous view of the castle, which was lovely to wake up to on our 3 nights in the town.

The view from the top was beautiful, and we spent a good few hours wandering around the castle complex taking in all the views and various buildings. Particularly impressive was the war memorial (where no photos can be taken). With various parts of the building dedicated to different wars and books and books recording the names of all war dead, it was really an eye opener of how many conflicts Britain has been involved in and how many lives have been lost fighting for our (and sometimes other people's) freedom.

We turned up to one exhibition in time to get a demonstration about soldiers during battles with Oliver Cromwell's English men. Very interesting and entertaining. The castle is very photogenic so I'll let them do the rest of the talking!

Dog graveyard

Sunday 7 April 2013

Life since I arrived home...

I've been back in the UK, after two years abroad in South Korea for seven months now. Since I came back, lots of things have happened, and yet I haven't felt the immediacy to write about them on my blog. Unlike whilst I was away, when I enjoyed reliving all my experiences through blog posts, I have had a vague notion to publish things on my blog, but just haven't 'got round to it'. I put this in quotation marks because this is not because I haven't had time, in all honesty I don't actually know why I haven't written as much as I did in Korea. Perhaps it's just because now I'm in my home country, things don't feel as special or exotic as they once did, perhaps because the purpose of this blog was to update my friends and family on my life; people who are now much more a part of places I go and things I do. I genuinely do wish to continue to write on here, but that desire doesn't seem to readily manifest itself into action.

Anyway, obviously I have found some time now, on this chilly almost springlike day, to sit down, write and hopefully schedule a few posts with all the pictures I've taken on different outings in the last few months.

So firstly; an update about what I'm doing... 

The first three months that I was back were hard. It was difficult to find any work (or even get an interview), fortnightly trips to the job centre were depressing and it was difficult to make any plans or think much further than a week or two ahead because my savings weren't going to last forever. I loved being able to catch up in person with friends, meeting new additions to my friends' families, eating food I'd been missing, revelling in all things Christmas. I managed to get some work for January working with NYU in London as an RA (chaperone/leader) for students visiting for a three week course. This was a fantastic time, finally having a job to do, meeting two girls who've become really great friends and living and working in London. I was SO LUCKY that after my three weeks was up, the student life team at NYUL asked me to stay on for the rest of the semester. I wasn't expecting this, even thought I hoped the three weeks might lead to more, I was really surprised and grateful for that opportunity. I've recently been offered a permanent position as a colleague is leaving so for now this job is permanent. 

So what do I do? I live and work in one of the NYUL halls of residence. There is a small team of us (resident life assistants) who maintain the smooth running on the halls, making sure paperwork etc is filled out, helping students if there are any other problems with housing, creating evens to get them involved with things in London and accompanying groups on trips around LDN and the UK. Yes, this is a fantastic job! Since January I've been to Oxford, Cambridge, on tours of the British Museum, Dover, Harry Potter studios, on the London Eye, watched Fulham Vs Wigan at Craven Cottage, the BBC and on various food related outings. 

A guided tour in the British Museum
Now I'm back, I've also started to settle into life back home; I travel back to Essex fairly regularly at the weekend, try and explore London as much as possible, I've started playing Netball once a week and recently enrolled on a Mandarin Chinese course at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). Things are going well, but don't think it all just fell into place. I didn't really suffer reverse culture shock, because I was ready to come back, and because I know that for now this is the right place for me to be. But it was hard. I have read many times how, once you return home, after working, living or travelling abroad, you have changed, whether you wanted/needed to or not, you are different and many things at home are exactly the same. Yes this is true, but what can make the transition harder is that also many things are very different. My friends and I are all older than when I was here before, many are married, settled down, pregnant or with a new little one in their life. This is fantastic but because of these changes, and the changes to yourself,  you must find your place at home again. If you've got good friends (as I have) they will help you to find that place. With effort from both sides, settling back in, whilst taking a bit of time, is possible and even an enjoyable experience.

Being in London makes finding Korean products possible!

Experiencing a game at Craven Cottage. Yes there's an actual cottage in the football ground.

Made two great friends in January

Got lost in the snow on our way to the Barbican

Picking up tickets to a game I couldn't attend: gutted.

Day trip to Oxford

I love walking by this building regularly

Working here has been excellent

Got myself enrolled here for Chinese lessons

Brilliant trip to the electric Cinema in Notting Hill. I had my own armchair, blanket, side table and lamp!

Visited BBC Television Centre before it closed!
And I've been cooking a lot since I got back!

Chinese crispy Pork
Toad in the hole

Hot cross bun and butter pudding