Kilauea, an active volcano

Craterception, a crater within a crater. The outer crater being where the fence is, with the other side of the distance somewhere barely visible in the distance.

The Hawaiian islands are, if you didn’t know already, volcanoes. Huge ones which started forming at the bottom of the sea many thousand years ago (if not longer). Most are inactive today and have been for a long time, especially on the most northern islands like Oahu where you can see the mountains are very different from, say, the Big Island, as the mountains on Oahu has eroded over a long time since the island was formed, while Big Island still has volcanic activity and is a lot more flat. On Big Island there is still an active volcano, Kilauea, which actually is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. Fortunately that doesn’t mean it has huge eruptions that brings death and destruction to the island, but it does have smaller eruptions regularly, and it’s possible to see the light from the lava in the distance at night. As the area close by is closed, so you have to watch from a distance. Which I’m quite ok with, I have no great wish of going all close and personal with molten rock.

I did however experience the wonderful smell of sulfur and various other volcanic gases, as there is a trail you can walk through some sulfur fields. Which is a completely natural thing to want to do. Who doesn’t want to go through an area of foul-smelling gases which could potentially make you feel ill if you inhale too much of it? It was cool though, to see how the gases had crystallized and the rifts were covered in these yellowish crystals.

It’s seriously huge, the inner crater is to the right of this picture, and the space on the other side of the inner crater was even bigger.

The crater for the original volcano is HUGE…it’s not very high up anymore, like the other volcanoes on the island (4000+ meters/14000+ feet high),  as the top collapsed when the amount of lava decreased, but the crater is still seriously huge. In the middle there’s a “small” one where there is continuous smoke and gases coming up, which is the still active part of the volcano.  The size of it is incredible though, trying to comprehend just how large this volcano was before it collapsed is difficult, it’s simply enormous. Standing on the edge of the larger crater, I couldn’t see the other side, partly because of smoke from the smaller crater in the centre, but also because the opposite edge of the large crater was so far away I probably wouldn’t have seen much of it even if there weren’t any smoke and fog in the way.

Entrance to a lava tube

In another area of the Hawaii national volcanoes park, where Kilauea is, there are also some old lava tunnels, which you can walk through as the lava is long gone. We went there, but I got really claustrophobic even if I could still see the entrance and it was a rather large tunnel. But just the thought of having so much stone and earth over me freaked me out and I ended up going back to the car instead. I wish I’d pushed through anyway, as I don’t like being cowardly, but hey, I tried.

Have you ever been near or on a volcano? 

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The most famous dead tree in Hawaii

Does it look familiar? Without looking at the signpost

The most famous dead tree in Hawaii, also known as the dead tree in Jurassic Park, which Dr. Grant and the two children hide behind when all those dinosaurs come running down the hill. It looks a bit different there than the movie now, but then, it’s almost 20 years since that movie was made. This is on Kualoa ranch by the way, on Oahu, you know, the island which Honolulu is on. We went there on a movie tour, as lot of movies and series has filmed scenes here. Like Jurassic Park, 50 first dates, Pearl Harbor, Godzilla (the American version of course), Lost and a bunch of others. Including one called Tyrannosaurus Azteca, which, according to our guide, is so bad it’s funny. I haven’t seen it so I can’t judge, but the name doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Fun fact about the Godzilla footprints:  when they were originally made they were a lot deeper than now, but as the ranch also have cows, the cows kept falling into the footprints and died, so they had to fill them in and make them shallower.

Godzilla was here.. Although it’s a while ago since it’s growing grass in the footprint

The tour was pretty interesting, even though I’ve only seen some of the movies filmed there. Good guide with interesting stories and beautiful nature. Definitely worth going on if you like movies and series and such, but the rest of the ranch didn’t look that interesting. They boast of horse riding and ATV driving, but that’s really only riding/driving in a line the same route, seeing the same things we did from the bus, so really not worth paying 2-3 times as much for. Oh, and in the bay just by the ranch scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean 4 was filmed, and parts of 5 and 6 might be filmed there as well. Or so the rumour goes. Anyway, it was a nice experience. It’s just lacking a tyrannosaurs rex and few velociraptors for it to be great.

My day and a half in Madrid

The start of my day and a half in Madrid was a 6-7 hour bus journey, from Torrevieja to Madrid. I had bought a bus ticket which left from Alicante, as I somehow missed the fact that there was actually a few buses which went directly from Torrevieja to Madrid.  Not that it made much difference, the cost and travel time was almost the same, but it would have been a bit quicker and more convenient. Anyway, starting the day early, I got the bus into Torrevieja bus station, changed bus to Alicante, and then changed again in Alicante for the bus to Madrid. The whole thing went very smooth, although it was slightly scary to not understand anything and most people not speaking much, if any, English. This was my first time traveling  completely alone in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and it was easier than I had expected. I actually managed to get on all the right buses and not get lost.

The royal palace…looks pretty cool

My friend Marina met me at the bus stop in Madrid, and after a quick trip to drop off my bag and get some food at her place, we were off to Madrid. For the next 5 hours we wandered around in Madrid, seeing the royal palace, a cathedral, a number of statues, a park or two and a number of streets with really nice buildings. The night was of course finished in a tapas bar so I could try Spanish food. Which turned out to be ok, some parts I liked, but others not so much. Spanish food is apparently not my favourite kind of food, but it was interesting to try it. This evening was during the Euro 2012 football championship, the night Spain won 4-0 against the Netherlands, and while football isn’t something I care much about, it was still pretty cool to see bars crowded by people in football outfits and being able to count the goals from the loud cheers. The atmosphere, the city, the people and the food…it was a great introduction to Madrid.

Some of them were brave enough to eat from my hand

We got back and slept in pretty late, but eventually got up and out for more sightseeing in Madrid around noon. Only problem was that my shoes had started falling apart the day before, and given me several blisters in the process. Great starting point for a day of walking. At least there was a pharmacy nearby where I could buy some horribly expensive, but very,  very effective plasters. I also ended up buying two new pair of shoes that day, the first because I was getting desperate, and the second because it was more comfortable and prettier. Unfortunately the shoe hunt took time away from doing more interesting things. We still saw a lot though, such as a lot more cool statues and buildings, a huge park where we had lunch and fed some really cute sparrows and even an Egyptian temple. Finally getting back to her place at 9 or so, we didn’t have much time to get ready to go out and meet some of her friends. But we managed to eat, shower and get dressed quickly enough to get there (almost) on time.

I’m fabulou..I mean, look at that pretty palace and cathedral from this angle

We then went to get several free drinks, which apparently is easy in Madrid if you’re a girl and you’re out early enough, as promoters for clubs and bars will often offer a free drink if you come to that club/bar. Which they’ll usually offer more often to pretty girls, which again makes it easy to take advantage of it when you are such a young, pretty girl . Later we joined up with Marina’s boyfriend and another friend, sat and talked for a while before going to dance. We danced for hours, and my legs were so, so painful afterwards, but it was so much fun! The club music in Spain is more varied than here and in Britain, it wasn’t just the same songs they play everywhere, but also Spanish music, which was a lot more fun to dance to than the usual  crap music. We eventually got to bed at 6, completely exhausted, and having to get up at 10 for me to catch my bus back.

View from the road…want some salt?

On the positive side I managed to sleep parts of the journey. The rest of the time I watched Alice in Wonderland, without sound and with Spanish subtitles, which is a strange experience when you don’t understand anything, you don’t know the story that well and you’re really tired and slightly hungover. And such ended my day and a half in Madrid. It was completely worth it though, even with the long travel time, and I only wish I had more time to see the city. I’m definitely coming back when I get the chance.

Have you ever been to Madrid? What did you think ?

7 years ago I was only a few blocks away from a terrorist attack

7 years ago I was in England for the first time, on holiday in London with my dad, sister and grandfather. 7 years ago there was a terrorist attack in London, 4 bombs went off the morning of 7th of July 2005, three in tube trains and one on a bus. Two of those bombs went off in the streets next to the hotel we were staying at. While we were there. I was quite young at the time, but this is what I remember of that day.

The day started as any day on holiday, with breakfast and talking about what we were going to do that day. Whether to get the bus, the tube or get a taxi, that sort of stuff. We were almost finished when a waiter came over and said “Please come with me, there has been an incident”. So we did, along with everyone else in the hotel we were led to a conference room and asked to stay there until they had further information. At this point we had no idea what was happening, no one did, it was probably within the hour of the bombs going off. So we sat, and waited. Talked to people. Everyone wondering what was going on. Trying to not get too scared or freaked out. Sitting like that waiting and not knowing what’s going on, while knowing that something bad actually has happened really freaks out out. It was clearly something serious since we were all put in the same room and asked not to leave, yet not judged dangerous enough for us to have to leave the building. Was it some kind of attack? A big one?  Was it over, or was this just the beginning?  Would it be more that would hit us? Who was it? Another country? Terrorist attacks? Just some crazy individuals? Were we in danger? At this point, these and other similar questions were running through the minds of everyone, as we had no idea what had happened.

After a while we were told that there had been bombs going off nearby and that the police was working on finding out what had happened. It was scary. The whole atmosphere in the large conference room was filled with worry and fear. Hearing what was going on wasn’t very reassuring, even though it made sense that it probably weren’t any more bombs, as there hadn’t been any more explosions for hours. Phones were brought in so people could call their relatives to let them know that they were ok, as at this point it was in the news all over the world and the mobile network wasn’t working properly. Probably overloaded.  Seeing people sitting along the walls talking in phones or waiting for a free phone, in all kinds of languages is something I remember clearly even now.

We were updated relatively regularly, as more information about what actually had happened was found. We were still not allowed to leave though, other than some people being allowed a quick trip up to hotel rooms to pick up books or something else to help the waiting. I remember my dad doing that, and even though there probably weren’t any danger at this point, I was so, so worried the whole time he was away. It felt like he was gone for ages. Of course he was fine and it probably didn’t take more than 10-15 minutes, but I still remember my stomach hurting because I was so afraid that something would happen while he was there and that he wouldn’t come back.

The streets nearby was closed for traffic, and so there were no food deliveries that day. While several hundred people had to stay inside the hotel, many of which hadn’t even had breakfast, or at least not finished eating it. Luckily there was supposed to have been a conference with lunch included that day, so there was food to serve us. Even so it was rationed out, so there would be enough for everyone. People with children first, meaning us, along with some other families. For me it was enough food, or at least I can’t remember being hungry afterwards.

Eventually, sometime in the afternoon or evening, we were allowed to leave. I don’t know how many hours we sat there, but it was the better part of the day. Outside the hotel, two of the streets  directly next to the hotel were blocked off. And I don’t mean a small fence, but a huge plastic sheet going from one building to the other. We could see reporters standing a block up the street filming and talking, as they weren’t allowed as close to the barriers as the hotel was.

We didn’t do much the rest of that day, other than having dinner and going to our rooms. With express command from my dad that me and my sister should not turn on the TV in our room. He didn’t actually command it, he never commands things, but it was a very strong suggestion, and as we both respect out father, as well as having no great wish of seeing the damage, in spite of curiosity, we didn’t turn on the TV. Even today I still haven’t seen any pictures or video of what happened, or even know more than the general story of what happened. And I’m ok with that. Even though we weren’t in any real danger at any point, we didn’t know that at the time, and it was still a frightening experience and I think not seeing news stories has made it easier to deal with it.

I don’t know how many were hurt or killed or how much damage was done, but my heart goes out to everyone who were killed or hurt in the bombings and I hope everyone who were hurt have recovered and have no lasting injuries today.

Two weeks until departure – the end of an adventure

Today it’s exactly two weeks until I board the plane home to Norway (although I won’t actually be home until the day after, thanks to the cheapest ticket leaving me stranded at the airport in Oslo overnight because it arrives so late). The end of a bit more than 9 months living in Scotland. Sure, I was home over Christmas, for a whole month actually, but that was ok, because I knew I would come back to Scotland afterwards. When I go home in two weeks, I will probably not be back here for a long time. Which will be very strange, as I’ve been traveling regularly to Scotland the past year and a half before I moved here, thanks to my now-ex boyfriend. No more funny Scottish accents for me.

Ok, so I will be going home to do things like this, so it’s not like it will be that bad

There are negative sides to Scotland, as everywhere, and there has certainly been things I haven’t liked while being here. Such as some things I’m not entirely happy about at my university here. Or the ridiculous obsession with ID here. Or the huge focus on alcohol and getting wasted all the time. Or the way all most a lot more girls than I’m used to seems to think they have to wear a ton of make-up, 15-20 cm high heels and really, really, really short dresses every time they go out. It’s kinda sad to see them (unsuccessfully) try to walk , especially late at night when they’re often pretty drunk wasted as well.  Or, of course, the weather. Although that isn’t as bad where I live as it’s rumored to be. It completely lives up to its reputation other places though.

Despite all that I’ve come to like Scotland and living here quite a lot. Ok, it’s partly because so many things is cheap for me, or at least cheaper than I’m used to. The scenery is pretty awesome as well, and I quite like Stirling, as it’s about the right size, not super close to any big place, but not that far away either, and how it’s surrounded with nature. Sort of anyway, like when I walked to the top of Dumyat. The real reason is the people though, both my wonderful flat mates and fantastic friends and the people here in general. Scottish people can seem sorta scary at times, not to mention hard to understand if you aren’t used to the accent, but they’re generally really nice. Some of it is probably the British politeness (which I think is a bit over the top sometimes, like saying sorry when someone bumps into you), which I’ve grown to like a lot more than I did originally. Of course, people most places are as nice, it’s just sometimes less visible. Like in Norway, were we can often seem rather cold, impolite and unfriendly for people who are not used to us. Or so I hear anyway.

My wonderful flatmates… Ok, not really, but I’ll miss seeing these guys as well.

What I will miss the most is my friends, in particular my amazing flat mates, who I’ve grown rather close to in the past 9 months. How can you not, when you live together for that long in a foreign country? I know I’m leaving soon, and the first of my flat mates is leaving in just two days, but I haven’t really realized it yet. Not on the emotional level, it’s just empty when I think of it. It’s like I assume she will only be gone for a few days before coming back. Of course I will be seeing them again, the first one in July when I go to Hawaii for 3 weeks, where she lives, but it will never be the same of us living together and studying in a foreign country. I’ll also miss the other friends I’ve made here, particularly the ones living in neighbouring flats, as some of them has become as close friends as my flat mates. I hope it won’t be too long until I see them again.

This past year (a year sounds cooler than 9 months) has been one of the best of my life

I’ll miss Scotland

University of Stirling – The Bad

This is the second of two posts about my experiences and opinions of studying at University of Stirling. Read about the positive sides here

The two main teaching buildings, and yes, they are pretty big, and so it takes time to get from one to the other. The small coloured dots by the leftmost one are cars.

There are two main teaching buildings, which are too far apart for getting quickly from one to the other. Add the fact that both buildings are large and relatively confusing, in particular one, let’s call it the C building, which has 4 floors, a number of corridors and rooms with little or no logic on naming said rooms and corridors, and you have a lot of people being late to classes all the time.  If you know your room number you can generally find the right floor, and after wandering about for a bit you will eventually find the right rooms, but even when you learn where the rooms you use are, you will still usually be late if you have a class right after/before in the other building. It’s more or less impossible to find a map of the buildings, showing where the different rooms are, which is rather stupid as it would be really helpful for every new student and during the exam time, as exams are often in rather random locations. But hey, it’s so much more fun to let the students wander around for ages being confused, right?

In general the library, and to some extent the university, seems like they’re trying to hard to be great. They try make it all seems a lot cooler than it really is. Like the library which was redecorated not long ago looks nice and seem great when it’s described, but it’s not as useful for daily use. Too few computers, few group rooms, generally a lot less space than needed for the number of students. Of course there are some great things about it, but it just seems like they’re trying too hard.  Especially the number of computers in the library is a problem for me. It’s always, always really busy during daytime, and it can easily take 20-30 minutes to find a free computer. Which is particularly annoying when you only want to use the computer for 10 minutes anyway, say to print something. Sure there are some computer labs as well, but it’s difficult to find out when they are used for classes and they are in pretty random locations, so if you don’t know they’re there, you’ll generally not know of them. And even if you do know, it’s difficult to know when they are used for classes or are closed for other reasons.

My lectures timetable for this semester. I also had practicals and tutorials which doesn’t show here. There is basically no explanation of how to understand the location of the classes, so you either have to figure it out by logic/trying and failing or have someone explain it to you.

I mentioned the confusing buildings right? Well, it doesn’t make it easier when the same classes are spread out in different rooms. Such as one subject I have this semester is 6 hours a week (3 lectures, 2 practicals, 1 tutorial), and I have those 6 classes in 6 different rooms. Sounds fun,doesn’t it?

The website is next to useless. Ok, not completely useless maybe, but not far from it. Sure there are lots of pretty pictures and boasting about what the university/students/people at the university has achieved lately, but really, hardly anyone cares. What most students or prospective students are interested in is things like timetables, map of buildings to know where to go, where to find the office of a particular department, exactly which classes you can take, how the grades convert if you’re an international student, and number of other purely practical questions, many which are difficult to find the answer to. But no, of course that’s not important to make it easy to find out these things…let’s just talk about our publications and other uninteresting things instead! This does seem to be a common affliction of university websites though, so it’s not just in Stirling. It also gets slightly better when you are enrolled in the university, as you then get access to a portal where it’s at least a bit easier to find what you are looking for.

This is more of a personal preference, but I don’t really like most of the classes I’ve had this year. Sure, most have interesting parts, but most also have really boring lecturers and even more boring assignments. Not to mention most of the assignments being absolutely useless, where it seems like there is more focus on quoting and referencing enough and in the right way than on the actual content.  Fortunately at least some of the assignments were actually useful, in the sense that I actually learned something from it. I’m actually looking forward to starting classes again back in Norway, as I know the majority of what I’ll be doing there is actually useful in some way, even though it might be boring at times.

 

Have you experienced the useless-university-homepage-syndrome? 

Isle of Iona

It’s just so cool!

Isle of Iona is officially my favourite place in Scotland. It’s a small island on the west coast, which you need to take two ferries to get to, first from Oban to an island called Mull, then drive across it to get to the ferry to Iona, but it’s worth it. It probably helps that it was really sunny the day I was there, but the island is so, so beautiful anyway, and so peaceful. It’s also where Christianity started to spread to Scotland, literally the place it started, which is really interesting. Essentially an Irish guy, who later became Saint Columba, went to Scotland and was given Iona, and started spreading the word of God in Scotland. Which does seem to have been relatively successful.

The Abbey of Iona is now restored and can be visited, as well as there are remains of a nunnery nearby the Abbey. There are some really nice carvings and decorations in the Abbey, and there are these huge stone crosses which are really cool. A lot of kings and other important people over the years are rumored to be buried there, but how much is actually true is hard to know.

From the highest point (which is not really that high) of Iona, Dun I,  you can see almost the whole island as it’s not very big, and  it’s very much worth the trip up. For example, sitting there and eating lunch with the amazing view is pretty great. There is also quite a lot of sheep on the island, and since I was there in spring, there were a lot of weeks-old lambs, and they were just adorable. I want one now.

Why, of course all the beaches in Scotland looks like this.

Being on the beach was by far the best part though.It was sunny, the sand was so white, the water was so clear and turquoise it didn’t look like Scotland at all. I went barefoot most of the time on the beach, and it was wonderful. The sand was warmed up from the sun, so it felt like summer to walk there, even though I had 3-4  layers of clothes on my upper body. Even the water wasn’t actually that cold. If I had a towel and some sort of swim wear, I would probably have gone for a (very, very) quick dip in the water. Too bad I didn’t. We spent most of the time at Dun I and afterwards at the beach, until we had to go to catch the ferry back. At that point we were all sun burnt to some degree…which is sort of cool when it’s in Scotland it happens. 

Where is your favourite place?