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A Dream Come True August 7, 2012

Posted by kroberts36 in Travel Log.
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     Ever since Beijing in 2008 I had promised myself I would go to the 2012 Olympics to see Michael Phelps compete in his last Olympics ever.  I have been the biggest fan of his for years, feeling especially attached to him because of the fact that we are from the same city and I used to swim at the same pool as him when I was much younger.  In 2008 I made a trip out to Omaha to watch the Olympic Trials, and ever since then have been dreaming of going to London in 2012.   In Omaha, I met Ryan Lochte, and he has been rivaling Michael for my true loyal affections ever since.  My plans to make that dream come true began long before I knew I would be in Oxford for the summer, in fact, long before I even thought about going to Tech.  Over two years ago in March, I went online to research when Olympic tickets went on sale – little did I know I was just a week too late.  The lottery to enter for the possibility to be able to purchase tickets had closed a week before I found it online, and I was devastated.  I put it off for a little while, until I went to FASET and my dad learned about the Oxford Program.  He told me that I just had to do it this summer, with the Olympics being in London it would be just perfect. 

So I decided to come to Oxford in September, and started looking for swimming tickets again, but to no avail.  We contacted everyone we knew at big companies, although unfortunately had no friends at any of the sponsor companies.  We asked our few friend in London if they had any access to tickets, but unfortunately their lottery was long over too.  When I learned of the company CoSport and found out when their first tickets went on sale, I sat in the hallway of Howey with the second fastest internet in the country and a pre-researched list of the exact days of swimming I wanted tickets for (based of course on all of the events I knew Michael would be swimming in) distributed to all of my relatives across the country just in case one of us could get through fast enough.  I knew the website would be overloaded – but it even ended up crashing in the middle of the sale and everyone who had snagged tickets, myself and my parents included, lost them.  However, none of those tickets were for swimming – CoSport never had any swimming tickets for sale at all. 

By the time I got to Oxford I had pretty much given up on getting tickets for swimming, and was happy with the gymnastics tickets I had managed to get from CoSport.  However, when I went to London to meet my parents, who came in to go to the games, the weekend before the Olympics my dad and I still went around asking and searching for swimming tickets.  All we ever got as a response was “look online.”  This did us no good since CoSport is the only official seller of U.S. Olympic tickets and we had already established they did not have, nor were ever getting swimming tickets.  In addition, we could not access any of the tickets on the official London 2012 website as they were only for UK and EU residents.  Even our dual EU (Irish) citizenship couldn’t help us because we did not have an EU address. 

The afternoon after we went to men’s gymnastics, my dad and I went back to Olympic Park, although we couldn’t get in without a ticket to an event inside the Park (gymnastics was at an outside venue), and continued to ask around for the tickets we had been after for years.  After no luck and a couple hours of asking various staff, visitors, and just about ever person imaginable (I almost chased down a member of the IOC until he disappeared behind the secure fencing), we gave up on getting tickets at Olympic Park and went to the Visa hospitality event.  Just by being Visa customers we got access to this event with free drinks and snacks as well as, it turned out, a business center.  While there, I overheard some boys my age talking to one of the Visa staff members about creating an account on the London 2012 website to look for event tickets.  They were American as well, also studying abroad in England for the summer, and were told, I heard, that they could possibly create an account with their English college address.  Of course, I went and did the same thing as quickly as possible.  However, no tickets were posted for any swimming events, although we noticed some last minute tickets coming up for beach volleyball that night.

Over the next hour or so, I refreshed the ticket search page on my dad’d iPhone every few minutes until suddenly…swimming tickets for that night popped up!!! I almost screamed in excitement – I even ran into the men’s bathroom to get my dad out (in hindsight, maybe I should have skipped that one…)!  I clicked on the tickets, but they didn’t go through – it processed the request for tickets and then came up saying no tickets were available, although they were still listed on the site.  We decided to take advantage of the business center there and ran over to a laptop to continue to try before they all disappeared.  After about 50 refreshings and attempts at different combinations of ticket price levels and numbers, etc. WE FINALLY GOT TICKETS!!!!! It literally was nothing short of a miracle!

Needless to say, the night was absolutely phenomenal – I got to see Phelps and Lochte race in one of their two highly contested showdown events, the 400 IM, which ended with Lochte crushing all of the competition and Phelps finishing in a surprising fourth place.  I was thrilled with Lochte’s win and watching him get a gold medal with our national anthem playing and just the fact that I got to see in person Michael Phelps swim in his last Olympics ever!!  I honestly never imagined that I would actually make it in to swimming, and even now I still don’t quite believe it was real – it truly was a dream come true!!! 

The Olympics! August 5, 2012

Posted by kroberts36 in Travel Log.
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This past weekend I got to go to the London 2012 Olympics.  It was truly one of the most incredible weekends of my life! I was so lucky to get to experience the world’s greatest sporting event.  Being a part of the action was such an experience, from seeing the new and old stadiums built up for the games, to the thousands upon thousands of volunteers everywhere you turned in purple jackets and Olympic attire right down to sneakers (or should I say, trainers?) and umbrellas.  With people all over the streets, or even more popular – the Underground – and excitement and spirit all around, it was such an amazing atmosphere!!

Men’s gymnastics was the first event I went to, as well as women’s gymnastics the next day.  With tickets that I got back in December, I got to go to a sport I didn’t know much about, but have always watched on TV, with a crowd of mostly locals.  The great thing about these Olympic events was the brief tutorial they gave on the screens at the beginning of how gymnastics worked – what the different apparatuses are (six for the men, four for the women), how it is scored, as well as teams and individual athletes to watch for.  The six apparatuses for men are high bar, floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, and parallel bars.  My personal favorite was the rings – watching their incredible stability and upper body strength lifting themselves up feet off the ground was amazing. The women compete in four apparatuses: floor, balance beam, vault, and parallel bars.  I loved watching the women swing on the parallel bars, with incredibly smooth and effortless transitions between the two bars where they looked like they were flying! On both days I saw one of the qualifying rounds, which consisted of six different groups of men, two sets of four for the women, each rotating around to a different apparatus where four to five athletes would compete at each one.  These groups were a mix of teams, comprised only of one country’s team, and individual competitors, athletes who did not have a full team of gymnasts, but could qualify as individuals.  My favorite thing that we saw was the men’s Team Great Britain competing, with world medalists and in front of a home crowd, of course! The atmosphere of being in London, surrounded by individuals and families from all over England with their British flags and cheering for Team GB was so much fun to be a part of and really made me appreciate being in England and fully embrace the English experience of my summer at Oxford!

 

 

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood July 17, 2012

Posted by kroberts36 in Travel Log.
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            Today is the most beautiful day at Worcester College.  In fact, it is probably the best weather we have had since arriving three and a half weeks ago.  After non-stop cold to remind us we are currently at the same latitude as Alaska and constant on and off rain for the past week or so, the sun finally returned giving us, and our shorts, a reason to finally be outside again.  The best part is that it is still a magnificent 65°, proving that you can indeed have pleasant summer weather without the treacherous Atlanta heat. 

            I am sitting outside on the lawn in the middle of campus (the lawn that we are allowed to sit on, mind you) watching the duck pond and some others enjoying the fresh air by reading, sun-bathing, and playing the guitar.   The surrounding 500-year old beautiful stone buildings lined with ivy and colorful flowers give the perfect setting for a peaceful British afternoon. It makes me wonder why I don’t sit out here to study everyday after class.  Well, because most days it’s raining.  At least all that rain helps keep the grass in its impeccable condition; the rain, and all the hard work of the numerous gardeners on campus.  The flawlessly manicured grass is the ideal bright green color, has no dirt or dead patches, miraculously avoids all weeds, and is even mowed to present visible circular stripes.  Of course, the main lawn in the center of the main quad no one is allowed to walk on, except the men who mow it twice a day.  I love watching the gardener’s take care of the grass – the time and effort they pour into it everyday to keep its spotless appearance.  Not only is it meticulously mowed, but also someone goes around the entire perimeter everyday on their knees with short clippers to trim the edges and create the ultimate straight line.  All of their effort isn’t for nothing, I truly do appreciate its beauty every time I walk past. 

             For that matter, all of the green spaces on campus are incredible.  On the walk to my dorm I walk through the Orchard, another serene grass lawn with pear trees and British pigeons.  I specify British pigeons because they are far superior to regular pigeons.  They are a solid soft grey color rather than the dark grey and white spotted, and their coloring looks like a well-groomed coat rather than the dirty look of ordinary pigeons.  They are larger and stouter, lower to the ground with longer bodies, and I spent the first week here wondering everyday what kind of bird they were – pigeon never even crossed my mind!  There are other pretty birds in the orchard too, but the pigeons are my favorite.  Lining the path through the orchard are miniature pear trees, that just began to show their fruit and reveal their identity.  I love the quite feel of the orchard and feel like everything is at peace when I walk through.  I forget all of the stresses of school and just soak up the fact that I am living in England and feel safe and happy.  Everyday when I walk through the orchard I smile to myself and appreciate how lovely it is and how lucky I feel for getting to live in a place this beautiful!

            

Barcelona!! July 12, 2012

Posted by kroberts36 in Travel Log.
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This past weekend I went to Barcelona for my first weekend trip from Oxford.  It was my first time in Spain, and my first taste of real, hot summer weather this year.  I arrived in Oxford without any plans for weekend trips, and after figuring out the people I wanted to travel with were going to a place I had wanted to go to for years, I decided on Tuesday to make plans to go to Barcelona that Thursday.  I got really lucky booking flights and a hotel, I was able to get on flights and in the hotel with people I knew and even got some last minute fare reductions on my tickets.  The trip looked like it was meant to be – as everything I had procrastinated came together very nicely.   However, physically getting to Spain turned out to be a different story. 

To begin, our 7am Friday morning flight was out of London Luton airport – apparently not the most convenient place to get to.  One bus company, National Express, services busses from Oxford to Luton, running about four a day and charging a lovely sum of 17 pounds (around $30)  one way.  I checked out the bus schedule the day after I booked my flights, and could either take a 1am bus to arrive at the airport at 2:50am, or a 4:30 bus arriving at 6:20.  Neither sounded convenient, as my flight boarded at 6:45 and 6:20 would be pushing it, but 2:50 would mean four hours of sitting in the airport – something else I didn’t want to do.  So, ever procrastinating, I decided not to book a ticket on either and wait to see what others were doing.  Well, by the time I got around to learning a few friends were taking the 1am bus to be safe and deciding I would do the same, low and behold, the bus was booked.  I couldn’t get on the 1am bus, and my less than ideal options were now lessened considerably.  I ended up finding a few friends, so at least I wouldn’t be travelling alone, and taking the 10:30 bus on Thursday night with a two hour layover in a bus station around midnight and nearly five hours of waiting in the airport, including waiting for the check-in and security to open, followed by a mad rush through security only to then have to wait for our gate to be announced 20 minutes prior to boarding.  Once finally getting on the plane, my only goal was to sleep, so I would at least have two hours of sleep before on which to Barcelona that day.  However, RyanAir didn’t make that easy. 

Our flight was full of “Stag Parties,” or bachelor parties, following what we have come to learn is a common European custom of travelling for crazy weekend bachelor party trips, six different groups of between five and ten men – all of whom had somehow managed to get drunk before boarding the 7am flight (maybe with the help of the “Breakfast and Beer” specials we saw advertised throughout the airport).  The combination of their belligerence and rowdy conversations with the continual haggling of flight attendants selling smokeless cigarettes in the aisle made it impossible to really sleep.  Upon arriving in Barcelona, (well, not really Barcelona but a small town about an hour and a half outside of it) I had to sprint to a cash machine, one of those sketchy not bank-affiliated ATMs I had thus far avoided, to get Euros to pay for yet another $20 bus ride into the city.  By the end of it all, my “discount” airlines experience not only added up to cost about the same as a national United or Delta flight, but also left me so exhausted and far from satisfied that I truly began to appreciate the service of U.S. airlines that had previously seemed so inadequate but never will again.

Despite the nightmare of getting to Barcelona, once we got there things only went uphill.  The hotel/hostel turned out to be a low-key hotel, nicer even than some we had stayed in on the travel portion.  The bathroom shower honestly was THE BEST shower in Europe, after being in eight different countries in a month I think I can fairly vouch for that.  I spent the first afternoon discovering the old town, we were staying right in the heart of Barri Gotic and just off of La Ramblas, the central and most famous street in Barcelona.  I wound my way through the narrow streets, getting lost but enjoying every bit of it, until finally making it to the Picasso Museum – yes, even after a month of art museums I still choose to visit them on my own time and wallet! J

The city was fantastic – and I got to see all of the famous Gaudi buildings that mark Barcelona’s unique architectural style! Gaudi must have been an interesting guy, I don’t know much about his personal history but from the looks of his architecture I know it must be fascinating.  My favorite of his buildings were the Sagrada Familia with its dripping concrete façade and intricate carvings and sculptures including a giant clay Christmas tree above the main entrance and the Casa Batllo, which is designed with an underwater theme to represent “a sea during a storm” – fitting to the fact that the second I stepped inside to begin my tour of the building a torrential downpour began outside.  The Park Guell was the highlight of my Gaudi discoveries though, with the colorful tile sculptures and beautiful paths winding up the hill where Gaudi lived for over 20 years.  Despite the strong sun and scorching heat that usually makes me miserable, I had a magnificent time enjoying the gardens outside and overlooking the entire city on a beautiful Barcelonan day!

By the end of the weekend I was amazed at how much I had accomplished in seeing and doing over just one full day and two half days.  I had tapas for nearly every meal, the restaurant I went to for dinner Saturday night was the best local place with fresh seafood tapas and everything served as a surprise from the chef and was probably the best meal I have had on this entire trip; went to the local (and largest open-air market in all of Spain) market La Boqueria filled with beautifully displayed fruits, meats, candies, fish, eggs and every kind of delicious fresh food imaginable; saw all of the Gaudi buildings; lived practically on La Ramblas; and discovered both the old and the new modern sides of town.  It was a fantastic weekend trip, well worth the wait and hassle of arriving, making Barcelona one of my favorite cities I have been to yet – I can’t wait to go back someday!

            

Rome and Florence June 5, 2012

Posted by kroberts36 in Travel Log.
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Hello!! This is my first post to this blog, as I am just now getting access to the internet – something that I was not expecting to be so difficult!  I am in Florence, Italy now, my second city of the eight I will be visiting over these four weeks before living in Oxford for the remainder of the summer.  We arrived here on Saturday, after stopping in Siena on our way from Rome.  I really enjoyed Siena, especially the Cathedral with its elaborate decoration and gorgeous black and white marble.  I got a chance to walk around on my own after I accidentally lost my group, but ended up really enjoying the freedom and independence. 

Rome was also fantastic – as always – where we did things like visit the Colesseum, Roman Forum, Vatican City, The Borghese Gallery, and more.  Since I had been to Rome just last year, it was great being familiar with our first city and being able to navigate around, as well as revisit my favorite works of art (especially Caravaggio’s paintings and the Sistine Chapel).  I had a fantastic meal with two courses of pasta at a small place near the Pantheon.  I think the small, family run restaurants that only seat fewer than 20 customers are my favorite, and it doesn’t get better than homemade Italian pasta!!  One new thing I did in Rome was visit the Castle San Angelo during some free time and climb to the top winding through a fortress containing the tomb of Hadrian to an outdoor terrace with a breathtaking view of the entire city!

Yesterday in Florence we visited the Uffizi, and I got to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus – something I have been dreaming of doing ever since studying it in high school!  Later in the day I went to church at the Florence Cathedral and got the chance to sit in mass under the iconic Duomo.  The cathedral and duomo are stunning on the exterior, with elaborate colored marble, statues, and every inch containing some type of decoration.  However, I was surprised at the lack of decoration on the interior of the cathedral.  But the acoustics of the organ during the service and looking up into the massive dome made up for it!  We went to a concert tonight, which was surprisingly extremely fun! The music, though orchestral, was relatively modern and upbeat – no one in the group even had any trouble staying awake!  Plus, the soloist performer, who played a bandoneon, was so passionate about his playing that he would move his body expressively as he played and even shouted out in the middle of songs and once kicked over his music stand accidentally! At the end of the concert, the conductor got the entire audience to clap along with two songs, which was very fun and energizing, things none of us were expecting to experience last night.

Today marks one week since we left for our European adventure, and it is hard to believe it has only been one week.  Already everyone in my group of 50 has become friends and begun hanging out together.  So far everyone gets along and I find I can talk to anyone so easily.  I knew we would all become close by the end, but I didn’t fully believe it could happen.  Well, I sure do believe it now, I genuinely enjoy being with every person in our group and I can’t wait to continue our trip and grow even closer with my 50 new friends!

(**Note – this was actually written last Monday, May 28, but I was unable to post it until now.)

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