Monday, June 25, 2012

Wales - Kara Poppe

I loved Wales. Wales was filled with beauty. There were rolling hills, purple flowers, and fluffy sheep as far as the eye can see. The Welsh are very proud of their heritage. Every sign is in Welsh first, then in English. Their flags stand strong everywhere, even through the constant winds and drizzles. Our short time in Wales brought great outdoor adventures. Anyone who knows me knows that I love anything outdoors, so of course, Wales was my favorite part of this trip. Wales is definitely eco-friendly, too. They have reduced rubbish pick up and recycling is stressed everywhere. Despite the lack of sunshine, solar panels are popular on homes. I also witnessed many wind turbines around. There was even a wind farm in the Irish Sea. However, what stuck out to me most was that it is mandatory everywhere in Wales for a store to charge at least five pence per bag used in a store. This is one idea that I would love to see brought to UNI. So much waste can be avoided by one simple measure.

Kara Poppe and Jill Thompson on the Great Orme in Llandudno, Wales

In our incredible two days in Llandudno, I enjoyed exploring the beaches and the Great Orme. Something about being outside and not knowing what will be around the next hill fascinates me. After Llandudno, we were off for a hike Mt. Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. Of course, Mother Nature had some of the poorest weather planned for us that day, but I had been looking forward to reaching the summit for months, so I was determined to give it a try. Luckily, it ended up not being nearly as cold, rainy, and windy as had been originally forecasted. After four hours of hiking in clouds, drinking buckets of water, and repeating encouraging words, we had sixteen Panthers on the top of Wales. Even though we could not see anything from the summit, it was one incredible moment for our class. This was my fifth mountain climbing experience, but Mt. Snowdon was particularly memorable because it reinforced the skills you can learn from the outdoors. Teamwork, motivation, and endurance. Even after walking 20,000 steps and having a sore body, climbing Mt. Snowdon with everybody was by far my favorite day.

Standing on the Summit of Mt Snowdon in Thick Clouds

We also went canyoning in Wales. If you do not know what that is (as I did not before I looked it up), then try imagining what whitewater rafting without the raft would be like. The water levels were extremely high, so we could not do the route originally planned, but our route still brought many challenges and adventures. We walked through raging waters, climbed over slippery rocks, and "swam" through the gorge. Even though the water was very chilly, spirits were high, and we have crazy videos to prove it.

Yesterday, we ventured to the Centre for Alternative Technology. This place has been leading environmental technology for years. Since I love anything environmentally friendly, this was definitely my kind of place. I loved it. They practice what they preach. The CAT focused on environmental issues ranging from climate change to organic gardening. Fun features of the center were composting stations, a worm slide, a mole tunnel, and a wind seat. They even had a research toilet, where they were collecting poo for experiments.  I especially liked the CAT, because they identified problems, but they also provided solutions that every day people can incorporate into their lives. However, what stood out most to me was that Great Britain has made a Carbon Zero by 2030 commitment. The CAT outlined a plan for how Great Britain can achieve this goal. Some of the areas were alternative energy, transportation, and food. The United States is behind in its commitment to the planet; it would be amazing if the United States could follow in the United Kingdom's footsteps.

UNI students at the Centre for Alternative Technology

After visiting Powis Castle, we said goodbye to Wales and headed back to Birmingham. We were all quite sad to leave the beautiful countryside to return to the hectic city. However, there are still adventures in store.

Today, we traveled back in history to the early 1900s when this area of the United Kingdom was known as the "Black Country." We visited the Black Country Living Museum, which focuses on the importance of coal mining in the country's history. The museum is similar to Living History Farms. The village townspeople were very informative. When talking with one lady, I was shocked to learn how much coal was used in the homes. The coal fire burned 24/7 in practically everyone's homes. Most men worked in the coalmines.  I cannot imagine how unhealthy that lifestyle would have been. The village also highlighted foods of the time. They had great fish and chips! Then, we went on a canal tour, which was much more exciting than I had expected. The canals were created to mine limestone. We viewed huge karsts and fossils in the canals. However, the highlight of the canal tour was when Eric volunteered to walk the barge with his legs. We ended our Black Country Living Museum experience with a tour of a replica coal mine. This truly exemplified the poor and dangerous working conditions that boys as early as nine worked in. In comparing the CAT with the Black Country Living Museum, I am impressed in the radical steps the United Kingdom has created in their commitment to alternative energy in just the last century.  I learned that the United Kingdom has come far since their primary coal days, but it will always remain as an important part of their history.

We are ending an educational and fun day by watching the England versus Italy football game. Even I am beginning to like watching this sport, and yes, I am rooting for England!