Wednesday, 23 July 2014

My favourite place

I love the countryside.

Listening to the birds' dawn chorus in the mornings
The wind rustling the leaves
The silence of the empty roads
The clear, starry, night skies

The different plants and animals
Sounds and aromas
The differences of countrysides around the world
The similarities

The fjords and mountains of Norway, equally beautiful at any time of year.
The snowcapped mountains in winter
Everything coming to life in spring
The lush greenery of summer
The fiery colours of autumn

The rolling hills of the UK countryside.
The hedges and old dry stone walls separating the fields
The little old villages that time forgot
The ruins of civilisations that was.

Why sustainability?

As mentioned earlier, I have recently started an online course called Sustainability, society and you.

Environmental sustainability is something I have been interested in for a while now. I think I really started to think about it when I lived and worked as an au pair in England 7 years ago, as the family I worked for was very environmental conscious, so of course that made me think about it.

The main reason sustainability matters to me is because of concerns for the future.

There is currently 7 billion people living on our planet, 100 years ago it was only 1.6 billion! If the world's populations keeps increasing at this rate the world will run out of food and fresh water. It would be nice to find ways to make sure that doesn't happen.

However, as I have learnt more about the environment and climate change I have realised that sustainability isn't just something for future generations, it is something we should be concerned about now.

The thing that worries me is how people refuse to acknowledge the issues the planet is currently facing due to pollution and industrialisation. Even if you don't believe in climate change, what would be the harm in trying to live a more sustainable and environmental lifestyle?

Sustainable choices

Today I started a new course on Future Learn, it's called Sustainability, society and you. The course is just in its last week at the moment so make sure you sign up quickly if you're interested. I'm not sure I'll be able to finish it before it finishes but as I think it's an interesting topic I decided to at least have a go at it.

As you can probably imagine sustainability is a topic with a lot of different opinions, and this course gives you a lot of food for thought. I am still in the week 1 section of the course and there was a poll with 3 questions to answer, as well as giving reasons for your choices. After submitting my choices I was able to see the poll results. Not surprising, the votes were almost tied on every question. There was only one result that surprised me, which I will tell you about in a little bit.

The questions were as follows:

1. Which is better for the environment - incineration of waste, or disposal via landfill? 

This is the question I struggled the most with. Incineration or disposal via landfill of waste? It's a tricky one as, like everything, both have pros and cons. In the end I chose incineration.
  • Incineration can reduce the amount of waste in landfills by about 85%
  • Reduce toxic leakages from landfills into soil
  • It can make people lazy and stop them from recycling since it's all going to be burned anyway, and so it can lead to a waste of important and finite resources
  • Incineration can generate electricity and heat
  • Even though the modern incinerators use filters and processes to remove many of the harmful particulates and toxins from the hot flue exhaust gasses, they still don't filter out the smallest particles, which can cause health problems
I think the best is of course to reduce our waste, then incinerate what is possible to incinerate, and the rest gets recycled or goes to a landfill. It wouldn't be the most pleasant job to sort through the trash before it gets incinerated but at least it might "rescue" some of the important and finite resources. 

Or maybe people could get a separate bin for incineration? Just like we have a bin for recycling, garden waste and trash here in the UK we could have a 4th one for incineration, with a leaflet telling us what can go in it, like they do with the recycling bin. That way people will still hopefully recycle as well as reducing waste to the landfills.

2. Which do you think is more sustainable? Drying your hands with hot air dryers or using paper towels?

Another tricky one. 

I know paper towels are often more hygienic but I'm not sure about the environmental benefits. At first I wanted to say paper towels as they can be recycled, but then I realised they can't be as they will be dirty after use. 

I did end up saying hot air dryers are more sustainable. However, I do think that mostly applies if you're using a sustainable energy source to power it, like solar or wind power.

3. If you have the option of using a dishwasher, do you think it is more sustainable than washing up by hand?

Now, this is the one that surprised me, not the question but the poll results. Apparently more people think washing up by hand is more sustainable. To be completely honest I did believe that myself a few years ago, but think about it;

Washing up by hand usually means that you use more water. I don't have a dishwasher at the moment and I do find that, to avoid my kitchen counter looking messy, I do the dishes very often, thereby wasting a lot of water by filling the sink up every time I do the dishes. If you have a dishwasher you can put more dishes in it than you would leave on the counter (as they would be out of view) and it would only use one cycle of water for each time you used it.

The main reason people think washing up by hand is more sustainable is because the dishwasher uses electricity, but these days you can get very eco-friendly dishwashers, just remember to check the rating before you buy it. You can also power your home with sustainable energy and save the environment and your money that way.

What do you think? Which is more sustainable?

- Incineration or landfill? 
- Hot air dryer or paper towels? 
- Dishwasher or washing up by hand?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Eden - A novel with a lot of truth to it

Title: Eden - A novel with a lot of truth to it
Author: D. Kevin May, Ph. D.  

Phil lent me this book a few days ago, telling me it's a really good book and I have to read it. I'm glad he did.

The first thing that came to mind as I started reading it is that May is not a writer, the writing style can be a bit confusing at times and the layout of the book is not what you would expect from a novel. However, that's understandable as it is a retelling of true events with varying degrees of accuracy as May himself writes in the prologue.

The book has a lot of religion in it. The main character (May) is a very religious person and thinks about God a lot, God has a big influence on his life. I'm not a religious person, and the first time I realised just how religious he was while reading the book it almost made me a little uncomfortable, but his belief is an important part of the book and it was quite interesting to get an insight into his thoughts on his own beliefs.

It's a very thought provoking book, I actually already started writing this post while I was on page 44, I just had to make sure I got my thoughts on it down before I forgot. However, although it was thought-provoking and I wanted to find out what would happen, I did struggle getting through it, it didn't really keep my attention. Starting to write this review, of sorts, helped me finish the book I think, as I wanted to finish the review also.

The first half of the book was weird and very thought provoking, but the second half was just weird, to me anyway. It was an interesting book, to be honest I can't quite believe it's supposed to be true, but weird things happen in real life.

Memorable quotes:
"[...] we must take things down to the human level. We are here to live out our destiny. Your path is already plotted, it's up to you to see that path and trust that which [...] the Universe places in your footsteps. Carpe diem!"

"Life is about each of us reaching our full potential. Our destiny. Self-actualization, that place where we actually become like God. To reach that level, you must learn to view the world through your passions. That which drives you from the heart. What is it that your heart desires?"

Monday, 7 July 2014

Auberge Gladstone, Plymouth

While in Plymouth, MA, I was staying at the Auberge Gladstone. I remember looking at the pictures on and thinking it looks so posh they'd probably kick me out at soon as they saw me. I went ahead and booked it anyway as it was the cheapest accommodation in the town centre for the 4th of July weekend.

It looked really nice from the outside when I arrived, and my friends said it was in a really good location, I would only need to walk 5 minutes down the road to meet them at a restaurant later that evening. When I got inside the hallway it was really cramped. I mean REALLY cramped, I struggeled getting my suitcase inside the door with the two people that run it and myself standing there. But we managed, and the man at Auberge even carried the suitcase upstairs to the room for me, which was very nice of him.

The bedroom was a decent size room with a king size bed, TV, fridge, air condition, microwave, a couple of chairs and even an electric fireplace!

The bathroom was quite big as well, it even had a chaise lounge in it! There was a very large shower. I actually couldn't quite figure out the shower; there were two shower heads, and water came out of both! I don't know if it was possible to turn one head off or not. If it was, I couldn't figure out how. The bathroom also had a hairdryer, some cups, glasses and a kettle on a shelf.

It's an old house and the floors are a little crooked but mostly that just added to the charm. The lady at Auberge gave me the keys to the room and front door, showed me where the extra towels and linens were, a list she'd compiled of different restaurants and diners as well as some tourist brochures. As she was about to leave me to it I asked her about where breakfast would be served. She then told me I should have booked breakfast in advance, but that there were plenty of places selling breakfast nearby and that I would be better off eating at one of those places!! I was very surprised at first as I though it was a bed and breakfast, which is what it say on, but it does say by the front door it's a guest house.

As I also noticed on the first day there was no "maid" service. I don't really mind not having my towels changed, I'm the only one using them after all. However, part of what's nice when PAYING to stay somewhere is that someone else empties the bins, cleans your room and makes the bed.

There was an envelope in the room saying that if I needed anything to call or leave a note at the front desk, but I don't really think I should need to do that just for someone to make my bed! On the envelope it also said: "your gratuity is greatly appreciated", why would I tip anyone when I haven't received any service that deserves a tip? The room was already paid for, I'm not going to give you a tip when you don't do anything to deserve it!

The Auberge is just around the corner from everything, so it was very handy when I wanted to take a stroll around town or down to harbour.

On both the website and it says they have a hot tub, free bicycles and books, but none of those things were pointed out to me when I arrived, they didn't tell me where to find anything that wasn't in my room. There was only one door downstairs, but as I didn't know whether that led to a private living area or common area I didn't want to just walk in. The people I met that I guess run it seemed kind of bored and not interested in what they were doing to be honest.

The only things I liked about the Auberge Gladstone was the location and the rooms I had. The rooms were absolutely gorgeous! I'm not really sure I would stay there again, simply because the people that ran it seemed so disinterested and didn't really tell me much. I do think they should "warn" people that there is no housecleaning, not because that's a bad thing, but just so people know about it when they book it, as it would put some people off.

Provincetown, MA

I went to Provincetown, also known as P-town, today. I had bought a ferry ticket before I left England, booking it for the wrong date... Ooops!! The 7th of July was stuck in my head and so that's the date I booked it for. The 7th of July was stuck in my head because that's the day my flight leaves from Boston! Luckily I noticed it right after my payment had gone through, and when I called them up they were nice enough to change the date on it for me.

It was a lovely day for a ferry ride and to walk around outside today. I've actually been surprised by how warm it's been up here, as Massachusetts gets so cold in winter I was expecting a fairly cool summer like we get in northern Europe, but it's been around 30 degrees (Celsius).

Now, silly me. I remembered to put on suncream before I left the guest house but then I left it in my room instead of putting it in my bag! Being on the sea on a sunny day without topping up your layer of suncream... That's just begging to get burned! Which is what I got.

Anyway. Provincetown was really lovely. There are lots of art galleries and speciality shops, as well as fudge and taffy shops and souvenir shops, perfect for a place with a super long beach! There's about 3000 people living in Provincetown... Unless it's summer and then it's 60000!! So of course it was really busy now!

If you have a problem with same-sex couples holding hands and kissing in public this is not the holiday destination for you. P-town is very popular with the LGBTQ community, and it was really interesting to see the influence of that in the various shops. I noticed one shop that had baby clothes saying things like I love my gay [(mums, aunt, uncle, brother etc)]. It seemed to me there were more gay men than anything else, there was approximately 10 men to 1 woman (at least!) in any given place.

Provincetown is really nice and quaint. Even though it was busy I just really liked the laid-back feel of the place. However, the best part of my day in Provincetown was when I walked past the main shops and got into the residential area, it was nice and quiet, and the houses and front gardens were so pretty I loved just walking around looking at all of them.

Plymouth, MA

The last few days has been spent in Plymouth, Massachusetts. You know, where the pilgrims landed. I even saw Plymouth rock. Although there are discussions about whether it's the real one, the one the pilgrims actually landed on, or not. If you ask me, it was a rock, I'm fairly certain or that. Apparently the rock at Plymouth is only about a third or its original size, people have been taking pieces of it to keep as souvenirs, which is why it has a fence and everything around it now.

Plymouth is a nice little town to wander around, it's quite small so it doesn't take long to see everything on the main streets. I actually went for a walk in some residential neighbourhoods the other day, I was trying to find out where I am going to take the bus back to the airport from. I enjoyed seeing the private houses. Like Norway the houses are usually built with wood, but they didn't remind me of Norway at all, the building style was so different! From what I've heard New England houses have a special look. I've not really noticed enough houses in other parts of America to know whether that's true or not. 

I had been looking forward to see the 4th of July fireworks while I was in Plymouth, but unfortunately they were cancelled because of the weather. It was the only day the weather was bad while I was in Massachusetts! I still had a really nice 4th of July though, I was at a party with my friends Anne and Nathan as well as a big part of their family and friends.

The reason I went to Plymouth was to attend my friends' Anne and Nathan's wedding. Anne and I got to know each other through a language-learning website about 10 years ago, we then became pen-pals and I started thinking of her as one of my close friends, but we didn't actually meet face-to-face until last year! Which is also when I met Nathan. I got along with him as soon as I met him and it was as if the three of us had been friends for ever. 

I was very happy they wanted me there for their special day. They are both Christian and so it was a church wedding. The ceremony was nice, and much shorter than what it is in Norway (from what I can remember), my bum didn't even have time to start getting restless from sitting down! The reception was in a really nice location overlooking a small lake, and I had a lot of fun getting to know some of the other guests. I spent most of the evening on the dance floor, which was really fun! Except from one, people seemed to have been scared of the dance floor at the other weddings I've attended.

I was sad to say goodbye to Anne and Nathan as they headed off to their honeymoon at the end of the night, we have however loosely planned the next three years, hopefully we can follow it all through! Next year the plan is for them to come to the UK since I've been to the US two years in a row.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Ramada Plaza Resort and Suites on International Drive

My first impression when I arrived at Ramada Plaza was a positive one. The lobby was big, modern and clean, with plenty of sofas and chairs for people to sit in as they waited. The staff was friendly as they told me where the breakfast was and where to go for my room.

When I got upstairs to my room, which was on the top (12th) floor in the south tower, I was pleasantly surprised at the size. I keep forgetting that everything is bigger in America. The room was big with a large, firm, double bed. It also has a small table with two chairs, two desks, a TV stand that also houses a fridge and a microwave. There was also an old kitchen part with a sink, cooker and kitchen cabinets. I don't know if it actually works, and there is no way I'd even try the cooker, as it's gas, which I don't like using, especially when it looks old.

The bathroom had a bathtub-shower combo, a hairdryer and a kettle... Why they didn't just put the kettle in the old kitchen part is beyond me. The shower pressure was really good, as you all know I can be very picky on that. It did take me a while to figure out the taps though. I had to pull the knob towards me to turn it on.

I had a magnificent view of a small lake from my room, with Wet'n'Wild on the other side of the lake. I could also see downtown Orlando in the distance as well as Islands of Adventure.

The air con unit in the room looked like it's quite old, and it was so loud I actually had to turn it off at night to be able to sleep, meaning I woke up all clammy in the mornings.

Breakfast was ok. On a few of the mornings they had waffles, they put out 3 waffle irons and a batter dispenser. I only managed to get waffles one morning when I was there early (7am) as on the other days there was a long queue. An idea might have been for the kitchen workers to cook the waffles in advance and have them ready-made on the side for people to take if they wanted. Other than waffles, when they had them, there was toast, bagels, porridge pouches, and cereal. You could have butter, peanut-butter, jam or cream cheese to spread on your bread. To me that's a bit plain, it could have been made miles better just by adding some cheese slices for example.

The Ramada Plaza provides a curtesy shuttle to and from Epcot (you can get free transfer from Epcot to the other Disney parks) and Universal studios. There are two shuttles to Epcot in the morning; 7.30am and 11.15am and only one to Universal at 10.15am. Going back there are 3 shuttles from Epcot at 6pm, 9pm and 10.05pm, but only one from Universal, at 8pm. I do wish there had been more shuttles. I realise Ramada Plaza isn't on either of the theme park resorts, and I'm not expecting a shuttle every 20 minutes, but every hour, or even every 2 hours both ways would be nice, that way people would also be able to go to both Disney and Universal in one day if they wanted to, without having to pay for a taxi. There should also be a shuttle after all parks were closed, most of the parks have something going on just before closing time (parade or fireworks).

I think I must have had a couple of different people proving my maid-service while I was here. On a couple of the days I didn't get a new face cloth, even though they took away the old one, which I though was a bit strange, whereas on other days they made sure to give me a new one. Other than that I don't really have any comment on the maid-service, my room was clean and the bed was made.

In all; Ramada Plaza has been an ok place to stay. I'm not sure if I would stay here again due to the limited bus schedule to the parks, but then again I don't know if any of the other off-resort hotels are any better.
View from my room

Being brave

This morning started with Space Mountain!! I can't believe I actually went on it! People have been telling me how amazing it is, and I figured with it being my last day in Orlando I should give it a shot. 

I didn't like it. 

If I am going to go on a roller-coaster I prefer to see what's coming up, so I can mentally prepare for it. Space Mountain was all in the dark. 

The rest of the day was spent going back and forth between Magic Kingdom, Downtown Disney and Epcot, going on various rides in each park, just little ones, like Spaceship Earth, It's a Small World and the Haunted Mansion. It was a really nice chilled out day once I survived Space Mountain. I also posted my postcards in Magic Kingdom. I'm hoping they might get a special postage stamp on them that way.

I did consider going back to Universal for my last day, purely so I could have another Butterbeer. However, Disney has more parks I could go between if I wanted to, and more rides that I liked. Universal would be cheaper if I had wanted to buy anything though.

I've had a really nice time this week in Orlando. I really needed this holiday. I'm actually nice to people again! Although that probably won't last long once I get back to reality. 

One week has been enough for Orlando, especially at this time of year. It's just too hot and sticky. I've wanted to do more than I have done, but I've just had no energy thanks to the heat and humidity. All I've wanted to do is lie down and sleep all day. I have to remember to never come in the middle of summer again!!

Tempting to get in the water with him
Thanks to the heat and humidity I haven't eaten much while down here, so I've saved a fair bit of money. I've had money left on my budget every day, even after buying a couple of gifts.

Tomorrow I am flying up to Massachusetts, where I am staying a few days for a friend's wedding. I can't wait! 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Flitting about

Sorry about the quality of the pictures, my neck and shoulders are starting to hurt from carrying my camera bag all day every day, so today I took a break and only used my phone camera.

Today started at Disney's Animal Kingdom. I went last year and wasn't too bothered about it, but I wanted to give it another chance since it had rained all day when I went last year. I went on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in the Africa section, and the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia which are both self-guided walks on foot. They were both really good, it was really nice to see the animals like tigers, hippos and gorillas. However, the best part of Animal Kingdom was Festival of the Lion King, which was simply amazing! Make sure you show up at least 20 minutes before show time as it fills up fast. And make sure you go to the second entrance if you don't have a fast pass. I was standing in the fast pass line for a couple of minutes before I realised what it was, I had just lined up in the only queue I saw.

After Animal Kingdom I went to Disney's Hollywood Studios. There I caught the Indiana Jones show, which was a lot of fun. They even got some people in the audience to stand in as extras! I wanted to see the Lights, Motors, Action! show but unfortunately it was cancelled due to technical difficulties, so I went on the Backlot Tour instead. I enjoyed it last year, and I enjoyed it this year!

As I was stood waiting to get inside to the 3D Muppets film I heard a lady next to me complain to her partner that this was going to be "15 minutes of their life they would never get back". Ok, I get it, you've spent all this money to go to Disney World and you want to see as much as possible, but you don't HAVE TO. You don't have to see something you don't want to, you don't have to see something you're only going to complain about, you've made a choice. There is plenty of other things to do and see. I glanced over at them and they didn't even have any kids in tow that they were "suffering" for. And if you're going to watch something, hoping it will be better than you think, shut up until you've actually seen it, THEN make up your mind. Ok rant over. Personally I quite enjoyed the Muppet film, not as good a 3D experience as some other 3D shows, but it was still good, and funny.

Lastly I went back to EPCOT. I didn't stay long as I wanted to catch an earlier bus back to the hotel. I bought some postcards to send to friends (which is why I wanted to go back to the hotel early, so I could write them) and a couple of souvenirs. Other than a couple of pins, I still haven't bought anything for myself though.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The adventure begins

.... Well, the adventure began a few days ago actually, but this is a different (or an extra) adventure. It's Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.

Islands of Adventure was more the way I thought Universal Studios would be, clearer sections. Like yesterday, I headed counter-clockwise around the park, and so the first section I got to was Seuss Landing. I haven't read many Dr. Seuss books but I quite enjoy the films. I went on the Cat in the Hat ride, which was good, probably more fun for the younger crowd, but I did enjoy it.

The next section was the Lost Continent where I attended Poseidon's Fury. It was a really good attraction, I walked through Poseidon's temple on a guided tour, with special effects, with a large group. The guide was really funny and the end of the tour was a lot of fun, I don't want to give too much away, you should see it for yourselves!

The next section was the one I had been looking forward to the most, Harry Potter! I'm not a big fan of the films, but I love the books. Well. I like the films if it has been a long, long time since I read the books, that way I can't remember the books so well that I compare them all the time. Which reminds me.. I want to re-read the books, again. And I still haven't seen the last few films... I've got some catching up to do!

Anyway, I digress. The Harry Potter part was really nice. You walk through a winter version of Hogsmeade, where you can buy wands, clothes and other Harry Potter related things. The only thing I bought was a Butterbeer-slushie. I've never had a butterbeer before. I was worried I wouldn't like it, that it would be too sweet and sickly since I pretty much only drink water, but it wasn't. The butterbeer was really tasty, I wish they sold it everywhere so I could buy some whenever I wanted! I was also quite brave (for me) and I went on the Hogwarts ride. I was really nervous before I got on it but I knew I'd be kicking myself if I didn't go on it. It was a fun ride actually. Yes, I got dizzy and nauseous, but mostly I thought it was quite fun.

By the way, the single rider queue is awesome! The wait for the Hogwarts ride was supposed to be around 60 minutes, but because they had a separate queue for single riders I probably only waited 10-15 minutes! A handy tool if you're travelling alone or if you're in a party that doesn't mind being split up for the ride (why would you mind if you're all adults travelling together? It's not like you can talk much during most rides anyway).

As I walked to the next section, Jurassic Park, it started raining, so I walked into the Discovery Centre. Not too bothered about that one to be honest, more for children as far as I could tell. When I walked back out again it was throwing it down and I could hear a thunderstorm in the distance, it wasn't as bad as yesterday but I still waited for a little bit, until the rain eased up, before I emerged from my shelter. I had been wanting to go on the Jurassic Park River Adventure, but they had closed it due to the weather, I waited around for a little bit, but as there was nowhere to sit down I decided to just move on to the next part of the park. I hate standing around without anything to do.

Toon Lagoon was next. I loved it! I have read many of the toons featured there, in Norwegian. I used to buy Beetle Bailey every time a new issue came out. Blondie is one of the comics my mum buys for Christmas every year, and Hägar always had some guest strips or pages in the Beetle Bailey mags. It was a fun little section of the park. They also had Popeyes boat, and if you walk along the little path behind it there are lots of little fun things hiding. Like a school for fish and Plymouth Rock, shaped like a Plymouth amongst other things.

Next I "geeked it up" with the Marvels section. I am so glad someone introduced me to the Avengers and some of the other Marvels films, like Fantastic 4 and the individual films for each superhero. It was a nice section of the park. I went on the Spiderman ride, which was a lot of fun. They also had a single rider section so I didn't have to queue for long. I am sensing a pattern here with only going on the simulator rides... It feels safer, I know it's only a screen and nothing too bad can happen to me if something fails.

Marvels is the last section on the Islands of Adventure, but I didn't end my day there. I had really wanted to go on the Men in Black ride at Universal so I decided to head back there and go on it. Again, they had a single rider queue so I got to the front of the line fast. It was a really fun ride. You shoot at aliens and get spun around a lot, I actually wanted to go on it again, despite feeling nauseated and having a headache, because I wanted to get a better score. Unfortunately I had to catch the bus back to the hotel.

Tomorrow I am getting up early and heading to Disney's Hollywood Studios. I think.


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