Cleveland and Detroit

I will warn you…this is a long one. But my god what a weekend. Plenty stories to tell.

7am seems earlier every time I have to get up. Although I’m used to getting up at 0630 for work, 7am seems so much earlier here. Friday morning was the exception though because we were heading off to Detroit, with a little detour through Cleveland. The alarm goes off, showered, dressed and out of the door to go meet Tim and Mabel. Mabel found out a few weeks back that her Art department, as she is doing a graphic design degree, were running the semester art trip to Detroit. Tim and I, keen to visit as many cities as possible, jumped at the opportunity and signed up for the trip too. We were on the bus by 8am and off to a city that I dreamed off coming to however never really thought I would have the chance, unless we had hired a car and made the trip ourselves. Being a Detroit Lions fan, a lover of the music that had come out of the city in the last twenty years and fascinated with the story behind the rise and decline of the motor industry, I was buzzing! On a side note, for anyone that was at my wedding last year, the mellow hip hop music playing as we awaited the bride was by a Detroit hip hop producer, Apollo Brown, if you get a chance check him out. Anyways, we travelled for around an hour before stopping for breakfast at a service station. Egg McMuffins and Starbucks coffee tanned, we were back on the bus and off to Cleveland. For the next hour and a bit, we chatted away to some of the guys and girls on the trip, watched the ‘Blues Brothers’ and got more excited. We rolled into Cleveland in good time and hit up the Cleveland Museum of Art.

12. cleveland art 1

The museum was fantastic and after checking out all the artworks from all over the world Tim and I both struggled to find any works from a Scottish or Australian artist. I did however enjoy the small collection of African Art and the set up they had there. There was a small glass room in which you could share your experience of the Museum and give your thoughts on improvements.

12. cleveland art 2

12. cleveland art 3

Tim decided to share his praise in his best impression of a American citizen from the deep South. This was the start of my many laughing fits I had during the weekend listening to what comes out Tim’s mouth. He is some boy!

12. cleveland me and tim

After the Museum we headed to the Cleveland food market, not to far from the Indians baseball stadium and Quick’n’Loans Arena, home to the 2016 NBA champion Cavaliers. We were advised to grab a sandwich or something and hang out for the next hour until the bus came back, we decided however to find a bar and stick a few beers back before the next three hour part of our journey. We hit up a great craft beer spot called ‘Townhall’ where we had a few beers and some tacos and burgers. Fed and watered we got back to the bus and got comfy for the next three hours. We watched ‘The Shining’ and listened to some tunes. I introduced Mabel to grime music and she smiled and nodded before I put some more mellow tunes on her us to enjoy. We arrived in Detroit around 17.30 and we quickly got up to our room, copped a spray of deodorant and out to try and catch the end of a happy hour somewhere. Tim and Mabel had been briefed in full before arriving the first thing we had to do was to walk over to Ford Field, home of my beloved Lions, to get a photo before It got dark. I loved it…

12. ford feild

After that we made our way around the center of Downtown, passing through Greektown and back to the main drag to find some good food. It was cool to see so many sights that I recognized from seeing online including the sports fields, the MGM grand casino, the Obey Watertower, the ford factory on our way in and the headquarters for GM motors. An extremely cool city.

We made into a Mexican restaurant for more tacos, burritos and beers. After we headed to a alley way called ‘the belt’ where there were several hipster style bars and a club. It reminded me of a mini Ashton Lane from Glasgow. Hitting a bar and grabbing some $3 cans of IPA we were sorted. We drank, met some locals and laughed at many of Tim’s unbelievable stories. This boy could have his own TV show, hilarious. One guy we met, with a cool mustache pointed us towards a bar called ‘Café D’Mongos’ and said we would be guaranteed a great night there. He was not wrong.

12. cafe dmongos

We walked in to be greeted by the bouncer…a 60+ year old woman wearing silk gloves, a tan trench coat and large diamond earrings. She directed us towards the bar and I picked up two beers each for us totaling $18. Bargains. We quickly grabbed a seat at a six seater table and offered the remaining seats to a couple and an older gentleman that looked lost. We got chatting and it turned out that the young couple were taking the girls dad on a night out to show him some of the sites Detroit had to offer. Super nice people that were interested in why a Mexican, Scottish boy and Australian had ended up in their company. After a photo, a fireball whiskey shot and beer courtesy of the dad we said our good byes and planned the rest of our evening. Before we left though we decided to start April fools as we had passed midnight.

Mabel’s friend Alexa was first. Mable text her in her native Spanish saying that Tim and I had dragged her to a house party and were trying to get her to snort Cocaine and she was scared. Now…Alexa is a great friend of Mabel and makes sure that she is safe in big bad America every day, therefore within about 20 seconds had replied frantically telling Mabel to get out! We let six or seven messaged before I sent her a video from Mabel’s phone, demonstrating some of my newly learned Spanish phrases and we assured her we were all safe. Alexa if you read this, sorry about that, when you visit Edinburgh in August I’ll get you a drink for that! Secondly was our Belgian friend, Thomas. He was two states South at the Uni when Tim called him, blocking his number first, to say that he had been arrested, only had one call and needed Tim to wire him $300. Without a though Thomas asked him to remain calm and asked his bank account details. That is a good friend. After that we realized that we were just a bunch of bad bastards with good friend. Off to a club! We rolled into a night club around the corner called ‘Blue’. We skipped the entrance fee by squeezing past the crowd at the front door and danced the night away while a DJ screamed in the mic and interrupted every song. Tim and I were comfortably the only two people in the club. Being a majority black city (81%) we had found the real Detroit. About ten mins before the club shut we headed to the Greektown casino for a flutter and food. About 0430 we decided to call it a night and head around the corner to the hotel. What a night!

12. cafe d;mongos

We managed to get four hours sleep after getting home, chucking a bag of sick in the bin outside provided by our room mate and headed down for breakfast at 0930. I met Mabel for a painkiller and orange juice breakfast before we headed out to the bus. Tim decided originally not to get on the bus, however after the organizer made it clear he was to be there he showed up, fifteen mins late and we departed. We drove to a leafy suburb to pick up guy that used to attend Slippery Rock Uni and he was to give us a tour of some of the cool sights and community art projects in and around about Detroit. First we passed Wes Borland’s house (guitarist from Limp Bizkit), then down to see some of the buildings built in the 1920’ and 30’s paid for by Henry Ford. So many cool sights. My personal favorites were the old abandoned train station that was built to bring in the thousands of commuters making their way in Detroit to work in the Motor industries. You may recognize it from all of the Transformers movies.

12. det train station

I also loved the ‘Heidelberg Project’ which has been created in an old abandoned neighborhood, that unfortunately had been victim to many burn outs and repossessions. The project was a fascinating display of art created from reusable objects. Entire houses were also decorated after being emptied or burned out. It was interesting to see how a once such vibrant city had come to be overrun by poverty and deprivation. The one positive that can be taken from the area is that art on display is a sign of hope. People still care, even if the Government and other decision makers don’t. The people of Detroit are not willing to let areas of their city fall to crime and disorder.

12. det H project

12. det h project 2

After that we made it too the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Tim, Mabel and I headed along the road to enjoy some Greek Gyro (Lamb Kababs) for lunch and bottomless coffee, which by this point was necessary. After Mabel and I went to check out the museum and Tim jumped in an Uber to explore…more on this soon. The DIA was fantastic! We explored all three floors and saw some really cool, older, newer and modern art.

Another highlight was seeing the Diego Rivera Murals that had been on display ever since being painted by the man himself in the 1930’s. He had been commissioned to paint his murals depicting the ill of Capitalism on the everyday man and women. As he was painting during the great depression, you could see the emotion and relevance that had been poured into them. It was great to see some of the original art that helped start the Mural movement in Mexico, something you can see in many cities across the world today.

12. det DR murals

This is when Tim returned. After spending $40 on four Ubers and not getting into the Detroit Motor museum, he decided to visit 8 mile, famed by Mr. Eminem. I firstly asked him how it was and he was quick to say he would never visit the place after 6pm. Not only did he see 8 mile, visit the world famous ‘Hard core pawn shop’, he also came back with new trainers. $20 from an 8 mile liquor store. By this point Mabel and I were struggling to breath we had laughed so much. Then it was time to go home. We posed for a quick photo outside, just after our bus driver had run over a cyclist. What a weekend. Detroit you have been to kind to us and I couldn’t asked to have met nicer people to enjoy it with!

12. det crew ouside DIA

Another long bus journey, stop for chicken stripes and chips, we watched ‘The Big Labowski’ and nodded in and out of sleep. Home and bedded by midnight, apart from Tim who made it out again until 0430 again. Whats next? New York to see Alison on Wednesday! Cannot wait!

Bye.

Greg.

What I am reading: Skagboysby Irvine Welsh.

What I am listening to – New Found Glory – Sticks and Stones & The All American Rejects – All American Rejects (2003).

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Back to the ‘Reality’ of post Spring Break classes…

Spring break is done and I am back to ‘reality’. Well, I say reality, I live in a student dorm, in the middle of Rural Pennsylvania, whilst not working and going out three times a week. This is not reality! Here is the beer pitcher count from Tuesday night Karaoke. This is not real life !

spy and tom on the beers

A lot of friends have asked me recently what I do here, as I always tend to be on top of my work, have a lot of free time and never seem to be phased by anything. The question I have posed to myself on many occasions is; do I feel bad about having so much free time? The simple answer is that I don’t. I have always had a job since I was sixteen years old. I started working in a bakers when I was 16 (Greggs…I know hilarious), moved to the Co-Op supermarket and then onto Tesco before I left last year to work in the voluntary sector. I have done my fair share of 60 hour weeks, six day weeks, working Christmas, birthdays, New Year, missing friend’s nights out, working nightshift and being attacked by shoplifters whilst working in Tollcross, Leith and Fife. Do I feel bad about bettering my situation by studying abroad and learning a new culture? Hell no! This is something that has made me take every opportunity presented to me since I arrived here.

I was contacted by QMU again to put a feature into their travel blog which can be read here. It was writing this post that made me realise how lucky I have been since arriving here. By the time I leave I will have been on 13 flights, visited 8 different states, 2 Canadian providences and meet some true friends for life.

the gang

Have a read of my recent post in their blog.

‘Last week marked the half way point of my international exchange to Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania. Although I have been here for almost three months telling people the name of the University I attend doesn’t get any less funny. When I signed up to do my exchange in November last year I had a huge mix of emotions; happy for the opportunities, scared of leaving home comforts and optimistic of the potential opportunities throughout and afterwards. It is fair to say I still feel most of these same emotions every week. I do now know however this was the best decision I could have made approaching the final year of my University studies. I have not only learned a lot about myself from an academic standpoint but I have also done a lot and I mean a lot of cool stuff.

I have visited Orlando, Florida to watch the NFL all-star game and watched a band I have followed since high school called ‘The Casualties’, play a punk show in a dive bar. I sung ‘I’m on my way’ by The Proclaimers at the Uni bar karaoke night, simply to represent the home land. I have watched the greatest ice hockey player of all time, Sidney Crosby, play in PPG paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have hugged ‘Finn’, the Canucks mascot watching two top class NHL games in Rodgers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I have ice skated at the Pittsburgh Penguins practice facility and this is in between studying and meeting new friends!

One thing I was unsure about before I left to attend my exchange was if I was going to meet any people that were going to be unfortunate enough to spend time with me. I can say know I have no idea why I was so worried. I have met friends from all the following places; United States, Mexico, Australia, Belgium, China, Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka and many more. We have also arranged to have some visitors back over to Edinburgh after the semester and for this year’s Edinburgh Festival…they have no idea what they are in for! I can truly say I’ve met some friends for life.

So, what’s next? I am going to Detroit Michigan this coming weekend with the Universities Art dept. to visit some art museums and spend some time in the City which was once described as the most dangerous in the world. Nice. I am a huge Detroit Lions (NFL) fan so art student or not, I was going. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. The following week I fly to New York to see my wife, for the first time in ten weeks! We will spend five days together, enjoying the City and going to see the New York Knicks play in Madison Square Garden. That was my choice…not hers. We are going on a University trip to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the New York Yankees at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. After that myself and my friend Mabel from Mexico are driving up to Toronto via Niagara Falls to visit a friend of mine from California, I met whilst he was studying his Masters in Edinburgh. We will go see the Toronto Blue Jays play baseball and enjoy some of the Ontario nightlife. Good times!

And that’s where I am at…For more please see my blog. starkedinburgh@wordpress.com. Also, if you’re thinking about doing an international exchange but are unsure if it’s worth it. Do it, simple as that. If you have a question about a potential exchange I am more than happy to try and answer it! Get me at gxs1019@sru.edu. Cheers! Greg.

By Greg Stark”

To read more about other students experiences have a look at: https://qmuexchanges.wordpress.com

My friend Mabel has also started writing her own blog. ‘The little Mexican traveller’. Standing 5ft1 and being from south of the boarder, the name fits very well! Have a look! It’s in Spanish so good luck. Google translate is a great tool…pictures are pretty cool too! https://mabeler.wordpress.com Also on Instagram if you wanna see more of the photos of her travels. @mblestrella

That’s me for just now! Detriot this weekend. Let’s hope I don’t get murdered. Detriot has topped Forbes list of the most Dangerous cities in America for the last four years in a row…Nice!

Bye.

Greg.

What I am reading: Skagboysby Irvine Welsh.

What I am listening to – Blur – Parklife.

Vancouver…done!

Surprises out of the way, welcoming beers done, it’s now time to enjoy the week. As mentioned previously, the week was to start with a surprise ticket to the Vancouver Canucks play against the Boston Bruins at Rodgers Arena. Although we went to the Penguins game in Pittsburgh the weekend before Spring break, I was super excited to go to Rodgers Arena or ‘GM Place’ as I had known it before when visiting the Arena in both 2002 and 2011. Although I had been to the Arena in the past I had never been there when the season was on. When Kevin told me, his buddy gave me his spare ticket, I couldn’t have been happier, or at least I thought. I was a lot happier when I sat down and realised we were 20 rows up, behind the goals. We sat down with a beer, which were $32 (£19.40) for two…that was a bit of a shock! What wasn’t a shock being the defeat that the Canucks took, which has become something of a norm since I had been here! A great time was had whether it be the goals, fights or getting myself on the big screen. You know it needs to be done!

10. greg and finn

The next morning, was great to wake up to a lovely plate of toast, bacon and runny eggs. Now since I showed up in America, they do have bacon, don’t get me wrong. However, it is this weird skinny, turkey style bacon, that for lack of a better word tastes like crap. To have some decent butcher’s bacon and a couple of eggs was unreal! What could be better…my Auntie takes out of the fridge a chilled, beautiful, gorgeous can of Irn Bru that she has picked up from the British store earlier in the morning. It was amazing how much joy that could bring me, but it really did, I was grinning like an idiot all afternoon. I spent the rest of the day chilling with my Auntie, taking my Cousin’s boy Liam to hockey, so I could tie his skates, or as Alison said practice ‘Dad duties’ for the future. It was nice to have a day to relax. Oh boy did I need it, knowing what was about to come up over the next few days. We still got in a few episodes of ‘Still Game’ over at my cousins house. He absolutely loves it!

10. still game

Wednesday morning, I started the day again with the bacon and Bru ritual. Nice! Then after a quick walk along to the ATM and Starbucks, I was picked up by Kevin and Liam to head to Vancouver Island. Unfortunately, Liam’s brother Noah was under the weather so Meg and himself stayed at home. Was nice to have a boy’s trip away. We met Kevin’s friend Dale off the ferry, a guy that I had met in 2011, when Alison and I had come over for my other cousin’s wedding. Dale was super nice and took us straight to the Japanese restaurant where he was throwing his wife the surprise party for that night. That’s the reason we made the trip. A couple of beers, some fantastic sushi, screaming children and happy birthday sung, the party was over and we were heading back to stay at Dales. Beers picked up, we headed in, the guys got the wee ones ready for bed and we had a few beers, a few more beers and then the last of the beers whilst watching some TV. Everything BK expect BK3 (this won’t make sense, but in 20 years when I read this back I will remember). Retiring to my mattress at 3am, I set my alarm for 7am. Of course, I never heard my alarm and was woken up by Dale’s son at 7.50am, with everyone getting ready to leave at 8am for the ferry. Nice. Dale if you read this. What a night, thanks again!

10. ferry

The hour and forty min ferry seemed a lot longer on the way back, no thanks to my black coffee and lay down on the floor. We departed and headed into to Downtown Vancouver to drop me off for my two days in a hostel. We arrived at the hostel at 10.45am and I was told that I had to check in at 2pm…lovely stuff. I took a walk down to the streets I could recall from when Alison and I had been there before and got some lunch. It wasn’t long before check in time rolled around and I was back at ‘The Cambie’, an institution in Vancouver I had been told many times before. As I unlocked the door I was greeted by an older gentleman that had an accent that sounded very familiar. After a little chat, I was chummy with Jim, a 68-year-old resident of York (born in Inverness) that had travelled over for the rugby sevens in Vancouver the previous weekend. Top Lad! I also later met a German guy that was in Vancouver working construction for a few weeks…I could have done a lot worse. I grabbed a quick shower and went on my phone to buy a ticket to the Canucks game that night. I didn’t even hit google before I received a message from my cousin’s friend, that I had met at the Monday night game, offering me another ticket. I was so happy, I chucked my boots on and headed downtown for a few pre-game beers before meeting ‘B’. Now were going to call him ‘B’, as I’m not sure I should have been given the ticket as he is supposed to take clients and after the night that followed the game, I’m not sure he made work either. So for confidentiality’s sake we will go with B. The game was amazing…they got beat again!

10. canucks again

After the game, we headed down to a bar in Yaletown to grab some nice beers before heading to the legendary ‘Roxy’ on Granville Street. Myself, B and B’s mate (same again, I think he was due to work too haha) finished our beers and headed to the club. The place was great, we listened to a live band, hustled some locals at pool and danced away with the packed crowd. One funny story, I met a group of boys on a stag do and noticed the stag straight away as he was a little worse for wear, wearing a women’s Canucks jersey and something written on his face. I chatted away for most of the rest of the night to the best man and he explained that the next morning the stag believed that he was taking his hangover home, however a huge group of guys from his work were meeting him at the hotel lobby when they checked out to take him to whistler (local mountain resort that the 2010 Winter Olympics were held) to go snowboarding for two days. Best man, Jamie if I remember correctly…I salute you! Well done mate, great planning. After more beers, partying with those guys, grabbing food and a taxi home I was done…not before Jim helped me into my top bunk though after I pulled my right calf music dancing. Cheers Jim, I must be getting old.

Next day was St Patricks day. Let’s just say I never went to the pub. We will leave it at that. Write off. This was the view outside of the hostel when I went for a walk to pick up some water. Beautiful lights on a rainy Irish night.

10-tower-on-rainy-night.jpg

The next morning, I woke up to beautiful sunshine, checkout the hotel and decided to have a walk around Vancouver before going to meet my cousin later and going to more kiddie’s hockey. I grabbed some coffee and headed down to BC Place, the home of the CFL (Canadian Football, like American Football) team, the BC Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps, the major-league soccer team. The Whitecaps had a game on so I sat down at the stadium and took in some of the atmosphere. I also took a walk around the city, Chinatown and Gastown to see the famous clock. By 4pm I was back at the Skytrain station to meet Kevin and head to a minor-league hockey tournament to see Liam play and then shoot over to the WHL (Western Hockey League) team, the Vancouver Giants play at night. Not only was the game at night great but Liam also played in the Intermission, in front of 4,400 fans and had another great skate. He is some player at the age of seven. Game done, home and bedded by ten o’clock. What a couple of days.

10. giants game

That brings me to Sunday again. I am so grateful that I could make it up to see my family for Spring break and see the kids when they are still young. It has been great to come over to repay the good times that my cousins, Auntie and Uncle have given us by showing up in Scotland year after year. And what a way to end the trip…oh aye. You can take your Auntie out of Kirkcaldy but you can’t take Kirkcaldy out of your Auntie.

10. roast dinner

Back off to PA tomorrow. I need a break, after spring break…my next blog should be pretty boring. We will see.

Bye.

Greg.

What I am reading: Skagboysby Irvine Welsh.

What I am listening to – Drake – More Life.

Spring Break Baby!

If you read back on my previous blog posts, you will notice I express my excitement for spring break but never actually state what I was going to do or where I was going to end up. There was good reason for that. At the start of February, I decided that I would go to Vancouver and visit my family that have been so good over the years at coming to Edinburgh to visit us. I also thought it would be criminal not to visit when I’m only a few hours away on the plane and therefore It was decided. Vancouver for spring break. What I also decided was to arrange with my auntie to pick me up and not tell my cousin Kevin and his family, Kris and his family and my Uncle Tom, I wanted to have some fun.

I left Slippery Rock with Mabel, Bella and Bella’s boyfriend Kenneth whom had travelled over the day before to enjoy spring break with the guys in Miami. We hopped on the trustworthy 18.25 service from Slippery Rock to the Pittsburgh Convention Centre. As soon as we hit the road we came across a pretty serious car accident that had blocked the entire road. Nice! With Mabel’s bus to Philly at 22.30, Kenneth really needing a sleep and my flight at 6am, we were all pretty keen to get moving. After half an hour, a pretty serious panic attack from the girl a few seats down we were good to go. It was a good job our bus driver was a legend as we arrived in Pittsburgh ten mins behind schedule! From the bus we went to grab some food and a few beers. Bella and Kenneth then headed off to their hotel for the night, I made sure Mabel got on her bus ok and I was then in an Uber off to the most expensive hotel room I’ve ever paid for to get four hours sleep.

In the morning, I was up, showered and at the check in desk in plenty time. At least I though. Arriving at the United Airlines desk, after queuing at the American Airlines desk for a while I scanned my passport and waited for my boarding pass to spit out. I was then approached by a member of staff from UA and was told I didn’t have a visa to travel to Canada. You can only imagine how quickly my mood turned from excited tourist to pissed off Fifer! The gentleman politely told me that although I had my immigration forms signed by the Uni, I still required a visa to entre Canada by Air. It is now 0510. Flight starts boarding at 0545 and I haven’t been through security. I grabbed my phone, connected to the Airport Wi-Fi and at the desk, refusing to loss my spot at the front of the queue, applied for a Canadian visa on the spot. Under the last section of the form named, “Any special requests” I put the following…’I am in the airport and my flight boards in half an hour, please be a legend and put this through ASAP.’. Three mins later I received my visa by email. Unreal Canada…Unreal! After check in was finalised I made my way through security and grabbed a coffee and was flying to Chicago. Arriving in Chi Town after being delayed for 45 mins until they de-iced the plane I grabbed a quick 8am beer and made my way to my next flight.

9. flying off

The flight was ok. The top lad that was working as an air steward gave me two free beers and I read my book and waved at the child next to me showing off his toy cars and slavers (for anyone reading this outside Scotland…that the spit that drips out your mouth when you’re either a child or on a lot of drugs). I touched down in Vancouver, made it through immigration and met my Auntie Angela. The next thing was going to be surprising the boys! Firstly, I wanted to see Kevin’s wife Meg as we knew she would be home with her their sons. I made it too the door and before I could make a joke she started screaming in joy. This made me happy as I haven’t seen Meg in six years and to be honest I didn’t think she would even recognise me. We then planned to surprise Kevin, not before having a game of penalty shoot out in the street with the boys…hockey obviously, we’re in Canada eh! Meg and I got in the car and went to Langley bus station to meet Kevin off the bus from work. As he walked off the bus, I shouted, ‘hey mate…anywhere around here you can get a smoked sausage supper?’, in which he replied with some very surprised and blue language. Classic. Later we returned to see my Uncle Tom getting out his truck at the house, where I walked straight up to him with my hood up. He looked at me directly in the eye for almost five seconds and still didn’t know it was me. I finally spoke, we hugged and then he said, it looked like me but there’s no reason it would have been me. What a laugh. A few beers, some great Chinese take away and a quick call to my cousin Kris on Vancouver Island it was time for bed.

9. beers and hockey.

The next morning, I headed by down to the States to watched Liam’s (Kevin’s oldest son) hockey game in Billingham, Washington State. We made it down for the game starting after a bit of a queue at the border and I was ready to see my first under 8’s ice hockey game.

9. hockey game

The kids were so cute and a lot better at hockey than myself. Liam was taking his once a season shot in goals in which we had a rough start but turned it around only letting in one goal in the last two periods. The game ended up in a 7-6 thriller filled with great goals, top saves, a brutal plenty call for roughing and a few kids falling on their bums. Unfortunately, the Watacom Warriors were just too much to handle for the visiting Langley boys. My man of the match…#1 Liam Keith.

9. liam

For the rest of the day we returned to Langley, drank beers, watched hockey and arranged a cheeky night out. Kevin and I went to watch the Canucks vs the Penguins at the bar, had a wee bet on the bingo and went to pick up more beers. We then headed to his friend Curtis’ house where we had a great chat, hammered through the 15 pack of Alexander Keith’s we had just picked up. Some of the stories were so funny…too funny amongst other things for this blog or for me to repeat again. At 1am we decided to do the sensible thing and head off to the Irish bar down the road. We drank for the last hour, free for myself thanks to Kevin and this huge bald Dutch guy that said I shouldn’t buy a beer as I am on holiday…nice guy! Another Taxi, left over Chinese and Pizza smashed back, I walked home and went too bed. What a night boys!

9. party night

That brings me to Sunday. A lay in, fish and chips with my Uncle Tom and a cup of tea, I’m back in bed. I also had the first can of Irn Bru that I have had in the 8 weeks I have been here. Oh it was unbelievably good, as you all know over the pond there. Tomorrow the fun starts all over again. I am going to see the Vancouver Canucks play the Boston Bruins at GM place, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go! In my next blog you will hear all about, amongst more, junior hockey, a hostel stay in Vancouver for St Paddy’s day. Bring it on.

Bye.

Greg.

What I am reading: Skagboysby Irvine Welsh.

What I am listening to – Robert Miles – Children.*

* Please note the reason I am listening to this classic is thanks to Tim. We went out on Wednesday night, drank at the bar for country night and after walked to the Top of the hill overlooking the Football Stadium. As the sky looked so beautiful, we played ‘Children’, the 1996 techno classic and raved on the hill. Good times. I wonder why I am so tired.

My first NHL game, the proclaimers and cable cars…

After following ice hockey for about eighteen years, Friday I finally found myself at my first NHL game! Before that though let’s go back to Tuesday for International Karaoke night! Tim had the great idea that we would all wear something from our own country and hit up the Tuesday night sing along at Ginger Hill. To be totally honest, I thought the idea was great, I just need any excuse to throw the kilt on eh! I was set with kilt, socks, Scotland sevens top and my sporrn. We still had Belgium, Australia and Mexico to take care of though. Tim headed off to Grove City with a couple of girls from his dorm to see what he could knock up in two hours. He did very well indeed! As you can see below Tim ended up wearing khaki shorts, shirt and CAT boots. A bushman at his finest. Although Bella lives in Belgium, she has a Dutch passport so Tim went for, with the help of his neighbours in Rhoads Hall, a trilby hat painted in red, white, blue and orange for effect! Thomas then wore a yellow t-shirt, black jeans and a phenomenal red puffer jacket Tim managed to find for $5. Finally, Mabel managed to keep it Mexican and very fashionable all at the same time with her hand made poncho she picked up on her travels in Mexico long before she arrived in the Rock! To be fair she stuck to the rules and asides a massive sombrero and handlebar moustache, what can you do! Well done guys!

When the karaoke kicked off I was happy to see our friend Alex, the greatest singer I have seen, rock up. I was glad to see him as we had agreed during the week we would sing ‘I’m on my way’ by The Proclaimers. I was happy that Alex could carry me through the high notes as I had already witnessed him sing Barry White a few weeks before, this guy can shift his pitch like nothing else. It was a lot of fun. We sang the song, even sharing duties on the “A-hu, A-hu, A-hu, A-hu” bit and to make it even better Alex sang the whole thing in his imitation Glaswegian accent! What a laugh. After we stuck another couple of pitchers we all headed back to Isabella’s (note the Belgium one, the one from Denmark) room and drank more beers and played beer pong on her deck. 4am…time to go home.

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Throughout the next few days I did some work for my research project, attended classes and got more excited for Friday. When I was eight years old, I was gifted a pair of roller blades for my Christmas after the summer my Canadian family came over to visit us in the summer. As my cousins, all older than myself and my brother played Ice hockey, I obviously wanted to copy them as they were much bigger and cooler. After my Dad looked around the local towns for a roller hockey team for me to join and coming up short he decided to start his own team. From that point on my dad, alongside another guy called Steve whom was looking to do the same thing for his sons, started a team, won the league more times than I can remember and won the British Championships. My Brother went on to play for Scotland, Great Britain and weirdly at one point, England. Who can say their Dad has ever done that! For the love of the game, the fact I was sitting where I was on Friday night I must thank my Dad! Legend!

We hopped in the car with my friend Gabbie, who had been nice enough to run us down, and arrived in Pittsburgh at around five o’clock. From there we check in, changed our clothes and hit a local brew bar across the road. 5pm – 7pm…Happy hour, something I wish they could still do in Scotland, but ah well. I hammered back ten chicken wings and two decent pints for $16, unreal. From there we jumped in an Uber and headed to Console Energy Centre, or as the locals still refer to it as PPG paints Arena. Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightning…here we come! Firstly we split a $20 50/50 ticket and made Tim buy it as this guy has unreal luck. This is the guy that won $10k on a pub quiz machine and won $16 on the Australian version of ‘The Chase’. The jackpot ended up at $27k, however looking at my bank account and softly weeping, I can see his luck didn’t rub off this time. We arrived and made it inside to see the penguins hit the ice to the theme of ‘Sad but true’ by Metallica.

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This is when the reality hits of being at an American sporting event. One can of Light Lager…$13 (£10.58). Alison made the point to me on facetime this afternoon that if they are that expensive you don’t have to buy them but that’s not how it works is it, come on eh! As we were split up for the game in 2 seats and 3 seats, I had the pleasure of explaining the rules to Mabel as not only had she never been to an NHL game, she had never been to a hockey game! My main aim was to make her seen that Hockey is more exciting than her favourite sport of baseball. Unfortunately, by the end of a thrilling 5-2 victory for the Penguins, she loved the pace of the game, the violence and the skills but Hockey is still sitting on the number 2 spot.

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For the third period, we switched over and I sat with the boys, killed a few more beers and did some shouting! The penguins showed their dominance in the third, scoring two to give themselves a comfortable two score lead and finishing them off with an empty net goal in the last min! What a game to see…I can also say I saw Sidney Crosby play in the season that he beat Wayne Gretzky’s 1000 points record. Epic!

After the game, we hit a bar across the road from the stadium to allow for the traffic to die down so we could Uber back over to Northside. After finishing a pint of their finest Bud Light…hmmmmm…we went to a huge bar called ‘Tequila Cowboy’. As soon as we walked in the door we witnessed a live country band playing, a mechanical bull, three bars and a tequila chair. After watching the band play, we hit up the karaoke bar, also inside, and watched almost perfect renditions of the 1975, Britney Spears and Aerosmith. I did put in Wonderwall by Oasis but after waiting about an hour we decided to go dance out the alcohol in the 90’s/00’s R&B room. The tunes were on point with Ja Rule, Ashanti, Bobby Brown, TLC and Nelly amongst so many other classics. 2am rolled around before we knew it and we took out drunk, extremely sweaty on my part, bodies home and headed to bed. Another classic night out, Pittsburgh has yet to disappoint!

The next morning, we all got up and were out the room by check out time at eleven. We walked across the famous yellow bridge and headed into the centre of the city for some food. We once again went to Primanti Brothers for some sandwiches filled with Meat, cheese, chips and coleslaw. I am unfortunately still to enjoy the place as I have been hungover every time I’ve been in their but It did certainly fill a hole. After we shared out my Tesco own brand Ibuprofen, we headed off to Mount Washington to see the views of the city. We headed up in the cable car, sang ‘New York New York’ as we were pretty tired and delusional by this point and were greeted by the rudest cable car and maybe ever human I have ever met. Mabel and I had witnessed his il-manner a few weeks before but It was fun to watch him shout at Thomas for eating in the cart. Mr cable car man, if you happen to read my blog, turn that frown upside down, life is good! One again we soaked up the views of the city we have become very familiar with in the past six weeks and froze our asses off. Once we returned to the bottom, tired and some of us hyper now (me), we ordered an Uber and headed home. As Thomas spoke to the Uber driver for the entire one hour and twenty min journey, Mabel and Bella drifted in and out of sleep, Tim and I discussed every 90’s song that came on the radio, his immense knowledge or 2000’s UK boy and girl bands and when we think there will be another Clinton Administration.

Pleased to say that my, seven weeks tomorrow, have been filled with so many laughs, drinks and first time experiences. Once again however it’s the people that make it what it is. Alison asked me on facetime today, do I think I have made some friends for life and I really do think I have. If someone told me I would be sitting in my first NHL game with a Mexican, an Aussie and two Belgians I would have assumed I was about to hear a pretty crappy joke. Another exciting piece of news is that I have locked down a weekend in Toronto to see my man Henry and an old high school friend. Look of for that at the end of April, it’s going to be a mad one. Spring break next eh! Keep locked in!

Bye.

Greg.

What I am reading: Skagboysby Irvine Welsh.

What I am listening to – Mura Masa – Someday Somewhere.

Penguins, 6 nations, skating, beers and Exams.

Well after a fantastic weekend straddling two states it was time to take it easy and enjoy the start of the week in preparation for exams. A lot of people have said since I got here that they are busy with studies and the workload is overwhelming…I hadn’t really felt it until this week. Two exams, a paper due and a research proposal to construct. Time to get stuck in eh. On Tuesday was my first Exam for American History. As I had given an optional presentation last week, in which I got an A for, I was comfortable that I had got off to a good start. The one thing that I wasn’t sure about however was the format of the exam. As I study Sociology I have never had to sit an exam. I spent most of my time reading journal articles and writing reports. A multiple choice / true or false exam was not what I expected when I got here. It turns out, if you read the material and do what your asked of from your professors you can get the most out of the material. Makes too much sense! I sat my exam and wrote a five and half page essay on the failures of the federal government that lead to the Great depression. I felt it went well. I guess I will find out next week. After that it was a day of studying in the 16 degree February heat.

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It was nice to enjoy the sun, brush up on my material and head off to bed. My exam on Thursday was at 8am, which is a struggle to say the least. 55 questions, in which I graded at 94% (A). I am looking forward to seeing where I went wrong as I assumed I would have had 100%. This is stuff that if you watch the news and take an interest in current affairs, you could pass this exam. After leaving my exam at 8.25am my weekend had started. Tim and I decided to start every weekend like it should be done and play a full round of frisbee golf. I am sure its self explanatory but for those that don’t know, we walked the length go the uni throwing frisbees at metal baskets…pretty fun actually. As we walked to the 17th hole (or basket),  we passed right through an army training exercise, where there were around 100 soldiers camoflagued in and around the trees. I enjoyed Tim’s on going joke of saying “Oh sorry I didn’t see you there” every time we walked past someone on the ground. After that we joined the badminton club for a few games of doubles in which Spy and myself laid the smack down. It was great to be playing again, I forgot how much I enjoyed it.

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Since moving room into another building I have met a lot of great people living on my floor, who are super nice and aim to get everyone involved in their social activities. The building organised a trip to the UPMC centre where the Pittsburgh Penguins Ice Hockey team practice. This was to be a highlight of my travels so far. The centre is named after Pens legend Mario Lemieux, a player that played when my brother and I played and watched Ice Hockey in our youth. The best thing about the trip…it cost me $5. After a nice afternoon of walking around the University grounds and laying on the grass drinking ice tea (22 degrees) with Tim and Mabel, I headed back to the building to go to the Centre. My mate Jacob and I jumped on the bus and munched away on the free Turkey sandwiches they passed out. After a quick 40 mins, we had arrived.

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The place was swarming with Pens and Philadelphia Flyers fans as they we playing in the Stadium series game at Heinz field on Saturday. This was a game I would have loved to go to, but didn’t love the thought of parting ways with $120 for a ticket. Watching the game in Ginger Hill, with $2 bud lights, was satisfactory. When we arrived at the centre we were taken in and shown the training facility and given a brief talk by the strength and conditioning coaches at the centre.

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We then walked through both rinks, had a seat on the Zambonis and grabbed some healthy food that is designed by the Penguins head chef. Lovely stuff.

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This was when the real fun started. We were allowed to join the public skate from 7pm-8.30pm. Having skated a lot when I was younger and played a little Ice hockey I felt I should be relatively comfortable back on the ice. It was amazing to hear how many of the students had never been on the ice before, this is something I loved to do when I was younger. After a few mins of finding my feet, I was whizzing around like I had been on the ice yesterday. A lot of fun! A quick trip into the merch store, we were back on the bus, headed home and I was off to the bar!

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Saturday was a slow start. I woke up later, spoke to my parents on FaceTime and tuned in for Scotland vs Wales. After Scotland’s great victory over Ireland in week 1 and injury laden defeat to France in week 2, I assumed we were in for another 6/7 point tournament. How wrong could I have been. I have been watching Scotland play for the past twenty years and the second half performance they put on this weekend was the best id ever seen, alongside their defeat to Australia in the Rugby World Cup quarter final two years ago. It was fantastic to watch. Shows real hope for the future of the international team and the Lions team selection after this round of games. Well done boys! A triple crown may be out of our hands with England’s recent run but we are sure to finish in a respectable position this year…finally.  I just hope we can beat England and end their hopes of taking the All-Blacks winning record in which they will take if they run unbeaten again. Another round in at the bar and lunch in the one bar in slippery Rock we hadn’t been to yet, Coney Island, that’s the weekend coming to a close.

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Next Friday we are planning to take a crew down to Pittsburgh for the Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning game, which will be amazing if it goes ahead! It’s also only two weeks until spring break! No classes, a bit of travel and Paddys day. They have already started selling green beer in some of the bars around here, they absolutely love it! I Can’t wait for that. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the fact that Scotland are 3rd in the table, the weather is to get warmer again this week and I am sitting on straight A grades for the semester. No bad eh.

Bye.

Greg.

What I am reading: Skagboys – by Irvine Welsh.

What I am listening to – Stormzy – Gang Signs and Prayers.

Interview with QMU

This morning I was happy to see an email from the PR office at QMU explaining that an interview I had carried out with their head press officer last week had been released. Please have a read and let me know what you think. I am extremely proud of my journey in the last eleven years since moving to Edinburgh and it was great to hear the office thought the same thing. The interview can be found on the Universities website and their Twitter account. I hope it can provide insight to future students of QMU, Public Sociology and anyone thinking about an international exchange. I hope to carry this work on with the office when I return home in May. Enjoy!

Heres a picture of me when I started back at QMU in 2006 after a heavy night in the Liquid Room. This was taken on the train back to Glenrothes. I also think I was trying to grow a beard at this point too. Brutal.

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Interview with QMU student, Greg Stark: BSc Public Sociology

Greg Stark, 28, is originally from Glenrothes in Fife but has been living in Edinburgh since 2006, when he originally enrolled as a student at QMU.

Greg completed the first and second years of a Sociology and Cultural Studies degree at QMU but decided to withdraw from his studies in 2008 due to personal issues. He then started working full time and began a career as a Retail Compliance Manager with Tesco in 2013.

After working with Tesco for nine and a half years, Greg made a joint decision with the support of his wife to return to QMU, complete his degree and move into the voluntary sector. This is something he’d always wanted to do.

Thanks to the support and encouragement of his Academic Advisor at QMU, Greg is now studying BSc Public Sociology and is in his third year. He also spent part of his studies on exchange at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania in the USA.

How did you come to choose this course and why QMU?

“I originally came to QMU in 2006 as I had always wanted to move to Edinburgh. I attended the Corstorphine campus for my first year and moved to the new Musselburgh campus half way through my second year. The new facilities and prospects drew me in. When I chose to return, I was offered the chance to return as an associate student whilst I worked full time and in turn I could directly enter third year. This was a major factor into returning to QMU.”

Why did you choose to study in Edinburgh?

“Coming from Fife, Edinburgh was always somewhere I visited when I was younger. Whether to watch Scotland play rugby at Murrayfield, watch my local team travel to Easter Road or Tynecastle or spend days taking in the culture with my family – it’s always somewhere I’ve loved to be. 

“Edinburgh is the greatest city in the world. I’m not shy to tell anyone that. Where else in the world can you stand on the main shopping street and see a Castle on top of an old volcano. You can eat in the city for breakfast, walk up the Pentland hills and have a picnic and then stroll along the beach at night. It truly is an amazing place. After living here for eleven years, I’m proud to call Edinburgh my home.”

What’s been the highlight of the course so far?

“I really enjoy learning how to write in an academic style. I took the ‘poverty and social exclusion’ module as an Associate Student in 2016 and I felt honoured to be learning from academics that have done so much vital social research in the field of workers’ rights and conditions. This privilege is not specific to this module. I have the honour of learning from experts in their respective fields everyday at QMU. 

“I also enjoy the presentations that we have the opportunity to give in class. I feel this has helped me not only with my confidence in class but in my workplace where I try to take on additional opportunities to share my ideas.” 

Did you study abroad as part of your QMU degree? 

“I was lucky enough to study at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania in the USA in 2017, thanks to financial support from Santander Universities.

“I found out about international exchange programme opportunities after attending the direct entry week organised for returning, transfer and college students in September 2016 and from one of my previous lecturers from 2006-08. They said it would be beneficial to look into doing an exchange as I planned to write my fourth year dissertation on disability rights and it would be useful to see how people with disabilities are treated in other societies. I also found out that studying at another university would help me get into government work or academia in the future.

“I’m required to complete a research methods module, which is crucial to writing my dissertation in my final year. I also took modules I felt would benefit my course including international relations, social justice and equality and ‘American history from 1920’. I have a great interest in history and I thought, where would be the best place to study American history…America!”

“During my time at Slippery Rock, I’ve volunteered my services to the Department of Disabilities on campus, I’ve attended presentations for Black History Month and joined the debate on President Trump’s Executive Order to enforce a travel ban on selected citizens from the Middle East and North Africa.

“The most enjoyable thing about living and studying in the USA is the people I’ve met. I have become really good friends with people from Australia, Belgium, Mexico, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Iran, Nepal, Japan and India.

“Another highlight of my time in Pennsylvania was attending nighttime basketball games that filled out the 3,000-seat on campus stadium.”

Any top tips for students who might be interested in this course?

“Public Sociology is a fascinating subject. You would be surprised that you study it everyday. Whether you’re asking your manager at work when your next pay rise is coming, you’re debating about recent elections and referendums or you’re in a bar talking to your friends, this is Public Sociology.

“We learn why the world works in the strange way it does. We ask why do we communicate in the way that we do and what do we need to change to make the world a better place. The one thing you need to know if you want to study in this field is that you can work with people – people of all cultures, religious, socio-economic groups and sexual orientations. We want to produce literature and carry out vital research that will inform policy makers to make changes that benefit everyone. That is what Public Sociology means to me.”

Any future plans after graduation?

“I currently work for a voluntary organisation based in Edinburgh called The Action Group. I work within the Real Jobs department, which aims to support those in our society with additional support needs and meaningful employment.

“Postgraduate study is something I’d like to consider in the future, but in the long term, I hope to complete more work in the voluntary sector and one day move into work with the Scottish Government. A social policy advisor would be an ideal role for me but I wouldn’t discount a job that supported Scotland’s position outside the United Kingdom.”

What’s your ‘top tip’ for making the most of being a student at QMU? 

“Only study a subject that you have a passion for.”

“Start reading now. Read any academic literature you can. This could come in the form of academic text books, journal articles, government reports and studies. You will be surprised how your writing improves the more you read.”

Bye.

Greg.

What I am reading – Skagboysby Irvine Welsh.

What I am listening too – Reel Big Fish – Cheer Up!